Tag Archives: Harlequin

Why Are Romance Writing Contests Becoming Less Popular and Can We Save Them?

27 Jan
Awards and contests have historically played a part in helping authors get noticed (and get a contract). (Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock)

Awards and contests have historically played a part in helping authors get noticed (and get a contract). (Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock)

There was a fascinating discussion on RWA (Romance Writers of America) Chapter Leadership group just a few days ago about how so many established chapters are jettisoning their long-established writing contests or have already abandoned them.

This is a bigger deal than it seems since, in the past, contests were a great way for chapters to fill their coffers, supplementing dues with entry fees that enabled its members to benefit by having the funds to get terrific speakers, which in turn attracted new membership, etc. It’s unlikely we’ll see the end of the Golden Heart (the RWA’s premier award for an unpublished romance fiction manuscript) but chapter contests? According to the listserv, there were a decent number of responses indicating they had given up their contest within the last five years.

Will chapter romance writing contests go the way of the dodo bird? (Public domain image via Wikipedia)

Like so many endangered species, the contest appears to be dying, with many RWA chapter board members saying they could no longer garner the minimum number of entries required or that well-known authors cranking out multiple books a year and the overburdened editors reading them were no longer as available to wade through submissions. So why is the demise of such a time-honored writing tradition taking place now?

I’ve got a few educated guesses, but my main reasons for the end of the chapter writing contests are improved technology, the recession, and the meteoric rise of self-publishing.

Technology

Older technology made collaboration and feedback harder. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Older technology made collaboration and feedback harder. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Technology is clearly a biggie. Even ten years ago, social media was still in its infancy (we are talking the Friendster era) and videoconferencing for people who did not work at a fancy corporation with a dedicated room didn’t really happen until 2003 when Skype was born. Even then, most people had a very variable (and slow) connection which would have made the transmission rather hiccupy, so this particular technology was reserved for a few years for loved ones thousands of miles apart (and probably phone sex).

You’re wondering what this has to do with writing contests. Since a major reason for people entering contests is for the detailed critiques often given, entering a contest in the hope you’d make the top entries and warrant detailed feedback from a knowledgeable person in the industry must have been incredibly attractive. Now, we have Harlequin contests where readers can vote on manuscripts in real time and regular writing critique groups meeting on Google Hangout where they can not only chat with each other but look at one another’s screen to see specific comments made on their story by other members. Even editors have said that the electronic revolution has made it easier to find good writers with manuscript acceptances also much faster (sadly, the rejections are faster, too).

With blogs maintained by well-known editors and even publishing imprints (Harlequin is truly a coach to fledgling writers of category romance), authors are no longer writing blind, instead inundated by the crap-ton of information that exists. While this can certainly be overwhelming, none of us lack information from expert sources, which is more than could be said even a decade ago, when would-be authors clutched a copy of The Writer’s Market in one hand, and Stephen King’s On Writing (originally published in 2000) in the other. Both are still terrific, but check out all the other books that now exist – just for romance writers!! Note the majority of them are available in ebook format only. More on that later.

The Recession

With contest fees ranging from $10 (often a member price) and up, entering a manuscript (or just the first few chapters of a hopefully completed manuscript) can get pricey.

We all need a little help getting published. But with so much technology at our fingertips, are contests the answer? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

We all need a little help getting published. But with so much technology at our fingertips, are contests the answer? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

It’s like the college application process – first the standardized testing scores, then the application fees, etc., and all sent to a person (the college admissions officer) whose job it is to tell people “no” and take only the best candidates. With most publishing houses in the “most selective” category – accepting only a tiny percentage of applicants from their slush piles or even agented manuscripts – this business of entering contests to garner attention or have a honor or two for the query letter can get expensive.

There is no writer out there not feeling the recession. Belts have been tightened and while RWA members are scrimping to pay their national dues and perhaps belong to a couple pertinent chapters, I doubt many people feel there is a lot of extra cash to spend on contest entries. The would-be or even published writer’s emphasis is instead on what can be done to bring in income while waiting on their first (or next) contract or working to add to the books or novellas they’ve put out that year. Conducting online workshops, self-publishing (see below), and adding new skills like copyediting, cover design, or helping authors with their WordPress site are frequently heard additions to many a writer’s arsenal. With an unemployment rate of 6.7% as of December 2013 in the United States (and that’s not including all the people who got kicked off the rolls because their benefits ran out – they still don’t have a job, FYI), the pressure is on to bring in income and contests are an outgoing expense with little future realization of funds. In short, they can be a bad investment.

Self-Publishing

With any luck, this fairy godmother has got a publishing contract under that cloak! (Image by Kerri Polizzi via Flickr, labeled for reuse with attribution)

But even with technology offering more options to writers for feedback and the recession putting the kibosh on non-essential expenses for would-be authors, the biggest factor in the demise of the chapter writing contest is undoubtedly self-publishing. The sole reason for entering contests has always been for professional feedback so you could get published. In the past you would hear the occasional NYT best-selling author discussing how they garnered the attention of an editor because of a couple of chapters that got in front of an editor judging a contest…and the next thing they knew they had a contract. *waving fairy godmother wand*

This is a story you rarely hear any longer, first and foremost because there are fewer editors in the world with the seemingly endless consolidation of traditional publishing houses. The ones left are also working their asses off to find fresh voices from the comfort of their offices, while their assistants read slush pile submissions and mine the web for prospects and everyone pulls a ten hour day while wearing the editor uniform of New York Black. But the real reason no one mentions contests as a stepping stone for publication is because authors can do it themselves.

We’ve all heard of the self-published writer who posted something to Amazon and ended up saving their house or the success of the outstanding hybrid author Bella Andre, who was dropped by her publisher, and decided to publish her own books (woo-hoo Sullivan series!) only to make an astronomical amount (in 2011, she reported to the Washington Post that she was topping $20,000 per month and the number was climbing). In an outstanding turn of events, she then was able to turn back around and re-sell those publishing rights to her self-pubbed work back to traditional publishing house Harlequin, who re-released them in paperback form for the readers without a Kindle or Nook on their bedside table.

The dilemma for the self-published always seems to come down to how to reach the target audience. Certainly these authors earn more per book (a LOT more) in terms of profit but move fewer books on average, so self-publishing has its pros and cons. Forbes magazine actually found the authors with the greatest income to be hybrid authors, ones who capitalize on the traditional publishing promotion yet add to their (and the publishing house’s) bottom line by keeping their audience interested with frequent novellas or short stories related to their series between full-length novels.

With authors becoming more comfortable either DIYing their own book covers or having some good friends in their chapter who are excellent copyeditors or website designers (see above recession skills section), authors are feeling like self-publishing is definitely within their grasp. I think most authors I speak to are leaving traditional publishing on the table and participating in online pitches (Twitter is a common space for this) or saving their pennies to attend RWA National or great state conferences (New Jersey’s Romance Writers conference, Put Your Heart in a Book, is popular among mid-Atlantic writers for the number of New York editors who hear pitches at it). Somehow having control over publishing a book or two, while perhaps also looking at going the traditional route, is seen as more attractive then submitting manuscripts to chapter contests, and I can understand why.

How Chapter Contests Could Evolve

Awesome chapters like mine (I had to show our killer logo designed by the ever-so-talented Vikki Jankowski, our president) are eager to combine our efforts with other chapters. Who is with us? What would that look like?

Looking at the above pressures and taking a new approach to chapter contests is the answer to save the genre. The goal is to help writers get published, right? The foremost piece to consider is that there are chapter costs to pay judges (good ones) for their time. Why are we all so separate as chapters even though each of us belongs to RWA? If several chapters in my home state of Pennsylvania could band together with some New Jersey chapters and the awesome Maryland Romance Writers, think of how much money we could offer as a prize or to pay the fee of a big name judge!

This type of contest could also garner more media coverage, giving the contest more cachet in terms of the author actually being able to use the award in a query letter or to help sell a pitch. With videoconferencing available, there are no longer the same set of excuses to not do this kind of collaboration. Let’s wake up, people, and smell the 21st century coffee! My awesome chapter, Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers, is already reaching out to local chapters to see what cooperation potential exists – let me know if you’re interested in getting on our outreach list.

So what are our possible options for the reinvented contest?

