A Guest Post and a Giveaway from Theresa Romain

A Gentleman’s Game is the story of Nathaniel and Rosalind. He’s a seemingly carefree Thoroughbred trainer and baronet’s son; she’s the baronet’s unlikely secretary. They’re both hiding more than a few secrets, and not only from other people. Neither Nathaniel nor Rosalind has dreamed about what they’d like to make of their lives…until they meet each other.

One of my favorite parts of the book to write was the lead-up to the first love scene. It’s less about passion than it is about acceptance, as Rosalind—who bears scars from a severe burn—begins to see herself in a new way. Exploring characters is what I love best about writing romance. I hope you enjoy this snippet from my favorite scene of A Gentleman’s Game!

She opened her eyes, prepared to see him staring with disgust.

He wasn’t, though. He was only staring. Not with disgust, but with what instead?

She folded her arms across her breasts. The scars over her right elbow tugged. “Not what you expected?”

“I never know what to expect where you are concerned.” He smiled. “But if you refer to your scars, they saved your life. I can only be grateful to them.”

He took her within his arms again, kissing his way down from her smooth shoulder to the puckered web over her arm. 

She felt little on the scarred areas of her body—less heat and cold, and hardly a gentle touch at all. Sometimes she felt her skin was too tight. Sometimes it itched.

Never had it been kissed like this, sweet and slow and gentle. Down the arm that had protected her face and neck, the arm that had beat back and rolled over the flames. It was a good arm; it had saved her life as much as Aunt Annie’s treatments had. After all it had been through, it still held reins and wrote. It could unfold to stop protecting her body, her heart. Its fingers could twine in the still-damp silk of Nathaniel’s hair.

And it could still feel pleasure, a prickling dance of sensation down its length. Here the skin was thickened, her own armor that she always carried about. It bumped and puckered; it was darker and redder and paler in spots. Her scars did not match the rest of her. Her scars were a part of her.

Tears welled up, filling her eyes, but they were not from sadness. “They did save my life,” she said. “You’re right.”

She would still have traded them in an instant for smooth unmarked skin that had never known fire. But that wasn’t a choice. The only choice was to be grateful or not to be. For her life being saved. For her body, still strong and healthy. 

For the firelight that warmed without hurting, and for this man who lifted his head to look at her with desire.

Theresa is giving away a print copy of A Gentleman’s Game to three lucky readers. To be entered in a drawing for the winners, make a comment below.

Historical romance author Theresa Romain pursued an impractical education that allowed her to read everything she could get her hands on. She then worked for universities and libraries, where she got to read even more. Eventually she started writing, too. She lives with her family in the Midwest.

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The Best of 2015: Heather’s List

Some years are stellar reading years, while others are just meh. Fortunately for me, I’ve had the joy of reading several exceptional books this year. So without further ado, in no particular order, here is my Top 10 list of 2015, with one bonus book since I’m a rebellious kind of girl.

The Companion Contract by Solace Ames. I adored this utterly unique story of an adult film star who accepts a job as a paid companion to a rockstar in recovery and then falls for his bandmate. The characters are richly drawn and I felt like we were old friends by the conclusion. Now I need Miles’s story asap.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh. What happens when you throw a timid, though not really, woman together with a powerful CEO known for being difficult? They challenge one another, make you laugh out loud, and fall gloriously in love.

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan. I’m not a huge reader of the New Adult genre, but this story of the culmination of years of longing is enough to make me reconsider. Ethan Dexter is a great hero, the sort of solid guy everyone depends on. Plus, he’s a virgin.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley. Honestly, I didn’t love the modern-day romance storyline, but the lush historical one more than makes up for it.

Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane. Breathless suspense combine with sizzling hot romance in the fourth book in The Associates series. Fascinating characters, great chemistry, and tight plotting – basically everything I’ve come to expect from this author.

Forbidden by Charlotte Stein. I wasn’t sure going in if a book starring a young man about to become a priest was for me. I was so, so wrong. Sensitive and thought-provoking, this story will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan. Unforgettable characters fight their attraction to one another while navigating the ins and outs of college life and family dynamics.

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs. It’s not exactly traditional romance, but the Alpha and Omega series follows the werewolf adventures of Charles and Anna Cornick. This entry in the series finds Charles facing people from his past and confronting some of the deeds he has carried out over the years. Both characters develop in significant ways during the course of the book. The emotional connection between him and Anna shines brightly in this one.

