Tag Archives: fiction

Oyster Brings a Netflix-like Model to Romance Reading

23 Oct

I was thrilled to find out that a new platform has come on the market for readers, Oyster. Looking to Netflix as a subscription model, readers pay $9.95 per month and have access to all of Oyster’s library (about 100,000 in copyright books), with the ability to “play” any book they want – books don’t download onto your device (which I imagine means you need to have a connection at all times).

For heavy readers this becomes an affordable alternative, particularly as more and more publishers release titles onto Oyster’s platform. Having read about Oyster and watched videos about how it works, I nevertheless wanted to have a better sense of what it could offer romance readers, but I wasn’t willing to pay for a month in order to test the water. Lucky for me, Oyster recently announced a free month to trial the platform for people wanting to test it out (in honor of their iPad app release).

A major caveat before downloading the app – originally designed for the iPhone, the iPad version of the program is meant to be enlarged using the 2x button. This means that users not running the latest iOS are going to notice highly pixelated text which makes it hard on the eyes. People running iOS 7 on their phones and iPads will have no problem.

The iPad is a natural first device upon which to launch considering its level of infiltration in the market.

But what does Oyster have to offer romance readers? I found the offerings to be diverse and hitting several big name authors – Amanda Scott, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah Maclean, Julia Quinn, Katherine Ashe, and Tessa Dare were some of the historical romance authors (they even have most of Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ backlist) and paranormal authors like Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost and Lyndsay Sands were represented as well. A few erotica books were in there, as well as category romance from Crimson Romance’s imprint, and romantic suspense authors like Carla Swafford and Elizabeth Lowell.

I didn’t like that so many non-romance books were mixed in (because it makes it look like Oyster doesn’t know what the definition of the genre), but it is true that romance readers often cross-genres, particularly with mystery, historical fiction and women’s fiction – nevertheless, I don’t want to see them when I’m looking for romance. There’s plenty of contemporary romance, romantic comedy and inspirational romance and they even divide up historical romance, highlighting Regency and medieval titles. It’s pretty snazzy.

Could there be more titles? Sure. But the above authors are damn good ones and there was a nice mix of books I’ve read and books I want to read – considering I read around 350 romance novels a year, I find this pretty snazzy and I’m sure it will only get better as Oyster will have to acquire more titles in order to stay competitive, particularly with other subscription read services about to launch.

So take a look at Oyster (for free) to see if you’ve got the hardware to see if it has something to offer you as a romance reader. I think that you’ll find it may offer readers a wonderful romance library to draw upon (for only $9.95 a month.

A Lady’s Secret Weapon by Tracey Devlyn Combines Old-Fashioned Spy Thrillers with Hot Historical Romance

16 Oct

A Lady’s Secret Weapon (Nexus #3 – Ethan and Sydney) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, October 1, 2013)

Back when I was cutting my teeth on historical romance in the 80s, there were many novels that heavily featured spies bent on foiling Napoleonic agents during the height of the Peninsular Wars. These books had complex spy plots and incorporated plenty of history in addition to the romance developing between the hero and heroine.

I loved them, but as Regency became modernized (and thank heavens it did) for some reason the spy piece seemed to suddenly take a back burner. Oh, it was still there, clearly, but not in the same smart way it existed before. The romance piece got better as well, and since I really did read them for the romance, that was a reasonable exchange, although I found myself still wistful for the well-written spies and villains.

Enter talented author Tracey Devlyn and I have no more reason to pine for the days of those page-turning plots. With her excellent Nexus series, readers manage three books in one: a pitch-perfect historical romance, a mystery as a new angle of the story arc is uncovered, and a thriller to heighten anticipation and keep those pages turning. Yum!

The Nexus is an elite group of British spies heavily involved with uncovering the next move of the Napoleonic network, either in France or right on England’s shores, and readers have already met several operatives in the first two books of the series. A Lady’s Secret Weapon in fact stars Ethan deBeau, the rogue Viscount renowned for charming one woman after another into his bed, only to ferret out their secrets for his cause. Less well-known are the many deaths for which he is responsible and the knowledge of the often innocent lives he’s compromised – as well as the dirty feeling he carries from his meaningless sexual encounters – have made him not just jaded, but someone who regularly takes refuge in alcohol and whores when frustrations arise.

Ethan made these sacrifices for his country so he can attain one goal, taking over the Nexus network and finally filling his dead father’s shoes in service to England. But when it seems that’s not going to happen, he’s not just thrown but resentful. A helpful distraction takes the form of one Sydney Hunt, a stunning young woman who Ethan feels he knows from somewhere although she’s not telling. Her focus on an orphanage that has come onto the Nexus’ radar is more than a coincidence and it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more to Miss Hunt than meets the eye.

A Lady’s Revenge (Nexus #1 – Cora and Guy) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, April 2012)

That’s the truth. Sydney hides her own painful past and while her work as the proprietress of an employment agency helping servants find safe positions in noble households is a priority, her secret work as “the Specter” has her using a network of underground spies to help the Nexus anonymously. Her time with Ethan has her rethinking her opinions about noblemen but she’s uncertain as to whether he won’t run just like other men in her past when he finds out the nature of her ghosts. For this man, Sydney realizes she might just be willing to take her stolen moments when she can, as his layers clearly hide more than just a talented rogue and spy.

It was a little hard for me to like Ethan initially as Devlyn shows him making the decision to pursue alcohol and visit a whorehouse after he’s met our heroine. Tsk, tsk. Granted, there’s nothing yet between them, but I always find myself having to overcome that mental hurdle (and sometimes, not managing it) when an author decides to show that side of the hero. Yet she manages to help him come back from it, with the incident simply illustrating just how damaged Ethan is that he needs this form of escape. He’s literally never let himself be in love and Sydney is really his first in many ways, despite all his experience of women.

