Tag Archives: Romance

Warrior of the Nile by Veronica Scott Brings Ancient Egypt to Life With Vengeful Goddesses and Romance

16 Sep

Warrior of the Nile (#2 The Gods of Egypt – Khenet and Tiya) by Veronica Scott (Carina Press, September 16, 2013)

I have been lamenting the dearth of historical fiction not set in England and/or the Regency period, so I was naturally intrigued by the good reviews of Veronica Scott’s romance novels set in ancient Egypt around 1500 BC. When the second one, Warrior of the Nile became available via NetGalley, I snapped it up to see if I would enjoy a non-traditional historical romance.

Did I! I loved the premise of her The Gods of Egypt series – that Egyptian gods had the ability to become corporeal and interact with humans – and it lent a wonderful paranormal element to an already rich historical setting. In Warrior of the Nile, two people find themselves pawns caught in the machinations of the gods.

Khenet is the adopted brother of Pharaoh who reluctantly asks him for a favor. A region which previously harbored a usurper has suspicious reports of the nomarch (leader) engaging in black magic. The priests and priestesses of the goddess Nepthys have notified Pharaoh that she will be providing a bride for this man, a bride born dedicated to Nepthys’ service who will be sacrificed when the goddess takes over her body, killing the evil magician and shutting out the influence of destructive gods who would threaten Egypt. Part of her instruction includes the demand that only a single man to accompany the doomed bride on the dangerous journey to her husband, and the guard must be a man who means something to Pharaoh.

Priestess of the Nile (#1 The Gods of Egypt – Sobek and Merys) by Veronica Scott (Carina Press, January 23, 2013)

Khenet and his brother have faced enough danger and battles to realize that this is actually a dangerous trap, one Khenet might not return from. As an adopted sibling to the most powerful man in Egypt, Khenet has nevertheless felt caught between two worlds. More a rough soldier than a noble, he has had negative experiences with the court beauties who pursue him, preferring the no-strings-attached relationships with tavern wenches and dancing girls he can leave the next morning. Accompanying a blubbering aristocrat to her death sounds worse than battle, particularly if he might die in the attempt, yet his loyalty to his brother and his desire to help Egypt outweighs any personal discomfort.

Lady Tiya has always known of the dagger hanging over her head. Her family is descended from the goddess Nepthys, with many of its members choosing to go into her service. But she has been cursed with an extra layer of obligation, as the birthmark on her forearm and over her breast is an inherited one indicating that the goddess can take over body with ease. When she is called along with her cousins to the temple to be chosen, it’s an easy decision to volunteer – the other candidates are a little girl and Tiya’s weeping cousin who has just been betrothed. With her father’s remarriage, Tiya is being pressured by her stepmother to marry and Tiya would rather escape the match, even if it means being used by a goddess who might not care about hurting Tiya.

Dancer of the Nile (#3 The Gods of Egypt series – Kamin and Nima) by Veronica Scott (Carina Press, October 2013)

Tiya’s instincts are proven correct and she’s more than a little dismayed to discover the nature of her mission and more concerned that the handsome, brave soldier who is to guard her on the journey is also doomed. They slowly begin to get to know one another, each recognizing the other’s courage and intelligence, and cursing the fate that would bring them into each other’s lives just in time to take them away. Tiya calls upon another goddess for assistance while Khenet wrestles with the nightmares of his lost village, reemphasizing to him that he is the last of his people and burdened with an incomprehensible prophecy. Yet that prophecy might just offer the one loophole that could have Tiya and Khenet saving Egypt while escaping with their lives, although it might bring the wrath of a powerful goddess upon their heads.

I loved both characters and while the text is peppered with references to Egyptian religion and deities it’s nothing the reader doesn’t adjust to within a couple of chapters. While Khenet and Tiya have plenty of sexual tension, there really is only one tender, wonderful sex scene between our couple as they are kept pretty busy evading the machinations of evil sorcerers and deities.

A view of the Nile River which is probably not far from what an ancient Egyptian would have seen.

Scott has an excellent note on historical accuracy on her website, indicating that while she has done a tremendous amount of research (it shows in her wonderful descriptions of the religion and everyday life), she still took some liberties with the history, particularly with the Pharaoh who doesn’t appear on any list of kings. The bibliography of sources she lists is a nice start for anyone interested in learning more (even if, as a librarian, I wish she had included publisher and year information and/or links to an online bookstore).

Did I mention that this book is not just excellent but affordable? A full-length novel from Carina (and therefore only available in ebook form), Warrior of the Nile is only $1.99! While other books in the series appear to be set in the same world, they also are independent of one another, so you can break into the series at any point with impunity. I’ve already ordered the first book in the series, Priestess of the Nile about a singer who catches the eye of the Crocodile God in human form. Dancer of the Nile, the third book, will be published in October 2013, so if you find yourself liking Scott’s writing (and I think you will) you won’t have to wait long for the next installment.

Historical romance readers should definitely give Veronica Scott’s The Gods of Egypt series is a try as it delivers great characters, a rich setting, and strong plots filled with meddlesome gods and goddesses who love interfering with human lives. Happy Reading!

Eat Play Lust by Tawna Fenske Delivers Sensuality in a Small Package

9 Sep

Eat Play Lust by Tawna Fenske (Entangled Flirts, August 26, 2013)

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that Entangled Publishing keeps putting out great stories like it’s going out of style. Considering that many publishing houses often seesaw in the quality of their authors (and honestly, often their editing), this is not only a joy, but often has me picking Entangled work over other houses since I know I can trust them to give me a romance that is going to be deliciously emotional and probably a little bit (or better yet, a lot) naughty.

This delightful short, Eat Play Lust by Tawna Fenske, keeps up Entangled’s reputation. Cami is a fabulous yoga instructor coming off the emotional roller-coaster of her uber-healthy mother’s extended visit. Gluten-free tofu everything may have had her drop a few pounds, but it seems like there’s an emotional cost as Cami’s relationship with her mother has always been one of guilt around food. Like the minister’s daughter who wears a mini-skirt and gets drunk every night at college, Cami gained more than her fair share of weight and both women have never forgotten it.

While Cami guiltily harbors tatertots in her apartment above her yoga studio, she doesn’t wistfully think about how nice it would be to have someone of the male persuasion to share it with. When the hottie in her group class requests a private paddleboard yoga lesson (yes, this is an actual thing and it looks very cool!) she is more than happy to get to know Paul Hammond better. She’s got some seriously naughty thoughts of the sexual variety whizzing through her thoughts while she puts him through his paces on the water, but she is trying to keep it professional, particularly after he tells her he is a gourmet chef. What would a chef want with a secret junk food eater?

I don’t know what’s lovelier – this beautiful woman or the setting. Paddleboard yoga seems like a great idea for people who enjoy practicing in the great outdoors (and enjoy a little extra core work).

What Paul wants to do with Cami cannot be spoken aloud, but suffice it to say that he wants her as amuse bouche, appetizer, entree and dessert. Yet Cami’s proximity seems to have permanently disconnected any conversational skills Paul previously possessed as his sex drive is taking all available brain power. Paul’s physician brother was the one who took one look at the cholesterol numbers from Paul’s latest blood test and insisted he begin doing cardio, but it’s not just the yoga that is causing Paul’s heart to beat double-time. A river dunking and some time in Cami’s kitchen confirms the sexual tension is simmering between them, but can there be a future between someone whose life revolves around food and someone who feels nothing but guilt in eating what tastes good?

Two fabulous characters who were so well-drawn that I was astonished the story is only around 50 pages. Despite the small space, you still experience the mark of a good writer – Fenske draws a rich setting, three-dimensional characters, and an emotional connection (with highs and lows) that tugs at your heartstrings. Did I mention the sexy times? No? Let me reassure you that despite all of of the above, there was some pretty awesome sex between our two characters that managed to be hot AND emotionally satisfying. I’m hoping for a few more stories set in this town so I can catch a glimpse of a happy Cami and Paul in the context of another couple’s journey. Worried about paying for a 50 page story? At only $.99, make this your Tawna Fenske amuse bouche and realize that here is another great writer for your romance shelf.

Tawna Fenske has certainly caught my attention and I’ve both made a point of adding her blog to my RSS Reader (give yourself a chuckle by reading her September 2nd post “If I Write What I Know, I Must Know a Lot of Perverts”) and added a few of her other books to my to-read list.

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille Takes You To Hot, Sexy, Slightly Disturbing Places

3 Sep

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille (Sourcebooks Casablanca, September 3, 2013) – great cover although it’s missing Max’s phenomenal tattoos

In the world of romance, the only thing better than a hot, underground MMA fighter is a hot, millionaire, underground MMA fighter and that’s exactly what we get in Max “Torment” Huntingdon, the hero in Sarah Castille‘s fabulous novel, Against the Ropes.

Yet the entire book is told from the heroine, Makayla’s perspective, one that begins with her trying to help her best friend at the underground warehouse which serves as the training center and an official fight location for this local, unsanctioned MMA ring. Despite Makayla strong physical reaction to witnessing violence, the EMT in her can’t help but reach out and help when people get hurt. That she is wrestling with some very traumatic issues from her childhood regarding violence, makes this reaction easy to understand and the reader instantly comprehends Makayla’s bravery in entering into a relationship with Max despite his personality which craves the show of strength he gets by doing MMA.

