Tag Archives: Highland Pleasures

Don’t Miss It! New and Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff, and Great Deals You Might Have Missed

4 May

New and Upcoming Books

Paranormal doyenne N. J. Walters has recently published the first in her new Salvation Pack series, Wolf at the Door, about a paranormal writer who in the process of getting information about werewolves discovers that they are actually…gasp…real. When the werewolf hero realizes that this woman he’s supposed to silence is his mate, he also is aware that the head of the rival pack – who is also his father – will do anything to get rid of her.

Any reader who enjoys steamy category romance is familiar with the wonderful writing of Leslie Kelly, so they’ll be pleased to hear that she’s recently published another wonderful book under Harlequin Blaze’s “Unrated” label (mrrrroooowwww), Double Take. When a sex therapist gains way to much media attention, she retreats to an island off the coast of Michigan as a substitute teacher hoping to not even think about sex for a while. That intention is blown out of the water upon meeting former Chicago cop Mike Santori who came to this safe small island to settle down and avoid danger. Falling for a hot teacher who is more than she appears was not part of the plan, but he’ll do everything he can – and use every one of her naughty toys – at his disposal to strip her of her defenses.

Kaylea Cross is one of the best military romance writers out there, so I was elated to discover that the most recent book in her outstanding Bagram Ops series is out. Danger Close has Army nurse Lt. Erin Kelly ready for her well-deserved leave back home in Montana, but plans go awry when a strange man unintentionally puts her in the way of the American-born terrorist currently enemy number one. This places her in tremendous danger and, now that his cover has been blown, CIA Operative Wade Sandberg isn’t about to leave Erin’s safety in anyone else’s hands, particularly as the man he once guarded hunts them down.

As historical romance fans wait for Erin Knightley‘s next full-length novel to come out, they will be elated knowing that she’s given readers a terrific novella, Deceived by a Duke, as the next installment in her All’s Fair in Love series. Published this past Friday, this 97 page morsel of goodness has a responsible duke who takes his dissolute younger brother to Spain with the caveat that if he agrees to live minus their station for a month, his debts will be paid. What no one expected was the English beauty who helps them with the local language, but what will happen when she realizes that her heart which has been captured has been deceived by a duke? At only $.99, there’s no mistaking this novella as a great bargain, so grab it now while you wait for The Baron Next Door, her Prelude to a Kiss novel, to be published on June 3rd.

Harlequin is embarking on another glamorous multi-author series, this time centering on a decadent Monte Carlo hotel, The Chatsfield (the name of the series as well as the surname of the billionaire family who owns it). First up is Lucy Monroe with Sheikh’s Scandal, about a ruler who is jilted in the hotel, only to find solace in a beautiful chambermaid who he promptly whisks back to his home country when circumstances arise that their night together may result in pregnancy. Published on May 1st, the next sequel will be Playboy’s Lesson (debuting on June 1st) by Melanie Milburne and then the gothic sounding Billionaire’s Secret by Chantelle Shaw due out in August.

Everyone knows how much I adore M. L. Buchman, so I’m thrilled that his new spin-off series, Firehawks, debuts this coming Tuesday, May 6th, with Pure Heat. Fans who enjoyed his incredible Night Stalkers series know that our favorite couple in those books have taken the news of their pregnancy and decided to turn civilian, flying helicopters in dangerous fire-fighting situations. In this opening novel, an emotionally shut down forest fire specialist who has lost loved ones in the line of duty is assigned as a co-pilot to a hot former smokejumper. When they discover a terrorist threat in the wilderness, it’s hard to determine what’s hotter, they’re attraction to each other or the fire they are desperate to conquer.

If you love animals, hot men and Jill Shalvis (and who doesn’t?) you must adore this contemporary author’s Animal Magnetism series, set in a small Western town where hot vets seem to be a speciality. You can chalk up one more citizen who fits this description as her latest book, Then Came You, focuses on a veterinary intern fulfilling her vet school scholarship by serving a year in a clinic in the middle-of-nowhere Idaho, only to come face to face with her hot one night stand at the Reno veterinary conference she attended. The problem? He’s her boss. Unfortunately we’re going to have to wait until July 1st for this one, but I have a feeling the summer is going to be a little bit hotter! FYI, be sure to enter the Goodreads giveaway before May 9th to see if you can win a copy. 🙂

Lauren Dane’s long-awaited Hurley Boys series is driving the anticipation higher with both the cover release for The Best Kind of Trouble, the first book in the series, which will debut on August 26th in print and September 1st in ebook form (it’s an annoying Harlequin thing) as well as the pre-order page for the second book, Broken Open, going live despite its November 25th release date. Having met these sexy rock stars who stay close to their small-town Hood River, Oregon roots in Dane’s fabulous book Lush, we’ve been chomping at the bit waiting for all their stories. The Best Kind of Trouble focuses on the town’s librarian, a once wild girl in her youth, who has mastered self-control and now has her life going to plan…that is, until Paddy Hurley, the musician with whom she once spent two unbelievable weeks returns to tempt her.

Whether you love them for the amazing writing, Victorian Era Highlanders (who are NOT as tame as their English counterparts) or the loving mess of the Mackenzie family, any installment of Jennifer Ashley’s Highland Pleasures series is a must-read. Fans of quality historical romance will be thrilled to note the next book in the series, Rules for a Proper Governess, is available for pre-order, with a release date of October 7, 2014.  This book focuses on one of the McBride men (related to the Mackenzies via the sister who married Lord Cameron), the brilliant barrister Sinclair whose widowed status has led to an amazing career but two hellion children. When a thief manages to tame his wayward offspring, he offers her a job as their governess, but pocket watches aren’t the only thing she knows how to steal, and Sinclair begins to realize that his heart is in danger as well.

Contests and Giveaways

RT Book Reviews magazine has a terrific giveaway featuring the first novel of M. L. Buchman’s Firehawks series (his spin off from his successful – and amazing – Night Stalkers books, see above description in “Upcoming Books”), Pure Heat, as well as Julie Ann Walker‘s latest Black Knights Inc. book, Hell for Leather. That’s a lot of muscled alpha male, but I know you can handle it, so enter their Rafflecopter giveaway before May 8th for your chance to win!

Susan Mallery has an incredibly successful series with her long-running Fool’s Gold collection, and now you can win the fourteenth book, Before We Kiss, in a Goodreads giveaway. With a former pro-football player with terrible luck with woman and the one night stand he runs from when he discovers a room filled with wedding gowns, this is classic Mallery, so readers will enjoy this journey to a happily ever after. Be sure to enter by May 6th for your chance to win!

Kat Latham and Ashley LeMar are doing a wonderful giveaway for the month of May in honor of Memorial Day’s focus on our nation’s men and women in the military. Entitled 2014 Read, White and Blue, it’s goal is to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, which provides assistance to military personnel (and their families) who have have been injured or are coping with illness. It’s a great cause and helping out and promoting the giveaway enters you to win the grand prize, a Kindle, donated ebooks, custom coffee mugs, a cozy blanket and a $20 Starbucks gift card! Enter before May 31st and make your Memorial Day about more than a great cookout with friends and family.

Western romance fans instantly recognize Linda Lael Miller‘s name, so they’ll be pleased to discover that she has a new series, The Brides of Bliss County, debuting at the end of May and the first book, The Marriage Pact, is available as a prize in a Goodreads giveaway for readers who hustle over and enter before May 6th. Considering this has a best friend’s little sister, a divorced hero who once saved the heroine from making a bad marriage and heat that cannot be denied, I’ll be reading this one whether or not I win!

Fun Stuff

Anyone needing a blast from romance novels past should check out BuzzFeed’s hilarious “19 Things Fabio Is Really Thinking on Romance Novel Covers.” Readers who lived through the bodice ripper days of the 1980s will recognize more than a few of these covers!!

If you’ve got a honey bunny who needs a love card, romance enthusiasts need look no further than Meow Kapow shop on Etsy and their hilarious (to the library geeks among us) “checking you out” card. Be sure to look at their other delightfully retro and quirky offerings – there are more than few stocking stuffers and hostess gifts in this great shop!

Great Deals

Pirate fans will want to take a look at Pleasing the Pirate by Sharon Cullen which features a spunky Highland miss determined to save her brother from imprisonment so he can take over the management of their lands. Unfortunately, she has to seek help from a handsome Sassenach buccaner who has little use for her money, but plenty for her body. That her brother is exactly the person the crown has asked him to apprehend is an unexpected bonus, but his obligations prove less and less appealing the more time he spends with this Scottish beauty. Only $.99 for 261 pages on Amazon!

Shifter and romantic suspense fans will want to take note that Wolf Protector by Milly Taiden (part of her Federal Paranormal Unit series) is also currently only $.99. I enjoyed this book tremendously as it stars a psychic heroine who keeps herself tightly under control, particularly around her devastatingly handsome coworker, who she has labeled trouble of the player variety. The hero, a wolf shifter, knows this woman is who he’s been waiting for but his patience is reaching its limit as she continues to ignore him. When a gruesome serial killer has them both working together, no one is denying the fiery attraction between them. But does their love come too late? With the next book in the series, Dangerous Protector, just out this past Friday, this is a great opportunity to see if you want to commit yourself to the series (which I think you will!).

Erotic author Jasmine Haynes has the first of her Open Invitation series, Invitation to Seduction, available for free right now on Amazon. With an artist heroine low on confidence, a bachelorette party at an exclusive club and a hero whose fallen for the heroine from afar and will do anything to get her now that he’s seen her in person, we’ve reached “fan yourself” territory. Grab it now as a present to yourself.

We’ve got to feature at least one awesome book bundle, and this one is a doozy! If you haven’t yet picked up Dark and Deadly: Eight Bad Boys of Paranormal Romance, get on it, as it gives you quite a line-up of authors for only $.99! With Jennifer Ashley’s Bodyguard (a fabulous novella from her Shifters Unbound series) heading the list, the bundle also features powerhouse writers like Alyssa Day, Felicity Heaton, Erin Kellison, Laurie London, Erin Quinn, Bonnie Vanak and Caris Roane. WOW!