Sydney was enormously easy to love, surrounded by people who care about her and with a deeply admirable mission, but she never strays into goody two-shoes territory. That she has channelled much of herself into both her day job and her secret spy work clearly is due to her being convinced that she will never have a romantic future due to her childhood. Ethan’s patient uncovering of each of her secrets breaches her walls one by one and his lack of judgement at each hurdle helps grow the trust between them. It’s actually quite lovely to witness, with their climatic love scene one of the most tender I’ve read in a while.

Checkmate, My Lord (Nexus #2 – Sebastian and Catherine) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, February 2013)

For readers who have enjoyed the first two books in the series, there is plenty of time to revel in those characters (when exactly are they all getting married, anyway?) since they make regular appearances. But for people who want to try this book out first before making the investment, fear not – Devlyn’s writing is so deft that you will lack no understanding or appreciation if you start with A Lady’s Secret Weapon. Playing catch up is effortless regarding both story arc and characters in the hands of this talented author.

The important thing to keep in mind when reading a Devlyn book is that the spy element drives the romance. I initially found myself very impatient as a good portion of the book progressed before my hero and heroine began inching toward one another even though there was a strong attraction. Partly this was their personalities and backgrounds coming into play but it was also because the various elements of the plot had to be well-established. The delay has the nice side effect of making the descent into a relationship more natural in terms of the timeframe (no insta-love here) and – once I realized the intent – I was able to relax and enjoy it.

Keep in mind also that Devlyn’s intelligence, immediately apparent after just a few pages, bleeds into other areas of her professional life. She’s got an excellent website and strong social media presence, and is also a founder of the Romance University website which I follow religiously. How cool is that? I love it when an author’s talent is matched by her professional savvy, so yay for me at finding another woman who is cleverly making an impact on the world of romance publishing.

Tracey Devlyn’s entire Nexus series, but A Lady’s Secret Weapon in particular, combines outstanding writing with cross-genre appeal. Mystery, thriller, and historical romance lovers fear not – you’ve just got another author to add to your end table. Enjoy!

The Accused by Jana DeLeon Brings Gothic Suspense to the Bayou

23 Jul

The Accused (Mystere Parish: Family Inheritance) by Jana DeLeon (Harlequin Intrigue, July 23, 2013)

It’s sad but true that so often a romantic suspense novel contains a highly contrived plot with a resolution and villain unveiling a five year old could point out if they didn’t wander away in boredom first. You can imagine my elation then when I realized about 20 pages into The Accused that Jana DeLeon is a writer who takes her mystery elements seriously, combining a rich setting and several gothic qualities to spin a taught suspense tale fraught with imminent danger to the heroine. I do have a few criticisms of the book (some of which were beyond DeLeon’s control) but the strengths of this novel were such that I’ll be reaching for the next book in the series, for sure!

Alaina LeBeau has just found out that she’s been passed over for partner in her Baton Rouge law firm for a man whose political connections seem to outweigh his incompetence as an attorney. She knows that the case that haunts her – one in which a little girl died because Alaina didn’t see the danger signs – is a big reason for the firm’s decision, but she also knows when she’s getting thrown under the bus and she quits. In a bizarre coincidence, she receives a missive from a lawyer indicating that according to her stepfather’s will, if Alaina and her two sisters can stay in the family mansion for two weeks without interruption, they can inherit his estate which is worth millions.

The reason it’s worth that much is because the money was originally Alaina’s mother and father’s. She and her two sisters were separated and sent away as children to family and boarding schools with no contact with their mother and stepfather. Their mother died, presumably of a broken heart and with no provisions for her daughters, and the man she married became a bizarre recluse. Alaina doesn’t know where her sisters are although she’s tried to find them, but the kind lawyer from her hometown of Mystere Parish says they can each tackle their two weeks separately. Although she knows it’s a long shot and will probably dredge up painful childhood memories, Alaina is so eager to get away from her shambles of a career that she packs up her car and heads to Mystere.

Carter Trahan might have left New Orleans with all it’s corruption and crime, but he can’t think of a more onerous duty than playing babysitter to some cold attorney bent on inheriting money. But his lovely mother asks him to do it and he can’t deny her. He’s more than a little shocked when he catches a glimpse of the sexy brunette attempting to tackle the decrepit mansion which has moldered at the edge of the swamp for years. When strange things begin happening to the mansion and she is attacked, Carter finds himself not only wrestling with his attraction to her but also with a multi-layered mystery that is going to take all his cop instincts to solve.

The Betrayed (Mystere Parish: Family Inheritance #2) by Jana DeLeon (Harlequin Intrigue, August 20, 2013) – the next book in the trilogy focusing on youngest daughter Danae and the contractor hired to protect her.

If you like Gothic stories (and I do) you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this tautly written suspense novel. A dark, abandoned mansion, mysterious swamp, frequent storms and brooding hero certainly fit the bill in terms of the elements that make up this genre. DeLeon pens a mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat as there were so many possibilities for the perpetrator that I could not guess who actually was trying to hurt her. I loved that Alaina was no wilting flower – she was a tough lawyer with a gun who combined brave with practical – and that Carter saw and appreciated that quality in her was attractive to me.

However, the romance plot was the weaker piece of this novel. Carter is pretty brusque and doesn’t do much actual talking, so why Alaina is interested in him beyond the chemical attraction was a little unclear to me. His job dedication, maybe? That’s he’s great with his mom? Between the two of them, however, he could have done a little more communicating.