After You by Jojo Moyes. I adored Me Before You even as it broke my heart. This, the sequel which follows Louisa after the events of the prior book unfold, put it back together again.

Everything I Left Unsaid/The Truth About Him by Molly O’Keefe. Intense emotions are combined with sensual romance and more than a little danger in this duology. Annie is the sort of heroine I love to read about. She breaks the chains of her past to love fearlessly. Both books must be read in order.

And one more, a December 2014 release, but I’m including it anyway since this is my list and it’s fun to break the rules occasionally!

Personal Geography by Tamsen Parker. Again, I’m not the biggest fan of BDSM romances, but this book blew my expectations apart, far exceeding what I thought it would be. Three dimensional characters with actual baggage, not high school melodrama, to sort through made this an interesting, worthwhile read.***

I’m a slow reader compared to most of my colleagues. I tend to savor words, turning them over in my mind and letting them rattle around in my brain. I devoured many of these within 48 hours of beginning them. Each were strong, compelling reads that I found difficult to put down and even more difficult to end. My reading year was so good, I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings.

Posted in Best of 2015, Best of List, Best of Romance, Heather AAR | 7 Comments

Best of 2015: Keira’s List

I read a total of 84 books. This was the year I read less romance than I’d read in a decade. However, what I read was superb so I really lucked out. My list here isn’t limited to books only published in 2015. It is a mixed bag of new releases, TBRs, and re-reads. I have three contemporaries, six historicals, and one contemporary from the 1950s that I read as a historical.

This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman — This is my top romance book of the year. Calico is a bounty hunter. Quill is a lawyer, cattle rancher, and federal marshal. They meet in a brothel. She threatens to shoot him. And out of such improbable details comes a tender love story. Calico has had a tough upbringing but she revels in it and is proud of the unconventionality. Quill had a traditional upbringing but has a problematic relationship with his religious family. And yet the two are drawn together emotionally when they’re brought together to play bodyguards to a daughter-father duo. I liked the suspense aspect of the story as well. Itís nuanced and despite small details dribbled here and there, the answer is not obvious. The leads had disagreements, but there was no immature bickering. They settled their differences responsibly and respectfully. They are people I could like in real life.

Heartless by Mary Balogh — This is a Marriage of Convenience story with a dark thread twisting through the entire storyline. Lucas Kendrick, the Duke of Harndon, is a Paris exquisite, replete with a fan and stylized shoes. (Think Heyer’s Avon.) But these outward affectations belie the earnestness and sincerity of his character, and I really enjoyed the contrasts. Anna Marlowe is from the country and seemingly unaffected by the city she’s new to. When Anna and Lucas meet, they’re drawn to each other and that leads him to propose marriage to her on relatively short acquaintance. However, Anna’s past rears up its head and spoils their joy in each other. I really enjoyed seeing how Anna and Lucas negotiated their marriage, its shortfalls and successes, to make it all work.

By Possession by Madeline Hunter — A medieval by Hunter is a guaranteed good read. And this one proved to be the case as well. Addis and Moira knew each other as children: he a golden youth enamored with a golden girl, she a bondwoman’s daughter and the golden girl’s shadow. Moira was infatuated with Addis, while he barely knew of her existence. Fast forward to present day, Addis has returned from his crusade where for six of the eight years, he’d been enslaved. He resurrects bond-hood (is that a word?) for Moira even though she was a landholding serf. Adventures ensue with warfare, much emotional back-n-forth, and sexytimes. Through it all, the story remained well-paced and my immersion in it was total.

Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie — It was cute, it was tender, it was laugh-out-loud funny in places–altogether delightful. Allie is a primetime 6am radio show producer, who has an affair with her star. She gets dumped by him and from her job and is assigned to a 10pm to 2am slot with a newbie DJ. Of course, they strike sparks off each other despite both thinking the other is an unlikely bet in the beginning. This is a type of story that I’m very fond of because you can see the two of them falling in love slowly and unknowingly and then committedly. This is what makes for a satisfying romance read for me every time. I want to watch the unfurling of personalities and the blooming of love between them, knowing every step of the way why they’re right for each other and that this is forever.

The AdventurersThe Adventurers by Michelle Martin — Don’t even ask how many times I’ve read this book. Michelle Martin is one of my absolute favorite traditional Regency writers. Her wit and her Heyeresque characters and plot make her very few books one of the highlights of whichever month I choose to re-read them in. This book has derring-do, a cross-dressing heroine, an imposing peer of the realm bested by our intrepid heroine, a worthy quest, noble sacrifice, and laughter. And implausibility of plot. But who cares? I was enjoying reading the book too much to be bothered about practicality and reality.