May means the advent of romance authors everywhere raising money for Brenda Novak’s Online Auction to benefit Diabetes Research and this amazing book bundle, A Sweet Life Boxed Set, has fourteen contemporary romances from best-selling authors with all proceeds headed straight to that charity. At only $.99 for 1500 pages of great writing, it’s not just the research that’s benefiting, particularly with authors like Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, Heather Graham, Susan Mallery, Brenda Novak (the fundraiser herself!), Susan Wiggs, and Debbie Macomber among others. Don’t let the “sweet” in the title fool you either – there’s a variety of sensuality levels from steamy to sweet between these covers.

Happy reading! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 6, 2013

6 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Historical Romance writer, Katherine Ashe, is giving readers a fantastic Christmas present with the release of her holiday novella, Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance. When a rakish earl stumbles across the diary of a wallflower princess whose fantasies are anything but demure, sparks are going to burst into flames that will light the Yule fire, for sure. One of the best pieces of this novella? It’s currently only $.99 on Amazon. If you’re too eager to wait until December 3rd, then check out Ashe’s website for a tantalizing snippet. Ashe fans might also want to note that her full-length Regency ghost story (with a romance at its center), Captive Bride, is also reduced down to $.99 as well.

Samanthe Beck’s McCade Brothers series has just become one of my favorites since I read the associated novella in Lovers Unmasked and bought and read the first book in the series, Lover Undercover (awesome!!!), so I was thrilled to see that the next installment of the series, Falling for the Marine, will be out at the end of October. A marine helicopter pilot with a back injury is anxious to get back into the pilot’s seat but when he’s hot neighbor is the masseuse assigned to him she’s not the only one with straying hands. Entangled publishing is great with pricing, so this hot novel by a great author is only $2.99. Mine is already pre-ordered!

Dianne Duvall just released the fourth book in her Immortal Guardians series, Darkness Rises, featuring a beautiful swordswoman who gets the drop on vampire and the two-hundred year old guardian who realizes the vamps she’s killing have influential friends, a fact that puts her and his fellow guardians, in danger. Released on October 1st, this 400+ page paranormal romance is under $6 for its ebook version which suddenly places the series on my “to-read” list!

Fantastic new author Kat Latham (who blew me away with the first book in her rugby-based London Legends series, Knowing the Score) will be offering a connected Christmas novella to her series, Mine Under the Mistletoe, due out on December 5th. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy! No cover art as of yet, but I’ll let you know when it comes out.

I was impressed with the intensity of Shannon McKenna’s One Wrong Move, which made me thrilled to see its sequel, Fatal Strike, was just published in trade paperback and ebook form at the end of September. Containing more of a pronounced paranormal element than its predecessor (which still had one, it was just subtle) this book features a captured woman tortured like a lab rat with injections that bring out psychic powers. She finds herself escaping to a safe place where a handsome, protective man exists who always makes her feel better but she thinks he’s a product of her imagination until he bursts through the door. Bring. It. On.

Giveaways and Contests

While Lauren Dane fans are reveling in the publication of her latest book in the Brown Siblings saga, Drawn Together, this week, they need to not forgot that this prolific author does not rest on her laurels, but always has yet another amazing book coming out. Her Bound By Magick series is about to have the fourth book published in early November, Wild Darkness, but readers should note that Goodreads is actually having a giveaway (ending October 11th) if you wanted to see if you could win a copy.

Author Cassandra Carr has always given us great sports romances, so it’s not a surprise that her recent contest is running under a “Hockey Hotties” moniker! Enter to win a selection from her backlist of great hockey romances by leaving a comment on the webpage.

Sports romance fans need to run not walk over to Give Me Books in order to enter that blog’s Extreme Jock Giveaway. I’m still reeling from the prizes – 44 author signed paperbacks, 97 ebooks, 19 ebook sets, various swag and even a few book retailer gift cards!! Be warned that the Rafflecopter giveaway is naturally extensive with so many authors participating (you’re going to spend a decent amount of time tweeting and clicking those Facebook like buttons for entries) but it’s so worth it.

Entangled Teen has collaborated with Hesperia Loves Books to produced an unbelievable giveaway to support Breast Cancer Awareness and research. Running for the month of October, this giveaway gives participants the chance to win over twenty books, many of them signed, by authors such as Jeaniene Frost and Lori Foster. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about the giveaway gives extra points, but consider the multi-point bonus that comes with donating to the National Breast Cancer research program (the link is right in the rafflecopter giveaway). I did in honor of my Aunt Martha who is currently fighting breast cancer (and who loves romance) and I’m sure you can think of someone who has suffered through this disease. SUCH a great cause!

Paranormal romance readers who like their books a little to the left of steamy hot are already familiar with Joey W. Hill’s Vampire Queen series, but right now on Goodreads, she’s also giving away the first book in her Arcane Shot series, Something About Witches. Featuring a witch who prefers the reliability of a handgun to a spell and the sorcerer she pushed away years before who needs her help, this book (and series) is worth a look. This was the intention of Berkeley Sensation publishing who are gearing up for Hill’s new release on December 3rd, Unrestrained, by giving away books from all her various series. Thanks, Berkeley! Enter by October 11th for a chance to win.

Historical mystery readers who love their puzzles with a touch of romance will want to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener. In Regency London a young woman must pose as the French chef of a nobleman in order to be positioned to ferret out her father’s killer and protect the document he entrusted to her prior to his death. Her employer’s curiosity and obvious romantic interest runs the risk of exposing not only her identity but also attracting exactly the one person she needs to avoid if she is to survive. Enter by October 11th for a chance to win.

If Banquet of Lies has you thinking about French food and Paris, you might want to check out the Travel Channel’s contest to win the “Parisian Trip of a Lifetime!” Six days and five nights for two at a cushy hotel in the City of Lights, including a half-day private tour (I think I’d go just for this), a two-hour Parisian bakery workshop (okay, nix the previous statement, I’d go for this), and $1500 spending money. *sigh*

Karen Hawkins’ second book in her The Duchess Diaries series is also being offered as a Goodreads giveaway and historical romance readers will definitely want to give How to Pursue a Princess a good look, whether they win or not. A young woman is pressured to make a good match and hopes she’s going to fall for the wealthy Earl her godmother thinks is perfect, until the hot and penniless Russian prince walks into the room. Whoops. Enter before October 12th to take this one home.

Signet Publishing deserves some major kudos for the outstanding covers of Marie Claremont’s historical series Mad Passions. This Victorian romance series has just had the second book in the series, Lady in Red, come out on October 1st, but if you haven’t yet picked it up, you may want to try to win a copy by entering the Goodreads giveaway before October 15th. This dark series’ installment features a young noblewoman who manages to escape the asylum in which her father has placed her, to run right into the arms of a duke who might very well be her salvation. That he finds her torment to mirror his own only binds them together as they fight for her future.

Fun Stuff

My deep-seated admiration for Laura Kaye’s writing is hardly a secret, and I’ve put on the Sunday posts how much I’m looking forward to her upcoming book, Hard As It Gets, which is the first in her new Hard Ink series. Thankfully for her fans (and quite frankly, any woman who enjoys eye-candy!), Avon Publishing has produced a fantastic video with her being interviewed about her inspiration for the characters. She’s delightful, the Baltimore backdrop lovely, and the tattooed figures…um…quite inspiring. Take a look!

Macy’s is selling a dress by Tommy Hillfiger featuring a great print that is row upon row of books. In the shirtwaist style, this looks awesome with boots and is a reasonable $79.95. I’m so on this.

For every girl who used her mother’s bangles to mimic Wonder Woman’s cuffs or pretended to be Barbara Gordon turning into Batgirl, there is a great nonfiction book, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid. Right now this informative text is an amazing $1.99 at Amazon, so feed your inner Superwoman and download it in a flash.

Great Deals

I was thrilled to find on M. L. Buchman’s blog a note that some of his fantastic novellas which accompany his The Night Stalkers military romance series were being offered in a “romance bundle” from StoryBundle. Not having heard of that particular store, I went to take a look and was wowed by the mission of the website. Designed to promote indie authors by offering their books together with other books as a “bundle” around a given theme, the site’s founders hope to encourage you to find new authors you might enjoy. Unlike the great $.99 bundles on Amazon I often promote, StoryBundle also 1) lets you set your own price for the bundle (although it suggests an incredibly affordable one) and 2) encourages you to add an extra percentage which they donate toward charities encouraging writing and literacy among children. How awesome is that? Books are downloaded in either .mobi or .epub form so Kindle users or other ebook readers can all handle the files. Take a look at the romance bundle to realize that this is no pure donation – not only Buchman’s books but also independent books from Stephanie Laurens, Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney and Kristine Grayson. WOW!

Historical romance writer Courtney Milan’s Turner series novella, Unlocked, is on sale for $.99 right now on Amazon. A little over 100 pages, this story features a wallflower determined to stand up to her former tormentor upon hearing he’s returned to England. That he’s here to apologize for his past behavior doesn’t seem to quench her ire and the nobleman in question finds he wants much more than her forgiveness.

I’ve never read a suspense story that happened to be a Western, but I’m about to change that with the news that B. J. Daniels’ Harlequin Intrigue novel, The New Deputy in Town, is free for download on Amazon right now. When a new lawmen has to solve a bridal shower murder and everyone in the heroine’s family had a motive, things are bound to become complicated quickly.

Lyndsay Sands’ Argeneau Vampires series is understandably famous, so it’s always a good deal when they are discounted. Right now, The Accidental Vampire, the seventh book in the series, is marked down to only $1.99, a terrific deal. Starring a new vampire trying to adjust to coffin life on her own who gets set up by well-meaning friends on a blind date, the heroine is thrilled to discover the experienced vampire Victor Argeneau on the other side of the table. He’s good-looking enough to have his pick of woman with a heartbeat or without, but he definitely wants to help her, particularly after the realization that someone wants to put an end to his sweet fledgling’s new existence.

