Tag Archives: mystery

Oyster Brings a Netflix-like Model to Romance Reading

23 Oct

I was thrilled to find out that a new platform has come on the market for readers, Oyster. Looking to Netflix as a subscription model, readers pay $9.95 per month and have access to all of Oyster’s library (about 100,000 in copyright books), with the ability to “play” any book they want – books don’t download onto your device (which I imagine means you need to have a connection at all times).

For heavy readers this becomes an affordable alternative, particularly as more and more publishers release titles onto Oyster’s platform. Having read about Oyster and watched videos about how it works, I nevertheless wanted to have a better sense of what it could offer romance readers, but I wasn’t willing to pay for a month in order to test the water. Lucky for me, Oyster recently announced a free month to trial the platform for people wanting to test it out (in honor of their iPad app release).

A major caveat before downloading the app – originally designed for the iPhone, the iPad version of the program is meant to be enlarged using the 2x button. This means that users not running the latest iOS are going to notice highly pixelated text which makes it hard on the eyes. People running iOS 7 on their phones and iPads will have no problem.

The iPad is a natural first device upon which to launch considering its level of infiltration in the market.

But what does Oyster have to offer romance readers? I found the offerings to be diverse and hitting several big name authors – Amanda Scott, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah Maclean, Julia Quinn, Katherine Ashe, and Tessa Dare were some of the historical romance authors (they even have most of Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ backlist) and paranormal authors like Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost and Lyndsay Sands were represented as well. A few erotica books were in there, as well as category romance from Crimson Romance’s imprint, and romantic suspense authors like Carla Swafford and Elizabeth Lowell.

I didn’t like that so many non-romance books were mixed in (because it makes it look like Oyster doesn’t know what the definition of the genre), but it is true that romance readers often cross-genres, particularly with mystery, historical fiction and women’s fiction – nevertheless, I don’t want to see them when I’m looking for romance. There’s plenty of contemporary romance, romantic comedy and inspirational romance and they even divide up historical romance, highlighting Regency and medieval titles. It’s pretty snazzy.

Could there be more titles? Sure. But the above authors are damn good ones and there was a nice mix of books I’ve read and books I want to read – considering I read around 350 romance novels a year, I find this pretty snazzy and I’m sure it will only get better as Oyster will have to acquire more titles in order to stay competitive, particularly with other subscription read services about to launch.

So take a look at Oyster (for free) to see if you’ve got the hardware to see if it has something to offer you as a romance reader. I think that you’ll find it may offer readers a wonderful romance library to draw upon (for only $9.95 a month.

A Lady’s Secret Weapon by Tracey Devlyn Combines Old-Fashioned Spy Thrillers with Hot Historical Romance

16 Oct

A Lady’s Secret Weapon (Nexus #3 – Ethan and Sydney) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, October 1, 2013)

Back when I was cutting my teeth on historical romance in the 80s, there were many novels that heavily featured spies bent on foiling Napoleonic agents during the height of the Peninsular Wars. These books had complex spy plots and incorporated plenty of history in addition to the romance developing between the hero and heroine.

I loved them, but as Regency became modernized (and thank heavens it did) for some reason the spy piece seemed to suddenly take a back burner. Oh, it was still there, clearly, but not in the same smart way it existed before. The romance piece got better as well, and since I really did read them for the romance, that was a reasonable exchange, although I found myself still wistful for the well-written spies and villains.

Enter talented author Tracey Devlyn and I have no more reason to pine for the days of those page-turning plots. With her excellent Nexus series, readers manage three books in one: a pitch-perfect historical romance, a mystery as a new angle of the story arc is uncovered, and a thriller to heighten anticipation and keep those pages turning. Yum!

The Nexus is an elite group of British spies heavily involved with uncovering the next move of the Napoleonic network, either in France or right on England’s shores, and readers have already met several operatives in the first two books of the series. A Lady’s Secret Weapon in fact stars Ethan deBeau, the rogue Viscount renowned for charming one woman after another into his bed, only to ferret out their secrets for his cause. Less well-known are the many deaths for which he is responsible and the knowledge of the often innocent lives he’s compromised – as well as the dirty feeling he carries from his meaningless sexual encounters – have made him not just jaded, but someone who regularly takes refuge in alcohol and whores when frustrations arise.

