Today we're thrilled to welcome Kerrelyn Sparks to the site. Kerrelyn's much-loved Love at Stake series will see its final book, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Vampire, published today. In her first book in the series, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, Kerrelyn got curious about what would happen if suddenly a vampire lost one of his fangs. Well, he'd turn to a dentist, of course! She's here to discuss how the Love at Stake series came about and introduce you to Roman and his female-mortal-dentist-turned-lady-love, Shanna. Thanks, Kerrelyn!
Way back in 2004, when I still considered myself a historical romance writer, I came down with the flu. While high on Nyquil, I wrote three zany chapters about a vampire who lost one of his fangs, biting something he shouldn’t have. Oh, the shame! Would he spend the rest of eternity as a lopsided eater? I had no idea what would happen to that vampire or the female mortal dentist he kidnaps, but I soon had to figure that out, for an editor at Avon Books read those three chapters and offered me a two-book contract! That first book became How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, and to my shock and amazement, it flew right out of the bat cave and onto a bestseller list. So Avon wanted more vampire books, and the Love at Stake series was born. I would have never believed the series would go on for sixteen books!
If it’s not apparent by now, I write romantic comedy. Yes, my vampires and shifters have a sense of humor. How could you manage to live 500 years without a sense of humor? And my heroines also have a sense of humor. It helps them cope when a werewolf husband sheds on the furniture or a vampire husband drops his glass of blood on the carpet. I should point out that there are some positive things about having a vampire husband. They never snore. You never have to cook for them. And while they’re dead during the day, you have free access to their credit cards.
Obviously, we all love Romance as a genre. None of us would be here if we didn’t. (Here, as in at this site obviously, not here as in alive and in the world.) But loving something does not mean we cannot mock it, or enjoy it when others do so for us. In fact, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then parody must surely be the sincerest form of affection; to spoof anything really well you must know it inside and out, and such thorough acquaintance with the minutia of anything can only either lead to—or, more likely, be born out of— a deep and profound fondness.
Here then, the Top 10 romance parodies that are funniest when you know enough—and love enough—to really get the joke…
10. 50 Shades! The Musical (2013)
Parody of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
This stage parody promising live BDSM (“Best Damn Songs and Music”) was a hit in Chicago before making its way to Manhattan, the New York Post reporting that “the opening scene centers on a middle-aged ladies’ book group, then plunges, like a cougar’s neckline, into sketches making fun of the erotic, best-selling novel.” Conceived by musical improv comedy troupe Baby Wants Candy, the show features songs like “Red Room” with lyrics such as “How much can you take/How much can you handle?/Clamps upon your nipples?/Hot wax with a burning candle?” Rarely, if ever, has soft-core erotica been so jaunty.
Screwdrivered (Cocktail #3)
Gallery / September 2, 2014 / $15.00 print, $7.99 digital
By day, Viv Franklin is a tough-as-nails software engineer who designs programs and loves hospital corners. By night, Vivian’s a secret romance-novel junkie who longs for a knight in shining armor, or a cowboy on a wild stallion, or a strapping firefighter to sweep her off her feet. And she gets to wear the bodice—don’t forget the bodice.
When a phone call brings news that she’s inherited a beautiful old home in Mendocino, California from a long-forgotten aunt, she moves her entire life across the country to embark on what she sees as a great, romance-novel-worthy adventure. But romance novels always have a twist, don’t they?
There’s a cowboy, one that ignites her loins. Because Cowboy Hank is totally loin-ignition worthy. But there’s also a librarian, Clark Barrow. And he calls her Vivian. Can tweed jackets and elbow patches compete with chaps and spurs? You bet your sweet cow pie.
In Screwdrivered, Alice Clayton pits Superman against Clark in a hilarious and hot battle that delights a swooning Viv/Vivian. Also within this book, an answer to the question of the ages: Why ride a cowboy when you can ride a librarian?
In her latest novel in the Cocktail series, Alice Clayton is having a good time poking a little fun at the romance reader. We are a fanciful group always looking for a happily ever after with that one special person, but can we enjoy a laugh at our own expense?