Heaven’s Fire by Patricia Ryan — Here we have this ex-priest, celibate scholar of a wealthy noble French family. The heroine is an Anglo-Saxon peasant, more comfortable in English than in Norman French. However, she can read and write, and is well-versed in Latin. Due to tragic circumstances, she arrives in Oxford and manages to earn a living illustrating and illuminating books. Previous circumstances where he saved her from smallpox have bound them together inseparably. Their love story unfolds under the shadow of the Sir Roger, a knight of her village who has always fancied her and has now set a man to find her after she escaped to Oxford. This is medieval storytelling at its finest with tone, diction, world-building…all of it superbly done. And it has medieval manuscripts. A decided PLUS!

Love is a Distant Shore by Claire Harrison — This 1980s book was a re-read for me. He’s an embittered war correspondent with an injury that puts him out of commission from his regular beat. He’s proud that he has reported on some of the world’s worst hotspots. He has now been assigned to cover marathon swimming and the heroine in particular. He feels contempt for what he deems is a selfish endeavor of swimming 32 miles across Lake Ontario. He’s a love’em-leave’em kinda guy. Given his Blonde God looks, he pragmatically expects women’s attraction to him as a God-given gift. As the days go by, eventually, he comes to respect the heroine’s dedication, the hard work, and the single-minded focus on one task that inspires awe in everyone around. He falls hard for her (ooh, did I love how far he had to fall from his Blonde God pedestal and the humility he learned as a result). But her horrible, loveless childhood makes it impossible for her to know what love is, to even understand that she’s capable of loving. All these emotions, his thoughtfulness and respect, her care, the affection of those around them, the nurturing…it all adds to a story with a big heart.

Under the Stars of Paris by Mary Burchell — Burchell was writing contemporaries in the 1950s, so to some extent, I read it as a historical novel. Florian is an haut couture designer in Paris. Anthea is a Londoner, who’s moved to Paris to escape a jilting and a scheming stepmother. There she falls into a job as Florian’s mannequin showing off the models of his Collection at the spring show. The hero is very much an alpha, make no mistake, in spite of this opening description of him: a slight, fair-haired man with beautiful hands, thinning hair, and the air of an exhausted and impatient schoolboy. And out of this, Burchell spins gold. Despite being written in the 1950s, this story did not feel dated. It was superbly developed in its short form with distinct, memorable characters. Best line of the book? Il faut souffrir pour être belle. Indeed!

–Keira Soleore

Posted in Best of 2015, Best of List | Tagged | 13 Comments

Writing in Pieces: A Guest Post (and a giveaway) from J.R Gray

Writing is a process. A deeply personal process. As artists who weave words, we all have our own variation of this process. I write in pieces. I used to think I was insane for writing the way I do, taking fragments of a whole, that come to me out of order most of the time, and sticking them in a document to sort out as I go, but now I’ve made peace with it.

My books start as an idea, a conflict, and a couple of characters involved. I jot down a few notes on the concept and then I dive into researching the topic. Research is irreplaceable. It turns tiny seeds of function into concrete ideas, solidifying not only plot, but also the little details that will drive the story and characters. For Follow Me Into Darkness, I couldn’t get the idea of taking Carnival to one of its sources, buried in the Latin culture, out of my head. The mingling of Christian religion and the Lenten season brought by Europe with the pagan religions of Trinidad and Tobago. To prepare for Lent, the Catholics indulge themselves before the forty day fast, whereas for the pagan religions, it was a festival to drive out the dark spirits of winter to make room for the light and summer. 

I wanted Masked (my story in the anthology) to be the merging of an old relationship with a new one. Memories and a deep friendship abandoned long ago, resurfacing, and the bubbling potential to build off these old feelings with a new spark. I had my starting place, but it was the research which gave the story context. Today, Carnival in Brazil is seen as gay friendly, but fifteen years ago it was only gay friendly on the surface, and the country suffered with a problem of hate crimes against the LGBT community. In 1996 and 2003, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission rated Brazil as one of the countries where the most members of the LGBT community were killed per year. There were government parties who were anti-equal rights, and I felt like this could be the heart of my conflict. I had my jumping off point, a fight. Homophobia. Javier was outnumbered and as good as dead when an old friend stumbles on him. The story poured out of me over a few days.

