Tag Archives: Holiday

December Read-a-Thon: The Earl’s Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas Is a Delightful Holiday Historical Short

30 Dec

The Earl’s Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas (Entangled Flirt, December 30, 2013)

I have a thing for animals in romance, particularly in historicals and what animal is better for this genre than horses? In Rebecca Thomas‘ delightful holiday short from Entangled Flirts, The Earl’s Christmas Colt, both the hero and heroine would rather spend time with horses than find a spouse, but duty calls.

Lady Arabella Sutton is appalled when her otherwise loving older brother informs her that he’s signed the contracts for her to marry…at the end of the week right after Christmas! She knows that she wasn’t that interested in looking for a husband in her last season, but the fact is she’d rather spend her time with her horses, especially since her father recently passed away. But now her brother informs her she’s supposed to marry some horribly old Earl (he’s four and thirty!) who will be a duke one day, as if she cares about that. Feeling betrayed, she heads out for a long ride – sans groom, thank you.

Unfortunately her lovely mare picks up a bad stone, bruising her hoof and forcing Arabella to head through a driving rain to the nearest coaching inn to get her under a dry roof to recuperate. When a handsome stable master with a gorgeous stallion and fetching colt helps her care for her mare and says he’ll help her get a room and send her brother a message, she doesn’t have a name for the strange fluttering in her chest or the tingling skin a chance touch leaves in its wake.

Oliver Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale, is astonished that the gorgeous, wet young woman who knows horses backwards and forwards is his intended. A stray comment that hints at her disdain for dukes has him giving his mother’s maiden name instead of his own, a decision that allows him to know her a bit better but has him cringing at his deception. He simply wanted a good marriage of convenience after a disastrous engagement years ago trying to have a marriage based on love, but the more time he spends with Arabella, the more he’s worried that this woman is going to be much, much more than he’s ever experienced before. But his lie – and the bigger one perpetuated by Arabella’s brother regarding the state of the family’s finances – could come between whatever common foundation they might have laid in this stable.

I don’t usually fall for short stories with no sexy times, but this one (probably because it was an historical) absolutely charmed me. Author Rebecca Thomas is a self-confessed horse enthusiast and her knowledge and love of this noble animal shines through in her writing. There was a terrific foundation for conflict which, when combined with the sudden attraction between Oliver and Arabella, had me rapidly turning the page. I liked that the brother is well-intentioned and actually quite loving in his decision to match his reluctant sister with a good man who also loves horses. No two-dimensional villains here!

I’m super excited to read some more Rebecca Thomas who appears to be a relatively new author. Please note that this story is also available in the Entangled Flirts bundle, Twelve Days of Christmas Past, which includes not just this story but also the wonderful time-travel romance Christmas Past by Susanna Fraser which I reviewed earlier this month, as well as an additional story by Thomas and another Entangled author. At only $2.99 for four stories, that could be a post-Christmas bargain, but you can get the single story for a mere $.99 if you’d like to start just sampling this particular short. With such a wonderful example, I’ll be eagerly looking forward to her other works, historical or otherwise (and I hope they feature horses prominently).

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Remind Yourself How Lucky You Are With the Military Anthology, A Soldier’s Christmas

28 Dec

A Soldier’s Christmas, featuring novellas by Leslie Kelly, Joanne Rock, and Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

I’m a sucker for military romance any month out of the year, but come December, romances featuring members of our armed forces grab me by the throat as much as those damn Hallmark commercials or that Apple commercial with the kid who makes the video which induces the whole family to cry.

Fortunately the addition of hot sex and the promise of a happily ever after helps balance me out, and even luckier for me, the clever editors over at Harlequin’s Blaze line seem to know this, as based on their latest holiday anthology,  A Soldier’s Christmas.

Because it’s Blaze, readers get the perfect combination of sexy heat in these encounters balanced by the holiday “awwwww” each of them evokes. Luckily each of these three excellent writers have serious military romance chops, so you’ll be impressed by the tone and authenticity of each novella, I promise. Let’s get to the breakdown, okay?

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Leslie Kelly

Although it’s not yet listed on Leslie Kelly’s Santori series (featuring a very fun and feisty Italian American family from Chicago), this novella is actually part of that group. Ellie can’t believe that Rafe Santori has turned up at the New Year’s Eve party for a local pet rescue. This soldier broke up with her years ago after the best relationship (and sex) of her life, telling her that it was unfair to make her wait for him when he had several more years of service ahead of him in the Rangers. He seems shocked that she’s recently engaged to her good friend Dennis, but why would he be? He told her to move on and that’s exactly what this veterinary student has done. One slow dance and a New Year’s kiss that drags up old memories and he disappears. Again.

Flash forward a couple of years and Ellie is stranded in the airport in New York on Christmas Eve, desperate to get back to Chicago to be with Dennis and her family. While she didn’t marry him, he did marry her best friend – Rafe’s divebombing back in her life made Ellie realize that she didn’t have the necessary spark with Dennis (but he did with someone else). He’s a great partner with their small animal clinic and since it’s his baby’s first Christmas Ellie wants to be there. With a massive snowstorm burying the East Coast in snow, her only hope is to rent an SUV and chance the roads. Guess what soldier just got the last one?

Don’t Open Till Christmas (Santori Stories #3 – Mark and Noelle) by Leslie Kelly (Harlequin Blaze, 2005)

Yep, it’s Rafe, who seems startled to see her but hesitantly asks if Ellie wants to share his ride. She realizes that this is fate giving her the opportunity to see if the man she fell in love with seven years ago still exists under that uniform. For Rafe, he knows he’s torturing himself with a married woman but he can’t help it – the thought of Ellie is what gave him comfort during some lonely nights and if he has to live with the reminder that he was an idiot for letting her go then so be it. The news that she is not married – especially when combined with his revelation that he’s officially stateside for one more year in the Rangers and then he’s a civilian – puts a whole different tone on their trip home. A few sexy detours into questionable motels due to the weather and these two people are contemplating that a Christmas miracle may have occurred…if they can convince the other person to take a chance.