But it was the sex scene (yes, that’s a single number I’m referring to) that would have had me drowning myself in the swamp afterward, and the point where I was just in the book for the terrific suspense plot. The couple – at an appropriate time in the book for them to step things up a notch – has a hot kiss, he touches her nipple once, and then he puts a condom on and is shoving himself inside her. And she thinks it’s awesome! I would have rather that bedroom door have been kept firmly shut (and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before) so I could have at least imagined actual foreplay between these two characters. Why the heroine wasn’t inventing a Peace Corps obligation in order to wiggle her way out of a future with Mr. “One Nipple Touch and I’m Ready to Go”, I’ll never know. Carter’s “technique” reminded me of the old Irish definition of foreplay – pulling back the covers.

It’s a shame such a dark and suspenseful book got saddled with such a cheap looking cover. Doesn’t the man look like he’s a sci fi warrior in armor? That’s supposed to be a spiral staircase from the old mansion, but it doesn’t work and the female model she looks sleepy (maybe this after the heroine hit her head?). Alaina is way more badass than this cover suggests so that’s a major disservice to her. The print version of The Accused is out on the 23rd while the Kindle version isn’t due out until August 1st.

The Reunion (Mystere Parish: Family Inheritance #3) by Jana DeLeon (Harlequin Intrigue, October 1, 2013)

The Reunion (Mystere Parish: Family Inheritance #3) by Jana DeLeon (Harlequin Intrigue, October 1, 2013)

Considering that the book is the first of a new trilogy, you have to ask the question – why is the “series” not clearly linked on Goodreads? DeLeon has a large body of work for the Intrigue line and it would take a reader with a lot of time on their hands to figure out which were the next books in the series and mark them “to-read.” Authors, this is important since Goodreads added the feature were it alerts you when books you’ve marked as to-read were just published! The Betrayed will be a future book on Danae, one of the missing sisters, due out on August 20th with final book, The Reunion, covering Joelle’s story and will be published in late September. I’ll definitely be picking those up, although I’ll be praying that their heroes are a little more skilled in the bedroom department! Nevertheless, for a truly well-written suspense novel, particularly with a strong Southern setting, DeLeon cannot be beat.

Jill Shalvis Proves Lucky Harbor Is Once Again the Town for Romance in It Had To Be You

6 Jun

It Had To Be You (Lucky Harbor #7) by Jill Shalvis (Grand Central, May 28, 2013)

I think that the fictional town of Lucky Harbor needs to market their real estate differently. Imagine how many people would move there if they had any idea that this is the town where true love is bound to hit you, whether you want it to or not?

Jill Shalvis, who deserves a contemporary romance Energizer Bunny award for her ability to release one great novel after another, won my heart long ago with the Lucky Harbor series. Nine stories (seven full-length novels and two terrific novellas) has proven she has the ability in every damn one of them to make me fall in love with the hero and heroine, laugh at the antics of the eccentric residents of the town, and choke on emotion during the more painful scenes where someone invariably tries to resist the love right in front of them.

Her latest installment, It Had To Be You, satisfied my Shalvis-craving for a hot, heart-warming romance. Neither character has been introduced prior to this book in the series and there aren’t too many references to previous characters, so the book is a great introduction to the series for someone wanting to see if they want to take the Lucky Harbor plunge (and the water is lovely in this Pacific Northwest town – trust me!).

Ali Winters has just had a seriously crap day. She caught her handsome and altruistic boyfriend cheating on her in his office while she was attending his fundraiser for the local community center. She was so disgusted that she didn’t barge in to confront him, a decision she’s regretting when he breaks up with her via text message the next morning before she’s even had breakfast. While she’s leaving him a pretty explicit message about what a creep he is (clothed only in her underwear), a severely hunky intruder asks her what she’s doing in her own house, the house she shared with Teddy although all his stuff is missing now. Sexy Man informs her she’s standing in his house and that her cheater boyfriend let the lease run out. Oh, and she finds out her boss at the flower shop is probably going to close the doors since his heart isn’t in it and he wants to go live with his boyfriend in Vegas. Ouch.

Luke Hanover is a cop and one taking a semi-forced vacation after a young woman turned up dead, a death he thinks he should have prevented. The case involved some pretty important people and only the media storm has driven him back to Lucky Harbor and the house his grandmother left him. His estranged grandfather lives next door but he just wants time alone with his board and the waves. Naturally, the gorgeous hottie in her underwear is a little distracting and his gut is telling him that involving himself in her business would be counterproductive. Ali has trouble with a capital “T” written all over her, but he can’t seem to do anything but help her, while hopefully keeping her at arm’s length when he really wants to take her to bed. When she’s accused of stealing the $50,000 raised by her ex-boyfriend, his cop senses tell him she’s innocent while the rest of him finds her courage and desperate brand of independence even more alluring than her body. But he’s only back in town for two weeks, so nothing can come of the attraction. Right?

I love how Shalvis is never formulaic in her writing, but she can be counted on for a few key elements.

  1. Her heroes are usually hardened tough guys with some seriously hard knocks in their past who find themselves giving up the control they’ve exercised all their lives when faced with the woman meant for them.
  2. On the flip side, Shalvis heroines are usually delightfully quirky (even the more buttoned up, slightly stuffy ones) who have also been dealt the hard cards but have managed to retain a sense of wonder and gained the knowledge of who they are.
  3. Both parties rarely see love coming, so it hits with the subtlety of a freight train, with at least one of the couple so petrified they are ready to turn tail and flee or just pretend it didn’t happen.
  4. Sex scenes are always fiery with an element of sweet caring between the couple so I’m never disappointed on that front.
  5. Friends (or hilarious small town perma-characters) offer necessary perspective and help the couple realize that you can’t turn away from love when you are lucky enough to find it, often giving the hero/heroine the frame of reference they need to dig deep and find the courage to accept the gift they’ve been given.

And just in case you were doubting my analysis of this wonderful writer, keep in mind that my Goodreads account informs me that I’ve read 33 of her books!

