Tag Archives: Lisa Marie Rice

Did You Miss It? New Books, Fun Stuff, and Great Deals You May Have Missed

3 Aug

New Releases and Upcoming Books

Lori Foster’s fans are eagerly anticipating her Ultimate Series about MMA heroes and the women who love them, so it’s a happy thought to realize that the prequel to this series, Hard Knocks, will be released August 4th. When a woman can’t forget her affair with a rugged fighter – one who disappeared without a word for months – she’s got to protect her heart when he waltzes back into town. But our hero hasn’t been able to forget the woman who meant everything to him months ago and he has only one night to convince her that he’s back in her life for good. We only have to wait a month for the first full-length novel, No Limits, which will be coming out September 1st, so we can enjoy Hard Knocks while we tap our feet. FYI, Foster is also running a giveaway on Goodreads where she’ll be dispensing 25 copies of the book, so enter by August 7th to see if you can snag one!

Paranormal doyenne Kresley Cole is also releasing this week the fourteenth novel in her incredible Immortals After Dark series, Dark Skye, coming out on August 5th. Fans have been waiting for this installment as it features a couple with a dark past – a prince and a sorceress from rival clans who loved each other as children but were torn apart by a cruel tragedy. While they question whether what lies between them can overcome physical and emotional scars, readers don’t, because Kresley Cole’s name is on the cover!

Contemporary romance author Gina L. Maxwell has got a new series What Happens in Vegas, and is kicking if off on August 11th with the first book, Tempting Her Best Friend. Since Maxwell showed us her considerable writing chops with her wonderful MMA-focused Fighting for Love series, I’m excited to see what this new venture will bring romance readers. This first novel stars a heroine frustrated that her best friend and neighbor can’t see what is right under his nose – so she determines to go to Las Vegas to attend a romance book convention and hopefully have a fling with one of the cover models she’s bound to find. Naturally when her friend, who has commitment issues and thinks she can do better, catches wind of her plan, he’s jetting off to Sin City to make sure that he is the only one she’s going to do any sinning with.

I’m not sure it’s physically possible for me to be more of a Lisa Marie Rice fan, but I’m happy that she’s taken a minor character from my favorite series of hers – her Midnight collection – and given him a book of his own, Midnight Vengeance, which will come out August 18th. We met the tattooed, pierced Jacko in Midnight Angel when he protected the heroine per his boss’ directions, but Jacko has a secret, the beautiful elegant Lauren Dare, who he has loved in secret and whose art classes he has taken. Someone as beautiful and refined as her would never be interested in a rough former sniper like him, but when he realizes that Lauren is running from something in her past – something that may have caught up to her – Jacko isn’t letting anyone touch the woman he loves. Classic Rice! Intriguingly there is another book, Midnight Promises, listed on the Goodreads series page which will be published in January 2015, but with no description as of yet, it’s a bit of a mystery as to who it will feature.

If you are enjoying Laura Kaye‘s Hard Ink series, featuring a group of disgraced special forces soldiers and the tattoo parlor that becomes their home base as they puzzle out the mystery of who set them up, you’ll want to mark your calendar with two upcoming dates. Kaye has a novella being released on August 19th, Hard to Hold On To, starring none other than Edward Cantrell (yay, Easy!!) who has found a woman who has finally penetrated the numbness which has plagued him since his team’s attack, and he’s not about to let go of her, particularly since danger seems to follow her around. All this is the lead up to the next full length novel in the series, Hard to Come By, this time with Derek DiMarzio and a beautiful woman related to the enemy who he falls for, due out on November 25th.

Jennifer Ashley has several upcoming books and novellas in her ever-popular Highland Pleasures historical romance series. Those naughty Mackenzies and McBrides are up to their usual tricks, starting in the The Mackenzie Clan Gathering, where I am guessing we will get an update on our four favorite brothers and their families on August 18th, followed by Scandal and the Duchess on September 16th. Soldier Steven McBride is known for his drinking and wenching off duty, so its with great trepidation that widowed Duchess Rose Barclay confronts the handsome man’s prone form in her hideout. She’s tired of scandal following her everywhere, starting with her ill-fated honeymoon when her much older husband expired, and it’s just her luck that in trying to outrun the journalists she’s ended up with a much bigger problem. Both these novellas are simply the precursors to the next full-length novel in the series, Rules for a Proper Governess, which has brilliant barrister Sinclar McBride finally finding someone who can awaken his widowed heart and wrangle his two hellion children, starting on October 7th.

Kat Latham – an up-and-coming writer who is producing British rugby sports romance that surpasses any of the baseball/football novels I’ve read recently – is coming out with the third book in her London Legends series, Tempting the Player, on November 10th. This novel features a player fighting for his starting slot whose best friend, a gorgeous airline pilot, makes his heart ache. With his fear of flying and her desire for a stay-at-home partner, they both know it wouldn’t work between them, but that doesn’t stop them from making the decision to take a break from their platonic relationship and indulge in the passion which is clearly there. If you haven’t read the first two in the series (take a look at my review of the first book, Knowing the Score, to get a sense how wonderful this writer is), pick them up now so you are ready for the third book in the series.

Contests and Giveaways

Readers who love their heroes with a cowboy hat will be pleased to see that B. J. Daniels is giving away a copy of Mercy, the fifth book in her Beartooth, Montana series, due to come out on August 28th. When U. S. Marshall Rourke Kincaid finds himself on the track of a killer, he’s shocked to come to the doorstep of his prime suspect, Callie Westfield, and find himself blown away by her delicacy. Still, all clues point to her as the killer, yet Rourke fights what he knows is his duty to turn her in and his instinct which is telling him that not only is she innocent, but she’s the woman he’s been hunting for his whole life. Enter by August 7th.

If you are the campy type who enjoys a blast from the past when it comes to romance novels, you’ll want to take a closer look at RT Book Review’s hilarious giveaway – vintage romance audiobooks from the 1990s! Some of them look like they are *gasp* on cassette tape, so you may need to unearth your boom box from the attic to listen. I think I might frame the Fabio one for posterity! Enter by August 6th.

Even though I’ve pre-ordered it months ago, I’m still planning to enter Lauren Dane‘s Goodreads giveaway for a copy of her upcoming first book in her spin-off Hurley Boys series (*fans self, oh those Hurley boys!*), The Best Kind of Trouble, which officially debuts on August 26th. A former wild child, small town librarian Natalie Clayton has got her life on the right path, a path that becomes threatened when former fling Paddy Hurley, one of the famous Hurley Boys rock group, comes back into town. He’s just her brand of naughty when her head is telling her that nice is the way to go, but Paddy has a different idea of what constitutes being a bad girl, and he’s more than willing to teach her how to walk the line. Enter before August 9th for a chance to win one of 25 copies in this giveaway!

 

Fun Stuff

I still love paper books as much as ebooks, so bookmarks are a must (no dog ears or *gasp* open faced books, in a librarian’s house!) and these little triangle book corners from Sketch are as cute and fun as they come. With sayings like “to be continued…” and “eyes rested here” this page of four metal bookmarks are a great gift for your favorite reader (even if that’s yourself). $10

There is no such thing as too many reading-themed t-shirts, so I was thrilled to see T-shirt Booyah’s take off on the Major League Baseball logo with their “Major League Reading” t-shirt. If the $22 price tag is out of your league, you can always get the sticker for $5 which they claim is tough enough for a car (or okay for notebooks). I might have to get both!