Max is an irresistible yet flawed individual who you end up loving because of his flaws as much as due to his caring nature. He makes a lot of mistakes with Makayla (as she does with him) but you root for the two of them to make it work since they each give each other way more than they take. Love – true love – always creates more than the sum of two people, and this couple shows how that can become a reality. Castille’s sex scenes between Max and Makayla practically cause the pages to burst into flame and it’s not shocking she’s won numerous contests in the erotic romance category.

Should you be interested in beginning your own underground fighting ring, please note that the actual equipment can be rented easily (although I imagine you’ll have to pay extra for cleaning off all the blood).

It’s tough to go too much into the plot with a typical summary since this book lives inside Makayla’s head. There is a distinct progression in their relationship and if you like possessive alpha males you will have noooooooo problem with Max, particularly when you discover why he might be a tad hypervigilant. Makayla is also dealing with insane student loan issues (and I confess to thinking this was the most unrealistic part of the novel – underground millionaire MMA fighter with venture capitalist firm, no problem, but harassing phone calls with threats to repossess your parent’s house for YOUR student loans, not freakin’ likely). She is however, surrounded by good friends and plenty of male interest, and in the middle of trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life (she was pre-med at the top of her class). Perhaps because of that element, and since Castille uses the first person to tell this story, I actually feel that there were a lot of factors which place this novel in the “new adult” category, if that’s an interest of yours.

Castille’s writing is outstanding in the sense that this is an insightful, deeply psychological novel that delves into the heroine’s head and sifts through some pretty deep stuff. Makayla doesn’t initially realize that she craves the dominance Max offers her (although her body understands pretty quickly). Yet her hot, steamy, highly erotic encounters with him often trigger flashbacks to the violence in her childhood. At first it’s unbelievably disturbing and I found myself, like Makayla, resisting the idea that she could be sexually turned on by something that would dredge up these memories. But by the end of the book it’s clear that this tension exists because Makayla’s brain is helping her reconcile her memories of violence done out of anger by an unhealthy person with the reality in front of her – namely that Max’s violence is controlled and strategic, born of a desire to protect the people important to him.

The MMA part of this was smart – fans of Kele Moon’s Battered Hearts series would find a lot to love here – and Castille writes every character with respect and depth, no mean feat! I hate the first person (it takes an amazing author like Charlotte Stein to get me to get past that hurdle) but I loved Against the Ropes don’t plan on fighting the purchase of any future Sarah Castille books which are going right into my “must read” list.

Brenda Jackson’s Latest Westmoreland Novel, Stern, Hits All the Soft Spots

26 Aug

Stern (Westmoreland #27 – Stern and JoJo’s story) by Brenda Jackson (Harlequin Desire, August 27, 2013)

I know what you are thinking. Stern? Maybe after writing no fewer than twenty-freaking-seven books in an incredibly popular series, you’ve got to pull out all the stops in the name department. After all, this guy’s brothers are Canyon and Zane! At least they are all cowboy businessmen – it’s hard to imagine someone from Minneapolis pulling Stern off.

Stern is the 27th book in the ever popular and always heart warming Westmoreland series (and is that the reason it debuts on the 27th? If so, clever, clever Harlequin!). As with so many larger series, this one is broken up into several smaller “series within a series,” usually in the form of trilogies centering around a group of siblings.

Stern Westmoreland is a self-confessed ladies man who has never been tempted to have even a long term relationship with a girlfriend, to say nothing of marriage. He’s baffled by his brothers’ and cousins’ recent rush to the altar and while he’s happy for them, he’s pretty smug in his lifestyle.

But a wrench is about to be thrown in the cogs of his life. His best friend, JoJo, has been there for him since middle school and they’ve always looked out for one another. Stern knows that she’s never been serious about anyone, preferring to learn hunting and cars at her father’s knee. She can usually outshoot Stern at the hunting lodge he bought for their regular getaways and she’s definitely kept up the thriving auto shop she inherited after her dad’s death. But JoJo is acting strange, asking Stern how to attract a man, and it’s making him damn unsettled.

Brenda Jackson with a few of her recent blockbuster novels (Zane is the same trilogy as Stern).

JoJo is feeling pretty unsettled herself. She came to the head-smacking realization a few months ago that she was actually having feelings for her best friend and she knows not only is she not his type but she doesn’t want to endanger their friendship. She has fixed the car of a handsome and dapper man who actually reminds her of Stern and her best idea is to start something up with this guy to divert herself away from the impossible. But she’s worried that her casual clothes and outdoorsy tastes are not exactly the bombshell qualities that attract most men. Who better than Stern to teach her what to do to dazzle a man’s eye?

While Stern tries to make JoJo see that any man should be more than glad to get her just as she is (he’s beaten up guys in high school for making her feel inadequate), he can’t believe he blurted out the piece about how most women do makeovers. Now he has to watch JoJo come back from a city trip with his female relatives looking absolutely edible. As relatives cast knowing glances in his direction, Stern must face the fact that the reason he’s never considered having a long-term woman in his life is that he already had one…and she’s perfect for him.

I adore “best friends to lovers” romances because of the long-standing comfort level and knowledge each character has of the other. Watching Stern absorb his brother’s comments and analyze his feelings for JoJo is priceless, as is his sneaky determination to derail any interest she might have in someone else. JoJo is a bit naive – despite her being in her late twenties – but I chose to see this as she is just so trusting of Stern’s character that even after he agrees to give her “kissing lessons” she doesn’t see his obvious physical reaction as being an expression of genuine passion.

There were a few points to this book that I thought felt the tiniest bit off. JoJo is nearing thirty and not only is she a virgin (!) but she also has never been kissed aside from some slobbering in the 10th grade. When she and Stern hook up seriously for the first time, you get the impression that she’s never even had an orgasm before him. Um, how is this possible in this day and age? I absolutely believe that Stern is her best friend, but JoJo must have women friends, a health textbook, cable tv, etc. that would convince her to do a little healthy self-exploration, right? She sounds fabulous and with her traditionally male tastes I found it highly unlikely there wouldn’t be a host of guys flocking around her grateful that she speaks their language. These are pretty small detractions to the otherwise total buy-in I gave this novel, so maybe this is just me.

Canyon is the other brother in the same trilogy, along with Zane and Stern.

The Westmoreland series has the quality that draws so many of us to family-based series, namely that in the end, you can picture yourself as part of the crowd and you care enough to want to see each and every one of them get their happy ending. Family values also manage to come across the page with a talented writer like Jackson, who readily admits that her personal attraction to family series comes from having a large family herself.

Even if the name gives you pause, it should be balanced out by the name of that wonderful author, Brenda Jackson. The year 2013 actually represents a milestone for Jackson, with her 100th book being published the year she turns 60 – an incredible personal achievement for any author, but especially one who published her first novel in 1995. Married to her husband for over forty years (she still wears the steady ring he gave her when she was 15), Jackson amazingly worked full time for State Farm Insurance until her retirement a few years ago, always declaring her romance writing a “hobby.” While many writers who have achieved her level of success might be tempted to move onto longer romance books with a different imprint, Jackson has remained faithful to Harlequin and (if rumors are true regarding her book deals) she’s been appropriately rewarded for it.

In a world where African American readers can have a hard time finding protagonists who look like them, Jackson has also accomplished something very special. While imprints like Kimani Romance specialize in multicultural characters, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence suggesting that there is a strong white readership of these books (a shame because there are a lot of great writers in that line). Because Jackson’s Westmoreland series is based off the premise of a great-grandparent who had multiple wives and kept leaving one for another as he made his way out West, the Westmoreland family is one trying to find their relatives (perhaps mirroring the recent upsurge in genealogy). What they discover are both African American and European American branches of the same family. It’s a blending that I think has lent itself to many readers dipping their toes into books they would otherwise not have picked up and finding that the water is just right!

Please do note that the August 27th release of Stern actually has the bonus story, Bachelor Untamed (which wasn’t in my ARC from NetGalley so I can’t comment on it), giving rise to the slightly higher price tag. If Stern is all you want, there is a standalone version of that book coming out on September 3rd that goes for a couple of dollars less.

I’ve loved all the Westmoreland novels I’ve read and it’s a testimony to Jackson’s writing style that I’ve never felt like I needed to read all the books in the series to understand what’s going on – they work together and as stand alone novels. Stern is a fabulous addition to the series and I dare you to stop at reading just this one. Many thanks to Brenda Jackson for all her quality writing and congratulations on hitting all her significant milestones this year!

