Tag Archives: Sullivan

December Holiday Read-a-Thon: Gifts of Honor Duology Offers Heart-wrenching Heroes and the Holiday Season

1 Dec

Carina Press holiday anthologies are always a go-to for me during December – I’ve never read one that contained a saccharine story, and the credit goes to editor Angela James who always manages to find authors who combine great characters, heart-warming settings, and the true spirit of the holiday.

Gifts of Honor is no exception, except authors Stacy Gail and Rebecca Crowley add the twist of two military heroes so damaged by their service that they are unable to give the women they love the relationship she deserves. Or so they think.

I’ve loved Stacy Gail since last December when I devoured her steampunk holiday romance novella Crime Wave in a Corset, followed by her awesome science fiction novella How the Glitch Stole Christmas. Since then, I’ve read a bunch of her paranormal angels books as well as her contemporary Ugly Ducklings Finish First, and I can confidently say this author has chops since she seems to be able to excel in all genres and still keep a fresh voice and utilize truly unique story ideas. Rebecca Crowley is a newer author of contemporary romance, so it was great to sample a holiday story from her to see what she would bring to this theme. She did not disappoint!

Note that while both stories are offered in the duology Gifts of Honor for under $4.00, you can also get each one individually for around $2.50, if one sounds like it appeals and not the other. The individual links under their specific book cover will take you right to that story, if that’s your preference. But considering the quality of both of them, you’d be wasting your money to not by the duology. Just sayin’.

Starting From Scratch by Stacy Gail

Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

Lucy Crabtree is busy at her job baking all the holiday treats for her small town’s Sweet Shoppe and is just managing to hold it together. Her ex-husband, Sullivan Jax, has finally moved home after his lengthy stay in military rehab where he’s been recovering from a head trauma, a trauma that had him waking up with no memory of Lucy or their marriage.

The only thing she’d prayed for was for Sully to come back alive.

She should have been more specific.

Their marriage had been rocky with his last deployment with the Rangers, a deployment he had barely told her about, leaving her with a lot of anger and once again crushing her dream of them finally making a home and family together. Now she had to look forward to the awkwardness and gossip surrounding the fact that they’d undoubtedly be bumping into one another.

Sullivan Jax would be the first to admit that his ex-wife is heart-stoppingly gorgeous but he also knows that a woman that beautiful deserves to have a life free of a man who can’t even remember her. It galls him to no end that he has begun remembering so many of the details of his childhood and time in the military, but this woman is a just a big, painful blank spot.

That he also has developed an insane craving for cookies – cookies that smell just like the scent that clings to Lucy whenever he sees her – must just be a weird side effect of the season. But one taste of Lucy’s mouth and all thought of cookies gets pushed aside. This is what he’s been craving all along. But while he thinks he might be falling in love with his wife all over again, Sullivan also realizes that he might be the one person she never wants to be with, as he’s already torn her heart to pieces.

This story had everything – great characters, mouth-watering food (always part of the holiday romance genre), and a small-town setting perfect for the backdrop of the holiday spirit. Yes, it’s utterly gut-wrenching to place yourself in Lucy’s shoes, but Gail does an outstanding job of outlining the pressures deployed soldiers and their spouses both face, specifically focusing on how this element eroded Lucy and Sullivan’s marriage. I loved it when Lucy’s good friend and mechanic, Coe read her the riot act of how she had always been the one giving and Sullivan the one taking. Lucy’s understanding of what she did and didn’t do in her marriage showed her growth as much as the pieces of his mistakes in his marriage coming back to Sullivan.

Sullivan’s instinctual response was the most fascinating, first from the standpoint of screaming every time he saw her in the hospital to his despair whenever she would run away from him in their town. Gail does not shy away from the heat in this story, and there were times I thought Lucy’s cookies were going to bake on the counter based on how hot it got in the kitchen with this couple! Most sigh-inducing was the final realization that Sullivan had always loved Lucy as much as she did him and that he wasn’t going to give up in winning her once again, which leads me to the quote that had me falling in love with this big former Ranger:

“I’ve learned the hard way that being careless with you, hurting you, is the quickest way into hell,” he grated, and self-condemnation edged the words in bitterness. “But I understand. It’s okay. You’re gun-shy with me now, so I won’t push you into anything you don’t want to do, or feel. And I don’t expect all the pain to magically vanish just because I remember you now. We both went to war, and we both have battle scars that are going to take time to heal.