  • Since increasing use of technology is vital for successful writers, what about a “best romance author website contest” with maybe unpublished, debut author and published author categories? The chapter can collate a rubric based on the many best practices articles out there by publishing house editors etc. and publish their criteria. Not only does this make what is being evaluated clear, but it can be used as a template for new authors when designing their site. The top 5 finalists could receive a critique and suggestions from the judge(s) with a cash prize or in kind design services (can you give a gift card for WordPress plug-ins?).
  • American Idol and Dancing with the Stars know what they are doing in terms of crowdsourcing with polls. What about a contest for “best use of social media by a romance author”? This doesn’t even have to include a fee but could simply be utilized as a method for getting some media attention to romance fiction and/or the chapter.
  • Best book cover design. There are some truly awful book covers and some that you would never know were not done by a Big Five publishing house. You could have individuals, small presses, ebooks only, and traditional publishing each have their own category in this kind of contest.
  • With academic analysis of romance fiction a growing field, a contest could be built around “best literary, historical or popular culture nonfiction work (article or book) about romance fiction”. Promoting the contest to the universities with romance writing and popular culture programs would garner a slew of entries from students perhaps looking for extra credit and you might be able to convince author/academics like Jennifer Crusie or Eloisa James to be a judge. I bet websites like Popular Romance Project and Romance University would be great partners for a contest like this.
  • Pitches are still something most writers need to do…and they are scary. What about a contest that is a “best pitch” contest with video, Twitter, and email categories? Getting name editors would be key here for cachet and for relevant feedback, but technology would make this straightforward to do.

Contests can be made relevant for the modern age, we may just have to rethink what the current demands are on writers and adjust accordingly.

Have your own thoughts on the romance writing contest? Please feel free to add to the conversation by leaving a comment. Let’s all figure out how best to help writers!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff, and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of January 26, 2014

26 Jan

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Self-publishing got a huge boost when historical powerhouse Stephanie Laurens jumped on the bandwagon and her latest novella, The Peculiar Case of Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds, came out January 6th, so go pick it up when you have a chance. Fans of her exceptional Cynster series will enjoy seeing a very pregnant Penelope Adair and her wonderful, crime-solving noble of a husband Barnaby (as well as the ubiquitous Stokes of the police force) join forces to solve a baffling mystery. That a new couple in the making is also desperate to get to the bottom of the murder forms her trademark Regency romance. Keep in mind that this book is one of her ongoing The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series featuring Barnaby and Penelope as well as new couples and I for one am interested to see the reception and type of stories which will emerge in this framework.

In just a couple of days, sensual paranormal and romantic suspense writer Cynthia Eden will be kicking off her new series, Phoenix Fire, by releasing the first novel, Burn For Me, on January 28th. Seeming to focus on paranormal creatures held against their will and the potential mates they encounter, this is a premise we’ve seen before but never with this level of sexual tension or Eden’s great writing. I was fanning myself just from the excerpts from Burn For Me and the second series book due in April, Once Bitten, Twice Burned.

Also on the 28th is the massive release of Jeaniene Frost‘s seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress seriesUp from the Grave will be her last Cat and Bones novel and she has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off so this one has been pre-ordered since last July. Frost admits that the couple might pop up in other books in the Night Huntress world (remember we still have another book in the Night Prince series and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ian has evolved enough to be the hero in his own novel soon). With those possible novels on the horizon (and having the utmost confidence in the creative imagination residing in Frost’s mind), I’m happy to thank her for finally offering Cat and Bones a happily ever after since they’ve been through a lot in their time together! January 28th will be a little bittersweet, but with Frost at the helm, I’m sure to enjoy every page.

Good news for military romance lovers! The next Tawny Weber Uniformly Hot! Harlequin Blaze novel featuring her sexy SEALs will be out on March 18th. Entitled A SEAL’s Kiss, this delicious story involves a SEAL on leave who agrees to be a pretend fiancee to help a woman alleviate the worry of her ailing father. You can imagine that the “no sex” rule of the arrangement becomes increasingly harder to keep as our hero and heroine become attracted to one another! Pre-order it now from Amazon so the day after St. Patrick’s Day will be a little brighter for you.

Also due out on March 18th is Jennifer Ashley‘s latest addition to her unbelievably good paranormal series, Shifters Unbound. Feral Heat is the latest novella which focuses on Jace, the son of the leader and third in command from the Las Vegas Shiftertown who visits the Austin Shiftertown (bring on the sexy Morrisseys, thank you) to discover how to remove the crippling collars which render the shifters at the mercy of humans. When a shattered, beautiful woman, Deni, volunteers to be the test subject, Jace is moved by her circumstances and drawn to mate claim her, but it’s uncertain whether her fragile state can survive the collar removal so she can be a full mate to Jace. We met Deni, the wolf shifter in the novella featuring her brother, Lone Wolf, and this woman’s road has been a heartbreaking one. I cannot wait to see her (and Jace, who is a blisteringly hot feline if ever I saw one) get a HEA.

Erotic author Paige Tyler has succeeded in practically every subgenre of romance fiction – erotic, science fiction, romantic suspense, and paranormal – so I was thrilled to see that Sourcebooks Casablanca picked it  up and will be publishing her upcoming series, entitled X-Ops. The first book entitled Her Perfect Mate not only has a killer cover but a terrific premise. A human Special Forces hero is partnered with a diminutive, seemingly gentle covert ops partner, only to discover she can switch on her feline DNA to deadly effect when necessary – and he loves it. I’ve pre-ordered this one!

Historical romance readers always seem to like the novels of Erin Knightley, so they’ll be thrilled to see that the first book in her new series, Prelude to a Kiss, is due to be published on June 3rd. The Baron Next Door has a cranky war hero recovering from his injuries using the restorative waters at Bath consistently annoyed by the music coming from next door. Discovering the beautiful young musician creating it instills a very different feeling and it’s not long before his feelings undergo a radical change.

Contests and Giveaways

Suspense fans love Cristen Harber’s Titan series, so they will definitely want to enter the Goodreads contest to win book 4 of the series, Savage Secrets, about the firm’s new second-in-command who is on an undercover mission to nab a terrorist. Sounds like an average day at the office for this crew, but unfortunately for him he’s got some strange brain hallucinations he’s neglected to discuss with anyone and is posing as the newlywed husband to a gorgeous woman bent on revenge. Things suddenly just got a lot more complicated…

For those readers who can’t get enough MMA fighters (yes, I am one with you, sisters!) should be aware that Gina Maxwell just released her third book in her Fighting for Love series, Fighting for Irish, and it looks WONDERFUL (a hard-working waitress has to come up with thousands of dollars to cover an ex’s debt and the fighter she’s always loved from a distance steps up to offer himself as collateral *sigh*). Because it was only released on January 13th, we are still enjoying the blog tour and Entangled’s giveaway. Enter before February 6th and you’ll have a chance to win a $50 gift card to B&N or Amazon (reader’s choice). Did I mention the book is also ONLY $.99 RIGHT NOW?! Run and fight for your copy before it goes back to full retail.

Those angels over at Paranormal Romance blog have put together a book giveaway of some terrific authors (Gena Showalter, Michelle Hauf, and Maggie Shayne, for example) for readers who leave a comment on the post detailing their favorite paranormal romance author. I chickened out and revealed my tie between Jeaniene Frost, Nalini Singh and Ilona Andrews (seriously, talk about a Sophie’s Choice to choose a favorite!), but get your vote in before the January 30th deadline to see if you can win.

Fun Stuff

Who knew the Consumer Electronics show could be this exciting? The personal pleasure business OhMiBod revealed that they are offering a fabulous remote controlled vibrator, The Club Vibe 2.OH (*chuckle*). This beautifully crafted electronic device is a rechargeable vibrator which comes with a remote. While obviously a person or their lover can use the remote to activate the vibrator in a more traditional way to excite the wearer, this particular vibrator has a “club mode” which has the microphone of the remote initiate vibrations to the rhythm and intensity of the ambient music (or voice, etc.). This latest edition is a nice complement to the other company products like their Freestyle W:Wireless Music Vibrator which connects to your smartphone or MP3 player and syncs the vibrations of a rabbit style vibrator to the music you are listening to. Gives a new meaning to “beats per minute,” doesn’t it?

The Australian Romance Readers Association was kind enough to put one of their banquet’s most popular speakers, the wonderful Julia Quinn, online (in three parts) giving fans about 45 minutes of pure Julia, who has a wonderful back and forth with the moderator and fans and answers questions about her various series and characters, and her outlook on romance writing. You’ll find even more to love about her!

I know I’m not alone in freezing like a popsicle these last couple of weeks (I celebrated yesterday because it was a whole 6 degrees in my car when I got in it – and I was just ecstatic it wasn’t a negative number anymore!). What do you need to keep warm and make a fashion statement? A literary themed scarf, naturally! Those wonderful people at Book Riot have assembled a terrific list of book-related scarves, several of which look both warm and trendy, so go take a look.