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

18 Aug

Upcoming and New Books

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

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

I’m still reeling from Jeaniene Frost’s announcement this week that her seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress series, Up from the Grave, will be her last Cat and Bones novel! Originally believing that her overall story arc would take nine books, Frost said on her blog that she and her editor agreed that it would be unfair to fans to put in filler simply to keep the series going as planned. As disappointed as I am, I appreciate Frost’s obvious commitment to give readers the highest quality writing. She has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off and it’s not like she’s going to stop writing and take up creating macrame wall hangings from a beachside hut in Hawaii. She even admits that the couple might pop up in other books in the Night Huntress world (remember we still have another book in the Night Prince series and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ian has evolved enough to be the hero in his own novel soon). There is also the pesky matter of the fourth man in the deported Australian chain gang who we’ve never seen but to whom Bones, Spade and Ian have referred. With those possible novels on the horizon (and having the utmost confidence in the creative imagination residing in Frost’s mind), I’m happy to thank her for finally offering Cat and Bones a happily ever after since they’ve been through a lot in their time together! January 28th will be a little bittersweet, but with Frost at the helm, I’m sure to enjoy every page.

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

Fun Stuff

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

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

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

Thinking About Publishing

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

Contests and Giveaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Deals

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

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

Have a super week reading, everyone! 🙂

Ladykillers, Seducers and Manwhores: Re-envisioning the Promiscuous Male via Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau

17 Aug

Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau (W. W. Norton & Co, February 4, 2013)

I’ve been remiss in not doing any nonfiction reviews for a while, and that’s a shame since I think there are a lot of materials out there which can inform romance readers and writers. One of the best books in this category that I’ve read in a while is Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau.

Prioleau, who has a Ph.D. from Duke University in American Literature and is a tenured professor at Manhattan College, wrote Swoon while a Scholar-in-Residence at NYU and her total immersion into this project is apparent. Using modern psychological research, biographies and interviews of actual renowned seducers, and examples from modern romance novels to illustrate what women actually want, Prioleau elucidates the features that the majority of these men possess which keep women enthralled. The romance reader will find many common themes in terms of the personality traits of their favorite heroes, but the romance writer can mine numerous ideas from the data and the examples she offers.

The Elements of Seduction, or Anatomy of a Seducer

Not exactly what you think you’d run to, ladies, am I right? Yet rock star Rod Stewart never had a problem getting women even prior to his immense success, despite his physical appearance resembling a legally blind electrician (which would explain the hair and the poor clothing choices).

Perhaps the most interesting point when analyzing men considered prime seducers throughout history is that appearance has absolutely nothing to do with it. Prioleau’s book is filled with snaggle-toothed, short, bald, paunchy examples of men who had women literally stowing themselves into closets and brandishing pistols at rival lovers. The men in question obviously had qualities that made them irresistible and, before you scoff, think about a modern man who – based on appearance – wouldn’t normally get the time of day. Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart anyone? Neither of them are tops in the looks department but there are other qualities (besides being uber-rich rock stars) that give them that panty-tossing quality.

While ladykillers don’t necessarily have all these qualities, they usually possess the majority of them and romance readers and writers will readily identify these common personality themes.

Cary Grant’s romantic character of cat burglar John Robie in the film To Catch a Thief demonstrates the “honor among thieves” morality necessary for the seducer.

Morality – Even a bad boy has some kind of code that he lives by, even if it’s an “honor among thieves” system he uses to model his behavior. When examining the behavior of Prioleau’s seducers, I didn’t pick out any one of them who wasn’t upfront about his love of and need for women, with several of them actually going the route of serial monogamy rather than the bedhopping associated with a true playboy or manwhore.

Another side of the morality coin is the display of kindness or benevolence. The proverb “No love without goodness” seems to readily apply here. Followers of this blog know of my love for the Regency series by Stephanie Laurens, the Cynster series, and my fellow fans will remember the book that was the prequel to the series, The Promise in a Kiss, which chronicled the love story of Sebastian Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives and thirty-something rakehell, who nevertheless possesses a network of secret female admirers, not because he bedded them, but because he helped them with either personal or charitable concerns with complete anonymity and discretion.

Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice might be stuffy and stuck-up initially, but Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t really doubt his decency. The turning point in her heart comes not from seeing the grounds of Pemberley, but hearing his housekeeper sincerely extol his virtues as a person and as a master. From a psychological standpoint, our desire for this expression of morality isn’t shocking; picking a potential mate should involve someone we think we can trust. Determining the nature of our partner’s character is clearly an extension of the desire to choose a man we can rely upon.

Casanova so won the loyalty of the women with whom he had affairs that he had medical care and comforts lavished him on his deathbed by past lovers who heard of his plight.

Courage – Prioleau cites the recent study indicating that women actually value bravery more than kindness in men. This could take a traditional expression in the fictional romance heroes who have jobs requiring this quality (like firefighters or military heroes) but it can also simply refer to a man’s ability to put himself out there and take risks while being uncertain of the reward.

In Swoon, readers are treated to several examples of men who were fearless in their pursuit of a certain women, to the point of what might be alarming to a modern woman. Renowned lover Giacomo Casanova (who actually was a serial monogamist who loved women rather the manwhore his name has become synonymous with) escaped jail, uncovered a woman disguised as a man, and seduced women from right under their husband’s noses. Women reciprocated by falling head over heels with such a bold man. Like Casanova, a man who would run across traffic to meet a woman who caught his eye, risking not only life and limb but possible rejection, is a potential mate who will brave enough to get anything a woman or her offspring might require.

French actor, the award-winning Gerard Depardieu, whose raw sexuality and charisma has women of all nationalities flocking to him. And yes, this was one of the best pictures I could find of him, so this charisma thing is damn serious.

Charisma – This point was one that had a whole section of the book devoted to it, and it’s really the essence of the whole cachet of the seducer, isn’t it? I’ve seen absolutely beautiful men who really don’t earn a second look because they are missing several of the qualities in this list, yet a man who is a beanpole with coke-bottle glasses and unbrushed hair can get every woman (and some of the men) in a room to sit up and take notice.

It’s charisma, that “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others” which seems to ooze out of the pores and scent the air of certain men. Case in point, French actor Gerard Depardieu who on looks alone could easily play a live version of Shrek with his almost ogre-like physique and facial features. Yet Depardieu has been in public relationships with six renowned beauties, fathering children with four of them. He has made no bones about having dozens more in his bed, crediting two prostitutes from his rough neighborhood who became his sexual tutors and taught him how to bring pleasure to women. Sitting in on an acting class with a friend in Paris literally turned his life around, as he brought all that raw energy to play in his career and in his love life.

Seducer actor Richard Burton and the woman he loved so much he married her twice, the stunning Elizabeth Taylor.

Knowledge/Intelligence – Real sparks can’t fly when someone doesn’t have a lot of “there” there, so intelligence, even if it is confined to one or two hobbies or passions, seems to be a must. If a guy has never cracked a book but knows engines inside and out, there’s a partner out there who is going to be enraptured because his interests match hers. An offshoot of this quality is that a true seducer plies his arts through conversation, which is clinically shown in studies to be a way to prime a woman’s pleasure receptors. Talking can literally be foreplay to women!

With that in mind, the timbre of a man’s voice also offers it’s own erogenous capability. Elizabeth Taylor, in speaking glowingly about Richard Burton, a man she was so in love with she married him twice despite their tempestuous, alcohol-ridden relationship, said that one of the sexiest things Burton would do to her would be to whisper – in that low, Welsh voice – erotic lines of love poetry as he worshipped her body. *fans self* Check, please!

Twice-married David Niven was a chronic womanizer who genuinely loved women, so much so that they found it easy to forgive his indiscretions when confronted with the full force of his personality.

Social IQ aka “erotic intelligence” – While actual intelligence is vital for true seduction, emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. This social dexterity gifts its Mensa followers with the ability to read people and adjust tactics accordingly to get what they want. As Prioleau states, “…we owe civilized behavior today to women’s preference throughout history for interpersonal finesse – empathy, rapport, and good manners – over brute physical prowess.” (p. 79) Whether it’s the “fine divination” expressed by early 20th century sexologist (and Margaret Sanger’s lover) Havelock Ellis, or the “eighth sense” possessed by actor Warren Beatty according to his lovers, real seducers have the ability to say exactly what is needed at a given moment in order to demonstrate they are in sync with the person in front of them.

Actor David Niven was purportedly a maestro at this. His ability to read people and respond accordingly not only opened numerous career doors for him, but had dozens of women enthusiastically pulling back the bedsheets. Arriving in Hollywood in the mid-thirties, his conquests included Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Grace Kelly and he remained good friends with them throughout their lives, even through their various marriages. He didn’t lack a tortured past, having been born out of his mother’s affair with a prominent politician (who she later married and who refused to acknowledge David as his real son in order to avoid scandal). His mother and “step”father sent the young David off to boarding school where he suffered brutal sexual abuse from an older boy, leading Niven to wrestle with depression throughout his life, a strong counterpoint to the bonhomie which attracted so many women. He always named his first wife, Primmie, as the love of his life and never fully recovered from her sudden death at the age of 28 from a fall in Tyrone Power’s house while playing a parlor game. Yet the combination of past tragedy and scintillating conversation led practically everyone who fell into David Niven’s orbit to be pulled toward him, including the many women, one of whom called him “as delicious as a French pastry.”