Having just reviewed Jennifer Ashley’s latest in the Highland Pleasures series, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, I’m thrilled to note that the accompanying Christmas novella, A Mackenzie Family Christmas is actually FREE right now on Amazon for its ebook form, so run over and grab it while the price lasts.

I love Cat Johnson’s Westerns but her Red, Hot and Blue series has always demonstrated she knows her way around a man in uniform (and out of it as well, mrrrrooow!). The third book in the series (each named after the hero), Jimmy, is now available for free download at Amazon, so check it out. An undercover Special Forces hero, the red-haired daughter of a senator, and one unbelievably hot one night stand (did I mention terrorists?) all make for an unbeatable combination.

That’s the scoop for this week. Happy Reading! 🙂

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel MacKenzie Puts Jennifer Ashley at the Top of Historical Romance

2 Oct

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6 – Daniel and Violet) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 1, 2013)

Oh, Daniel. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.

I’ve had a pretty big soft spot in my heart for Daniel Mackenzie since he was the determined teenager bent of making sure his dissipated father, Lord Cameron Mackenzie, recognized that love had finally slapped him the face in the form of the lovely Ainsley Douglas in The Many Sins of Lord Cameron.

How could you not love him? Because Daniel, like his dad, was also damaged by his insane mother prior to her suicide, he has always possessed an aura of the Mackenzie suffering. Yet the fact that he was able to see his father and each of his more damaged uncles find love and happiness meant that Daniel had the potential to be a little braver and more astute when it came time for him to find the woman who would be meant for him.

In the latest Highland Pleasures full-length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, Daniel, now in his mid-twenties, embodies the height of the Victorian age of progress in 1890, utilizing his brilliant mind and his engineering degree developing steerable hot air balloons and tinkering with horseless carriages. When an aristocratic spendthrift insists on repaying a gambling debt to the lucky Daniel by taking him to a London house, Daniel thinks he’s going to a courtesan’s home and wants to make sure the lady in question is going to be all right with this drunk loser. What he finds is Mademoiselle Violette Bastien, a spiritual medium who is undoubtedly and positively a fraud.

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Highland Pleasures #3 – Cam and Ainsley) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, 2011)

But she’s a stunning, vibrant incredibly smart fraud and after Daniel manages to run off the pack of overindulged nobility who came with him he admiringly examines all the bells and whistles she’s managed to rig up utilizing the home’s internal systems. Attracted by her brain as much as her spirit and delectable body, Daniel can’t help but take a taste and finds himself knocked unconscious for his pains, right after glimpsing a very real look of fear in the eyes of the lovely Violet. When he wakes, she and her mother are long gone, and his gut is telling him not to let go of this particular mystery.

So begins the chase. Jennifer Ashley once again wins my undying admiration as a writer because she pulls off the total believability (in historical romance, no less) of a man fourth in line to a dukedom potentially having a happily ever after with a lower middle class con artist from Southwark. She manages this through a combination of outstanding writing (these two characters are so obviously compatible it’s impossible to imagine them with anyone else) and by spending the other eight books in the series (don’t forget the two novellas!) building the impossible Mackenzie family.

The Mackenzies we all know and love really don’t give a crap about Victorian society’s conventions, to the point where some of them (hell, all of them) actively thumb their nose at what’s expected. After living without love for so long, every Mackenzie is ready to help Daniel get his girl even if she’s not as suitable as the previous women who have married into the family.

Violet is a beautifully rendered character who tugs at the heartstrings. After hearing what her life has been like – she has literally never had anyone look after her and has suffered greatly as a result – you love and admire her as much as Daniel does. As she slowly trusts him enough to reveal her past piece by piece, Daniel’s gentling of her skittishness about anything physical is so sensual and patient that its impossible not to have a couple of heart-melting moments. Naturally we get to see all our favorite Mackenzies, with those babies more grown up and actually talking with their personalities blazing bright. Heaven!

There is a teaser chapter at the end for the next full-length novel in the series, Rules for a Proper Governess, which will be the story of Ainsley’s brother Sinclair, the brilliant Scottish barrister who flattens opponents in the courtroom while not being able to manage his two hellion children after the death of their mother seven years ago. It looks like another unlikely pairing will be in Ashley’s capable hands as the female in question seems even more shady than Violet, but I’ve no doubt she is exactly what Sinclair needs. Since his story won’t come out until early October 2014, we are waiting for the next novella – the story of the other MacBride brother Stephen, who I don’t know too much about – in September 2014. I’m hoping that big wait means I have oodles more Shifters Unbound books headed my way since another of Ashley’s brilliant features is her ability to write astoundingly well in multiple genres.

With yet another amazing book in the Highland Pleasures series which I adore (and right on the heels of the novella The Untamed Mackenzie which was outstanding), Jennifer Ashley has convinced me of not only the suitability of an unlikely pairing in historical romance (no easy feat given my intense preference for historical accuracy) but also that she is a historical romance author bar none. Do yourself a favor and pick up The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie as soon as you can. He might be wicked, but it’s been worth the wait to see this Mackenzie all grown up.

The Untamed Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley Proves Even Illegitimate Members of the Family Are Sexy and Smart When It Comes to True Love

13 Sep

The Untamed Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #5.5 – Lloyd and Louisa) (Berkley, September 10, 2013)

I was so pissed off on Tuesday. With a massively busy day at work I couldn’t stay up until midnight the night before to await the delivery of my pre-ordered copy of The Untamed Mackenzie, a book I have been waiting for since discovering the connection of the brilliant but antagonistic London detective who harasses Ian Mackenzie in the first book of the Highland Pleasures series, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Then I was too tired after a fourteen hour day to do anything but faceplant into my pillow that night.

Luckily for me, my mother had to have cataract surgery (this was not lucky for her, obviously) and I had to “take care of her” for most of the day (thanks, Mom!). While she slept off the anesthesia – she’s doing extremely well, BTW, exclaiming over all the signs she can read clearly – I dove into Jennifer Ashley-land which is a pretty, pretty place filled with characters I adore. If you haven’t yet read any of this Victorian series, I’ve reviewed the Highland Pleasures books before which might give you a idea if the books are a good match for your reading style. (Hint: Do you like reading? They are a good match.)

Detective Lloyd Fellows has had to deal with some guff from his co-workers since it became public knowledge that he was born on the wrong side of the blanket – and that blanket was the Mackenzie tartan belonging to one of the most powerful and wealthy Scottish families in the realm. The Mackenzie brothers and their spouses have gone out of their way to make Lloyd and his barmaid mother feel welcome at family events, but he still feels like a fish out of water after years of hating the aristocracy.

There is one exception to that rule. Lady Louisa Scranton, sister of Isabella Mackenzie (Lloyd’s feisty sister-in-law), is the beautiful redhead who has starred in Lloyd’s dreams since they shared two unbelievably passionate kisses at various Mackenzie functions. But Louisa is the daughter of a disgraced Earl who must be busy trying to find a titled husband. Just the thought of it makes Lloyd want to succumb to the rage he periodically experiences (another Mackenzie inheritance).

Unfortunately, Louisa has her hands quite full. Yes, it’s suitor related, but instead of a garden proposal she is busy getting blackmailed by a handsome but sinister bishop who wants her to be his wife. He’s generously telling her that he’ll forgive her family’s debt to him if she does it, and before Louisa can tell him to go to hell in an appropriately ladylike way, said Bishop keels over dead from a cup of tea Louisa just handed him. In an empty tent. With no one else around. Looks bad, right? Which is why her sister insists that Detective Lloyd Fellows be called in to investigate the case. The Mackenzies aren’t putting one of their family into the hands of some overeager constable looking to make a name for himself.

Lloyd might be suspicious of everyone but he believes Louisa when she says she is innocent, even after they both discover the small bottle of Prussic acid (the poison the bishop died from ingesting) in her skirt pocket. Not only is Louisa shocked at a man dying in front of her, but she’s also horrified to discover that she is being ostracized from the ton, with “friends” dropping right and left from her life. The one constant is the ever-frustrating, distant detective who kisses like a dream and makes every other man in her life pale by comparison. Even when he admits there is something between them, Lloyd Fellows refuses to do anything about it. Louisa realizes with everything about her life in a shambles, there’s one thing she’s not about to compromise, and that’s her future happiness. Look out, Lloyd!

The first four books in the series, each focusing on a Mackenzie brother (left to right – Ian, Mac, Cameron, and Hart)

Lloyd Fellows, you cheeky devil, we knew you’d grow into your honorary Mackenzie status! Just as Hart, the Duke of Kilmorgan and oldest (legitimate) Mackenzie brother admits, you and your barmaid mother got hosed by your horrible father just like the rest of the family. I was worried that Louisa might be a little too much of a “good girl” to pull off the heroine role, but in Jennifer Ashley’s hands I had nothing to worry about. This murder is exactly what was needed to shake her foundations just enough for Louisa to focus on what needs to be done rather than what is expected of her and my God, *fans self* the heat between her and Lloyd! More than one reader would be more than willing to be ravished on Lloyd’s office desk, I’m thinking.

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 1, 2013)

This outstanding novella carries all the hallmarks of a Jennifer Ashley romance – strong heroine, plenty of danger, a sexy, smart leading man, and the love of family as a major theme – making it an ideal snack before the slightly bigger meal of the next full length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, which is coming out on October 1st. We see the young, devilishly handsome Daniel prominently featured in this book as well, and I’m interested how his goals of travel and reaching his engineer potential with his inventions will play out. I bet he’s going to find that woman who will support him in all his work, and I’m not the least bit worried about how young Daniel will be when he finally discovers her. With all the darkness in the lives of his father, Cam, and his uncles, Daniel understands how rare and special true love is, so I’m hoping he’s going to grab it with both hands when it lands in his lap.