Rebekah Weatherspoon's Fit, the first book in the Fit series, follows the story of fiery Violet, who is not your typical romance novel heroine. She’s plus sized, Asian and hilarious. Fit is a short story with an introduction to some light bondage and makes for a quick, fun read.
What stands out most in this book is Violet’s snarky, humorous responses. She is funny and quick-witted, which keeps the story light even while dealing with a heavy topic like self-image. She works in Hollywood, which is not pleasant for someone plus-sized.
FOX’s The Mindy Project comes back on Tuesday, April 1, after more than two months on hiatus. Two months spent by many in a fever of anticipation, wondering what the future will hold for frenemies Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and Danny (Chris Messina), whose slow-burn snark-filled almost romance has become one of the most captivating on TV, as H&H’s Heather Waters so gleefully articulated in her post regarding the show’s game-changing winter finale.
Of course, romance in comedy is hardly new, and on the small screen, and in the half-hour format, we have seen a lot of compelling relationships develop under our amused, at times angst-filled, eyes. From 86 and 99 to Joni and Chachi to Sam and Diane to Ross and Rachel, we’ve seen many a love bloom under the aegis of a helpful laugh-track (or, so it is often claimed, a “live studio audience”-track), and it is most when dealing with the vagaries of such emotions that sitcoms elevate themselves from mere short bursts of entertaining nothingness to actual thought-provoking worthiness, by delivering a surprising punch of piquancy, passion, and pathos.
Here, a list of the Top 10 couples from TVs current sitcom crop that have brought us more than just the funny. (A note on the use of the word “sitcom”: true, some of the shows on this list don’t necessarily fit the textbook definition of the term, what with the variable sets and the lack of laugh-track, but “Top 10 TV Half-Hour Comedy Romances” just doesn’t really have the same ring.)
Magic Bites is the first book in Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series and, well, I should probably start this review by making the same observation I always wind up making about volume one of a series, which is that the first book inevitably has to do a whole lot of heavy lifting. Magic Bites is set in an alternative Atlanta, some time after a magical apocalypse. The basic premise is that technology and magic sort of compete for control of the world, and one or the other will be “up” at a time, at semi-regular intervals. During tech, magic is unpredictable, during magic, tech is unpredictable. Hilarity ensues. And by “hilarity” I of course mean “a series of grisly murders.”
Oh, as always, I should say that there are spoilers coming. I mean technically the “grisly murders” thing was a spoiler but…seriously when aren't there grisly murders?
Our heroine is a mercenary with unknown and mysterious supernatural heritage. At the start of the book, she discovers that her guardian has been brutally killed which, given that he was a member of some kind of superpowered magic warrior cult, suggests that there's something very powerful and very nasty running around. She wangles her way onto the investigation (there's some indication that the superpowered magic warrior cult is deliberately using her as a distraction), and proceeds to kick over every pile of rocks she can find until something shows up.
A Brooklyn-based comedy troupe called POYKPAC has made a clip of a couple breaking up using only titles from movies.
At least it's better than texting that you want to break up, right?
I read Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened not so much over Christmas as on Christmas, ignoring my partner’s family, the Queen’s speech, and even Toy Story 3 to finish reading it. Because it’s honestly that good. I think it’s unavoidable to make more of the things you read at the end of the year compared to the beginning, but A Lady Awakened simply has to stand has one of the most original, intriguing and tiny-mind-blowing books I read in 2013.
The book opens with the heroine, Martha Russell, childless, newly widowed and about to return to her brother’s home to live out the rest of her days as a quiet burden upon his family, a fate she has no choice but to resign herself to enduring. Her solicitor, however, encourages her to remain at her late husband’s estate until it is absolutely certain that no heir has been conceived. Martha knows that she isn’t pregnant, but she has her own commitments to Seaton Hall: specifically the servants and tenants, who rely on the family for their livelihood, and the building of a local school, to which she has given her support. She also learns that the man who stands to inherit is a dissolute character, who previously forced himself upon some of the women of the household. Realising that all these problems would be solved if she was pregnant, Martha strikes a deal with her new neighbour Theo Mirkwood, temporarily exiled from London for extravagance and general debauchery. They’ll have sex every day for a month, and Martha will pay him, “regardless of issue” to quote the lady directly.