Renowned satirical writer Kingsley Amis charmed women on both sides of the pond into bed with his humor and lack of inhibitions.

A sense of fun – So many of Niven’s lovers named his “playfulness” as the key piece of his personality which drew them, and that sense of fun is routinely listed as a major attractant for women. While romance novels are certainly populated with the stoic, strong silent type of hero who needs to learn to communicate and have fun (and the heroine is just the person to help him), a growing percentage of leading men fall into a category of cajoling, occasional betas, who can be plenty strong when needed, but in the meantime can help a too-serious heroine, perhaps recovering from past personal difficulties, loosen up and enjoy life.

This approach has its roots in our early hominid past, as prehistoric men were prone to violence toward stepchildren (and modern statistics support this as a continued issue). “Playfulness, as psychologists Geoffrey MIller and Kay Redfield Jamison observe, is an excellent fitness indicator, denoting youth, creativity, flexibility, intelligence, optimism, and nonaggression.” (Prioleau, p 196) A man who makes you laugh makes you feel safe, listened to, and appreciated all at the same time and this quality is often shown as being a key piece in long-term relationships.

British novelist and poet Kingsley Amis was no great shakes in the looks department, but in 1950s England and America his lack of sexual inhibition and humor had women lining up to get him in bed. Even after he was married, his personality could and did charm women into going into the garden during a party for a quickie, but his personality was such that no one seemed to hold a grudge. Case in point, after his second wife died, his first wife and her husband were happy to take him into their house to live his final days. From the man who said, “Only a world without love strikes me as instantly and decisively more terrible than one without music,” it seemed that there were plenty of women who were willing to agree with him, presumably with a smile on their face.

According to his lovers, Rubioso Porfirio’s height was the only thing small about him (ahem) but it was his legendary lovemaking skills and utter focus on the sexual gratification of his partner that made him the poster boy for the 1950s playboy.

Sexpertise – If there is anything that a romance reader can tell you, it’s that the sex scenes in romance follow a specific formula, namely that the hero adheres to the motto “She comes first.” Our heroines never have to worry about whether or not an orgasm is on the horizon, whether it be in a bed, shower, or in the front seat of Porsche with the door open for leverage. Chances are she’s even going to have number two or three and the oh-so-elusive simultaneous orgasm as the man ejaculates, perhaps with him commanding her to come at just the right moment. Yowza.

Yet these “sexperts” exist in real life (I promise), namely in the form of men who love being with women. These seducers understand women are more than their clitoris (although that’s important, too), creating sensual environments of sexy conversation, couples’ baths, and kisses that last forever and turn the woman’s whole body into an erogenous zone (which the man then plays like an instrument).

Dominican diplomat and playboy Porfiro Rubirosa in his 1950s heyday could control himself indefinitely having mastered the art of semen retention (like his contemporary counterpart, Aly Khan) and his rather sizable package could supposedly “go for hours” guaranteeing his partner’s gratification. Despite his mere 5′ 8″ height, he seduced some of the most beautiful women in the world, including Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth, and Zsa Zsa Garbor, and married the two wealthiest non-royal women at the time, Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton. Seemingly the playboy model Harlequin designed its Presents line around, he was also a ranked polo player and a Formula One race car driver. His skill behind the wheel didn’t stop him from dying at age 56 from crashing his Ferrari, and women around the world went into mourning at the passing of such a legendary lover. Yet despite his bedding what could reasonably be totaled hundreds of women, he always refused to boast or speak intimately of his conquests, citing that it would be “ungentlemanly” to do so. (Cohen, 2002)

Former model Carla Bruni with her husband French President Nicolas Sarkozy. No he isn’t a step lower than her, he’s actually that much shorter.

Self-actualization – The ancient Greeks had it right when they espoused the philosophy “Know Thyself” and seducers can say the same. The most powerful ladykiller is one who truly knows himself, possessing depths to his character and confidence that naturally accompanies this understanding. Because so many of these men are also financially successful, the billionaire doctor playboy of Harlequin fame doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched. Yet women are far more likely to ignore material resources (particularly modern women who can support themselves) in favor of multi-dimensional men who can continually surprise and intrigue them. Benjamin Franklin was a lady’s man from his teenage days as a printer’s assistant in Boston to his septuagenarian years in Paris, charming French women out of their powdered wigs with his witty salon repartee, much to the horror of the Puritan-descended John and Abigail Adams.

Modern day lothario and former French president Nicholas Sarkozy conquered supermodel, singer and songwriter Carla Bruni with his intelligence and ambition, as evidenced by her comment to a reporter, “He has five or six brains which are remarkably well-irrigated.” Bruni is his third wife and he met and romanced her almost immediately after his divorce from his second wife. Unlike America where that would cause a scandal, in France this actually rose Sarkozy in the people’s estimation. Heck, they claim to have invented romantic love, so who am I to argue?

Modern Lady Killers

With this long list of attributes (and I only skimmed the surface of Prioleau’s list, which had several more additions with outstanding examples – past, present and fictional), who currently walks among us ready to take on the mantle of some of these renowned seducers?

All the women of his acquaintance were thrilled that actor Jack Nicholson worked past his premature ejaculation problem to become a renowned modern lover.

A name that shocked the heck of of me was none other than Jack Nicholson, a man who I don’t automatically think of when the word “seducer” is mentioned. Yet this moniker has undoubtedly been earned by this Hollywood actor, who started off life with a premature ejaculation problem. Going through years of psychotherapy, Nicholson confronted his demons and embraced a spiritual approach to lovemaking focusing utterly on the woman who he was with. Preferring women he harbors emotion for, Nicholson has learned how to massage women “into the mood” with lovers mentioning such romantic gestures as carrying them into bed and asking them for verbal feedback on what brought them closer to orgasm. His string of women do nothing but gush about his prowess.

Don’t let the hair fool you, actor, director and Twitter powerhouse Ashton Kutcher has hidden depths which the adoring women he seduces are happy to plumb.

Ashton Kutcher is a more likely modern ladykiller in terms of his appearance, but that same brand of boyish good looks leads people to underestimate this industry powerhouse. He embodies a personality component of successful seducers (versus the more shallow manwhore) in that he genuinely likes and respects women, a factor he attributes to his upbringing due to his close relationship with his mother and sister. He sees women as friends, equals and ultimately lovers and lives his mother’s directive to “treat women right, to take care of them, to respect them.”

Seduction Today

Yet men like Nicholson and Kutcher are the exception rather than the norm. Prioleau makes quite clear that modern men are at a loss when it comes to learning seduction techniques. No longer do we have a set etiquette of courtship as in past decades and the majority of men feel the lack of this structure. Spotty sex education, pornography, and callous pick up experts producing best-selling books are where the majority of young men are getting their “information” and it’s hardly edifying. Incorrect, unrealistic, and downright manipulative, this data results in the majority of men being adrift at how to express an interest in women or what techniques actually work to properly seduce women and keep them coming back.

“At a glance, it doesn’t seem like a season for romance; in fact, writes Maryanne Fisher in Psychology Today, there is none on the dating scene. Gone are the old rituals and rules, and in their place reign confusion, anomie, superficiality, and cynicism…Rather than grand amours, we have ‘cold heat,’ desire without passion, and plural, light attachments. Although an advance for sexual liberation, casual coupling, hookups, and turnstile partners have shriveled eros.” (p. 223)

Prioleau’s work has the potential for tremendous impact on helping writers and readers think about the would-be heroes in their lives (real or fictional) while also advancing the conversation about what truly constitutes love and seduction. Having enjoyed this book so much, I am eager to read its predecessor, Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and the Lost Art of Love (Penguin Books, 2004), but I have a feeling there will be similar themes of passion and charisma in the ladies featured in that volume.

In a world currently populated with pick-up workshops like those by Neil Strauss, author of the Rules of the Game, or the more straightforward and offensive, Bang: More Lays in 60 Days (which women should read simply to be on the defensive), it’s not exactly a miracle when men who truly love women and their pleasure stand out. Yet there is a flip side to the manwhore and it’s an obvious one. Unlike the romance hero who finds the heroine and changes his ways, the biographical details Prioleau shares of both famous people and her non-famous interviewees rarely have a happy ending. These are men whose hedonistic love of pleasure and intimacy has them going from one woman to another. It’s understandable given their outlook on life, but it’s nevertheless sad to read if you are someone who truly roots for a happy ending.

Like any book which sheds insight on the human condition known as love, Prioleau’s book opens a broad door, letting us see behind the facade of these ladykillers to understand what exactly makes them so irresistible to women. From history to psychology, from fiction to real-life examples, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them will leave your head spinning with understanding as to what truly seduces our senses.

Diane Alberts Adds To Her Take a Chance Series With Play Me

29 Jul

Play Me (Take a Chance #3 – Kiersten & Garrett) by Diane Alberts (Entangled, July 29, 2013)

I’ve made no bones in the past regarding my enjoyment of Diane Alberts’ Take a Chance series. The first two installments, Try Me and Love Me are heartfelt emotional rollercoasters that leave you a little teary and shaking when you finish the final page.

