Tag Archives: Sourcebooks

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 7, 2013

8 Dec

Upcoming Books and Recent Releases

Tracey Devlyn, whose Nexus series combines amazing historical romance AND romantic suspense, debuted the cover of the fourth book in that series, entitled Latymer. Not available until early January 2014 and worse, not available yet for pre-order (!), this volume represents Devlyn’s personal journey to continue to her series without her previous publisher of Sourcebooks, and I’m damn glad she decided to continue it (and it looks like Avon picked up the series for its digital line – woohoo!). The snippet she included in her newsletter (check out her website to subscribe to it) shows us our hero is a lord with a son he loves determined to ferret out a spy, something he should be quite good at considering his previous work for the Foreign Office. At the mercy of both French and British authorities who want him dead, I have a feeling that Nexus is going to have to help Lord Latymer and his son, and I’m guessing it might be a female spy (perhaps one he knew before?) who is going to lend a hand. Cannot wait!

Jill Shalvis is beloved by contemporary romance fans everywhere, particularly for her Lucky Harbor series. Those readers will be pleased to note that she’s just announced the 9th full-length novel, Once in a Lifetime, will be published on February 11, 2014 (oh, ho! Just in time for Valentine’s Day) and will star the tortured soldier Ben McDaniel and the “trouble with a capital T” Aubrey Wellington who is trying to set her life on the right path with Ben the perfect person to help. Okay “helping” him might involve a bit more with such a hot, brooding guy but making amends involves getting a little dirty, doesn’t it? Pre-order it for a great price ($5.40 right now for the paperback edition!) right now.

Tawny Weber just released her Christmas novel, Naughty Christmas Nights, this past week, which brings together two excellent things – Christmas and lingerie. When two people attempt to land the sexy underwear account for a major department store, rivalry is a natural outcome. But Hailey’s Merry Widow lingerie line is all about playfulness and sensuality while Gage Milano wants out of his family’s business so he needs to prove it’s all about sex, period. Is the heat between them simply lingerie induced, or is their more this holiday season? Things are certainly heating up…

Also released this week is the novella in Katherine Ashe‘s The Prince Catchers series, Kisses She Wrote, about a scandalous earl who discovers that a wallflower’s diaries are filled with the fantasies of him kissing her, and he’s damn intrigued. This holiday season might be filled with wishes granted if they both can surrender to the potential between them. At only $.99, this novella belongs in everyone’s present pile!

Contests and Giveaways

Adrianne JamesThe Enlightening (Book #2 in the Mackenzie Duncan series) is part of a package available for you to win via your Goodreads account. The Tempering (Book #1) is actually also included in paperback edition as well as some lovely Adrianne James swag to celebrate the series. Featuring a Harvard freshman, Mackenzie Duncan, who is attacked by a wolf and changed against her will, this series deals with the aftermath of her change, with book 1 showing the sinister underbelly of the pack who welcomes her with open arms and book 2 illustrating that life on the run with two werewolves who both want to win your heart can be more complicated than it sounds. Enter before December 9th for your chance to read this series for free!

S. E. Gilchrist, the science fiction romance author of Dark Warriors fame, is offering a giveaway in honor of the 1st anniversary of her first publication, including such prizes as gift cards and books from her backlist, so go check it out and join in the celebration and enter before the 23rd of December to see if you could have a little something extra in your Christmas stocking. Congratulations, S. E. Gilchrist!

Category romance fans who like their millionaires of Russian extraction and their princes remote bastards waiting to be melted by the right woman will want to be sure to enter the giveaway for Kate Hewitt‘s The Prince She Never Knew, a Harlequin Presents about an arranged marriage that could become something much more, bundled with Kholodov’s Last Mistress, about a scarred wealthy Russian completely ensnared by an innocent American tourist, so much so that he tries to push her away only to realize that he needs to get her out of his system. Submit your entry before December 11th to win.

For readers who love their small-town romances near the ocean, you’ve probably already read and loved Rachel Herron‘s Cypress Hollow Yarn novels, but in case you haven’t gotten to the fourth book of the series, Cora’s Heart, or you’ve been wanting to dip a toe into this series, it’s available via a Goodreads giveaway if you enter before December 13th. With the heroine a farmer who has lost her mother and husband to the point where she tries to plan everything in her life, a hero – her late husband’s cousin and the man she loved before – is bound to mess up her agenda, particularly when he has a plan of his own.

It’s hockey season and people know how much I love Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, so I’m naturally looking forward to the February release of her next novel, Melting the Ice. About a fashion designer whose brother suggests she use her college flame, now a hot NHL player, to showcase her latest creations, I’m going to enjoy seeing this successful player prove to his former girlfriend that he’s changed for the better. The best news? I might be able to win a copy early (and so could you) by entering the Goodreads giveaway before December 13th.

Another upcoming book you could win an early copy of is the eighth book in Shayla Black’s Wicked Lovers series, Theirs to Cherish, which isn’t due to be published until March 4, 2014. This BDSM romance has an element of romantic suspense threaded through its sensual tale as the heroine is an heiress who has been on the run for years, finding Club Dominion the perfect hideout. She’s fallen in love with the club’s Master but when her plan to make him jealous with a Dom who wants her submission backfires and she finds herself falling for two men, she ends up endangering her heart along with her life when a killer comes calling. Enter before December 13th to win!

