Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Romance was reviewed in the NYT…. Let’s make it happen again!

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

book-review-podcast-logo2009-articleInline-v3In December I interviewed historical romance author Sarah MacLean. I had contacted her because of a letter she had sent to the New York Times taking them to task for excluding romance authors and their works from a “Sex” issue published in the Sunday Book Review. (more…)

Eagerly Awaited March Books

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I can’t believe we’re already thinking about spring releases! But, March is just around the corner. Judging by the list of books we here at AAR are eager to try, I think it’s fair to say that Deanna Raybourn’s historical novels have our attention. Spring is bringing a variety of interesting-sounding books in other subgenres as well, and there seem to be more category romances than usual catching our eyes. So, what are you looking forward to in March?

Title and Author Reviewer
City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn Lynn, Caz, Pat, Lee, LinnieGayl, Rike, Maggie, Alexandra, Melanie
The Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin The Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin Maggie, Caroline, Lynn
All a Man is by Janice Kay Johnson All a Man Is by Janie Kay Johnson Heather, Pat
Carolina Man by Virginia Kantra Carolina Man by Virginia Kantra Lee, Haley
Night Broken by Patricia Briggs Night Broken by Patricia Briggs Maggie, Heather
The Fall of a Saint by Christine Merrill The Fall of a Saint by Christine Merrill Caz
Awakened by His Touch by Nikki Logan Awakened by His Touch by Nikki Logan Rike
Secrets at Court by Blythe Gifford Secrets at Court by Blythe Gifford Lynn
Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell Maggie
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford Lee
Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop Heather
Atonement by B.J. Daniels Atonement by B.J. Daniels Pat
For His Eyes Only by Liz Fielding For His Eyes Only by Liz Fielding Caroline
The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland Alexandra
The Rome Affair by Addison Fox The Rome Affair by Addison Fox Lynn
Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty Melanie
The Dark Affair by Maire Claremont The Dark Affair by Maire Claremont Caz
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan Rike
Precious Thing by Colette McBeth Precious Thing by Colette McBeth Maggie
A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman A King’s Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman Caz
Love Another Day by Gina Robinson Love Another Day by Gina Robinson Lee
The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly Caroline
Dancing With Dragons by Lorenda Christensen Dancing With Dragons by Lorenda Christensen Lynn
The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O'Neal The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal Heather
Death by the Book by Juliana Deering Death by the Book by Julianna Deering Maggie
All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins All I Ever Wanted(reissue) by Kristan Higgins Jenna
Double Blind by Heidi Cullinan Double Blind(reissue) by Heidi Cullinan Pat
An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley An Arranged Marriage(reissue) by Jo Beverley Rike

Tessa Dare releases her latest and Harper Collins offers a give-a-way

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

91clwiwPslL._SL1500_Tessa Dare, a perennial favorite here at AAR, releases her latest novel, Romancing the Duke, today. (more…)

Best Books of the Year – AAR Staff Favorites

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Just today a colleague at work told me to tell her what to read. Not only is this pretty much my favorite topic of conversation, it’s one area where I always have the answers. And today we give you our “what to read” answers. It’ our annual gush fest, when we only say nice things and talk about books we loved most this year. Our reviewers (mostly) pick one book and a few runners up – the best of our collective reading year. Theoretically, you can cram a few in before our annual poll closes (it helps if you are a speed reader with a lot of time on your hands – if that’s not you, then maybe you can just find a new favorite that you might have overlooked). We tended toward historicals this year (and even have something of a clear winner at three votes), but you’ll also find YA, NA, M/M, and paranormals. Here are our staff picks in their own words. Happy Reading…and hopefully, voting!)

Anne: One Week Girlfriend by Monica Murphy (a new adult book published by Random House). I was sort of … glancing through it… in the B&N to see whether I would like it. I sort of … glanced through … it to find out his big secret and suddenly realized I had read most of the book. Including the end. Whoops. So with a guilty blush, I bought the Nook Book and the sequel minutes later, and I’m reading it more carefully now.

Pat: Well, since I read a lot of gay romance last year, who will be surprised that my favorite books are m/m romances?  My favorite was Covet Thy Neighbor by L. A. Witt not only because of all the usual criteria (characters, plot, theme, and the rest) but also because it discussed religion and belief in God in the context of homosexuality.  There’s a wonderful scene in it where a trans boy-girl talks to the gay atheist tattoo artist that’s heartbreaking.