Even writing as fast as I wrote Masked, I can’t write in order. I usually start when the characters first see each other (and Masked was no different) then I skip around from emotional moment to emotional moment. I see my novels in scattered segments, almost like a puzzle of highlights in my mind. My endings usually come to me long before I’m finished, and I have a point to build to as well as the general plot, but the rest needs to be picked from the fragments of a story and pieced together. I often surprise myself with the direction a piece takes. As I continue my research I find different pieces of the puzzle. I write what I see and then grab another piece.

I arrange the pieces in a semblance of order as I go on, but there are times I have to tear a story apart and reorder everything before I’m done. With Clouded Hell (an book I finished in December) I had to rewrite the entire second half, because it wasn’t fitting the way it needed to and the pace of the second half didn’t match the pace of the first. I cut some scenes and I added new ones. For Masked I got the order right the first time, and it only required tiny tweaks throughout, guided by my betas and editor. A lot of work goes into my rewriting and I’ve wondered if I could eliminate this vast chore, or a good portion of it, by writing in order. One day I’m going to try to write in order. I get annoyed with the process, but it’s mine, and I’m not sure I’d want to do it any other way, because I can’t imagine not chasing the intensity of a scene I’m feeling.

While researching Clouded Hell I didn’t explore facts and statistics like I did for Masked. Clouded Hell is romance in a forbidden world of underground fight club and mafia. I read books on boxing, and MFA, as well as the histories of organized crime, but I wasn’t looking at facts to base my story around, because I didn’t want it to have a historical feel, I wanted to emulate the emotions of a modern day. The pace of Clouded Hell is intense because I wanted my readers to feel like they were existing between punches, never quite getting their feet under them before the next hit. I learned that in crime families, people kept their secrets close to home, and I wanted the reader to carry the feeling of not knowing the full story even though the book is first person. Everyone has secrets. This book explores two damaged people looking for a happily ever after in a world that might not exist.

Fiction is a balancing act of truth and fantasy woven together and in the end, every author takes liberties to weave their own tale. My process is in sparks of emotional pieces, seen through the eyes of damaged characters. If I changed it, I might lose the emotions my readers love, so I continue to write in pieces even if it makes me want to commit mass homicide after a few weeks of editing.

The publisher of Follow Me Into Darkness, Open Ink Press, is giving away two ebook of the anthology to two lucky readers. To be entered in this drawing, leave a comment below.

When not staying up all night writing, J.R Gray can be found at the gym where it’s half assumed he is a permanent resident to fulfill his self-inflicted masochism. A dominant and a pilot, Gray finds it hard to be in the passenger seat of any car. He frequently interrupts real life, including normal sleep patterns and conversations, to jot down notes or plot bunnies. Commas are the bane of his existence even though it’s been fully acknowledged they are necessary, they continue to baffle and bewilder. If Gray wasn’t writing…well, that’s not possible. The buildup of untold stories would haunt Gray into an early grave, insanity or both. The idea of haunting has always appealed to him. J.R. Gray is genderqueer and prefers he/him pronouns. 


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There’s No Place Like Home: A Guest post by Virginia Kantra (plus a giveaway)

Reading (or writing) a small town series is like going on a family vacation. You know how you load into the car, going back to the same spot year after year? It’s a getaway where you kind of know what you’re getting into: same beautiful setting, same favorite spots, at least a few familiar faces. Happy memories. An almost-guaranteed good time.

The thing is, you don’t want to settle for doing the same thing all the time.

When my husband and I were first married, I dragged the poor guy to New England every summer to spend a week with my family. Because what could be more romantic than vacationing with the in-laws on Cape Cod, where the water reaches a balmy 56 degrees in July?

My husband was game, but he didn’t really get the appeal. His dad, a career Sergeant Major stationed at Camp Lejeune, used to take him fishing on the North Carolina coast. After several years of freezing his, um, butt off, my husband finally talked me into trying the North Carolina shore. It’s warmer, my husband said. It’s less crowded, he promised. Just one week, he coaxed. Just this year.

He was right. (Hear that, honey?) This year became every year. We moved to North Carolina a few years later.

Carolina Dreaming, which comes out February 2nd, is the fifth book in my Dare Island series, set on a fictional barrier island along the North Carolina coast.

It’s an escape. And it’s a return to a place that I love.