Ranae Rose just published the fourth book in her Inked in the Steel City series, Abiding Ink, but fans of tattooed heroes and heroines can win a copy if they enter the giveaway before December 15th. Perfect for the holiday season, this story centers on a tattoo artist who volunteers in a hospital ward and the hot nurse who doesn’t want to fall for him, but can’t help herself, even when it makes her want to run away. Gimme!

Fun Stuff

Take a look at the great video clip from Popular Romance Project featuring an interview with Princeton postdoctoral fellow, An Goris, a wonderful Dutch woman who went from failing English as a 15 year old to writing analyses about romance fiction, a turnaround she largely credits to her love of Nora Roberts, at the time more available in English than in Dutch. Guess who is her featured author of her dissertation?

Did you know that category romance doyenne Caitlin Crews has been releasing a new Presents novel, His Wife by Christmas, chapter by chapter on Harlequin’s website…for free? That’s quite a Christmas present – use your Send to Kindle app (which can be installed in your browser’s bookmarks) to get it on your e-reader if you prefer reading on that screen.

Great Deals

Best-selling author Cynthia Eden has the first book in her Purgatory series, The Wolf Within, currently on sale for $.99 (and free for Prime members who want to have it as their loaned book for this month). FBI Agent Duncan McGuire is committed to defending the world from monsters as part of the Bureau’s Para Unit, but when he survives a werewolf’s attack only to begin to change into a monster himself, he’s more than horrified. He fights tooth and nail not to have Dr. Holly Young be the one assigned to care for him – the attraction between them is fierce and his feeling has only intensified with his body’s changes, and she’s the last person he wants to hurt. Except that Holly has been hiding her own differences, but their situation is about to get even more complicated as the monsters circle around them, and it’s unclear if their new feelings for one another can survive the onslaught.

Mary Jo Putney‘s Lost Lords series is hugely popular, so historical romance readers who would love one of her book in ebook form or who simply want to sample her writing should run and grab Loving a Lost Lord, currently only $1.99 on Amazon. This novel, the first in her series, has everything a historical romance reader could want – a duke, amnesia, a fake marriage, and two very sexy protagonists – so grab it now!

Since readers of Mary Jo Putney are often also fans of Sabrina Jeffries, cross-over readers will want to check out What the Duke Desires, the first in her new series, The Duke’s Men, currently down to $1.99 on Amazon. With the overarching theme of a disinherited younger son of a viscount who opens an investigative agency with his illegitimate half-sister Lisette, the first book focuses on a duke who receives word that his older brother, presumed dead after a kidnapping, might still be alive, and traveling with Lisette posing as his wife reveals much more than information about his long-lost sibling.

It must be the season for discounted historical romance, as Lorraine Heath‘s final installment in her Lost Lords of Pembrook trilogy, Lord of Wicked Intentions, is also on sale for $1.99. A lord who has been on the run since he was young escaping a nefarious uncle determined to rob him of his birthright and a young, innocent woman who is the illegitimate daughter of an earl is a recipe for a satisfying romance, particularly when the lord in question makes her his mistress and she’s determined to have all of his love.

In time for the holiday season is the paranormal deal of Selena Blake‘s novella, Fangs, Fur and Mistletoe, currently free on Amazon. The first in her highly rated Mystic Isle series, set on an island which is a playground for paranormal creatures wanting to relax. When a vampire meets up with the hunky werewolf who was her enemy a century ago, her sexual drought is just about to end, especially when the werewolf in question realizes he has a chance with the blue-eyed temptress he hasn’t been able to forget over the decades. It’s free, people!

Laura Griffin‘s suspense novel, Twisted, the fifth book in her Tracers series, is also only $1.99 right now and fans of romance fiction featuring police and FBI protagonists need to hustle over and grab it. A lovely rookie police officer in a small Texas town worries that the case that seems like it’s tied with a bow isn’t all that it seems, an instinct confirms when a handsome FBI profiler appears with new information. But just when it seems they are in hands distance of catching a killer, the hunters may become the hunted.

Have a great week and happy reading!! 🙂

December Read-a-Thon: You’ll Want Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait by Grace Burrowes On Your Mantle This Holiday

6 Dec

Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait (Windhams #8 – Jenny and Elijah) by Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca, September 24, 2013)

Grace Burrowes has a quite a following as a historical romance writer and rightly so. Her attention to historical detail, highlight warm families and caring friendships, combined with a profound sensuality in her writing win over readers in all her books, but none more so than the stories of the Windhams series. Perhaps a rarity in the world of Regency romance, the Windhams series actually has as its focus an extremely happy Duke and Duchess who married for love, not convenience, and who wish to see their enormous brood of sons and daughters sharing the same type of marital bliss.

In Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait, the eighth book of this successful series, some challenges to this endgame become apparent. Genevieve (Jenny) is the final unmarried Windham and it’s obvious everyone is frustrated by the arrangement. Jenny is tired of being the maiden aunt passed off from one relative to another since propriety forbids her to simply stay at home in the ducal mansion surrounded by dozens of servants lest her virtue come into question. This is a shame considering that Jenny is an extremely talented artist mouldering after seven seasons and suffering the demands of a well-meaning but troublesome family. When famous portrait painter Elijah Harrison literally appears on her sibling’s doorstep in inclement weather Jenny’s elated to see him. Again.