My close seconds are Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell and Beyond Duty by SJD Peterson.  I’d read the Something Like series and was eagerly awaiting Autumn, so I saved it for the overseas flight when we went to visit our daughter in Rome.  I found myself sobbing across the Atlantic with my husband on one side laughing at me (my own fault for crying he said since I knew what the series was about) and a stranger who kept moving away from me on the other.  In retrospect, it was funny, I think.

Beyond Duty is a thought-provoking look at two career soldiers who retire just as Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is revoked.  They’re young, fit, and confused about where to go from here.  Since part of my extended family spent their lives in the military, the thoughts and decisions the book’s characters have to make resounded with me.

(After years of reading romances in which the most pressing issue is whom to marry, it was a refreshing year to read romances in which authors were tackling some heavy-duty contemporary issues.)

Melanie: This was really hard – my best book for 2013 was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (possibly because I haven’t read Eleanor and Park yet!). I really connected with Cath, awkward and a little out of place and starting college, and her difficulty relating to people around her. And her budding romance with Levi is adorable. My runner up was Game by Barry Lyga, his sequel to I hunt Killers. Lyga is great at writing suspense and keeping the tension high without feeling overdramatic. And each time I finish his books, I am left wanting more. Which is great. And horrible, but great. I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Jenna: My best book of 2013 was Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. While not an easy read – I think I cried during most of it! – the romance told in this story was so delicate and gut-wrenchingly real, the story haunted me for days after I’d finished reading it. All of my indicators for a true keeper were present. I couldn’t put it down. The characters jumped off the page. While not a traditional happy-ever-after ending, I was still left feeling hopeful. And I can easily and happily recommend it to anyone as a fantastic example of a YA novel that will appeal to adults as well as young adults.

Haley: Mine would have to be World After by Susan Ee. It is the second book in the Penryn and the End of Days series. So far, both books have been action packed and the romance is so poignant. The premise is that the angel Gabriel came to earth and the humans shot at him, as a result, the angels have launched a full-on attack against the humans. This has caused a type of apocalypse and now the modern world is in a state of upheaval. Penryn is a teenager who is trying to help her younger sister and mother survive. Her mother is highly, mentally unstable and her younger sister is paralyzed so Penryn takes over as the head of the family. When they stumble into a fight between some of the angels, the younger sister is taken and Penryn ends up pairing with a wounded angel to try and retrieve her. Book two continues her attempts to reunite her family and help the wounded angel, Raffe, reclaim his place with the angels.

I particularly liked this series because Penryn is just a normal girl thrown into the most extreme of circumstances and manages to be a pretty tough chick. There’s no “insta-love” like so many YA paranormal romances. In fact, Penryn and Raffe are very sarcastic and sometimes downright antagonistic to each other. I love all of the characters in this book. Penryn is so tough and able, despite how challenging things become. Raffe is both snarky and a warrior. Penryn’s mother is fascinating in the most horrible way. Ee really takes you for a ride with non-stop action and moments that are downright gruesome and scary. This definitely falls on the darker side as far as YA books are concerned but it is so worth it.

Cindy: My best book of 2013 is Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh.  Ms Singh can be hit or miss with me but the story of an extremely dangerous man (trying not to put spoilers here) and a girl/young woman who touched a part of him he didn’t know he had hit almost every note perfectly. I liked that this particular story was more about just two people and how they do and don’t heal in a world that has done them so much harm. I appreciated the simplicity of the story and in the end, the story had to be told that way to remain true to the male character. I also appreciated that love was neither character’s cure all. Their ability to do very bad things was not minimized by the author and yes, there is a HEA but by my understanding there is a catch.

Dabney: Uncommon Passion gets my vote for best romance of 2013.

I read the book in July and since then have probably reread it five times. Every time it blows me away. Ms. Calhoun’s stories often have a dark core but though there is grief in Uncommon Passion, the novel is unashamedly joyous.

The heroine, Rachel, a young woman who has left the fundamentalist community she was raised in order to live a life without soul crushing limits, creates happiness, both in the life of the troubled cop, Ben, with whom she falls in love, and in the lives of those lucky enough to read this book. Rachel is such an indelible character it would’ve been easy for her to be more interesting than Ben. And she would be were Ben not hot as hell and entrancingly remote. His struggle to push past the brittle facade he donned years ago is moving and compelling.

Everything about this book works for me.

Uncommon Passion is the sexiest book I read in 2013; the love scenes are riveting and vividly erotic. Ben’s anger, directed at his father and at himself, is heartbreaking and infuriating. Rachel is perfect for Ben which surprises the two of them and the reader. The novel is beautifully plotted and gorgeously written.