Considering all the reading that happens there, the bathroom is an excellent place to highlight book-themed accessories, particularly with a captive audience engaging in mandatory hygiene. Whether it’s your kids or your guests, Zazzle’s Read a Book Bath Accessory Set at $24.95 delivers a soap dispenser and toothbrush holder that urges people to “read a book.” Literary and clean – my favorite!

Great Deals

For readers who can’t get enough military men in their lives, Hot Alpha SEALs: Military Romance Megaset is right up your alley. With twelve stories by military romance authors like Cat Johnson, Cindy Dees, Cristin Harber, and Delilah Devlin, you know you are in good hands. At only $.99 for over 1400 pages, you can consider this one of your summer bargains!

I love the writing of Vivian Arend and if you haven’t had the chance to sample it, the current deal for the first of her Six Pack Ranch series offers a terrific opportunity. Rocky Mountain Heat is free right now, and I have a feeling you are going to like Arend’s brand of cowboy – strong and hot! Blake Coleman is trying to be a responsible rancher but he’s strongly tempted by Jaxi, even though she’s always worn a “hands off” sign as the girl next door. Jaxi has wanted Blake for years and is determined to shatter whatever barriers lie between them, at least to the point that Blake can see the potential for the something more that she always knew was there.

Mastered: Ten Tales of Surrender is a wonderful boxed set with some heavy hitting erotic writers. Joey W. Hill, Portia de la Costa, Kate Pearce and Carrie Ann Ryan are just a few of the outstanding best-selling authors who have novels in this collection, making its $.99 price tag even more phenomenal. If you like a little dominance in your romance, then submit to this collection while the introductory price still holds.

For fans of mysteries, hot sex, and hilarious humor, look no further than Darynda Jones‘ fantastic urban fantasy Charley Davidson series, featuring a heroine with some rather special abilities and a hero to die for (and they don’t come any hotter, believe me). The first book, First Grave on the Right, is on sale for only $2.99 for the Kindle edition, so consider sampling this fantastic paranormal at a bargain price.

I adore Roxie Rivera‘s Her Russian Protector series, but fans of boxing/MMA fighting might want to try her writing in the form of her spin-off series, Fighting Connollys, particularly since the first book, In Kelly’s Corner, is currently free on Amazon. Kelly Connolly has finally broken free of his fighting past working security for a Russian mafia company that treats him well, but when a friend from his past, the internet millionaire Bee Langston, is threatened by a stalker and his dad’s gambling problem escalates, Kelly finds himself having to re-embrace the fighting life he worked so hard to escape.

Happy reading this week!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 1, 2013

1 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

For romance readers who can’t get enough of hot boxers and MMA fighters, I strongly suggest you run (don’t walk) to Abby NilesLove to the Extreme series. The second book, Fighting Love, is due out on December 31st (pre-ordered, woohoo!) and features former Middleweight champion and ladies man Tommy “Lightening” Sparks who not only just lost his title, but also his home when it burned down. Forced to move in with his best friend since they were children, vet Julie Rogers, he wakes up when Julie starts sniffing around another fighter, realizing she’s actually an unbelieveably desirable woman…and he suddenly has something worth fighting for. To make this an even more delicious announcement, Abby Niles is having a terrific $100 gift card to the bookseller of your choice giveway on her blog. Enter before January 3rd.

Paula Altenburg just released the next installment of her Demon Outlaws series, Black Widow Demon, the story of a half-demon woman escaping her fundamentalist stepfather only to embark on a mission of revenge. An intense mortal stranger known as Blade is on his own path to redemption and decides to help her reach a friend who can help her, while trying to persuade her to release her vendetta, but their journey reveals that both their futures are about to change. Publisher Entangled is also running a giveaway over the next month, offering five $10 Amazon or B&N gift cards to winners, so fill out the Rafflecopter entry when adding this book to your to-read list.

It’s no secret that I adore Lauren Dane’s writing, so I was thrilled to see that she’s partnered with author Megan Hart to publish a duology (is that what you call an anthology with two stories?) on December 3rd entitled There All Along. The stories sound amazing, but even more intriguing that (despite the cover – not that I’m complaining) these stories are set in futuristic worlds. Considering Dane nailed science fiction romance in her jaw-droppingly awesome Federation Chronicles series, I feel like I’m in good hands. As usual.

Fans of the computer geek turned hunky hero will want to check out Cat Johnson‘s latest reissue from her Red, Hot & Blue series, Matt, which just came out on November 26th. The 11th book in this successful series, Matt focuses on Matt Coleman, certified genius and the dependable computer guy for Task Force Zeta. Having watched so many of team find love and happiness, he’s even more disgusted that he never goes on assignment. But when a chance comes for him to head to Dubai, and in the company of the only female agent on the task force Samantha Coleman, needed to infiltrate a modern-day harem to ferret out a terrorist. Things are going to get hot in the desert with this unlikely pairing as they discover they are more than compatible on assignment – and in the bedroom.

I adore Lisa Marie Rice and her various suspense series, so I was thrilled to see that she has packaged her Dangerous series in a boxed set. Ignore the Amazon list that says its 100 pages – that’s not even possible considering the length of each book. Three kickbutt books – one about a military operative who has dreamt of the wealthy young woman who he loved as a homeless boy, another about an agent who feigns interest in a small town librarian who is friends with a deadly target only to discover his interest is very real, and finally (my favorite) a deadly arms dealer who fall first in love with an artist’s work only to then fall for the artist herself even though he puts in her mortal danger by doing so – for $11.04 is completely worth it. If you haven’t had a chance to try this great series from Rice, take this opportunity to do so.

Jill Shalvis can always be counted upon to give us a great Christmas novella, and she’s leading off a terrific anthology – A Christmas to Remember – along with Kristen Ashley, Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, and Marilyn Pappano. Filled with small town goodness, sexy firefighters and doctors, war widows, and holiday magic, this 225+ page compilation by Forever Yours publishing is only $1.99 right now and will come out on December 3rd, so get your copy ASAP.

New author Jamie Wyman just debuted her newest book, Wild Card, via Entangled Publishing, this past week, and it’s got some of my favorite elements – troublesome gods and goddesses interfering in people’s lives. Catherine Sharp’s soul has been won by the Greek Goddess of Discord and while she didn’t enjoy her previous dead end job, weird tasks for her new mistress aren’t exactly a cake walk. When Coyote, the Native American trickster god claims to have won her in a poker game, Cat has enough and enlists a satryr, Marius, with his own bone to pick with the goddess. Together they might be able to reclaim their lives and destiny, if their growing feelings for one another don’t complicate the situation. Fans of Think Geek, the store that is a mecca for the unashamedly nerdy, will be thrilled to know that Entangled even has a contest over the next month for a gift card to that store and custom poker chips to celebrate this debut paranormal romance novel.