A terrific article in The Atlantic details some recent research showing that regular sex actually improves brain function and long-term memory (while viewing pornographic images has the opposite effect) even making a connection that older adults with early onset Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to not have had sex recently. All the more reason to make that meaningful connection and improve your brain health!!

Great Deals

Donna Kauffman is not only a terrific author who moves the heartstrings but she also makes you hungry as delicious food (usually dessert) features prominently in her writing (thank god). Lucky for all of her devoted fans, Sugar Rush, the first book in her Cupcake Club series, is on sale for the ebook edition, currently only $2.51 on Amazon. When a baker returns to her small town is astonished that her former boss, a British powerhouse she nicknamed Chef Hot Cakes decides to film his cooking show in her storefront, she’s baffled as to why. He knows why he’s there, and it’s not to steal recipes..just her heart.

The first book in Lynda Aicher‘s well-rated Wicked Play erotic series is only $.99 right now, so BDSM fans might want to head over and pick up Bonds of Trust while it’s still at a great price to see if they want to try the other novels in the series. This first one features a heroine who ended a bad marriage and is more than ready to try out all the fantasies she was denied with her ex. Heading to the nearest sex club is naturally the next step (how many of those are there around the country, anyway?). She finds a Dom intrigued by introducing her to the lifestyle but what starts as instruction quickly becomes something much more emotional, and neither party knows if they are ready for that level of commitment.

Readers who love shifters as much as I do will want to take a look at the bundle, Shifter Seduction Box Set, which has novels by Eve Langlais, Mandy Harbin, Tressie Lockwood, S. K. Yule, Crymsyn Hart, and LeTeisha Newton. This wonderful collection definitely falls on the erotic end of the spectrum with this line-up with many of the books focusing on menage relationships that truly are unleashing the animal within. Mrrrooowwww.

Readers of this blog know how much I love the military romance chops of writer Kaylea Cross, particularly her fabulous Titanium Security series. In honor of the latest book of the series, Rekindled having been released just last week, the first book in the series, Ignited, is currently on sale for only $.99. Fans of well-written, detailed and emotional military romance will not be disappointed by Cross, so I’d recommend you pick up this book ASAP!

Happy reading this week! 🙂

Romance Readers Who Want a Great Movie Recommendation…Apply To These Two Books

22 Jan
Sitting down to a movie, either in your home or in a theater, should be filled with anticipation. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Sitting down to a movie, either in your home or in a theater, should be filled with anticipation. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

I guess like my reading, I am VERY picky about the movies I watch. For most films, I’m happy to read spoilers because I don’t like horrible surprises (says the woman who buys her own Christmas presents and tells her husband, “Honey, I absolutely LOVE what you got me!”). With a strong aversion to violence against women, I also use websites like Kids in Mind to give me a heads up when something horrible is embedded in a film so I can take a potty break or go make popcorn. (And screw you, Downton Abbey, for NOT giving me any inkling about what was going to happen to Anna. You’re dead to me.)

Wanting a feel good movie that reaffirms your faith in humanity or is inspired by the books you love is probably a fairly popular trait, but sometimes finding a recommendation you can trust is difficult. I went to a college known for its film program and while many of my friends studying that discipline didn’t necessarily wear all black and chain smoke, they were universally fascinated by the most obscure and depressing films, bandying about terms like “schadenfreude” and “jingoism”. Even now, when I listen to NPR film critics talk about the latest deep movie that thinking people should go out and see, half the time they are fascinated by the “dark underbelly of humanity” and discuss the lingering despair that follows you out from the theater while you are desperately drying the tears from your face.

Oh my. That’s not what I want.

Enter the queen of category romance, Heidi Rice, who somehow, while pumping out dozens of great romances for Harlequin, has also managed to have a full-time career as a film critic and a mother (how many arms does she have?). Perhaps sharing my sense of despair, she has admirably assembled a host of movies which appeal to the romantic in her recent book, Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love. While every movie she reviews doesn’t necessarily have a love story as the central theme, each one nevertheless strikes a strong cord in the area of relationships, and that’s really what we armchair psychologists dissecting our heroes and heroines like, don’t we?

Rice, utilizing the snappy British slang that makes her American fans smile while we enjoy her heroine’s witty comebacks, divvies up movies into the following categories (please note that all movie links will take you to the film’s page on the Internet Movie Database for more information):

  1. Oldies That Are Awesome (i.e., fabulous TNT classics like It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, On the Waterfront, The Apartment, etc.)
  2. Cartoon Capers, But Not Just for Kids (i.e., movies that have you borrowing someone’s pre-teen to take to see Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, Up, Toy Story 3)
  3. Rom-Coms R Us (i.e., gems like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, It’s Complicated, The Proposal, Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Joys For the Boys (and the Girls, Too) (i.e. enough action for him, enough romance for her in films like Public Enemies, Cowboys & Aliens, Skyfall, Rush)
  5. Offbeat But Right Up My Street (i.e., doesn’t look anything like a romance but you love it anyway such as Julie & Julia, The King’s Speech, The Artist)
  6. Big Is Beautiful, Bold Is Even Better (i.e. those epic films where you can’t keep popcorn in your mouth because your jaw keeps dropping open, like Gone with the Wind, The Last of the Mohicans, Brokeback Mountain, Australia)

Like everything Heidi Rice writes, I loved this book (it’s nice to know my affinity for her is not limited to fiction). Witty, informative, candid and occasionally self-deprecating, Rice’s prose makes you feel like your knowledgeable best girlfriend is giving you a run down on all the movies you should see to wear your “romance lover” badge proud and loud. I adored her glossary (I had never heard the term “dick-flick” but I guarantee I’m going to use it at least three times this weekend). Explaining the difference between Harlequin KISS heroes and Harlequin Presents heroes, and then applying those terms to various movies, was sheer genius to help me understand the tone of the film. I especially liked that her subject matter ran right up to the end of 2013, so a few of the films are recent releases, giving the book a real currency I appreciated.

Writing a film review actually has some of the elements of the book talks we librarians utilize when doing reader’s advisory. Give the hook, but don’t give away the ending; compare it to a similar more well-known work so people have an idea what it’s about; and convey your enthusiasm for the story since that’s often contagious. Heidi Rice never gives away the farm in terms of the plot, but she tantalizes you with enough detail that you are reading in one hand and queuing your watchlist with the remote in your other hand! I actually found quite a few movies I hadn’t seen that I assure you I will be watching in the upcoming long winter nights.

Did I mention the best part? No? Well, this informative, fun book is only $.99 – no joke! So run out and get personalized recommendations to satisfy the romantic in you.

One area that Rice stays clear of is the sinkhole of book to film adaptation, a particular pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe the motion picture industry exists solely to ruin books for me, so when it comes to my favorite classics, you have one testy woman on your hands if you open with this conversational gambit! Also by Harlequin is the hilarious, yet oh-so-informative, Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Carrie Sessarego.

It was startling to find out that the author and I clearly had been separated at birth. I, too, continue to reread Jane Eyre each year and have since I was a pre-teen, getting something different out of it as I’ve grown and matured. I also didn’t understand what the fuss was about with Pride & Prejudice until I realized that it was all in code (and I had read about the constraints of the Regency period) and what people were saying versus what they were feeling were two different things. Finally, I also possess a virulent hate for all things Wuthering Heights and do NOT understand what all the blather is about since Heathcliff is a first-class dick and I want to shove Cathy down a flight of stairs.

My usual mantra, but now I’ll have to reconsider watching some of these adaptations after reading Sessarego’s hilarious (and informative) work.

Yet, using prose so funny I found myself laughing out loud late into the night, Sessarego accomplishes the impossible – she actually has me thinking about watching some of the adaptations I’ve avoided like the plague due to their lack of faithfulness. Probably this is due to her masterful approach to the material. With each work, she begins by delivering the improv version of Cliff Notes, boiling down the material to it’s essence and helping the reader understand all the plot nuances you’ve might have forgotten if it’s been a while since you read the book. Then she covers the TV and movie adaptations, indicating the year, actors, director, etc. and rating them on a star system with oodles of details about how they stayed true to the book or veered away (and if it worked or not). Extremely helpful was when she made clear that the writing had ruined the script but a particular actor totally embodied the character the way a reader would enjoy. Her “Final Scorecard” at the end of each section highlights a summary of the “best of” the adaptions (i.e. “Best Mr. Darcy” “Best Rochester” etc.) and she even has a terrific “Special Features” section with tantalizing little bios of the original book authors – and trivia and a music playlist!