Ms. Calhoun’s work becomes better with each story she writes; Uncommon Passion is her best yet.

Lee: My best book of the year is Let It Be Me by Kate Noble. Set mostly in Venice, it’s about a girl following her dream of being a concert pianist but having to deal with her mother trying to marry her off. Even though I have been to Venice, after reading this book I want to go back to, and listen to classical music while there. I also really loved Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly, which follows a down on her luck young woman on her way out west to take up a position as a teacher in Wyoming. If you’ve read Ms. Kelly before, you know she can write to tear at the reader’s heartstrings and she does it again in this book. And as others have mentioned, The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley also is a lovely book. My favorite character was Anna. What an adventurous life she had.

Mary: Oh I hate when I can only choose one, so thanks for giving us a little leeway. My best book(s) of the year are Darius:  Lord of Pleasure by Grace Burrowes and What a Lady Needs by Kasey Michaels. In Darius, the hero is a sort of gigolo who hires out his services just short of sexual intercourse. He has taken this path after being cut off by his father. Another aristocrat has a platonic marriage with his wife and therefore no heir. He is also dying and wants to protect his wife from her vulture of a former stepfather before he dies. He contracts with Darius to impregnate his wife. I usually hate adultery stories, but this one is done so well and is so poignant, that I could not help but love both the hero and heroine. In What a Lady Needs, I loved this character driven romance between Katherine Redgrave and Simon Ravenbill as they try to sort out the treasonous plots that both families are caught up in. There is a lot of genuine humor in this book that makes you want to hang out with the principal characters.

Other books that ALMOST made it:

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait by Grace Burrowes

Into the Light by Ellen O’Connell

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly

Blythe: This was a harder year for me because it just wasn’t the best reading year in general. I can’t help wishing I’d read the newest Kearsley, Kelly, Willig, and Thomas – but I didn’t get to any of those. In fact, I read more general fiction this year than usual, so among my favorites I’d include The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, and the surprise J.K. Rowling book, The Cuckoo’s Calling.

My romance reading was just a little lackluster, with one notable exception. So my best romance of the year is Sweet Revenge by Zoe Archer. It’s a well-written book with characters who are uncommon precisely because they are common. The hero is an escaped convict bent in revenge (hence the title), and the heroine is a governess whose parents are missionaries. Most other new-to-me authors I tried in 2013 felt like so many rehashes of all that has come before. And I am at a stage in my reading career where the unusual and different are very appealing. If you’ve missed Sweet Revenge, try to squeeze it in.

Lynn: My book of the year was The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. I loved The Winter Sea, the book which preceded it, but the multi-layered plot and the beautiful, sweeping romance in Firebird just blew me away.

For runners-up, I would choose – The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin – I just adored this book! The setting, the characters, the plotting and the romance…this one just really worked for me. Also, I enjoyed seeing a time and place I know very little about come to life for me. The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig – This book isn’t a standard, “follow the rules” genre romance, but the end result certainly is romantic. Seeing both the past and present romances unfold as well as how the actions of past generations affect the current one made this a very good read indeed.

Maggie: My favorite romance of the year was The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. Kearsley’s trademark lyrical writing, haunting story line and intense romance permeate this book and make it among the best reads of 2013, not just the best romance. Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel would be the runner up. A breathtaking look at India during a unique period of its history it is also an incredible sweet romance between two intriguing characters. Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer was a wonderfully humorous Inspirational that had a heartfelt romance at its core.

LinnieGayl: My book of the year, and the one that will dominate my AAR Annual Reader Poll ballot is Lauren Willig’s The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. I was nervous when I first heard about this book, couldn’t imagine the “older” Miss Gwen as a heroine. But both the book, and Miss Gwen, are spectacular. I listened to it as an audio book and the minute I finished went back and listened to the last chapters many more times. Miss Gwen has so much more depth than I ever imagined. And I still smile over the final reveal of Plumeria. In second place for me is The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig (yes, it was a Lauren Willig year for me). I was less than enthusiastic about a standalone that did not feature The Pink Carnation. But I was quickly captured both by the historical story and by the “current” 1999 story. It’s a big, sweeping tale taking place over decades and across continents. I also listened to this in audio and will definitely listen again.