You see, Jenny actually wanted instruction so badly that she posed as a young man and snuck into one of London’s premier art classes where Elijah was posing in the nude, so Jenny has seen him in the altogether…and Elijah knows it. Elijah is also more than a portrait painter on the rise. He’s also Lord Brentwood, the heir to a Marquisate who left his loving family over a decade ago after an argument with his father, swearing he wasn’t going to return until he was elected into the Royal Academy. He didn’t realize that the road to critical acclaim would be this long, nor necessitate so much time away from his boisterous siblings and loving parents, but pride will not let him accept less. With the commission to paint Jenny’s two nephews, Elijah can finally add the final piece in his portfolio, a portrait of children in order to showcase his range and hopefully gain admittance to this illustrious insitution.

The Royal Academy of the Arts, London. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

But there are a few problems. The first is that Jenny is the most beautiful creature Elijah has ever seen and he adores the way she casts propriety to the wind in order to seek information about their shared craft. Her desire to escape her life and go to Paris where they have far more liberal ideas of educating female artists is admirable even as Elijah worries for both her safety as well as feels a wrench at the thought of her leaving the country. The second, slightly more ominous obstacle, is that Elijah isn’t the slightest bit comfortable with painting children. Yikes.

There is a solution. Jenny for all her talent is one of those aunts everyone dreams of having, her love of her nieces and nephews apparent at a glance. In exchange for Elijah sitting at night for her and giving her critiques of her work, Jenny agrees to help him during the day with his two toddler subjects. What grows between them is a shared passion encompassing both art and one another, yet Elijah’s self-imposed exile from his family combined with Jenny’s ambitions and emotional reticence toward anything resembling marriage will provide a barrier their new feelings may very well not be able to surmount.

Okay. My mother (who I trust implicitly when it comes to romance recommendations) has told me for quite some time that I was going to enjoy Grace Burrowes and she was, as usual, completely right, a condition that must grow tiresome for her since she experiences it so often. I was most impressed by Burrowes absolutely correct voice – never does she have a character say or phrase something in tones or language that wouldn’t be appropriate for the Regency period. The frequent lack of attention to this area is something that annoys me tremendously with most historical romance writers (etymology is enough of an interest that I cringe when I see a character use a word that literally did not exist yet) but I usually let it go because to use the more formal language of the period can place a barrier between the modern reader in their enjoyment of the story. Not so with Grace Burrowes – her language choice not only placed me right in the period but also lent a glamour to the characters’ feeling for each other, since their burgeoning love and sexual fascination was rendered in such careful, period tones. I loved that juxtaposition!

I also appreciated that the main focus was on the issue that Jenny deserved a career as much as anyone else with talent, and that it took a little while for she and Elijah to iron out his manner toward her so that it didn’t smack of condescension (this felt period appropriate to me as well). For fans of the series, the frequent appearance of the numerous couples from the preceding seven books in the series is a delight but anyone who would like to begin with Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait (as I did) should have no difficulty keeping everyone straight. If anything, you’ll find yourself ordering copies of the preceding books (ahem) since you’ll want to know more about the well-drawn characters from this particular novel. When even the dogs and cats are well-written, you grab that author with both hands and don’t let go!

Needless to say, I got the best holiday present, namely a great Regency romance but also a wonderful new author to explore. Did I mention the paperback is a perfect size for a Christmas stocking? Think about asking Saint Nicholas for this wonderful novel for your Yule season this year.

Happy reading!

The Mystery of Laurie McBain, Author of the Classic Historical Romance, Wild Bells to the Wild Sky

24 Apr

One of the best things about living in the age of the ebook is seeing classic romance authors find a new audience with rediscovered backlists, usually with modernized covers. When I was on the Sourcebooks website shopping around the other day, I was thrilled to see some books of Laurie McBain featured (Devil’s Desire and Moonstruck Madness, both classics), although not the one I would love to get in ebook form, Wild Bells to the Wild Sky.

I loved Wild Bells to the Wild Sky ever since I snuck it off my mother’s romance novel shelf and the book holds up extremely well even with a modern light shining upon it (I wish I could say as much for some other authors). The book takes place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and focuses on some very sexy privateers scoring points against disgruntled Spanish sea captains and getting rich in the bargain.

The book has the flavor of a 1980s historical in that it houses a sweeping plot covering decades with plenty of famous historical figures popping up throughout the pages.

Wild Bells opens with the sea voyage of her majesty’s privateer Geoffrey Christian, who is sailing his stunning Spanish wife and adorable little girl, Lily Francisca, to Hispaniola in the Caribbean in order to reunite his wife with her estranged family. Flashbacks illustrate that Geoffrey Christian stole his biggest prize when he boarded the Spanish ship carrying his wife and her family to Spain to conclude an arranged marriage for the beautiful spitfire. She was more than happy to run away with him and, despite her father disowning her, she has been happy in her marriage and loves her little red-headed daughter and sexy husband.

The original cover of Devil’s Desire from 1975.

Queen Elizabeth, realizing the opportunity as her lady-in-waiting fulfills a familial duty in visiting a dying mother in Spanish territory, decides to send along Sir Basil Whitelaw, an intellectual and court advisor who also happens to be Geoffrey Christian’s best friend. While Basil doesn’t enjoy leaving his wife and son behind, he reluctantly takes on this duty, with this cerebral man finding himself quite talented at the spy business. While on the island, he and little Lily both spot English traitors and Basil realizes they must return to England in order to alert the Queen to treachery.

