#StrongRomanceHeroines, Reading, Uncategorized

Summer Reading

Summer

Summer’s hit and there’s nothing better than reading on Brighton beach in the sunshine.  I’ve been filling my days with the following books…

Countryside Perfection

510Vm82FSHL

Is home always where the heart is?

When Ellie spent a summer with her mum on a Wiltshire commune in the 90s it was a bigger disaster than Leo DiCaprio’s trip aboard the Titanic – so fleeing to America seemed a perfect plan.

But now, with her marriage falling apart, running back to her mum seems like the only option for her and her son Josh.

She wasn’t expecting Art, the boy she once had a crush on to still be working at Willow Tree Farm…And still be as hot and bothersome as he was when they were teenagers.
Ellie came to Willow Tree Farm for a fresh start. But is she ready to risk sailing her life – and her heart – into another iceberg?

There’s something about Heidi Rice’s Summer At Willow Tree Farm that warms the heart:  adorable children; beautiful countryside; and that teenage crush that Ellie never quite forgot.  Turns out that Art never forgot her either, and the chemistry between the two of them practically set my kindle aflame.  Funny and utterly charming.

Old School Clinch

icm_fullxfull.131997769_qj1ghk27ou80wc80kos4

A man like David Falcon – a celebrated writer. traveler and explorer, and good-looking into the bargain! – was almost bound to he plagued by adoring women; and in fact his female admirers made such a nuisance of themselves that at last he had to take some forceful action.

Fortunately there was one girl who disliked him strongly. so he engaged her as his secretary and instructed her also to act as watchdog to keep off any of the others who might track him down to his remote castle in Wales.

It was a move that was destined to defeat itself.

There’s something about properly old school Mills & boon novels that I can’t help but adore.  Rose Burghley’s The Sweet Surrender has my favourite romance novel cover of all time, and the insides match!

Take one feisty heroine, one alpha hero, a Welsh castle and any number of intense embraces, and you’ve got the recipe for a great read!

All About the Scandal

best-kept-secrets-cover2

Between the fall-out from his father’s latest shady business dealings and his wife Charisse’s alcoholism, Evan Murdoch has his hands full. But he should be most concerned about the scandalous affair Charisse is having right under his nose—with his half-brother. Evan’s being pushed to the edge, and no one knows that better than Leila Hawkins…

Leila is back in Chesterton, divorced, penniless, and desperate enough to do anything to save her mother’s home from foreclosure—including turning to Evan, her former best friend. But Evan isn’t interested in friendship. Instead he makes Leila a shockingly indecent proposal.

Meanwhile, Evan’s newlywed sister, Paulette, wants to be the perfect wife. But a blackmailing bad boy ex has reappeared in her life—and he’s threatening to reveal her most painful secret.

The scandals just won’t quit—and for everyone involved, desire, betrayal, and lies are all in a day’s work…

It’s all about secrets, scandals and seduction in Shelly Ellis’ Best Kept Secrets, the first book in the Chesterton Scandal series.  The intertwined narratives that follow the different characters balance the storylines well, and it’s clear that this is an epic saga in the making!

Romantic Getaway

51IBPI5YqeL

He’ll help her forget her past, and may just give her a future too!

Immi Marlowe ran away after she was jilted… and on arrival on Isola dei Fiore gorgeous billionaire Matt Stark sweeps her off her feet! On the island’s golden beaches they really connect but, when her past secrets are revealed, what will Matt do to prove they can go the distance?

Kate Hardy’s 75th book for Mills & Boon, The Runaway Bride and the Billionaire, is the third in the Summer at the Villa Rosa quartet.  I love Kate’s books; they’ve got heroes to swoon over and heroines to die for!

The novel’s setting is particularly delightful, and made me yearn for beautiful sandy beaches instead of the pebbles beneath my feet!

Halcyon Days

412GZoA30rL

Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves.

But in the face of handwringing boys, “personal experimentation,” influenza, mystery mold, nuchauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of “academia,” they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive.