In Play Me, the sister of the heroine from Love Me is Kiersten Worth, who chose to take her nephew, Chris, when her other sister suddenly died.  It was a lot of responsibility at a young age, but she was happy to do it and thought she was creating a family when her boyfriend Pete asked her to marry him. That idea went up in smoke after she caught him and his skank secretary together. That incident, combined with a distant father and always dissatisfied mother has her giving up on love and happily ever after. She has decided to be content with watching her now middle school aged son play basketball, particularly when his coach is her long term friend and major eye candy, Garrett Kelly.

Garrett is a middle school math teacher and coach who works alongside his best friend, Mike Worth, Kiersten’s brother. Mike has been warning Garrett away from Kiersten since his crush on her in high school but it’s getting harder now that they’ve begun hanging out, even though it’s platonic. He’s accepted nothing will ever happen between them in his head, but his heart is saying something totally different, particularly with the waning of his string of one-night stands. When Kiersten comes onto him over drinks in her empty house, he assumes that she wants to try a relationship with him, ignoring the fact that this is the day she was originally supposed to get married to Pete.

girl-18918_640Kiersten is overjoyed that it was so easy to get Garrett to give her a hot tumble but she’s astonished when his pillow talk afterward indicates that he’s in this for something more than a friends with benefits night. It’s incredibly obvious how much she’s hurt a good friend, particularly when he lets her know that he can’t just hang out with her anymore and asks for some distance. Three months later, he’s annoyed to come home to his apartment only to find Kiersten in the kitchen making dinner. He tries to throw her out, telling her it hasn’t been long enough, but she brings his eviction to a screeching halt with the announcement that she’s three months pregnant – I wouldn’t be buying that condom brand again if I were her!

Garrett decides this is the opportunity he’s been waiting for. He wants a family and life with Kiersten and by insisting that he move in with her in order to be there for her, Chris and the baby, he has a chance to get just that. Lying to her that he’s over her and doesn’t want anything more is hard, but it’s the reassurance she needs to make it happen. It’s hard and awkward for them to be together but it’s all part of Garrett’s plan.

At 108 pages, this book in the series qualifies as a novella, and unlike the other two books which felt longer despite their length, this story felt rushed. Alberts employs three wonderful romance tropes – a relationship of convenience, the unplanned pregnancy, and best friends to lovers – but none of them work for me and that hurts because I love each one of them.

The problem was with Kiersten’s character – I completely understood how hurt she was from her fiancee’s betrayal but she was so inarticulate and cold that it was almost impossible to empathize with her decisions, even when I understood why she was making them. I honestly think that if she could have lost her temper at Garrett and showed some emotion toward him (something he could have seen as him making progress with her caring or cracking through her shell) that it would have made the astonishingly rapid progression from wariness to trust a little better. And was she actually pregnant? The real symptoms of pregnancy are a great way to establish intimacy, but there was no scene of feeling the first kick together, seeing the heart beat at the doctor’s office, Garrett desperately finding her a bathroom to pee in, or extreme horniness in the second trimester. Missed opportunities, since she seemed to have the easiest pregnancy the world ever saw.

Additional page time for small acts on Garrett’s part, actions which would have Kiersten expressing happiness and appreciation toward him, would have also bolstered his goals while showing her gently moving toward acceptance of the fact he wasn’t going anywhere. Why couldn’t he have heard her crying after another hurtful exchange so he could have gone in and comforted her, getting behind that wall of hers? Instead we got a rapid fire transition where she’s unable to tell Garrett how she feels, hurting him again, and she goes out and acts jealous but not enough for Garrett to realize what’s going on. Then we get a page-long speech from Kiersten about how she feels toward him, which he happily accepts. It’s a quick wrap up from that point with a satisfying epilogue and the set up of brother Mike as the next hero in the series.

Alberts’ writing is just as wonderful as always – it’s tight and conveys the internal struggle of her characters well. Entangled Publishing has managed yet another sexy cover which manages to showcase Garret’s balls connection to basketball, I can only imagine that Diane Alberts loves where readers have to look to check her author name!

When it comes time for Mike’s story I’ll certainly try it, but I’ve got to say that this story did not match the previous stellar installments of the series.

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of July 28th

28 Jul

Upcoming Books

The latest book in the steampunk series The Ether Chronicles by Zoe Archer and Nico Rosso is due out on August 6th and Skies of Gold is already getting great reviews from ARC readers. At only $1.99 for over 350 pages, steampunk readers need to be asking themselves why they haven’t pre-ordered this one already.

Jaci Burton, the author of the wonderful Play-by-Play series, now has the next book on her roster available for pre-order. Hope Flames will be the first book in her new Hope series, with a pairing between a damaged veterinarian and a K-9 cop. With a release date of September 3rd, I’ve already got this one both pre-ordered and in my calendar. Love the German Shepherd on the cover!

lethal pursuit copyKaylea Cross now has the third book in her wonderful Bagram Special Ops series available for pre-order and Lethal Pursuit looks to be another hot pairing from this military suspense maven. Coming out on September 16th, Cross is not only talented but affordable, so I’ve already ordered my copy, considering it $3.03 well spent.

 

Fun Stuff

Quirk Books has put together a pretend collection of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavors based on popular books, and it’s hilarious. You’ll find yourself wishing you could settle down with the latest release and a pint of “Berry Potter and the Container of Secrets.”

Amanda at Vampire Book Club has put together a short list of her favorite urban fantasy and paranormal beach reads that’s worth checking out if you’re wondering what goes with sunblock and your big towel this summer.

Fabulous writer Cynthia Eden is knuckling down to write a holiday themed novella and is polling her readers as to whether they want a romantic suspense story or a paranormal one. Vote on her Facebook fan page with your preference!

Romance novels are feminist works. Not sure? Listen to the podcast at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books where Sarah Wendell interviews two sociologists, Dr. Joanna Gregson and Dr. Jen Lois embarking on a research project focusing on the interactions of romance readers and writers.

One of the best parts about reading category romance is how totally ludicrous it often is. A good writer will help you suspend that disbelief, at least enough for you to immerse yourself in the the dirty goodness that is category, but occasionally you stumble across a “whaa???” novel. For a laugh out loud parsing of the missable Enemies at the Altar, take a gander at guest blogger and Ph.D. candidate Jodi from Book Thingo’s hilarious analysis. Make sure you pee first.

Did you know that Amazon sells refurbished Kindles of all types? I shouldn’t be surprised (I got my Macbook through Apple’s refurbished site and it’s wonderful and a great deal), but this is a great way for someone to afford that Paperwhite or Fire they’ve been eyeing for a while.

Great Deals

Writers and publishers are not giving up on these amazing bundles of books for a pittance (so you know they are helping sales). Loving the CEO is a great collection of five novels by different authors, all with the theme of breaking down the barriers of a business tycoon and finding love. Over 1000 pages for only $.99 and you get a romance trope in several flavors. Yum.

The always brilliant Tessa Bailey is offering the third book in her Line of Duty series, Officer Off Limits, for only $.99! You do not need to have read the other books to appreciate every word of this one, so trot over and buy this author who I cannot get enough of.

Harlequin is offering a motherload of great deals on a ton of their ebooks with participating retailers, with authors like Maureen Child, Cindy Spencer Pape, and Michelle Willingham having free or heavily discounted titles available. All of their various lines are represented, so go to their Facebook page to drool over the titles and see if there’s anything there that floats your boat. I made a note of the ones I wanted and then hustled over to Amazon to “buy” them at zero dollars. I love books like that!

Another great romance trope is the “bodyguard” idea (even that sounds sexy) and there’s now a bundle of five books covering this corner of romantic suspense. Once again, $.99 is a great deal even if you just end up enjoying one or two of them, so if you are like me and enjoy the idea of an oh-so-hot guy whose job is to…um…guard your body, you might want to check this out.

If you read this blog, you are more than aware of my love for sports books, so an ebook that contains the first book in three different trilogies is a terrific way for me to sample some new authors of the genre. V. K. Sykes, Juliana Stone and Jennifer Lyons offer both male and female (!) sports protagonists in their ebook bundle Play Hard to fulfill my need for a little healthy competition. And yes, it’s only $.99 for 550 pages.

Have a super week reading!

Lucy Monroe Brings Quality Shifter Romance to Medieval Scotland in her Outstanding Children of the Moon Series

15 Jul

Moon Awakening (Children of the Moon #1 – Lachlan and Emily) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, 2007)

The other week, I kvelled in my review of the Enthralled anthology, noting that not only was Meljean Brook’s latest Iron Seas novella, Salvage, utterly amazing, but also that I was pleased to have found a few new authors to enjoy. One of them was Lucy Monroe, a versatile doyenne of the romance world who has mastered the art of category romance, pulse-pounding romantic suspense, and historical paranormals that tug on your heart strings.

I fell in love with her Children of the Moon novella, Ecstasy Under the Moon, in the anthology, promptly hunting down the rest of the series and devouring them in a couple of days. This series forms a nice counterpoint to the more modern shifter series I love (like Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley or the hilarious Pride series by Shelly Laurenston).