Steampunk goddess Meljean Brook just announced that her wonderful novellas, The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked, both part of her enormously successful Iron Seas series, are now available as stand alone books, for those fans who were reluctant to purchase them in anthology form bundled with the work of other authors. Gorgeous covers and the price of $.99  and $1.99 respectively make these books a steal.

Giveaways

Twins are vital to plenty of romance novels, including historical romance writer Victoria Morgan whose latest novel, The Heart of a Duke, comes out on December 3rd. Lady Julia Chandler’s patience is wearing thin as the Duke of Bedford is taking forever to propose, so she decides to take the reins in hand and corner him with a kiss to hasten things along. What she doesn’t take into account is that the Duke’s twin brother has returned after ten years due to a note that told him to come home and claim his destiny and a subsequent fire that almost took his life. Something is afoot and his evil brother might be behind it, but in addition to solving the mystery he know has to contend with a fascination with the bold woman who deserves more than the Duke of Bedford. Enter the Goodreads giveaway before December 3rd for a chance to win!

Coastal Romance blogger Jenny Schwartz (and that’s the coast of Australia, FYI) is having a Christmas Blog Hop giveaway until December 24th, where you could win a $100 gift card to the ebookseller of your choice and 26 ebooks from this writing group’s authors. Enter by filling out the Rafflecopter entry on the website and sit back with your fingers crossed that you will get an extra wonderful holiday present this season!

In what sounds like a tantalizing new science fiction/military suspense series, The D.I.R.E. Agency, new author Joni Hahn is publishing the first book, Agent I1: Tristan, a second generation Navy SEAL who just finished getting some scientific enhancements to his body (like transportation and invisibility). His ramped up ability means it’s even more important to steer clear of relationships, but he can’t help coming to the aid of one of his fellow agents when he asks him to help take out his sister’s fiancee. Rachel Monroe cannot believe that her brother has ruined her plan to help her mother when he asked his friend to transport her (seriously?!) to a remote island. Now not only is she stuck with a sexy agent when that job description is literally the last one she’d consider when falling for someone. It may be too late for both of them, however… With this book due out on December 16th, interested science fiction romance fans might want to consider entering the Goodreads giveaway before December 8th to see if they can win a copy.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Sara Ramsey added a fourth book to her Muses of Mayfair series, The Earl Who Played with Fire, and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, you can enter for a chance to win it on the Goodreads giveaway. Demure Prudence Etchingham leads quite the double life – not only is smitten with her best friend’s brother, but she’s also responsible for some of the top forgeries around London, created so she can raise enough money to avoid marriage since she can’t have the man she wants. Alex Staunton, the wealthy Earl of Staunton, has managed to hide his feelings for his sister’s best friend as his family suffers from a curse that prevents them from marrying the woman of his dreams. When an enemy takes an interest in Prudence, Alex realizes he must figure out a way to break the curse and save the woman he loves. Be sure to fill out the entry form prior to December 5th for your chance to win.

It’s impossible not to love Jill ShalvisAnimal Magnetism series (well, I guess you could not love if you disliked humor, adorable animals, brave heroines, or hot former military men, but that’s your business, you poor sap), but if for some reason you haven’t yet bought the latest book in the series, Rumor Has It, there is a Goodreads giveaway where you can win a copy if you apply prior to December 5th. You’ll want to read the story of returning soldier Griffin Reid, returning home having not told his friends and family about the career ending head injury he suffered overseas. His sister’s best friend, the quirky and gorgeous Kate Evans, not only manages to ride herd on a bunch of fourth graders each day but she takes care of her father and difficult siblings. She wants something just for her and nothing could fit that bill more than sexy times with Griffin, who she has lusted after for years. Although he knows Kate doesn’t do casual and that’s all Griffin does, he can’t help playing with fire, and soon they both realize this situation is a lot more complicated than they imagined.

Fun Stuff

Do you remember my telling you about Oyster, the Netflix-like subscription source that offers a ton of books (including romance novels) to readers? That company is offering gift subscriptions for people you love who are using Apple devices (remember they need to run OS 7 for the best clarity) in 1, 3, 6, or 12 month increments (or you can choose your own number of months). You can either have the gift notification emailed to your recipient or it looks like you can have something to put in your loved one’s stocking, but either way, you’re giving them over 100,000 books for the holiday. Pretty sweet!

As the year winds to a close, best of lists are bound to pop up. For paranormal romance lovers, I can heartily recommend taking a look at Vampire Book Club’s Best of 2013 list – they have hit every wonderful book that came out this year and would be a great guide to insure you didn’t miss something spectacular (because there’s a LOT of spectacular on there!).

Audiobooks lovers are always picky about headphones, particularly if they enjoy their recorded books while exercising. LG is coming out with a sleek set of headphones in the next couple of weeks, their Tone Ultra line, which connects to your device via Bluetooth, so no more annoying, bouncing (or too short) cable going to your phone or MP3 player. With easy to use volume controls and a microphone on the stable band that goes around your neck, you can actually switch quickly from listening to your latest romance novel to answering a phone call.

While fans of Nora Roberts have usually heard about how she wrote her first book after being snowed in with her two very young sons in 1979, it’s fascinating to hear about how her previous work and her many creative endeavors left her unsatisfied until she tried writing. Take a look at The Popular Romance Project’s 5 minute interview with this funny, prolific author and enjoy the insight into her life.

Ereader fans know that there is nothing more frustrating than being out of charge when you are right in the middle of a great book with no outlet in sight! For just those moments, Mimoco offers adorable, fun batteries which can plug in to give extra life to your smartphones or tablets (and they come with the cables you need to connect to all major devices including Apple products). Made to look like crayons, hot dogs or spray paint cans, these fun additional power sources are around 3.5 inches tall, less than an inch in diameter, and charge via your USB port. At around $30, this seems like fun added insurance against bookus interruptus and one easily carried in a purse or pocket.

Great Deals

J.D. Robb fans will want to snag the novella Midnight in Death, the eighth installment of that author’s In Death series starring Eve Dallas (and there are over thirty seven books and numerous novellas to enjoy in this hugely popular mystery/suspense series). This book not only details Eve and her husband Roarke’s rather troubled holiday (murderers do not respect Christmas) but is also currently available for free for the Kindle edition on Amazon.

Kerrelyn Sparks is universally adored for her Love at Stake series – a fifteen plus book series still going strong since its start in 2005 – and you know have a chance to see how it all began. Right now, the first book in the series, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, is on sale for $1.99 for the Kindle edition. A desperate vampire with a broken fang and a human dentist who is not a fan of the sight of blood is quite a pair, particularly after the dentist in question is the target of a hit by the Russian mafia for having witnessed something she shouldn’t.

In a retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (or Kiss Me Kate for you musical fans), historical romance author Liana LeFey‘s To Make a Match, the third and most recent addition to her A Scandal in London series, Lady Victoria Lennox desperately wants to have a husband and family of her own, but her difficult older sister Amelia has to marry first. Victoria decides to hasten things along but arranging a scandal with Lord Julius Cavendish but Julius is way more interested in the sister marking the arrangements rather than the stubborn older one. He arranges for his friend, Lord Withington to take on that particular dragon as a decoy suitor, but it turns out Withington actually likes the woman! This comedy of errors is going to unravel and the question is, will there be a happily ever after for these players? On sale for $1.99 at Amazon right now.