But Geoffrey Christian has made enemies among his wife’s relatives, particularly the ones he’s stolen from while on the high seas, and their ship is set upon while still in the Caribbean. In an effort to save his family, Geoffrey sends one of his sailors to carry Basil (who needs to be kept safe to give his message to the Queen) and Geoffrey’s wife and daughter to a nearby island, with the express instruction to row them out to one of the Spanish ships when the battle is over. The sailor, hearing his captain’s boat sinking, goes to check for survivors and is never seen again. Basil and the women are stranded on the island.

Flash forward to a young Lily, her brother Tristram and little sister Dulcie all living alone on the island. Lily is beginning to get curves and become a woman (she’s around 12 or 13) and she and her siblings are savvy about living well in the wild. Tristram is Geoffrey’s son since his mother was pregnant with him when she was shipwrecked, but little Dulcie is Basil’s illegitimate daughter. To the children, it was understandable that these two wonderful people would have loved each other and created a family after Geoffrey Christian was killed, but things are about to change.

The change comes in the form of Valentine Whitelaw, Basil’s younger brother and also a privateer trained by none other than Geoffrey Christian who considered him a friend and promising sailor. Valentine is a captain now, also in favor with the queen and the lover of the fair (and slutty) Cordelia Howard. A sailor has been liberated from enforced slavery with the Spanish and carries the tale of bringing passengers safely off Christian’s boat. Before he dies, he manages to get this information to Valentine, who goes off in search of his brother and ends up finding the children. Through deception, he captures them and brings them on board, and all the children eventually begin to love and trust him.

When the Splendor Falls, the final novel of Laurie McBain, published in 1985, after which she retired at the young age of only 36.

The love goes rather far with Lily, who first resents Valentine and later develops a huge crush on him. The children are all fish out of water back in England where it’s cold and they can’t swim every day. None of them know how to live like the gentry they are, Tristram is not considered Geoffrey Christian’s son and heir since there’s no proof, and little Dulcie is almost taken away from her siblings by Basil and Valentine’s sister who sees the little girl as the last bit of Basil left on earth. Basil’s wife and son handle the situation with a tremendous amount of class (she’s remarried in the meantime, so it’s kind of a relief that Basil is dead, as much as she loved him). Lily is presented with the evidence that Valentine is in love with Cordelia, who is a humongous bitch to everyone but men, and realizes that he will always see her as a little girl, never returning her love for him.

Flash forward again and Lily is eighteen. The children are in a sucky living situation with an exploitative relative who is technically the heir and their guardian and who disgustingly has the hots for Lily. A series of events has the children and their trusted retainers believing they killed their guardian, so they flee into the night with the help of a sexy part-gypsy. He helps them become entertainers so they can hide under the radar and make their way to help. Valentine happens to be home from a voyage, goes looking for the missing children and ends up finding Lily, who he doesn’t recognize since it’s been years since he last saw her. One look at this stunning redhead and he falls head over heels in lust with her. She’s crushed he doesn’t recognize her and is planning on cluing him in, but not before some pretty passionate kissing and groping is exchanged. The remainder of the novel is about going back to the island to discover evidence Basil left behind and uncovering the traitor to the Queen who has lived all this time thinking he got off scot-free. Oh, and Valentine realizes that Lily is exactly the woman for him, falling in love with not only her beauty but her intelligence, loyalty, and pluck. Her streak of wildness left over from the island is the perfect compliment to this privateer, although it takes a little while for him to convince her fully to that effect.

I cannot tell you how much this book kicks butt! McBain’s writing is pitch perfect – her main characters are gorgeous but flawed human beings you root for, her secondary characters are so three dimensional you end up thinking you know them in real life, and her historical sense of time and place clearly has a ton of research to back it up. Her plot is intricate and tight, with all subplots sewn up and just the right amount of conflict. She’s an amazing writer who, back in the bodice ripper days, wrote sassy heroines who were not too stupid to live (just a little naive) and heroes who were not complete alpha dicks like so many of the 1970s and 80s male leads. Her love scenes are plenty hot, even by today’s standards, and highly emotional.

So who on earth is Laurie McBain and where did she go?

Laurie McBain’s official author photo from the 1970s. She looks like she’s about to burn her bra but instead wrote some of the hottest selling romance novels of her day.

Most of the blog posts I’ve read use Laurie McBain’s official wikipedia page to indicate her oeuvre of seven historical romances, all of whom were New York Times Best-Sellers. In the “Paperbacks” article in the New York Times Book Review article from February 1977, Moonstruck Madness was outperforming Stephen King’s Carrie and Children of Dune by Frank Herbert.

The first mention of her in the context of her success occurs in a 1975 NYT article on the latest paperbacks. Under the top ten ranking (Devil’s Desire is under Jaws by Peter Benchley and Fear of Flying by Erica Jong to give you a sense of what other books were being published at the time), a gossipy on-dits column mentions Laurie as a newly arrived wunderkind from the San Bernardino Valley who spotted a notice in Writer’s Digest magazine that Avon publishers were accepting manuscripts from unagented writers. She had read Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower and couldn’t find anything else quite like it, so she decided to write her own book along those lines (“Ah, Romance! It Sets” 29).

The real genius was the Avon publishing house, still a powerhouse in the world of romance, who was trying something new for the time. “Avon, it seems, has been having extraordinary success with original romantic novels written by quiet homebodies, promoting them with the vigor usually reserved for big-name authors. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers, have each published two novels for an average of more than 1 million copies” (“Paperbacks: New and Noteworthy” 295). Avon’s visionary editor was Nancy Coffey, who was credited with setting the trend of publishing “epic historical romances” the size of doorstops from unknown authors (“Ah, Romance! It Sets” 29).