One of my favorite things about Leslie Kelly’s writing is her sense of humor and this novella is no exception, continuing the hilarious situational fun and banter that I found in another book of the series (also a Christmas themed one), Don’t Open Until Christmas, Rafe’s brother Mark and his wife Noelle’s full-length novel. The whole series is fantastic (this is one over the top Italian family I’d love to join) but both Mark Santori’s story and this novella featuring his war-weary brother, Rafe, will brighten your holiday season.

“Presents Under the Tree” by Joanne Rock

Las Vegas producer Arianna Demakis is nervous this Christmas Eve and it’s not because she’s juggling three shows tonight. No, the reason she’s on edge is because sexy Air Force Captain Dylan Rivera – a man who gave her one unforgettable night four months ago – has promised to spend the holiday with her. It’s almost midnight and Ari is worried that he’s a no show, and she’s disappointed (but not surprised) since Dylan went on a mission right after their tequila-fueled celebration. She hasn’t heard from him since and it’s not a huge shock except for the fact that they are…um…married.

Full Surrender by Joanne Rock (Harlequin Blaze, September 1, 2012)

Dylan makes it to Ari by the skin of his teeth in the parking lot outside one of her theaters and finds himself as lost in her beauty and fire as ever. He’s happy to see she’s still wearing the ring he put on her finger four months ago but he knows she’s bound to ask for a divorce. He’s loved Ari since they were friends in high school, and couldn’t believe his luck when she showed up for his thirtieth birthday celebration. They’d promised each other senior year that they’d consider getting married if they both hit the big 3-0 and weren’t hitched yet. But he knows she must be worried that their alcohol-filled night was a mistake and he’s got a limited amount of time to convince her.

Dylan was adorable in his geekiness and the fact that he’s been thinking about Ari for years. He finds her fierce independence not just sexy but also potentially exactly what they would need if she agrees to give this marriage a chance – his tech job is perfect for a former chess club leader but his work falls under the highly classified label and he’ll potentially be out of touch for weeks and months at a time. Rock does a great job sketching both characters and showing their shared history and common interests that make their sudden marriage actually believable. I did wish that there was a little more discussion for the final revelation of feelings – and a hint of exactly how their relationship would work. I also felt like I was missing if this excellent novella was connected to another story; Ari compares her marriage to her friend Krista, who is married to a Lt. Col. (Lars?) in the Air Force – is this another Uniformly Hot novel? I really wish that Blaze would make a point of just tucking in a reference for readers at the start or end of novellas when there is a connection to another story. I don’t want to miss out and I’m enough of a completionist to be irritated if there’s another book I should be reading, particularly by an an author whose work I enjoyed in another story.

This was my first Joanne Rock story and I’ll definitely be trying another. She seems to have written quite a few military romances and other Blaze novels, as well as has a few historicals under her belt and is clearly an author worth exploring!

“If Only In My Dreams” by Karen Foley

Hot-Blooded by Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, 2010)

Navy SEAL Aiden Cross cannot figure out why he feels so horrible or why he’s no longer with his team traipsing through the African jungle on their mission. The only silver lining about waking up in a hot tent in excruciating pain is seeing army medic, Sergeant Lily Munroe hovering over him. He’s been attracted to her since the first moment he saw her nine months ago at a joint operations center in Entebbe. Knowing that relationships in the field can be more like hook-ups and often disrespectful to the women involved, he ignored his attraction (and hers). Much to his chagrin, his team buddy Brad swooped in and got involved with her, so she’s doubly off limits now, even if Aiden wasn’t suffering from Dengue fever. The only silver lining in all this pain is the news that he’s being shipped stateside for recovery in time for Christmas with his family and that Lily is going with him since she’s rotating out.

Lily has been extremely worried about Aiden and is more than a little nervous about traveling with him. Christmas is a pretty unhappy time in her family since her mother died on Christmas Eve when Lily was still a child, so she’s in no rush to get home. Despite her being attracted to Aiden and letting him know it, he wasn’t interested, hence her childish flirting with his buddy which came to nothing. When Aiden mentions on the trip home that he only believes in serious relationships and Lily knows she only does casual – having seen how hurt people can be when someone they love dies – she thinks that’s the door closing officially on anything they might have. But a combination of getting snowed into a midwest town without hope of making it home for the holiday, and her dispelling Aiden’s misconceptions that she’s in a relationship, seems to make their dynamic take a drastic shift. Sharing the last room in town might help Lily get her Christmas wish of Aiden in her bed, but the question still remains if there can be any kind of future between them.

OMG – such a good novella. I enjoyed having a military story not set in the Middle East and especially liked the realistic feeling of the misunderstanding between Aiden and Lily regarding her “relationship” with Brad. The B&B scenes were heartwarming and did a great job demonstrating Aiden’s ability to truly understand Lily and her fears – this was one man who I bet was amazing on a mission considering how focused he was on his objective! I’ve enjoyed several of Foley’s other military romances but just went out and bought a few others based on how hot and sweet this one was. She bowled me over!

Because of the nature of a soldier’s life, it’s hard not to come away from A Soldier’s Christmas being both high on the bittersweet romance of each story as well as impressed by the writing. As a reader, you are naturally thankful both for the men and women of our armed forces but also for being at home with family during the holidays when so many other people aren’t. I think a lot of the emotion I experienced reading this anthology wasn’t just provoked by the outstanding stories told, but how fortunate I felt to have love and family this holiday season in my life after seeing each of these couples experience their emotional roller-coaster during a potentially difficult time.