Set in medieval Scotland, a murderous betrayal hundreds of years earlier has alienated the many shifter groups known as the Chrechte from one another. While the bird shifters, the Ean, have retreated deep into the forest, the wolf-shifting Faol have integrated with human clans, leading and defending them while keeping their nature a secret from all but their families. The cat shifting Paindeal have disappeared and are usually spoken of as myths among the remaining shifters, but rumors exist they have taken refuge in the Northern lands beyond the ocean. All know that change is coming, whether they want it or not, and that their future depends on their actions.

Note: Each one of the full-length novels exceeds 300 pages, so this is accordingly a long post! I’ve bolded each book name to section it up in case you are just looking for information on one particular book, but it’s meant to be read as one post since I attempt to demonstrate how Monroe connects the books and the larger story arc in the series.

Moon Awakening – Book 1 (Lachlan and Emily)

In Moon Awakening, the English daughter of a Baron, Emily Hamilton, is horrified to discover her stepmother’s scheme to marry Emily’s deaf younger sister Abigail to some Highland laird at the behest of a king bent on punishing her father for his penury in sending tribute. She volunteers herself in Abigail’s place and, after a long and dirty journey, finds herself in the Sinclair holding surrounded by downright hostile clansmen and a laird, Talorc, who doesn’t even look at her. The only friendly face is the Sinclair’s sister, the pregnant and widowed Caitronia, who explains that not only was her brother forced into this betrothal by the king but that the entire clan experienced the betrayal of Talorc and Caitriona’s stepmother, a grasping Englishwoman whose adultery resulted in an attack on the keep years ago and the death of clan members. Oh boy.

Talorc and Emily are oil and water – she at one point yells at him in perfect Gaelic that he’s a goat in front of the entire clan – and he naturally refuses to marry her. As Caitronia and Emily get ready to bathe in the loch while discussing her difficulty, they are surrounded by men not wearing the Sinclair plaid. These warriors are Balmorals and their laird, Lachlan, is incensed at one of his clanswomen turning up mated to the Sinclair blacksmith. The Faol follow Chrechte rules of mating and she was either kidnapped off Balmoral territory or she willingly went with her mate, who still should have sent an official request for mating to her leader.

Lachlan might worry about his duty to guarantee his race continues, but his wolf knows that he only wants Emily.

Lachlan might worry about his duty to guarantee his race continues, but his wolf knows that he only wants Emily.

Either way, it’s cause for retribution and the Sinclair’s sister and the woman who claims to be his English wife are the perfect hostages to force his hand. That the feisty Englishwoman has a delectable scent that makes Lachlan want to rub all over her in his wolf form is just something he’ll have to deal with, particularly since there is no way he would take a human as mate and risk his future children being unable to shift. One look at his angry older brother who is human and it’s obvious that this tension can tear families apart.

Monroe does a terrific job laying out the traditions and rules of the Chrechte, particularly the constant tension of humans and wolf shifters living cheek by jowl. Forbidden to discuss their nature, the Chrechte masquerade as elite warrior families, with many humans never understanding that their friends and neighbors can change form. Emily is confused by the use of the word “mate” but thinks that Caitriona’s stunned and reluctantly affectionate behavior toward Lachlan’s second-in-command incorporates strange Highland traditions. She’s a loyal friend and a brave woman who – when faced with the shifter’s secret – can only find wonder in the process and profound hurt that her being human means that Lachlan is willing to deny the tie between them.

That tie is stronger than she thinks. While unusual, the idea of “true mates” is introduced in this first novel in the series, specifically as a phenomenon which can happen to a couple strongly attracted to one another. After they engage in the physical act of mating, sometimes a lucky pair will be able to speak to one another in their thoughts and human/shifter couples who are true mates can produce offspring. Because of the constantly small numbers of the Chrechte, producing children is of paramount importance, hence the reluctance to take humans as mates since there is no guarantee of the “true mate” bond. Lachlan seems like a prize compared to Talorc’s hostility yet this laird has a wellspring of insensitive behavior, even while he knows that he has a profound connection to Emily. Caitriona’s secondary romance is brilliantly executed, highlighting prejudices between the clans as well as the men’s reluctance to acknowledge the perspective of the perceptive women and/or humans.

Moon Craving – Book 2 (Talorc and Abigail)

Moon Craving (Children of the Moon #2 – Talorc and Abigail) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, 2010)

With Talorc Sinclair’s acceptance of both his sister’s mating to a Balmoral and that of his betrothed marrying Lachlan (which was a huge relief to Talorc, I’m sure), the stage has been set for him to finally acquire a mate, and he does in Moon Craving. 

It’s three years after Emily went north and got married to a Highland laird, but her original intended is still unmarried. The king is not happy that the Hamilton family hasn’t fulfilled his wish in producing a daughter to solidify this alliance.

Abigail lost her hearing after a fever years ago and it was only through the efforts of her older half-sister Emily that she was able to function in the household, learning to read lips and speak in a modulated voice so no one would know her affliction. The church teaches that the deaf are cursed by God and there would be many in their community who would possibly kill her as a result. Worse than that threat is that Abigail’s mother has had nothing but animosity for her lovely daughter who she now deems incapable of making a good match.

Abigail doesn’t want to marry a stranger but her father insists after her mother beats her severely for having an opinion. He convinces Abigail that Emily will not be far, and if her husband and she don’t get along, Emily and her husband will be happy to have Abigail come live with them. Comforted by that fact and desperate to get away from her mother, Abigail agrees. The family travels to a neutral Highland location and waits for the Sinclairs to arrive.

Talorc is no more thrilled to marry an Englishwoman than he was three years ago, particularly the sister of the shrew who is now the Balmoral lady. But in the Sinclair clan, a rigid code exists that wolf shifters do not have full sexual intercourse until they are ready to take a permanent mate; this morality comes with a price as most Faol wolves cannot control their shift until after they have had this intimacy. Talorc is descended from white wolves and as a result has always had control of his shift since he was young, but even he realizes he would be willing to share himself with someone who could be a true mate, he just doesn’t believe she would be English.

That opinion changes quickly when he sees and smells the lovely, gentle young woman who has so clearly been beaten. Both Talorc and his wolf want nothing but to protect her and get her back on their land as quickly as possible, and he uses the journey toward his keep to be one filled with various levels of intimacy with his new wife, who seems ready to like Talorc and his first-in-command, the scarred warrior Niall. Quickly finding a strong connection between them, Talorc takes her to the sacred caves on the Donegal land he just inherited and walks her through the Chrechte mating ceremony, wanting their union to be a spiritual one of his wolf people as well. While Abigail successfully hides her deafness, so too does Talorc hide his wolf nature from her. Mating does constitute a good enough reason to share the secret, but after his father’s disastrous mating to an English human, one who betrayed the clan and their treasure to her lover, he wants to grow to trust Abigail before taking that final step.

White wolves can control their shifting from the start, unlike grey wolves who need sexual intimacy to develop that same control

White wolves can control their shifting from the start, unlike grey wolves who need sexual intimacy to develop that same control

It becomes apparent that they are true mates and yet, fearful of letting Abigail know that he is a wolf, Talorc does not mind speak her, not until they find themselves in a dangerous situation and she doesn’t react to his yelling at her to run. Realizing her infirmity, he tests her hearing back at the keep and feels horribly betrayed, as do his warriors, at her hiding this part of herself. (Pot calling kettle – he stills hasn’t mentioned his propensity to turn into a wolf periodically, FYI.) Treating her coldly, Abigail is devastated at Talorc’s distance, yet realizes how freeing it is to not have to hide who she is. The Highlanders don’t share the opinions of the English about the deaf, and the majority of the clan actually thinks she’s damn clever for hiding it so well. When Emily comes to visit with her husband and young daughter, it’s Abigail’s turn to feel betrayed as her sister is horrified that Talorc still hasn’t told Abigail about the Chrechte nature of his people. Emily remedies the gaps in her sister’s knowledge and much of the confusing behavior of her husband and his soldiers is finally understood.

It was heart wrenching to see Talorc and Abigail – who were off to such a great start trusting and bonding with one another – fall apart with the various lies each felt they had to give about key pieces of themselves. It’s so apparent that they love one another tremendously, but I still feel that Abigail forgave Talorc way too easily. It’s one thing to forgive him for not telling her about the wolf shifter piece (although he still should have done it) but to not mind speak her AFTER you discover that she’s deaf seemed like a cruel move to me. The romantic subplot in this novel was wonderful – Talorc’s first in command Niall is actually in love with the male senschal of the keep, a human, and almost loses him to jealousy and sheer male idiocy. I loved their characters and the fact that Monroe accurately shows the fact that wolves (like humans) do develop same sex relationships. Not what you expect from a medieval Highland novel, but very welcome!

Moon Burning – Book 3 (Barr and Sabrine)

Moon Burning (Children of the Moon #3 – Barr and Sabrine) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, 2011)

Niall’s unscarred twin, Barr, is the hero of the third book in the series, Moon Burning, which introduces the concept of other shifter types. Whereas we have clearly seen the prejudice against humans in the previous novels, the profound prejudice of some wolves toward other shifter species, particularly the Ean or bird shifters, comes to light in this one.