Dark Before the Rising Sun (Dominick Series #3) by Laurie McBain (Avon, 1982)

They were obviously clever to snag McBain who, according to the article, did months of research into the time period and sent her manuscript to Avon a year after seeing the Writer’s Digest blurb (“Ah, Romance! It Sets” 29). Six months after that she received the notice that the book was accepted for publication with only minor revisions and then received one copy of the 510,000 books Avon placed in bookstores all over the country. By 1977 what some male chauvinist pigs were calling “the hysterical romance” was an entire subgenre taking the best-seller list by storm. Its graphic sexual content often caused it to receive the moniker, “erotic historical romance” which sounds strangely familiar today (Walters 206). By 1980, the New York Times reported McBain had bought a beach front home in Carmel, California and was busy outlining her next novel (which was probably Dark Before the Rising Sun) (Walters BR7).

Wild Bells to the Wild Sky would follow (1983) and finally When the Splendor Falls (1985) with McBain showing her facility in a variety of historical time periods (British regency and the American Civil War were popular in the 1980s). But then her writing came to a screeching halt. Her Wikipedia page says that after only seven years of writing, her father’s death caused McBain to end her career and no more novels were published.

If this is the case (and I can’t find any evidence one way or the other, although there are still a few databases unmined), it’s incredibly sad, as she was a fresh, talented voice who stood out in her field. The good news is that many of her books have withstood the test of time (and are available used inexpensively) so you can still make sure you have McBain’s work on your bookshelf.

Take a walk back in time and enjoy the writing of Laurie McBain. It’s my hope she is living a happy life at that beach house in Carmel, and fully understands what a gift she gave romance readers with her excellent novels. Thanks, Laurie!

Works Cited

“Ah, Romance! It Sets Hearts Aflutter, Cash Registers Too.” Chicago Tribune 13 Nov. 1977: 29.    ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

“Article No. 9 – No Title.” New York Times 27 Feb. 1977, New York Times Book Review: 239. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

“Paperbacks: New and Noteworthy.” New York Times 27 Apr. 1975: 295. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

Walters, Ray. “Paperback Talk.” New York Times 3 Aug. 1980: BR7. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

– – -. “Paperback Talk.” New York Times 19 June 1977: 206. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

Kathryne Kennedy’s Enchanting the Lady Not Worth the Updated Cover

1 Aug

I remember having a conversation with my mother years ago about how we hate it when publishers reissue covers. Most readers are very visual when remembering books they’ve read, picturing a distinct cover. There is nothing more crushing than picking up what you think is the latest Nora Roberts novel, only to get it home and realize after 20 pages that you read it years ago.

Updating covers are a great idea, however, when the original covers are either extremely dated (think Fabio-esque bodice ripper cover) or just plain suck (we all remember my rant about the great Midnight series from Lisa Marie Rice and how I think those covers devalue a classic romantic suspense trilogy), but publishers need to be careful the public doesn’t think you’re either a) snowing them into buying books they’ve already read or b) trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The Fire Lord’s Lover (#1 The Elven Lords series, Dominic and Cassandra’s story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, 2010)

When I saw that Sourcebooks, a company who states as part of their mission a firm commitment to promoting each author in their stable, had a “new” Kathryne Kennedy book, I was pretty psyched. After all, her fantasy/alternate history romance, The Fire Lord’s Lover, was hands down the best fantasy romance novel I read last year. I adored Dominic, the half-breed bastard son of the evil Elven Lord, who had learned to control his emotions out of necessity. His father had tortured and killed anyone who Dominic ever cared for, so when he marries Lady Cassandra, a human with no apparent Elven traits, the passion between them is a shock for them both. Particularly for Cassandra as her marriage of convenience is actually the excuse for a suicide mission for the Rebellion since she is a trained assassin bent on killing the Elven Lord. Great couple, awesome world building, lots of unexpected twists, happiness as a reader ensues.

Except that the series didn’t really keep up its momentum for me. The two subsequent books focus on other couples supporting the rebellion and possessing specialized traits that enable them to fight the evil Elven Lords. But while I was being told that Lady Cecily and her champion Giles were falling for each other in the second book, The Lady of the Storm, I never really saw it (although I liked them both). The world building still held me, so I decided to keep plugging away and bought the third book, The Lord of Illusion, direct from Sourcebooks.

The Lady of the Storm (#2 Elven Lords series – Cecily and Giles story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, August 1, 2011)

At which point I became uber-pissed and the top of my head flew off. This third book in the series takes place 50 years after The Fire Lord’s Lover, which is fine, particularly since everybody seems long-lived, but there’s a big, pink elephant in the room and it’s going rogue. You see, there are seven Elven Lords to defeat and with three books, I’ve only read about three of them. Not a huge problem, except we meet all the other couples who have stolen the magical scepters, undermining the Elven despots, and hear peripherally about their adventures, but I’m not getting the whole story here. And then Kennedy wraps the series up and solves the problems.

Um, what?! Did Sourcebooks renege on the other books so Kennedy put out the last one? I can’t imagine after reading how the whole world solves its problems we’re going to have other books in the series, and I guess since neither of the subsequent two were anywhere near as good as the first one that’s okay, but I’m not thrilled with having everything tied up with a bow for me. People, don’t introduce a zillion characters when I’m never going to get their stories. So not okay.