This is a terrific addition by the Blaze line to both their quality holiday novellas as well as their military romance collection.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin Delivers Emotion and Eroticism to a Blended Holiday

14 Dec

Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

The Jewish holidays are always given short shrift in the ocean of holiday romance that comes out this time of year, and it’s really a shame (I think I need to write a sexy, Hanukkah romance to prove to myself that it can be done more often). When I spotted Matzoh and Mistletoe, a novella by Jodie Griffin, I was elated to have a Jewish protagonist. What took me aback was how beautifully emotional this BDSM holiday romance was, and by the last page, Jodie Griffin had made a new fan.

Rebeccah Rickman is used to volunteering her time on Christmas and Easter at her local police precinct. For the last five years, she’s fulfilled her family’s tradition of doing a mitzvah, a good deed, by riding in the same car as First Officer Jeremy Kohler. Since she was a married woman, she’s managed to keep her attraction to him a secret, simply reveling in his company. Handsome, smart, dedicated and with a wicked sense of humor, he’s the total package. She’s seen him in the best and worst of situations observing him in his job during their time together.

Unfortunately for her, she’s been through a lot in the last several months, including an ugly divorce brought about by physical abuse suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, who had very specific ideas about what a “nice Jewish girl” should want in the bedroom (and out of it). Rebeccah has been made to feel guilty about her own desires and her time with a therapist has made it clear that her ex’s verbal abuse of her has left scars during the course of their years together. But she’s taking hold of her life and living it the way she wants, and that just might include Jeremy, if he’s interested.

Jeremy is no saint; he’s volunteered for Christmas and Easter duty because it was the two days of the year he has gotten with the chestnut-haired beauty doing a good deed. He’s actually forbidden the other officers to request her, keeping Rebeccah all to himself, although he knows she’s off limits as a married woman. When he’s startled by her tired but beautiful face and obvious weight loss, he asks her what’s wrong and is angry to hear that she’s been single for nine months – nine months without him knowing she was free for him to pursue. Seeing her reaction to his anger makes him realize an inkling what she’s been through, and her experience might be exactly what could keep them from acting on their attraction to one another.

Public domain image of mistletoe via Pixabay

Throughout much of history, mistletoe was seen as an embodiment of the divine male essence – which is why you kiss under it today. (Public domain image of mistletoe via Pixabay)

That’s because Jeremy is a Dom in the bedroom and while Rebeccah is a natural submissive with inclinations clearly geared toward that life, her abuse makes her associate the word “submissive” with anything but pleasure. Jeremy has never been with a woman who didn’t already know all about the lifestyle, and never with anyone with a history of abuse. He’s not sure that this woman he would risk everything for can adjust to his needs in the bedroom, even if she admits that it’s what she has always fantasized about. Just as Jeremy would never ask Rebeccah to be anyone other than who she is, he can’t be someone he’s not.

For a 100 page novella, this story managed to be outstandingly full-featured, with Rebeccah and Jeremy shown as compelling characters you instantly like and cheer for, yet each carrying baggage that presents an obstacle to their happily ever after. I liked that Rebeccah referred to her therapy and was conscious of how she was reacting to certain triggers based on her past with her ex-husband. Equally as helpful, Jeremy had clear experience and training regarding domestic situations, as well as being an experienced Dom, which has its own set of communication guidelines. This combination made it obvious that he was doing everything he needed to in order to set boundaries and help Rebeccah feel comfortable. The BDSM piece was a little more intellectual with some very interesting psychological twists I didn’t expect, and it made the sexual intimacy truly illustrative of the couple’s growing feeling for and trust in one another.

At a mere $2.51, I would recommend every erotic romance reader who wants something other than the small-town Christmas story (and I love those too, but change is good) to trot to their nearest e-bookseller and grab Matzoh and Mistletoe.

Happy reading!

December Holiday Read-a-thon: Scrooge as a Hot Vampire? Yes, Please! A Vampire’s Christmas Carol by Cynthia Eden

2 Dec

It is always a pleasure when you see a self-published book done beautifully, and leave it to best-selling author Cynthia Eden to have the chops to manage this on her own with aplomb. Her paranormal holiday novella, A Vampire’s Christmas Carol, has everything you could want – compelling characters, excellent writing and editing, and a damn sexy cover – all of which harken back to the time-honored tale by Charles Dickens of a man confronted with the sins of his past and given the chance to create a different future.

Ten years ago, Ben Prescott had everything as he was walking through Central Park. A millionaire, his sterile apartment was filled with a tree and love as he hurried home to his beautiful girlfriend Simone so he could give her the engagement ring in his pocket. But in a flash it was all taken from him as a vampire attacked and changed him into a monster. Considering himself responsible for Simone’s death, Ben has spent the last decade as a vigilante courting death as he stalks and kills murderers, with the darkness almost fully overtaking him.

Until he is confronted by William, a demon he saved in a cemetery long ago. William informs Ben that – against Ben’s vehement wishes – he will witness his most painful memories, that of his turning and of Simone’s death. Two other people will visit him, to show him how his view of the present is skewed and how his future path is bleak indeed, in the hope that he can change in time to not be condemned to eternal damnation. But even this effort means nothing until Ben is shown the one person he wants most in this world – Simone – and he will do anything for the slightest chance to win her back.

WOW. This novella (a bargain at only $.99 for around 80 pages) packs a wallop. There are always holiday romance stories which use Dickens’ famous work, but I’ve never seen the concept executed with such freshness and deep emotion. Eden’s paranormal world is appropriately dark, but through Simone’s sacrifice Ben is finally able to see the potential he has to do the world good, and not just by killing the human detritus he has targeted in the past. I did not see several of the twists coming (which I loved) and my heart ached while praying for an HEA for Ben and Simone, even when it looked like that wasn’t possible. This was a masterful retelling filled with heat and emotion, which should be on every paranormal romance lover’s e-bookshelf this holiday season.