There’s real pleasure in writing about places I’ve actually visited. You can find bits of Dare Island all along Highway 12 from Manteo to Ocracoke and Emerald Isle to Southport. Being a writer forces you to pay attention to things. (Also to take lots of pictures.) You have all those great sensory details to draw on: the flat fields and “fresh peaches” signs along the road, the cool shadow of the pines, the reflection of the sunlight on the water, the feeling you get crossing over the bridge.

Lying in his rack at night, Gabe used to dream of spring. Spring and women and the sea.

When he got out, winter had still lingered in North Dakota in the dirty piles of snow, in the biting cold. But here, the Carolina sun was warm against his face. The long bridge ahead arched like a gull’s wing, skimming between sea and sky.

His heart lifted. It had been eleven years since he first crossed this bridge from the marshy inlet over the flashing waters of the sound. Behind him, the highway was littered with fast food chains and beach shops, gas stations and marinas, but this view hadn’t changed.

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

He’d read that somewhere, Afghanistan, maybe, or jail. His teachers used to complain he wasn’t much of a reader, but that line had stuck with him. Maybe because he’d never had a home. There wasn’t anybody who felt they had to take him in, no place he belonged.

Except the Marines.

He’d screwed that up. He had screwed up a lot of things.

But one lesson of the Corps stuck with him. When things didn’t go as planned, you could either shut down or you could improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

Gabe figured he’d been knocked down as low as he could go. All he needed was a chance to get on his feet again.

A tall white bird stood motionless in the reeds of a sandbar. The water shimmered to the horizon, reflecting back a wide blue sky painted with clouds.

Gabe breathed deep, smelling salt. Freedom.

–from Carolina Dreaming

But you can’t take your setting for granted. Sometimes it’s good to wander a little off the tourist paths. The barrier islands are constantly being shaped and changed by the sea, pounded by storms and rebuilt by the tides. There’s tension there, between the land and the sea, tourists and locals, newcomers and old timers. Part of the writing process for me is going to the coast in the off season, to talk to the people who live there. To really see the islands, not just through my eyes, but through their experience.

That’s what really good fiction does, I think. It lets us live in another person’s skin. Dare Island is more than a picturesque vacation spot populated by quirky stereotypes. Most of my characters are searching for something. An escape, sometimes, but more often they’re looking for a place to belong, a place to call home.

I hope readers will find a little of that on Dare Island, too.

Virginia is giving away a copy–your choice of formats–of any one of her Dare Island books. Enter a comment below to be considered!

virginiaVirginia Kantra has written over twenty-five books of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance. Her deeply emotional stories have won numerous writing awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award and two National Readers’ Choice Awards. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of three kids, she is a firm believer in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling, and the power of love.

She lives in coastal North Carolina.

Her favorite thing to make for dinner? Reservations.

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The Captive Prince Series (and my love affair with online fiction)

I’ve been reading online fiction since it was a thing, and I don’t mean ebooks. Like most of my friends, I started with fanfiction, and then found the absolute wealth of stories people post online. The thing is, if you were looking for any kind of m/m romance in the late 90s/early 2000s, that was basically your only option. Gay fiction was “literature”, and definitely not romantic. Frequently dealing with social issues, the AIDS epidemic, and other gay-specific issues, it just wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted actual romance novels, just with a hero and a hero instead of a hero and a heroine. M/M romance didn’t really take off until closer to 2005, and even then, it was fairly slow and definitely niche to start with. You have no idea just how happy I am that it has taken off as a genre of its own, with amazing authors getting well-deserved recognition.

I’m adding C.S. Pacat to that list of amazing authors, and I am so glad that the Captive Prince series has turned into such a success story. I remember first reading it not long after it started – I think I even still had a livejournal account at that point!

For those that aren’t familiar, here’s the summary of Captive Prince, the first book in the series:

“Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos. But when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative, and deadly, his new master, Prince Laurent, epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else…”

Overall, the story follows Damen as he is enslaved and abused, as he becomes a valuable member of Laurent’s household, and ultimately becomes free once more. The story is more than just the two men involved, it’s the story of two countries, political intrigue, and an ongoing war. And it’s fascinating. What I really enjoyed was watching the relationship between the two main characters evolve, and it’s really interesting how, as Damen spends more time with Laurent, the reader also sees more behind the prince’s cultivated mask. This trilogy is one of the truest I’ve read a while in third person – the reader gets only what Damen sees and experiences. Laurent “looked amused” not “was amused.” Brilliant.