So I was disgruntled (to say the least) about the Elven Lords series not living up to the potential of the first book in the series (which honestly is so good that I reread it every couple of months). This made for ripe fodder when I saw Sourcebooks was reissuing Kennedy’s Relics of Merlin series and that the first book, originally published in 2008, Enchanting the Lady, was coming out in August.

The Lord of Illusion (#3 Elven Lords series – Camille and Drystan’s story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, February 7, 2012)

But I’ve stopped hoping that any of Kennedy’s books will live up to my favorite. Enchanting the Lady has a very cool premise. Fulfilling a gaslight craze (maybe the reason Sourcebooks reissued it?), the book is set in an England in which magic is an accepted fact of the aristocracy, to the point that you can’t inherit an estate without it. The only nobles looked down upon are the class of baronet since they are shapeshifters who can see through magic and are self-appointed protectors of the crown.

Felicity Seymour is used to being invisible. Her looks aren’t anything worthy of notice, she’s an orphan set to inherit a big estate, but the only problem is she can’t. She didn’t inherit any magic from her parents so she has no dowry to attract a husband. After the public humiliation of her magical failure in front of the court to so much as light a candle, she knows she’ll have to rely on the largesse of her aunt and uncle and obnoxious cousin.

Terence Blackwell, baronet and werelion is astonished that no one seems to notice the stunningly beautiful Lady Felicity when she comes for her magic test in front of the Prince of Wales. The only problem is that she smells like the dangerous relic magic that took his brother’s life and that Terence is committed to hunting down. The relics place the crown in danger and he’s sworn to give his life to finding them. When the opportunity presents itself to court Felicity and discover if she’s a traitor, he’s all too willing to do it. What starts off as a lie rapidly becomes the truth as he falls for her, but will her fragile emotions and new self-confidence withstand the knowledge of his betrayal?

Enchanting the Lady (the original 2008 cover)

This book should have been amazing – alternate history/gaslight with a vibrant England populated with magic users and shapeshifters combined with the mores and clothes we love about historical romance. The plot device of dangerous relics left over from the time of Merlin ties in a very English story idea, but the book sadly suffers from the same complaint as the second and third book in the Elven Lords series. Two great characters but there is a lot of declaring feelings without a greater demonstration of why those two people are falling for each other. I loved Terence and Felicity both (particularly Terence when he was giving into his lion instincts of crowding and marking Felicity) but why are they into each other again? It seems like mostly chemistry – maybe if she showed a little more chutzpah with her obviously evil and magic sucking relatives, I might have seen what Terence clearly saw in her.

So here’s the thing. How I can I recommend a full price reissue of this book with the snazzy new cover from Sourcebooks, when you can buy the exact same book with a decent cover on it for a pittance used on Amazon? It’s a fun read, but not one good enough to exhort you to buy full price. This is a library check out or used book purchase for sure. Now The Fire Lord’s Lover, on the other hand, is totally worth a full price purchase and it’s got used paperbacks aplenty available! This book is a reasonable paranormal romance but failed at enchanting this lady.

Sweet Romantic Fairy Tale: Reissue of Thoroughly Kissed by Kristine Grayson

31 May

Thoroughly Kissed Book 2 in the Fates series by Kristine Grayson (June 1, 2012, Sourcebooks)

It’s an interesting phenomena in romance when publishers reissue books. As a reader, I think it generates a love/hate relationship – love, if the book was great to begin with and it’s hard to get a hold of or hate, if the author is so prolific that you end up buying a book you’ve already read because the cover looks so different and you’re desperate to read anything by that writer. With a lot of publishers purchasing author backlists, usually for ebook reissuing, this is becoming more of a landmine, but the good news for readers is that we benefit from more great books on the market.

Prior to getting a copy of this novel from NetGalley, I hadn’t read anything by Kristine Grayson, the penname for the prolific powerhouse of Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Rusch has published dozens of novels and short stories in various genres, particularly in the area of fantasy fiction, so paranormal romance definitely seems like a natural fit for her Kristine Grayson persona.

Thoroughly Kissed is the second in her Fates series, succeeding the story, Utterly Charming, but it’s totally feasible to read them independent of one another (a fact I was happy to discover a couple of chapters into this novel). Utterly Charming was the story of Prince Charming in the Sleeping Beauty tale, who is now a 1000 year old magician living in modern times as a cutting edge chef. He has guarded Sleeping Beauty’s glass coffin for all that time but when she awakes he has lots of problems, not the least of which is the fact that he is attracted to the lawyer he hired to help him with this situation. Moral of the story: really pay attention to prophesies since you’re not always interpreting them correctly.

In Thoroughly Kissed, Sleeping Beauty, who has taken the name Emma Lost, has managed to forge a life for herself in the last 10 years, including becoming a highly successful history professor whose expertise on the Middle Ages has landed her book deals and television interviews. She’s incredibly content with her life at the university in Madison, Wisconsin, with her lovely house and crazy cat and when men fall at her feet from her beauty she just ignores them – they never really see her, after all.

But in just one day, everything changes. Emma inherits her magic (which she is supposed to get in a few years, but it seems her 1,000 year sleep made it come a little faster) but she has no mage nearby to train her and things are getting a little out of control. Part of that loss of control is the arrival of her new department head, Michael Found, who thinks Emma is a shady academic who doesn’t know the first thing about the Middle Ages. She’s bowled over by his incredible good looks and simultaneously put off by his condescending attitude while he fights his attraction to her beauty and intelligence tooth and nail.