Happy reading!

Countdown to Christmas: All I Want For Christmas… Gifts You With One Small Town, A Cheeky Santa and Three Hot Couples for the Holiday

18 Dec

All I Want For Christmas… by Lori Wilde, Kathleen O’Reilly, and Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, November 13, 2012)

While I love anthologies, I have to say my favorites are often the ones where the authors choose a common theme or, better yet, really work together to have an overall story arc that ties the novellas together. In this excellent collection, all the stories are set in the same small Virgina town a few days before Christmas. The local historic landmark, the Price mansion, caught on fire and the town is in an uproar.

“Christmas Kisses” by Lori Wilde

One of the first people on the scene of the burned out mansion is police sergeant Noah Briscoe. The upcoming holiday dredges up bad memories for him and poking around the burned out former governor’s home only makes them worse. At least working all the time helps him keep his mind off the gorgeous redheaded defense attorney, Alana O’Hara, with whom he shared several hot kisses a year ago before she decided they were too different. But he’s not been interested in anyone since that, having to settle for his erotic dreams and near-constant daytime fantasies about her.

Alana knows Noah has walls around him that would rival Jericho and she didn’t think he could be more bah-humbug about the season until she gets notice that he’s arrested Santa Claus at the scene of the mansion fire. Arriving to defend the very sweet Christopher Clausen, their proximity stirs up all that delicious sexual tension. But Alana brushes it off as just that. She knows if she allows herself to sleep with Noah, she’s going to want him to open up and have a relationship with her and it’s all too obvious that’s not in his nature.

The best laid plans of mice and men….Of course, they can’t resist how much they want each other, especially when Noah knows that Alana has seen him at the cemetery putting roses on his mother’s grave. She can figure out what he’s been through and he hopes she knows what she’s getting. He wants to tell her the feelings she stirs up in him but can’t bring himself to do anything other than love her with his body. Seeing as he does that really well, Alana is thrilled but knows she’s also fallen for him. When he starts having morning after cold feet, she plays it cool and let’s him know that if he shows up at the Christmas Eve Firefighter Ball she’ll know he’s interested, otherwise not to worry about it, even if she’s dying inside at the thought of losing him.

I loved how tortured Noah is and yet Wilde makes clear just how much love he has to give, especially as Alana just tramples over his defenses with her Christmas cheer and understanding. The ending at the ball was wonderful (I love the present he gets her) and to finally hear Noah tell her what’s really in his heart is worth waiting for. I would have liked a couple more pages to expand upon his epiphany, but other than that, this was a terrific start to the anthology and lays a strong sense of place for the subsequent novellas.

“Baring It All” by Kathleen O’Reilly

EMT Eric Marshall might be the only son of the wealthy Marshalls in town, but he rejected his snooty family’s dreams and law school to become an emergency responder instead. He’s a jaded man who prides himself on being detached in all situations and the EMT motto of “treat, transport, take off” could be applied to women for him as well. In hanging out outside the shell of the historic mansion as the firefighters put out the flames, he figures the worst case he’s going to get is from one of the rescue workers, but he’s galvanized into action when one of them pulls a woman from the wreckage.

Just Surrender… by Kathleen O’Reilly (Harlequin Blaze, April 19, 2011)

He’s even more shocked when he recognizes her. Chloe Skidmore, the daughter of the former caretaker of the Price mansion, is a blast from Eric’s past and while she might look different now (forty pounds lighter and a lot more vulnerable) he treated her so badly when she was sixteen that he’s ashamed of his behavior. When the wound on her head seems to have given her a temporary amnesia, it’s almost a relief, but his vision of a reunion where he can redress his wrongs crumbles upon seeing the ring on her finger. She’s married and while he might have cut a swath through almost every single woman in town, he doesn’t touch the married ones.

The woman caught in the fire opens her eyes to see a familiar man but she has no idea who she is or what happened. She’s frightened, but this handsome EMT with the deep gray eyes is enormously comforting. So why does she think of him in a tuxedo and be fighting the urge to hit him? As he helps her with a place to stay, all the while claiming it’s because he has to help her recover her memory so he can file the insurance claim for the ambulance, she knows that he knows who she is even though he’s not saying much. The more time they spend together the harder it is to resist the pull to touch each other, even with the elephant in the room of her marital status. As her memories slowly begin to come back, Chloe has to deal with the shame she felt growing up in a town that looked down on her, and on the secret relationship she and Eric had back when they were kids. Whether he’s willing to let everyone know he wants her now is still up in the air.

This was a VERY impressive story. Eric is such a cold customer and the more you find out initially, the less there is to like. But O’Reilly does a masterful job showing you how Eric was fighting his family demons and yet always had a thing for Chloe, even when she was heavy and from the wrong side of the tracks. The climactic scene in the hotel with the music was out of this world fabulous and I liked understanding the complexity of both the hero and heroine’s emotions as they dealt with the past. I’m going out to buy some O’Reilly stories ASAP after this one.

“A Hot December Night” by Candace Havens

Party planner and new transplant Kristen Lovejoy has been planning the Christmas Eve Firefighters Ball for months now and one of the best parts is having Assistant Fire Chief Jason Turner on the committee. He’s a gorgeous piece of eye candy but since she’s heard he’s a womanizer, she’s steering clear of him. Nevertheless, she can’t resist asking for a follow-up cup of coffee after the latest shouting match among the dedicated women volunteers of the town. The Price mansion fire has everyone anxious about making the fundraising party a major success.