My admiration for Tessa Bailey and her Line of Duty series is well known, particularly with the incredible addition of Asking for Trouble, the fourth novel in that outstanding group of books which just came out this past Monday. If you haven’t yet sampled this hot collection (it is published by Entangled’s Brazen line after all), you have a great opportunity to try it with the first book in the series, Protecting What’s His, discounted to only $.99. A hot dominant cop and the sexy young neighbor on the run who steals his heart is worth not just a read, but a subsequent re-read (I think I’m up to about six times, now). Get it!

christmas-214228_150On a personal note, I want to let everyone know that I’m planning on doing my usual December Read-a-Thon this year where I publish a review each day on a holiday themed book or novella. I’ll still publish the occasional non-holiday book (there are some really good ones coming out after all!), but hopefully I’ll be able to give you 31 days of holiday romance goodness as my present to you.

Happy reading this week!

Lisa Marie Rice Completes Her Sexy Mission with the Latest Ghost Ops Novel, I Dream of Danger

8 Jul

I Dream of Danger (Ghost Ops #2 – Nick and Ella’s story) by Lisa Marie Rice (Avon Red, July 2, 2013)

While I greatly enjoyed the first book in Lisa Marie Rice’s Ghost Ops series, Heart of Danger, I have to confess that I Dream of Danger blew me away.

Considering I have read literally every book Lisa Marie Rice has written (Don’t believe me? Search my Goodreads account under her name.), it’s heartening to see her take what she does so well – protective, former military alpha males and the soft, feminine women who bring them to their knees in a climate of suspense and danger – and add a slight paranormal element to the plot. With some writers this could be disastrous, but I see her growing in her writing with this series, and I already thought she was pretty terrific!

Set about a decade in our future, the series focuses on a group of betrayed and disgraced special forces operatives who have created a technological refuge in an abandoned cavern in California and turned it into the “Haven”. They’ve since been joined by other people needing to escape from danger, and a thriving community with all the comforts now exists to nurture its inhabitants.

All of it is carefully watched over by three main figures, Mac (the hero of the first book in the series and now joined by his scientist wife, Catherine), taciturn Nick, and surfer playboy Jon. The beginning of I Dream of Danger is taken up with a little backstory between our hero and heroine. Nick comes (as do all of Rice’s heroes) from a crap background filled with foster homes and abuse. Found feverish and broken in her backyard, Elle was a mere child when the older Nick came to live with her and her father. A judge in the community, Elle’s father had himself appointed Nick’s guardian and ensured he got a fine education through high school. But after seeing Nick react physically to the now startling beauty of Elle, he gave Nick a boatload of cash and shipped him off, without a word to Elle.

Heart of Danger (Ghost Ops #1 – Mac and Catherine’s story) by Lisa Marie Rice (Avon Red, November 2012)

Four years later and Elle is nineteen and standing alone at her father’s grave. She’s not gone to college as her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s soon after Nick’s dark-of-night departure. He’s returned, sensing she needed him, only to discover that his lovely childhood friend has become a striking young woman, one now living in abject poverty having sold most of her possessions and sacrificed the last few  years of her life being her father’s full-time caregiver. Elle doesn’t tell Nick that she knows exactly how he’s been doing – she has had the gift of Dreaming (with a capital D) and has literally been present on his missions and in his training (oh, and watching him have sex with LOTS of women, although that part has always been painful for her). One thing leads to another and they end up in bed where he takes her virginity.

Her only complaint is waking up alone. Unbeknownst to her, Nick has received a call in the middle of the night from his special forces leader that they have a mission. He left her a note (one that fluttered to the floor, natch) so Elle thinks he’s abandoned her without a word – again. The second time around and the day after her father’s funeral is a bit much, even with the delivery of groceries and Nick having paid for her Dad’s funeral. She grabs her dead mother’s identity information and heads to California, changing her name and never looking back.

Ten years later and Nick is the morose operative the Ghost Ops community has come to depend on. He’s looked for Elle for years, despairing of ever finding her, when he literally hears her call out to him. All he knows is that she’s in danger and the cool former Ranger completely loses it at the thought that he might find her only to identify a dead body if he can’t figure out her location quickly. With the help of his team, they use the psychic link between Nick and Elle along with their abundance of technology to trace her location and get her to Haven.

The kind of scenery I picture when thinking about Haven and its location.

Elle’s ability to astrally project has actually been her life’s work. She’s managed to create a life for herself and used her previously untapped intelligence to get a Ph.D. at Stanford. She and Mac’s researcher wife Catherine have an immediate connection, both in friendship and in professional interests, but Elle doesn’t feel like opening herself up to Nick again. He knows that he’s never letting her go, but how can he convince Elle that he’s never going to leave her again, particularly with all the subversive government and corporate forces conspired against them?

Nick and Elle’s story is a great one and I actually enjoyed all the backstory since it contributed so well to understanding their current predicament. I think any reader would benefit from reading Heart of Danger prior to I Dream of Danger, simply to satisfy the need to understand the villains at work. Both Elle and Nick are compelling, sympathetic characters and it was wonderful to see the smaller subplot of the team’s former Captain (now scarred and healing) find some happiness. If there was one piece that stuck in my craw, it was the fact that Elle hadn’t been with anyone else since Nick’s second abandonment (seriously, could he have left a better note? Or a second one in the kitchen maybe?), yet Nick clearly had been with other women. Yuck. That’s not the way to convince me that these two are meant for each other, no matter how emotionally stunted he might have been. Hot alpha males can be celibate, too. Really.

The excellent ending, one in which the team tries to save Elle’s fellow researchers – men and women who are also gifted with special abilities – was a page-turner and it’s clearly a fabulous set up for the next book in the series which will focus on playboy Jon and Elle’s friend, Sophie. With both major villains now dead, I’m particularly interested in what evil will arise to persecute and pursue this group trying to do good in the world. Sadly, Lisa Marie Rice doesn’t have an ETA on the publication date of the next book, or even a teaser at the end of this one. Given that the first book came out in November 2013 and this one in July 2013, I’m guessing a February or March 2014 date is likely.

As always, many thanks to Lisa Marie Rice for her fantastic writing and for Avon Red for being smart enough to publish her!

Lisa Marie Rice Puts Plenty of Danger in Her New Release, Heart of Danger: A Ghost-Ops Novel

31 Oct

Heart of Danger (Ghost-Ops #1 – Mac and Catherine’s story) by Lisa Marie Rice (Avon, November 6, 2012)

I’m a big fan of Lisa Marie Rice, particularly for the way that she paints her alpha males and gives a series an overall story arc connecting her characters, usually the male protagonists.

When I found out a few months ago from her blog that she would be releasing a new series this fall, I immediately pre-ordered the book from Amazon and then sat twitching next to my iPad (luckily for me, the Kindle version of the book was released on October 26th whereas readers who prefer print are having to wait until November 6th). Swamped with work and at a conference this weekend, I was actually grateful that Frankenstorm kept me out of work for two days, and even used some of my precious iPad charge after the power went out reading this long awaited novel!