Original cover of Thoroughly Kissed (March 1, 2001, Zebra Contemporary Romance)

When her temper gets away from her and she zaps them both (temporarily) back to the Middle Ages, Michael confronts the idea that magic isn’t just a subject for intellectual speculation – it’s very real. Emma needs someone to accompany her to get to her mentor for training since tradition says she has to make the journey without magical assistance, but she’s kept everyone at a distance. After all, the last time she let someone close, she got kissed and fell into an enchanted sleep.  It’s enough to make anyone swear off relationships.

Michael realizes that his ordered existence has to be temporarily put on hold while he accompanies Emma from Wisconsin to the Pacific Northwest, with her (completely hilarious) cat. They face a series of adventures on this lengthy car trip, some magical and some not, but all revealing more about each of them as they fall for one another.

This is a sweet romance – lots of longing but no kissing until the end and a behind the bedroom door ending. In actuality, the original cover, while dated looking, is a better demonstration of the sensuality level of the novel. I love the new cover, particularly the castle in the background and the dreamy fairy tale quality, but I think bare chests indicate a much racier level of sensuality, so that’s a bit misleading. (The first book in the series also got a nice reissue and it’s much more accurate since the male figure has a shirt on.)

The best compliment I can give this romance is that I started off not really liking either character and experienced a complete turn around by the end. Michael was seriously uptight and quite frankly, really rude about not agreeing with Emma’s academic approach, and she flipped into a testy, stressed personality with the onset of her magic (this was a little more understandable). I usually don’t enjoy sweet romances that much but I felt Grayson did a great job of character development to the point that I really found myself unable to put down the book. I’m not sure I will read the other books in the series, but I will be adding these to my library as they are ideal for a young adult audience.

Series Review: Elite Force Series by Catherine Mann Is the Best Balance of Romance and Suspense

21 May

So often, the problem with romantic suspense is that it usually leans one way or the other – either the book is primarily romance with a token suspense plot thrown in to keep the conflict going (and you can see the resolution or villian a mile away) or it’s a killer suspense plot with only occasional smooching or a tossed in smoldering look. Either scenario, the reader is left feeling a little crankypants for the book not living up to her expectations.

Catherine Mann’s books will not leave you crankypants.

In fact, speaking as someone who has read (according to my Goodreads account) over 50 romantic suspense novels in the last couple of months, I think Catherine Mann is one of the few authors on the market who has the perfect balance of romance and suspense in her books, particularly those in her Elite Force series.

A major reason for the strength of her writing is Mann’s familiarity with her material. A military wife of many years, Mann’s husband is an airman, a detail which lends a great deal of veracity to her writing about pararescuemen. In a world of vague allusions to SEALs and special forces, it’s a pleasure to have the details of training, weaponry and large equipment sussed out with such authority. Based on how smoking hot the love scenes are in her books, I’m guessing her marriage is a pretty happy one, too!

Cover Me by Catherine Mann (July 2011, Sourcebooks)

In Cover Me, Pararescuemen Wade Rocha and his team are stationed in Alaska, ready to respond to just about anything. When they receive a call that some people are stranded in the wilderness, they head out to an Aleutian Island. While other team members rescue a couple of hikers, Wade spots another hiker in a different area and jumps down to help.

The only problem is, Sunny Foster really doesn’t need Wade’s assistance. In fact, she’s as competent in the wilderness as he is, a fact he quickly realizes with more than a little chagrin. But they are stuck with each other as Wade is stranded until his team can come back for him, and when he gets a good look at how beautiful Sunny is under all her gear, he’s willing to not have an immediate extraction.

Sunny fights her attraction for the great-looking pararescueman who seems as kind as he is competent, because she has a lot to hide. There’s a reason she is such a terrific wilderness guide – it’s her job to escort departing members of her off the grid ecological community from their sequestered existence to civilization. She knows, all too well, that there are people in her isolated town with good reason to not come to the attention of authorities and Wade constitutes an authority.

When the two of them stumble across a crevasse filled with the dead bodies of the people Sunny has previously helped and bullets start flying, Wade and Sunny realize that they have stumbled on something that endangers them both. Wade knows that there’s no way he’s leaving her alone and Sunny wants to stay with him, even harboring a secret that might make him leave.

What had me reaching for the next book in the series was not only Mann’s page-turning writing, but the fact that her female characters register pretty high on the badass scale. Sunny is amazingly competent and a strong match for Wade, despite her untraditional upbringing. The love scenes are outstandingly hot but emotionally intimate, and you’ll find yourself snapping at loved ones who attempt to interrupt your reading for such mundane topics as financial questions or “what’s for dinner?” inquiries.

Hot Zone by Catherine Mann (December 1, 2011, Sourcebooks)

Mann also deserves major kudos for her fully fleshed out minor characters. Not only does she lay the foundation for future books by focusing on a couple of other squad members who are bound to have  stories themselves, but she always includes a subplot (in Cover Me‘s case, Sunny’s sister and the man she’s been in love with for years) of a couple who are also brought together in the same timeline, having their own bumps along the road to happily ever after. The fact that she can do this and manage to not detract from the larger story is nothing short of tremendous.