Keep in mind that this series is going to run out of characters soon. Ashley recently posted on her excellent blog that her plan is to next publish a novella as well as a novel about the two remaining McBride brothers (brothers-in-law to Cameron Mackenzie), followed by a prequel novella about the Mackenzie ancestor who was the only one of his brothers to survive Culloden. Finally she’ll comfort us with a final novella about the entire family – I’m hoping that one comes with complementary tissues since it will be tough saying goodbye to my favorite Scotsmen and the women in their lives!

Readers of historical romance (or simply romance) will adore the quality writing and characters of the Highland Pleasures series, and this novella is an outstanding addition to a band of brothers finding love despite their rough start in life. Did I mention it’s only $1.99? Get reading! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending September 1st

1 Sep

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Burned_667x1000-200x300I don’t know whether to put Kaylea Cross’s latest Titanium Security book, Burned, in this “New Release” category or “Great Deals” but either way you need to take a look since she is a great military/romantic suspense writer! Her propensity for writing vibrant, intelligent heroines and military heroes with a marshmallow center for the women in their lives makes her a go-to author in my book, but the fact that her books are so affordably priced (this one is only $2.99!) makes her a bargain as well.

If you like Mary Jo Putney‘s brand of historical romance, please know that her latest book, Sometimes a Rogue, debuted this past Tuesday, August 27th. This is the fifth book in her popular Lost Lords series, involving a brave woman who tricks kidnappers into taking her instead of her pregnant sister and a former aristocrat turned Bow Street Runner.

Kendra Leigh Castle is a top-ranked paranormal romance writer in my book, so I was thrilled to see that her latest Hearts of the Fallen book, The Demon’s Desire, just came out this week. This series, which began as a fantastic novella in Vacation with a Vampire, has bloomed into a great series with a variety of vampires, demons and other assorted characters protecting their secret city of Terra Noctem from those who would want to destroy it. At only $2.99 for a full-length novel, it’s a great deal from a great writer!

Contests and Giveaways

Jennifer Ashley, author of the Highland Pleasures Victorian romance series, is giving away 10 Advanced Reader Copies of the next book, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, on her blog. Since it’s not coming out until October 1st, this could be your chance to revisit all those luscious Mackenzie men a little early. Leave a comment with your email address prior to Sept. 6th to enter.

Hurry up and get your entry into the giveaway for Sarah Castille’s gritty romance Against the Ropes before it’s deadline of September 3rd. This story about an underground MMA fighter and a young woman fighting the violence in her past is not to be missed. My review will be posting on the 3rd as well and you’ll be able to read just how blown away I was.

In a Cinderella meets Regency tale by Sophie Barnes, The Trouble with Being the Duke, brings together some pretty terrific elements, and you can win this first book in Barnes’ new At the Kingsborough Ball series, by entering on the Goodreads page prior to September 6th. If you’re worried you can’t wait or don’t win, the good news is that the book came out on August 27th, so feel free to order it with the above title link or get it from your favorite library or bookseller!

The excellent Bookpushers blog has a great contest (also with book bundles as prizes) going on right now, so be sure to check out the post featuring various genres in order to see if you can’t win some great (cowboy, paranormal, contemporary, sweet, erotic, etc.) books prior to the deadline of September 4th. Just post a comment with your preference to enter!

Speaking of Regency romance, author Erin Knightley is having a phenomenal giveaway of four grand prizes on her blog and each one of the prizes is a fantastic bundle of historical romance books ready for the taking. Get over there and enter immediately (the contest closes September 2nd) but also make a point in downloading her Ruined by a Rake novella, currently available for free on Amazon in ebook form!

Fun Stuff

BookshelvesGarnet Hill has some of the best skirts on the market and you or your favorite bookworm is bound to appreciate the Smocked Waist Detail Skirt in its fabulous “Bookshelves” pattern. I’m going to have to order this one to wear to work in the library!

Wondering about all the recent brohaha regarding ebook pricing and want to know more about it? A painless way of broadening your understanding would be to watch this short but well-explained version by agent Steve Axelrod, who was interviewed by the Popular Romance Project. You’ll come away understanding the publishing industry a little bit better.

Great Deals

Lovers of paranormal romance adore Sherrilyn Kenyon for good reason, and they might enjoy knowing that her 2002 novel, Fantasy Lover (the first in her Dark Hunter series) is currently reduced to $1.99 for the ebook version on Amazon.

Jeannie Lin is getting a great reputation for historical romance that (finally!) ventures outside of Regency Europe. A great way to sample her writing would be to take advantage of the current Amazon discount for her novella, Capturing the Silken Thief, which is free as of this moment. With a musician in the Tang Dynasty desperately needing to buy her freedom by stealing a book of poetry, who better than a handsome scholar to help?

For those of you, like me, who can’t get enough sci-fi romance, particularly when it involves sexy aliens and human women, you’ll love the chance to try Anna Zaires’ first book in her The Krinar Chronicles, Close Liaisons for free as an Amazon Kindle book. With a shy college student from New York City and powerful alien who spots her and must have her, this has a few New Adult shades built into it. I cannot wait to read it!

 

 

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending August 18th

18 Aug

Upcoming and New Books

Historical romance writer Katharine Ashe is publishing the first book in her new series, The Prince Catchers, on August 27th, entitled I Married the Duke. With the cover blurb from Lisa Kleypas (who specializes in perfectly written historical heroes) and involving a duke disguised as a pirate and a gypsy curse borne by three sisters, this sounds like it’s a cut above your typical Regency romance. As of now, Avon has set the price on Amazon at a mere $3.59 for the paperback edition, a 40% discount from the list price of $5.99, so you might want to preorder it while this bargain is in effect!

Tired of billionaire Doms (seriously, how many of each of those categories can there be) and eager for a good shifter romance? Vivian Arend is releasing the third book in her Takhini wolves shifter series, and this time the hero is a billionaire bear who needs a political insider helping him understand the shifter community with which he’s working a deal. Who better than the leader’s former human girlfriend, recently freed up since her no-strings boyfriend just found his mate? Published by Samhain, Diamond Dust is a full-length novel priced at only $2.75 so the warmth you feel while reading it might not just be from Arend’s steamy writing, but also from the knowledge of the great bargain you just got.

I’m still reeling from Jeaniene Frost’s announcement this week that her seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress series, Up from the Grave, will be her last Cat and Bones novel! Originally believing that her overall story arc would take nine books, Frost said on her blog that she and her editor agreed that it would be unfair to fans to put in filler simply to keep the series going as planned. As disappointed as I am, I appreciate Frost’s obvious commitment to give readers the highest quality writing. She has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off and it’s not like she’s going to stop writing and take up creating macrame wall hangings from a beachside hut in Hawaii. She even 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). There is also the pesky matter of the fourth man in the deported Australian chain gang who we’ve never seen but to whom Bones, Spade and Ian have referred. 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.

As much as it pains me to say it (I’m an educator, so the school year is here), September 10th is just around the corner, so for those of you who still haven’t ordered the next installment of Jennifer Ashley’s Highland Pleasures series, get on it! The Untamed Mackenzie e-novella is priced at only $1.99 and stars the sexy but cranky Detective Inspector Lloyd Fellows, born on the wrong side of the Mackenzie tartan and Lady Louisa Scranton who is wrongly accused of murder. I’m not only going to love revisiting my favorite Victorian romance series but it’s going to always sate me long enough to wait for the next full-length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, which will publish just a couple weeks later on October 1st.

Fun Stuff

The British newspaper The Guardian announced this week that the queen of romance, Barbara Cartland, had 160 previously unpublished novels in her estate upon her death and that these works, and some other published books, are going to be available for readers on her website. These unpublished novels join the 490 novels she wrote in her lifetime, stopping her output only a year prior to her passing away at the age of 98. If you picture romance writers penning their novels in canopy beds wearing a silk bedjacket surrounded by little dogs, Cartland is subconsciously who you have in mind. These books are only available in print so non-UK residents would have to pay more for shipping charges.

Did you know there was something called the Good Men Project? Envisioning themselves not as a magazine, but as a social movement, the people behind the Good Men Project believe in posing and answering the question, “What does it mean to be a good man?” Blogging about sports, ethics, sex, marriage, fatherhood and current affairs, the writing is high quality and well-researched while being always appropriate. And if your dad showed any prospective boyfriend his gun collection prior to that first date, you might enjoy reading an article which has been making the rounds “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz, who just became my dad-hero. Steinmetz objects to the inference that he owns his daughter’s body or has the right to tell her what to do with it, particularly in the area of denying her the pleasure and intimacy which comes from sharing your body with someone you love. The article is simultaneously sweet, funny and thought-provoking and I recommend it for parents and for romance writers who would like to imagine what a positive father figure might look like in this century.

It’s rather dazzling to see the income of the top earning authors for this past year, particularly when you realize that E. L. James (author of the 50 Shades of Grey series) managed to total $95 million dollars in 2012-13 according to this Forbes magazine article. That’s a lot of handcuffs! Yet note that with the exception of nonfiction author and pundit Chris Matthews, virtually every author is either a YA powerhouse or specializes in genre fiction like romance, mystery or suspense. No wonder the literary fiction authors get so snobby – they’re cranky from eating ramen noodles.

Thinking About Publishing

This past week, Alex Crowley from Publisher’s Weekly posed the excellent question – Why Are We Still Not Bundling Ebooks? Seriously, why don’t publishers offer combination print/ebook bundles? If readers can get virtually every format, but not a discount on two types together, that seems to be denying publishers needed revenue. I know a lot of people like me who enjoy having a paper copy and an ebook copy of favorite books, so there would be some takers, for sure.

Contests and Giveaways

Fans of Jayne Ann Krentz knows she writes her awesome paranormal books as Jayne Castle, and they probably are also aware that the 10th book in the Harmony series, Deception Cove, is coming out on August 27th. There is a Goodreads giveaway with a deadline of August 19th for the lucky winner who gets an early copy, so if you’d like a modern marriage of convenience with a paranormal twist, get over there to see how lucky you are!

