Who Loves Historicals? – TBR Challenge 2015

brilliantmismatch Reading an historical romance for a reading challenge is rather like a Busman’s Holiday for yours truly; the only difficulty being which one to pick from the YOOOGE number I have sitting on my TBR pile. In the end, I closed my eyes, metaphorically stuck a pin in the Paperback Pile of Doom that sits by the side of the bed, and ended up with A Brilliant Mismatch by Elizabeth Mansfield, which was originally published in 1991.

Lady Moira Pattinger is, at twenty-six, the eldest of four sisters and the only one of them to remain unmarried. That is not by design, however. She has in fact been betrothed twice… and jilted twice, each time in favour of one of her sisters thanks to the interference of her father, who offered each suitor a substantial sum of money to give up Moira and marry one of her sisters. Discovering that her latest beau has been “diverted” to her youngest sister by the same means is the last straw. Furious at what she believes are her father’s attempts to keep her from marrying so that she can continue to serve as both housekeeper and secretary, Moira confronts him in a rage and tells him that she intends to go out in the morning and marry the very first man she sees.

The Honourable Oliver Sherrard, brother of the Earl of Lydbury, is a happy-go-lucky, good-natured sort of chap who, having spent most of his twenty-three years doing what other people want, has decided it’s time for him to have a bit of an adventure. As a second son, he is going to have to make his own way in the world, but before he does that, he plans to undertake an extended walking-tour, taking with him only what he can carry in his backpack, the clothes on his back, a sturdy pair of boots and enough money to see him through.

He makes good progress on the first day and stops for the night at a less than salubrious inn, where the fact that he pays for his board and lodging with a gold coin attracts the wrong sort of attention. The next day, he is set upon, robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. Badly beaten, bruised and concussed, he eventually comes to and makes his way to the nearest building in order to shelter from the rain. He collapses, coming round hours later to see the most beautiful young woman he has ever seen staring at him and – here’s where he knows he must be dreaming – asking him to marry her. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

My Dark Prince: A Guest Pandora’s Box

Hello everyone and welcome to our monthly AAR blog column. The basic idea is we choose a book every month and have a discussion about it. We being Elisabeth Lane (of Cooking Up Romance), a long-time romance reader who now creates recipes inspired by books and then blogs about it, and Alexis Hall (author of, most recently, Waiting for the Flood), relative newcomer to the romance genre and occasional writer.

So, uh, My Dark Prince: He’s the Prince of an imagined country, attempting to secure the line of succession by marrying the princess of neighbouring imagined country.  Except then the princess is presumed kidnapped. BUT the heroine happens to look like this princess. There’s politics! And intrigue! And angst. And finally love.


AJH: Omg, this book. I literally do not know what to say.

Elisabeth: Ha! Sounds like you had a few issues with this one.

AJH: I do have issues but they were partially of my own making, in that I wasn’t paying enough attention and so I assumed it was from, uh, the 70s or something. And so I read it with my ‘this is from the 70s’ hat on (which I guess is a set of deely boppers) and then I discovered it was actually from the year 2000 and suddenly a lot of the things I’d seen as cracktastically old school were weird and disturbing to me.

Elisabeth: I know what you mean about putting on a different set of lenses for older books. I’ve got a set too. First though, was there anything you liked about it?

AJH: I did actually really enjoy it at the time of reading. It’s super dramatic and engaging. It was just afterwards when I actually thought about it that my reactions became complicated.

Elisabeth: It did have a fairy tale epic quality that I enjoyed. It reminded me of Laura Kinsale’s books. Of course, the bad news is that it reminded me so much of Kinsale that I found myself comparing it to hers (which are my FAVORITES) and…finding it a bit lacking.

AJH: I think once you start comparing something to Kinsale it is doomed… DOOMED! I liked the fairytale quality you mention and the other thing I admired is that the hero is genuinely a Machiavelli. I often find attempts to do political intrigue pretty transparent, but there were so many layers of manipulation here that the hero always being one step ahead came across as genuinely impressive to me. If unpleasant.

Elisabeth: Indeed. In fact I thought the political intrigue was much more well done than the romance. And especially the sex. But the intrigue I think was what was reminding me of Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart. It’s a different era though, which doesn’t speak especially well of the characterization of the hero. And that’s kind of where I got tripped up, I think. This was definitely the hero’s story. He was the one with the major emotional issues to address and he was the one with the massive personal goal. The heroine felt like window dressing to me. She was just so…perfect and sweet and peasanty. I couldn’t figure out what Ross was trying to do with her.

AJH: I thought the heroine–Penny–was actually quite interesting in some respects. I mean, she is a bit too good to be true (which played off badly in the context of at least one of the hero’s issues) but I liked the fact she was sexually experienced and not afraid to be the sexual instigator. I also liked the fact that near the end of the book she comes back to the Pollyanna letters she wrote to her mother at the beginning of the book, and is all like “oh wow, I was a smug moron”. So I felt there was probably more depth to her than actually comes out in the text.

Elisabeth: Hm. Well, I’m all for subtext and quiet romantic conflict, but I think the vision exceeded the execution there.

AJH: I would very much agree with that – to me, the hero was one-note tormented, although politically adept, and the heroine was uneven with flashes of genuine depth. But I think where she lost any hope of being a subtle or nuanced character was when she literally saved the hero from his abusive past with her vagina. And I know this is a Thing in romance (and there’s the Magic Dick of Healing in m/m) but it felt really … hammerlike to me in this book.

Elisabeth: Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what saved him. Like, at first, their sexual scenarios seemed pretty healthy and normal? But then there’s one near the end where he is really quite cruel to her. And by the final few, I was just skimming them, which I never do. I’m not sure it’s exactly her vagina that saves him. She kind of gives him some talk therapy and writing therapy, which felt totally weird and anachronistic to me. And then he’s magically all better, like, overnight. I just thought the whole thing was strange and inconsistent.

AJH: There was one sex scene, which is the first one, which actually kind of moved me? In that they say they love each other, and she sort of gives him everything, just open-hearted responses, and it concludes with her realising that he’s only given her his body in response. I know it’s not precisely original but I thought it worked quite well context and what I did like about it was, at that point, it wasn’t trying to pretend sex could be inherently healing. Like they have the magic romance novel sex … but he’s still an abuse victim after. But, as you say, once they get into trying to ‘fix’ that, it all goes really weird. And the final time they do bonking, he waits to have his PTSD flashback (as he has all times previously) and it does not come! Because love. Or write-therapy. Or vagina. Or whu?

Elisabeth: Oh, I see what you’re saying. Well, it is the end of the book. And it’s a romance, so he does eventually have to heal. Maybe the lead-up to it was too subtle for me. I just didn’t catch the PTSD flashbacks the way I did in, say, The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne. Maybe because it was the hero and not the heroine? Maybe I was insufficiently identifying with him.

AJH: Well, he’s slightly hard to identify with because his two modes are Scheming and Self-Loathing. I’m probably over-sensitive about this stuff, to be honest. And I realise it’s a romance novel so there has to be some sort of healing but the abuse was so extreme and his reaction to the abuse was so deeply embedded in his character that having him suddenly be “all better” felt really … just icky to me.

Elisabeth: I guess I had a slightly different reaction. It didn’t feel icky to me. I just felt rather cheated as a reader. I mean, the romantic arc was set up as: boy needs to turn girl into a princess, girl needs to turn boy into a human being. But the resolution of that was unsatisfying. I almost wish she had completely left out the abuse. It was clear that the Uncle or whomever was not only a child abuser, he was a bad man on every level. Why couldn’t that have been sufficient?

AJH: I love that categorisation of the arc. But, yes, the Uncle was just cartoon shithead. I expected him to be trying to rape the furniture by page 250.

Elisabeth: And the thing is, there was a perfectly lovely historical, political conflict to be had there. The monarchy versus democracy thing could have been explored further, I thought. Maybe that’s just my colonial roots. And Ross seems to be great at that! So why throw this other thing in there and then handle it… not well?