There are a lot of explicit or sensitive topics involved – I mean, slavery, including sexual slavery, is a major part of the different societies, not to mention the violence of war – but nothing is gratuitous or out of place. Pacat has built a world where the different countries have different views of fighting, slavery, and sex, and it all works well together.

Now for King’s Rising - after re-reading the entire series, the finale is like coming home. There’s so much going on, and I love that it doesn’t lay everything out as finished. It gives the reader room to imagine what happens next in this world, with enough of a hint to see where the author is coming from, and where our heroes seem to be heading. Plus, I get my happily ever after. And what more do you want from a romance?

Something amazing about online fiction in general, and the Captive Prince in particular, is the fandom that can grow up around it. Captive Prince has some of the best fanart I’ve seen for books since Harry Potter. Usually, literature that gets fanart is something massively popular, like, as I said, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings. The internet is full of amazing creators, and the community that built up around the first two parts of the Captive Prince series created some lovely works (here and here are two examples). There’s even fanfiction for the series!

Have you read any of this series before? Or anything similar? What about online fiction? Any other success stories you’ve heard of?



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The Best of 2015: Melanie’s List

To be honest, my reading slacked off a lot in 2015. I usually read half again as much as I did this past year, a lot of which were forgettable at best, and absolute stinkers at worst. I didn’t have a “favorite romance published in 2015!” book this year, though there were a few that I did enjoy, for one reason or another.

The summary of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe caught my attention. It’s an interesting historical mystery about a rather ditsy girl who is a lot smarter and more observant than people give her credit for – think Sherlock Holmes meets Cher from Clueless.

The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr was a surprise for me. Originally published as a novella, the now full-length fantasy M/M story combines romance and political intrigue for an interesting result (and the “Golden Tongue” is about a character’s language abilities, not anything sexual, I promise). I really enjoyed the variety of characters in it, and am looking forward to the sequel, due out July 2016.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen was, as always, a literary treat. I adore magical realism, and this series does it well. The almost lyrical writing makes much of the story feel dream-like, and while the romance found within is lovely, it’s really about the women in the family, and the magic they possess.

I’ve been reading a lot more historical M/M romances this year, and recently finished A Fashionable Indulgence by K.J. Charles. While I know that homosexuality was illegal, punishable by hard labor, it’s really refreshing to see some M/M historicals written in the same vein as more mainstream ones (which, honestly, aren’t exactly known for their complete historical accuracy, either). There’s a family fortune on the line, a young man trying to escape his past, and another who is drowning in ennui and obsessing over society as he tries to put his military background behind him. Sweet and not-quite-innocent, I liked the characters, enjoyed the story, and am glad for this newer outpouring in LGBTQ romances. It may have been around for a couple of years now, but I feel like everything is really taking off.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson and You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day, while not romance novels, are wonderful memoir/non-fiction offerings from famous online women. What ties them together for me is that both are upfront and honest about their dealings with mental instability and the issues it has caused in their lives, and, most importantly, how they deal with it, and are dealing with it, on a daily basis. Day recounts her childhood and the start of her career, using the internet as a platform one of the first webshows around, The Guild. Lawson, whose site The Bloggess millions follow to an almost religious conviction (no, seriously, there is a Church of Bloggessianism – http://thebloggess.com/2014/11/the-church-of-bloggessianism-choose-your-title-strangelings/ – my unofficial title is apparently “Sanctioned Overseer Of Minion Manipulation”). Lawson uses this book as a platform to talk specifically about her mental issues with anxiety and depression, and her life goal to be “furiously happy” in spite of it all. I listened to both as audiobooks, and I loved hearing the authors read their own work. There’s something about a memoir that is just better when the author reads it. Especially comedic ones.

I do have a favorite book from 2015, but it’s not a romance novel. No, it’s the Hawkeye vs. Deadpool collection from Gerry Duggan. Oh, do you not know Deadpool? Other than the pretty face of Ryan Reynolds (the new movie is coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day 2016. I AM SO EXCITED. Ahem. Excuse me. Back to the book). Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye of the Avengers, teams up with Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, team up on Halloween (one character thinks scarred Deadpool is wearing a Freddy Kruger costume. nope, that’s just his face) to solve an espionage mystery from SHIELD. It’s fun and entertaining, and the artwork is great. Plus, I love Deadpool. So there’s that.