Take a listen as this great writer discusses her books and approach to writing before accepting the Career Achievement Award in Contemporary Romance from RT Book Review magazine:

While I’m planning on enjoying my summer, after reading the description for her next Lucky Harbor book – the friends to lovers story between Jack the firefighter and his best friend Leah who runs the bakery – September can’t come soon enough with the late month release of Always on My Mind. Just a couple months later and we will finally get the next book in the Animal Magnetism series, Rumor Has It, which has the heroine I can’t want to see get an HEA, Kate Evans. Kate is the quirky schoolteacher who has had a crush on Holly’s brother Griff for a while and the teaser chapter in the last book, Rescue My Heart, had my pre-ordering Rumor Has It the minute it went on sale on Amazon.

Jill Shalvis is an astonishingly talented author who never disappoints her audience with each excellent release. That Career Achievement award couldn’t have been bestowed on a more worthy individual.

Countdown to Christmas: His First Noelle by Rhonda Nelson

7 Dec
His First Noelle by Rhonda Nelson (Men Out of Uniform #14 - Judd and Noelle's Story) (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2012)

His First Noelle by Rhonda Nelson (Men Out of Uniform #14 – Judd and Noelle’s Story) (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2012)

The other week I reviewed Rhonda Nelson’s recently released novel, The Professional, the thirteenth book in her Men Out of Uniform series. Starring former Army Ranger Jeb Anderson recently employed by Ranger Security (the firm that links the entire series together), we discover in that tale of true love that Jeb is a twin. His twin, Judd, is still in the military – albeit clearly disillusioned – and likely to follow his brother into stateside civilian life.

Which is exactly what he does. Whereas Jeb is charming, funny and blond, Judd is dark-haired, dark-eyed and sarcastic, although that last quality could have something to do with being a little jaded. After all, when your sniper nickname is “the angel of death” it’s hard to maintain a sunny disposition. But after he chokes making a kill, Judd knows its time to leave the military. Working at a security firm filled with former rangers and with the top-flight reputation Ranger Security possesses is a good alternative.

Doing well on his first assignment is vital and he approaches the safe house where Noelle Montgomery, a witness in an organized crime murder, is being protected he feels he can handle this and make a good impression on his bosses. That is, until he gets one look at the red-haired beauty cheerfully bossing around her protection and feels the earth rearrange itself around him.

Judd knows something similar had recently happened to his twin Jeb when he found Sophie, his wife, but Judd is damned if he’s going to let this kind of complication into his own organized world. He orders Noelle to stop what she’s doing and get her stuff together and is pissed and shocked when she lets him know she doesn’t appreciate his tone. She then goes into the bedroom and calls Ranger Security to ask for a new agent. Talk about infuriating and embarrassing for your first day on the job!

Whereas the romance between Jeb and Sophie in The Professional had a lot of heat but also fun and tenderness (and hilarious humor), the heat between Judd and Noelle is intense – and granted, having her life on the line is a higher stake than finding a jewel thief stealing from old people. The two of them are strong personalities with a lot of back and forth banter and it takes the acknowledgement from both of them that there is something between them to encourage them to make the next move. The next move officially being “yowza” and involving a heart-shaped tub which will live in my mind for quite some time.

As with other Nelson novels, there is a mystical and visceral sense of “rightness” or destiny that descends on each person upon sight and only intensifies with time. I love this romance trope and it does not deflect from the two people needing to get to know each other, it merely speeds things up a bit. While I’m including this in the holiday collection since Christmas is rapidly approaching in the book (and Noelle was born on Christmas, hence her name), it would be a great book if you’re a little Christmas-ed out since the holiday is a very minor plot device.

This book didn’t end with a wedding, so Nelson better make sure we see these two people living a happily ever after in the next novel in the series! 🙂 Thanks for another great Men Out of Uniform, Rhonda!

Jeaniene Frost Offers a Compelling New World in Night’s Darkest Embrace

18 Nov

Night’s Darkest Embrace by Jeaniene Frost (Pocket Star, November 13, 2012) – ebook only

The mark of a truly amazing author is when they write a story completely out of the series you fell in love with and you still adore it. No resentment, no “this sucks because it’s not the characters I love”, just pure fabulous writing from the first word to the last. If you’ve read this blog before, you are aware that I think Frost has created the best vampire series with her Night Huntress and Night Huntress World books (which is saying something since there are a LOT of vampire books out there!).

Jeaniene Frost is a writer who always lives up to my high expectations of her, so much so that I think her pajama top must showcase a milk bottle and the catchphrase “Filled with Awesomeness” on it. Since I monitor her website like a hawk and make sure I’ve read everything listed on her Goodreads page, I knew that there was an anthology, Haunted By Your Touch, containing an novella by her that I hadn’t checked off. Since it wasn’t part of the Night Huntress series, I didn’t feel it was a gigantic problem for me to be patient until it was released as an independent ebook, so I preordered it months ago and patiently waited.

When it popped up on my Kindle app this week, I felt like presents had suddenly become part of Thanksgiving! At only 100 pages or so, it was easy to sit and devour it in one sitting and then bask in the non-tryptophan afterglow of her writing.

Haunted By Your Touch by Jeaniene Frost, Shayla Black, and Sharie Kohler (Pocket Star, October 26, 2010) – available in paper and ebook form

It turns out that Frost is the queen of paranormal, no matter what her characters’ names or the setting she’s created. In Night’s Darkest Embrace, she gives us multiple dimensions laying alongside our own world with some creatures – those with varying degrees of demon blood – able to move between them. Mara is part-demon and as teenagers she and her cousin Gloria foolishly went into Nocturna, the dimension accessible to them, as an adventure. It ended up being an adventure, all right, with the two of them captured by pureblood demons bent on taking them to a neighboring dimension they called home and absorbing their essence (and yes, you have to kill someone to do that).