Rike: The 2013 book I liked best, hands down, was The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig. I love older heroines and adored what Willig did with Gwen, who does start out as a bit of a caricature at the beginning of the series. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is both funny and heart-breaking (the passages in which Gwen needs to rethink her relationship with Jane!).The first of my runners-up is New Life by Bonnie Dee. This novel’s hero is mentally handicapped after an accident, and the romance deals with some very difficult-to-solve situations, and does not cop out by offering easy solutions. Very gritty and emotional!

My second runner-up is also a contemporary, but the complete opposite in subject and tone: An Invitation to Sin by Sarah Morgan. This is a sparkling, charming romance which made me smile, but at the same time it’s not superficial, even though it is set among Sicilian millionaires.

Heather: My favorite books of 2013: The Luckiest Lady in London – Sherry Thomas excels at the unconventional, going far beyond standard Regency fare. The Luckiest Lady in London is no exception with its less-than-beautiful heroine and hero who decides she is worth pursuing. Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews – Just when I believe the Kate Daniels series has peaked, that the next book cannot possibly surpass the last, the authors raise the bar and deliver a story that takes my breath away. In Magic Rises the stakes are higher, the villains scarier, and the emotional impact greater than any Kate Daniels book that has preceded it. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Don‘t let the Young Adult designation fool you. This is a story of misfits to which readers of any age (and especially those of us in our late 30s/early 40s) may relate and enjoy. As Eleanor, with her unsettled home life, and Park, who has the perfect family, bond over punk rock and being targeted by school bullies, the reader falls in love with them as well. At the end my heart soared and I felt a strong desire to blast The Ramones for all the world to hear.

Alexandra: I’ve been putting off making my decision for a while, but I feel like I really have to go with Sherry Thomas’ The Luckiest Lady in London. I loved Felix and Louisa, as I always love her characters. I don’t quite know what made this book so amazing – perhaps it was how believable I found the characters and their emotions to be. Too often I’ve felt bored and apathetic while reading a book where one of the main characters had a traumatic childhood. It’s not that I’m unfeeling (I hope!) but rather that the tale seems a little over-dramatic or just doesn’t hit me right. I believed in Felix and Louisa – they were real, their emotions were real, their less-than-perfect lives made me hurt for them.

There were, of course, many other books I read and fell in love with this year. However, the only one of all of them that I really considered choosing as my favorite was The Turncoat: Renegades of the Revolution by Donna Thorland. It was her debut novel, I believe, and I just fell head over heels for it. Drama, good characters, and the American Revolution–what more can you ask for in a book?

Caz: It’s a tough choice, but if I’ve got to pick one, I’m going for The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas. As is always the case with ST, the writing is beautiful and her two protagonists were utterly captivating. Louisa isn’t beautiful and Felix is a scoundrel underneath his carefully cultivated persona of The Ideal Gentleman, but together they peel away the layers of preconceptions about themselves and each other. It’s a terrific read and I couldn’t put it down.

Runners up: The Countess Conspiracy (Courtney Milan). It’s beautifully written, the emotions just jumped off the page and all the detail about the scientific work and discoveries being made by the characters was fascinating. Sebastian and Violet are incredibly well-drawn and multi-layered characters who absolutely and completely belong together and my heart broke for them several times! Once Upon a Tartan by Grace Burrowes – Tye is a beautiful and complex hero with a love of language (and naughty words to boot!) who completely steals the show in this story of a man who has always put others first who discovers that sometimes the best way to help people is to stand up for your own needs. The Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen – Second book in her Boleyn Trilogy, this story continues the story of the “alternative” tudor timeline in which Henry VIII had a son by Anne Boleyn. His minority over, William is now king in his own right. But he’s also his father’s son – and when he decides he’s in love with a girl he’s known all his life (who is in love with his best friend and closest advisor) the stakes are raised considerably.  Politics, history and a star-crossed romance – I can’t wait for book 3!

I’d better hit send now, because this list will probably have changed in an hour or so! We have only days left in our annual poll, which closes January 26 at midnight. We’ll soon find out whether our favorites are your favorites. But feel free to comment and let us know how your reading year was. And if you haven’t voted yet, hop to it!

Eagerly Awaited February Books

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

As we get closer to time for February releases, I think it’s fair to say that more than a few of us are curious to see what Tessa Dare’s new historical romance series holds for readers. February also brings us a new series from Suzanne Brockmann. And if you aren’t in the mood to try a new series? Well, we found several other upcoming books to pique our curiosity. What do you want to read next month?