Since this excellent (and much needed) book is a mere $.99 as well, I’m thinking that fans of these books are fools if they don’t run out and buy this puppy for immediate consumption. Honestly, this book would make a terrific basis for a themed party (or series of them) with English grad students, best girlfriends or even a fun English class (don’t think I won’t be pitching it to my English teachers on Monday) since it still manages to delve into the core of each book in order to determine if the adaptation met the objectives of the original work. Sessarego blew me away with her wit and insight, so much so I’m hoping she has another media criticism book in the pile so I can look forward to visiting with her on a different topic.

Enjoy your romance – the mystery of love and relationships that reminds us why it is good (and sometimes painful) to be human – in book and on film. With guides like Heidi Rice and Carrie Sessarego steering us to good films, we can’t go wrong.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Snowbound Wedding Wishes Anthology Gives Us a Holiday Dose of Harlequin Historical

24 Dec

Snowbound Wedding Wishes by Louise Allen, Lucy Ashford, and Joanna Fulford (Harlequin Historical, November 1, 2012)

I’m really picky about my historical romance authors – REALLY picky – so much so that I often don’t try new authors until I’ve read every review on Amazon and Goodreads of a given book. The slightest whiff of something off – using language not yet invented in the time period, extremely unconventional behavior for the era or excessive dickishness of the hero – and I won’t even pick it up. I guess my paranoia stems from the fact that with a history/biology double major in college, I know enough about historical periods that it’s easy to jar me out of the story with the result that I feel like I’ve wasted my time.

With this caveat, you can imagine that I actually do like anthologies (and anyone who reads this blog knows I love them as a method of finding new authors). When I saw that Harlequin Historical had produced an anthology last year entitled Snowbound Wedding Wishes, containing stories by Louise Allen, Lucy Ashford and Joanna Fulford – all Harlequin authors I have seen receive good reviews – it occurred to me that this volume was an excellent opportunity for me to perhaps highlight a great book for the December Read-a-Thon while also dipping a toe and seeing if I would like these authors as much as everyone else.

Mission accomplished. I was impressed with not only the writing but particularly the historical detail provided in each of these stories, which all possessed accuracy in the historical representation of the Regency period, lovely heroes and heroines, and a distinct voice.

“An Earl Beneath the Mistletoe” by Louise Allen

Major Hugo Burnham can’t believe he survived the Penisular Wars to be caught on a freezing cold night a few days before Christmas so he can die of exposure in the English countryside. On his way home to his ancestral manor, circumstances detoured him from his original route until he is more than a little lost. Both he and his horse are thrilled to see a light in the distance and even more astonished when a lovely widow answers the door to the alehouse he finds tucked away in a small hamlet. Her twin boys are bright as copper pennies and the more time he spends with them, the more Hugo realizes that Emilia and the boys have him wanting – wanting a real family. Despite her having a cultured accent, it’s clear they are not nobility (if they were, they wouldn’t be in an alehouse) and any protectiveness he feels toward her must just be a result of empathy for her circumstances.

In addition to numerous historical romances, Louise Allen is also the author of the well-rated nonfiction book, Walking Jane Austen’s London, a guide I hope to one day take to heart while exploring that city with an eye to a favorite author!

Emilia Weston realizes that the handsome serious major is definitely above her station, at least her station now. Having eloped with a poor younger son from a good family earned her family’s disinheritance, leaving Emilia with few options. Now she exists in limbo in the village, politely tolerated by the villagers and given the occasional head nod from the local gentry but belonging to neither. She wants to make sure that the boys have everything they need to at least enter the law and have a chance at financial success and happiness. She’s made the best of her circumstances and she wouldn’t have given up the time with her loving husband for anything, even with her hardships – Giles was a wonderful husband who did his best for her. Some of the side benefits of that relationship are foremost in her mind as the honorable Hugo can’t seem to keep his hands and mouth off Emilia despite his best intentions and she’s frightened to discover she doesn’t want him to. As the snow deepens and this officer stays under her roof for Christmas, Emilia can’t imagine that any Christmas miracle can be forthcoming regarding her growing feelings for someone she’s sure is an aristocrat.

I adored this story! Emilia is plucky and yet real, with frustrations that make her a three-dimensional character and one easy for the reader to fall for, to say nothing of Hugo (the poor man didn’t stand a chance). Allen’s details about Emilia’s daily work with the ale were fabulous and yet never crossed into “info dump” territory – very skillful. Hugo’s character is totally understandable and coming home from the war, taking up his role as the Earl of Burnham, and then falling in love with an alewife had to equal not just a hell of week but a tough adjustment for him. Hearing about Hugo’s childhood gave further insight into his immediate understanding of Emilia’s unique and loving mothering style, and this helps him begin the mental trek to thinking about what he wants in a wife and family. The resolution was plausible and extremely emotionally satisfying, causing me to turn the final page with a huge grin on my face. I’ll be checking out other Louise Allen books for sure!

“Twelfth Night Proposal” by Lucy Ashford

Theo, Lord Dalbury has experienced a strange series of events. A former officer in Wellington’s army, he returned to England after Waterloo and was happy with his friends and a minor barony to his name. Then an elderly woman he had only met once left him a property in Derbyshire with some strange instructions and his life has taken a strange turn. His immediate goal is to simply take a look at the property while conveniently avoiding all the matchmaking mothers of the ton, but the vicious country roads and uncooperative weather is making what should be straightforward all too difficult. An odd encounter with a group of children, led by a blond beauty dressed as a lad, ends in a fall from his horse and unconsciousness – a rather ignominious introduction to Northcote Hall, his new property.

The Captain’s Courtesan by Lucy Ashford (Harlequin Historical, September 1, 2012)

What he finds is at once horrifying and mysterious. Northcote Hall is in shambles with only a flighty housekeeper and corrupt steward at the helm. After witnessing the steward sexually threatening the young blond woman he met at the scene of his accident, Theo fires him and attempts to figure out what exactly is going on. The blond, Miss Jenna Bruchs, is no peasant but neither is she gentry and she and her mother are fiercely attached to the Hall. In fact, she and many of the locals appear overly eager to see him take up residence, an attitude undoubtedly linked to the former steward’s vicious rein of terror. Theo guesses that Jenna is the natural daughter of an aristocrat stemming from when her mother worked as a housekeeper, and the more time he spends with her the more he wants her. But what kind of future can they have together, even during the twelve days of Christmas?

This was a wonderfully written story with a compelling hero and a feisty young woman trapped in almost impossible circumstances. The villain is horrible and yet more than just a two-dimensional vehicle to move the plot along. Terrific conflict and a very satisfying resolution from the unconventional Theo made me love the ending. My only criticism is how disappointed I am to find that Lucy Ashford does not appear to have any social media presence to speak of, with just a basic (if lovely) website for readers. I worry her talent is not being as showcased as it could without this way of reaching the many fans she must have. Reading hundreds of romance novels a year, I’ve seen the correlation that authors with no social media presence always have fewer reviews and, I imagine, fewer sales. My fingers are crossed that she overcomes her reticence and embraces more of a digital footprint!

“Christmas at Oakhurst Manor” by Joanna Fulford

This is a reunion romance (which normally I’m not a huge fan of) but Ms. Fulford made this quite realistic and lovely. Ten years ago Max Calderwood told the woman he loved that he was leaving her to go to India and make his fortune. Vivien was high-born and Max felt he could not give her what she deserved or even keep her in the style she was used to. Setting her free was the hardest thing he had ever done, especially after hearing her plea to take her with him while he sought his fortune, but he knew he was doing the right thing, even when he told her not to wait for him. Working hard in India, Max realized he made a huge mistake based on how he was devastated by the news of her marriage, but it was the bed he made and he resolved to lie in it.

A decade later, Max is incredibly rich and has finally made his way back to England to purchase a property and enjoy that for which he labored all those years. Startled to see Vivien at a house party for Christmas, he’s astonished not only with the realization that she is even more beautiful than he remembered, but the news that she has been a widow for 18 months and has two children. Her sadness and vulnerability call to him, but he’s unsure if she would be willing to take a chance on the man who hurt her all those years ago.

The Viking’s Defiant Bride by Joanna Fulford (Harlequin Historical, 2009)

Vivien actually knew Max was going to be at the Christmas party but she couldn’t disappoint her friend or her children and back out at the last minute. It’s unfair that he’s even more handsome than ever – and clearly the target of other women’s matrimonial designs – to say nothing of the fact that he’s wonderful with her children, something their father never was. Vivien married a much older man, convinced respect would make for a good marriage and she’s regretted the decision so much that even his death was a guilty relief. She’s glad to have her children, but with her husband a poor money manager, their future is extremely uncertain. Yet Vivien is strong enough to stand her ground and not make the mistake again of accepting marriage where there is no love. When Max attempts to convince her that his feelings are still strong even after all this time, Vivien is forced to face her demons to see if she is the still the brave woman she once was.