Talorc Sinclair has sent one of his best warriors to his newly acquired Donegal holding with the express purpose of whipping the group into shape while also training the young Circin, the hereditary leader of the clan. The previous laird has let his corrupt nature and abuse of the inhabitants run the clan into the ground and Barr has the onerous job of reestablishing order while still dealing with the deposed laird and his cronies sowing dissent at every turn. While taking a group of Chrechte Faol out for a training hunt, Barr finds himself abandoning the quarry to run after a new enticing scent. He discovers a naked, injured woman in the forest who calls to him like none other and brings her back to the Donegal keep despite his feeling that she is something more than she seems.

Sabrine is a raven shifter, bearing the glossy blue-black hair and dark eyes of her kind. After her parents death at the hands of one of the many wolf murderers who hunt her bird clan, she abandoned her royal duties and trained as a warrior. With the theft years ago of their sacred stone – necessary for the coming of age ceremony where extra abilities are endowed on the Ean to help their people – the Ean have made it a priority to acquire it back now that some of their small numbers are nearing this life transition. Suspicions are strong that it ended up in the Donegal clan and Sabrine must do whatever it takes to get it back. Her royal younger brother is next in line for the coming of age ceremony and as he would be king of their people, his abilities are of paramount importance.

Sabrine did not anticipate being shot out of the sky by one of the stupid young wolves accompanying the new Donegal laird. Pretending she hit her head and cannot remember the details of how she got in the woods, Sabrine successfully masks her raven scent (one of her abilities) and appears solely human, although it seems as if the wolf in charge is not exactly buying her memory loss. He still takes her back to his keep, and specifically his room, showing no intention of letting her go. Barr also makes clear from the get go that there is something deeper between them than mere attraction and rather easily makes the mental transition of taking this mystery woman as mate.

While there are many types of bird shifters among the Ean, ravens are actually defensive protectors and cannot bring themselves to kill for anything other than self-defense.

While there are many types of bird shifters among the Ean, ravens are actually defensive protectors and cannot bring themselves to kill for anything other than self-defense.

While Barr is wonderful in his relentless pursuit, Sabrine gets a little tiresome in her protestations that they can’t be together. While she doesn’t come out and state explicitly what she is doing there, Barr is able to put most things together and her Ean legacy is apparent after two half-wolf/raven shifters in the clan are outed. Sabrine is a great person, a protector and warrior desiring justice who helps the people around her, even wolves, but her emotional scars and the fact that she knows she must find the stone and return to her people make her feel that any relationship with Barr is doomed.

The secondary romance between Barr’s second-in-command, Earc, and Verica, the half raven/half wolf shifter and clan healer, was great (her brother is Circin, who is also a raven/wolf shifter, and will be the next Donegal laird after Barr deems him ready). This plot line did its job of highlighting the different perceptions wolves harbor of the Ean – some were trained by their families and clans to fear and hunt them as inferior shifters while others thought of them as wonderful myths deserving of great respect and an integral part of Chrechte history. Developing the reader understanding of the Ean is important as the political issues of this world and time period expand. This world-building takes place alongside the hot romance between two incredibly well-matched individuals (even if one of them is too dense to realize it for most of the book – Sabrine!). Seeing the many Donegal clan members damaged by the previous laird’s reign is particularly gut-wrenching and there is at least a happy future for a few of them.

Ecstasy Under the Moon – Novella 3.5 (Bryant and Una)

Enthralled – an anthology of novellas by Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Meljean Brook and Lucy Monroe (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Since I’ve already done a review for this particular story, I thought I would focus on a few of the pieces of it which connect this tale to the larger world and which lays more foundation for the next two novels. In the Enthralled anthology novella Ecstasy Under the Moon, it’s been a few years since Sabrine and Barr returned the Ean’s sacred stone to the people. Sabrine’s brother Taran, having taken the royal name of Eirik, was gifted with a dragon form in addition to his raven one and now rules the Ean with an eye toward the future. His grandmother is the spiritual leader of the clan who has had a vision that the various Chrechte tribes must become integrated in order to survive the upcoming years.

To that end, Eirik has reached out to the various wolf tribes, asking for good wolf warriors willing to come and live among the Ean as the first of many steps toward accomplishing this unity. When timid golden eagle Una hears of this she is appalled and frightened – she has lived a sheltered existence since an attack by Donegal wolves (who were actually using her torture to induct new members into their secret Fearghall society, a shifter-style Ku Klux Klan bent on proving all other shifters inferior and killing them for sport). She hasn’t even spoken to the golden eagle shifter Lais who moved to their village three years ago when Princess Sabrine brought him from the Donegal clan.

Golden Eagles are a lovely rich brown color, just like Una’s hair.

Bryant is an extroverted wolf from the Balmoral clan who believes strongly in the reintegration of Chrechte. He was thrilled when the Ean resurfaced as his ancestor was a dragon/raven shifter and the family kept tales of the Ean alive in honor of her. One whiff of the shy Una perched in a tree along with several meetings of the two of them on the spiritual plane of their dreams and he knows they are sacred mates. Getting Una to see the light is going to take some work, however, particularly after hearing of her torture. But through Bryant’s perserverance and Una finding the bravery she possessed before her attack, they find their way to each other, forging a new link for the future of the Chrechte world.

Dragon’s Moon – Book 4 (Eirik and Ciara)

Dragon’s Moon (Children of the Moon #4 – Eirik and Ciara) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, September 2012)

I would strongly encourage you to read the previous novella. Not only is it a beautiful love story but it offers an ideal transition to the next book in the series. Dragon’s Moon shows us a Chrechte people both changed and unchanged from previous books. Eirik is even older than in the novella and has finally come to the decision that he must give up his royal title and encourage his people to move to the safety of the Faol wolf clans to ensure their survival. While his grandmother and spiritual leader heads to his sister and her mate’s Donegal keep, Eirik decides to bring a group of bird shifters to live with the Sinclairs. Accompanied by his good friend and golden eagle healer Lais (formerly of the Donegal clan), they arrive at the keep eager to help their people integrate, while keeping Eirik’s dual nature – that of a dragon/raven shifter – secret. The dragon form is a special gift which sometimes occurs in the royal line and is meant as a protection for the Ean people.

Someone living with the Sinclairs already knows Eirik’s secret. Ciara is a wolf who grew up in the oppressive Donegal clan, where her father and brother both bought into the prejudiced spoutings of the previous laird. Denigrated by her family because she was not a boy, Ciara was nevertheless a curious child, plagued from her earliest years with prophetic dreams. One in particular – that of a large green stone which would give its power to wolf shifters – was of special interest to her brother. He took a young Ciara and a friend to look for it, telling her to hide while they scouted the territory. She ignored his order just in time to see his violent friend begin to persecute two little Ean children…right before a gigantic red and black dragon literally opened fire and reduced her brother and his companion to ash.

Having lost her mate before this, the death of Ciara’s brother is the final straw for Ciara’s mother and she commits suicide leaving Ciara alone. Her new laird Barr decides to move Ciara to the Sinclair holding where she will have fewer horrible memories and she is adopted by the Sinclair laird Talorc and his gentle, deaf wife Abigail. Ciara decides to close herself off from any attachments and emotion, but everyone can see her regard for her adoptive parents and the twin boys she treats as brothers. But the wolf stone invades her dreams, giving her little sleep and preventing her from eating, and this along with her avoidance of strong emotion worries her family.

Ciara is a sweet wolf attempting to hide her caring nature in the vain hope she won't love again and feel the incredible pain of losing the people who mean the most to her.

Ciara is a sweet wolf attempting to hide her caring nature in the vain hope she won’t love again and feel the incredible pain of losing the people who mean the most to her.

A reaction from her more than makes an appearance when Eirik arrives. Ciara is so startled by his presence walking across the keep’s drawbridge – he causes her to actually feel something – that she tumbles from her precarious perch on the West Tower right into the arms of the dragon shifter that killed her brother. She makes it clear where she knows him from and Eirik is not pleased to be reminded of the horrible day he first killed as a dragon.

Despite this troubled first meeting, he is called to the little wolf female even while denying to himself what that calling might actually entail. Eirik’s high handed manner infuriates Ciara, yet she can’t deny that he sees her in a way no one else does. He becomes an unexpected ally on the quest to find the wolf stone and it isn’t long before the two of them claim one another as true mates, awakening feelings of happiness they each thought they would never feel. The joy is important as Ciara’s visions and that of other seers portend a huge threat to the Faol and to the Chrechte as a whole, one that will take all the couple’s efforts and that of the wolf stone to help their people survive the upcoming centuries.