Ethan made these sacrifices for his country so he can attain one goal, taking over the Nexus network and finally filling his dead father’s shoes in service to England. But when it seems that’s not going to happen, he’s not just thrown but resentful. A helpful distraction takes the form of one Sydney Hunt, a stunning young woman who Ethan feels he knows from somewhere although she’s not telling. Her focus on an orphanage that has come onto the Nexus’ radar is more than a coincidence and it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more to Miss Hunt than meets the eye.

A Lady’s Revenge (Nexus #1 – Cora and Guy) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, April 2012)

That’s the truth. Sydney hides her own painful past and while her work as the proprietress of an employment agency helping servants find safe positions in noble households is a priority, her secret work as “the Specter” has her using a network of underground spies to help the Nexus anonymously. Her time with Ethan has her rethinking her opinions about noblemen but she’s uncertain as to whether he won’t run just like other men in her past when he finds out the nature of her ghosts. For this man, Sydney realizes she might just be willing to take her stolen moments when she can, as his layers clearly hide more than just a talented rogue and spy.

It was a little hard for me to like Ethan initially as Devlyn shows him making the decision to pursue alcohol and visit a whorehouse after he’s met our heroine. Tsk, tsk. Granted, there’s nothing yet between them, but I always find myself having to overcome that mental hurdle (and sometimes, not managing it) when an author decides to show that side of the hero. Yet she manages to help him come back from it, with the incident simply illustrating just how damaged Ethan is that he needs this form of escape. He’s literally never let himself be in love and Sydney is really his first in many ways, despite all his experience of women.

Sydney was enormously easy to love, surrounded by people who care about her and with a deeply admirable mission, but she never strays into goody two-shoes territory. That she has channelled much of herself into both her day job and her secret spy work clearly is due to her being convinced that she will never have a romantic future due to her childhood. Ethan’s patient uncovering of each of her secrets breaches her walls one by one and his lack of judgement at each hurdle helps grow the trust between them. It’s actually quite lovely to witness, with their climatic love scene one of the most tender I’ve read in a while.

Checkmate, My Lord (Nexus #2 – Sebastian and Catherine) by Tracey Devlyn (Sourcebooks, February 2013)

For readers who have enjoyed the first two books in the series, there is plenty of time to revel in those characters (when exactly are they all getting married, anyway?) since they make regular appearances. But for people who want to try this book out first before making the investment, fear not – Devlyn’s writing is so deft that you will lack no understanding or appreciation if you start with A Lady’s Secret Weapon. Playing catch up is effortless regarding both story arc and characters in the hands of this talented author.

The important thing to keep in mind when reading a Devlyn book is that the spy element drives the romance. I initially found myself very impatient as a good portion of the book progressed before my hero and heroine began inching toward one another even though there was a strong attraction. Partly this was their personalities and backgrounds coming into play but it was also because the various elements of the plot had to be well-established. The delay has the nice side effect of making the descent into a relationship more natural in terms of the timeframe (no insta-love here) and – once I realized the intent – I was able to relax and enjoy it.

Keep in mind also that Devlyn’s intelligence, immediately apparent after just a few pages, bleeds into other areas of her professional life. She’s got an excellent website and strong social media presence, and is also a founder of the Romance University website which I follow religiously. How cool is that? I love it when an author’s talent is matched by her professional savvy, so yay for me at finding another woman who is cleverly making an impact on the world of romance publishing.

Tracey Devlyn’s entire Nexus series, but A Lady’s Secret Weapon in particular, combines outstanding writing with cross-genre appeal. Mystery, thriller, and historical romance lovers fear not – you’ve just got another author to add to your end table. Enjoy!