If you like Lisa Marie Rice novels (and I have read all of them – yes, that’s right, I actually have every one of her books), this book and series will offer you the familiar ground Rice always covers and yet it adds an interesting twist. We have our usually brusque, violence-is-his-job male who falls for the elegant, soft female so hard, he can’t remember what his miserable life was like before her. I know some people get critical of Rice using this trope every time, but guess what? This totally works for me.

In Heart of Danger, the setting is the not-to-distant future where Dr. Catherine Young is stranded on the side of a mountain in the vain attempt to try and reach a ghost, the disgraced Tom “Mac” McEnroe, team leader of Seal Team Six (yes, that one) who was accused with other members of his team of the ultimate betrayal to his country. He disappeared years ago, but Catherine’s interaction with a patient in her dementia pharmaceutical study has led her to right to Mac, and as her vision has caused her to believe, he comes to find her.

Dangerous Passion by Lisa Marie Rice (HarperCollins, August 4, 2009) – where Rice first experimented with a slight paranormal element in the attraction between her protagonists

The problem is, he’s totally pissed off, and a big, scary ex-S.E.A.L. is a little overwhelming. No one should have been able to find Mac and his team, yet this doctor about to expire from hypothermia in the winter storm has somehow made it up the mountain to their secret community. It’s not just his life Mac has to protect but the dozens of people who hide alongside him in the mountain, so he’s got to ignore the fact that this is the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen and instead suspect her of foul play.

But in paranormal/sci-fi tradition, Catherine gives us one of our twists. She has the ability, and always has had it since childhood, to be able to touch someone’s skin and feel their character and emotions. The mysterious patient in her research ward touched her skin by accident and was able to force his thoughts into her mind, showing her he was the former commander of Mac’s team and, while the survivors thought he had betrayed them into disgrace and exile, in actuality he seems to be as much of a victim, unable to speak and close to death. Catherine has literally fallen in love with the Mac this man has revealed to her in his memories, and even while the reality is scaring the bejesus out of her, her body cannot help but react to his presence.

The evil villain provides both our story arc and the sci-fi element. The pharmaceutical company Catherine works for is involved with some very, very illegal research. She thinks that her mystery patient has dementia but her scans reveal surgeries not recorded in his medical file and while dementia symptoms exist, his brain scans show he should be fully functional and able to speak. What Catherine doesn’t know is that the head of the company is taking the drug Catherine is developing to amplify the neurons ability to communicate in her dementia patients, and instead using it to create hopped up super-soldiers, in the hope of helping the Chinese take over the world. (Unsurprisingly, their economy has superseded our own in the future.)

Midnight Man (Midnight series #1) by Lisa Marie Rice (Ellora’s Cave, November 1, 2009)

Mac seems like a cross between Midnight from Midnight Man in his air of command and physically reminds me of Douglas Kowalski from Midnight Angel because of his facial scarring. Rice always does a great job of making even the heroes who are clearly not physically beautiful appealing by explaining their aura of danger and laser-like attention to the heroine (let’s not forget their amazing bodies – that book cover doesn’t seem far off the mark). The sex in her books is always highly chemical, full of off-the-charts heat, a little fast and rough but these joinings always brings our hero/heroine closer together – they literally cannot get enough of each other. With Catherine’s ability to sense emotions through skin, this physical connection takes on a whole other dimension.

Just like in past series, we have two other characters, team members of Mac’s, who future books will flesh out. Nick will be the focus of the next book, I Dream of Danger, due out in July 2013, and while he seems emotionless, we discovered through Catherine’s touch that Nick is still in love with and worries about a woman he knew before he became a ghost. Happy-go-lucky Jon may seem like a surfer dude on the outside, but he’s unable to trust due to some betrayal of his past and I look forward to reading his story as well. There are a lot of interesting secondary characters (like former Oscar-winning actress and now cook, Stella, who I adored) that would either be potential partners for the men or great characters to explore in future books, so I’m interested to see if Rice stops at a trilogy or ends up with multiple books or novellas in this series.

With other supposedly dead members of their former team found at the end of this book, the revelations as to the level of conspiracy and the role of the pharmaceutical nemesis should be rather substantial.  It will be interesting to see how the romantic suspense plot develops as a result of this ongoing explanation, one which seems far more elaborate and substantial than anything Rice has taken on in a series before.

While we will have to wait and see the other books in the series to determine if Ghost Ops can compete with such fabulous classics as Midnight Man or Dangerous Passion, Rice is taking on new territory while relying on tried and true approaches to characterization will undoubtedly have her diehard fans adding this series to their bookshelves. I know I was happy to do it. Thanks, Lisa!

The Ultimate Alpha Males: Midnight series by Lisa Marie Rice

20 Mar

I stumbled across a Lisa Marie Rice recommendation as one of the “similar reads” links on Goodreads.  For a long time I didn’t take the plunge into reading her Midnight trilogy for a couple of reasons.  First, the covers are unattractive and extremely confusing (just look at them!). It makes me weep to think of all the mediocre romance novels out there with amazing covers that dupe the reader into buying them and these are just the opposite. I can barely figure out what is happening on the cover of Midnight Run and Midnight Angel.  Why the sundial/clock thingy?  Is it because of the midnight part of the title? (FYI, clocks and time are not that important in the plot.) Second, a few reviewers emphasized that, in the case of the first book of the Trilogy, Midnight Man, that the protagonist was a major Alpha male.  I mean major, as in uber-controlling, and they were concerned that some people would not like the book if that kind of character put them off.

Having read hundreds of romance novels over the course of my life, I have to say that while I love a strong male character, I guess the phrase “Alpha Male” still carries a caveman connotation, or at least the type of a relationship that your BFF in high school would slip you one of those special pamphlets from the nurse’s office.

In the hands of a good writer, the Alpha Male is nothing to fear.  Lisa Marie Rice crafts her male characters from a similar stamp – yes, they are bad-ass, usually ex-Special Forces warriors, who expect to control every situation.  Yikes! This could potentially be a disaster of epic anti-feminist proportions, but in Lisa’s hands she uses the vacillating point of view to show us what is going on inside the minds of our heroes.  Let’s hear what she has to say about them.

“My men are brave and smart and built. And boy do they love their women! Their women are much more interesting than new weaponry, sports cars, and even plasma TVs in their eyes, and the fascination will last their entire lifetimes, I promise. It’s sex, of course, but also a whole lot more. My heroes genuinely like and admire their women, though in the beginning this is sometimes obscured by blinding lust. Once that first sharp edge of desire is over and they settle down a little—and that will take several years and a kid or two—they’re so bonded with their women that they couldn’t live without them.” (from her website)

It’s this utter fascination with the heroine that shines through and makes us go “awwww” even if they are killing a bad guy (to protect the heroine, natch).  Lisa Marie Rice shows their lust and fascination with a woman who evokes feelings they have never felt before, as well as their utter commitment to keeping this newfound special person utterly safe.  The heroines might not be able to kill a person with their bare hands 30 different ways, but they are not TSTL (too stupid to live) either, instead possessing intelligence and resourcefulness as well as bravery.  Yes, they rely on the hero for his skill set and look to him for comfort, but lots of women do that with their best friend or their mom and manage not to accuse them of being too alpha, right?