In Hot Zone, our wonderful pararescuemen, now stationed in Florida, are coming to the aid of victims of a big earthquake in the Bahamas, but they don’t find an island paradise. Master Sergeant Hugh Franco is crawling through rubble to a trapped woman with a baby. Captivated in the dark and dust by a beautiful pair of eyes and brave soul, Hugh finds himself drawn to a woman in a way he hasn’t been since the loss of his wife and child years ago. He’s acquired a deserved reputation for being an adrenaline junkie with a death wish, but suddenly there is something else, a lot more frightening, he’s running toward.

Lawyer Amelia Bailey is terrified and in a lot of pain but is managing to keep it together for her newly adopted thirteen month old nephew fitfully breathing alongside her. When the gorgeous pararescueman arrives to save her, she chalks her startling feelings of attraction up to the situation and his kindness. She’s sworn off relationships after her cheating ex and, right now, her focus is on the new baby and finding her brother and his wife. As Hugh and she find reasons to see each other in the disaster zone while searching for her new nephew’s parents, what’s between them grows rather than diminishes. When Amelia finds herself and her nephew in mortal danger from an unforeseen enemy, Hugh faces the knowledge that this is one woman who he will not let go without a fight.

When I say this book is heart-stopping, I mean it. The scenes of Amelia and Hugh trapped in the rubble with aftershocks happening around them as the toddler’s condition worsens had me stopping reading to go gulp a glass of water and control my nerves. While Amelia is not the survivalist Sunny is in the previous book, she has her own brand of bravery that is incredibly appealing. Our secondary couple is Amelia’s brother and sister-in-law who, despite being in the Bahamas to adopt their son, are going through some serious marital problems. We get to see their journey to resolution while also getting a peek at the burgeoning romance between Major Liam McCabe and the sassy canine search and rescue worker who intrigues him.

Under Fire by Catherine Mann (May 1, 2012, Sourcebooks)

Because of my love for Liam, I was ecstatic when I discovered that the third book in the series would focus on him. Liam and his overwhelming attraction to Rachel Flores, the canine search and rescue handler in Cover Me, was a subplot that I enjoyed as much as the main couple. In Under Fire, Liam is still smarting from six months of unreturned phone calls to Rachel, who has clearly decided that the thrice-married and divorced Liam is too much of a risk.

Liam has always known he falls in love too easily and for the wrong reasons, and right now he’s trying to get Rachel Flores out of his mind and heart and concentrate on his upcoming retirement. His 38-year-old body has taken way too much punishment and it’s beginning to put up a major protest. When he gets into his jeep after an exhausting training session, he’s astonished to find Rachel huddled in the back, her arm around one of her rescue dogs. Her terrified expression kicks him into protection mode and he hustles her back to his place to find out what’s going on.

Rachel knows she doesn’t resemble the confident rescue worker who attracted Liam months ago. The earthquake burned her out and she has since turned to using her animals to help former military personnel suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). One of them confessed to her that he had overheard treasonous information on his last assignment, but when she champions his cause and tries to get this shattered man’s information taken seriously, she finds herself under attack. With no one to turn to, she knows that Liam is the one person she can trust, if he can stand seeing her again after she’s ignored him all these months.

Liam is initially not sure if Rachel’s friend is telling the truth or deluded, but he knows that someone has it out for her. Turning to the authorities on his base has them put in a safe house, but Liam gets a tip that the danger is much closer than anyone realizes and is told to run. With the help of his team members, he takes Rachel into hiding where the attraction they’ve both denied for so long becomes an unstoppable force. But Rachel knows the three garters hanging from Liam’s rearview mirror is a reminder that he might not be a good romantic chance to take. Despite acknowledging that he’s previous experiences at falling in love didn’t feel anything like what he feels for Rachel, Liam believes he’s just going to stand in her way when she realizes she’s ready to go back to the search and rescue work that is her first love.

This was my favorite of the series so far, possibly because the dogs make such good minor characters! Liam is smokin’ hot and he and Rachel are perfect for each other, even when you do want to bash their heads together for being so damn difficult about it. Rachel’s friend with PTSD has the great minor romance plot with her dogsitter and we get a view of happily married Wade and Sunny that just makes your heart sing. Please, please let the next book be Cuervo!! He’s so dark and fabulous and want to see him find his happily ever after.

One of my criteria for an author I admire is that I insist they have some kind of presence on the web so I can indulge myself between books. As an author, Catherine Mann appears to have a strong platform, complete with an informative website, active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and you can usually find her giving a live interview in case you want to pepper her with questions about those green foot tattoos on her heroes. Her Goodreads page is a great place to get the order of the books in her various series.

Since her recent books have been published by Sourcebooks, I thought I’d mention the bargain I got in buying Under Fire. Sourcebooks has begun their own reader’s club, Discover a New Love, and while I usually don’t indulge in these types of offers, this publishing house has enough authors I read to make it worthwhile. For a $9.99 six month membership, I get one featured title free each month and a super discount off the list price of other books. I got Under Fire, the latest Kathryne Kennedy book and a new cowboy romance for something like three dollars! (They were ebooks, so no shipping.) I just downloaded them from the website in the Kindle format and sent them to my Kindle account. (Did you know you can do that? Anyone with a Kindle or Kindle app – I use my iPad – has a email address to send items to your Kindle. It’s your amazon username@kindle.com and just embed the pdf or mobi file in the email and wait a few minutes. Voila!)

So if you haven’t read her yet, check out Catherine Mann and this fabulous series in whatever format that floats your boat. You’ll find that the Elite Force series is definitely at the top of the romantic suspense genre.

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