Tag Archives: Louisiana

December Read-a-Thon: Bayou Noel by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright Offers An Addictive Holiday Snippet of a Great Series

23 Dec

Bayou Noel (Bayou Heat #8.5 – Garrick & Molly) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, December 11, 2013)

In my job as a librarian during the day, I often recommend great YA novels to my teenagers with the laughing caveat that certain books should come with warning stickers like “Warning! You will not do any homework while this book is on your end table.”

Please note the adult warning for Bayou Noel. “This delicious holiday novella is a gateway drug to the addictive Bayou Heat series.” Come on. Everyone is doing it (in these books!).

Granted, it is the holiday, which means that hopefully the vast majority of romance readers have more time off for reading. Add to that this novella is a mere 60 pages and you can devour it between ham bastings. The best part is that, like me, you can read it with zero knowledge of the series and no difficulty understanding anything. (And then, like me, run out and buy the first six books of the series which you read while your husband watches three football games in a row.) Since Bayou Noel is currently free on Amazon – and a great deal that I featured in my Sunday Reflection post yesterday) – you can read it and see if you like the writing of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright. I certainly did!

Set in the world of the Pantera, mythical puma shifters living in an enchanted world in the Louisiana bayou where humans cannot enter, this book is a prequel (and should actually be labeled book #0.5) since it happens prior to Raphael finding his mate in the magical human Ashe in book one of the Bayou Heat series. The Pantera work hard to insure the safety of their people, particularly since their numbers are dwindling with no new babies in the last 50 years. They may be a long-lived species but mated pairs want cubs. With the Nurturers handling the medical and personal care, the Suits handling diplomacy and business out in the human world, and Hunters insuring the safety of their people, each person is sure that their efforts help their friends and family.

Raphael / Parish (Bayou Heat 1 & 2 – Raphael and Ashe, Parish and Julia) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, January 3, 2013)

Garrick knows that his work on behalf of the Pantera is worthwhile. Coming from a long line of diplomats, he’s seen the sacrifices his family have personally made for their people which is why he’s busy in Paris negotiating the purchase of a safe house. Returning to his apartment, he’s immediately cheered to see a letter from home. Molly, his elderly mother’s caregiver, always sends him missives filled with humor and all the news of the bayou and these notes continue to keep him strong. He’s naturally shocked and borderline ballistic when the letter he thought was a newsy installment instead turns out to be Molly’s resignation. Without even thinking about it, he books a flight to Louisiana.

Molly is sad to be leaving the pithy, elderly Virginia but she knows it’s the right choice to go back to Medical for her career and her personal peace of mind. She’s loved Garrick for five years, the two of them pouring out their hearts and minds to each other in their letters, but every time he’s come home (and that hasn’t been often), he’s treated her like an aloof employer. She needs to give up on her dream of him and even Garrick bursting on the scene and ordering her not to leave is not going to dissuade her. But for all his bluster, can Garrick face what’s between them with courage, or will he simply run away again?

Garrick is the ultimate, oblivious alpha male. Everyone around him can clearly see that he’s desperate to mate Molly if not for the emotional baggage he’s carrying from his childhood, baggage she has no knowledge of since he’s managed not to mention it in his letters. Molly is the spunky heroine we all are bound to admire who won’t let herself be used by Garrick when her heart is on the line – she’s strong enough to demand all or nothing and you’ll be ready to cheer her on even after a short acquaintance.

The Bayou Heat Bundle (the first six books of the series) – a steal for only $4.99 when the books would normally cost you around $7, plus you can get Bayou Noel for free!

In sixty pages, the talented team of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright managed to have me order the first book of the Bayou Heat series, Raphael/Parish, which then led me to return it so I could instead purchase the very affordable (and better financial deal) of the Bayou Heat Bundle which includes books 1 – 6 and is only $4.99. As each “book” is only just under 100 pages, and they each have a cliffhanger ending which takes you right into the next one of the series focusing on another couple, I’m going to strongly recommend that you’ll want to prepare yourself for needing to know what’s next. These are fun, almost breezy paranormals which nevertheless possess interesting world-building and a compelling story arc of a vivid human threat to the Pantera’s existence. Paranormal romance readers looking for a free holiday read as a present, shouldn’t hesitate to download this story – just be warned. One hit will not be enough!

Happy reading!