Former SEAL John Huntingdon is known for being a deadly Black Ops commander who can see in the dark (hence his nickname, Midnight Man) but now he is simply looking for a new space for the thriving security company he built when he left the service. Elegant blond beauty, Suzanne Barron, enjoys running her interior design business out of the renovated factory she inherited, but her new tenant is not going to be discussing shades of teal anytime soon.

John is startled by the blaze of lust he feels for Suzanne and possessing her (and upgrading her building’s crappy security) becomes his new mission. The dangerous aura surrounding John is not exactly what Suzanne’s life has prepared her for, and after their first date turns into hot sex against the brick wall in her buildings hallway (have icy cold drink ready when reading), Suzanne doesn’t know how to handle the intensity of their relationship.  While trying to make sense of what is happening between them, she unknowingly witnesses a murder and has a hit taken out on her. As she and John escape to the mountains, lust and attraction turn into something deeper, but with a killer on the loose, they might lose each other forever.

The second book of the trilogy brings up an innovative technique employed by Lisa Marie Rice.  Unlike most trilogies where the books are clearly chronological, Lisa builds in deliberate overlap to her stories.  So Midnight Run actually happens a little before and then during the events in Midnight Man.

Claire Parks is a good friend to Suzanne and is grateful to her for decorating the interior of her adorable new Portland house.  After a long illness and tragedy in her childhood, Claire wants to grab life with two hands, which is what she has in mind when she heads out to a sketchy club with a new friend.

Lieutenant Tyler “Bud” Morrison is undercover at a club known for drugs and illicit activity and is startled to see a beautiful princess stranded by her companion and left to the wolves.  Stepping in, he rescues her and takes her home, an act that sizzles with attraction and leads to an amazing night (weekend, really) of sex and companionship.  Claire thinks Bud is a wonderful lumberjack or carpenter (since he’s helping her around the house and good with his hands *mrrrrooowww*), not realizing he is a police officer.

But when her wealthy father stops by, Claire discovers that the gorgeous man who has rocked her world is actually the police officer who rescued her from a kidnapper when she was a young, sick teenager.  Bud gets no argument from Claire’s father about their relationship (her father admires Bud and his integrity), but instead he gets an earful about Claire’s delicacy and past health issues.  Rather than being her passionate lover, he proposes and proceeds to treat her like delicate crystal.  Can’t he see that he will lose her if he won’t let her be his equal?

Midnight Angel is my FAVORITE of the whole series, largely because I could eat the hero up with a spoon.  Former SEAL Douglas Kowalski is a big, scarred beast of a man, one who usually sends elegant ladies running, but he secretly loves all things beautiful, especially music.

When his former commander and present-day security partner John Huntingdon insists that he accompany John and his wife, Suzanne, to a jewelry exhibit at the museum, he grudgingly makes the sacrifice.  Suzanne designed the display cases and her friend Claire Parks and her family’s foundation arranged the exhibit, but it still seems like torture until he catches sight of the stunning redheaded beauty playing the harp and singing like an angel.

Claire and Suzanne’s friend Allegra Ennis agreed to perform at this special event as a favor to them, but it’s the first time she’s performed since her father’s murder, the same event that took her sight and her memories of that traumatic event. When gunshots ring out, Allegra finds herself tucked under the stage and sheltered by the huge, rock-hard body of John Huntingdon’s partner, Douglas, a man with an amazing bass voice whose playful banter was making this evening a lot easier on her.

Douglas thinks Allegra’s beauty and incredible talent puts her into the untouchable category, but he cannot deny the wash of lust and tenderness he feels for her. When he realizes she is feeling the strong attraction between them as well, not even well placed C4 explosives would tear him from her side, especially after he realizes that the bastard who hurt her and literally got away with murder might still be after her.

There is a lot to love about this series (I actually have it in ebook form and find myself rereading them about once every couple of months). The characters are well-drawn and Lisa Marie Rice knows how to describe lust and attraction (with a hint of something more) in a way that other romance authors would do well to emulate. On an interesting note, her sex scenes are interestingly realistic (as much as this genre can be), in that she sometimes depicts the heroine being a little uncomfortable or unable to satisfy the hero at that moment, which sounds odd in an erotic (or at least scorcher) romance novel, but it actually makes the scenes more caring in the long run.

Lisa Marie Rice is a pseudonym and her bio is a fun exercise in playful fiction, with the only “true fact” she lists being that she writes looking at the Ionian Sea and facing (in the far distance) the temple where Pythagoras (the theorem guy) taught. My best guess is that this puts her probably in southern Italy or Greece facing Crotone, the place where he taught, so I’m glad she has such a beautiful place to be suitably inspired for her writing.  I would encourage her to set a book in that stunning locale, as I could easily see one of her fabulous Alpha Males meeting a beautiful heroine on assignment there.

Don’t be afraid of the alpha male.  When done right, he can be a macho protector who is a perfect match for a feisty heroine.

How Racy is Racy? Exploring levels of sensuality in romance novels

10 Mar

All About Labels

As a lover of romance, I rely heavily on reviews, both from blogs I follow as well as from professional sources like Romantic Times magazine. One aspect of the reviews that still confuses me is the ratings system regarding the level of sensuality or sexuality in the novel itself. While I read all kinds of romance, I have to admit to liking the more sensual ones, probably because the content doesn’t embarrass me in the slightest as well as the fact that I love authors who can show the emotional progression of a couple in the context of the physical act of sex.

But I’ve also discovered that these rating systems vary from source to source and are incredibly vague. There is always a danger with labeling, however, as bookstores and libraries know. Right around the time Tipper Gore spoke before Congress regarding a labeling system for records (and they were vinyl records and tape cassettes back then, blast from the past!), there was yet another push for the physical labeling of books by reading level, a system the American Library Association spoke out strongly against.

This really meant by content (sex, violence, language, etc.) rather than by how hard the words were in the book, and libraries and bookstores resisted (just as music sellers did Tipper’s advocacy), knowing that labels tend to push readers away from books, rather than help them select the right book for the right time in their life. Having worked in libraries for most of my professional career, I can honestly say that each reader is different – a younger teen who has been through a lot in their life or is just more mature can easily handle a book with strong, more adult language and themes, while an immature 16 year old would be repelled and horrified by the content. Luckily, readers are extremely good at finding the book they need, usually through recommendations from librarians, friends, and booksellers who already know what they enjoy reading.  In helping literally thousands of readers make connections with books, I’ve never come across one who was corrupted by a book – they simply put it down if it was not what they wanted.

Ratings and Definitions

But this brohaha was about the physical labeling of books, versus the labeling in reviews about sexual content. I imagine the romance novel sensuality ratings system was probably an effort to help readers looking for a specific kind of romance sensuality level, or to assist readers actively wishing to avoid certain types of books to avoid discomfiture or disappointment. The most commonly used ratings system is the rather vague, but still helpful, “Sensuality Ratings” system employed by Romantic Times magazine, the romance industry’s major publication.