I adored this couple, the story line, you name it! This book represents a turning point where we finally begin seeing the bigger picture in terms of the larger story arc present (and Monroe has done an excellent job with it). Past characters are present and wonderful, yet the reader is never bludgeoned with too much of them to distract from the present story. Our secondary romance in this book is that of Lais the golden eagle healer, who still believes his disgrace when he was young and with the Donegal clan to prevent his fully claiming his lovely mate, the sweet Mairi MacLeod, a seer like Ciara. Ciara actually found the pretty MacLeod after the young woman managed to make her way to Sinclair land against all odds after being beaten and left for dead by her father, Uven, the laird of the MacLeods. He takes Chrechte prejudice to a new level, attempting to kill Mairi for being born a human (he killed her human mother, his true mate, because she was not a  wolf). The MacLeods are now primarily all Chrechte wolf shifters, with humans killed or driven away while the clansmen hunt Ean for sport. There is great world-building in Dragon’s Moon and the MacLeods are vital to understand for the next book in the series.

Warrior’s Moon – #5 (Shona and Caelis)

Warrior’s Moon (Children of the Moon #5 – Caelis and Shona) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Because of my acute discomfort with reunion stories, I almost didn’t read this book. Monroe is not shy about dishing out the emotional pain in her previous novels and I wasn’t sure I could take the premise of true mates separated, particularly with a child involved. But Monroe’s outstanding writing in Dragon’s Moon had me believing that she would make this right for me, and my instincts proved correct. Warrior’s Moon was tied with Dragon’s Moon for my favorite book in the entire series, so I’m glad I knuckled down and bought it!

Shona left the MacLeod clan in what could only be painful circumstances. She had given her heart and body to Caelis, a young warrior who wooed her with tales of true love and the promise he would marry her. When she went to tell him of her suspicion she was pregnant, he informed her the baby could not be his and that he never wanted to see her again. The despotic Uven, who had always influenced Caelis since his parents’ death, actually fired Shona’s father from his seneschal position, leaving the family no choice but to move to England. Once her parents discovered Shona’s pregnancy, their disappointment hurt her even more, and her father forced her to marry an English baron.

Five years of torture later and that baron’s death has set her free. Taking her son Eadan, her young daughter Marjory and her friends, the twins Audrey and Thomas, Shona has made her way back to the Highlands in the hope of seeking refuge with distant relations in the Balmoral clan. Exhausted, she halts at the Sinclair holding and is shocked and horrified to see none other than the man who betrayed her, Caelis, standing in the courtyard.

Caelis first ignores the English group that just arrived until he realizes that the ravishing beauty in the lead is none other than his true mate, Shona. The MacLeod laird duped Caelis into denying his true mate, convincing him that the lovely human was not the sacred partner he thought she was. Since he could only impregnate her if she was his true mate, he repudiated her pregnancy, denying the truth that his wolf and heart was trying to tell him. He has lived in pain ever since, particularly after the evil Uven told him she had died, but the fact that he could never be excited by any other woman told him more than the lies he heard on a regular basis. Captured and rehabilitated by the Sinclairs, Caelis has spent the past years understanding how he has violated the most sacred Chrechte code. He rushes up to Shona only to be confronted with a little girl in her lap calling her mother. Shocked and hurt he turns and looks into the spitting image of himself as a young boy, and faints dead away.

Caelis and Shona are an incredible couple, but young wolf shifter Eagan steals the show for me.

Caelis and Shona are an incredible couple, but young wolf shifter Eadan steals the show for me.

It’s not often that the hero faints in the first few pages, but this romance defied all my expectations in the most amazing ways. Shona has been honed by fire having to accept another man into her body, and for all that she is human, her reactions to a man other than Caelis are truly that of a true mate, although she has no idea what that is. Caelis clearly wants her back and attempts to tell her of Uven’s treachery, but Shona has a backbone of steel and she is not about to cave to Caelis’ desire to be a family until she hears him accept responsibility for his choices and prove he deserves her trust. Perhaps most illustrative is the horror directed toward Caelis when the Sinclairs realize that the sweet little boy Eadan (a seer who knows of his wolf nature and who is real father is) is Caelis’ son – the warrior acutely feels the disgust and dismay by a group of people who know the sacred mate to be sacrosanct.

The love story is outstanding, made even better by the presence of the children, both of whom Caelis immediately accepts and loves as his own. Caelis (and Shona’s friends Thomas and Audrey) have to come clean about being wolf shifters, causing Shona another pang of betrayal with such a large secret being kept. The wolf stone comes into play again, since through it Caelis has received the gift of the true werewolf shape (a huge powerful wolf/man feared in battle as a protector for his people).

Dethroning Uven and taking back the MacLeod clan is Caelis’ ultimate goal but he has a journey ahead him before he understands that Shona and his children are more important and he needs to show them just what they mean to him. The secondary love interest between the English Audrey (a secret English wolf who knows little of her heritage) and one of the tough Balmoral wolves is wonderful and I cannot wait for little Eadan to grow up and claim his heritage as a seer and warrior. He already knows his fate lies with saving a Paindeal priestess and since I’m dying of curiosity about that elusive cat shifter group, I am looking forward to reading his book!

Final Thoughts on the Children of the Moon Series

I really felt that this series filled a gap for me. I love shifter books (totally buying into the “true mate” idea) but while I revel in the modern ones, I wondered about the challenges of a shifter society in an older time period. Monroe’s ability to run a strong, sometimes gut-wrenchingly emotional love story alongside a secondary love story which helps illustrate major story points is an incredible skill that I appreciate. The series’ story arc, not readily apparent in the first couple of books, was revealed in such a way that I could see the careful planning and immediately began appreciating as a reader all the places it could go.

Monroe doesn’t hesitate to bring her characters forward in time, linking them together enough to let us see past couples but always in a meaningful way that forwards the plot – you never get the thought that someone is inserted just for the sake of a cameo. Secondary characters and villains are well-developed for more than antagonistic properties and the world-building never feels heavy or forced. I did notice some complaints in reviews about Monroe’s dialogue, which is more extensive than other writers and often utilizes a peppery back-and-forth style between the hero and heroine. I think this style of bickering appropriate to several of her couples (she doesn’t do it with the others) and never felt that it was too much or detracted from the story. The sex scenes are sensual and emotional (and hawt!) and always, always illustrate the strong and developing connection between the couple.

There is a lot to love in the Children of the Moon series and I consider myself a dedicated fan of the series who will now faithfully pre-order any book associated with it. Shifter fans, be aware that Lucy Monroe is a force to be reckoned with.

Stephanie Feagan Brings Heat to the Romantic Suspense Novel, Out of Control

9 Jul

Out of Control by Stephanie Feagan (Entangled Suspense, June 24, 2013)

I think it’s a testimony to the unique voice of author Stephanie Feagan that she can make Out of Control into a page-turning romantic suspense novel I can’t put down, despite my usual dislike of romance novels written in the first person.

It’s a device that makes me crazy, and I only tolerate in YA literature or in the hands of really, really talented writers. Luckily Feagan is one of those, capable of drawing such a strong female lead in the character of Blair Drake that I was happy to go along for the ride.

Blair Drake is a woman in a man’s world, working as an engineer inspecting oil rigs all over the world and putting out fires. When a rig she just inspected gets blown up while she’s in the air headed home, she’s horrified and despairing, worried for both the lives lost and the fact that she’ll be blamed for not catching the problem. That is, until her bosses let her know that the rig is one of several within the company that have all gone up at the same time. But who could possibly want this to happen?

Russian Oil Rig - Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Russian Oil Rig – Public Domain Image via Pixabay

When mystery man and new employee Nick Robichaud are thrown together to figure out what’s happened she immediately gets nervous. Nick is sex on a stick but having to deal with her slimy ex-husband, a suspect in the fires, is a good reminder of the need to protect herself. Yet the case just gets bigger and bigger until Nick and Blair are in the Middle East trying to stop a potential world conflict with oil at its heart.

Not only is this a well-written book but it’s downright smart, rich in detail about an industry I really couldn’t envision prior to reading Out of Control. Told solely from Blair’s standpoint, the reader cannot help but admire her brutal honesty about herself and how she is a disappointment to her refined Southern family. She has never sought to dumb herself down to become Miss Alabama and instead works effortlessly with rough and tumble guys to ride the adrenaline wave she gets from her job. When she realizes that she’s getting the same high being around Nick is where things get complicated.

I probably would have loved Nick even more if I had heard his POV as well, but the fact is he’s more than loveable through Blair’s eyes, too. Never taking no for an answer, he strikes the right balance of helping her and giving her the independence she needs, which is how you know long before she does that they are meant for each other. Since Stephanie Feagan has written YA literature, where first person is almost a given, as Trinity Faegan (note the sneaky vowel switch), I’m guessing her comfort level in inhabiting the head of one of her characters might have pushed her to make this choice. She makes it work!

The lower sensuality level of this novel did come as a surprise (all the Entangled books in my Kindle app – and there are MANY – are pretty spicy!) but was still well done. It was fun, sweet and straightforward, just like Blair. The secondary characters of her terrific bosses and Leslie the hard-nosed reporter were all excellent, with villains that literally make your skin crawl. The Southern setting and characters are true to form without ever crossing the caricature line, which I appreciated since this region has so much to offer romance readers when we aren’t being bludgeoned with crazy dialect or cowboy boots and hats galore.

I greatly enjoyed Out of Control and look forward to reading future romantic suspense from this excellent author. I’d love to see who Leslie ends up with! 🙂

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