So there’s my 2015 reading in a few short(ish) paragraphs. Has anyone else been in a reading slump? What have you been reading outside of romance? I need some new recommendations for my 2016 reading!


Posted in Best of 2015, Best of List, Best of Romance, Books with Buzz, Melanie AAR, Reading, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Falling in love in the used bookstore

Whats Next Packet 2016When I was visiting my daughter in North Carolina, I fell in love with a book. My girls were both next door in a comic book store, so I was left to my own devices in a used bookstore, something that used to happen to me all the time but now rarely does.

At this point I am going to both digress and date myself (again), but I remember that heady days over twenty years ago when I had just discovered romance.The internet was still a baby, and few people used it to buy books. Virtually no one was reading digitally yet. I would go to the used bookstore with a big list in hand and come out with a bunch of romances. The whole genre was new and I’d hardly read anything yet, so I was like a kid in the candy store. Better yet, I always had books to trade in so I don’t remember ever having to pay for anything (an important consideration when you’re young and poor). Now, I seldom bother with used bookstores. Not only have I spent the last 15+ years having free books show up at my door every day; I also just buy anything I want digitally when I want it. You don’t need to go to a physical store anymore.

However, if you are stuck and need to kill time, there are worse places to be. For some reason I found myself in the cookbooks, even though I need a cookbook like I need a hole in the head. I have a million and I rarely, you know, cook. After laughing about a militant, insufferable vegetarian cookbook from the 1970s (The Subversive Vegetarian: Tactics, Information and Recipes for the Conversion of Meat-Eaters. Seriously, the asshole who wrote it probably got punched in the face at least once a week.) I found a section called “Rare Cookbooks”. I didn’t even really know there was such a thing. In it I found a cookbook that was much more than a cookbook: The Captain’s Lady Cookbook – Personal Journal. It was a journal, a scrapbook, and a notebook written by a sea captain’s wife in the 19th Century (it covers a period roughly between 1857-1872). The woman who published it in 1981 had found it at a garage sale in Amherst (why don’t I ever find anything like this at a garage sale, or in an attic?) and done some editing, but mostly it was just the musings of the Sea Captain’s wife.

I started thumbing through and before I knew it I was utterly engrossed. When I pulled my phone out for the third time to take a picture of a page, I knew the book was coming home with me. Not for the recipes, which are written the way people used to cook, with measurements and ingredients that we don’t have or want (I’ve lived a happy life so far without using “suet” in anything at all). I bought the book because I felt like I was getting to know the Captain’s Lady, and I liked her. I liked that she threw in poetry with her recipes. I liked her shopping list from Boston. I liked that she was clearly head over ears in love with her captain.

I also identified with her on two levels. The first is that I am completely head over ears in love also (my daughter refers to it as “cartoon-level heart eyes”). The second is that Marine Guy is currently away (but almost home!) and I related to all her sappy thoughts about missing her love and their joyous reunions. “I would choose to wait for him rather than any other man in the entire world,” said she. I feel you, 19th C. sister.

Here’s the other thing: The Captain’s Lady was a good writer. What she was doing, actually, was writing her own blog a century and a half before blogs existed. (Kind of like the way my Grandma anticipated Photoshop by constructing crude, photocopied Christmas newsletters in which her grandchildren’s heads were all decapitated from pictures and repositioned with tape inside drawings of trains and calendars. After she died, we found the headless pictures and the heads, both of which she’d saved). It’s a shame so much has been lost, thrown out, or considered unimportant because the author was female, but women have always written. Writers – both fiction and otherwise – just are. Here’s to finding a lost voice from another time, feeling sisterhood, and love.

Blythe Barnhill

Posted in AAR Blythe, Bookstores, Reading | Tagged | 49 Comments

New Directions: A Guest Post from Jill Sorenson

Hello All About Romance!

I’m so happy to be here, celebrating my new release. Against the Wall might be my most anticipated book yet, because it features my most-requested character: Eric Hernandez from 2011’s The Edge of Night. (AAR’s DIK review is here.) Eric was introduced in that story as a 20-year old gang member and drug dealer from Chula Vista, California. Against the Wall opens with his release from prison. It’s my debut New Adult romance, and my first attempt at writing first person, present tense.

I’d planned to write Eric’s story years ago, but The Edge of Night didn’t sell well enough to warrant a sequel. I moved on to the Aftershock series, and then the Dirty Eleven series. I’d considered a venture into New Adult when the subgenre was picking up steam. My readers know I’m fond of YA and NA subplots. But by the time I had a break in my schedule, the NA market seemed overcrowded.