AJH: It might be another reach exceed grasp type thing. Because actually: there are unusual things about the heroine and there are also unusual things about the hero. I mean, yes, sexual abuse is a fairly common hero trauma but he’s completely consumed by it in a way that makes him surprisingly vulnerable a lot of the time. To say nothing of sexually frigid. And he spends most of the book politically disempowered. And, at the end, while you say it’s unsatisfying (which I agree with) it’s also kind of impressive that he gives up on princedom to come and essentially be a house-husband. All of these things add up to something that could be rare and kind of fascinating. Except it, err, doesn’t seem to have worked for either of us?

Elisabeth: Well, a house-husband who sits in the House of Lords… But yes, you’re right. It didn’t work.

AJH: Sad face.

Elisabeth: There was one small facet of it that grew on me though. Ross has a way with language that’s incredibly interesting. She’s way overboard with the extended metaphors and figurative speech, but… I kind of enjoyed it by the end. She described a latch as rattling and panting and “giving a plaintive whine”. There’s a dog behind it, of course, but that was just clever and pretty. It’s a little bit crazy-making at first, but it’s the main reason I’d be willing to try another of hers.

AJH: Well, there’s this bit about, err, dead months you quoted which actually really stood out for me as well:

The clean-boned fingers tightened slowly on the gilded wood. One by one his knuckles shone stark and polished in the candlelight. Then he opened his hands and stood up. He walked to the window. The latch creaked as he turned it. A drift of moths fluttered, clinging to the window frame, then launching erratically as night streamed back into the room. Ghost moths landed on his jacket and hair, fuzzy, fluttering gray-golden petals. A hawk moth bumped, heavy bodied, against his hand. Lappet moths, with their dead-leaf wings and feathered antennae, shriveled and died in the candle flames.

The style was honestly part of the reason I thought I was in the 70s. It’s kind of like eating an entire box of Godiva truffles. Occasionally delicious but way, way too much.

Elisabeth: Too much can be kind of fun sometimes…

AJH: I agree, too much can occasionally be just right. And I did enjoy the sheer gilded excess of this poor tormented man covered in moths for no reason. I feel bad because I’ve trashed the book but I was genuinely totally committed to it and drawn into it when I was reading. And I do believe a lot of what it was trying to do, or could have done, or perhaps might achieve for a more generous or just plain different reader was admirable.

Elisabeth: So, any other thoughts about My Dark Prince?

AJH: Well, I kind of want to know how you virginity check a princess. I mean, it’s just casually mentioned as something that Princess Sophia cheerfully consents to in order to get an annulment. And I’m sure it probably did happen in History ™  … but just, how the hell would you figure that out?

Elisabeth: I sort of just assumed the lady’s maid’s testimony about the chicken blood was sufficient? Maybe I’m naive…

AJH: God, I hope so. It sounded hideous and bizarre. And, err, on that happy note. Any final thoughts?

Elisabeth: Well, just that one of the things I love best about All About Romance is that there are all these old, old reviews from when books first came out…and this one got a review! So there’s a slightly different perspective on My Dark Prince, maybe a tad more positive if people are finding the premise engaging.

Next month, we’ll discuss Jordan Castillo Price’s Meatworks. We’d love to have you join the conversation.

Posted in Guest Posts, Pandora's Box | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

When Fiction Gets Work Flat Out Wrong

Recently, AAR’s Maggie Boyd reviewed the book Starlight on Willow Lake, and one of the reasons it received a C- from her was the unrealistic depiction of the heroine’s career. This got me thinking about romances and careers. We are all (mostly!) experts on our own day jobs, from stay-at-home parenting to freelance journalism to brain surgery, and seeing our lives depicted inaccurately can be very jarring in a book.

For me, as a historian, I was never able to get into Lauren Willig. I tried The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, which includes a plot in the past running opposite modern historians doing research, and it didn’t look like history at all. While her researchers were reconstructing individual conversations (if I recall, and it was years ago, they happened to be recorded in a diary), I was in the middle of a project trying to find out if a woman I was researching had four children or five, and what years they were born. The level of specificity of the Willig sources (written by people theoretically spying, who shouldn’t have written things down!) felt just absurd. I don’t know if her later books change this, or even if that book improved by the end, because I DNFed it.

I had the same problem with a non-romance, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, because her characters were reading old sources at a rate that matched the unfolding of the plot. A letter (again, it was years ago, so it might have been a diary entry) would talk about Turkey, so they’d go there, then read the next letter, which talked about Romania, or whatever… it was ridiculous. Real people would have read all the letters before setting out anywhere. The only reason they didn’t is that later letters revealed plot points, so the author had to force them to happen later in the book. It annoyed me so much that the book was another DNF even though her writing was marvelous.

I asked AAR staffers to weigh in with how their professional lives affected their romance reading.

Maggie elaborated on her Starlight on Willow Lake critique: As someone who works in and employs people for the home health industry I found the description of Faith McCallum’s job completely improbable…. the heroine is lauded for her work in the field, has excellent references and yet is out of work for three months. It’s dependent on location of course but few home health workers have problems finding jobs. It’s a low paying field with taxing work; we are normally begging for employees. Most agencies I know keep a “Help Wanted” ad running year around because help really is always wanted. I also found it awkward that Faith treated Mason [the hero] as her employer [when his mother Alice was the patient]. Technically, he is paying her salary, but in medicine it is the patient who is treated as the client, and confidentiality laws tend to protect them. I found it odd that Alice was treated by Faith, a supposedly experienced care worker, as someone who had no right to privacy. Icing the cake for me was Faith’s complete lack of professionalism. She accepted expensive gifts from the client, which is strongly frowned upon. She brought her children to her interview and had them repeatedly interact with the patient. She seemed to draw no lines between her work and private life.

Lee: The book that bothered me a LOT was Grace Burrowes’ A Single Kiss. And yes, she is a lawyer in real life though I suspect she’s a single practitioner. Anyhoo, in A Single Kiss one of the partners is constantly hitting on and touching a new hire, a female associate. There is just no way that that is acceptable behavior. And the fact that the associate didn’t see anything wrong with it just made me roll my eyes over and over again. In real life, the female associate would speak to the HR person and the other partners would speak to the idiot saying things like “Are you crazy?!?! Do you want to have the EEOC file a complaint against us?”

Lynn: As a lawyer, I find myself getting frustrated with a variety of things having to do with depiction of the profession. However, the lack of awareness regarding ethics rules for dealing with clients is what truly gets me going. I’ve read a few books from various Harlequin lines that center on an attorney who just KNOWS her criminal defense client is innocent. And they start a relationship while she’s representing him.  Um…no. Sleeping with your clients is barred by the ethics rules in many states and I’ve seen attorneys get suspended or disbarred for it.

I’ve also read a few small-town romances where the attorney character blabs personal client business to others in town, supposedly for their client’s own good or to play matchmaker for their unwitting clients.  I guess the term “attorney-client privilege” didn’t sink in with these folks.

On a more positive note, I have enjoyed some lawyer romances. Do-Over by Dorien Kelly and Practice Makes Perfect  by Julie James are both good ones. I have my minor quibbles, but overall, both authors a good job of showing the weird combination of high stress and tedium that can go into a civil practice. Law has its moments, but it’s definitely not all courtroom drama.

Anne: This is one reason I’m glad so few writers find copyeditors interesting. I’ve never come across a romance where someone is trying to edit articles from a weekly science journal — probably because reading about that would be like watching paint dry. If somebody did start a trend of romances about copyeditors (eek!), I’d probably find all sorts of distracting errors. (“See edited an article with 256 references in a couple of hours?! WTH?!”)

OTOH I will point out that office workers in novels rarely worry about a long commute and rarely get stuck in a traffic jam — unless it’s romantic suspense story where the characters are trying to stop the villain before it’s too late.  They all seem to pop into the office as if they have transporters. Even lower level employees who could not afford apartments near the office seem to live nearby. So we already know that quite often, characters are in what I’d call “JobLand” rather than in something resembling a real job.

Haley: I see librarians in books sometimes but it’s always a very flat depiction. It’s rare that there’s any sort of description of what they actually do during the day. It’s like authors think they want a character to be bookish/shy/reserved so librarian is the career of choice. Yet most librarians have to be outgoing because our job is customer service, community outreach, programs, etc.