Model Marine by Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, October 18, 2011)

Jason has been fantasizing about the voluptuous blond bombshell for months but not asked her out for fear of bringing small town scrutiny down on their heads. Even though this woman seems like she’s the type who would be looking for something long-term and that’s not been his MO in the past, he can’t help but blurt out a dinner invitation as they are sipping their coffee. To his relief, she says yes.

The date is an utter disaster, at least from Kristen’s standpoint. She botches her hair dye right before the date, can barely zip up her dress from the Christmas cookies she’s been eating (and then can’t get in his truck without assistance because of her pencil skirt), her bracelet catches on fire before the wine arrives (good thing Jason’s a fireman) and then she leans forward only to split her dress. After ditching him at the restaurant in utter shame, she comes home to her dog in labor and Kristen didn’t even know she was pregnant! That Jason handles everything with utter equanimity convinces her of how perfect he is.

There’s only one problem and it’s a big one. Jason’s job involves him putting his life in danger all the time and as the daughter of a military man who died in the line of duty, Kristen’s not sure she can handle that. It might be easier to cut this thing with Jason short now and save herself heartache in the end. But when Jason doesn’t take no for an answer, she’s got to confront her demons and figure out what she really wants for her future.

Candace Havens in a fantastic writer! I loved both Jason and Kristen (big surprise since Havens’ book, Model Marine, was one of my favorite Blaze titles read this year) and thought their relationship extremely well drawn with enough conflict to keep me guessing how this was going to resolve and lots of delicious heat between them. Havens has a talent for taking unlikely pairings and showing how there are enough commonly shared values under the surface for a relationship to work if both parties would just wake up and realize it! She’s also an extremely funny and authoritative speaker, if you ever get the chance to hear her.

Wilde, O’Reilly and Havens obviously coordinated well since the periodic appearance of a sage Santa helps prod the couples into the direction of Christmas romance. I think of all the books I’ve read for this Countdown to Christmas series, this one has the best injection of true romance for the season although I’m sure the small town setting and a higher than average hottie quotient per capita helps.

This anthology is an outstanding addition to the Blaze line and a great addition to anyone’s stack of holiday reads. Many thanks to these fine authors for giving us such a great Christmas present! 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: To All a Good Night Is Sweeter Than a Cup of Hot Chocolate This Holiday Season

10 Dec

To All a Good Night by Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis, and HelenKay Dimon (Kensington Books, October 1, 2009)

We live in a great age for books. Back in the olden days before Amazon, you would have had to rely on friends or paperback exchange stores to find a holiday collection published from a few years ago. Even today, when we are fortunate to find them used, or better yet, download them instantly on an ereader, the paper versions of these books appear on supermarket and bookstore shelves in October/November and then are gone, never to be seen again in a retail store, by New Year’s Day.

Social networks geared toward reading, like Goodreads and LibraryThing, are godsends in that they offer terrific reviews and reader-generated lists of favorites. We can see what books people have loved based around themes, historical periods, or particular kinds of characters (military men, heroines with paranormal abilities, etc.). When I spotted the To All a Good Night anthology on a Goodreads list of great Christmas reads, I was elated. I mean, Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis and my recent happy find, HelenKay Dimon? Color me there.

These women do not disappoint. We have three hot, sweet stories with satisfying romantic endings, plenty of emotion, and a heated level of sensuality.

“Unleashed” by Donna Kauffman

I’m looking forward to reviewing Kauffman’s The Three Musketeers series after the holidays!

Based on the books of Donna Kauffman’s that I’ve read (and I’ve enjoyed all of them), her heroines are determined, honorable and unconventionally pretty, a combination I really like. Emma Lafferty fits this mold as a new business owner trying to get her petsitting business off the ground. She agrees to take an unusual two week job at the weekend home of an extremely wealthy older man over the holidays since she hopes it will help build up a more high-end clientele. Driving through a horrible ice storm, she barely makes it to the completely empty mansion before the roads become dangerous. Once there, she easily makes friends with the dogs and parrot in her care, but jumps out of her skin when a sexy male voice asks what she’s doing there.

Trevor Hamilton was hoping to get what he needed and be gone by the time the petsitter arrived but mother nature clearly has other plans. While he needs to get away from her and search his great-uncle’s house, he can’t help but be fascinated by Emma. This petsitter looks at him hungrily – not like the women who want his trust fund, but as if she wants him, the man. He’s trying to keep it playful and not pressure her but he makes his interest clear enough and she’s responding like a dream. One taste of her and Trevor can feel his priorities changing. What suddenly seemed important might not be in the face of finding someone who will love him for himself.

I love stories where people get trapped together due to weather, and this one (with those great dogs and the funny bird) was delightful. Seeing Trevor and Emma just click together, like pieces of puzzle they weren’t aware would fit, was downright heartwarming and I fell for them as hard as they fell for each other. The only part that confused me was the epilogue. I don’t see anything linking this story to another book or series, but the final pages of the novella clearly indicate the connection to another character. I’d love to read a connected story (particularly if I can catch a glimpse of Trevor and Emma again), so if someone knows the answer, please tell me!

“Finding Mr. Right” by Jill Shalvis

I can’t emphasize this enough – whether it’s ball players or firefighters, Jill Shalvis is consistently one of the best contemporary romance writers on the market.

I think that you’re not a true fan of contemporary romance if you don’t love Jill Shalvis. I devour her books and appreciate that she writes novellas as well as she does full-length books. Whether it’s her Lucky Harbor series or her fantastic Animal Magnetism books, Shalvis is as rock solid dependable as her strong heroes.

Her heroines are also full of quirks and that aspect always makes me like them that much more. Maggie Bell has multiple degrees under the white lab coat she wears every day and she loves puzzling out her work, which could help melanoma cancer patients and save lives. She’s aware that her research could also make the company she works for a ton of money, but it’s secondary in her mind which usually is honed like a laser on her work. Since the building is undergoing renovations, however, she finds her mind more than fixated on an extremely fine, blue jeans clad butt belonging to one Jake Wahler, her former high school crush and supervisor of the crew. When her sister tells her to stop trying for the brainiac guys who are just like her and go for someone the exact opposite, her mind naturally turns to Jake.