From RT Book Reviews in the description of their ratings system:

SENSUALITY RATINGS

Beginning with September 2006 issue reviews, these are the new sensuality ratings used for Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense books:

SCORCHER — Borders on erotic. Very graphic sex.

HOT — Most romance novels fall into this category. Ranges from conventional lovemaking to explicit sex.

MILD — May or may not include lovemaking. No explicit sex.

What’s interesting is the fact that the Romantic Times‘ previous sensuality ratings system had more categories, yet were just as open to interpretation.  I’m sure the editors felt the revised version was a simpler approach when they made the switch to the current system in 2006, and I prefer it, but there continue to be a few loopholes. For example, the “Hot” category – what exactly do they consider to be “conventional sex“? I’m guessing they mean a man and a woman, but are we talking about just the missionary position? Does foreplay involving oral sex lean more toward the “explicit sex” end of the rating or does “explicit” just refer to word choice or level of detail in the description of whatever sexual act in which our characters are currently engaged?

For “Scorcher”, what does “borders on erotic” mean? This probably includes maybe a little bondage (like the regency romances who have the newly deflowered heroine trusting her lover/husband to tie her hands with his cravat) but my feeling is that it probably doesn’t mean anal sex or the use of sex toys, since that never comes up in any romance not labeled erotica or erotic romance. The “Very graphic” detail (my conjecture) means the level of description and maybe the wording used to write the love scene, but does it mean something else?  I don’t know.

The contemplation of the nuances of “Scorcher” brings me to the other hurdle of understanding erotica, a term which many readers feel is interchangeable with the preferred label of “erotic romance“.  The erotica industry experienced a major infusion of cash and interest upon the advent of the ereader market, since suddenly people could buy this material in the comfort of their own living room and have it delivered instantly and wrapped simply in their standard Kindle or Nook reader.  No one would guess that the reader wasn’t reading the latest nonfiction best seller on economics unless they noticed the flush or sweating (and even then, maybe the person just REALLY likes economics!).

But erotica is still confused with pornography, and while I would imagine people who find that level of explicit sexual description or conduct against their personal morality would undoubtedly label it as such, in actuality from an industry standpoint it’s very different. According to Ellora’s Cave Publishing House, a highly respected e-publisher of erotica, they actually define the majority of their erotic offerings as “Romantica.” Here’s their take on Romantica, which seems to define rather well the industry push toward producing erotic romance meant for women.

Romantica® is the name for the line of erotic romance novels published by Ellora’s Cave Publishing. Erotic romance is defined by us as: any work of literature that is both romantic and sexually explicit in nature. Within this genre, the main protagonists develop “in love” feelings for one another that culminate in a monogamous relationship.

Romantica® doesn’t begin from the premise that women’s sexual experiences are dirty and therefore in need of being perfumed up by flowery phrases. The premise of Romantica™ is that women’s sexual experiences are legitimate, positive, and beautiful.

Ellora’s Cave Romantica® must be both erotic and romantic. (from the Ellora’s Cave website)

There’s a lot to love about this description.  First the clarification that a work can be both romantic and sexually explicit (Jaci Burton’s novels are often termed erotic romance and I think they would have an extremely broad appeal to romance readers who enjoy “Scorcher” novels), and the reassurance that these are still novels based on the premise of two people pursuing a monogamous relationship. But then the awesome addition (and let’s face it, the judgment) of the sentence regarding women’s sexuality as not being dirty? This really hit home for me, as the euphemisms often employed by romance writers can border on the ridiculous and occasionally the confusing, particularly if the reader has less sexual knowledge or experience (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recent hymen tirade was a hilarious but totally spot on example of myths perpetuated by romance novels that do NOT accurately reflect the realities of human anatomy).

For readers interested in true erotica, which usually takes the form of an individual character interested in sexual experimentation and self-discovery, the process of which may or may not result in the main character ending up in a committed relationship, Ellora’s Cave publishes a line called EXOTIKA™ in order to distinguish it from the erotic romance novels they also sell.  But let’s get down to brass tacks regarding the sensuality levels so we can ATTEMPT to really figure out what they mean.

Levels of Sensuality in Romance Novels

Sweet Romance (Mild Sensuality)

Christie Craig and Faye Hughes in their book The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel defines a sweet romance as one that does not include “graphic depictions of sex or sexual situations.”  This could be a romance like those of the Avalon Publishing house (whose writer’s guidelines clearly state that there is no sexual content or profanity in any of their books) or an inspirational romance (which is also a sub-genre of romance) in which strong religious beliefs guide the main characters actions and usually don’t go beyond kissing without marriage.

An increasingly popular sub-sub-genre (can I say that?) of inspirational romance is the Amish romance, which naturally has a setting which subscribes to certain values.  I was interested to read that these Amish books have a strong readership in Hasidic Jewish communities along with Georgette Heyer‘s Regency romances.  It makes sense when you stop to think that the protagonists are in a culture which prescribes to strong morals regarding pre-marital sex, allowing the focus to be solely on the love and affection developing between our hero and heroine.

Some sweet romance novels have a history strongly rooted in the romance novels published decades ago in which there were sexual situations inferred but, rather than description, the author engaged in what became known in the industry as “shutting the bedroom door”.  The narrative leads up to the sexual situation with kissing, touching and conversation, and then stops, picking up again after the sex act has taken place with the reader reengaged in the narrative usually centering on the main characters’ feelings about what transpired. All About Romance.com refers type of book in their own sensuality rating chart as “subtle”.

Notice also the cover art.  Usually there is only ONE of our main characters on the cover, or if both are present, they are not kissing or embracing.  Cover art is often a terrific cue as to the sensuality content of the novel, but more on this later.

Historical RomanceContemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense books (Hot Sensuality)

Let’s first begin the non-sweet romance with a look at what makes a book fall into the “Hot” sensuality rating.  All About Romance.com actually labels this level as “Warm” and gives the following definition.

While our lovers do make love, and the reader is there with them, physical details are described, but are not graphically depicted. Much is left to the reader’s imagination and/or possibly the use of euphemistic “code words.” But what’s most important are feelings and emotions, not body parts. While there is sexual tension, there may not be more than one or two love scenes in the whole book. The vast majority of single title romances feature “Warm” sensuality. (All About Romance Sensuality Ratings Guide)

The best way to envision this description in action is to connect it with specific authors or titles.  Nora Roberts, one of the most successful romance novelists since Barbara Cartland, is probably the best example.  No reader could accuse her characters of lacking heat or sexual tension, but there are usually just a few described love scenes in her books and they conclude quickly.  When I read her recent book, Chasing Fire, about the special wildfire firefighters who parachute into locations to battle fires (it was so interesting!) our two main characters (who were wonderful) had a few love scenes where I double checked the pages, flipping back to make sure I didn’t miss something.  It was over so quickly, yet the emotion and tenderness was there.  They didn’t just have sex those couple of times, since other interludes were referred to in the narrative, but the timeframe was also compressed, so it didn’t feel like I was missing anything (other than the description I was used to from my other reading, which usually falls into the “Scorcher” category).