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering the enduring phenomena of the Middle Eastern sheikh in category romance and erotica, and a big part of that inspiration came from reading an early copy of Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior which is awesome if you love this subgenre! You can get a free copy of this Harlequin gem if you win the Goodreads giveaway, but you have to enter before August 19th (the book comes out on the 20th, as does my review).

Susan Mallery is offering readers who purchase her Fool’s Gold Cookbook (companion to her romance series of the same name) a chance to win a spanking new KitchenAid mixer (!) if they send or email her their purchase receipt prior to August 31st. Do you know how much those cost? And she’s giving away the shiny chrome one, no less! There is a way to enter via postcard if you don’t plan on getting the cookbook, so look at the link for details.

If you have a thing for ancient Celtic warriors cursed by the Fae (and I do), you might want to take a look at Storm Warrior, the first book in Dani Harper’s Grim series, which features a Welshman who transforms into a black dog to save a woman…and finds not only his enchantment broken but that he’s living in a strange world which seems magical in itself. This giveaway ends on August 21st (the book came out on the 6th). Hopefully you’ll win it!

People may have been saying that zombies are the new vampires for a while, but when you take a look at the cover of Paige Tyler’s new book, Dead Sexy, you’ll find yourself agreeing! While the book was published on July 12th, you can still catch the Goodreads giveaway for a copy as long as you enter before August 23rd. When a romance author and a gorgeous hunk who has been cursed by a vindictive Voodoo priestess hit the sheets, you’ll find yourself wondering if there’s a zombie on your block.

Everyone knows that I think Bella Andre’s Sullivan series to be one of the best contemporary romance series, ever, right? Well, with Harlequin recently buying the print rights to this original ebook series, you’ve finally got paperbacks to enjoy in the bubble bath now. A Goodreads giveaway is offering the third book in the series, Can’t Help Falling in Love, starring sexy firefighter Gabe Sullivan and the woman and child he rescues. It’s awesome and you might win it! Get over there before August 23rd and find out.

Readers who love Highlanders more than likely already have some of Amanda Scott’s book on their shelves but this historical romance writer has the second book in her Lairds of the Loch series, The Knight’s Temptress, coming out on August 27th. There is a celebratory giveaway at Goodreads you can take advantage of if you’d like to read it, too, but be sure to enter by August 25th to participate.

Great Deals

The next book in Jill Shalvis’ amazing small-town romance series Lucky Harbor, Always on My Mind, is still – inexplicably – only $2.99 for the book version (the paperback is also the nice number of $4.80). Since this one stars not only the town firefighter (and we’ve all benefited from Jill Shalvis’ thing for firefighters – thanks, Jill!) and the town baker, I sense some steamy, food-based naughtiness in the cards. Since we don’t know how long this deal will last and with the looming publication date of September 24th, I’d recommend ordering this one sooner rather than later.

Fans of Sabrina Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series, need to make sure their ereader battery is charged as there is a phenomenal sale on Amazon right now. This series is filled with Earl’s daughters, highwayman, and marriages of convenience galore, with great reviews abounding for Jeffries’ excellent historical writing. Right now, A Dangerous Love (#1), A Notorious Love (#2), After the Abduction (#3), and Married to the Viscount (#5) each have their Kindle version discounted from $7.99 to $1.99. WOW! No explanation why the fourth book in the series, Dance of Seduction, isn’t going along with this amazing deal, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

Have a super week reading, everyone! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, News, and Deals You Might Have Missed This Week

7 Jul

I just came back from the ALA (American Library Association) Conference in Chicago were I attended a lot of informative sessions. While most of them where geared toward my work in education, there were more than a few things that I think will help me be a better blogger for my readers. A great suggestion was having the occasional “round up” post to inform people about great links, upcoming books, and excellent blog posts you might have missed, so here are a few recent items I’ve been enjoying.

Upcoming Books

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 1, 2013)

Jennifer Ashley mentioned on her blog that the ARCs will be out very soon for The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, the next book in the Highland Pleasures series (which I think is the best Victorian romance series on the market). It’s due out on October 1st, so hopefully NetGalley might have an ARC available soon! If you’ve enjoyed this series, you might also need a reminder that the next interim novella, The Untamed Mackenzie, will be out even sooner, and will finally give Inspector Lloyd Fellows, the illegitimate Mackenzie who is a reluctant member of the family at best, a happily ever after. That one is e-book only, so sorry print lovers!

On Ashley’s paranormal romance front, note that Amazon has made available Wild Wolf for preorder (even though it’s not coming out until January 2014), the next full novel in the fabulous Shifters Unbound series. Yes, I’ve preordered it and will be waiting up at midnight for it to land in my Kindle! Coming out even sooner is the next novella for that series, Feral Heat, which will be Eric’s son, Jace’s story (thank goodness!) out in November of this year.

Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 30, 2013)

In anticipation (and God knows I’m anticipating it!) of Ilona Andrews’ next book in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Rises, due out on July 30th, Bookpushers is sponsoring a Readalong for the series. The husband and wife team of Ilona Andrews have already vetted much criticism for the cover, since the model depicting the twenty-something Kate looks waaaayyyy too young and not nearly enough of a hard ass for this alpha female. I realize I still need to do a review of this series which is tops in the urban fantasy genre for me.

In exciting news, Nalini Singh had two great announcements. The first is that she just agreed to do a Psy-Changeling series novella in 2014 which will be part of an anthology and that the hero of her next full-length novel (the 13th in the series) will be …. VASIC! This cold Arrow won my heart with his questioning of silence long ago, so I’m elated to see that he’ll be partnered with a heroine we’ve never met before. This book will be closely tied to her latest book, Heart of Obsidian which won all five stars from me, making it the fourth book (out of over the 200 books I’ve read so far this year) to be declared totally perfect.

If you’re an urban fantasy fan chances are you’ve been devouring the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones as much as I have (Reyes *fans face* is one of the hottest heroes in a loooooonnnnggg time). Keep in mind that the hardcover and Kindle editions of the next book, Fifth Grave Past the Light, will be released on July 9th (two days from today!!!) so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a copy of this book hot off the presses.

Media News

Outlander (Outlander series #1) by Diana Gabaldon (Dell, 1992)

Any fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series? If so, you’ll be either pleased or dismayed to read that the book series has been made into a TV series which will debut on the Starz network come this October. According to the excellent blog, The Good, The Bad and The Unread, Scottish actor Sam Heughan has been cast to play Jamie Fraser. Worried? Don’t be. “Sam is 33, stands 6’3″ tall, and his Scottish brogue portraying one of the most-loved characters in literature will definitely make the ladies swoon. More importantly, of course, is that he’s perfect for this part and will make Jamie come to life on the screen.”

Reader Fun

In case you were wondering, this is what a RITA award looks like. Pretty cool, yes?

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (an AMAZING blog) is still doing their RITA Reader Challenge. If you love romance (any subgenre), I’d encourage you to take a look at this challenge, which lists all the winners in various categories from the Romance Writers Association. This a great way of making sure you get a taste of all the great books published in the last year. What if you missed one? You may not agree that they deserved an award, but it’s fascinating to note what the judges (published authors as well as agents and publishers) think constitute the best of the best.

Entranced Publishing, a wonderful new ebook press, is having a Christmas in July giveaway where they are giving away one copy of every book they’ve ever published. For a new publishing house, there has been a ton of great buzz about their editing and their payment model, with the result being some stand out books in a short period of time. Fill out their entry form before July 31st for your chance to win!

Australian romance readers! You lucky down-under dogs, the Australian Romance Readers Association is having a book signing event in Freemantle on August 17th that has over 56 authors attending, including powerhouses like Julia Quinn, Nina Bruhns, and Carole Mortimer. Wow! And the signings will be held at three public libraries (further proving the connection between public librarians and supporting romance). Have I mentioned how much I’d like to visit Australia one day?

Authors After Dark are having a giveaway for tickets to their conference (in Savannah this year!) August 14th to the 18th. Anyone who enjoys paranormal romance or urban fantasy should consider following this blog and learning more about the organization. The annual conference is quite small and you get tons of author time, which would be amazing for any fan! Enter by July 11th for your chance to win.

The Romance Publishing Industry

Is historical romance on the decline? Jeez, I hope not! But with the numbers dipping slightly, The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills discuss if the glut of Regencies on the market are stifling the genre. I agree with them that this is probably just the usual ebb and flow experienced by so many categories of romance, but it’s worth pondering.

In an unbelievable merger, Penguin and Random House have now joined forces, making them a force to be reckoned with. In romance terms, Random House publishes authors like Danielle Steel, Sophie Kinsella, and E. L. James (yes, that E. L. James!) under their imprints of Delacorte, Dial and Vintage, and Penguin controls the romance powerhouse Berkley (Jennifer Ashley, Jaci Burton, Nalini Singh) and Jove (Nora Roberts), so I feel that Random House really boosted their piece of the romance pie with this merger. For your consideration, does anyone besides me think the company’s new name should be Random Penguin? Imagine the logo!

Great Deals

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

If you didn’t have a chance to enjoy the most recent Jill Shalvis Lucky Harbor novel, It Had to Be You, fear not. Ebook readers can take advantage of the $2.99 deal going on right now on Amazon (and I think other retailers).

Julie Garwood’s classic, Rebellious Desire, is on sale in Kindle format for only $.99 for those of us wanting a walk down memory lane. Not to make you feel old, but this puppy was originally published in 1991 – 23 years ago! I’m not sure how long it will be at this price, so if you’re looking to bolster your classic romance backlist, this is a nice addition.

One Perfect Night by Bella Andre is a stand alone short story/novella originally published in 2011 and just reissued with a new cover. Right now, it’s available for free. I haven’t read it but, hey, it’s Bella Andre, so it’s bound to be great! For those of you who haven’t read her Sullivan series, get the lead out. This great family is available in ebook form and now in print via Harlequin and is tops in the contemporary romance category.