Rafael, the sexy ruler of Nocturna mysteriously showed up and managed to free Mara, warning her to not return until she was older since purebloods prefer children, but the kidnappers disappeared with Gloria, who was never seen again. Over the years, Mara has returned to Nocturna again and again in the hope that she would see one of the men who took them and enact her revenge. As time has gone on, though, she finds herself more and more attracted to Rafael but he’s never given her a good answer as to why he was in the middle of nowhere when he rescued her. She worries that he’s somehow connected to the pureblood trade in part-demons, but her body seems to possess less moral fiber since it sings whenever he’s nearby. When Mara realizes she can use the blazing attraction between them to uncover the truth, she does so despite her misgivings and finds out that Rafael is much, much more than he seems.

It’s Frost, so her characterization is pitch perfect, and you feel like you get a wonderful sense of Raphael even though the story is told solely from Mara’s perspective. Plenty of conflict and reasonable doubt, but not piled on to the point where you begin to feel hopeless about the couple being able to ever get together. If there’s anything you can count on with Frost, it’s also her sense of humor coming through in her writing and this story is no exception.

“Rafael,” a clear voice demanded. “What do you think you’re doing with that female?”

“Taking her to my room to ravish her, Mother,” he replied shortly….

“Eh, I’ll see you afterward then,” she replied in a disinterested voice.

The other writing strength Frost is renowned for is her red-hot love scenes, and this novella does not disappoint in that arena either. I was fanning myself during key points in the story but what makes Frost’s love scenes so unbelievably steamy is not just the choreography of the scene, but the way she depicts the emotional connection between the characters and how their physical consummation pushes the plot forward. It’s exactly what you want from a romance writer and Frost delivers every time.

At a mere $1.99, this is the perfect Frost work to enjoy while you are waiting for Twice Tempted, the next book in the Night Huntress World series. So whether you are a Cat and Bones fan or proudly wear your “Team Vlad” t-shirt, do yourself a favor and take a look at Night’s Darkest Embrace. You’ll gain a new appreciation of an author who simply cannot write anything that’s not fabulous.

Something Wicked This Way Comes 2 Anthology Is Wickedly Delicious

5 Jun

Something Wicked This Way Comes 2 by Jaid Black, et. al. (Ellora’s Cave, May 1, 2012)

I’m not going to lie – I love short story anthologies. Other reviewers seem to get cranky and whine about how the stories aren’t long enough, they don’t know the author, they like shifter not BDSM, they didn’t like every story, blah, blah, blah.

Get over it, people.

Short story anthologies are just that, an anthology, which simply means a collection gathered together for consumption. You don’t have read it in order, you don’t have to read every story, you just pick and choose and enjoy what you get. Think of it like one of those fabulous Las Vegas buffets. Hate waffles, but love pancakes? Eat the pancakes and see if that kiwi fruit salad is as good as it looks even though you’ve never tried kiwi before. You’re not committing to a lifetime, it’s just a little bowl of fruit salad.

For me, anthologies satisfy a much-needed reconnaissance mission of scoping out new authors. With a three to 18 book per week habit, I am on the constant lookout for new authors (from any genre) to add to my repertoire. With that in mind, you can imagine I was thrilled to see this short story compilation available on Netgalley and snatched it right up to review.

I can honestly say I enjoyed all of the short stories, with a few standing out to the point where I have several authors’ works added to my “to-read” list. After reading that Jaid Black, the first listed contributor, is the pen name for Tina M. Engler, the owner of Ellora’s Cave Publishing, it’s no surprise about the quality of this anthology. Who better to get the best out of erotic authors than the woman who owns the publishing house synonymous with erotic fiction? Here’s my take on each contribution.

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“Fatman and Robyn” by Jaid Black

Jake Chamberlain is a star quarterback of the New York Bloods, but the Super Bowl ring on his finger just reminds him how actually empty is life is. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t warm up to the skinny supermodels he’s expected to date. Even when he fantasizes they are the lush, curvy woman of his dreams, one touch of their bony body and his erection takes a nosedive. He’s even sought out a therapist, but doctors don’t seem to have an answer either.

Resigned to his fate, he goes to enjoy a pastry in a small shop in Little Italy when a lush siren in a sundress highlighting more curves than the Pacific Coast Highway walks in and suddenly an erection is not a problem. Knowing he’s found the woman of his dreams is complicated when said woman, Robyn DiMarco, thinks the red-faced and muttering Jake is a madman. Correcting her misunderstanding, he begins to woo her, falling head over heels in love with both her and her crazy, loving Italian family. But when Robyn realizes that she doesn’t fit the mold of what people expect from a woman dating Jake, his longed-for happily ever after might never come true.

One of my starting points for reading more from this author

This story had me laughing like an idiot and alternately sighing over the poignant moments. I went through so many emotions, I had to recheck how long the story was – the impact of it was so hard that I felt like had read a full-length novel! Robyn and her wonderful family make you wish you were a DiMarco and Jake’s struggle to be respectful of Robyn when he really just wants to ravish her wins you over damn quick to this hero. I’ve added a bunch of Jaid Black books to my “to-read” list just on the basis of this amazing story.

“Scarred and Kilt” by Laurann Dohner

Do you know what makes a hot Scotsman in a kilt even hotter? Making him an uber-smoking sexy vampire, that’s what. Matty is a night owl who has appointed herself the neighborhood watch, a natural side effect of her attack from a would-be rapist. She fended him off, but it’s left her with some scars, both physical and otherwise. She’s enjoyed the eye candy of her neighbor who walks around in a kilt, always at night and gets regular deliveries from a blood bank. Yes, she’s figured out “Kilt” is a vampire, but since he doesn’t hurt anyone who is she to judge?