I have a real soft spot for John Allison’s Giant Days comic series.  Following three female friends through their time at university, I’ve laughed and cried and am constantly being taken back to my own university days – now a decade ago!  Where has the time flown?

Perfect for reminiscing about the ‘good ole days’!

Theatrical Exploits

SummerStock_500x750

Tabloid scandals have driven TV star Ryan Hertzog to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he’s hiding out doing summer stock at his cousin’s seaside theater. When a hookup with local handyman Trey Donovan results in Ryan being photographed butt naked, he vows to keep his pants on and his hands off Trey. How was he supposed to know Trey would turn out to be the summer stock set builder?

Trey isn’t looking for a relationship; he’s still recovering from the emotional fallout of an abusive marriage. But Ryan’s laughter draws him in again and again, and he’s not about to say no to fooling around.

As the summer heats up, the paparazzi catch Ryan in increasingly compromising situations. Ryan might be too much drama for a summer fling—and Trey might be just an intermission from Ryan’s Hollywood life. But if they take their cues from Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well.

I’ve written about Vanessa North’s Lake Lovelace series before, but none are quite as summery as Summer Stock (the season’s even mentioned in the title!)

The romance is well-developed and Ryan and Trey both deserve happiness, so it’s wonderful when they finally realise that what they truly need in life is each other.

Urban Fantasy Intensity

5184FHCffcL

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

I’ve only recently discovered Ilona Andrews and Burn for Me, the first in the Hidden Legacy trilogy, had me hooked immediately.  Cue a magical hero with PTSD, a heroine whose family deserve a book all their own, and a romp of an adventure on which to follow them.

The third book, Wildfire, has only just been released and it is as exciting and as well written as the first two!

Romance Academia

51zvNiaf8SL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name…

We do it in the dark. Under the sheets. With a penlight. We wear sunglasses and a baseball hat at the bookstore. We have a “special place” where we store them. Let’s face it: Not many folks are willing to publicly admit they love romance novels. Meanwhile, romance continues to be the bestselling fiction genre. Ever. So what’s with all the shame?

Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan–the creators of the wildly popular blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books–have no shame! They look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world of romance novels and tackle the hard issues and questions.

With insider advice for writing romances, fun games to discover your inner Viking warrior, and interviews with famous romance authors, Beyond Heaving Bosomsshows that while some romance novels are silly–maybe even tawdry–they can also be intelligent, savvy, feminist, and fabulous, just like their readers!

And now to Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan’s Beyond Heaving Bosoms:  The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels.

Doing research as an academic means that I read a lot of books which are quite full-on.  Wendell and Tan’s book – though still arguably academic – is hysterical.  Expect talk about the heroine’s ‘Magic Hoo Hoo’, the hero’s ‘Wang of Mighty Lovin” and the importance of snark when presented with the best and worst of romance novel covers.

Yes, it is a glorious as it sounds.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Less Than Three Press, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Romance

Responding to Reading: She’s with Me

She's with Me

I’m a big fan of indie publishing company Less Than Three Press, who specialise in LGBTQIA romance.  I’ve been following the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag for some time, and realised that I hadn’t actually reviewed any LGBTQ romances.  That ends now.

She’s with Me is a kinky, BDSM-lite erotic lesbian novella by Vanessa Cardui, which is more than a little of a mouthful, but is actually a skillfully crafted narrative.

The protagonists are Meeka and Izzy, her seemingly-straight best friend who’s just been stood up by her boyfriend.  What I really liked about the story is the fact that it’s all about exploration.  Cardui manages to capture the tentative way that Meeka feels, whilst appreciating that a girls’ night out can result in all sorts of situations, especially when alcohol’s involved.