Picking Out The Best Novella/Short Story from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Series

15 Aug

Night’s Edge, anthology containing “Dancers in the Dark” novella by Charlaine Harris (# 4.2 in the Sookie Stackhouse series) (Harlequin, 2009)

I haven’t done a series review of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, probably because they aren’t technically romance (but rather mystery or urban fantasy with strong romantic elements). Romance always has a happy ending, and Harris has made no bones about the fact that this is not her goal for the characters in this excellent paranormal series.

Even people who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this series have probably heard of the HBO companion series TrueBlood, which diverges from the books but keeps the spirit of Harris’ original work alive according to fans. The name of the series is clever considering that the entire premise of Harris’ world is built on the idea that, after Japanese researchers develop a synthetic blood substitute (one brand of which is named TrueBlood), vampires come “out of the coffin” and reveal themselves to humans so they can live alongside them. Major repercussions ensue from this announcement, particularly for small-town Louisiana barmaid and telepath, Sookie Stackhouse, who finds the stillness of vampire minds to be almost intoxicating.

Sookie, or rather the supernatural creatures drawn to her, attracts trouble like it’s going out of style and the thirteen full-length novels in this series chronicle her growth and romantic difficulties as she works alongside vampires, werecreatures, and fairies, often reluctantly. In addition to these stories, Harris has penned at least thirteen short stories and companion novellas, practically all of which star Sookie (and some of which you MUST read in order to understand the next full-length novel which follows it in the series).

The other day I discovered a novella I hadn’t read in the series and immediately set about rectifying my faux pas, only to discover that I had missed the best companion story out of all of them! Dancers in the Dark, published in the anthology Night’s Edge, stars Sean and Layla, the briefly glimpsed professional ballroom dancers seen in All Together Dead, the novel in which Sookie accompanies the Queen of Louisiana to the vampire summit so she can ferret out the undercurrents from the human minds standing alongside their vampire companions. Sookie along with everyone else is impressed and mesmerized by the two vampire dancers Sean and Layla who perform during the ball and I definitely felt that there was something extremely powerful about these two minor characters. When I heard that the novella I’d missed was the one fleshing out their story, it was a no brainer to snap it up.

All Together Dead (#7 Sookie Stackhouse series) by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books, 2008)

Layla, currently using the name Rue, is busy disguising herself in Rhome, Illinois, while she takes classes and desperately tries to find work as a dancer. When she sees the ad for Blue Moon, a known dance troupe specializing in vampire occasions, she heads off to audition. There she meets her new partner, the handsome, red-haired Irish vampire Sean. She not only admires his outstanding dancing but the fact that his almost expressionless demeanor offers her a safe, professional distance.

Rue/Layla knows that a few people see through her disguise, recognizing her as the Southern beauty queen raped and beaten almost to death by a favored son of her town, but most days she can fly under the radar and attempt to create a life for herself. At first she’s frightened when she realizes that Sean is secretly following her home each night after their nighttime practices and performances, but when she realizes there is no menace in his actions, she begins to relax and let a friendship develop. Soon there’s more than just a friendship at stake (no pun intended), but Layla has no idea if she’s capable of any relationship, particularly one which such a powerful creature.

Sean is intrigued by his stunning dance partner but he’s fallen in love a few times before in his long existence and it’s always ended badly. Yet he’s feeling things for Layla he’s never felt before and when he discovers on his own the hair-raising circumstances of not only her attack but her family’s callous treatment afterward, he knows his goal is to keep her safe and find her attacker, now released from the mental institution he talked his way into.

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse novels which are written solely from Sookie’s perspective (common for urban fantasy), this novella thankfully switches between Layla and Sean’s POV, offering us insight into both wonderful characters. There is no way you can’t feel for Layla and find yourself gently falling in love with the stoic Sean as he coaxes her into trusting him by being so solid and dependable. I honestly found myself incredibly disappointed that Harris didn’t decide to make this a spin-off series since the dance troupe has so many fascinating characters (vampire and human) that it would be wonderful to develop each of their stories (romances preferred, naturally). Since the world is already well-established, I’m going to have to surf the web and see if any fan fiction exists (or maybe write it myself)!

The Accused by Jana DeLeon Brings Gothic Suspense to the Bayou

23 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bayou Heat Lives Up to Its Name in This Reissue from Donna Kauffman

19 Nov

Bayou Heat by Donna Kauffman (Loveswept, November 12, 2012) – originally issued in 1996

Louisiana is a popular place to set sensual romance novels. I think it’s a combination of the heat and the Cajun culture, which gives a taste of the exotic right in the United States. Add in the voodoo religion, a smattering of Cajun French, and the sweltering heat and you have a recipe for a sexy romance.