I enjoyed this novella very much and want to sample Joanna Fulford‘s other writing after reading it. With my recent interest in the surge of Viking romances, I was interested that Fulford, mostly a Regency historical author, has dabbled in the Viking genre to good reviews. I’m going to have to look at those and at some of her other Regency tales since this one had a sweetness to it (it was the only story of the three with no sex, just kissing) that was period appropriate and endearing. Perhaps because of that, it felt very accurate to me, with both the hero and heroine taking a while to work up to anything beyond polite pleasantries. That undercurrent of the unsaid subtext felt very Austen, which I liked. The characters are still extremely honest about their feelings to themselves which keeps the story moving.

New UK cover for the anthology

Snowbound Wedding Wishes is an anthology I can heartily recommend to historical romance authors who enjoy the Regency period, particularly when the holiday season is the focus. While I had held onto this book since last year, I’d like to point out that it’s recently been reissued by Harlequin UK with a different cover for their British audience, who I’m sure will also greatly enjoy it.

At less than $5 for almost 300 pages, the cost of this anthology feels like a good bargain to me (although you might also want to check your local library since it has been out for a year). I’m pleased to have found three authors who have published enough that I have a nice body of their work to explore and to gain further confidence in Harlequin’s Historical line to know that their editing and author choice is rock solid.

Happy reading (and Merry Christmas)!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 21, 2013

22 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Jacquelyn Frank‘s next book in the Nightwalkers series, Forsaken, will be debuting on January 7th and fans are chomping at the bit. Mercenary Leo Alvarez is dealing with his best friend now embodying an ancient pharaoh and he now needs to protect his friend from supernatural beings more dangerous than he could ever imagine. His unlikely ally is the Night Angel, a stunning creature who sets him aflame while also wielding power like he has never seen.

It’s now less than 10 days until the anthology Turn Up the Heat is published, and readers who snatch up books by Lori Foster, Christie Ridgway, and Victoria Dahl have already pre-ordered (and you should, too). Alpha males, beautiful woman and a love worth winning are a common theme of each hot, contemporary novella and I for one cannot wait. Pre-order it and have a great New Year with this book on your doorstep or delivered to your e-reader.

This past week gaslight fans all breathed a sigh of happiness as Kristen Callihan released the fourth book in her successful Darkest London series with Shadowdance. Mary Chase is happy in her work for the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals and when tasked with bringing down the vicious murderer labeled the Bishop of Charing Cross, she is determined to be successful. Her annoying rival Jack Talent also appears to be on the case and while it would make sense to work together, this lone wolf never does. Mary doesn’t realize that Jack would like to work closer…much closer…with her but the temptation she offers combined with the danger has him worried that if their killer doesn’t hurt her the ghosts from his past may.

Fun Stuff

‘Tis the season for finding awesome gifts for readers, and a truly unique gift can be found at Spineless Classics which offers the entire text of a book in a single poster with a unique design which manages to evoke the story. From children’s classics like the first Harry Potter book, James and the Giant Peach, among others, historical classics, nonfiction works like The Origin of the Species, to the New Testament, there is something for any kind of reader. At just under $70 these unframed posters are an investment but make a truly awesome gift.

I bet you have probably used the phrase “kick-ass” in reference to a strong woman (hopefully yourself!) but did you ever wonder when this phrase became part of our lexicon? The outstanding Romance Novels for Feminists blog has an outstanding analysis of when we started saying this (the late 1970s, a key time period for women) and has some great examples of which heroine it has been applied to in the post, “From Whence the Kick-Ass Heroine?”

Did you know Microsoft is working on a bra that will help read our body cues to alert us if we are going to begin eating emotionally? Prevention Magazine recently announced that the prototype, which measures heart rate, breathing rates, skin temperature and movement, still won’t be able to account for the holidays as a factor (what, they can’t add in a clock?) but should help people be more aware of their habits. So my immediate questions are 1) how to wash it and 2) what are men going to do?

Contests and Giveaways

From the Fresh Fiction blog, the author who actually invented the military romance, Lindsay McKenna, is the focus of a fantastic contest to win her entire Wyoming series, which appears to encompass both her Jackson Hole series as well as her Shadow Warriors series, in addition to others. Enter before Christmas to have a shot of getting most of this legend’s oeuvre.

Another holiday motherload of books contest can be found at The Rock Stars of Romance website which is hosting a contest to win a $100 gift card and a TON of ebooks and paperbacks from terrific authors. Hurry over there to enter, however, as this contest ends tomorrow.

The romance industry’s major publication, RT Book Reviews, is hosting a giveaway for all the books in the Baskerville Affair Trilogy, the series by Emma Jane Holloway which focuses on the niece of Sherlock Holmes and the steampunk world she inhabits as she attempts to live up to her family’s reputation for solving mysteries. The contest ends 12/27/2013, so use the Rafflecopter interface and enter to win!

Under the Covers Book Blog is giving away a copy of Jaci Burton’s Holiday Games, the wonderful holiday novella tied to her Play-by-Play series which stars the members of the incredibly talented Riley family. Enter by Christmas to see if you can win a copy of this terrific addition to the series.

Harlequin is celebrating the holidays by offering a unique bundle of historical romances (from all time periods and settings) as a giveaway and you become eligible to win by simply leaving a comment before December 29th. With authors like Nicola Cornick, Jeannie Lin, and Susan Wiggs, historical romance readers are bound to think that Harlequin headquarters is actually at the North Pole (well, they have to read something to keep warm, right?).

The blog Hesperia Loves Books is a having a wonderful giveaway for paranormal readers who love dragon shifters, offering the three current books in Jamie Rush‘s The Hidden series, but also ARCs for the next two books in the series, and a custom dog tag. Go over today and enter as the contest closes at midnight!

You’ll have to move fast but fans of Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series have a chance to win an ARC of the final Cat & Bones novel, Up From the Grave, if they send an email to Frost no later than midnight on the 23rd (tomorrow!). Details are up on her website, so get those fingers moving to let this wonderful author know you are interested in a leg up on reading this long-awaited novel.

Tawny Weber is having a great giveaway for her holiday book, Naughty Christmas Nights, and all you have to do is go use the Rafflecopter entry form by Christmas Eve to be considered. About two rival lingerie companies and the man and woman who are fighting for their future, the heat between them begins to mean more than getting the account.

Great Deals

Available for free right now is a collection of nine short stories, each from a different author, and encompassing a variety of romance genres and heat levels. Gratis: Midwinter Tales just came out on December 19th and clearly has a holiday theme, so give yourself a totally free present and see if you can find a new author to enjoy.

Also currently free is the steamy short from Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright, Bayou Noel, about a Louisiana woman who is tired of waiting for the man she’s loved from afar to notice her. After five years, it’s clearly not going to happen, but she couldn’t possibly anticipate what a simple letter informing him that she’s leaving would unleash. This story falls between the eighth and ninth books of this shapeshifter series and as always, it’s as hot and steamy as a Louisiana swamp, so enjoy!

Elisabeth Naughton‘s first Eternal Guardians book, Marked, is currently available for free on Amazon, so snap it up. About a woman marked to die and the 200-year-old descendent of Hercules whose job it is to bring her in order to save his people, this paranormal romance has tortured alpha males and beautiful women who have the power to bring them back from the brink, all set in a political world with its own agenda.

Jennifer Skully (aka Jasmine Haynes) has reissued her book, Sex and the Serial Killer under its new title She’s Gotta Be Mine, and it’s currently free! The first of her Cottonmouth series, fans of zany romance and eccentric characters will definitely want to take a look at this story which features a divorced woman who bounces back from her husband leaving her for his high school sweetheart by undergoing a massive makeover. Not content with simply changing her appearance, she also decides to take up with the town’s sexy bad boy who is rumored to be a serial killer. Exactly. Go get it, now!

Courtney Milan‘s first novel of her The Brothers Sinister series (really a prequel), The Governess Affair, is also free right now on Amazon, and it’s a book that’s gotten kudos from historical romance readers around the world. When a hero who started off as the son of a coal miner and rose to be the right-hand man of a duke and feared throughout the country can’t get rid of a governess, well, love is clearly in the air.