Melanie: Yes. This. Librarians seem to come in one of two categories – either the shy, bookish type who became a librarian to read all day (I wish!), or the secret sex kitten. And generally, the sex kitten is an erotica-only occurrence. Librarianship is actually a service industry. I don’t know about others, but I spend the vast majority of my day talking with students at my university, supervising other staff and student workers, and dealing with problems. I would absolutely love to spend my day reading books, though!

Blythe: I get irrationally annoyed when books make mistakes involving academia. I don’t know whether it was too many years of either being in grad school or seeing someone go through it, but I’ve read books with someone faking a degree and getting a job as a professor, books where someone is still working on a dissertation and somehow up for a job as head of a department, and one ridiculous book where the hero was something like 27 and had THREE PhDs. This was She Who Dares, Wins by Candace Havens. I could not handle this. And then there’s the famous Ana or whatever her name is from Fifty Shades who sails through college with no email address. Sometimes I just can’t suspend the disbelief.

Mary: It’s not my day job, but I read one YA novel where the hero had graduated from college, joined the police force, made detective and was the most valuable member of the force at the ripe old age of 23 or 24. That gave him a year or two to surpass all the veterans.  Quite a feat.

Jenna: Yes, I read and reviewed a book which featured a hero who was a retired Navy SEAL at the ripe old age of 27-28ish, and he’d been in the teams for 10 years. Given the fact that he couldn’t even enlist until the age of 18 plus the years of training to become an active SEAL, the whole thing was beyond eye-roll inducing.

Dabney: My husband is a plastic surgeon and I help run his practice. Plastic surgeons tend to come in two flavors in Romanceland. There’s either the “I’ve never done a boob job in my life. I only fix cleft palates.” types–a character in Kristan Higgins’ If You Only Knew was of this ilk. Or there’s the “I have no soul and I only make the plight of the average woman worse by encouraging women to alter themselves in destructive ways” villain types. The truth is more complicated. Most plastic surgeons have a practice that is somewhere in between. The doc who does boob jobs is also gifted at post-breast cancer reconstruction. The practitioner who does TCA peels also removes and minimizes the scars on many a skin cancer victim. Few specialities require more training. I’ve met many many plastic surgeons in the past three decades and most of them are sane “I’m here for the patient” types.

This bias extends to women who’ve had plastic surgery. Read a book where a woman has implants? I’m willing to bet (Jill Sorenson’s Backwoods is an exception) she’s the bitch of the piece. It’s estimated that almost 5% of adult American women have breast implants. Are they all nightmares? Not in my experience.

What about you? Have you ever read a hero/heroine who shared your day job? How do authors do at depicting your work? When they make ridiculous mistakes, can you overlook it, or is that a deal-breaker for you?


Caroline Russomanno

Posted in Caroline AAR | 55 Comments

Midweek Minis: The September 2015 edition, part one

Midweek minis! You know you missed them. This is the first one we’ve run since June and we’ve got so many reviews, we’re running half this week and half next week. This week, Dabney, LinnieGayl, Caz, Maggie, and Melanie share their recent reads.


I recently re-read one of my favorite books from 2013, Loreth Anne White’s The Slow Burn of Silence. (I did so because I’d just read her newer release A Dark Lure which I will review soon.) The Slow Burn of Silence was just as enjoyable on my second read and I highly recommend it to those searching for romantic suspense.

Rachel Salonen has just lost her sister and brother-in-law to a terrible fire and been granted the guardianship of their only child, Quinn. Rachel is stunned to learn Quinn’s birth parents are Jeb Cullen, the love of Rachel’s life, and Amy Findlay, the woman he was accused of kidnapping, assaulting, and raping nine years ago. Jeb has spent those nine years in prison, put there in part by the testimony of Rachel and others. Amy never really recovered from the violence done to her and, finally, recently committed suicide.

Rachel is shocked to learn that, before her death, her sister Sophia had been working to get Jeb freed. Jeb has always sworn he is innocent of the crimes he’s accused of. Rachel has never believed him and has never forgiven him for not being the young man she thought he was when they were in love. When Jeb is released, thanks to her sister’s efforts, Rachel is sure he’s come to do her niece and her harm. Rachel is wrong.

Jeb is determined clear his name and prove to Rachel, the world, and the little girl who has his eyes that he is the man Rachel thought he was. And, when he is brutally attacked by three men in the masks, Rachel takes him in, despite her fear, and slowly, oh so slowly, begins to see him as he is and has always been: a man worthy of her love.

The Slow Burn of Silence is an excellent read on many levels. The book is a gripping mystery. Ms. White fills her books with a host of richly developed characters, all of whom have secrets. The mystery loses a bit of its hold in the last third of the book but, though the mystery ebbs, the suspense continues to build.

The Slow Burn of Silence is also a damn good romance. Rachel and Jeb are hot together, but the past is difficult for them–especially Rachel–to move beyond. Their relationship is made more complicated by Quinn who instinctively trusts Jeb without knowing who he is. Ms. White gives the reader a spine-tinglingly scary story bolstered by deep love. Grade: B+. Sensuality: Warm.



Karen Templeton’s category romances have been a comfort read of mine for years. While they’re not all DIKs, there’s something about her voice that works for me. She’s particularly adept at creating believable, interesting love stories for people with relatively normal lives. And this holiday romance from last fall – set over Thanksgiving and Christmas – is an excellent example, and one of my favorites of hers in years. It’s a definite DIK.

Ethan Noble is struggling to keep things together for his four children, three years after his wife died. He’s clearly still in mourning and it’s often all he can do to keep his kids on track and manage his job as high school football coach. And those kids are a particular handful, ranging from a rather precocious teenager, Juliette, to a toddler, with two twin boys in-between. Ethan’s not looking for a relationship of any kind, particularly with the new high school drama teacher, Claire Jacobs.

Claire, an aspiring actress, lived in New York for a number of years. She’s now in New Jersey on a break from acting, teaching at the local high school. Yes, Claire definitely thinks Ethan’s hot – most of the women and girls in town do – but she’s also not looking to be the mother of four kids, so has no trouble avoiding Ethan. That is, until Claire has multiple contacts with Ethan’s daughter Juliette, who seems determined to introduce Claire to the rest of the family.

This all sounds a bit clichéd, with the widower father and woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, and perhaps it would be in a less-skilled author’s hand. But Ms. Templeton has created two fully-developed characters in Ethan and Claire. Neither is perfect, but they lead full lives: they have personal issues, friends, and work they’re committed to. I found Claire and Ethan’s romance believable. They start out as adversaries, gradually become friends, and eventually lovers.

If you don’t like children in your romances, you’ll want to give this a pass. Ethan’s children don’t take over the story, but they do play key roles throughout.

While this is part of the author’s Jersey Boys series, I feel it works well as a standalone, with only minor appearances by characters from previous books. I know I’ll be reading this again when the holidays roll around, and highly recommend it. Grade: A-. Sensuality: Warm.



I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and The Dream Engine by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant has an absolutely lovely one at the site I got it from (the one at Amazon is slightly less beautiful). However, you have to have some good content behind that cover for me to love you. This book was a struggle for me to finish.

A sort of Alice in Wonderland meets steampunk YA novel, this is the story of Eila Doyle who begins to question her sanity when she starts having visions in her sleep.  In a world where Crumble, a drug taken daily by all citizens, prevents people from knowing they are dreaming, Eila has no idea what these visions are or what they mean. Fearing for her mental health, she determines to find out; a decision which leads her to a world underground, a world where all the dreams go. But some dreams are nightmares and they should never be seen in the light of day . . . .

For me, this book was sort of a hot mess. The bending of reality did not come across in cool way like it does in the movie Inception; here, the bending of reality came across like an acid trip gone bad, the kind where you just know when you wake up you’re still gonna be suffering some nasty side effects. Eila was a very naïve and impotent young girl to be the savior of the universe and there was far too much dialogue explaining things we didn’t need to know. There was also far too little exposition on things we did need to know. Ultimately, the bad world building and simplistic characters crashed and burned the whole thing for me. Grade: C-. Sensuality: Subtle.


Brenda Novak is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors so when I heard about her new book The Secret Sister I was beyond excited. I have not been a fan of her contemporaries but the mystery in this book sounded very intriguing. Alas, I was deceived.

After the death of her young daughter from SIDS and the divorce caused by her husband’s philandering Maisey Lazarow hits rock bottom and does what she swore never to do; returns to Fairham, the small island off the South Carolina coast where she grew up. To say she has relationship problems with her mother is to put it mildly – both she and her brother Keith have trouble dealing with the cold, autocratic woman who owns more than half the island and makes sure nobody ever forgets that. Trying to claim a small piece of independence for herself Maisey determines to stay not at her mother’s mansion but at the (damaged) sea shore cabins once owned by her deceased father. She’s more than a little surprised to find contractor Raphael “Rafe” Romero living on the property while he refurbishes it. They had shared a memorable one night stand many years ago. The last thing she wants is to go down that road again – or is it?

The mystery portion of the story doesn’t show up until after the fifty percent mark. Up until then Maisey and Rafe do the should we or shouldn’t we dance for pages on end. Adding confusion to the mix is Rafe’s young daughter, who is blind.  In spite of how vulnerable the young girl is Rafe involves her in his relationship with Maisey from the start. Keith, Maisey’s brother, is also very vulnerable. Possibly bi-polar, definitely a drug addict, he’s a plot point that never gets the medical attention he so clearly needs. The mystery itself frustrated me beyond measure. I can’t describe it without going into spoiler territory but let’s just say that doing the wrong thing for the right (in your opinion) reasons still leaves you doing the wrong thing.  Grade: C-. Sensualtiy: Warm.



This is the third book in Ms. Gracie’s Chance Sisters series and while it’s perhaps a little “lightweight” when compared to the previous book (The Winter Bride – my personal favourite) it still has much to recommend it.

Jane Chance is about to make her come-out and her beauty will ensure that she has her pick of eligible suitors. So her sisters are surprised when she accepts an offer from a rather dull and unprepossessing young man who is enthralled by her extraordinary beauty and talks of “adding her to his collection” of beautiful things. They try to talk her out of it, but Jane will not be dissuaded. For her, the most important thing about marriage is security; she has no wish to again experience the fear and deprivation she and her sister Abby had to face after their parents died, and is convinced that making a marriage of convenience with a wealthy man who clearly admires her greatly will be enough, and that perhaps love will grow eventually.

Her convictions are shaken, however, when she is assisted in her rescue of a mangy dog by a tall, dark, handsome gypsy, whose remarkable grey-green eyes she is unable to forget. Zachary Black is not, in fact a gypsy, even though he is perhaps somewhat on the wrong side of “respectable”. Having left home and his abusive father more than a decade previously, Zach has led a nomadic existence, roaming Europe and has, for the last eight years, been acting as a spy for the British government. The death of his father – an earl – has prompted his return to England so that he can foil his cousin’s plan to have him declared legally dead, so that he – the cousin – can inherit. Zach believes everything will be dealt with quickly and he can return to Europe, but there’s a snag. As soon as he takes his place as the rightful Earl of Wainfleet, he will be arrested for the murder of his stepmother.

Zach has no choice but to remain in England while both situations are resolved – which will, conveniently, give him some time to further his acquaintance with the lovely Jane Chance.

The thing I most enjoyed about this book is the way in which the author has written an actual romance that doesn’t depend on insta-lust or a series of thrown-together sex scenes in an attempt to show the truth of the connection between the hero and heroine. Jane and Zach can only meet during the walks they share in the park, and this felt very realistic, given that at the time the book is set, it was almost impossible for young men and women to meet alone and unchaperoned. Because they meet in public settings, the only thing they can actually do together is TALK to each other, and that, of course, is the perfect way for them to get to know each other properly.

The Spring Bride is an enjoyable and tender romance that’s well-written and suffused with humour and affection. Grade: B. Sensuality: Warm.


I picked up this novella because I’ve enjoyed other books in this series by Ms Bowen, and although it’s entertaining and the writing is as deftly accomplished as that in the author’s full length books, A Lady’s Guide to Skirting Scandal is a piece of relatively insubstantial fluff.

Readers of I’ve Got My Earl to Keep Me Warm will recall that Viola Hextall, sister of the Earl of Boden, tried to trap his friend, the Duke of Worth into marriage, believing that only marriage to one of such lofty status will enable the ton to accept a family so recently elevated to the peerage.  In this novella, we learn that the earl has packed Viola off to New York for a few months, hoping that her impulsiveness and high-spirits might be curbed somewhat by the journey and a change of scenery.

On the voyage, Viola is bored out of her mind.  Her two formidable chaperones vetoed all but two of the books she wanted to bring with her, and insist on rigid propriety at all times.  Managing to evade them briefly one day, she strikes up a conversation with Nathaniel Shaw, the ruggedly handsome, auburn-haired, blue-eyed ships’ surgeon, who plans to settle in America.  Over the next few days, the two continue to meet and converse whenever Viola can give her chaperones the slip, and Nathaniel is surprised to find a lively and curious mind behind Viola’s obvious beauty, but is disappointed to discover that she’s as much a social climber as any other debutante.

The conflict in the story is basically down to Nate’s desire to make his life in America and Viola’s to return home and snag herself a husband who will afford her security and social status.  But having an inkling that there is more to Viola than meets the eye, Nate challenges her to become more than that by encouraging her to read more widely and to voice her opinions.  Ms Bowen skilfully shows the reader that Viola is not what she seems, and the romance between her and Nate is written in such a way as to show that there is the potential for more than just physical attraction between them.

But as often happens with stories of this length, the romance is somewhat rushed, and given it now seems obligatory to include sex scenes in novellas, the central relationship really does move at breakneck speed.  That said, though, A Lady’s Guide to Skirting Scandal is well-written, with humour, insight and the same lightness of touch Ms Bowen has brought to her full length novels.  If you’ve read the other books in the series, then you might want to pick this one up for completeness and it’s certainly not a bad way to spend an hour or so. Grade: C. Sensuality: Warm.



So I’ve read a lot of romance and BDSM recently (and quite a lot not so recently), and I have to say: Risk It All is a refreshing take on Dominance/Submission and choice and power and I was really pleasantly surprised.

So we have Kipling, who is on the run from his pack – turns out he’s a werewolf, and he’s killed his Alpha and the Candidates (I’m guessing they were potential future alphas?) after being thrown into the fighting pit for years like an animal (it was 14 when he started, so it’s not like it’s some sort of criminal/punishment system). After he escaped, he found himself alone for the first time ever, struggling to survive the winter in an abandoned cabin. When he goes into town one day, he meets Torvald Cross (Tori), who flirts with him, feeds him dinner, knows what he is, and takes him to a lovely hotel for the evening. Then Kipling runs the next morning before Tori awakes.

But Tori is an Owner – he owns 2 dragons (who are kinda shapeshifters, kinda weapons) who have bonded with him, and the dragons search Kipling out to bring him home to Tori. Because “Tori’s wolf is making Tori sad.” Tori wants a lover, and gives Kipling a choice – stay with him for 6 months to see if he would be happy, or Tori will happily give him enough money to make his own way, without freezing to death first.

And I’d like to say a big thank you to Tori for giving Kipling the choice! He may be submissive (and he is really, really submissive), but that doesn’t mean he should be forced into anything. This was so incredibly refreshing. Honestly, I really wanted it to be longer, and I hope that we get more books in this universe. The writing itself was pretty good, though there were a few bits that were a little awkward, and it could have used a bit more explanation of the different types of people/creatures we have (I’m still not sure how it all works). Grade: B. Sensuality: Burning.

I feel so dirty…..I can’t believe I actually read this. I follow a book club, and they decided to have a dinosaur theme for June (because of Jurassic World, I’m assuming), and so against my better judgment, I spent the $0.99 and got this.


Taken by the T-Rex. Um, basically the story goes like this: Drin is a huntress in her caveman-era tribe (though they are all very much not cavemen) who are repeatedly threatened by a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex. The first time it came to their village it ate her friends and family, and destroyed most of their homes. Drin’s own mother was chomped (quite vividly, actually) in front of her. When the worst happens and the T-Rex returns, Drin lures it away to save her tribe, and the “thrill of the hunt” turns her on, hardcore (she’s never been much for sex before – tried it once, didn’t like it, didn’t know what all the fuss was about). Then the T-Rex catches up to her, rips of her clothes, and attempts to mate.

Have any of you ever seen a T-Rex skeleton? Or even better, stood next to one? If the T-Rex had a penis (and there is no scientific evidence that they did - most lizards do, but some birds don’t, so who knows), and it was anything comparable to it’s body size, that would have ripped Drin to pieces. Literally. Right before it chomped the remaining pieces. I will say, though, that there was no orifice-entering of any kind, so at least there’s that….

The thing that gets me about this is that this particular dinosaur had EATEN DRIN’S MOM IN FRONT OF HER! And then basically rapes her. I mean, she gets off on it, and it brings back her interest in sex (rubbing does interesting things with the lady bits. Take that as you will.), but it ate her mom. IT ATE HER MOM!!

It’s super short (less than 6K words), and it was kinda fun from a WTF standpoint, but I don’t think I would recommend this to someone outside that sheer WTF factor. It’s a thing. A thing that exists. Grade: I don’t even know. I can’t even begin to guess how to grade this. Sensuality: Erotica

Posted in Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, DIK, Maggie AAR, Melanie AAR, Mini reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Sonali Dev talks Bollywood, Tropes, and Saris: An Author Interview

One of the coolest romance related things I’ve done this year is attend a meeting of Lady Jane’s Salon in New York City. Lady Jane’s, founded in 2009, is the Big Apple’s first–and only–monthly romance fiction reading series. The night I went the set of authors reading was, to a woman, fabulous. Laura K. Curtis, Dahlia Adler, and Hope Tarr (I missed the earlier readers) all read from their works and I was intrigued by them all. But the reading that made me aflame to read was that given by Sonali Dev who read from her upcoming (and second) novel The Bollywood Bride. There was nothing for it but for me to seek out Ms. Dev, beg for an advance copy of the book, and ask her—while trying not to seem like a crazed fan stalker—if she’d be willing to let me interview her.


Dabney: You grew up in Mumbai, right? And now you live in the US. When and why did you come to the States?

Sonali: Yes, I grew up in Mumbai which is the most populous metropolis in India, and possibly also the most urban and westernized. Think big, hot, teeming melting pot of all Indian sub-cultures. And yes, I’ve lived in the US for a few months short of two decades, that’s most of my adult life. I came here because I married my husband who came here to go to college. It’s your fairly stereotypical immigrant story: new bride shows up on foreign shores with stars in her eyes, goes to college, starts a family, learns to integrate while staying tied to her culture, etc. Except, my dad’s brother moved here before I was born and I had visited often throughout my childhood and I’m a bit of a nomad at heart and it never really felt much like a foreign land.

Dabney: Your first novel, A Bollywood Affair, was published by Kensington in 2014. (The AAR review is here.) What was your path to publication?

Sonali: I’ve written for as long a I can remember but I only started to write fiction about ten years ago with some Bollywood scripts. I finished the first draft of my first novel in 2010 and thus began the long trek of revisions paved with realms of rejection. In 2012, in a fit of frustration-fueled courage I pitched my book to my editor in the middle of a publisher spotlight at a conference and ended up with a request. But I really wanted an agent so I continued to submit and be rejected by agent after agent, revising nonstop for another year. And when I had run out of agents to submit to along with faith that anyone would take on my book I sent it off to my editor and received an offer within a week. That was 2013. In retrospect, three years from a first draft to contract was a remarkably smooth path, as paths to publication go. So, I’ve been very lucky.

Dabney: The leads in your first two books (the hero of A Bollywood Affair and the heroine of The Bollywood Bride) are Bollywood royalty. This makes me think you might just have a serious thing for Bollywood. To me, the woefully uninformed, Bollywood is Hindi films from India. I’ve seen a few and associate them with big production numbers and women in gorgeous saris. I’m sure I’m not doing it right. What is Bollywood to you and why do you keep coming back to it in your books?

Sonali: To me Bollywood is a two pronged concept, one cultural and the other stylistic. Culturally, it’s the popular face of stories centered around Indians and the Indian state of mind — with a history that spans millennia, a culture that holds within itself hundreds of sub-cultures each with a peculiar mix of beliefs and traditions. And against this backdrop you have familial bonds that are so tight they have the power to stifle the life out of you as much as they yank you back from the edge of tragedy.

As for style, to me the ‘Bollywood style’ is reminiscent of the large sweeping family sagas the Hindi film industry tends to make. It’s the dramatic, just this side of melodramatic. It’s thumping rhythms and operatic music anchored firmly in undiluted emotion. It’s love that makes choruses burst in your head. It’s beautiful people in beautiful places, but also the smell of the most wretched sewers. It hops around the world but is tied to an ancient land. It’s the clash of the oldest culture in the world with a very modern hunger for progress.

At a personal level, it’s about writing what I know. This is the world I inhabit, but on steroids. I was raised on a staple of Bollywood films and I have friends and family who work in the film industry, so it’s a world I feel like I have just the right balance of an insider’s and outsider’s view of.

Dabney: And, if you could, what are your favorite Bollywood films? Why?

There are so many. I’ll try and recommend ones I haven’t in other places.

  • Life in a Metro- A wonderfully told story about intersecting lives of characters across the cross-section of Mumbai with themes of identity, fidelity, age.
  • Kal Ho Na Ho- Set in NYC, this one is stylistically your typical Bollywood canvas, with songs and weddings and broken hearts. But the characters are wonderfully fresh and real and the conflicts really well developed.
  • Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam- I feel like this is a visual and emotional masterpiece with two love stories with the same heroine— the man she falls in love with and the man she’s forced to marry who promises to help her find her first love when he finds out. It’s a more rural and traditional story in terms of setting and theme, but beautifully done.

Dabney: You, like the characters in your books, grew up in one land and now live in another. How does that influence your writing? Do see your characters as being more of one world than an other?

Sonali: I actually feel almost no immigrant angst. Consequently, I feel like my stories don’t explore immigrant angst. The issues I feel like I grapple with are those of societal expectations especially as a woman, like the balance between personal freedom and familial duty, and all the roles society, irrespective of geography, places on women. Motherhood, stigmas, our right to our bodies, conditioning and choice. I feel like my characters are more concerned with these issues than with feeling displaced.

Dabney: I loved The Bollywood Bride. It was an powerful read for me. Ria, your heroine, is in so much pain when the novel begins and for reasons that are genuinely tragic. Despite all the success she’s had—she’s a major Bollywood star—she is shaped, even limited, by her past. There is, in her family, severe mental illness. (I saw it as schizophrenia.) Why did you pick that story to tell?

Sonali: Thank you. You know how you grow up with these whispered stories? Family-legends that elders share when they think you aren’t listening but that you soak up. One of my father’s boss’s wives became severely mentally ill in childbirth. While doing research for the book, I figured her postpartum depression had probably triggered a severe form of psychosis that she didn’t get the right treatment for. But the story I heard as a child was how the poor lady went ‘crazy’ in childbirth and was locked up in an asylum for the rest of her life. I never met their daughter, but I always wondered what it must be like to have been the cause of losing your mother that way. That combined with this homogenous world I grew up in, where we wore uniforms to school and followed an extensive set of rules and any child outside of the norm was openly regarded as a freak, I think that’s where Ria took root. And I so badly wanted her to work through her wretched experiences.

Dabney: After I read The Bollywood Bride, it made me wish I could experience the gorgeous and moving Hindu celebrations you describe in the book. And yet I can see my wish as offensive to some—a Twitter friend warned I was guilty of cultural appropriation. I get that and yet I still want to wear a sari at some point in my life. I have always loved the way they look and their mutability. Are you a frequent sari wearer? Are they as comfortable as they look? And what in the celebrations that you were raised with (I’m assuming that’s where your descriptions came from which could be completely wrong.) have you incorporated into your here in America life?

Sonali: I’m not a frequent sari wearer but I am a very proud sari wearer. Basically, I love them and horde them. I’ve worn them for every RITA Award function I’ve attended and also wore one to the RT Awards last year. And of course at weddings and festivals and Indian holidays (which yes, we do continue to celebrate here in America). Women across India have worn them every day for centuries, so, yes they can be comfortable, but I think of them as party wear, so they’re comfortable in the way that evening gowns are comfortable (which is to say, not very but it’s so worth it). As for appropriation, of course I don’t want them turned into a fad without any true appreciation for the art form they are. Some saris like the Paithani, which Ria wears to Nikhil’s wedding in the book, can take a year to weave and only trained artisans can weave them. The flip side of this is that because of how specialized some of these weaving skills are and how the number of women wearing saris on a daily basis is reducing, some of these traditional textiles are dying out. So, more people being interested in them is a very good thing- especially if you take the trouble to support the indigenous designers and weavers.

Dabney: Ria believes her gene pool makes her an unfit partner for her first and only love, Vikram. Ria hasn’t seen Vikram in years but when she returns to Chicago (she spent her summers there while growing up), she and Vikram are again together and the connection between them is impossible for her to deny. Ria’s agonizing is, of course, a common trope in romance wherein the hero/heroine refuses romance in order to protect the one he/she truly loves. You do it really well. Are there other tropes that call to you? Is there a trope you can’t ever see yourself writing?

Sonali: I only became conscious of the concept of tropes in romance when someone read A Bollywood Affair and remarked on how it was the Rake and Virgin trope. I was appalled at first, but then I realized that it was true. Then I started thinking about how such a thing could have happened unconsciously. I guess given that romance is such a prolific and voracious genre and that we’ve analyzed it for so long, every type of conflict and situation has been labelled, and no matter the story you write it will fall into one of those categories. To me it’s more about the issue the characters are dealing with. That’s where I start from and as I said earlier the issues that call to me are personal freedom against the need for family, and personal choice against conditioning. Having said that I love reading about second chances at first love.

Dabney: You are an architect by training and have written professionally in other fields. If you weren’t writing romance, is there another genre you’d write?

Sonali: Even if I did choose to write in a different genre, I suspect the love story within would inevitably end up taking center stage.

Dabney: What are you working on now?

Sonali: I’m working on revising book three and speaking of tropes, one of my critique partners just referred to it as a Dead Ex story. I groaned. But it’s the story of a man who witnessed the death of his wife two years ago and is unable to get past the tragedy, when a woman comes up to him and tells him that she received his wife’s heart in a transplant and now his wife is talking to her from the other side and she wants him to find the evidence to put away her killers.

I am also chewing my nails waiting for Ria and Vikram’s story to hit the shelves.

Dabney: Thanks so much for talking to me.


Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Interviews | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Thoughts on the Author Interview

One of the things I like best about my work at All About Romance is interviewing authors. Over the years, I’ve gotten to ask questions about books I loved or at least liked. In fact, my main two criteria for an author interview these days are these: I’ve read their most recent book and I enjoyed it.

When I began doing author interviews here, I didn’t have those two guidelines. Then several years ago, I agreed to interview an author before I’d read one of her books. I read her latest and couldn’t stand it. I’d already committed to the interview, so, I did it. And hated it. I didn’t have any interesting questions about the book and the whole thing seemed to be a waste of time for all concerned.

Ever since then, I’ve–with the exception of interviews at national conferences where my interest is in letting our readers know what authors are up to–limited my interviews.

I don’t think this is a bad policy but I have decided it’s one I should be clear about, especially to our readers. For me, an interview is not a review. In a review, I assess a book and share that assessment. I’m a cheerleader for books I’ve read and loved and a basher of those I’ve loathed. In an interview, I have a different role. I’m interested in learning, from the author, how they write and why. I’m asking them to take the time to share their secrets with me and AAR.

And it does take time. I do my interviews via email. I usually contact an author rather than the other way around. I’m usually interested in asking about her latest book. I send her questions–more than six, less than sixteen. I try and ask questions that I’ve not seen answered elsewhere. The author then sends me back the answers, by the date we’ve agreed on. I look them over and see if the interview feels complete. If it doesn’t, I send back more questions or variations of the questions I’ve already asked. Once I’ve gotten all the answers, I add formatting and info about the author, send it to her again in order for her to make sure she’s said exactly what she wants to, and then I publish it.

I’m uncomfortable doing this about a book I didn’t like. I’m also uninspired to do it about a book I didn’t like.

This all seems reasonable to me. Does it to you? I’m genuinely curious. I’d appreciate your feedback.


Dabney Grinnan

Posted in Dabney AAR, Interviews | 9 Comments

Jill Sorenson Interviews Victoria Dahl: A Guest Post

Today we’ve got an author to author interview. Jill Sorenson interviews Victoria Dahl. Thanks, ladies!

Sorenson: Hey Victoria! Or should I call you Vicki? Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me here at All About Romance!! I’m a huge fangirl from way back. So far back that we actually met on MySpace in the age of internet dinosaurs, circa 2008. I tried your books because I liked your personality online and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve read the entire Jackson Hole/GNO series. I just finished Taking the Heat, the latest (final?) installment, and the word I’d use to describe it is joyous. It’s been a joy to watch your career take off, to witness your creative growth as an author, and to laugh with you on twitter. It was a joy to read about a bearded librarian rock climber hero who loves to give pleasure and an inexperienced heroine who discovers delightfully dirty sex.

Dahl: Wow, I can already tell I’m going to like this interview a lot. You should absolutely call me Vicki.

Sorenson: Let’s talk heroines. When I pick up one of your books, I tend to think about you as a person, and how I imagine you are like the heroine. I also think about how I’m like the heroine. This is not always a comfortable speculation, because the qualities I relate to are sometimes parts of myself I’d rather not face. With Veronica, I related to her feeling of being a failure. I didn’t want to relate to that! But often your books are about self-acceptance, and that’s a powerful thing. Your heroines can be prickly, sharp-tongued, non-maternal, bad at relationships, major screw-ups…and it’s all okay. So maybe I’m okay, too. By the end of the story I say to myself “if this trainwreck can get it together, there’s hope for me!”

I noticed a review at Goodreads that commented on the “emotional truth” of your writing. There is an everywoman, authentic quality to your heroines. Do you have a philosophy about writing women or a method for creating true-to-life characters? What inspired you to write a virgin heroine?

Dahl: I am so happy and honored that my heroines mean something to you, because they mean something to me too.

I definitely have a philosophy when I’m writing women. I write about women I know. I have never in my life met a perfect woman and if I did meet her, I doubt I’d want to be friends. Every woman I know is imperfect. Most of them are kind of screwed up, frankly. But when I look at the women in my life that I like and love, no matter how complicated and imperfect they are, I absolutely think they deserve love and happiness. Those are the people I write stories for.

My friends and family are women who are grumpy. Women who are divorced. Women who hate commitment. Women who use vibrators. Women who have great sex with men they aren’t in love with. Women who don’t love their bodies. Women who do. Women who wish they were prettier.

With any or all of those issues, they are still wonderful people who deserve love and respect and adoration from a partner.

The thing I love about writing my heroines is letting them want things for themselves. Not to raise money for orphans or protect their families or save the hero from his self-imposed isolation. They just want something good for themselves. Your heroines are the same way, and I love that so much!

As for my virgin heroine… Well, I’d never written a contemporary virgin before, and I kind of wanted to see what it would be like. The challenge for me was making sure she wasn’t defined by her virginity any more than my other heroines were defined by their sexual pasts. It was really fun to write her. And to write Gabe for her!

Sorenson: On to heroes! Of all the books in the Wyoming series, I think Gabe is the nicest, and the hottest. He’s a lady pleaser and a people pleaser, so his niceness has some interesting layers. It’s presented as an issue he has to work on, rather than proof of his good-guy perfection. In romance, nice guys and hot sex don’t always go together. How did you make this dynamic so sexy?

Dahl: Well, honestly, when I first started writing Gabe, I worried a lot about him being too perfect. I mean…he’s just great. I felt like I needed to muck him up a little, but I kept hesitating because Veronica really needed a good guy. And she deserved him! We all deserve a first time with a man who’s 100% focused on our pleasure, don’t we? Most of us don’t get it, but I was determined to give that to Veronica. J

Thanks to my critique partner, Jennifer Echols, I finally figured out that wanting to be the perfect boyfriend/lover/brother/son is actually Gabe’s problem, so it all clicked for me.

As for his bedroom skills… Well, Gabe has spent his whole life around lots of women. He has two older sisters and a great mom, and he’s a librarian. His associates at school and work have nearly all been women. He’s picked up a lot of sexual information just by listening to female conversations. And he’s done quite a bit of hands-on learning as well. So yeah, he’s good. I mean, really…is it that hard??? (Hopefully that’s NOT what she said.)

Sorenson: Speaking of sex. All of your books are steamy and sex-positive. The hero of Taking the Heat has been dubbed “Cunnilingus Gabe,” which is a beautiful thing, and it always reminds me of that classic “Colonel Angus” gag from Saturday Night Live. But the sexual act that stood out to me most in the story wasn’t cunnilingus. It was fellatio. Joyous, enthusiastic fellatio. You have a gift for writing fantastic blowjobs and I’m really, really into it. I think this is part of what makes your stories so appealing. They are a celebration of sex, of the male and female body, and of giving pleasure as well as receiving it. This isn’t a question, just a full salute!

Dahl: I am giggling madly at hearing I have a gift for writing blowjobs. For me, hot sex is about two people (or more) just being really into each other. It’s not just about the other person looking a certain way, it’s the way they taste/smell/feel/respond. It’s primal.

As for blowjobs…I think sex positivity for women works on many levels. It’s not just “Yes, of course your partner should go down on you because that’s how most women orgasm.” It’s also, “There’s absolutely nothing inherently degrading about performing oral sex on a man.” If you like that man’s body, then enjoy the hell out of it! Passion is a beautiful thing. And so’s a nice penis.

Sorenson: You’re hilarious, outspoken and decidedly NSFW on twitter. From 70s cawk shots to “got yer peenus,” you don’t pull any punches. What’s your favorite online moment? Do you ever struggle with your social media presence or feel pressure to be funny all the time?

Dahl: I’ve gotta tell you, “Got yer peenus” still makes me laugh every time, so it may be my favorite thing. It’s really the perfect response to a misogynist troll losing his mind all over you. (For the uninitiated, the original tweet was “[as a feminist] I steal penises like grandpas steal little kids’ noses. Where did it go? Oh, it’s in my hand! Want me to put it back? No. FEMINISM!”)

Of course, I also love talking about vaginas with you, Jill! That probably goes without saying.

I don’t struggle with feeling pressure to be funny, but I do struggle with guilt about my media presence. It’s not exactly professional in the traditional sense, but then again I do write books with lots of blowjobs in them. I go back and forth with whether I’m too political or too irreverent or waaaay too dirty.

But any time I really sit down to think about it, I come to the same conclusion. I’m a professional writer, yes, and being a writer is very important to me. But before I’m a writer, I’m a human, then a woman, then a mother, then a wife and friend and part of my community. All of those things are more important than being a writer, so if I lose a book sale because I spoke up about violence against women, for example, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

As for the more risqué talk on Twitter… Well, the older I get, the more comfortable I become being myself and saying what pops into my head. It’s a joy to just be the weirdo I am. Plus I just like looking at pictures of hot men.

Sorenson: Your twitter bio describes you as a “laid back feminist.” Do you consider your work feminist? Do you think romance readers look for feminist stories and embrace feminist authors?

Dahl: I do think my work is feminist! I think a lot of romance is feminist. (Yours, for example!!!) I write books for women about women’s sexuality. I think that alone is a feminist act, though there’s probably a lot of disagreement about that.

I feel like the idea of “feminist” romance is pretty new, but I believe a lot of us have been gravitating toward those types of stories for years. My heroines don’t declare themselves to be feminists, they are just women who believe in living independently and having careers and enjoying sex and having control over their own bodies. In fact, my heroes all believe in those things for women too. It’s not usually talked about, it’s just what makes them heroic for me.

Feminist romance isn’t about lectures or diatribes and it’s definitely not about hating men; it’s about writing a heroine who’s determined to have power over her own life, even when she’s being a partner to someone else. I think almost all of us want that.

Sorenson: Is Taking the Heat the last in the series? What’s next for you?

Dahl: It’s the last of the Jackson romances!!! My next contemporary work is a little up in the air, but I’m currently working on a proposal for a three-book series set at a lake in Minnesota. But coming up next is a historical erotic romance titled Harlot that I’ll be self-publishing in the fall. Here’s the blurb:

He came home to marry an angel…

After two years working in the gold fields of California, Caleb Hightower has come home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Jessica Willoughby. But when he returns, Caleb learns his refined bride-to-be is now a whore. Enraged by her betrayal, he can’t reconcile this shameless woman with the sweet innocent he once deeply loved–but Caleb knows what to do with a harlot. He’s determined to get everything from her that she’s sold to other men. And he’s prepared to pay for the pleasure of his revenge.

But all he found was sin.

After her father’s death and hidden debts left her penniless, Jess made a deal with a devil. Now that Caleb’s returned, the shock of his scorn is matched only by Jess’s regret and heartbreak. To make amends, she’ll let Caleb quench his rage with her body, even though this rough cowboy barely resembles the loving man who once courted her. Their lurid bargain quickly strips them down to searing passion and naked vulnerability, and in the end, the unbearable truth could push them toward forgiveness…or it could destroy their fragile bond forever.

Sorenson: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!! You’re the best.

Dahl: No, you are clearly the best, because you’ve made me feel wonderful. Thank you for an amazing interview.


Jill Sorenson is the author of 18 romance novels. The second book in her Dirty Eleven series, Shooting Dirty will be published this month.


Posted in Authors, Guest Posts, Interviews | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Eagerly Awaited September Books

I was such a happy camper when I looked over the September new releases list. I’ve been waiting for Deanna Raybourn’s newest book for ages! Judging from the responses I received from others here at AAR, I’m not the only one. New releases from the likes of Meredith Duran, Tessa Dare, and Mary Balogh make this a big month for historical fans, but there are plenty of goodies to be had in other subgenres as well. What do you want to be reading in September?

Title and Author Reviewer
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn Lynn, Lee, Caroline, Alex, Caz, Heather, Melanie, LinnieGayl
Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran Dabney, Lynn, Caz, , Caroline
If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins LinnieGayl, Lee, Dabney, Heather
Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh Lee, Alex, Caz,
When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare Mary, Alex, Lee
Archangel's Enigma by Nalini Singh Archangel’s Enigma by Nalini Singh Jean, Alex
Scotsman of my Dreams by Karen Ranney Scotsman of my Dreams by Karen Ranney Caz, Mary
HIghlander Undone by Connie Brockway Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway Lynn
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne Caz
Devoted in Death by JD Robb Devoted in Death by JD Robb Maggie
Windham novellas The Duke and His Duchess/The Courtship(mass market reissue) by Grace Burrowes Caroline
Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey Lynn
Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Anne
A Red Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire A Red Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire Heather
The Matchmaker's Match by Jessica Nelson The Matchmaker’s Match by Jessica Nelson Lynn
The Copper Gauntlet The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Anne
Posted in All About Romance, Book news, Lynn AAR | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Jessica Trent: Winsome or Loathsome?

Welcome back to Winsome or Loathsome, the column in which AAR staffers lobby for and against controversial heroines. Today’s heroine is the leading lady of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Jessica Trent.

Jessica is cool under pressure – her grandmother calls her “magnificently objective” – and does things like calmly looking at a naughty watch and suggesting it as a gift for that same grandmother. She is aloof, unconventional, and nearly impossible to shock or offend. And of course, she both hits Dain and, in the most polarizing scene in the book, shoots him for refusing to offer marriage after compromising her.

AAR reviewers tended to agree that Jessica was over-the-top, or at least, to use the Spinal Tap phrase, turned up to 11. But does that work?

Jean: I’m pretty indifferent to Lord of Scoundrels. I don’t consider it the best (or worst) of Loretta Chase or Regencies, and the whole thing reads like a trope taken to extremes. You want feisty? I’ll have her shoot the guy. You want not innocent? See, she auctions sex toys!! You want a big nose? It’s even BIGGER than you think!!!!  Etc. So I’ve no opinion on Jess Trent. She’s just…meh.

Lynn: I’d say I like her more than I dislike her. I read her as coming from the feisty school of historical heroines, but the way she’s written, I almost get the feeling that Chase was poking a little fun at the curl tossers.

Maggie: To me Jessica is a stock historical romance heroine. Feisty, liberated, independent. She goes to rescue her brother and I can’t tell you how often I have seen that in a novel. It just felt very average to me.

Mary: I LOVE Jessica Trent!!! I loved that she knew exactly who she was and did not take an crap from anyone.  She is one of my favorite characters. I agree that Jessica can be seen as a stock character,  but I think that the farcical elements to her character demand it.  She is meant to be over the top in my opinion.

Caz: I’m in the camp that loves Lord of Scoundrels.  I think perhaps some of the things that may seem clichéd about it today are because they have been so often imitated by others. I like that Jess is a woman who knows what she wants and is a well-adjusted character with no trauma in her past or terrible secrets – that allows Chase to focus on Dain and all HIS trauma and secrets!

I think that perhaps in any other book/context, Jessica might not be so appealing because she is opinionated and strong -willed.  It works here, because Dain is larger-than-life; anyone less strong-willed and opinionated would quickly have been steamrollered into a doormat, but because Jess is just as stubborn as he is, their relationship is less unequal (as far as that can be said for a relationship between a man and woman at that time). I would agree on the uber-feisty, uber-independent etc. nature of Jess, but I think she has to be that way if she’s to have any hope of a) standing up to Dain or b) being the sort of heroine the reader is going to want to see paired with such an ultra-masculine hero.  Dain would crush a wilting lily figuratively (and probably literally, considering how he was worrying about doing Jess an injury in bed!)

She’s a typical Chase heroine – but then I like Chase’s typical heroines. They’re “feisty” without being TSTL.

Dabney: I love Jessica Trent. She won my heart when, rather than being shocked when Dain–at their first meeting–showed her the bawdy working of the watch she was looking at, she admired its work and said she was thinking about buying it for her grandmother.

I love how she keeps trying to seduce Dain and refuses to ever let his sulky machismo intimidate her.

It’s sublime when, when Dain is trying to embarrass her by whispering Italian and unbuttoning her glove in public, she allows it and then, much to his chagrin, points out that it is his reputation he’s manage to trash simply by wooing a virtuous woman.

She’s level-headed, determined to win, and treats all she encounters as though they have value. Plus she’s wonderfully lusty.

Caz: The lustiness is one of the things I like about all Chase’s heroines, whether they’re sexually experienced or not.  It’s important – to me, anyway – that the heroine is shown to be as much in the grip of the throes of attraction or lust as the heroes are, and Chase gets it right.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I rather like that her strong -minded, intelligent, independent women forget their names when in the grip of it, even if only temporarily, and that they are able to at the very least admit to themselves that they are feeling things “below the waist”!

I love the bit after the kiss in the rain under the lamppost when Jessica admits to Genevieve that she wishes she HAD been ruined!

Dabney: That kiss in the rain is the scene in which I fell for Dain.

Caz: Yes!  “And so I beat him and beat him until he kissed me. And then I kept on beating him until he did it properly.”

Mary: I think there is an element of farce to Lord of Scoundrels that requires over the top characters.  One thing I love about Loretta Chase is her humor.  I adored Bathsheba DeLucey in Lord Perfect and laughed most of the way through that book.  She does humor very well.

Dabney: I agree. Count me as one who thinks Lord Perfect is comedy genius. I also think Lord of Scoundrels is a send up of the very best kind.

Cindy: I wonder what my thoughts would be today as opposed to reading the book in the 90s. For me the heroine was such a refreshing change from doormat heroines who fell in love with their captors – God forbid they have an angry word to say to the hero.  Wallbangers for me came from those books from late 80s and early 90s (when I started reading romance). It was nice to finally see a heroine stand up to a man and the gun scene had me thinking ‘about time’.  I think today a scene like that would be more upsetting to me. In the last Kresley Cole book I found myself upset that the heroine took a sword and just about decapitated the hero (he is immortal but it was made quite clear that maybe a millimeter of skin staying attached kept him alive) – it was an accident blah, blah and hey, it’s a paranormal but the whole scene felt too close to what could happen in real life if someone felt threatened and then grabbed a knife from the kitchen and the next thing you know someone is dead and the whole thing should have never happened.

And the reason why I took the book to be more of a comedy because Dane’s selfish ways were so over the top and then there was the buggy scene with the horses.

Caroline: I had recused myself from this column, beyond collecting the responses, because I have never been able to get past that gun violence, even if it was supposed to be “funny” violence. But I had never thought of Lord of Scoundrels as a farce or a satire before. I’m still not sure it works for me, but maybe I’ll check it out of the library and give it a re-read and see what I think of it read through that lens.

Unlike with many of our previous columns, we were unable to get a clear Winsome/Loathsome vote on Jessica Trent, with a few picking each and a substantial write-in vote for “meh.” So we turn to you readers for the final choice!

What do you all think? Is Jessica Trent a caricature/amplification of historical heroines, or is she herself? Whichever she is, do you find her Winsome or Loathsome?

Caroline Russsomanno


Posted in Caroline AAR, Heroines, Winsome or Loathsome | 19 Comments

What Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Taught Me About Writing Sex Scenes: A Guest Post by Heather Anastasiu

I’m a romance reader (and writer) who loves books of all levels of heat. If it’s got a romance tag on it, I’ll read it, everything from Christian fiction to intense BDSM erotica.

With my latest historical fiction novel, super explicit sex scenes weren’t appropriate for the feel of the story, though there is sex, even in the first chapter. But writing it was a conundrum—how did I write sex without, well, nipples, cocks, clits, women’s cores, and my favorite, steel members coated in velvet?

Then I remembered the sex scenes written by the master, Diana Gabaldon. She doesn’t fade to black but she doesn’t get explicit about it either. And yet I always know exactly what is happening. I might have to read a sentence a couple times to get it. Like wait, did that mean that Claire just went down on Jamie!?! But yep. That’s what just happened in that scene. Without ever saying it. And day-um, it was HAWT. There’s tons of sex in her books, none of it written the way sex is typically written, and it’s more powerful because of that. Here’s what I learned.

Avoid mentioning specific anatomy. Anatomical euphemisms are appropriate for certain romance heat levels. But if you’re aiming for less explicit or want to experiment with writing sex without relying on the old standard (and sometimes laughable) go-tos words, just never mention them.

Use dialogue to drive the scene – in the one I mention earlier, where Claire goes down on Jamie, most of the scene is dialogue. He asks her in a shocked tone what she’s doing. She’s like, what’s it look like? and, want me to stop? To which he responds, understandably, no! The dialogue gives us so much more of a sense of playful connection with these characters (and an idea of Jamie’s innocence at this point) than a physical description of her dropping on her knees and grabbing his ‘member.’

Keep it real. Jamie’s a virgin. He has sex like a virgin, and it’s awesomely awkward at first. So much of sex in real life is not fantasy magic, every one blasting off together at that perfect moment ALL THE TIME. Write sex scenes so readers can see the characters’ vulnerability—it’s hot to watch your characters learn, grow, and build up their sexual connection.

Ambiguity is king. If you don’t let yourself use the anatomy words, you have to get creative, and that makes for interesting sex scenes. But make no mistake, none of this is to say that these more ambiguous sex scenes have to be rushed. Not at all. 

Sex scenes shouldn’t be about the sex. Really. They shouldn’t. They’re should be about emotional connection. There are a TON of sex scenes in Outlander. Some are just a paragraph or two, but the ones that get pages are the ones where something is emotionally changing with the couple. Sex is either the means or climax (ha ha, pun not intended) of emotional connection or change. The longer sex scenes occur 1) right when they get married, 2) after Jamie learns the truth about Claire, and 3) at the end. In these kinds of sex scenes a reveal or a reversal occurs. In the first two, it’s a reversal. In the marriage sex scenes, Claire starts to feel something for Jamie she never meant to (reversal). In the scene after Jamie learns the truth about Claire, he intends making love to her to be a ‘claiming’ of her, only to realize she’s the one who possesses his soul (reversal). In the last important sex scene, it’s a reveal of important information—whether Jamie’s going to be okay or not. This is one reason Gabaldon’s sex scenes are so powerful: They have emotional stakes.

Heather Anastasiu writes historical romance and young adult fiction. Her latest release is Tsura: a World War II Romance. To find out more about Heather, you can check out her website atwww.heatheranastasiu.com

Posted in Book news | 3 Comments