In terms of book cover clues, you can see from both Robert’s cover above and Mary Balogh‘s Slightly Scandalous cover that the trend is for an extremely tame cover, usually with the author name and book title in elaborate, feminine script, and maybe an image which hints at the content.  I think a big piece of the move to this kind of cover is both the fact that I can’t imagine it’s expensive to produce and the idea that it’s very tasteful.  No danger of being judged reading one of these on a plane (and airport bookstores carry a full selection of novels in this category).

This choice can also be a deliberate attempt of the publishing industry to give legitimacy to the romance novel, which, as a genre, underwent a huge public opinion downturn in the 1970s and 80s when “bodice-rippers” became the norm.  You can all imagine the kind of cover I’m talking about – some painting version of Fabio in a pirate outfit (which lacks buttons of any kind, so it’s waxed chest city) and a heroine of the heaving bosom variety (think Johanna Lindsey’s Savage Hunter).  Romance fans and publishers are still clawing our way out of this hole.  A few publishing houses and authors are moving to the “dress” book cover, which often just features a heroine (often cut off at the neck, so it’s just her body we see) in appropriate dress (perhaps with the ties in the back gaping provocatively open).  This is usually for historical romances only, but the body language still hints at sensuality.

Historical RomanceContemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense books (Scorcher Sensuality)

At the next sensuality level, we see books with more frequent, longer love scenes, often with more explicit language, or sometimes simply a higher incidence of euphemisms. As AllAboutRomance.com indicates “Both the emotions of the hero and heroine and the physical feelings of both are important during love scenes.” Stephanie Laurens, whose Cynster series I agree is one of the best Regency romance series EVER, is a master of this type of sensuality.  Her love scenes can last for seven pages easily, but the reader is gripped the whole time by both the physical orchestration of what is happening, and also the internal narrative of the character’s emotional process, as she switches deftly between the two viewpoints so we appreciate the emotion developing in our couple.

From a cover standpoint, you can see historical romances like Laurens’ still get the dress cover, but in the case of Karen Marie Moning‘s Highlander series, we begin to edge toward the what will be a determined trend in the erotic romance novel category, namely more skin on the cover and occasionally provocative poses that indicate a sexual connection. Moning is a good example for this category’s more explicit qualities.  While Stephanie Laurens got her start in writing Regency romance for traditional publishing houses (and her attachment to euphemisms continues even while what she’s describing gets hotter), Moning’s Highlander stories usually center around a modern woman zapped back into the past (medieval Scotland). This construct gives permission for the language to be more modern and explicit, shying away from the “throbbing manroot” brand of language (thank heavens!).  Other “Scorcher” authors include the ever fabulous Lisa Kleypas, paranormal princess Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series, Linda Howard, my personal favorite Nalini Singh, and Nora Robert’s mystery persona of J. D. Robb.  Publishing houses to look for are some Harlequin Blaze books, Avon’s Red imprint, and the Berkley Sensation line.

Erotic Romance Novels (Erotic Sensuality)

Welcome to the skin factory, aka erotic romance novels.  It’s of particular interest to note that Romantic Times magazine, whose sensuality ratings system we have just finished exploring, bumps erotic romance novels into the erotica category (lumping it with traditional erotica as described above). The problem with this is that erotic romance novels are often just a shade more spicy than their scorcher predecessors, and therefore have much more in common with that category than with the more explicit and hedonistic forays undertaken by characters in traditional erotica.

With such amorphous lines determining sensuality content, I guess you can’t please everyone, but I worry that there are a lot of Romantic Times readers who just skip the erotica section not realizing there might be some content that fits their taste.  While people who enjoy sweet romances might check out the Inspirational category (which is also separate, I guess making Inspirational and Erotica opposite ends of the spectrum), erotica has a somewhat dirtier or even more masculine association (with pornography) that could have women shying away from it.

It would be a shame if readers comfortable with scorcher level romance don’t try erotic romance novels, since the focus is identical to traditional romance – two people falling in love (and lust) with the goal being a committed monogamous relationship.  The Harlequin Blaze line falls into this category (and also into the Scorcher category depending on the author) as well as novels from the Berkley Heat imprint (which gives us the Jaci Burton novels pictured above).  Lisa Marie Rice‘s books are terrific erotic romance novels (she’s queen of the Alpha males) and offer commanding love scenes that make you need to dump ice in your panties!

Content usually is inventive and explicitly described lovemaking, still with a strong emotional connection. Profanity is common, so expect the occasional f-bomb or name for female and male genitalia that many people would consider vulgar or common. But, the fact is, after you read these words for a little while, they seem (at least to me) just another euphemism, albeit one you might hear more often in your daily life (particularly if you walk by construction sites or basketball courts with pick-up games in progress).

The sexual content often goes beyond what is in the “Scorcher” category, including sometimes (and I mean sometimes, not all of them have this) sex toys and anal sex and maybe some mild BDSM.  I realize this might make some people uncomfortable and I confess that my eyebrows were initially embedded in my hairline when I read my first few books which included this content, but a good author makes the sex all about trust and love with these acts placed in that context, so the reader quickly adjusts.  I think a valued part of the increasing popularity of this category is that readers have a more varied understanding of a wide range of sexual activity, maybe helping those people who interests lie in these areas understand that they are part of a normal sexual spectrum.

I confess to buying my erotic romance in ebook format both for accessibility but also for toting around with zero embarrassment (and this article in Fast Company magazine says I’m not alone).  I’m not sure I would take a print version of these books into a doctor’s office or hair salon without garnering extra attention or comments! Authors and series to look for in this category include Angela Knight, steampunk and paranormal author Meljean Brook, J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Hope Tarr, my favorite shifter writer Shelly Laurenston, Lisa Renee Jones, paranormal author Larissa Ione, and Kresley Cole.

Implications for the Romance Industry

The way we view the incidence of sensuality in romance novels can have interesting implications for the industry and for society.  Tracey Cooper Posey, erotic romance author and industry commentator, had an interesting analysis based on the trend analysis All Romance eBooks distributes to their publishers. Regarding the heat index in romance novels (which they grade by “flames”, one being the lowest level and five being the highest), they state:

Heat Rating = over 97% of sales are on books rated 3 or higher, of significance is that the 5 and 4 flame sales have see a combined drop of 4% over last year with most of the difference shifting to the 3 flame rating.

Does this mean that the reading public is moving to the tamer “mild” or “hot” books, leaving “scorcher” and erotic romance novels to gather dust?  Tracey has an interpretation I agree with, that publishers are marketing books that would have been previously considered erotic romance right alongside their “hot” and “scorcher” books.  Just like television, which used to cordon off certain sexual situations or levels of violence to prime time but that you can now watch during your dinner hour, the romance publishing industry has come to understand that reader interests (and perhaps, tolerance levels) in that hot/scorcher/erotic category are becoming more permissive and accepting.

I hope this overview has helped answer some questions or directed you to resources that can help figure out this unending puzzle.  Labels are never perfect, but with a good understanding of what they truly refer to, we can use them as a guide to find ever more new and wonderful books and authors.

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