There’s also order-giving, with Izzy discovering that she likes taking orders almost as much as Meeka likes giving them.  The balance between Izzy experiencing non-hetero  sexuality for the first time – particularly whilst she considers herself straight – with Meeka’s obvious feelings for her friend is just right.  The tone isn’t flippant, and nor is it painted as a crazy thing done whilst drunk.  I particularly liked the way that their emotions were interwoven with the sex, giving the erotica depth.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Piatkus, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Romance

Respond to Reading: The Rogue Not Taken

The-Rogue-Not-Taken1

I fell across Sarah MacClean‘s writing about two years ago, when I fairly devoured her Love by Numbers trilogy.  I loved the way in which she managed to write about strong women, without drifting away from the reality of a woman’s life in regency England.

So when I heard that she had a new series – Scandal & Scoundrel – I was rather excited.  The Rogue Not Taken, as well as being a fantastic name for historical, didn’t let me down.  MacClean’s ability to highlight the fragility of a woman’s reputation in the regency era is one of the things that lifts her romances up out of the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a romp where the heroine singlehandedly takes on society and wins as much as the next person, but they’re incredibly unrealistic.  The social disgrace and near ruination of a family, due to Sophie’s flouting of social graces, makes this a far more interesting read.

Sophie’s not the stereotypical heroine.  She’s stubborn, messes up a lot of the time, and the one time she acts without thinking, sets off a catastrophic series of events, and yet you can’t help but sympathise with her.  Her dilemma, as a young lady whose family were given a title, as opposed to having been born into one, seems heartfelt.  She’s got absolutely no wish to be in society, and can think of nothing better than returning to the home of her childhood and marrying the baker’s boy – especially when society is unmentionable cruel to her and her sisters.

Of course, she meets someone who purposefully spends his time scandalising society, and despite the fact that neither of them can stand the other, they end up being thrown together.

As a hero, King’s spent his life furious with his father for a tragedy in his youth and it’s coloured his attitude towards everything.  In short, he appears to be a bit of a dick.  There was a twist, towards the end of the book, that I really wasn’t expecting.  It set on its head an accepted regency romance trope, and forced King’s internal conflict to drastically change.  Suffice to say it was a genius move on MacClean’s part.

In fact, the whole book reads a bit like a social commentary on gossip columns of today; it made me think about celebrity, and in particular notoriety, and was so engaging that I can’t wait for the next book!

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Avon, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Respond to Reading: Good Guys Wear Black

23287191

Th final book in Lizbeth Selvig‘s Kennison Falls series, Good Guys Wear Black, is a fitting end to a series that I’ve loved (I even wrote about the heroine from Beauty and the Brit, Rio Montoya, in a piece earlier this year).

Once again, Selvig doesn’t shy away from thought-provoking topics and handles delicate issues with the deftest of touches.

There are two storylines that remain inextricably intertwined with the main romance narrative: that of Rose’s son, Jesse, and his struggle to adapt to life in a new town and school; and that of Banned Book week.

I’m going to start with Jesse.  He’s got Asperger’s Syndrome which is difficult to approach in any case, but Selvig’s appreciation for the struggles that both Jesse and his mother face ring true – particularly when you take into account the fact that there’s a lot of well-meaning but misguided advice being given by everyone from th hero to Jesse’s PE teacher.

There were a number of times when I had to check my own privilege when reading this; especially as coming from a teaching background in the UK where IEPs in education can be incredibly valuable.  I’d never stopped to think about the stress for both parent and student caused by having to sit tests that would only say the same things.

Either way, Rose’s clear bond and love for her son shone throughout the novel, and Dewey’s reaction to that was heartwarming.

And then there’s Banned Book week.

I’m irrevocably against banning books; if there are things you don’t want your kids reading, don’t let them read them.  That doesn’t mean that all books are suitable for all ages, but I do feel very strongly about freedom of speech.

I came up against myself in my brief stint as a school librarian where Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series were questioned by some parents as being suitable due to Pullman’s fairly staunch anti-religion sentiments.

It’s important to note here, that I was supported by a headteacher who stood by me wholeheartedly.  In the end, I moved the books from the Junior to Senior section of the library (bookshelves a full five feet across the room) and said that if students wanted to read them, no matter what their age, I’d let them (this was in a 11-18 school).