Title and Author Reviewer
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare Lynn, Dabney, Cindy, Lee, Mary, Blythe, Caz, Alex
Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann Blythe, Lea, Heather, Caroline, Caroline
The MacGregor's Lady by Grace Burrowes The MacGregor’s Lady by Grace Burrowes Mary, Caz
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen Maggie, Haley
Jaded by Anne Calhoun Jaded by Anne Calhoun Dabney, Lynn
Walking on Air by Catherine Anderson Walking on Air by Catherine Anderson Lee, Pat
Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb Maggie, Blythe
The Forbideen Queen by Anne O'Brien The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien Caroline, Lynn
To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham Haley
Shamed in the Sands by Sharon Kendrick Shamed in the Sands by Sharon Kendrick Caroline
Up From the Grave by Jeaniene Frost Up From the Grave by Jeaniene Frost Lea
In Search of Hope by Anna Jacobs In Search of Hope by Anna Jacobs Pat
At the River's Edge by Mariah Stewart At the River’s Edge by Mariah Stewart LinnieGayl
Alienated by Melissa Landers Alienated by JMelissa Landers Maggie
The Countess Confessions by Jillian Hunter The Countess Confessions by Jillian Hunter Lee
Winter at Mustang Ridge by Jesse Hayworth Winter at Mustang Ridge by Jesse Hayworth Pat
The Real Mr. Right by Karen Templeton The Real Mr. Right by Karen Templeton Caroline
Misbehaving by Tiffany Reisz Misbehaving by Tiffany Reisz Lynn
Curl Up and Dye by Sharon Sala Curl Up and Dye by Sharon Sala Maggie
Why Earls Fall in Love by Manda Collins Why Earls Fall in Love by Manda Collins Lee
M

Melting the Ice by Jaci Burton Haley
That Part was True by Deborah McKinlay That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay Pat
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan Maggie
After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman Dabney
The Major's Wife by Lauri Robinson The Major’s Wife by Lauri Robinson Caroline

Getting Started on Those 2014 TBR Challenges!

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

threeriverranch Once again, I’m participating in the multi-blog TBR Challenge but this year we’re doing things a little differently here on the blog as a couple of my fellow AAR reviewers are working on reading challenges, too. So, each month we’ll all be talking reading challenges and if there are any challenges you want to hop onto for yourself, you’ll find links down at the bottom.

My challenge for the month was to read something short – a category novel or a novella or short story. I tend to buy plenty of category romance so this was no problem for me. When Entangled launched, I had purchased several books from their various category lines to try and a few were still sitting unread on the Kindle, so this time around I decided to try Three River Ranch by Roxanne Snopek. Three River Ranch is a 2012 release from the Bliss line, a line that seems to feature American settings, strong family/home/community themes and fairly low-level sensuality. I have a feeling this line would appeal to readers of Harlequin American Romance or Special Edition. (more…)

Where do you keep your romances?

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Modern-Wooden-Style-Custom-Home-Library-Design-IdeasI lived a transitory, small-apartment life for a number of years, and my romance keepers lived in the spare room of my mother’s house. Now I’m living for the first time in my own home, and it’s showed me something I didn’t know about myself: I’m still not completely sure how public I want my romance reading to be.

(more…)

How to write a romance… or not

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

writing a romance novel for dummiesSince I learned there was such a thing as a How to Write book, I’ve loved those suckers. Even the books that were too basic for me offered something — new advice, a fresh perspective, inspiration to write. There weren’t enough of the darn books to satisfy me.

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Why I Love Reading Challenges

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

books.lots Back in 2008 several readers on the Romance Potpourri Board discovered they shared a similar problem – they weren’t reading much romance anymore. That problem had led to a secondary dilemma – since they were still buying romance novels they had rapidly growing TBR piles. The solution arrived at was the 9 in 2009 Reading Challenge. Participants were encouraged to read just 9 novels off their TBR that met specific criteria. For most the challenge was an unexpected success and thus the unofficial AAR Romance Potpourri Board Reading Challenge was born. (more…)

Starting a New Year

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

penpaper There’s something about starting a new year that just feels fresh and inspiring. New places yet to see, new books still to be read, and somehow on that first day of each year, the world itself feels a little more new.

I moved recently, and as I’ve been unpacking my books (and even with my Kindle, there are still tons of paper books!), I find myself thinking about how I want to be reading in 2014. Here are some of the things important to me for next year:

Discovering new-to-me authors – I started reviewing at AAR when I was not long out of school. 2013 marked my 10th year here, and one of my favorite things about being a reviewer has been the discovery of books and authors I probably would not have discovered on my own otherwise. AAR is what led me to (more…)