Which is what Donna Kauffman thought back in the 1996 when this book originally came out. Loveswept, the publisher, at that time was a division of Random House and responsible for some very popular romance novels in the 1980s and 1990s. While this imprint disappeared for a while, I gather the publishing house decided to resurrect Loveswept as an ebook-only line, launching a new website dedicated to e-romances. In addition to new romance novels, (like the long anticipated Iced by Karen Marie Moning, the spin-off series from her Fever novels) Loveswept has cleverly mined its backlist to discover any titles that would benefit from a cover makeover and hold up to today’s market.

What they found was several of Donna Kauffman’s novels, and I, in turn, found them on NetGalley. The new covers are FABULOUS (and believe me, these books needed them) but with any reissue you need to worry about whether the content holds up after 15 or so years, right?

The original cover of Bayou Heat from 1996. I’m not sure this would have worked for me even in the 20th century!

No danger here. Bayou Heat did not feel like a recycled romance in the slightest despite it’s lack of technology and only a couple of sex scenes (which is not what you expect looking at that cover). Instead I was sucked into this tale of Dr. Erin McClure, an ethnobotanist who discovers her sexy Cajun guide bloody and almost unconscious in her rented bathtub – oh, did I mention she was naked and ready for her shower? Teague Comeaux enjoys the view, thinking that this mental image does not match what he thought he’d be guiding through the bayou. From the first moments between them, Kauffman does a skillful job showing the web of sexual attraction while also highlighting how these two characters have trouble communicating with one another.

Teague has baggage – of the Samsonite 6-piece collection variety. He, like his half-brother, was born on the wrong side of the blankets to the wealthiest man in the parish. Although his father married his mother, it was a tumultuous relationship at best, one that led this unstable woman to commit suicide. Teague was taken in as a mourning teen by his grandmother, the local voodoo priestess who lived out in the bayou. While he loves her for raising him, one family member after another has rejected him for who he is, so much so that he left Louisiana as soon as he could and has only recently returned. What no one but the local sheriff knows is that Teague spent his time away from the bayou working undercover for U.S. Customs. Once he caught wind of an operation centered in his former backyard he got himself reassigned and purchased a local pool hall as his front. Now he has a feisty scientist stirring up emotions he never wanted to feel and shattering every image he possessed of how scientists are supposed to behave, an unexpected twist which could endanger his current job.

A vision of the Louisiana bayou.

Erin McClure was raised untraditionally, to put it mildly. The daughter of a scientist herself (whether he was an anthropologist or another ethnobotanist, I couldn’t quite put my finger on) she grew up among a variety of cultures and highly self-reliant, camping in the Amazon by herself at the age of thirteen. As frustrating as her sexy new Cajun guide is, she needs his connections to the local voodoo priestess in order to her work, work she began with her father and now continues after his death. That he sees her as a desirable woman – something none of the academics she’s worked with before have done – is secondary to her mission.

There were a few pieces of this book that I found disconcerting. There wasn’t a ton of physical description, so it was hard to get a handle on how the two main characters looked. Call it a pet peeve, but I like a regular reminder or a reference to something other than the expression in their eyes, to keep me grounded. My vision of Teague and Erin was pretty blurry and I found it annoying in parts. Also, while I’m sure it mimics real life to perfection, I felt that a good part of the dialogue between Erin and Teague or Teague and his half-brother, Marshall, to suffer from lack of clarity. How exactly did Marshall have a hand in the smuggling venture? And what precisely were they smuggling from Haiti?

Kauffman’s writing strengths have me willing to read the other books I’ve pulled from NetGalley. The sensuality rampant between the characters was excellent and she has serious chops when it comes to writing body language and letting the reader literally see the attraction between characters. She also manages a nice balance between having enough authentic cultural details thrown in her books but doesn’t go the route of info dumping explanations of the culture. With her writing, I don’t think I would have minded more explanation, but I also admire a writer who gives me enough of a head start and then trusts me to look things up on my own.

This foray into Kauffman and the Loveswept line has me intrigued and wanting to try more. Thanks to Donna Kauffman for writing a book which holds up over time and thanks to Random House for reviving it. 🙂

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