One of my favorite novellas of all time is on sale for only $.99 – Laura Kaye’s Hearts in Darkness! About two people trapped in an elevator who never got a good look at one another but who are drawn together as they talk and um…do other things…it’s truly characteristic of Kaye’s hot, sweet writing style. Similarly, her fascinating stand-alone vampire tale, Forever Freed, is also only $.99, so check them both out so Laura Kaye can make your holiday a little brighter.

Suzanne Brockmann‘s novel, The Unsung Hero, the first book in her Troubleshooters series, is on sale for $.99, a great price for 416 pages of romantic suspense with a Navy SEAL hero. Lt. Tom Paoletti spots a terrorist when at home recovering from a head injury but the powers that be dismiss it as the product of his concussion. He assembles an eclectic team of his friends and experts, including Dr. Kelly Ashton, the girl-next-door who has grown into a compelling and beautiful woman. But all of them may not be enough to take down this bad guy and Tom begins to realize that protecting Kelly might be even more important than taking down this particular tango. Can he manage both?

Lynsay Sands seems to have enough Argeneau novels that one of them is always on sale (lucky for us) and this week’s deal is Immortal Ever After about a woman captured by a psychopath who seems to have fangs and the vampire savior who claims she is his mate. Only $1.99 it’s a great deal for a full-length novel from this excellent paranormal author.

Cherry Adair‘s book Hush from her wonderful Lodestone trilogy is on sale for $1.99 and has two thrill-seeking brothers who experience a kidnapping and a woman who is kidnapped along with them. When Zak and the woman’s escape reveal a new ability for him, he needs to figure out how to use it to find his missing brother. Quite a…um…large machete he’s wielding on the cover, yes?

That’s it for this week. I’ve got a review of a terrific anthology coming up this afternoon, but I hope you have a great Christmas with lots of amazing books as your present.

Happy reading!!

December Read-a-Thon: Heidi Rice Shows Us What Lucky Looks Like in ‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky

19 Dec

‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky by Heidi Rice (Entangled: Indulgence, November 1, 2013)

What does “getting lucky” look like in a holiday novella? How about a sexy playboy with a heart of gold, a soaking wet British achluophobe (fear of the dark), and a department store closed for Christmas where you can have anything you want? Exactly.

This fantasy is exactly what every salivating reader gets with Heidi Rice’s fabulous novella, ‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky, and it’s worth way more than the $.99 price tag since 1) it’s packed with vivid detail and a startling amount of emotion and 2) it’s Heidi Rice, people, and she’s awesome.

Kate Braithwaite’s long distance boyfriend has just dumped her via email so she trudges to the office she’s called home for the past six months (through a horrifying rainstorm) to remind herself why she left England behind. Doing PR for one of the premier stores in Manhattan has been a dream come true, but even Kate realizes how pathetic she is being the only person at work besides the security guard on Christmas. Thankful no one can see her, she exchanges her soaking wet clothes for a way-too-small elf costume and decides to try and be productive. At least she works more than the no-show playboy son of the owner who draws a massive salary and never comes to work.

Ryan Sinclair is in fact “at work” that day, and is busy pondering over what appear to be slutty elf dolls actually meant for children, when one (very sexy) elf startles him so much that he tackles her. This British beauty has a face to match her luscious body, but her frosty demeanor and workaholic attitude make her undesirable, or so he tells himself. Until the rainstorm which has become a blizzard kills the store lights and suddenly Katherine (he likes that better than Kate) is shaking, showing a vulnerable woman under the bitchiness. Over the course of a snowstorm which traps them in the store, these two people discover that the other person is not at all what they imagined…and that a Christmas blizzard may have deposited much more than snow on their doorstep.

Okay, this is Heidi Rice, a superhero in the world of category romance (way to go, Entangled!) and she delivers her usual brand of hot, sexiness wrapped in a hero and heroine who seem like a total mismatch but are really very similar under the skin. Kate has (understandable) abandonment issues and Ryan has worked to insure his daughter never, ever feels abandoned. I honestly could not believe that this novella was listed at 57 pages – if you told me it was closer to 100 pages, I would have believed you with the emotional evolution experienced by the characters between its covers. Does it move quickly? Of course, it’s a novella, but that doesn’t mean this story is anything but quality writing. Don’t move until you check out such classics of this author’s like Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger and/or Cupcakes and Killer Heels! They are the reason I love Heidi Rice and you’ll understand the minute you read them. 🙂

Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love by Heidi Rice (Harlequin E, January 6, 2014)

Yet despite my being a fan, I only just managed to realize that her author bio clearly states that Rice also works as a movie journalist in her spare time. I was extremely excited to see on her blog that she has a movie guide specifically for romance lovers coming out in early January, Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love. Seriously? Even better, it’s about 150 pages of recommendations AND it’s also only $.99. Whaaa??? Color me having pre-ordered it (and maybe my blog readers will get some movie reviews peppered in here since we all enjoy great films that make our HEA a visual reality, don’t we?).

Remember that ‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky is part of the same Entangled series as yesterday’s ‘Tis the Season to Kiss Santa by Kate Hardy, so you now have two reasons to take a look at these great books. With all the busyness and running around of the holidays, these books are exactly what you need to take a mental time out for yourself and do something just for you.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: White Christmas by Ros Baxter Offers a Post-Apocalyptic Erotic Short For Your Holiday Pleasure

12 Dec

White Christmas by Ros Baxter (Escape Publishing, December 1, 2013)

I love science fiction romance and for some reason my holiday reading binge is never complete without a few great sci-fi romances in there, the more erotic the better. Imagine how thrilled I was to stumble across this particular short story by Ros Baxter…and find out that it was free right now on Amazon!

The more I read from Escape Publishing, Harlequin’s Australian branch, the more impressed I am with the quality of writing coming out of that particular house, and White Christmas fits my expectations. Despite being a mere 30 pages or so, Ros Baxter manages to sketch a post-apocalyptic world and two lovers separated for years by forces beyond their control (although only one of them knows that).

Tabysha is a scientist – an Explorer –  whose craft was shot down in an unexpected firefight, unfortunately right to the surface of a planet filled with a particular creature – one she’s been studying – who literally survive by sucking the life out of any being with the misfortune to get in their way. With the predators blind, Tabysha knows that she just has to stay in her ice cave to mask her heat signature and wait for the rescue craft on the way.

But when she sees another craft – an Avenger – go down and the pilot clearly struggling and in the path of a hoarde of hunter gatherers, she ignores orders to inject him with a drug that will keep him on his feet and hopefully alive. Yet when he pulls off his helmet, she’s aghast to discover it’s Ashe, the slow-talking Southern boy she feel for at seventeen, the year he disappeared without a trace, breaking her heart. Yet as the creatures get closer and closer to the ice cave where Ashe is deliberately pushing at Tabysha’s defenses, this scientist realizes that succumbing to their still burning desire is the only way to keep them alive.

Holy crap! Ros Baxter has a true talent – I could not believe how much world-building and history she managed to convey with a few, crisply worded sentences. I’m surprised the heat between Tabysha and Ashe didn’t melt that ice cave and I loved the references to Christmas despite the atheism officially adopted in the post-apocalyptic society. It ended up being a nice parallel – just as humanity clung to the holiday of hope and love, Ashe and Tabysha still clung to their feelings for one another deep in their hearts and minds after all those years.

Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon right now to download this short for free. You’ll be happy to have found a new author, gotten a bargain, and managed an infusion of the holiday spirit, science fiction style.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Naughty Christmas Nights by Tawny Weber a Hot Holiday Read (Even Without the Lingerie!)

10 Dec

Naughty Christmas Nights by Tawny Weber (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

There aren’t many contemporary romance novels that feature a sexy elf falling in lust with a man in a fuzzy green Grinch costume, but welcome to the world of author Tawny Weber, where lust surpasses bulky Christmas costumes!

In her December novel, Naughty Christmas Nights, we find wide-eyed optimist Haley North, the talented but struggling owner of Merry Widow Lingerie, who is attending a Christmas holiday costume party because it’s the brainchild of the rather pervy owner of the upscale Rudolph’s department store. The man himself, the elderly but libidinous Rudy, has a jones for drama and has gathered all the designers he’s considering for his spring line in one place. Haley is on tenterhooks as she desperately needs this contract to keep her business afloat with creditors knocking at the door. Yet despite the tension of the situation, a whole other kind is filling her when she catches sight of the Grinch across the room.

Gage Milano cannot believe he lost a bet to his brother and he’s stuck in a Grinch costume at a party where he needs to cinch a key deal for his family’s newly acquired lingerie line. The deal means everything to Gage – he’s started his own successful marketing firm but his father has him and his brother hooked into the family business whether they like it or not. With Gage’s brother Devon promising him snagging the Rudolph’s account means Gage can have a year off from Milano business to work on his own projects, it’s as if someone threw a lifeline to a drowning man and he just has to reach out and grab it. Yet the only thing he wants to grab onto is the blond bombshell in the candy cane striped bustier and stockings.