Jake is pushing his crew to finish this job before the holiday so they can all get their bonus and he can fly to New Orleans to meet his brother and do some serious partying. He can’t help but notice the gorgeous scientist who almost always trips on their equipment as she walks distracted through the hallways, but he’s astonished to find out that she was the 8th grade prodigy who tutored him in high school. Maggie Bell definitely did not look like this, with her killer curves, flawless skin and hair his hands beg to be buried in. She’s acting like the hot sex they had on her lab table was a one-time thing, but when it’s clear she’s getting threatened by someone who wants to hurt her, there’s no way he’s leaving her alone.

Jake was such a guy, and I loved seeing him react to Maggie’s nervous fact spouting (which is the trait of the schoolteacher friend, soon to the be the next heroine, in the Animal Magnetism series, so I’m thinking Jill Shalvis loves her trivia!). The scene with her crashing into the dishwasher was priceless, and I loved the testosterone showdown between Jake and Maggie’s boss, who briefly dated her. Macho guys falling, and admitting they are falling, are some of the sexiest heroes out there and Shalvis never, ever disappoints. I heart her.

“Can You Hand Me the Tape?” by HelenKay Dimon

HelenKay Dimon has published several romantic suspense novels with Harlequin as well.

It was just this holiday “Countdown to Christmas” series that exposed me to HelenKay Dimon with her novella in Romancing the Holiday, and I was impressed enough to get excited upon seeing her name again in this anthology.

As in that novella, this heroine is also someone recovering her self-respect after a crappy relationship. Natalie Pritchard is a tough parole officer whose always been frustrated dealing with her boyfriend’s law partner, Spencer Donovan. She doesn’t think he cares enough about the clients he represents and they’ve had a few run-ins. His partner, Charlie, may be tall and handsome but he’s been a self-absorbed manipulator, too, and she had enough a couple weeks ago when she broke up with him.

But there’s a complication. She had made a “tape” for Charlie for Christmas (uh-huh, that kind) just of herself, but she doesn’t want him or anyone seeing it now. In the hullabaloo of the breakup, he accidentally took it (without knowing what it was) and she desperately wants it back. While it kills her to do it, Spencer is the person most likely to help her. She’s disturbed to find out that Spencer is dissolving his law partnership with Charlie, but she manages to convince him to help her, even with the whole courthouse whispering about the time they are spending together.

Spencer has always hated the way Charlie spoke to his girlfriend, Nat, so much so that it was one of the reasons he’s jettisoning him as a partner. But until Nat swallowed her pride to ask for his help, he never noticed before how beautiful she is and the thought of her making this “tape” has his head spinning with images he can’t ignore. Can she get over the emotional damage Charlie has inflected on her to see what they have is special?

Dimon does a great job showing that, even if you’ve lost a lot of weight, that heavier person still lives inside your head, coloring how you think of yourself. Nat wrestles with her sense of inadequacy but watching her regain her self-respect and throw off Charlie’s past control (the elevator scene was downright triumphant) is fantastic and actually very realistically accomplished. HelenKay Dimon continues to impress me – she’s definitely getting placed on my “must-read” list.

To All a Good Night is another enjoyable anthology by three outstanding writers. One of the benefits of novellas in this format is, if you have only a limited time before bed, or the minutes are ticking by until your kids need you, you can get in a whole story from start to emotional finish and feel like you accomplished something! It’s like three novels in one, and considering the under $5.00 price tag in ebook form or even less money if you find it as a used paperback, you’re clearly getting serious value for your money.

So make that cup of hot chocolate and sit down to something else smooth and sweet with this anthology. You won’t be sorry. 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: His First Noelle by Rhonda Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to Christmas: A Galactic Holiday Gets a Big Christmas Star as a Great Holiday Read This Season

6 Dec
A Galactic Holiday Edited by Angela James (containing novellas by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail, and Sasha Summers) (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

A Galactic Holiday edited by Angela James (containing novellas by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail, and Sasha Summers) (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

I want to make sure to represent a variety of reading tastes in my “Countdown to Christmas” feature this season and that means including the major subgenres of romance. Erotic romance and contemporary romance are the easiest holiday books to find, but what about something a little less common? Science fiction romance is one of the toughest to locate but I enjoy it when I can come across it. Maybe it’s all that Star Trek I watched growing up, but I love the idea of romance in space or a futuristic earth. No matter where or when, love still looks the same, which is perhaps why science fiction romance is so appealing.

Just like in Romancing the Holiday and Red Hot Holiday, Carina Press editor Angela James picks a roster of strong writers with chops in the science fiction romance subgenre to entertain us with the trio of novellas in A Galactic Holiday. Unlike the other two anthologies which had authors with whom I was already familiar, I hadn’t read any work by these three women, a situation I am already beginning to remedy.

As always, Carina does you the courtesy of giving you total flexibility. You can buy this anthology and get all three stories (for under $7 at Amazon.com and I imagine other vendors are comparable) or you can buy each individual story for $2.99 if one of them doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. Individual story titles below link to the single story option while the title of anthology will take you to the collection.

How the Glitch Saved Christmas” by Stacy Gail

In looking at her Goodreads page, Gail seems to be a relatively new author on the romance scene, with a speciality in science fiction and steampunk. Color me her latest fan, because this story kicked serious ass.

Reina Vedette lives in a futuristic Chicago which has been ravaged by two waves of deadly flu. Androids are everywhere and many people choose to accept body modifications – bod mods – which help them do their job or offer some kind of advantage. Having been at death’s door as a child, Reina remembers the feeling of machinery keeping her alive all too well. Having attained a valued reputation as a top flight detective who relies on her instincts and gut, she has no desire to add machinery to the way she solves crime.

How the Glitch Stole Christmas by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

How the Glitch Saved Christmas by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

But the Chicago police force has different ideas. While they can’t require officers to get bod mods, they have made clear that no one will advance in the force without them. Reina is demoted down to to a level one detective while her less talented officers embrace the edict and get promoted above her, harassing her with their newfound power when they know she’s still better than they are. Sitting at the top of the pack is Edison Wicke, who even Reina would grudgingly admit was a top detective and her fiercest rival before he added modifications. Handsome, cheeky, and great at his job, he represents everything about the force Reina has come to despise, so she’s less than thrilled when she’s forced to partner with him on a strange case of burglary, a case where the burglar broke into a home not to steal anything, but rather to leave a tree and presents for a poor family.

Edison Wicke is beside himself that Reina is partnering with him on this case. He transferred from the Lincoln Park precinct specifically to be near her, both due to her outstanding detecting ability and her lush beauty. Over the last two years, she’s acted like he’s barely there and he knows the recent directive to employees has made her the target of every schoolyard bully in the force. He wants to use this case to prove to her that they would be great together, both in solving crime and in bed. The question is, can she get past her prejudice to see their potential?

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. If you don’t find yourself falling for both Edison and Reina, then you have a heart colder than any android I know. In a richly painted world (and one I hope to see much more of in future stories), Edison and Reina are caliente hot despite a Chicago blizzard outside. Gail’s writing is strong and tight with her novella showing that mark of truly outstanding writing in that you don’t feel anything is missing – we see each emotional step of our hero and heroine unrushed and each plot point is fully fleshed out. It’s masterful enough that I’m buying the other Gail stories listed on Goodreads to see if her writing holds up elsewhere. Color me her newest fan!

Galileo’s Holiday” by Sasha Summers

Galileo's Holiday by Sasha Summers (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Galileo’s Holiday by Sasha Summers (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

When tugger Riley lands on the icy surface of Galileo to repair her ship, she doesn’t expect her whole life to change, but a slaver ship’s cannons destroy the only home she’s ever known in a shocking minute. She’s saved by Leo, a big trader who has made the small Galileo colony his temporary base, and who saw both ships arrive and went to investigate. It’s a good thing he did or Riley would be in captivity right now, her tugger skills gone to waste.

Brought into the fold of this warm community, complete with children – which Riley has never seen in person before – she’s amazed at the taste of real food, the fresh air, and most of all, the hot feelings Leo generates in her. She’s annoyed at the way her body craves him and his very presence soothes her, but he hardly seems to mind. The colony is thrilled with her expertise as Riley seems to be able to fix virtually anything, but when a threat looms which could hurt these people and the peace they have given her, Riley will do anything to help them, even if it means losing Leo.

Summers, like Stacy Gail, seems to only just recently have begun publishing, and I’m pleased Carina Press has chosen to promote her talents. This novella was told solely from Riley’s perspective, which is not something I usually like (I’m a fan of the switching POV so I can understand both the hero and heroine’s perspective) but she made it work for me. I loved Riley, and Leo was a sexy outsider who no woman would have hesitated to go into outer space with. Both of them had a strong sense of personal honor and Summers conveyed their shared values extremely well. “Galileo’s Holiday” refers to the colonist’s celebration of Christmas which was utterly sweet and as a librarian, I loved how the book that survived all that space travel and however many centuries was being interpreted in such an interesting light. This was a well-written, heartwarming tale of love and space adventure.

Winter Fusion” by Anna Hackett

Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Savan Bardan is the tough negotiator from a planet that is all about individual pleasure and dispassionate choices. Having seen so many of his men killed in the intergalactic wars when he was a space marine, he has plenty of experience shutting off his emotions and it serves him well in his current official capacity. Headed to the cold Perman planet to trade for their ice crystals which offer an almost unlimited source of energy, he knows this deal is going to be difficult. The Permans blame him and other members of his government for delaying the timing of their membership in the trade organization, a delay which cost them countless lives lost to curable illness if they had been allowed to trade for medicine. Savan also knows that the beautiful Perman negotiator Brinn Fjord has never hidden her intense dislike for him or anyone else from his homeland. His boss’ suggestion that Savan seduce Brinn into getting the crystals is nothing short of ludicrous – she’d never look twice at him with anything but contempt in her eyes.

Brinn can’t believe she’s stuck chaperoning around a man she feels is responsible for the death of her father to illness, and on her planet’s most important holiday, Yule, brought over by the original settlers from their planet of Scandinavia. Savan Bardan has never expressed any emotion, and she’d easily believe that he was a synthetic creature devoid of any feeling, but she has a duty to her people to get the very best price out of him for their crystals even if she has to sit there and seethe with hatred.

At least that’s what she feels until they actually start spending time together. Hearing about the lack of any family structure on his home world and the billions of people who have died if technology is rushed upon a new planet makes her begin to see that he’s not without emotion, he has only known pain and suffering, with no balance of love and family. When the two of them are faced with numerous attempts on their lives on their journey to the ice caves to view the crystals, there’s no denying the strong attraction between them. But between the looming secret of Savan’s instructions and the fact that Brinn could not leave her family and world, their future seems bleak, unless they both are willing to compromise.

Wow, if the Perman world starts exhibiting signs of global warming, I guarantee you it is due to the off-the-charts hot sex between Savan and Brinn! This is definitely the more erotic story of the three and it has you forgetting they are on an ice planet. Brinn’s journey into empathy and Savan’s inkling of understanding what a real emotional connection can offer a union is so beautiful and heartwarming, it leaves you with the most wonderful ache in your chest. I loved the idea that Permans were the descendants of the Scandinavian settlers who didn’t mind the idea of an ice planet, with Norse gods, runes, and holidays persisting centuries later. This was an outstanding story by Anna Hackett, who seems to have been writing a few years more than newcomers Summers and Gail, but still largely in the short story and novella range for her otherwise paranormal romance offerings. She needs to do more science fiction as this story was wonderful.

Overall, I would actually say this anthology was the best holiday one Carina has put out this month, with three stories of truly outstanding quality from three relatively new writers who I hope are destined to produce many more stories for our consumption. Turn on the tree lights and snuggle up with some hot chocolate and your ereader to enjoy this fabulous addition to the holiday romances out this season! 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: Hunk for the Holidays Is Exactly What You Want Under the Christmas Tree

5 Dec
Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane (Forever, September 25, 2012)

Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane (Forever, September 25, 2012)

Holiday romances run the gamet. Sadly, they can be mediocre to shallowly awful, as the if the publishing house just wanted to mount a santa hat on an oiled torso for quick and dirty profits. More often than not they are good, solid romances, reasonably priced, which are like those Italian Christmas cookies I can’t help but buy this time of season – not exactly good for me when ingested in large quantities, but I can’t help myself, even if I feel a little dirty afterward. But every now and then you get a great holiday romance, one that renews your faith in love and introduces you to a terrific writer you’re going to read long after the tinsel comes down.

Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane is exactly that kind of great romance.

Mind you, Lane hits several of my favorite plot and character points in this book. I like mistaken identity, especially if it’s a little bit funny. I love a heroine who has certain “guy” tastes (this heroine, Cassie, has a Harley and prefers a Coors beer to a glass of champagne) and I like one or both of my protagonists to come from a large, meddling family. Check, check, and check.

Cassie McPherson has an overbearing father and four nosy brothers (two of whom live in her building on either side of her) and all of them help run their family construction business. While she adores architecture and dealing with the subcontractors who make up their work, Cassie is relegated to being the V.P. of Accounting and hates the paperwork as much as she loves the business. She’s a jeans and boots kind of woman, worried about her dad’s recent heart attack. A new company, Sutton Construction, has been wooing away clients and her father’s Scottish temper (and recently impaired heart) is suffering.

Because she can’t stand her family and friends trying to fix her up with men her workload has no time for, Cassie secretly hires male escorts for parties and work obligations. No sex, mind you, but just a handsome guy she “recently met.” So when James comes through the elevators in a gorgeous tuxedo, she naturally assumes this stunning man who oozes sex appeal is an escort (what else could he be with those looks?) and that he’s here to take her to the family holiday party.

Going Cowboy Crazy (Deep in the Heart of Texas #1) is Katie Lane's first book in this well-received series.

Going Cowboy Crazy (Deep in the Heart of Texas #1) is Katie Lane’s first book in this well-received series.

James Sutton got a message that the boss of rival M & M Construction wanted to meet him so he ran down without an appointment to see what was going on. Getting an eyeful of the total hottie dressed to kill in a barely there red dress and cleaning up a split pocketbook of condoms (her best friend and assistant Amy’s subtle plan to get Cassie laid) makes him think that Christmas came early. The further revelation that this is the daughter of the owner of M & M and that she thinks he’s her paid escort to the family holiday party (this woman has to pay men to go out with her?!) is too great a temptation to resist. As the night wears on and he realizes that he’s not only attracted to Cassie but falling for her, James determines to tell her who he is and then convince her to climb into bed with him. But circumstances end up derailing that plan (at least the revelation part of it), and the misunderstanding plot continues.

Cassie and James are perfect for each other – they both live and breathe construction and they have explosive physical chemistry. James is having trouble dealing with his rapidly growing feelings considering he’s spent a lifetime keeping it light, even with his father and stepfamily, but Cassie stirs up, not just feelings of lust, but a desire to hold and protect her. He can see her vulnerability even if her family can’t; she’s developed methods of coping in a male-dominated profession but she’s still all woman.

Cassie sees James as uber-attractive but she’s honestly having a worse time with the fallout of their relationship. Not understanding who he is is the first piece (she thinks he’s a professional escort and clearly that’s a problem in her mind), she naturally feels betrayed when she discovers his identity rather than James telling her who he is. Add in the layer of Cassie being guy-like (or, in this case, McPherson-like) in her inability to talk freely about her emotions, and you have a recipe for relationship disaster. At least, until the happily ever after gets figured out, and by then, the reader has really worked for it, watching these two screw up again and again.

I loved the subplot of the romance between Cassie’s brusque brother, the recently divorced Rory, and her best friend and assistant, Amy. Rory and Amy fell for each other years ago, the minute she started working at the company as a new teenage Mom, but he worried she was too young and she was warned off by his then-bitchy girlfriend. Amy’s boyfriend wants to marry her, but Rory and Amy’s daughter Gaby, a fabulous tomboy who adores Rory, have other ideas in mind, largely placed their by the McPherson siblings’ crazy old aunt (who you will LOVE).

Katie Lane is also an unbelievably savvy author. She has a terrific social networking presence and a clean, visually beautiful website with all information easy to find. I’m even following her on Pinterest since her boards are gorgeous, giving me even more insight into her interests and tastes (and since I like her style, it’s unsurprising I like her writing). Combined with her excellent prose, her marketing talents give the reader a solid author brand that I think will lead to a strong fan base, if it hasn’t already.

While Hunk for the Holidays was an amazing book I adored reading this season, the bigger present was Katie Lane herself, now another author I can enjoy reading in the books to come (after I catch up on her backlist, that is). Thanks for such a wonderful novel, Katie! You’ve made my Christmas a little brighter.

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