When some guy shows up with stakes and holy water and breaks into Kilt’s house, she grabs her stun gun to go help, much to Kilt’s astonishment. When he kisses her to heal an injury, the fire that leaps between them ends up with unbelievably hot sex on a desk (yowza) but Blaron (Kilt’s actual name) realizes that they are destined to be together, something Matty is not quite ready for, having just spoken to him for the first time five minutes earlier.

This story wrapped up a little quickly, but I still loved every word. The hero and heroine felt fleshed out and the vampire world is familiar enough to paranormal romance lovers that it was easy to understand some of the world details. Blaron was H-O-T and bringing Scotsmen and vampires together makes for a sexy mash any woman could get behind. I was interested to see that Laurann Dohner’s speciality tends towards more science fiction storylines. You could fooled me with the facility she handled this more purely paranormal one.

“Tinderbox” by Regina Carlysle

Jaguar Hunger by Regina Carlysle (Ellora’s Cave, January 2010)

Classic shifter menage, this was nevertheless nicely handled for a short story. When the local police bring in shifter P.I.s Nate and Daniel all they have is the footage of a pretty blond being kidnapped during a carjacking. But once they scent the purse she left behind they are stunned – not only is she a rare female jaguar but she’s also the mate they’ve searched for over a hundred years to find. They quickly catch up to her, freeing her from her kidnapper, but there’s a major complication. She’s in heat.

Oliva knows she should be elated to be free but biology is interfering with her enjoyment of being rescued by two unbelievably gorgeous men. Unable to shift until they go through their heat cycle and mate, female jaguars have a complicated biology that results in a tremendous amount of pain if they aren’t finding a sexual release with a mate.

This story is set in the same world as Regina Carlysle‘s previous work, Jaguar Hunger (a 68 page story) and the characters from that work pop up in this one. I was most impressed at how sensitively Regina handled the fact that Olivia is compelled to have sex with two strangers, albeit very caring ones. All three members of the partnership regret not being able to woo Olivia and gradually get to know one another, but the sex is smoking and the moment when she shifts emotionally charged and very sweet.

“Asterion” by Katalina Leon

Having lost her father and her betrothed in battle, Larisa is betrayed by the weak village chief. He rows her to a remote island where a gorgeous palace, dedicated to the Minotaur, stands and where she will be a virgin sacrifice. But rather than die at the horns of a god, Larisa finds herself used to give corporeal form to an alien being, one whose chosen form is that of a handsome man bent on pleasuring her and helping humanity.

This was one of my favorite stories! I felt the reader didn’t need the couple pages of explanation about the Minotaur prior to the story, but other than that blip, it was pitch perfect. Larisa is brave and bold and the “god” who takes such on a luscious form delights in his body and Larisa’s with such abandon that you have to smile for the thousand-plus year old virgin. I was surprised to discover that Katalina Leon has written a ton of books (she has a few listed on her Goodreads page) and none of them seem to be myth based like this story. I’ll be trying one of her books to see if she can delight me again.

“Decadent Dance” by Aubrey Ross

Another sci-fi erotic novel by Aubrey Ross

Choreographer Zoe purchased a dress in an odds and ends shop that came with a funny little booklet that she thought was fiction since it detailed wars between planets and men who guarded the far reaches of the universe. After she tried on the dress and got transported to an alien vessel, she’s taking its tale a little more seriously.

Vaden has been lonely for a while, waiting for his contract on his Decadent Dancer to come through, and now she claims she had no idea about the contract’s existence to say nothing of its terms. She says she’s a dancer but is seemingly surprised at the idea of intimate contact. What gives?

This was an interesting idea, but I worry that science fiction is something that involves a lot of world building (more than paranormal, since there are certain known tropes which readers can associate with those plotlines). It was easy to emphathize with Zoe for being startled about her sketchy dress transporting her to the ship and with Vaden for being so frustrated after waiting for sexual companionship to have a beautiful woman hemming and hawing about having sex with him. But where this stuttered to a stop for me was a crucial point in the story, namely where Zoe realizes that the race of people she has ended up with has no art or music…and she’s a dancer. This seemed like a big piece of culture to be missing and all those anthropology classes in college tell me that there really isn’t any such thing as a culture without some kind of music. That really threw me.

“Sahara Heat” by Diana Hunter

Another BDSM-themed novel from Diana Hunter

When an archeologist friend calls her from the desert to tell her about a fascinating find, romance writer Carla Braun agrees to meet with the colleague who is presenting the paper with all the details. But Carla is shocked that her friend’s colleague, Dr. Josef Anderson looks like a Nordic god…and seemingly has an ego to match. While he’s infuriating, she can’t help but notice the heat between them. With Josef about to leave New York in a day or two he could be the perfect fling, but she’s worried he’ll disappoint her like all the others.

Josef can’t believe that this red-haired beauty is a romance writer. Despite his being so cranky, she agrees to meet him for dinner. Maybe with a little too much hope in his heart, he goes to the nearest hardware store and buys the ropes and chains that are his stock in trade. What if he misread the situation? Or what if this spicy woman gives him the ultimate surrender?

This was another one of my favorites from the anthology. Diana Hunter shows how utterly respectful and caring a Dom/submissive relationship can be with her tender portrayal of Josef and Carla and the moment where they realize what they have found in one another. I was just sorry this story wasn’t longer!

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If there was any criticism I could constructively offer, it’s that several of the authors in the anthology were rather difficult to find on Twitter and nonexistent on Facebook. That’s tough for me since I like to keep track of authors through social networks, particularly if they don’t have a regularly updated blog I can put in my Google Reader.