Forgotten Sins (Sins Brothers #1) by Rebecca Zanetti (Forever, July 2, 2013)

Looking pretty intriguing on the paranormal romance front is Forgotten Sins, the first book in the Sins Brothers series by Rebecca Zazetti which just came out on July 2nd. A husband returns to his wife after turning up in the hospital with amnesia, yet he abandoned the love of his life two years ago. Does his amped hearing and powerful strength have something to do with his missing years? This new series is billed on Goodreads as “Romantic Suspense with a slight paranormal twist about a band of brothers who carry unnatural powers genetically engineered into them by a black ops military unit.” At only $2.99 for 384 pages, I’m excited to try it!

Writing Good Sex: Thinking About Steamy Sex Scenes from the Standpoint of a Reader and a Writer

1 Jun

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet by Stacia Kane (CreateSpace, January 13, 2011)

A writer who can pen hot, steamy, and emotional sex scenes – interactions that are a lot more than tab A going into slot B – always win my loyalty.

I know there are people who love sweet romance and don’t need to to see what happens in the bedroom, but for me, those bedroom scenes often say more about a relationship than the dialogue or character descriptions. Sex also strips people down (no pun intended) to their essential self with the result being that it’s often obvious that a couple is in love with one another before they get around to actually revealing that fact in words. As Stacia Kane puts it “… the fact is, the deepest truths of our characters can be found when they are naked, when they are at their most vulnerable both physically and emotionally, when they let their guards down and just interact.” (Kane, p. 125)

A sex scene – a good one – is the epitome of showing and not telling. “I’m so hot for you” is not as strong as “His hand trembled as he touched his thumb to the thudding pulse in her neck, a beat he had to taste under his tongue while he reminded himself, go slow, don’t rush this…” Just like any other writing skill, some writers are better at this than others and no matter how much of a natural you are, understanding the elements of a good sex scene that take it from “okay, they are having sex” to “my book just burst into flames and not from an ereader malfunction” is vital to success.

Why We Need Great Sex Scenes

Stacia Kane’s fantastic primer for writers is infinitely valuable to readers as well. We know that we love a certain author or a certain scene but can’t always put our finger on why. In her book, Be a Sex Writing Strumpet, Kane took a series of blog posts and organized them into densely packed book focused on understanding why sex scenes can be so vital to plot and character development, how to write them well, and exercises to help each writer understand his or her sex writing voice and comfort level. It’s pure gold for $2.99.

But your crotchety uncle and that nun who taught you in the second grade definitely don’t feel sex should be in books, which begs the question, do we really need sex scenes? Hell, yes! I think I’m going to let Stacia Kane answer:

If you can find another way to illuminate the most private acts of your characters, to demonstrate their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings…, their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before, while also strengthening the story, increasing tension, and adding complications, and also—let’s be honest here—giving the reader what they’ve been waiting for, and you can do all of that in one scene, then no, you don’t need the sex scene. (Kane, p. 6)

firework-79374_640That’s a lot of points in favor of the sex scene. Note she didn’t say titillation? One of the major criticisms of romance novels (and clearly plenty of books outside the genre have sex scenes but they are expected in romance) has always been the “pornographic” nature of the sex. This criticism has always seemed like total bull to me; I’ve never seen a crime or horror writer criticized for too gory a murder. Instead the critic just grimly mentions the level of violence to the reader, as if it’s a point in their favor about their writing style and that they don’t shy away from reality. But romance writers – and let’s face it, it’s because they are usually women writing for mainly other women – get the “mommy porn” thing because god forbid we should show anyone what two people engaged in a mutually satisfying, sexually healthy relationship looks like. Those soccer moms might get ideas or *gasp* expectations.

Some key points Kane touches upon for writers (and which are visible to readers) are vital for emotionally tying us to the characters. Her warning to make everyone wait (for example, the suggestion to write an amazing kissing scene that’s clearly headed you-know-where and interrupt it) builds anticipation. For writers blocked about writing sex scenes, she has the brilliant idea of writing a dialogue between your characters where they talk about their feelings – and then you turn it into a sex scene where they are showing all those emotions through their actions.

Because that’s the point, isn’t it? That our characters show their true selves via their actions (and okay, sometimes their words, when they are actually coherent having sex) and that everything – from first glance to foreplay to actual sex to the aftermath – is built around revealing their soul and their emotion for one another. Let’s take a look at my top love scenes that fit this bill.

Memorable Sex Scenes: The Mrrrrooowwww Worth Reading and Re-reading

If you’re a romance reader, there are memorable sex scenes that are so hot you can’t help but think of them as I’m writing about this topic. Naturally, the writers showcased are women who also happen to be incredibly talented at strong characterization and airtight plotting, but since I’ve seen those qualities in other writers who are terrible at writing sex scenes, I consider these ladies to be the total package. Here are my favorites and why, in no particular order.

Author: Jeaniene Frost
Book: This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress series #5)
Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Couple: Cat & Bones
Why: I adore this series (Jeaniene Frost seems incapable of writing anything that’s not absolutely stellar) and I’m sure people familiar with it are surprised that I didn’t list the famous/infamous chapter from the second book in the series, One Foot in the Grave. I absolutely agree that half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire lover/husband/former professional whore Bones is an unbearably hot combination, but that truly astonishing sex scene is brought about the presence of Bones’ former lover Annette and his need to prove to her that she’s truly the love of his heart after she lays down a challenge to him to make her blush the next morning (and she does).

But the sex scene in This Side of the Grave is one between two people who have weathered ups and downs in their relationship and are secure as a result, and it gets listed here because of one very specific reason. It’s not just the unbelieveably inventive combination of candle wax and fangs, but the fact that Cat consciously lets down her final barrier in her relationship with Bones – the fear of how devastated he would be if she lost him. That realization makes this sex scene one in which she demonstrates how she’s decided to hold nothing back by consciously constructing a night of total pleasure for him. It’s so hot and moving that I find myself alternately fanning my face and choking up whenever I reread it.

Author: Stephanie Laurens
Book: A Rogue’s Proposal (Cynster series #4)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Demon & Flick
Why: I am the first to admit that Stephanie Laurens drives me insane with her tendency for purple prose. But the earlier Cynster books, while peppered with the occasional “flotsam” reference (ocean debris = not sexy, Stephanie!), possess fewer of these references with the sex scenes  stronger as a result, none more so than Flick’s deflowering scene. It happens on a dresser in an inn. Harry, aka Demon, is the most sensual beast of all the Cynsters and – as frustrating as his inability to express his love for her is – the one place he can show her how he feels is when they are intimate with each other. It’s not surprising she feels smug looking at his ass in the mirror as he makes love to her. Who wouldn’t?

Author: Lisa Kleypas
Book: Devil in Winter (Wallflowers series #3)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Sebastian & Evie
Why: Another deflowering scene that’s a favorite and honestly one that probably didn’t stop the clock in terms of how long it took. Sexy Viscount Sebastian needs a fortune and heiress Evie is happy to give him hers in trade for letting her escape her abusive relatives but they both agree the marriage has to be legal. Not a problem for Sebastian who’s seemingly bedded all of London’s females over age 17. Exhausted from their trek to Gretna Green and quickie marriage, Evie awakes from a very sexy dream to Sebastian kissing his way all over her naked body. What makes this so unbelievably sexy? The fact that he talks to her – playful, sexy, Sebastian talk that is the essence of his charming, roguish self – until you’re a puddle listening to him bring her to ecstasy  That he has an orgasm so mind-blowing and long that he feels that he might have been the virgin? Icing on the cake.

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Book: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #1)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Ian & Beth
Why: If you have to ask, you haven’t read this book yet! Lord Ian Mackenzie is one of the more memorable and unique heroes I’ve ever read. Landing on the autism spectrum in the 19th century meant you were thought mad no matter how brilliant you are, and it’s not like the era was renowned for the tender care of people with psychological differences. When Lord Ian meets the young and beautiful widow Beth, brought up in poverty and the recent heir to a fortune, he immediately wants her while his honest candor and devastating sexuality proves more than she can resist. While I like all their sex scenes, the one that stands out is the one where Beth visits him at his brother’s art studio in Paris to apologize for being nosy (she really didn’t need to). Ian worried he would never see her again and talks her into baring herself to him. Feeling her freedom, she takes off her clothes and dances a little around the studio in happiness with a sheer scarf, which Ian uses to reel her in and proceeds to bring her to orgasm, while never removing a stitch of his clothing. That in itself is damn erotic, but it’s his utter focus on her pleasure, the sensual enjoyment he takes of every little detail of helping her reach ecstasy, that makes this scene one of my favorites.

Author: Laura Kaye
Book: Hearts in Darkness
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Makenna & Caden
Why: Laura Kaye can throw down the hot emotional sex scenes with veterans in the business and always land at the top of the pack. In this book, our two protagonists are trapped in an elevator together, in the dark, and they didn’t get a good look at each other when they got in. Getting to know one another when it’s hot and stuffy in an enclosed space doesn’t sound awesome, but it is when the two people in question have a lot to reveal and the dark makes for perfect cover. That they get hot and heavy in the elevator (and then take it to her apartment) has been done before, but not like this. The unbridled sensuality and emotion inherent in Makenna, in the pitch black, feeling the piercings and scars on Caden face and connecting them with what he’s revealed to her makes your heart beat faster.

Author: Shelly Laurenston
Book: The Mane Event (Pride #1)
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Couple: Dez & Mace
Why: I adore Laurenston’s ability to bring her brand of earthy humor to this incredibly sexy paranormal series. Mace Llewellyn has left his elite military unit (one made up of shifters like himself) and has gone into the security business with his best friend. They’ve based themselves in New York, not just because Mace’s pride is located there, but because this lion has been head over heels in love with the husky-voiced, half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican (extremely busty) Desiree MacDermott since they began high school. He knows that she’s the one for him, and class issues and the pesky fact that he’s a shifter (and she has no idea about their existence) isn’t going to get in the way. This book makes the short list based on one particularly AMAZING scene – and let me tell you, there are plenty of sexy love scenes in this series! – where Dez handcuffs Mace to her bed and has her wicked way with him. The neighbors calling the police is a given since lions are extremely noisy while being tortured with sexual ecstasy. It’s off the hotness meter not just because of what Dez feels comfortable doing with herself in front of Mace but because he wants to prove himself to her so much that he lets her take control.

Author: Kele Moon
Book: Defying the Odds (Battered Hearts #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Melody & Clay
Why: If you haven’t jumped on the Kele Moon bandwagon, I honestly don’t know what you are waiting for. This astonishingly good writer won my heart with her unlikely tale of a working class victim of domestic abuse slaving long hours as a diner waitress who finds love with a UFC fighter. I knew absolutely nothing about this kind of fighting but Kele Moon’s plotting and characterization moved her into my “must-buy the pre-order” category and she’s never let me down. Clay Powers is a disciplined athlete with a tough beginning but good friends and the way he sees through Melody Dylan’s stress and exhaustion to the beautiful woman underneath will have you sniffling. That Melody discovers she is a highly sensual being at Clay’s hands is wonderful, and the make-up sex which occurs when she travels to Las Vegas to cheer on Clay in his big bout will have you never looking at a picture window over Sin City the same way again. Yowza.

The Future of Sex Scenes in Romance

While many people are crediting the Fifty Shades phenomena or the decline of civilization, the fact remains that romance novels, unless of a specific genre (like inspirational or Amish) are becoming more explicit in their sensuality levels. What RT Book Reviews lists as a “Scorcher” now would very likely have been erotica over a decade ago and there are classic romances that were considered hair curling in their time that I flip the page back with a “that’s it?” comment, thinking I’ve missed something.

My hope is twofold. One, that the trend toward explicit sex between characters means that readers and writers are more comfortable with sex as a natural expression between people. Clearly we see more sex on television and in movies, but a lot of it is objectification, not a loving expression between individuals, so romance fits a vital need to remind us of what sex can be. Second, I believe that there are a lot of truly great authors (see my shortlist above) and publishers who want women to demand their due both as consumers of the romance genre (hell, we deserve hot sex scenes between those fictional people we’ve fallen for!) and as healthy sexual beings in the bedroom. In the end, writers who write hot, emotional sex scenes have not only demonstrated their facility as people who have mastered a craft, but as pioneers showing us all what really love can look like in its most elemental form. And I would like to say to all of them – Thank You.

What favorite sex scenes of yours fits the criteria here? I’d love to hear about them. Happy Reading! 🙂

References

Kane, Stacia (2010-07-19). Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet. Kindle Edition.

One of the Best Shifter Romance Series on the Market: Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley

22 Oct

Pride Mates (Shifters Unbound #1- Liam and Kim’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, April 26, 2010)

I do not understand why so many otherwise normal romance readers get their panties in a bind admitting they enjoy paranormal romance, particularly shifter romance. Haven’t we all felt the lash of people judging us for reading romance? Why would we do this to each other? Sheesh, people.

A good shifter romance is sexy, steamy, and has a fabulous world you can dive into and not resurface until the last page is read. There’s lust and usually the idea that the shifter has a sense of finding his or her “mate.” But the really good shifter romances show the intense attraction between the hero and heroine grow into a deep abiding love based on the knowledge that comes with truly understanding someone. Really amazing shifter romance, like good steampunk, uses the concept of the “other” to highlight issues of racism and discrimination that exist in our world and show us noble characters determined to fight it.

Guess what? Jennifer Ashley writes the amazing kind of shifter romance in her Shifters Unbound series.

You might remember my shameless kvelling over Ashley’s incredible historical romance books, the Highland Pleasures series starring the uber-hot Mackenzie men, and it’s a credit to her versatility that she can transition into paranormal with seemingly effortless grace.

Primal Bonds (Shifters Unbound #2 – Sean and Andrea’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, March 1, 2011)

In the first book of the series, Pride Mates, our heroine Kim Fraser boldly goes to the heart of Shiftertown, where the government makes all the shape shifters live, to research a pro bono case her law firm assigned her. Her client, a shifter, has been accused of killing his human girlfriend and Kim is convinced of his innocence, but she knows the jury will be all too willing to believe his guilt. Most people see shifters as wild animals, barely controlled by the magical collars they are forced to wear to keep them from giving in to their violent animal instincts. When her client informs her that no one will talk to her unless she convinces Shiftertown’s second-in-command, Liam Morrissey, of the seriousness of her mission, Kim bravely heads out to do just that.

Liam is a sexy, Irish (yes, I said Irish) feline shifter kept continually busy helping his father run their pride and settle Shiftertown’s disputes. Over 100 years old, yet looking a hunky thirty-something, he’s delighted with the spunk of this gorgeous lawyer. He’s never been attracted to humans before, but for this curvy brunette with her determined chin and brave attitude, he’s willing to defy his father’s edict to get rid of her and actually help her do her job. It doesn’t take him long to realize that this woman is the mate he’s been waiting for all his life, but he also knows that to truly claim her would ruin her career and the life she’s so carefully built.

Anyone who loves the Highland Pleasures series will see a few similarities in how Ashley constructs her characters. Her heroes are strong and often playful, but have tortured pasts and secrets they slowly dole out to the heroine as she earns their trust and love. The female leads are feisty (who else can stand up to these alpha males?) but loving, and usually take one look at the males’ close family relationships, either genetic or purposely chosen, and realize that they are keepers. Kim and Liam have such amazing banter that you are grinning like an idiot half the time and the sexual tension and love scenes have you reaching for a glass of ice water and it’s not because Ashley transmits a sense of the Austin, Texas heat.

The world-building is what totally blew me away. I knew Jennifer Ashley had the ability to plunge me into a vivid world (she did it with Victorian England and Scotland already with the Mackenzies), but I had no idea she was capable (or quite honestly that any author was capable) of placing me in an all-too-believable world of discrimination and secrecy. Shifters were created by the duplicitous Fae, who attempted to breed humans and animals with magic to create an army. This backfired as shifters were too powerful to become docile. Hiding among humans for centuries, the shifters were feared and hunted when their presence became known. With poor infant mortality rates and facing regular starvation, Liam, his widowed father, Dylan, and his brothers Sean and Kenny decided to have their families take the collar – a magical Fae-infused device which would control their violent tendencies by inflicting tremendous pain upon them.

Shifter Made (Shifters Unbound #.5 – prequel novella to series and Alanna’s and Niall’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, April 20, 2011)

This process was unbelievably painful, yet being able to control their feral tendencies and live in relative peace with each other (and among different species of shifters, unheard of in the wild) was the reasonable trade-off. Yet Kenny lost his mate when she gave birth to their son, Connor, and Kenny died later at the hands of a feral shifter, leaving his father and brothers to raise his son. But while human governments think they have shifters under control, in actuality this group has been trained in brilliant subterfuge for a millennia  They have coping strategies unknown to humans, both regarding the collars that attempt to control them as well as in living their lives within the ghetto-like confines of their towns and the Jim Crow-like laws which rule their behavior. It’s a brilliant world, all too believable once you get used to the idea of shape shifters.

The second book in the series, Primal Bonds, focuses on Sean, the second brother and the all-important guardian of Shiftertown. Sean Morrissey is bonded to the Fae-infused sword of the Guardian, a sword created by one of his ancestors and handed down through his family. His job is vital to shifters yet makes him a feared individual among them – the sword is used to dispatch shifters to the Summerland or their afterlife, making him a specter of death. Because women shy from anything permanent with such a sober job description, he offers to mate-claim Andrea Gray, the niece of family friend (and his father’s lover) Glory, despite never having set eyes on the wolf shifter.

Andrea is half-Fae, half-Lupine and that heritage has made her life a misery in the Colorado town she grew up in. When the jackass son of the leader tries to forcibly mate-claim her, she turns to her aunt for help. Getting off the bus in Austin, Texas, she’s astonished that the man kind enough to mate-claim her so she can make her escape is the gorgeous Guardian of the town. His Irish accent and underlying playfulness is a fascinating counterpart to his all-too-serious job, but the Fae part of Andrea is called to Sean. On his part, Sean realizes this is no mere claim-of-convenience as the gorgeous wolf with the dark gray eyes is someone he must take to mate. While swirling power struggles among the shifters and the Fae try to keep them apart, Andrea and Sean might hold the key to freeing the shifters from some of the bonds that try and hold them.

Sean is a total hunk, playful in his own way like Liam but more intense and with plenty of guilt due to his job description. Andrea is different from all other wolf shifters because of her Fae side, and Ashley does a terrific job of introducing us to the world of Fae as Andrea begins to uncover more information about her father and some of her remarkable abilities, particularly with Sean helping and protecting her.

The prequel novella, Shifter Made, is the prefect next step to the series to read after Sean and Andrea’s story. The relationship Sean has to the sword of the Guardian (and Andrea’s affinity to it as well) makes the story of the sword’s creation so welcome. The master sword maker and metalsmith Niall O’Connell hates the Fae, remembering how they enslaved his people, and he has his hands full raising his motherless sons and keeping food on the table. When a beautiful Fae princess comes into his life to ask him to make a sword, he knows there is no trusting her, but her beauty cannot be denied. Alanna has been sent by her manipulative brother to medieval Ireland to put her own brand of magic into a sword that will bring the shifters to heel, but she has other ideas of rebellion, ideas that expand beyond helping the shifters after she feels the attraction to the ruggedly handsome Niall.

Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound #2.5 – Ronan and Elizabeth’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, November 18, 2011)

I have to admit to a real soft spot in the shifter novel universe for bear shifters (I guess I go for the big, cuddly type that can turn badass when properly riled) so I was ecstatic when Ashley released Bodyguard, the novella about the Kodiak bear-shifter, Ronan, who works as bouncer at the Morrissey’s shifter pub.

Plenty of shifters shop at the funky novelty store owned by Elizabeth Chapman and her sister, Mabel, so when Ronan is in there late one night looking for a present for his housemate Rebecca, the last thing he expects to see is the cute human owner being held at shotgun point by some punk kid. He doesn’t think twice before shifting and taking down the would-be killer even though the cops who come on the scene arrest him for attacking a human.

Elizabeth does not need all this attention from the police but there is no way she isn’t coming to the defense of the kind – and seriously hot – shifter who got shot and arrested for his pains. She does what he asks and calls in Shiftertown’s leader and his human mate who is a lawyer. Hoping it will all blow over, she’s dismayed to discover that the brother of the obnoxious sociopath who was going to kill her is an equally scary organized crime boss and he’s determined she won’t get to testify. Ronan insists on taking her to his house and it’s not long before she gets a good look at his caring nature and his luscious body.

Ronan realizes quickly that Elizabeth is hiding something huge about her past, but he trusts her, so much that when the Morrissey leaders try and force her to tell them her secrets, Ronan mate-claims her to keep them at bay. Slowly showing her she can trust him, this burly bear lets Elizabeth come to him to share her sweet kisses and her body, which he is happy to guard. When another threat from her past is unleashed, Ronan is happy to take on all comers and insure that this tough, sexy human is his forever.

Wild Cat (Shifters Unbound #3 – Cassidy and Diego’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, January 3, 2012)

I just want to cuddle up with a bear as patient and kind as Ronan (but who turn into a gigantic, enraged Kodiak bear when necessary) and this novella at $.99 on Amazon.com is a total bargain. We get a slightly different combination of partners in the third official novel (the fifth work) in the series, Wild Cat, when Ashley decides to move out of Texas to the Las Vegas shiftertown. Eric Warden came to Austin in Sean and Andrea’s story, Primal Bonds, on Dylan Morrissey’s suggestion and stayed to help them fight the Fae threat. He’s back on his home turf with his sister and second-in-command, fellow feline shifter Cassidy , who is commemorating the one year anniversary of her mate’s murder.

Cassidy has a problem, though. She’s being followed and shot at by an unknown assailant and when she tries to escape in cat form to an abandoned, half-built highrise to evade him, the cops show up. Las Vegas Detective Diego Escobar can’t believe that he has to go up to the 51st floor to figure out what has happened to the cops who investigated the trespass call. But hearing shots fired, he doesn’t have a choice – he’s just got to put the horrible night out of his mind when he almost fell to his death and then watched his partner and best friend get shot in front of him. It’s easy to forget when he sees a gorgeous Snow Leopard, clearly a female shifter, shift to her naked female form to save him when her assailant is busy shooting at them both. Getting her free takes some doing, but he’s responsible for her and, by God, he’s going to figure out what’s going on. He doesn’t know much about shifters, but this stunning blond is all he can think about and he’s vouched for her behavior and her safety.

Cassidy can’t believe that this human is stirring her blood in a way she hasn’t experienced since her mate’s death. She knows someone is hunting her but she cannot figure out why. Diego doesn’t understand shifters, but he doesn’t back down from Cassidy or her alpha brother Eric, so his strength is clear. Can they trust him with their secrets, at least enough to figure out what is going on? Particularly if they are right and the duplicitous Fae are involved again?

I was leery of moving the Shifters Unbound storyline out of Texas (I love my Morrisseys and Ronan!) but Las Vegas has an equally as compelling shifter presence and I did like Eric Warden. Luckily Cassidy is a terrific character, honestly mourning her mate but displaying the shifter openness of not denying what she is feeling for the sexy Diego Escobar. Ashley’s usual adept characterization is fabulous and the story arc is one that continues themes laid down in previous books with plenty of loose ends to be continued in future ones. It’s wonderful.

Hard Mated (Shifters Unbound #3.5 – Spike and Myka’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, August 19, 2012)

Jennifer Ashley’s propensity for writing meaty novellas in between the full-length novels are a series reader’s dream, especially since they never feel half-assed or with a plot simply tacked on like so many other authors. In Hard Mated, we are back in Austin with the Morrissey’s tattooed tracker Spike, who has just been informed by an adorable human that he is the father of a cub. Seeing as the mother of his child was a shifter groupie one-night stand and that shifters have a hard time fathering children, this astonishes him, but no more than discovering that the formerly vibrant woman is dying of cancer. Her death leaves him with the custody of a wild little cat shifter who simply won’t behave. Spike might be able to break feral shifters to his will but he has no skill set for dealing with a willful little boy who just lost the only Mom he ever knew.

Myka is mourning the death of her best friend, Jillian, and worried about her little four-year-old son Jordan. She found Jordan’s shifter father working off steam at a fight club and it’s clear he doesn’t have other children. His physical appeal can’t be denied – the guy is gorgeous – but he also didn’t say a lot so she has no idea whether Jordan is safe with him. Myka’s also got the major problem of losing her livelihood if the stable owners where she trains quarter horses for a living decide to sell since there’s no way she and the other workers can buy such an expensive facility, but as important as that is, Jordan takes precedence.

Spike’s son is cutting a destructive swath through his house and even his grandmother doesn’t seem to know the best way to deal with the little guy. His job as a tracker means he’s at the leader’s beck and call, but Spike is all too aware that Liam Morrissey doesn’t really know him or trust him. Liam inherited Spike from the previous shifter leader, the megalomaniacal Fergus, after killing the bastard in a dominance fight. Spike likes working for Liam and thinks he’s a better leader, but he finally has something in his life, Jordan, that is more important than running Liam’s errands. When Myka shows up to check on Jordan, something clicks inside Spike. With her clear-eyed gaze and perceptive mind, Myka sees past Spike’s tough facial expression and tattoos to the giving person who cares for his family and wants to do the right thing. The fact she’s comfortable sassing the leader of Shiftertown and telling him how he doesn’t appreciate Spike only makes him that much happier. But past threats put Myka and little Jordan in the line of fire and Spike decides that he’s willing to fight anyone, and sacrifice anything, to keep them both safe.

Mate Claimed (Shifters Unbound #4 – Eric and Iona’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 2, 2012)

I loved Spike and the perspicacious Myka, but was dying to get back to Las Vegas. While Cassidy and Diego had their plot line in Wild Cat, the other burning question was what was going to happen to Iona Duncan, the secret shifter living as a human who Eric Warden met and was attracted to? In the fourth full-length novel of the series, Mate Claimed, we get our answer.

Eric has kept a close eye on the stunning and sexy Iona Duncan since the minute he scented her in the shifter bar. An unclaimed female shifter, secretly living as a human, is a powderkeg waiting for a spark, but Eric is reluctant to drag her into Shiftertown and slap a collar on her like he knows he should. Iona is in the prime of her fertile years and clearly beginning the mating frenzy. After having denied her shifter side for her whole life, she needs Eric to help her accept who she is, and he is more than willing to help this raven-haired beauty.

The problem is that Eric had a mate long ago and has a fully-grown son, the powerful Jace. He knows that he should bring Iona in and encourage one of his unmated males to claim her but there is no way he can do that. The months of tracking her (and kissing her senseless) has been a way of keeping her all to himself, but he realizes a move will have to be made, and soon, since Iona is finding it tougher to keep from her panther form as the restlessness of her frenzy takes over. He is not about to let this beautiful woman go feral if he can help it. That Eric also has to deal with the idiot humans relocating a town of Lupine shifters into his Shiftertown is an unwelcome distraction. He’d much rather be spending all his time helping Iona than fighting dominance battles with Graham, the new wolf leader determined to oust Eric.

Iona does not know what to make of Eric. Yes, with his rock hard body and green eyes, he sets her blood on fire, but Iona has kept her shifter self hidden for years, not just because she would have to take the collar, but to protect her mother and sister who could go to jail for keeping her off the government radar for those decades. That Eric doesn’t try and force her to his will, just tempts her constantly, is a mark in his favor, but the world gets more dangerous when the town council chooses her construction company to build the new houses in Shiftertown. Iona is exposed to more shifters, including the wolf leader challenging Eric, and she is now caught between them.

Iona is a giving person who is nevertheless strong and dominant whether in human or her panther form. I loved how Eric held himself back, playing with Iona sexually (and boy, did they play! Yowza.) but not pushing her to have sex even though he knew with her mating frenzy he could have easily convinced her to succumb to him. This was honestly one of the most psychological books in the series so far, with Iona wrestling with accepting her nature and easing into the Warden family and Shiftertown prior to giving herself fully to Eric. On the flip side, Eric knows he wants Iona and readily admits that there’s no way another man will have her, but he has to undergo an emotional realization that he actually loves her, an epiphany that means he has to acknowledge he’s ready to move on from mourning his lost mate after all these years. It’s deeply moving, yet Ashley mixes sex and love in the perfect dose, all the while giving us conflict within Shiftertown (Graham and his Lupine crew) and the new villainous threat of humans, past and present, who experiment on shifters. I think it’s one of the most mind-blowing books of the series!

At the end of Mate Claimed, there is a delicious preview of the next full-length novel of the series, Tiger Magic, which stars the super shifter Iona frees from the government facility, the tiger with no name. He’s relocated to the Austin shiftertown and helps a beautiful human with car problems, but I’m thinking with that hunk of cat, she’s going to be getting much more than she bargained for (lucky woman)! But since that book is not coming out until June 2013, I’m more intrigued by the lack of information regarding the next interim novella, to be found in Angela Knight’s anthology, Unbound, to be published March 5, 2013. How can we not have an inkling about who this will focus on? Will it be Peigi, the damaged uncollared shifter freed by Cassidy and Diego, and Reid, the Fae who loves her? Ellison, the hunky Texan wolf tracker (I’m hoping Ellison gets his own book, FYI)? Well, both Kindle editions are pre-ordered, so I’m all set.

No matter who is the focus, I guarantee that, in the hands of Jennifer Ashley, it’s going to be another amazing shifter romance. Thanks for all your hard work and imagination, Jennifer!!!

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