Temptation Bay by Anna Sullivan Delivers Angsty Romance and A Satisfying Mystery

10 Sep

Temptation Bay (Windfall Island #1) by Anna Sullivan (Forever Romance, September 3, 2013)

It’s been a looooonnnnnggg time since a romance novel actually delivered a mystery I couldn’t solve within the first thirty pages – which is probably why I was blown away by the complexity of the premise of new author Anna Sullivan’s first book in her Windfall Island series, Temptation Bay. This new offering gives us a flash of an intriguing mystery with roots in the bootlegging tradition of New England during the Depression, focusing on the present-day reality of an isolated Maine island and the eccentric citizens who live there.

Each book in the Windfall Island series opens with a chapter flashing back to a fateful night in the 1930s when a group of bootleggers smuggling illegal alcohol to and from a ship, the Perdition, watch from the shores as it suddenly explodes off the coast of their tiny Maine island. Having just delivered the booze and some of the partygoers, they are stunned at the thought of the many people now dead, and further astonished when a weak cry of an infant begins to emanate from the bow of their small boat. Someone, clearly from the ship, placed a baby girl – one with an expensive monogrammed blanket and a jeweled necklace – amidst the crates of gin, and the men must decide how to best to hide her since they are more than aware that they would appear complicit in the kidnapping were she to be found.

In the present day, pilot and owner of Temptation Bay’s only airport, Maggie Solomon, is due to pick up a lawyer from the mainland and ferry him to the island. Dexter Keegan is certainly easy on the eye and neither of them care to deny the instant spark between them, but Maggie doesn’t like outsiders, and a lawyer arriving past the tourist season means he’s investigating or suing one of her friends. Since Dexter pumps her for information at every opportunity, offering no information in return, Maggie is having none of it and he’s on his own.

Residents on these tiny Maine Islands couldn’t manage without the transportation (and delivery services) provided by independent pilots.

Dexter Keegan is not in fact a lawyer, but is instead a private investigator on the case of a lifetime. A wealthy family, having lost their baby girl during the Depression to a wayward nursemaid bent on a little Jazz Age partying, has never let go of the idea that the baby might have survived, with her possible descendants unaware that they are the heirs to a fortune. Solving such a cold case not only would result in a hefty finder’s fee but also would be the making of this former cop’s reputation, allowing him to establish his business and get him away from the cheating spouse/fraudulent insurance claim cases that are leaving him more jaded than he thought possible.

He also quickly realizes that he chose the wrong profession to impersonate, as none of these tough Yankees are about to open to anyone, particularly a lawyer. Every woman from eighteen to one foot in the grave want him in their bed except the beautiful, tough one who flew him in, and Maggie Solomon is the only one woman he dreams about. But her distrust of men and love seem well-earned when Dexter sees her military father attempt to garner press with his daughter in his bid for a Joint Chiefs position. It’s clear that this man has never accepted Maggie and when it’s revealed that he kicked her and her mother out of the house when she was a mere sixteen, well, that betrayal says it all. And while he’s definitely not out to fall in love, Dexter knows that he will do anything to breach those thick walls around Maggie to get into her bed in order to figure out just who exists under that tough layer.

Wow. Maggie is damaged-with-a-capital-D and this makes it hard going – it’s not so much as she’s unlikeable as she’s unbelievably prickly to the point of never being able to make herself vulnerable to Dex. Yet I still liked her and the insulated community of Windfall Island tremendously. The reason I would use “angsty” to describe the romance is because normally one walled off individual would mean the other half of the couple would be the type to storm the defenses and go all in – but we don’t get that with Dexter. He’s as hesitant and ignorant of his own feelings to the point where he steps in it again and again and you are forced to just watch the implosion, while muttering, “My God, what are you doing??” While all this killed me a little, the mystery and setting were so well done, I just hung in there for the great writing, which did result in a romance pay-off during the thrilling denouement. Wow again!

The story arc (and mystery) combining a kidnapped child and rum-running during the Great Depression will be compelling to mystery and historical readers alike, while the contemporary romance brings love into the present day.