I can’t help but connect the lack of social networking to the fact that many of these authors, who have clearly been producing at least a book or two per year for a few years, have very few reviews of each work on Goodreads. Without promoting them online through different venues, it makes sense that a talented author might very well go unnoticed versus a lesser one relentlessly promoting themselves to potential readers. It’s hard that an author has be both a writer and worry about promoting themselves on a platform, but I’d hate to see them lose publishing opportunities because they aren’t selling as well as they should. Please promote yourselves, authors! Readers want to hear from you. 🙂

While it doesn’t have a release date yet, I was happy to see that Something Wicked This Way Comes 3 has a designed book cover and will be coming out (fingers crossed) hopefully this year. Not only does it have new contributions by Jaid Black and Laurann Dohner (both of whom had stories I adored in this anthology) but there’s even a story from Kele Moon, who I just finished qvelling over in a previous blog post about her fabulous book, Defying the Odds. I’m also happy there are a few more authors I haven’t read since I’ll have a chance (again) to see if I can find a new favorite.

I’ll be purchasing Something Wicked This Way Comes 3 as soon as it hits the Kindle store. After all, any good buffet/anthology involves going back for second helpings.

A Fabulous Male/Male Regency Novella: The Sartorialist by Cecilia Ryan

30 Apr

There is no lover of Regency romance who doesn’t have a little crush and a lot of admiration for George Bryan “Beau” Brummel.  An elegant trendsetter from modest beginnings (compared with the aristocrats with whom he rubbed shoulders), Beau Brummel served as a captain in the Dragoons prior to the outbreak of the Peninsular and Napoleonic Wars, catching the eye of Prince Regent.  Included in the Prince’s inner circle for years, they eventually had a falling out, with Brummel finally fleeing Great Britain with his creditors on his heels and living out his days in poverty in France.

Brummels understated and elegant style of dress not only set a new trend known as “dandyism” but eventually became the foundation upon which the modern men’s suit is based. His fashion sense was only equalled by his wit and he made or broke many a man or woman’s reputation during this time period. Perhaps due to his rapier tongue, I’ve always wanted to include him on my short list of people from history I’d invite to dinner (and I would just make sure to dress really, really well).

When I came across the description of Cecilia Ryan‘s novella, The Sartorialist, and realized it was a male/male romance starring my favorite Regency fashion arbiter of taste, I was extremely curious.  Written in the first person, Ryan does a fabulous job at embodying the spirit of Brummel with all his wit (the whole book is from Brummel’s first person perspective), while still crafting him as a far more compassionate and empathetic creature than other renditions of this historical figure I’ve seen fictionalized.

In just the brief biographies I’ve read of him, I really haven’t heard Brummel’s sexuality discussed with abandon (I really need to read a full-length biography to tackle this topic) but since he never married despite his many debts, I could easily believe him to have had male lovers.  The Sartorialist does a wonderful job at showing how the recent war hero, Toby, catches Brummel’s and the Prince Regent’s eye with his good looks albeit unrefined taste.  Beau tells the Prince he will take him under his wing and make him more presentable, but the more he knows Toby (who is more than happy to fall into bed with the witty and elegant Brummel) the more he realizes he is falling in love with him.

The cover is beautiful, naturally, but I’m also a firm believer in the book cover hinting at the level of sensuality in the text – and this stunning look hints at no more sexual content than a Georgette Heyer novel, which may cause some readers to be misled.  The only inaccurate point I noted was the mention in a few scenes where Beau is undressing/dressing Toby were there is a reference to all the “shirt buttons”.  Regency lovers know that buttons on men’s shirts the way we envision them came much, much later in time (think of the shirt Colin Firth wears when he jumps into the pond in Pride & Prejudice and you have a good sense of how they were constructed back then). If there were buttons on a man’s shirt, it was likely to be just one to help shut the placket, although the cravat did the majority of the work in that respect.  It’s a small detail, but considering Brummel’s attachment to fashion, a point worth noting for the story.

There is a great deal of passion and tenderness in Beau’s and Toby’s love scenes, which Ryan writes with a very Regency voice (in many ways, this would be a good introduction to male/male romance for readers who worry they might be uncomfortable with the material but who still want to dip their toe into this popular sub-genre – it’s just about love and passion, people, like every other romance!). Knowing how Brummel lost favor with the Prince and was drummed out of the country, I was particularly worried about the chance for a Happily Ever After (HEA), but I thought the author did a great job melding the facts of Brummel’s actual life with a very believable happy ending.

I don’t know if Cecilia Ryan plans on writing any other Regency based romances M/M or otherwise, but I would definitely buy them considering the success of this wonderful novella.

Series Review: The Sullivan Series by Bella Andre

13 Mar

I stumbled across Bella Andre last year purely by accident.  I was reading an article last June about successful self-published romance authors and her name popped up.  Coincidentally it was right after she had released her first book of the Sullivan series, The Look of Love.  Be warned, these books are only available as ebooks, so print only romance readers are bound to go unsatisfied.  Maybe this is the push you need to get one of those cheapy Kindles finally?

With over 3600 Twitter followers, Bella Andre is someone who clearly understands the digital world, hence her success.  Already an established print romance novelist, she had books that weren’t being picked up that she wanted to get out there.  Starting with Amazon’s platform she got them up in ebook format, but realized if she marketed to the other ebook websites like Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc., she’d reach a larger audience.  Finding the interface accessible, she forged ahead, selling a thousand titles a day, and retaining a much larger chunk of the proceeds than with a traditional publisher.  Sounds like a savvy, experienced author knew just how to play the self-publishing game!

Bella confesses that she feels one of the key features of her success was the introduction of the Nook Color since it showcases her beautiful covers (and my Kindle iPad app agrees with that).  We know that everyone judges a book by a cover and I was no exception.  I was looking for a romance novel for under $5 that I could download that instant, and when I read all the great reviews for Bella and her books on my Goodreads account, I made the plunge.  She is, hands down, one of the best values in the romance novel world.  I can honestly say that I would pay a lot more for these books (but please don’t raise the price!) but I’m intensely grateful to never have to budget for them.