The lingerie descriptions are to die for, so get ready to drool and wish Merry Widow was a reality with this novel! (Image in the public domain via Pixabay)

The lingerie descriptions are to die for, so get ready to drool and wish Merry Widow was a reality with this novel! (Image in the public domain via Pixabay)

A case of mistaken identity and a whole lot of mutual lust has Haley and Gage circling one another (maybe with a little hot kissing thrown in for good measure) but when they meet the next day and realize they are each other’s competition, neither are happy. Gage thinks the account is a slam dunk – both lines are so different with the Milano line channelling S&M black leather and Merry Widow selling romance and sexy empowerment – surely Rudy will want one in particular and with the guy channelling the blue pill with women a third his age, the blatant sex in the Milano line is bound to win. But Haley is the comeback kid at every turn and Gage wonders if he actually has the ability (and heart) to trounce her when it’s clear she’s got the better designs.

What follows is a series of events that force Gage and Haley to work in each other’s company while everyone takes their sweet time deciding between their products. That Haley and Gage begin to develop feelings for each other during the holiday season is a fact that cannot be denied, but with Gage never having been in a relationship of any kind and Haley too used to one person after another putting her second, the question remains if either party has what it takes to make this work, even without the account of a lifetime stuck between them.

In many ways this book – from Harlequin’s steamy Blaze line – could have also passed for an amped up Harlequin Presents novel, with it’s plucky, more innocent heroine self-actualizing as she realizes what she wants (and needs) from her life and a wealthy, dickish, cutthroat hero who finds himself changed in the course of exposure to a woman unlike any he’s met before. Like a Presents novel, you find yourself suspending the certain knowledge that both these people need therapy more than they need each other, instead plunging yourself into the heady fantasy of holiday magic working to bring two lonely people together. While Gage takes a long time to get his act together, you’re fighting for Haley as she attempts to assert herself and her amazing designs into the limelight to win this account.

Naughty Christmas Nights is also a sensual feast so beware, clotheshounds! You will find yourself drooling over not just the lingerie but the clothes Haley wears. Does Tawny Weber have a Pinterest inspiration board for this book, because if so, I’m following.

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 7, 2013

8 Dec

Upcoming Books and Recent Releases

Tracey Devlyn, whose Nexus series combines amazing historical romance AND romantic suspense, debuted the cover of the fourth book in that series, entitled Latymer. Not available until early January 2014 and worse, not available yet for pre-order (!), this volume represents Devlyn’s personal journey to continue to her series without her previous publisher of Sourcebooks, and I’m damn glad she decided to continue it (and it looks like Avon picked up the series for its digital line – woohoo!). The snippet she included in her newsletter (check out her website to subscribe to it) shows us our hero is a lord with a son he loves determined to ferret out a spy, something he should be quite good at considering his previous work for the Foreign Office. At the mercy of both French and British authorities who want him dead, I have a feeling that Nexus is going to have to help Lord Latymer and his son, and I’m guessing it might be a female spy (perhaps one he knew before?) who is going to lend a hand. Cannot wait!

Jill Shalvis is beloved by contemporary romance fans everywhere, particularly for her Lucky Harbor series. Those readers will be pleased to note that she’s just announced the 9th full-length novel, Once in a Lifetime, will be published on February 11, 2014 (oh, ho! Just in time for Valentine’s Day) and will star the tortured soldier Ben McDaniel and the “trouble with a capital T” Aubrey Wellington who is trying to set her life on the right path with Ben the perfect person to help. Okay “helping” him might involve a bit more with such a hot, brooding guy but making amends involves getting a little dirty, doesn’t it? Pre-order it for a great price ($5.40 right now for the paperback edition!) right now.

Tawny Weber just released her Christmas novel, Naughty Christmas Nights, this past week, which brings together two excellent things – Christmas and lingerie. When two people attempt to land the sexy underwear account for a major department store, rivalry is a natural outcome. But Hailey’s Merry Widow lingerie line is all about playfulness and sensuality while Gage Milano wants out of his family’s business so he needs to prove it’s all about sex, period. Is the heat between them simply lingerie induced, or is their more this holiday season? Things are certainly heating up…

Also released this week is the novella in Katherine Ashe‘s The Prince Catchers series, Kisses She Wrote, about a scandalous earl who discovers that a wallflower’s diaries are filled with the fantasies of him kissing her, and he’s damn intrigued. This holiday season might be filled with wishes granted if they both can surrender to the potential between them. At only $.99, this novella belongs in everyone’s present pile!

Contests and Giveaways

Adrianne JamesThe Enlightening (Book #2 in the Mackenzie Duncan series) is part of a package available for you to win via your Goodreads account. The Tempering (Book #1) is actually also included in paperback edition as well as some lovely Adrianne James swag to celebrate the series. Featuring a Harvard freshman, Mackenzie Duncan, who is attacked by a wolf and changed against her will, this series deals with the aftermath of her change, with book 1 showing the sinister underbelly of the pack who welcomes her with open arms and book 2 illustrating that life on the run with two werewolves who both want to win your heart can be more complicated than it sounds. Enter before December 9th for your chance to read this series for free!

S. E. Gilchrist, the science fiction romance author of Dark Warriors fame, is offering a giveaway in honor of the 1st anniversary of her first publication, including such prizes as gift cards and books from her backlist, so go check it out and join in the celebration and enter before the 23rd of December to see if you could have a little something extra in your Christmas stocking. Congratulations, S. E. Gilchrist!

Category romance fans who like their millionaires of Russian extraction and their princes remote bastards waiting to be melted by the right woman will want to be sure to enter the giveaway for Kate Hewitt‘s The Prince She Never Knew, a Harlequin Presents about an arranged marriage that could become something much more, bundled with Kholodov’s Last Mistress, about a scarred wealthy Russian completely ensnared by an innocent American tourist, so much so that he tries to push her away only to realize that he needs to get her out of his system. Submit your entry before December 11th to win.

For readers who love their small-town romances near the ocean, you’ve probably already read and loved Rachel Herron‘s Cypress Hollow Yarn novels, but in case you haven’t gotten to the fourth book of the series, Cora’s Heart, or you’ve been wanting to dip a toe into this series, it’s available via a Goodreads giveaway if you enter before December 13th. With the heroine a farmer who has lost her mother and husband to the point where she tries to plan everything in her life, a hero – her late husband’s cousin and the man she loved before – is bound to mess up her agenda, particularly when he has a plan of his own.

It’s hockey season and people know how much I love Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, so I’m naturally looking forward to the February release of her next novel, Melting the Ice. About a fashion designer whose brother suggests she use her college flame, now a hot NHL player, to showcase her latest creations, I’m going to enjoy seeing this successful player prove to his former girlfriend that he’s changed for the better. The best news? I might be able to win a copy early (and so could you) by entering the Goodreads giveaway before December 13th.

Another upcoming book you could win an early copy of is the eighth book in Shayla Black’s Wicked Lovers series, Theirs to Cherish, which isn’t due to be published until March 4, 2014. This BDSM romance has an element of romantic suspense threaded through its sensual tale as the heroine is an heiress who has been on the run for years, finding Club Dominion the perfect hideout. She’s fallen in love with the club’s Master but when her plan to make him jealous with a Dom who wants her submission backfires and she finds herself falling for two men, she ends up endangering her heart along with her life when a killer comes calling. Enter before December 13th to win!

Ranae Rose just published the fourth book in her Inked in the Steel City series, Abiding Ink, but fans of tattooed heroes and heroines can win a copy if they enter the giveaway before December 15th. Perfect for the holiday season, this story centers on a tattoo artist who volunteers in a hospital ward and the hot nurse who doesn’t want to fall for him, but can’t help herself, even when it makes her want to run away. Gimme!

Fun Stuff

Take a look at the great video clip from Popular Romance Project featuring an interview with Princeton postdoctoral fellow, An Goris, a wonderful Dutch woman who went from failing English as a 15 year old to writing analyses about romance fiction, a turnaround she largely credits to her love of Nora Roberts, at the time more available in English than in Dutch. Guess who is her featured author of her dissertation?

Did you know that category romance doyenne Caitlin Crews has been releasing a new Presents novel, His Wife by Christmas, chapter by chapter on Harlequin’s website…for free? That’s quite a Christmas present – use your Send to Kindle app (which can be installed in your browser’s bookmarks) to get it on your e-reader if you prefer reading on that screen.