As I wrapped up my second motorcycle club romance, I came to a crossroads. I wasn’t sure which project to take on next, or if I should even continue writing romantic suspense. Should I self-publish, go digital-only, or pursue print? Adopt a new pen name? Join the circus?

During the throes of my existential crisis, I got an email from a well-meaning reader. She suggested that I might have more success if I didn’t leave any loose threads at the ends of my novels. My secondary characters were “too interesting.” I should give them all happy endings, or not put them on the page.

Well. This email made me pretty sad. Mostly because this feature of my writing is one I can’t seem to change, but also because the truth hurts. I have left loose threads untied. There are some storylines I meant to revisit, but didn’t. The lack of closure for Eric, in particular, has always bothered me.

So I decided to just go for it. I developed ideas for two sequels, because I received almost as many requests for Maria and Ian from Caught in the Act as Eric and Meghan from The Edge of Night. My agent sent the proposals to my editor at Penguin Random House, who’d published the originals. Loveswept, their digital romance imprint, snapped up both ideas. Success!

I chose to branch out to New Adult for two reasons. I wanted to try something different, and I thought NA readers might be thirsty for a different sort of story. A lot of popular romance, NA included, delivers an elite fantasy scenario. Ivy League settings. Sports star heroes. Wealth, privilege, white-only. You know the drill. Those stories are fine, but I’m a working class girl. I’ve never been a fan of the idea that good men, true love and happy endings exist only in fantasies. Or worse, in the lives of the very rich. My NA is similar to my RS. It’s multicultural, gritty, feminist (or at least, female-friendly). I also do outdoorsy, action-adventure stories—the sequel to Caught in the Act is in this style.

Someone once said that I write books about “fucked-up people falling in love,” and that’s about right. My main characters have serious flaws and issues to overcome, but they’re always in a better place at the end, stronger together and working toward a bright future.
I can’t promise a happy ending for every secondary character I’ve written. I can’t promise that I won’t introduce any new ones, either. You’ll find more in Against the Wall. *sheepish grin* If you want a story for Kelsea and Tank, or Matthew, you’ll just have to wait. Right now I’m working on Ian and Maria’s story, Off the Rails.

I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I’m keeping my options open. Joining the circus is still on the table. ;)

What do you think about my secondary characters? Are you interested in reading Against the Wall and/or Off the Rails? Is there another story you’ve been patiently waiting for?

Jill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic suspense novels, including the Aftershock series by HQN. She lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, twitter and reality TV.


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The Best of 2015: Shannon’s List

2015 year was a pretty average year in books for me. There were a few things I hated, lots of things I liked, and a number of things I loved. Let’s take a look at what I loved and why I loved it.

Do Not Disturb by A.L. Torre.
I’ve never read anything like Do Not Disturb. Ms. Torre has crafted an incredibly unique series with an unforgettable heroine. There’s nothing out there that compares to it.

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent
Over the past few years, urban fantasy series have grown in popularity. They’re now a dime a dozen, but Menagerie offers something different. The world building is flawless, the plot gripping, and the characters totally relatable. I can’t wait for book 2 to be released.

The Drafter by Kim Harrison
I loved the sci/fi feel to Ms. Harrison’s latest offering. The romance is only hinted at, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Vision In Silver by Anne Bishop
From the moment I started reading Ms. Bishop’s work, I knew she’d be one of my auto buy authors. This book, third in her Others series, only confirmed my love for this author. This book is dark urban fantasy with the tiniest hint of sweetness thrown in. Meg and Simon are a truly remarkable couple, complimenting each other perfectly.

Closer Than You Think by Karen Rose
I love romantic suspense, and Karen Rose definitely knows how to do it right. Faith and Deacon are so good together, and the suspense plot kept me glued to my iPad until I reached the end of the book.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
I love Ms. Kearsley’s ability to blend past and present seamlessly. She outdid herself with this book, telling the story of two women, centuries apart, but leading oddly similar lives.

The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward
When asked to choose my favorite read of 2015, I simply had to pick this one. It’s full of everything I love: scandal, family drama, forbidden love. Ms. Ward’s writing isn’t the greatest I’ve ever read, but she can write plots and characters that hook you in and refuse to let go.


AAR Shannon

Posted in AAR Shannon, Best of 2015, Best of List, Best of Romance | 7 Comments