The first book begins on a rainy night on a road near the Napa Valley vineyard owned by Marcus Sullivan.  His brother, world renowned photographer Chase Sullivan, is driving back to the vineyard when he spots a broken down car driven by a despondent Chloe Peterson.  Spotting the bruise she’s sporting, he realizes this ravishing beauty not only outshines the models which surround him but she is also in serious trouble.

Chloe takes one look at gorgeous Chase and knows she’s in trouble.  Her abusive ex had caught up with her and she’s beginning to despair of ever being free of him.  Yet this handsome man looming over her in the night inspires trust rather than fear.  When he brings her back to the beautiful vineyard where he is having a fashion shoot, she finds herself opening up her body and her heart.  Oh, and the balcony and bathtub scenes. *Mrrrrrooowwww*

Chase is determined to have both those things and Andre’s talented writing breathes life into these two characters from the very first page.  The Sullivans are a family of eight children and their lovely mother who lost their father at an early age.  Each of the kids are distinct individuals and intensely devoted to family.  We’ve got a nice selection of upscale glamour (Smith is a movie star, Chase the noted photographer, Lori the renowned choreographer), a workaholic (Marcus the oldest and the vineyard owner), and the sexy professions (Gabe is a firefighter, Zach a mechanic, and Sophie the librarian).  [Okay, I know that’s seven, and I’m pretty sure there’s a younger sister I’m not thinking of right now, but she hasn’t been the in the stories so much. So sue me!  I’m sure her story will be great, too.]

You end up wanting to just BE a Sullivan!  In the first book, Marcus comes across as a little uptight, mostly due to the references to his cranky, be-yotch girlfriend in San Francisco, but you realize he’s wrestling with something bigger.  The second book, From This Moment On, picks up with Marcus finding out about said girlfriend cheating on him.  He realizes he hasn’t had feelings for her, well, forever, but is wrestling with the fact that he’s so remote and can’t open up to someone.  Is it because of his dad dying so young and leaving Marcus as the male head of the family with all the responsibility?  He decides to blow off steam and head to the nearest club to see if he can indulge in some casual sex and get his mind off his troubles.

Enter Nicola, one of the hottest performers, who is running from a relationship that should carry a scorched earth warning.  Her ex got her name in the tabloids by releasing a video with the two of them…well, you can imagine.  She decides to leave her penthouse hotel suite and head out to a club to see if she can get a little of her self-esteem back.  When she and Marcus catch sight of each other, they quickly leave the club and adjourn to his brother’s empty apartment where…she falls asleep, dead on her feet from her grueling work schedule.

And so begins an incredibly hot, tender romance.  Marcus and Nicola see something in each other, recognizing that they have a deep connection and can see beyond the surface – what everyone else sees – to each person’s real self.  The part at the end of the book where Marcus follows her concerts. *Sigh*  So romantic.

The third book, Can’t Help Falling in Love, leaves the wealthier Sullivans behind and focuses on sexy firefighter, Gabe, who is literally in the middle of battling an apartment fire, to make his way to a woman and child trapped behind a wall of flame.  It’s Megan Harris, who is busy shielding her young daughter in their bathtub, praying help comes in time. Gabe injures himself in the process, but manages to save both their lives and when she and her adorable little daughter go to thank their savior, the sparks that fly could easily cause another inferno.

But rather than elation, Megan and Gabe both feel a kind of panic.  Megan is a widow whose husband was an adrenaline junkie so she’s had her fill of men who have potentially fatal jobs and now she has a little girl to worry about hurting with a relationship that doesn’t last.  Gabe is beside himself – he falls for Megan’s daughter as hard as for her stunning mother, but he had a previous hook-up/relationship with a woman he had saved and she went Swimfan on him in a big way.  Watching the two of them work through their issues and recognize how important they are to each other is a sensual, occasionally painful joy.

Which brings us to the most recent Sullivan novel, I Only Have Eyes for You, just released February 21st.  Librarian Sophie is twin to choreographer Lori, and their respective nicknames Nice and Naughty, describe how the family sees their personalities.  In previous novels, we’ve gotten the sense of how Sophie has feelings for Jake McCann, her brother Zach’s good friend and someone the family calls “the ninth Sullivan”.

This story opens at Chase and Chloe’s wedding, which Sophie has organized.  She’s decided that no matter what (including the warnings from her twin, Lori) she is going to make Jake notice her, and her clingy pink bridesmaid’s gown and movie star hair and makeup have him picking his jaw off the floor.

Jake has actually loved Sophie from a distance since they were both little, but his crappy home life (abandoned by his mother and raised by an abusive alcoholic father) and academic shortcomings have him believing he’s not good enough for her.  Yet seeing her at the wedding and thinking of her with someone else make him mental.  Even though he knows he’s wrong for her, when she throws herself at him, he catches her with open arms, only to have the best night of both of their lives.

But the following morning, he steers clear of her like she has the plague, despite knowing that he’s hurting her, thinking it’s for the best.  Until two and a half months later when Sophie has an announcement which will change both their lives – if they let it.

Jake and Sophie are both fabulous characters and I love the way Bella Andre weaves in the previous characters seamlessly but not intrusively.  The focus is always on the couple involved but the enthusiastic reader still finds themselves wrapped in Sullivan love and affection while not feeling like the other characters are living some kind of epilogue in the middle of the current novel.  It’s a skill I wish other authors would master.

Consider the value in these books.  At $4.99 for each book, $20 for the series, you get four terrific novels about a family you simply can’t get enough of.  No editing errors, fabulous characters, and fresh, sensual plots with heart-wrenching love – this is undoubtedly one of the best values for the money.  If you have an ereader of any kind, I would strongly encourage you to give this series a chance.  You’ll be happy you did!

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