“But I have so much hope for the future, Lucy,” he added as he pressed her hand to his mouth, and the passion that vibrated in his tone made her throat clench. “A year from now, I hope you’ll have agreed to be my wife and we’ll be trying for our first baby. I hope a month from now you’ll trust me enough to want to live with me so that you can get used to sharing your life with me again. I hope a week from now you’ll believe me when I say I love you, instead of looking like you suspect I’m playing some kind of cruel trick on you. And I hope that by tomorrow, you’ll be able to smile at me without sadness.”

Gail, Stacy; Crowley, Rebecca (2013-11-21). Gifts of Honor: Starting from Scratch\Hero’s Homecoming (Kindle Locations 1788-1796). Carina Press. Kindle Edition.

Starting from Scratch contains the sweetness and spice of the heroine’s Pfeffernusse cookies with enough heat to bake them, proving Stacy Gail is a romance writer who can encapsulate human emotions so well that readers feel like they’ve grown as people when the final page is turned. This is a must-buy!

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

College professor Beth Tate always thought of herself as a sturdy Midwestern woman until she bumped into Captain Chris Walker when he filled in for an absent archivist at Fort Riley. He was a six foot stud in uniform and she was more than stunned when he looked at her like he wanted to eat her up.

For four days they had a hot affair and while she was willing to let it just be a fling, not wanting to burden him with expectation prior to shipping out to Afghanistan, Chris wanted more. They exchanged long, thoughtful emails and had sweet phone calls for four months and then…nothing. A terse email after a couple weeks of radio silence merely saying that things weren’t going to work out and the most powerful relationship of her life had ended.

Getting a call months later at Christmas from the same Captain who broke her heart, and Beth is literally rendered speechless. With a blizzard blowing in and his parents stuck at their ranch meant Chris needed a ride to a hotel from the airport and could Beth help? Saying yes just to get a good look at the man who would have the gall to behave like this, she’s stunned to see a scarred serviceman with clouded eyes and a cane. Much to the horror of the Christmas crowd at the airport, she promptly cracks him across the face with a slap that should have sent him back overseas.

When Chris realized that the suicide bomber who killed his friends had taken his sight, one of his first thoughts was breaking up with Beth. Not because he didn’t love her but because he knew that she would unflinchingly take on the burden of his disability and she deserved more. He wanted to just disappear from her life so she could find a good man to have a normal life with, but instead he ends up having to call upon her since he has no one to help him with finding a place to stay. Having been worried about her pity, her serious slap quickly dispels that notion. But as they are forced by circumstances to stay at her house, Chris gets a glimpse of what he might still actually be able to have. But his physical scars are nothing compared to the emotional ones he gave Beth, who might not be able to take a chance on him once more.

Wow, was I impressed with this story! Crowley not only gives us two complex characters but imbues both of them with a very understandable emotional evolution. Chris, when confronted with the reality of Beth and her honest reactions, realizes that the grey existence he has mapped out for himself might be completely opposite the one she feels him capable of and that helps him believe more in himself. Beth has to confront the fact that she is just as much in love with Chris as ever, while also trying to understand his physical injuries and PTSD and ponder if she can trust him enough in his state not to throw her to the curb again.

Both situations are so believable but the turning point is Chris’ epiphany about what Beth has gone through, and his acknowledgement offers the final linchpin in her decision to go forward. Hero’s Homecoming is an emotional read that kept me riveted, turning each page to discover if this man and woman could overcome the obstacles and embrace the happiness within their reach, if they are just brave enough to take a chance.

With the quality of both stories in Gifts of Honor, I think you’d be crazy to not buy both books in the duology for $4.00 rather than only one story. Stacy Gail and Rebecca Crowley have both penned contemporary military romances that bring home the idea that the holiday season is about hope and the renewal of life with love at the center.

Have a super holiday season!!

Zach Sullivan Gets Your Engine Running in Bella Andre’s Latest, If You Were Mine

26 May

If You Were Mine by Bella Andre (May 24, 2012)

My mother and I were chatting yesterday about our latest reads – actually having yet another “how does she do it?” discussion about Nora Roberts since we had both read and loved her latest, The Witness – when I hopped online to look at what the kindle edition would cost since I thought I’d be rereading it. That’s when I gasped and clutched my arm as if I were having a heart attack.

“Jesus, what’s wrong?” my mother asked, clearly alarmed at my Sarah Bernhardt response to looking at Amazon.com.

I pointed a finger at my MacBook screen. “Did you know that Bella Andre’s latest Sullivan book came out – YESTERDAY?!”

Cue both of us grabbing our iPads and ordering it, right then and there. My mother made some excuse to leave about two minutes later claiming she was “tired from gardening.” Uh-huh.

I was kicking myself that I had promised to attend a baseball playoff game, but sucked it up and made the trip (and actually had a great time). But baseball made me think of Ryan Sullivan (the Sullivan brother who is a major league baseball player), which made me think of Zach Sullivan, who we finally get to see fall, and fall hard, in Bella Andre’s latest installment of the Sullivan family series, If You Were Mine.

Now I haven’t been shy in my deep admiration and love for all things Bella Andre. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post on the first four books of the series, claiming that this series is one of the best values on the romance market and I stand by that statement today. When so many authors, pressured to produce multiple books per year, struggle with maintaining a consistent quality, Bella Andre channels her own inner Nora Roberts and gives us another heart-stoppingly amazing addition to this series, which is claiming the spot of favorite contemporary romance series for me.

Zach Sullivan loves working with cars and enjoys the benefits of having built his love into a chain of successful automotive stations, but he enjoys fast women as much as fast cars, sporting a serious “no commitment” policy with the opposite sex. When his firefighter brother Gabe drops off the puppy of his soon-to-be stepdaughter for Zach to dogsit, Zach figures a couple pounds of puppy can’t be too much for him handle. But it is. As he finds his life turned upside down by a Yorki named Cuddles, a friend sends him the best dog trainer in the San Francisco area, Heather Linsey.

How I picture Atlas and Cuddles (although I’m pretty sure this is a Chihuahua but you get the idea)

And that “no commitment” policy gets reevaluated. Heather is far from impressed with Zach’s yelling at the puppy but she quickly realizes that she’s the one who might be over her head. Zach is even more good looking than his movie star brother, Smith, and his sense of humor has her more worried than his chiseled features or killer body. Heather is fine with a no commitment physical relationship, but someone who makes her laugh could find their way into her heart. The fact her faithful Great Dane, Atlas, has a new best friend in Zach’s puppy charge is simply another red flag on the whole situation, one that has Heather saying, “No” firmly and repeatedly to Zach’s advances.

Zach hasn’t really heard “no” from women before and hearing it from Heather makes him realize that they time they spend together not having sex is actually more amazing than the time he has spent having sex with other women. He knows this is dangerous, but can’t stop himself from putting his heart on the line for her.

But Zach and Heather both have their own brand of damage. Heather had a terrible childhood with the discovery that her doting father, who she thought loved her mother, was a philanderer all his life – and her mother knew about it. Watching two people fake a marriage has put her off the idea that true love exists and actually led to a bout of cutting when she was younger. Working with animals, along with therapy, helped release her feelings in a more productive way, but her heart has some rather substantial walls around it and she’s unwilling to risk it, even with all the feelings Zach stirs in her.

I Only Have Eyes for You by Bella Andre (February 21, 2012) Sophie & Jake’s Story

Zach is a great tortured hero, simply because you don’t realize how damaged he is at first glance. I loved him in Sophie Sullivan’s story, when he beat the crap out of his best friend Jake for getting her pregnant, and he’s always been a great brother and good businessman. But in this book we discover that Zach’s strong resemblance to his father, who succumbed to a sudden aneurysm in his thirties leaving a wife and eight young children, has led Zach to avoid falling in love because he’s not convinced that he’ll be around for that long. The fast cars and faster women have been a natural outcome of this secret belief that his days are numbered, and he may not be able to let go of his pain to make a life with Heather.

Walk, don’t run, to your nearest ebook vendor to purchase this book. Andre has once again crafted deep characters you instantly root for, praying they will work through their emotional baggage and realize the love of lifetime is at their fingertips if they would just take a chance. The dogs are incredible minor characters and seeing our favorite Sullivans (the ones already partnered happy and healthy and the ones still single having their clock ticking) gives you the feeling that you are catching up with friends.

I’ve put an Amazon alert so I’ll be notified next time when Bella Andre publishes another book. I don’t want to miss an hour of reading when Ryan Sullivan’s book, Let Me Be the One, comes out in the fall!

Series Review: The Sullivan Series by Bella Andre

13 Mar

I stumbled across Bella Andre last year purely by accident.  I was reading an article last June about successful self-published romance authors and her name popped up.  Coincidentally it was right after she had released her first book of the Sullivan series, The Look of Love.  Be warned, these books are only available as ebooks, so print only romance readers are bound to go unsatisfied.  Maybe this is the push you need to get one of those cheapy Kindles finally?

With over 3600 Twitter followers, Bella Andre is someone who clearly understands the digital world, hence her success.  Already an established print romance novelist, she had books that weren’t being picked up that she wanted to get out there.  Starting with Amazon’s platform she got them up in ebook format, but realized if she marketed to the other ebook websites like Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc., she’d reach a larger audience.  Finding the interface accessible, she forged ahead, selling a thousand titles a day, and retaining a much larger chunk of the proceeds than with a traditional publisher.  Sounds like a savvy, experienced author knew just how to play the self-publishing game!

Bella confesses that she feels one of the key features of her success was the introduction of the Nook Color since it showcases her beautiful covers (and my Kindle iPad app agrees with that).  We know that everyone judges a book by a cover and I was no exception.  I was looking for a romance novel for under $5 that I could download that instant, and when I read all the great reviews for Bella and her books on my Goodreads account, I made the plunge.  She is, hands down, one of the best values in the romance novel world.  I can honestly say that I would pay a lot more for these books (but please don’t raise the price!) but I’m intensely grateful to never have to budget for them.

The first book begins on a rainy night on a road near the Napa Valley vineyard owned by Marcus Sullivan.  His brother, world renowned photographer Chase Sullivan, is driving back to the vineyard when he spots a broken down car driven by a despondent Chloe Peterson.  Spotting the bruise she’s sporting, he realizes this ravishing beauty not only outshines the models which surround him but she is also in serious trouble.

Chloe takes one look at gorgeous Chase and knows she’s in trouble.  Her abusive ex had caught up with her and she’s beginning to despair of ever being free of him.  Yet this handsome man looming over her in the night inspires trust rather than fear.  When he brings her back to the beautiful vineyard where he is having a fashion shoot, she finds herself opening up her body and her heart.  Oh, and the balcony and bathtub scenes. *Mrrrrrooowwww*

Chase is determined to have both those things and Andre’s talented writing breathes life into these two characters from the very first page.  The Sullivans are a family of eight children and their lovely mother who lost their father at an early age.  Each of the kids are distinct individuals and intensely devoted to family.  We’ve got a nice selection of upscale glamour (Smith is a movie star, Chase the noted photographer, Lori the renowned choreographer), a workaholic (Marcus the oldest and the vineyard owner), and the sexy professions (Gabe is a firefighter, Zach a mechanic, and Sophie the librarian).  [Okay, I know that’s seven, and I’m pretty sure there’s a younger sister I’m not thinking of right now, but she hasn’t been the in the stories so much. So sue me!  I’m sure her story will be great, too.]

You end up wanting to just BE a Sullivan!  In the first book, Marcus comes across as a little uptight, mostly due to the references to his cranky, be-yotch girlfriend in San Francisco, but you realize he’s wrestling with something bigger.  The second book, From This Moment On, picks up with Marcus finding out about said girlfriend cheating on him.  He realizes he hasn’t had feelings for her, well, forever, but is wrestling with the fact that he’s so remote and can’t open up to someone.  Is it because of his dad dying so young and leaving Marcus as the male head of the family with all the responsibility?  He decides to blow off steam and head to the nearest club to see if he can indulge in some casual sex and get his mind off his troubles.

Enter Nicola, one of the hottest performers, who is running from a relationship that should carry a scorched earth warning.  Her ex got her name in the tabloids by releasing a video with the two of them…well, you can imagine.  She decides to leave her penthouse hotel suite and head out to a club to see if she can get a little of her self-esteem back.  When she and Marcus catch sight of each other, they quickly leave the club and adjourn to his brother’s empty apartment where…she falls asleep, dead on her feet from her grueling work schedule.

And so begins an incredibly hot, tender romance.  Marcus and Nicola see something in each other, recognizing that they have a deep connection and can see beyond the surface – what everyone else sees – to each person’s real self.  The part at the end of the book where Marcus follows her concerts. *Sigh*  So romantic.

The third book, Can’t Help Falling in Love, leaves the wealthier Sullivans behind and focuses on sexy firefighter, Gabe, who is literally in the middle of battling an apartment fire, to make his way to a woman and child trapped behind a wall of flame.  It’s Megan Harris, who is busy shielding her young daughter in their bathtub, praying help comes in time. Gabe injures himself in the process, but manages to save both their lives and when she and her adorable little daughter go to thank their savior, the sparks that fly could easily cause another inferno.

But rather than elation, Megan and Gabe both feel a kind of panic.  Megan is a widow whose husband was an adrenaline junkie so she’s had her fill of men who have potentially fatal jobs and now she has a little girl to worry about hurting with a relationship that doesn’t last.  Gabe is beside himself – he falls for Megan’s daughter as hard as for her stunning mother, but he had a previous hook-up/relationship with a woman he had saved and she went Swimfan on him in a big way.  Watching the two of them work through their issues and recognize how important they are to each other is a sensual, occasionally painful joy.

Which brings us to the most recent Sullivan novel, I Only Have Eyes for You, just released February 21st.  Librarian Sophie is twin to choreographer Lori, and their respective nicknames Nice and Naughty, describe how the family sees their personalities.  In previous novels, we’ve gotten the sense of how Sophie has feelings for Jake McCann, her brother Zach’s good friend and someone the family calls “the ninth Sullivan”.

This story opens at Chase and Chloe’s wedding, which Sophie has organized.  She’s decided that no matter what (including the warnings from her twin, Lori) she is going to make Jake notice her, and her clingy pink bridesmaid’s gown and movie star hair and makeup have him picking his jaw off the floor.

Jake has actually loved Sophie from a distance since they were both little, but his crappy home life (abandoned by his mother and raised by an abusive alcoholic father) and academic shortcomings have him believing he’s not good enough for her.  Yet seeing her at the wedding and thinking of her with someone else make him mental.  Even though he knows he’s wrong for her, when she throws herself at him, he catches her with open arms, only to have the best night of both of their lives.

But the following morning, he steers clear of her like she has the plague, despite knowing that he’s hurting her, thinking it’s for the best.  Until two and a half months later when Sophie has an announcement which will change both their lives – if they let it.

Jake and Sophie are both fabulous characters and I love the way Bella Andre weaves in the previous characters seamlessly but not intrusively.  The focus is always on the couple involved but the enthusiastic reader still finds themselves wrapped in Sullivan love and affection while not feeling like the other characters are living some kind of epilogue in the middle of the current novel.  It’s a skill I wish other authors would master.

Consider the value in these books.  At $4.99 for each book, $20 for the series, you get four terrific novels about a family you simply can’t get enough of.  No editing errors, fabulous characters, and fresh, sensual plots with heart-wrenching love – this is undoubtedly one of the best values for the money.  If you have an ereader of any kind, I would strongly encourage you to give this series a chance.  You’ll be happy you did!

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