This mystery is not only its own fantastic device, but provides the story arc for the entire series. The next book (a chapter or two of which is included at the tail end of this one) is Hideaway Cove, which will focus on Maggie best friend and business partner, Jessi, the plucky single mom trying to make ends meet. Genealogist and Southern sweet-talker Holden has already expressed an interest, but it will be great to see them both meet their match in this novel due to be published in late March of 2014.  Considering that both this hero and heroine are a lot less closed off than Maggie and Dexter (yet with their own baggage naturally), I’m hoping that the romance between them will be slightly less painful to read (yet still as satisfying to watch unfold).

If I have any criticism to offer, it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with Sullivan’s great writing or fantastic mystery, but rather needs to focus on her lack of marketing presence. In this day and age, I’m astonished to see a debut author of this caliber without a website or Twitter presence! Instead she merely has a basic Facebook author page and the minimum of information on her Goodreads account. I can’t help but notice that despite this book having been released on September 3rd, mine is only one of two ratings of the book on Goodreads (and this book was available via NetGalley as well)! With all the mediocre books being published, it’s unconscionable that one as well written as this – and by Forever Romance publishing, a division of Grand Central – would be unpromoted due to lack of a social presence. Please, Anna Sullivan, work on getting yourself out there! The romance world needs a voice like yours. Since Sullivan kindly cross promotes friend and author Ruth Ryan Langan, perhaps she can get some tips from her about these details (although Langan doesn’t have a Twitter presence either. What gives?)

[9/12/2013 – Publisher Forever Romance nicely contacted me via twitter to let me know that Anna Sullivan thankfully does have a webpage – http://annasullivanbooks.com/ – so I’m going to instead encourage her to get that link in her Facebook and Goodreads pages while fleshing those sources out a little more. Search Engine Optimization is also a must, since as a librarian, I’m pretty good with search engines and I could not find her site! Let’s get people finding you, Anna!]

Remember, Anna Sullivan, you write great mysteries but you shouldn’t be one to your readers. 🙂 You also write romance, so focus instead on making it easy for people to fall in love with you!

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.

Video Wednesday: J. J. Abrams and the Mystery Box

21 Mar

J. J. Abrams is a powerhouse of creativity.  A renaissance man, he is and has been a screenwriter, producer, actor and even a composer, and even if you don’t know his name, you do know his work (unless you’ve been living under a rock).  Current fans of the tv shows Fringe and Person of Interest know that Abrams has the ability to grip viewers and keep them waiting with bated breath for the next episode.

It’s a talent he’s always had. Fans might have been alternately elated and frustrated with the turn of the plot but they were never, ever bored. In Lost and, my personal favorite, Alias, Abrams employed not only his incredible sense of suspense-building but constantly brought the viewer along by employing a technique he calls “the mystery box”.

I first heard about the mystery box when I stumbled across Abrams’ TED Talk (embedded below).  In it, he presents a sealed box of magic tricks, purchased for him by his grandfather when Abrams was a child.

Never having opened it, Abrams uses the mystery of what is in the box as inspiration in his work. “So there’s this thing with mystery boxes that I started feeling compelled. Then there’s the thing of mystery in terms of imagination — the withholding of information. You know, doing that intentionally is much more engaging.” Witholding information, answering the question, and then posing the next question, is something every good writer does.  Remember the first time you read The Hunger Games?  That book should have come with a warning “Don’t plan on doing anything else while reading this” because you couldn’t put it down.  Suzanne Collins was trained as a screenwriter and it shows in her ability to keep us turning the page, even if it is 3 am, and the alarm is going to go off in three hours.

As writers, we must all think of employing a similar device to keep our work moving.  Not just from a mechanical perspective, but for something bigger.  To Abrams, the mystery box:

“represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential.And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Now, it’s not the most ground-breaking idea, but when I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge, I started getting interested in this.”

The presentation is about 20 minutes and it’s FABULOUS – Abrams is funny and uses examples from famous movies and television shows to help illustrate his ideas about how writers can use good writing and principles like the mystery box to keep people interested.  You won’t be sorry you watched it!

%d bloggers like this: