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New Book Alert: Love and Shenanigans by Newbie Author Zara Keane

Love and shenanigans

I read an excerpt of Zara Keane’s new book a while ago and I was really impressed, and couldn’t wait to buy it once it came out. Well it’s out so of course went and Kindled it!

Here’s a blurb from Amazon.com:

Vows in Vegas…
Three days before leaving Ireland on the adventure of a lifetime, Fiona Byrne returns to her small Irish hometown to attend the family wedding from hell. When she discovers the drunken vows she exchanged with the groom during a wild Las Vegas trip eight years previously mean they’re legally married, her future plans ricochet out of control. Can she untangle herself from the man who broke her heart so long ago? Does she even want to?

…True Love in Ballybeg.
Gavin Maguire’s life is low on drama, high on stability, and free of pets. But Gavin hadn’t reckoned on Fiona blasting back into his life and crashing his wedding. In the space of twenty-four hours, he loses a fiancée and a job, and gains a wife and a labradoodle. Can he salvage his bland-but-stable life? More importantly, can he resist losing his heart to Fiona all over again?

If you want to check out an excerpt, Zara’s got the first chapter up on her website here

If you want to Kindle the book, you can download it from Amazon.com here.

Happy reading!

Willaful Review: Destiny's Surrender by Beverly Jenkins

17331377Sensuality rating: sinfully steamy, then lawfully steamy. ;-)

I didn’t make it through the first book in this series — feisty heroine and love/hate relationship, I could not deal — but Destiny’s Surrender sounded so interesting, I had to give it a try. It was a very different kind of read, and pretty compelling.

Set in San Francisco in 1885, the story opens with an encounter between prostitute Billie and her favorite john, Drew. She’s a little perturbed afterwards to discover her birth control was faulty, and sure enough, she becomes pregnant. This isn’t a book that follows the unwritten rules of romance, however: Billie has no certainty at all that Drew is the father.

The realistic tone continues as we discover that Billie has been pregnant before and had a chemical abortion. It made her so ill she can’t face another, and decides to have the baby and give it up to a good family — or more accurately, let her madam sell it for the money to live on when she has to stop working. However she didn’t realize how much she would love her baby, and when the time comes, can’t bear to let him go. A convenient birthmark proving parentage, she turns to Drew for help.

Drew’s reaction is also far from typically “heroic.” He’s very angry — the fact that Billie arrives just in time to ruin his engagement to a “suitable” woman doesn’t help — and just wants her and the baby to go away. But his strong-willed stepmother has other ideas.

I was sorry the splot hinged on an implausible heriditary birthmark; I think it could have worked without it. I also disliked the suspense plot, which features a very nasty villain. (This was also why I DNF’d the first Beverly book I tried.) But I really enjoyed Billie, who’s about as far from emo as a person can be; she always faces facts and does what she has to do. This line kind of sums her up: “for Billie birthdays had never been anything to put on the dog for. She acknowledged it when she got up in the morning, then got on with her day.” It’s sadder, in its way, than many a more obviously tragic heroine. Billie is also brave and resourceful, and eventually makes a place for herself in “respectable” society through those traits.

Drew was less defined as a character, and I would have liked to see less of the nasty villain and more of Drew’s growth as a person. One of the interesting things about this story is that it’s set during a time when black Americans were starting to lose freedoms they previously had. Drew, who is of African-American and Spanish heritage, is a successful lawyer who finds that judges are suddenly refusing to allow him into courtrooms; although he’s from a well-off family and isn’t financially dependent on his career, this is a blow. But not a lot of time is spent on it.

I appreciated how essentially ordinary Billie is – she’s neither exalted as special, nor demonized for her pragmatic reactions to  being poor and pregnant. Contrarily, that made the book something out of the ordinary. I give it 3 1/2 stars; you can buy it here.

Published by Avon. Review copy from the public library.

KarenS Review, The Academy by Emmaline Andrews


Sensuality Rating – Candy Floss

The Academy is a book that was recommended to me by somebody (I forget who now) absolutely ages ago. It’s been on my TBR file on my Kindle forever, and one day while I was waiting for something (probably the doctor’s) I decided to give it a go.

Set in the future, The Academy is told from the heroine, Kristina Jameson’s point of view. Kristina has a twin Kristopher, who’s father expects to enroll in an academy for boys, in order for him to get a commission to the space corps. The problem is, Kristopher has no interest in flying his own ship, all he wants to do is study music, something which is unacceptable to their father, who’s keen for them to uphold the family tradition. Kristina on the other hand would love nothing more than to go the academy, she’s the one who excels at astro navigation and inter-dimensional calculus. Unfortunately for Kris, she’s a girl and so her only option is to attend charm school. Something she’s clearly not interested in.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Kris manages to fool her way into The Royal Academy by pretending that she’s Kristopher. She ends up rooming with an outwardly surly young man called North, and ends up inadvertently making an enemy of one of the main bully boys in the school.

When Kris lands in a dorm room with North, she realises that she may not have thought things through, especially when it came to how to manage her personal hygiene in private. The showers were communal, and the students were restricted in terms of when they could make use of the them. This opportunity to shower was so limited that Kris was unable to shower for a few days, until help came from an unexpected quarter.

This was really a delightful story, and Kris was an engaging heroine. North seemed rude and surly when he first appeared, but gradually him and Kris developed an awkward friendship, that turned into something rather wonderful. Kris was teased because she was smaller than the other boys, so North was instinctively protective of her, obviously having no idea that Kris was in fact a girl. North develops feelings for Kris, and is very confused because he’s always liked girls.

I loved the ebb and flow of the book, it moved along at a fairly brisk pace, and didn’t really have spare moments for my mind to wander off. I think the author handled the confusion of North coming to terms with his sexuality really well, and even though the reader knows that Kris is a girl, there was a moment in the book that North’s feelings for Kris overrode the confusion and shame over his sexuality. There was a really beautiful moment in the book, where North throws off the shackles of his predetermined sexuality, and embraced his new feelings for another ‘boy’. I can’t lie, I may have cheered a little when that happened.

The villain of the piece was a scrote called Broward and he was the absolute worst. I think that he was actually the weakest part of the story because Ms Andrews made him cookie-cutter, “I will murder you in your sleep” bad, and so there were no layers to peel back, he was just an asshole who needed to die. Sometimes readers prefer to have black and white feelings about their villains. I am not one of those readers. All Broward needed was a handle bar mustache to twirl and his cookie-cutter-ness would have been complete.

That was pretty much my only niggle, ok maybe that and the obligatory campy homosexual teacher.

Overall a really solid effort by Ms Andrews, I eagerly await her next YA book.

You can buy The Academy from Amazon.com here. At $.99, it’s definitely worth every penny.

Street Team Scene:  A Play in One Act

Street Team Scene: A Play in One Act

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Posted in: willaful

(I wrote this a while back, inspired by Jessica of Read React Review, and it seemed topical again. The author’s name I chose is just a silly pun and not intended to refer to any author in particular.)

 

Scene: Two women wearing “We heart Arini Saxy” t-shirts and holding bundles of bookmarks wait outside the public library.

Susan: “Grace, what’s the matter? Why are your bookmarks drooping?”
Grace: “Suz? I… I don’t know how to say this.”
Susan: “What? What on earth can be wrong? There’s a new book out! We have BOOKMARKS TO GIVE AWAY!”
Grace: “The thing is… I read the new book yesterday. And… it sucked.”
Susan: “Shut your mouth!”
Grace: “No, really! The characters had no chemistry! The ending came out of nowhere! The villain was a perverted homosexual slaveowner mastermind spy who was also the butler! They had midnight sex in the LIBRARY!”
Susan [grabs Grace's arms]: “Listen to me. I heard nothing. This never happened. We. Are. A. Street. Team. We are family. You do not go against the family.”
Grace: “But…”
Susan: “No buts. We are SaxSlaves! We committed to this. You remember Melissa, don’t you?”
Grace: “Melissa… she moved to be with her girlfriend in Canada.”
Susan: “Sure she did. Sure she did. Right after she mentioned that the pregnant heroine refusing to marry the hero trope was just a teensy bit overdone. Do you want to…  move to Canada?”
Grace [rushing up to a woman on the street]: “You look like you love romance! Let me tell you about the most awesome book ever!”

finis

Review: Hot Under the Collar by Jackie Barbosa

Readers: This review was written some time ago, but I’m participating in an effort to promote Jackie Barbosa’s books while she is unable to do so herself.  If you would like to help Jackie in a difficult time, please consider contributing to her son’s memorial fund.

 

collarSensuality rating: Steamy

What a fresh, memorable novella! I was a little disappointed at first to realize that the hero is not a starchy vicar with a calling but one by default — as a viscount’s son with an unfortunate army experience, there’s no other respectable profession open to him. Then I decided it could be interesting to read about such a situation, which presumably happened fairly often. It was indeed.

When Walter sees Artemisia Finch waiting to collect a member of his congregation, he feels both desire and a strange sense of recognition. In fact, he has seen her before — when she was known just by her first name, as one of society’s most sought after courtesans. Now she’s home looking after her ailing father, and staying correctly away from condemning society. Being an unapologetically flawed human instead of a properly pious vicar, Walter feels no compunction about pursuing Artemisia — and since she’s passionate, lonely and has nothing to lose, she feels no compunction about pursuing him right back.

This story doesn’t go the way you’d expect, because it’s not Artemisia’s journey; the focus is on Walter’s growth as his conscientious efforts to be a good vicar become more. Faced with such interesting issues as pre-marital sex, post-partum depression, and death with dignity (in appropriate Regency terminology, of course,) it turns out that his worldly attitude and experience may be more valuable than “the qualities he’d thought a good vicar should possess — piety, religious conviction, and a strong sense of  ‘vocation’.” Indeed, it seems that “people didn’t need help negotiating the spiritual world; they needed help negotiating this one.”

As Walter’s sympathy and live-and-let-live attitude help his parishioners, he begins to have a revolutionary thought: perhaps he can convince them to forgive and accept their resident outcast sinner, Artemisia.

This is a really charming story of a leader finding his calling on the job. I found the romance a little bit less satisfying, because the two don’t spend that much non-sexual time together, but it’s nicely mature, straightforward, and guilt-free. The happy ending may not seem plausible to all readers, but I thought Barbosa set it up so well, I could believe it could happen. I give the book 4 stars; you can buy it here.

Elloras Cave Sucketh Episode 667...

titanic sinking

Another day, another email from yet another happy EC author;

I have a several contracts with EC. Yeah, I’m kicking myself. Wish I never signed those contracts and I should’ve known better having worked in the legal field for over 25 years. In any event, I got suckered in. I have given them 2 books and I just finished my third for them but I haven’t turned it in. It’s taken EC almost a year to edit the first and not because I’m a bad writer. (Only one round of edits) and another 10 months to edit the second book which I turned into them last April. (I’m supposed to get final edits next week.) They’re slooooooow on all ends.

I believe you are right on the mark, they’re having money problems. It’s not hard to see if you look closely. They’re letting go of staff. Lisa Gray who’s been with them for 8 years and I know of two others. One of them told me they were laid-off. I have a feeling EC is about to implode. They’re not paying their authors and I’ve only received money for August and September. I have not gotten a print out on my sales and I haven’t received my digital sales from any of the other vendors my book is supposedly selling with. I’m hoping they breach contract on my second book because if they don’t get it out by April, I’m going to ask for my rights back and legally I can.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. I’m thinking about checking with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to see if they’ve filed. It’s public record. They may not be at that point but it’s possible. I made a lot of friends at EC and at first I was impressed. But their lack of organization and structure is alarming. I think the powers that be overspent and now we’re paying for it.

I’m working on other projects and trying to get them ready to submit to other houses. I’ll fulfill my obligations to them if they stay in business but I’m going to take my old sweet time about it. They’ve dragged their ass with me so why should I jump through hoops for them. Sad thing is that they had a great gig. Poor business management though.

I love how very happy all these authors are with EC. I wonder what the actual problem is? Lack of cash flow? Bad business management, or do they just suck? I’m betting that it’s the third option…

Comments Off
So How Many Of You Guys Watch Scandal?

scandal_2012_624x351

I’m trying to work out whether it’s worth writing Scandal reviews on here. Don’t be shy, come out and let me know…or not, as the case may be…

Elloras Cave Are The Worst Episode 666...

I received this email from author Roslyn Holcomb yesterday with regards to Elloras Cave delaying royalty payments:

So here’s the story: My book, Drawing the Stud was published by them on July 26, 2013. It went up on the third party sites (Amazon, B&N, ARe) shortly thereafter. My first checks from them were paltry, which isn’t surprising because I know the third party vendors pay in arrears. So, for a book that came out in July, they would pay EC in November, which means I should’ve gotten my money in December.

That didn’t happen. Supposedly it takes them two months to process it. Fine. January then. No checks. No fucking explanation. So they say wait two weeks after the end of the month to inquire. That was January 14, I sent an email to them. No answer. Next day I sent an email to the address for contracts. No answer. I emailed my editor and she gave me a third email address. No fucking answer. Finally by Saturday I’d had enough of this shit, so I emailed all the addresses and told them if I hadn’t heard back from them by noon on Monday I was going public with this bullshit. In response I got this email:

Please see the message posted on ec_biz/ec_biz2. That is our official and announced communication method to authors – all authors are expected to be subscribed and check all postings promptly. If something is posted there, we do not send individual emails. If you do not maintain active reading of that announcement list, you are missing important information. (And please do take the time to read the Cave Communique newsletters for lots of good info.)

Kristen Wiig

Apparently, there was nothing on the Elloras Cave loop addressing the late checks business that morning, however they finally got round to posting some information on the loop. The gist of the posts were as follows (I’m paraphrasing folks):

‘Sorry for the delay in posting the October royalty statements, we have a new accounting system and we’ve have been experiencing technical difficulties.

We are also short-staffed in the accounting department so please be fucking patient. You’ll get the checks as soon as possible. Pinky swear.’

There was also a reminder that they aren’t obligated to pay the royalty checks monthly, as the official contracts say that they pay quarterly. In other words ‘Listen you whinging fucking bitches, we don’t have to pay you motherfuckers monthly, we choose to, so sit the fuck down and be grateful for what you get, even though there’s been an unspoken understanding that the checks will be processed monthly, for years now.’

There was then a reassurance that once the system starts working properly again, and the new staff are fully trained, they will endeavour to mail out the checks asap.

Reassuring huh?

Apparently then, there was also another communication, this time from Raelene Gorlinsky (the publisher) who basically apologized for the delay in responding to the issues, but gee golly, she’d been at a conference all week and hadn’t managed to check her emails because there were so many, oh and by the way, she’s still not going to be able to deal with the crap because she’s got some personal stuff that needs to be handled so it might be a few weeks before any of these issues can be resolved, so yeah, fuck you and your problems authors. Or something like that.

Anyway, Roslyn obviously wasn’t happy, she wrote to me:

Now seriously, do they think I rode over on the motherfucking Mayflower? I know bullshit when I’m reading it. Nobody in their right mind tries to implement a new accounting system in December, or even in the fall of the year. That’s year end closeout and they back right up on having to have tax forms out in January. Nobody’s that fucking stupid. These bitches are broke as all hell and holding on to people’s money so they can rob Peter to pay Paul.

It’s like they’re playing directly from the disintegrating epub playbook. Accounting systems. Dead people, etc… So knowing your authors hadn’t been paid you went off to some goddamned conference (who they hell has conferences in January?) Shouldn’t paying your authors be consideration number one. I’m so pissed right now I can’t see straight. So I sit here now without my fucking check. Money they’ve had for two goddamned months now. I’ve got a special needs child who needs a $600 tricycle and these bitches playing fast and loose with the cash.

Of course it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that EC are struggling, I’d love to see their financials. It’s clear thought that they give nary a fuck about their authors, because if they did, they wouldn’t be so lax with regards to paying them in a timely manner.

Anybody else having issues that you want to share? If so, you can email me at hairylemony @ gmail.com, (minus the spaces of course)

Honestly, I’m bleeding surprised that they’re still in business.

Anyway, Elloras Cave…

Suckage

Review: Live by Mary Ann Rivers

liveSensuality Rating: Tenderly Torrid

There are some romance novels in which the conflict feels forced, like the characters are just making trouble for themselves. Live isn’t one of those: from almost the first meeting of Destiny and Hefin, they — and we — know that there’s a serious obstacle in the way of them having more than an ephemeral relationship. It gave the story quite a different feel from usual, because there’s no anticipation of an upcoming dark moment — their conflict is how to appreciate the moment they have.

And of course, as a reader, I’m dying to figure out how this issue can possibly be satisfactorily resolved, because it seems so impossible. (I kept thinking of Bob Newhart as Superman, with his suit lost at the dry cleaners: “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get you out of this one, Lois.”) But gradually, beautifully, it comes to the perfect ending.

Des is firmly rooted in her Lakefield, Ohio community. (This is a small town novel without the small town, believably set in a city neighborhood.) Having recently lost her job, her family home, and her one remaining parent, she clings to pieces of the past. Helping her siblings and neighbors is one way she tries to fill what seems like an emptiness inside her:

After she got laid off six months ago, when Des looked down inside herself, she mostly saw time. Empty time.

But not how to live.

Not a life.

The people most closely related to her saw their entire lives inside themselves.

Hefin, the quietly sexy woodcarver she’s been noticing restoring the atrium of the library, is on the verge of beginning a new future. A vacation romance that turned into marriage brought him to the United States; now divorced, he plans to reconnect with his family in Wales and then move on to the work he was meant to be doing. He doesn’t particularly want to start something with no future — as Des correctly points out, he is a “goose” person, the kind who prefers to mate for life — but the attraction between them is very strong. As the attraction becomes love and they begin to truly know each other, the conflict between their needs becomes less rigidly obvious… if they can see it.

The story is written very carefully and deliberately, especially during the sex scenes. Lots of noticing, lots of descriptions of small details — a lavish depiction of sexual attraction that fits well with their personalities, since they’re both people who love to lavish care on others. As is often the case when authors are trying hard to write about sex in fresh language, it occasionally hit a wrong note for me, but I think it pays off in the end.

As any city-set story should be, Live is filled with casual diversity. Hefin, who was adopted from England as a baby, is an undefined racial mix. Destiny’s landlady made an interracial marriage in a far more difficult time. Destiny’s mother was Jewish, her father Irish Catholic. None of this is particularly important to the story, though the last two have some personal meaning to offer Destiny — it’s just part of the random weave of life.

This is a rich, tender story, not at all the usual contemporary family series fare. I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes the Burnside siblings next; you can buy this first book here. 4 stars.

Reviewed from an e-arc provided by NetGalley

Rest In Peace Nelson Mandela/ "Madiba" - July 18th 1918 - Dec 5th 2013

Nelson Mandela

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” – Nelson Mandela

The world lost an impeccable human being tonight, and the angels welcomed a heart free of hate and full of love.

Sunday, November 3, 2013
Posted in: willaful
Tags:, ,

If you wanted to try Flirting with the Camera (recently reviewed by Karen), it and several other books by Clarke are “30% off” at All Romance right now.  (Which is to say, it’s a rebate, not an actual sale.)

Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall

 

glitterlandNote: I wrote this review several months ago, when the book originally came out. I would now call the author an online friend.

Sensuality Rating: Uh… I’ve kind of forgotten. I guess Torrid.

It’s a little discombobulating reading a book written in the first person by someone you’ve interacted with online.  I had trouble at first separating Ash, the bipolar and severely anxious narrator of the story, from Alexis Hall, the friendly Internet voice. Then the character of Darian is introduced and Ash immediately begins mocking his clothes, his hair and (relentlessly) his Essex accent. I was intensely uncomfortable until I realized — oh! Ash is an asshole.

For Ash, feeling attracted to “a man who was practically orange and wearing beneath his jacket a shirt that read ‘Sexy and I know it,’ could only have been the sick joke of a universe that despised me.” Ash is an intellectual, a successful writer, wealthy and “posh.” He’s also just barely on the other side of a psychotic break, and even navigating a conversation with a stranger is often beyond him.  But Darian notices his interest, and climbs up to him, “like the world’s most ill-suited Romeo in pursuit of the world’s least convincing Juliet.” And Ash finds himself falling into a one-night stand.

“What did any of it matter? I’d never see him again. Nobody would ever know. All sense, all judgment, overthrown by an h-dropping, glottal-stopping glitter pirate, and I didn’t have to care.”

Then Darian shows up at Ash’s book signing, inconveniently revealing himself to be an actual person with feelings that were hurt when Ash disappeared in the night.  And still intensely attracted, Ash winds up in the difficult position of trying to relate to someone who really wants to get to know him. “…what was I supposed to say? That I enjoyed long walks on the beach and occasionally trying to kill myself?”

Darian is a sweetheart. He’s so comfortable in his own skin that he can appreciate the differences between them that confound Ash.  “I like it when you say fings, cos it sounds posh and filthy at the same time.” But he’s sensitive enough to call Ash on his snobbery, and even pokes a little fun himself:

He cleared his throat. “I say,” he said, in an outrageous RP [received pronunciation ] accent, “suck me off at once. Rar.”

I glared at him in outrage. “I do not sound like that! I’ve never said ‘I say.’ Or ‘rar.’”

“Get on wif it, peasant.”

I fell in love with Darian and Ash as a couple during their game of “Nabble,” in which you put down words that aren’t in the dictionary. (Darian easily admits that he doesn’t feel up to Scrabble against the erudite Ash.)

He was uncertain at first but soon he was nabbling like an old hand. First came glink (‘that like look what happens when two people are fancying each other from across the dance floor’), then gloffle (‘like when you put too much toffee in your mouf at once”)… And then, somehow, I got silly and offered up svlenky to describe the motion of his hips while dancing, to which he responded with flinkling, which was apparently what my brow did when I was coming up with something sarcastic to say. From there we moved through a few variations too ridiculous to be recorded. I foolishly formulated glimstruck as a representation of how it felt to be around him, and then we graduated to kissing, still fully clothed like a pair of teenagers on the wreckage of the Scrabble board.

Since this is a romance, naturally there’s a dark moment, and it’s kind of a classic. Ash does something so excruciatingly dreadful, I literally couldn’t bear to turn the page for several minutes to see the inevitable aftermath.

But Glitterland isn’t only a romance, it’s also a deeply resonant depiction of depression and anxiety. Ash is seriously mentally ill — and no, true love doesn’t mean he’s cured — and his descriptions are painfully authentic:

Depression simply is. It has no beginning and no end, no boundaries and no world outside itself. It is the first, the last, the only, the alpha and the omega. Memories of better times die upon its desolate shores. Voices drown in its seas. The mind becomes its own prisoner.

The things I cared about were the hooks I’d driven into the rock face. Depression snapped them, one by one, one by one. My only certainty was the fall.

Ash is terrified by how happy he is with Darian.  “…happiness was merely something else to lose.”  But later, when he’s gut-wrenchingly screwed things up between them, he has a stunning realization: “…I wasn’t depressed. I was sad. This little piece of hurt was all my own.”

I loved almost everything about this book. The writing just… melted in my mouth, it’s so smooth and rich and sweetly tart. But I did have some discomfort with the portrayal of Darian. I doubt if, as an American, I could fully grasp all the nuances of class and culture clash that were going on here, but I felt that Darian was almost too wise and perfect in his easygoing simplicity. Part of the point of the book, of course, is that the way Darian sounds and dresses has nothing to do with his value as a person, and obviously he needs to have an attractive personality, so they can fall in love. But there was a touch of “noble savage” about him that nagged at me. It might have helped if we’d gotten to see more of his inner life.

It’s still a marvelous story. I have to quote just one more passage, because it’s such a charming comment on an opposite attracts relationship:

The cottage pie was about as wholesome and straightforward as you could get. It was food for winter evenings and happy days. And the salad was rich, complicated, a little bit sweet, a little bit sharp, and seemed to be trying way too hard to be impressive. We’d both served each other a metaphor.

I give this 4 1/2 stars. You can buy it here.

Published by Riptide. Reviewed from e-arc provided by NetGalley.

The winner of the Advance Reader Copy of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS is Lori_Erokan. Please email Julia at juliaspencerfleming dot com and let her know if you want a book (include your snail mail address) or a Net Galley (ebook.)

 

 

 

Through evil daysI love a good romance. I’ve been reading them ever since I snuck The Flame and the Flower out of the paperback swap box at the Argyle Free Library. I was thirteen, and boy, did that that novel further my education. In the many, many years since then, I think I’ve read in every romance subgenre there is (except, perhaps, for Inspirational Amish single title. I’ve read Amish romance, mind you – Sunshine and Shadow remains one of my faves.) So it was a natural fit for me to create a heartfelt romance within my first mystery novel.

 

The book was titled In the Bleak Midwinter and it became a surprising success. Evidently, lots of readers shared my enthusiasm for suppressed passion alongside murders, arrests and life-threatening chases through the Adirondack mountains. So much so, that the eighth in the series, Through the Evil Days, is being released on November 5th (a very easy date to remember, remember.) I’ve taken my heroine, an Episcopal priest who unwillingly falls in love with a married police chief, from their small northern New York town to a tour of combat duty in Iraq and back again (with accompanying problems.) There have been lingering half-hidden glances; unwilling admissions of love; pain, rejection, reconciliation and consummation (that was fun to write.)

Karen Scott 2

However, as central as the relationship between Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne is to the story, I’m still writing crime fiction, not Romance-with-a-capital-R. Which means I get to play with and against many of the conventions of that genre. Russ is neither young nor rich (although he is, to use the description of Castle, “ruggedly handsome.” Clare is lively and personable, not pretty. Russ is married at the beginning of the series to a pleasant, attractive woman. (The H/H don’t cross the line into actual cheating, but even emotional infidelity tends to be a huge no-fly zone in Romance.) Their big fights end with them being mad, not falling into each others’ arms.

 

Karen Scott 4Now, in the upcoming Through the Evil Days, I tackle a romance trope that has always bugged the heck out of me: the Joyful Reaction to Unplanned Pregnancy. You’ve all read this, right? The hero and heroine have no plans to have kids. They’re surprised with an unplanned pregnancy. She instantly becomes Tiger Mother and he turns into Father Goose. In real life? Not so much. She says, “Oh, shit.” He says, “What did you do?” A vigorous discussion ensues. I wanted to take a look at that. In One Was a Soldier, my hero and heroine finally made it up the aisle, with the understanding that, among other things, the demands of her calling and his age meant they wouldn’t have children. So of course, at the very end of the book, they discover she’s pregnant. (Lawrence Block’s secret to good fiction: just keep throwing one damn thing after another at your characters.)

 

Karen Scott 3In a romance, the Hero would take a deep breath, readjust his perceptions, and say, “Great news, honey!” Russ reacts a little differently.

He collapsed into one of the ladder-back chairs. “How?” She looked at him incredulously. “I mean, I thought you had the birth control thing all covered.” He jammed one hand through his hair. “Jesus, Clare, I would’ve used condoms if there was a problem.” He squinted up at her. “You didn’t forget to take ‘em, did you?” He didn’t mean to sound suspicious, but it came out that way.

 

Karen Scott 1Clare’s scared of what her congregation will think, but soon has bigger problems when the bishop threatens to haul her up on charges of “conduct unbecoming of a priest.” She’s afraid for the baby – she’s being treated for addiction – she’s afraid for her job, and she’s afraid for her marriage.

 

Russ is mad, upset, inflexible and refuses to buy into the idea that he’s going to be a father. And he doesn’t do a 180 turn through the talc-scented magic of romancelandia. He has a long, hard slog through danger and disruption before he can even hope to come to grips with the way his life continues to be turned upside down by love.

Karen Scott 5

Will they arrive at agreement and acceptance? Will they be able to grow and change within their marriage? Will they get away from the stone-cold killers they stumble over at their remote lakeside honeymoon cabin? (Well, it is a mystery.)

 

And what do you think, readers? Do you prefer the H/H who start knitting booties before the EPT stick has dried? Or do you like them to have a more realistic approach to the event? Let me know, and one lucky commenter will get an Advance Reader Copy or Net Galley of Through the Evil Days !

Julia Author Photo

Julia Spencer-Fleming‘s New York Times bestselling books have won multiple awards, including the Anthony and Agatha, and have been Edgar and RT Reader’s Choice nominees. The next Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne novel, Through the Evil Days, comes out on November 5th. You can find Julia at her website, her readerSpace, on Facebook and on Twitter as @jspencerfleming. She also blogs with the Jungle Red Writers.

Author Visit: Julia Spencer-Fleming

Were you here for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s post on sex in mysteries? I was, back when I was just a visitor, even though I hadn’t then read any of her books.  And despite her telling me I had the same tastes as a little old lady, I went on to read them all. ;-)

Julia will be joining us again on Wednesday October 9th to talk about her upcoming book Through the Evil Days. I don’t know what she has planned, but her last post was pretty fun, so come check it out.

KarenS Capsule Review: Flirting With The Camera By Ros Clarke

Flirting with the camera 150 x 150

Sensuality Rating: STEAMY

This was a book that I decided to buy because I caught a random conversation on Twitter. I have no idea who the conversation was between, but I think the words “heroine with a great body image” or some such were included in there somewhere.

Anyway, here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

Hattie Bell is beautiful, brilliant and bigger than your average plus-sized model. For top fashion photographer Tom Metcalfe, Hattie is the muse he needs to help him break into the art world.

Working with Hattie is going to send his career rising into the stratosphere.

Falling in love with Hattie is going to bring his life crashing down around his feet.

The blurb is basic and really doesn’t do this story justice, but some of the things that I loved about Flirting With The Camera was the heroine. Hattie was a fun person who totally embraced her size, and knew that she was beautiful. How often do you get that in a romance? Hattie was an absolute breath of fresh air and her chemistry with Tom was on point.

I also liked Tom, he was pretty closed off, and was your quintessential tall, dark and mysterious guy, but he had real substance, and his back story was touching.

Anyway, if you fancy a read, you can download the book from Amazon.com here.

Sites Sighted

Sites Sighted

Monday, September 23, 2013
Posted in: Adventures with Blog people, willaful

Since so many readers were interested in more people of color in romance, I wanted to share this site I happened across, Romance in Color:

We’re romance lovers whose goal is to advance the awareness and appreciation of diversity in romance novels. The hero or heroine of all romance novels on this site will be a person of color.

While I’m at it, Love in the Margins is a great new group blog trying to expand the traditional romance boundaries:

We (mainly) review romance and erotica featuring characters from every corner. Of special interest to us is how the romance genre tells (or avoids telling) the stories of those whose lives don’t fit into the neat and tidy box labeled “default.” Characters of varying sexual orientations or gender representations? We review it. Couples of color? We review it. Heroes with disabilities or heroines managing chronic illness? We review it. Blue-collar Cowboy Dom with ex-con brothers falling for a transgender ballet teacher recovering from combat-related PTSD? Not sure this book exists, but if we find it, we’ll review it. We’ll talk openly and honestly about what we loved and what we hated, as romance readers and people who deal with this stuff in everyday life.

 

Good Luck To Kerry Washington At The Emmys Tonight!

Project Catwalk

Kerry Washington Sags

Kerry Washington Emmys 2012

Love this woman to bits!

TBR Challenge: Outcast Woman by Lucy Gordon

outcastThe theme: A Western. I screwed the pooch on this one — I thought it was a western historical and then discovered it was actually a contemporary set in Dartmoor! But as things turned out, the plot shared so many commonalities with classic Americana stories, I decided to let it stand.

Sensuality Rating: Steamy

Kirsty Trennon’s husband died in prison, proclaiming himself innocent with his last breath. Considered to be a sinful adulterer who drove him to murder, she’s been a local pariah ever since, living as a hermit on her isolated farm.

When Kirsty finds an escaped and ailing prisoner hiding in her barn, deliriously proclaiming his innocence, the parallel touches her heart and she helps him. As Mike gets well, Kirsty finds herself feeling desire for the first time, but her painful history, Mike’s issues, and their vastly divergent lifestyles make their relationship a tumultuous one.

You can see why I originally mistook this was an historical; it’s quite an old-fashioned plot, and the first mention of a phone was startling. (One of the villagers even calls Kirsty a witch!) The emphasis on Kirsty’s love of the land and of all living things, as well as subplots about evil developers trying to buy her out and so on, increased the resemblance.

Gordon is one of my favorite category authors, but this really wasn’t my style. It’s another very episodic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink book — I kept wishing Gordon had chosen one plotline and developed it (and the characters) instead of branching out into a dozen different directions. It also has one of my most despised pet peeves — infertility healed by the power of twu wuv — and I was bothered by the emphasis on Kirsty’s innocence, as if the way people had treated her would have been just fine otherwise. It’s certainly readable, and the lonely beauty of the unusual setting may extend its appeal for some readers, but for me it was just 2 stars. It’s not in print or in digital format, but cheap copies are available here.

(Published by Silhouette. Review copy owned by me.)

TBR Challenge: Passion's Sweet Revenge by Jo Goodman

revengeSensuality Rating: Steamy, of course!

The theme: A steamy read

Why this one: It has not one but two passionate couples wearing bad eyeshadow on the cover! What says steamy better than that?

I didn’t exactly read this… I started it, began to skim, read big blocks, doubled back and read parts that I’d skipped before…  This is possibly the old skooliest old skool book Goodman ever wrote, and though her prose and storytelling are definitely better than they were in her first book, she hadn’t really found her voice yet. It’s also quite a squidgy read.  She threw everything but the kitchen sink into this one — I think the only bodice ripper trope it doesn’t have is a harem.

The time is during and after the Civil War, in which Logan and Mary Catherine were on opposite sides. (Strike one.)  Their love-hate relationship begins when she’s just an adolescent — first she worships him, then she hates him, then at age 15 she tries to seduce him. After Yankee Logan is caught by the enemy and set to a hellish prison, he believes she set him up and the hate continues. There’s a vengeance rape and a marriage to someone else and a secret baby and naughty photographs and assorted villains and I don’t know what all. About 95 percent of it made me uncomfortable in one way or another, though I liked it better on the second go through, in which I saw more of the feeling between the characters. I’m tempted to start over from the beginning and give it a real shot, but I just can’t face reading all the yeechy parts again.

I won’t give this a grade since I didn’t read it as it was meant to be read. It seems to be reasonably popular on GoodReads; I might have loved it a few years ago, when intensity was everything to me.  It’s not in print and hasn’t been digitized yet, but you can buy it cheap here.

Published by Zebra. (And how.) Reviewed from personal copy, probably acquired at paperbackswap.

Review: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

heiress What a fascinating, brilliant, challenging historical romance; it features the nicest hero I ever wanted to punch in the snoot.

In order to keep an eye on the safety of her younger sister, Jane Fairfield has to get through more than a year without getting married — harder than that might seem, when you’re the heiress to 100,000 pounds. She’s promised her uncle she’ll marry anyone eligible who asks, so she has to make good and sure no one asks; her method is to take her natural difficulties in conforming and exaggerate them as far as humanly possible. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting, but it works — she’s offensive and ridiculous and everyone mocks her.

Everyone but Oliver Marshall. “It didn’t matter how irritating Miss Fairfield was. Oliver had been on the receiving end of those snide comments one too many times to rejoice in making them.” Oliver and Jane have something in common: neither is the biological child of their official father, and both are accepted into society with reluctance, Oliver only because he’s a duke’s son and Jane because she’s so wealthy. Belligerent and blunt as a child, Oliver has smoothed over his natural inclinations in order to fit in with those who are determined to maintain the status quo, hoping to change the system from within. But he draws the line at laughing at others.

Or does he? Oliver is given a “test” by someone whose political clout he desperately needs, to make sure that “he’ll know his place, and expect everyone to be in theirs.” And to prove that, he’ll have to put Jane Fairfield in her place: “Humiliate her. Hurt her. Teach her her lesson. You know how it’s done; it took you long enough to learn yours.” (Ouch!) Even after guessing Jane’s secret and beginning to admire her intelligence and courage (and genuine attractiveness underneath the hideous gowns she wears), it’s a serious temptation for Oliver. Perhaps not even entirely for the reward — Jane brings back so many bad memories of when he was a victim of bullies:

“She had already been burned. She was afire now. She smiled and laughed and she didn’t care what they thought of her. Oliver wanted to tell himself that he wouldn’t hurt her, that he wasn’t that kind of man. But right now, all he wanted to do was push her so far from him that he never had to see this, never had to hear that low, mocking laughter again.”

This is a hard hero’s journey to read about. Oliver and Jane are actually on the same journey, to their authentic selves, but hers comes more naturally, and without hurting anyone along the way. Oliver’s resistance to letting Jane in his life, even with the most sympathetic reasons, is kind of a romance squelcher. I believed that Oliver appreciated Jane and cared for her, and I loved it when he did some crazy things for her sake, but the book never reached a level of passion for me that would bring it up to 5 stars, despite how much I admired it.

Which was considerably. Although the themes about bullying and nonconformity are similar to Milan’s wonderful Unlocked, it’s not a retread. It would take forever to talk about all the ways I think it’s clever and interesting — I bookmarked about every other page — so I’ll just touch on some:

– Although this story would stand alone just fine, elements from the previous stories are incorporated very well. We can really see how the Oliver of The Governess Affair became this Oliver.

– Jane’s horrible uncle is not a hands-rubbing villain, just a sloppy thinker who means well. (Is there anything more dangerous?)

– Milan uses the time period to great effect. There are fantastic advances in thinking, science, and politics while simultaneously there’s a ferocious old guard clinging to the status quo. (Hmmm… wonder if Milan will ever write a contemporary?)

– Oliver’s situation, though not always perfectly heroic, is very real and relatable. Who hasn’t felt sorry for someone being picked on while simultaneously wanting to get as far away from them as possible? Who hasn’t swallowed something for the sake of a greater goal? Oliver is generally a kind, honorable, decent person, and he has the face the fact that he isn’t being the man he wants to be.

So the book is excellent and the characterizations are wonderful. But I still wanted to punch Oliver in the snoot. :-)

4 1/2 stars.  Incidentally, I was surprised to find several minor editing errors in this; usually Milan’s self-published books are pristine. You can buy it in ebook or paperback here.  (And btw, The Governess Affair is still free for Kindle, and probably at other sites as well.)