So when Rose, as new Head Librarian, is faced with a large group of angry members of a community she’s only just joined, due to celebrating Banned Books week, it’s pretty stressful for her and is dealt with by Selvig brilliantly.

Of course, it’s impossible to forget the blossoming romance between dewey and Rose.  I think it’s so easy to forget how external influences can have an impact on a new relationship in romance novels, but the educating of Dewey about Jesse, and his unwavering support of Rose over the library issues, made for delightful reading.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Guestpost, Mills & Boon, Release Post, Romance

Guestpost – Rachel Brimble’s Top Five #StrongRomnaceHeroines

picture1

There are so many strong romance heroines out there but here are my Top Five (in no particular order):

1)  Scarlett O’HaraGone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

51pZagJtHdL

Gone With The Wind is one of my all-time favorite books (the only book I have read four times) and I often get into debates with my fellow romance readers/authors about her strength. Some find Scarlett too whiny and needy but, for me, she shows rather than verbalizes her strength. She overcomes horrors and difficulties that most of us (fortunately!) will only find in the pages of this wonderfully epic novel.

2)  Eve DallasIn Death series by Nora Roberts (writing as J. D. Robb)

51pnyQtVVKL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

Lord, how I love Eve! If you haven’t tried the In Death series yet, make it your mission to start reading this amazing series before Christmas. The books center around Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her ongoing relationship with millionaire, Roarke (not sure if anyone knows if this is his first name or surname!) Each novel brings a new case for Eve to solve and usually involves Roarke or someone she is close to in one way or another. There are a whopping 41 novels so far in the series…

3)  Elizabeth BennettPride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

6a010536b33b69970b017ee7f9f966970d

I don’t know a romance reader on the planet who hasn’t read Pride & Prejudice and, for me, it’s Elizabeth Bennett’s strength, integrity and passion which makes this novel continue to sell year after year. A timeless romance, hero and heroine that I predict will live in our hearts and the hearts of future generations for many years to come.

4)  Josie O’CaseyA Glimpse At Happiness by Jean Fullerton

51o653VDl+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

A Glimpse At Happiness is one of my most favorite Victorian romances and the reason I started to write in the genre. Josie O’Casey is a wonderful example of what makes a strong heroine and how they overcome the poverty of their circumstances. This book is about love over adversity, hope over pessimism. A truly gorgeous book and a truly fantastic heroine.

5)  Lucky SantangeloChances by Jackie Collins

Chances-PBB

Although Jackie Collins’ books aren’t strictly romance, there is usually a central relationship in her super-sexy stories. I discovered the first book Lucky appears in (Chances) when I was barely into my teens and went on to devour all the books she features in thereafter. A strong, feisty, no holds barred, kind of heroine who demands your attention from the very first page. Tremendous!

Rachel’s latest novel, Christmas at the Cove, has a trsong romance heroine of its own!

22309833

Rachel lives with her husband and their two young daughters in a small market town near the famous Georgian City of Bath.

And when she’s not writing you’ll find her with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family.  And in the evening?  Well, a well-deserved glass of wine is never, ever refused.

Find out more about Nikki and her books on her website; and follow her on her blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter for regular, nature-filled, updates!

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Guestpost, Mills & Boon, Reading, Writing

Guestpost – Jill Kemerer and #StrongRomanceHeroines in Sweet Romance

 

jill-2-DB

I often get asked fun questions when I tell people I’m a romance novelist.

You write Christian romance novels? How do you…you know…write all the sexy parts?

I always laugh and say, “I don’t!”

There are a lot of misconceptions about the genre. For instance, I write contemporary romance novels for Harlequin’s Love Inspired line, which has strict guidelines regarding sexual content and clean language. Does this mean my characters are boring or, worse, weak?

Of course not!

A sweet romance keeps the emphasis on the emotional side of romance. Physical attraction and chemistry is important, but it’s not the main focus—falling in love is.

Characters in a romance show their strength through thoughts, words and actions. I admire heroines who want something really badly and work hard to get it even when faced with setbacks. These women don’t just drift along when life throws curveballs. They fight for what they want.

Small-Town-Bachelor-Cover-small

A strong heroine doesn’t have to do everything on her own. Part of falling in love is building a partnership. But the journey is never smooth. There’s a reason she believes she can’t have a relationship with the hero, and she tries to avoid getting hurt by protecting her heart.

She also challenges the hero. Sometimes this requires her to evaluate her dreams, to figure out if her goal is causing her to throw away her chance at love. My favorite heroine finds a way to have both—her dreams and the guy.

Her real strength comes when she allows herself to be vulnerable. She takes a chance on the hero. Decides a future with him is worth the risk of getting hurt.

Because in the end, the hero is exactly who she needs. He pushes her to be her best self.

What do you think makes a heroine strong?

Unexpected-Family-Small

Jill’s latest release, Unexpected Family, is out now and is the perfect autumn release.

Jill Kemerer writes contemporary romance novels with love, humor and faith. A full time writer, she relies on coffee and chocolate to keep up with her kids’ busy schedules. Besides spoiling her mini-dachshund, Jill adores magazines, M&Ms, fluffy animals and long nature walks. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children.

To find out more about Jill, check out her website, subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Mills & Boon, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Respond to Reading: Christmas Ever After

51VWvqeDB3L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

I often cry over books, but most of the time it’s welling up or tears blurring my vision.  I sobbed over Sarah Morgan‘s Christmas Ever After.

I’ve had such an intense and personal response to this book that this post is somehow part-review, part-musings and possibly a little intense itself.  You have been warned.

The book is the final volume in Morgan’s Puffin Island series, a trilogy (with a Mills & Boon Modern prequel) set on a little island in Maine, following three friends:  Emily, Brittany and Skylar.  I’ve loved each of them, but there was something about Sky and Alec, the hero and heroine of this final volume, that caught my imagination from the start.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they kept on sniping at each other – I adore a hate-to-love romance – or because they’re fiercely loyal in their own way, but either way I was super excited about this book.

Conflict is always difficult to get right, and Sarah Morgan is a master of the art – as I’ve argued in the past – so I suppose it came as no surprise that Skylar and Alec’s internal conflict were deeply textured and developed.  But it was Skylar in particular who stood out for me.

I’ve written in the past about anxiety and panic attacks and I’m a firm believer in a romance novel’s ability to deal with darker emotional issues.  The reasons for Skylar’s anxiety and constant apologies couldn’t be further from mine – my family have always been incredibly supportive – but Morgan’s portrayal of this was perfect.

In some ways, it was shocking to see how ingrained it had become for Skylar to apologise or begin to panic as soon as she did something that her family or ex would have disapproved of or disliked.  The automatic catastrophising, continually jumping to the worst possible scenario and apologising in an attempt to get ahead of it.  And when she meets Alec’s family, he does the same thing, immediately fearing the worst possible outcome.

Catastrophising is pretty hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it; it’s as if you’ve been split in half and one of you is sat there panicking over and over again, whilst the other part of you drifts apart, completely aware that this is an overreaction, and that there’s nothing you can do about it.

I train myself to go to the middle ground.  Whenever I feel myself catastrophising I force myself to think about the best possible outcome and they try and find some kind of middle ground.  The problem with the extremes, is that they’re almost always something out of your control, and it’s only by stopping and thinking about the middle ground that you can truly start making your actions autonomous.

And the end of the novel does this perfectly.  I found reading this surreal and emotional and intense because it was like reading my own journey mirrored on the page, and reading how everyone around Skylar felt about her anxieties was pretty moving.

Hence the sobbing.

But the book’s not dark and depressing, rather an uplifting experience, full of humour and friendship and sex scenes that made me smile and blush in equal measure.  I loved this, and it’s my favourite Sarah Morgan book.