Great Deals

Best-selling author Cynthia Eden has the first book in her Purgatory series, The Wolf Within, currently on sale for $.99 (and free for Prime members who want to have it as their loaned book for this month). FBI Agent Duncan McGuire is committed to defending the world from monsters as part of the Bureau’s Para Unit, but when he survives a werewolf’s attack only to begin to change into a monster himself, he’s more than horrified. He fights tooth and nail not to have Dr. Holly Young be the one assigned to care for him – the attraction between them is fierce and his feeling has only intensified with his body’s changes, and she’s the last person he wants to hurt. Except that Holly has been hiding her own differences, but their situation is about to get even more complicated as the monsters circle around them, and it’s unclear if their new feelings for one another can survive the onslaught.

Mary Jo Putney‘s Lost Lords series is hugely popular, so historical romance readers who would love one of her book in ebook form or who simply want to sample her writing should run and grab Loving a Lost Lord, currently only $1.99 on Amazon. This novel, the first in her series, has everything a historical romance reader could want – a duke, amnesia, a fake marriage, and two very sexy protagonists – so grab it now!

Since readers of Mary Jo Putney are often also fans of Sabrina Jeffries, cross-over readers will want to check out What the Duke Desires, the first in her new series, The Duke’s Men, currently down to $1.99 on Amazon. With the overarching theme of a disinherited younger son of a viscount who opens an investigative agency with his illegitimate half-sister Lisette, the first book focuses on a duke who receives word that his older brother, presumed dead after a kidnapping, might still be alive, and traveling with Lisette posing as his wife reveals much more than information about his long-lost sibling.

It must be the season for discounted historical romance, as Lorraine Heath‘s final installment in her Lost Lords of Pembrook trilogy, Lord of Wicked Intentions, is also on sale for $1.99. A lord who has been on the run since he was young escaping a nefarious uncle determined to rob him of his birthright and a young, innocent woman who is the illegitimate daughter of an earl is a recipe for a satisfying romance, particularly when the lord in question makes her his mistress and she’s determined to have all of his love.

In time for the holiday season is the paranormal deal of Selena Blake‘s novella, Fangs, Fur and Mistletoe, currently free on Amazon. The first in her highly rated Mystic Isle series, set on an island which is a playground for paranormal creatures wanting to relax. When a vampire meets up with the hunky werewolf who was her enemy a century ago, her sexual drought is just about to end, especially when the werewolf in question realizes he has a chance with the blue-eyed temptress he hasn’t been able to forget over the decades. It’s free, people!

Laura Griffin‘s suspense novel, Twisted, the fifth book in her Tracers series, is also only $1.99 right now and fans of romance fiction featuring police and FBI protagonists need to hustle over and grab it. A lovely rookie police officer in a small Texas town worries that the case that seems like it’s tied with a bow isn’t all that it seems, an instinct confirms when a handsome FBI profiler appears with new information. But just when it seems they are in hands distance of catching a killer, the hunters may become the hunted.

Have a great week and happy reading!! 🙂

December Read-a-thon: You’ll Be Peeling Someone’s Clothes Off After Reading Ripped by Sarah Morgan

7 Dec

Ripped by Sarah Morgan (Cosmo Red Hot Read from Harlequin, December 1, 2013)

Because let me tell you, the “Cosmo Red Hot Read” moniker is taken damn seriously in this particular novella! So warn your significant other that his or her shirt buttons will soon be on the floor (or wear your jammies and have a cold drink of water if you are currently without company), because Sarah Morgan’s spectacular Christmas story, Ripped, is going to strip your socks off faster than Auburn can make a final touchdown against Alabama.

I’ve always adored Sarah Morgan who is probably one of the top category romance writers who I will always, ALWAYS buy if the cover has her name on it. She particularly excels in those domineering uber-hot millionaires who have rough pasts but who melt for the right woman. (I mean, Doukakis’ Apprentice, anyone? Yowza.) Our hero in Ripped, the ultra-sexy Sicilian turned British lawyer, Nico Rossi, a man whose very looks and demeanor have women shifting uncomfortably because he sets their panties on fire by simply walking past them, fits the Morgan bill beautifully.

But here’s where I have a bone to pick with this talented author – WHEN THE HELL DID SHE GET SO DAMN FUNNY?!? I’ve been enjoying Sarah Morgan’s writing for years (along with the rest of the known romance reading world) and while I have definitely enjoyed her prose and smiled at a clever quip or situation in her books, I had no idea that she was able to make me laugh out loud or gasp in horror before dissolving into giggles at an embarrassing situation. To quote my mother-in-law, Sarah Morgan has been hiding her light under a bushel.

And what a light. From the first scene we are 100% in the moment, as engineer Hayley, sitting in the front row of a tedious church wedding ponders how her pride had her agreeing to be a bridesmaid for a woman who not only slept with her ex-boyfriend but was marrying him right in front of her. Hayley didn’t want anyone to think she was moping, but her former friend has clearly used the situation as revenge, stuffing the voluptuous Hayley into a too-small, anemically colored bridesmaid dress. The only thing making this worthwhile is getting to gaze on the perpetually angry but always hot Nico Rossi, a friend of her former boyfriend and the best man. Trying to maintain her dignity, it fully flies out the window when she takes a sigh of relief…and both sides of the dress rip at the seam, exposing her large breasts to all and sundry since she had to go braless under the tight monstrosity.

Doukakis’ Apprentice by Sarah Morgan (Harlequin Presents, 2011)

Nico comes to the rescue with a rapidly thrown Tom Ford jacket and whisks her off to a side room of the church to gather the shreds of her so-called garment but Haley is not about to stand for Nico’s frustrated berating – as if she planned this wardrobe malfunction! Their glaring quickly turns into an unbelievably hot make out session well on its way to sex against the wall, except for the timing of Nico and Haley’s respective sisters butting in. Back at her Notting Hill flat with her sister, Haley cannot get the cold and controlled Nico out of her head (okay, he wasn’t that cold OR controlled when he was kissing her, but still) but she’s content to have their usual Christmas lunch for all their friends as per usual. However, Haley’s sister has a Christmas surprise, namely one sexy Italian lawyer, who has decided that Haley is his holiday present and he plans on unwrapping her again and again. Can Haley’s New Year’s resolution to not mix sex and her heart stand firm against Nico?

Holy. Shit. I’m not sure I’ve ever given a novella five stars, but this one got it. Told solely from Haley’s perspective (and usually I do not enjoy the first person perspective, but it’s vital to the humor in this particular novella), this story is an evolution of perspective as Haley clearly has one image in her head of her dealings with Nico over the last few years, a perception which unravels as she realizes that Nico has actually been the only man in her life who has seen and appreciated her for who she is – an incredibly smart satellite engineer.

Can I mention the humor again? Not only is the opening scene laugh-out-loud hilarious, but the lines just keep coming. When Haley’s sister Rosie dumps the turkey on Haley as the doorbell rings with the instruction to pluck some of the lingering poultry feathers, Haley experiences a moment of incredible empathy with the bird:

I stared gloomily at the turkey. It had dark stubble on one leg. Clearly the person who had prepared this turkey for the oven had been anxious to leave work early. I looked at the stubby ends poking out of the plump pale skin and sympathized. It wasn’t easy keeping yourself smooth.

Morgan, Sarah (2013-12-01). Ripped (Kindle Locations 496-497). Harlequin. Kindle Edition.

How she decides to pluck the feathers still has me chortling, particularly when Nico and his sweet sister come upon her doing it. Her observations regarding Nico are equally as quote-worthy, whether it’s contemplating his sexual prowess when she ponders the question was “this was sex Italian-style, (if so, I was emigrating)” or reacting to his concern to bundle her in his bed lest she catch cold. “Cold? Was he kidding? I was so hot that if he’d put a slice of bread on me I could have turned it into toast.” Gracious, that makes two of us, Haley.

It’s astonishing that this novella is right around 100 pages – I guarantee you will feel more satisfied than you do after reading a significantly longer book. The close relationship and difficult past of Haley and her sister gives tremendous depth and dimension to these two characters (and since Ripped is labeled as Miller Sisters #1, chances are terrific that we will get Haley’s sister Rosie’s story soon).

At only $3, you would be doing yourself a huge disfavor to not run out and buy this novella right this minute. Sarah Morgan has managed to write a classic for all seasons and I know for a fact that I will be re-reading this one over and over in years to come. Many thanks to a wonderful writer showing us a new facet of her talent – you’re awesome, Sarah Morgan!

Happy reading and happy holidays!

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