Writing a post on the most humorous characters in romance should be easy peasy, right? I thought so, since there is nothing that I love better than a book that makes me laugh. But figuring out what makes a character funny stumped me because of trying to decide which came first—the scenario (chicken) or the character’s witticism (egg).
Many of my favorite authors plop their characters in outlandish, embarrassing scenarios—usually a cute meet—and then the chaos begin. In contemporary books, authors such as Susan Andersen, Christie Craig, Rachel Gibson, Jane Graves, Kristan Higgins, Julie James, Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, and Pamela Morsi are experts at creating the cute meet. I am not as knowledgeable and current in the fantasy or historical genre but I do recall hilarious books like Maggie Osborne’s westerns and MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead books. Recently I also discovered Linda Grimes’s smart, snappy tongue-in-cheek In A Fix books and Molly Harper’s Naked Werewolf series. And last year I read the sweet and hilarious Dog Days by Elsa Watson.
Along with the cute meet, some authors have the ability to take it to the next level by adding perfect repartee. You know, the precise witticism that you and I only dream of saying. Usually we think of what we should have said, hours or days after the scenario.
Texas Hold 'Em
Forever / January 28, 2014 / $8.00 print, $7.99 digital
The last thing veterinarian Leah Reece needs is a man in her life. They're nothing but trouble—and not even the fun kind. But when her apartment is broken into and Leah suspects Rafael, her dangerous half-brother, of foul play, she can't deny she could use a little help. She just never expected that help would come with twinkling blue eyes and a sexy smile...
All PI Austin Brook wants is to nail Rafael DeLuna, the man who framed him for murder. He'll do anything for information-even lie about his identity to charm Leah, DeLuna's half-sister. But her sweet dimples and fiery spirit soon make her more than just his only lead. Leah becomes his every desire. As Austin closes in on DeLuna, it's clear he won't go down without a fight. Now the only way Austin can protect Leah is to reveal all of his secrets and risk losing her for good.
What better way to fight the winter doldrums then to laugh your way through them. And Texas Hold’ Em by Christie Craig has plenty of laughs. From the very first chapter, I was either smiling or chuckling to myself.
Note: This post contains SPOILERS for all aired episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, including last night's Season 1, episode 13, “The Bet.” Enjoy!
Last night's episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine saw the culmination of the bet between officers Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg). The two highly-competitive officers bet that they could get the most arrests. At stake? If Amy wins, she gets Jake's car; if he wins, he takes her on the worst date ever.
Of course Jake wins. He gets to choose what Amy will wear—a blue satin '80s number with a ginormous bow at the back—and what they'll do, which will include her being serenaded by a children's choir, eating shrimp at a suspect seafood restaurant, and sharing a dance, Titanic-style. Only they're called away to a stake-out, so the date is postponed.
The romantic moment that elicits an “aww!” rather than a gasp is when they're together on the roof, surveying the potential crime scene, and they're just talking (and throwing nuts in the air to see if they can catch them). Captain Holt calls Peralta on the phone to say that relief is on the way, they can continue their date, but Peralta looks back at Santiago—still nut-throwing—and says that they're good, they'll stay.
It seems like a very slow-building romantic moment, one which raises some possibility of the two getting together, but it's not an in-your-face moment. It was sweet and sincere and made sense in the context of the show. Aww!
This is the second part of my accidental Susan Napier binge (read Part 1 here), which was itself part of a wider attempt to get some sort of handle on category romance. And the truth is, when I picked up The Mistress Deception and saw it was by the same author as The Mistress of the Groom my little heart sank a bit. It wasn’t that I was particularly averse to The Mistress of the Groom but, as anyone who has actually read that book will testify, it does rather leave you feeling like you need to lie down for a while in a quiet room. But The Mistress Deception turned out to be quite a different experience altogether.
It opens with the hero, Matthew Riordan (who we know is non-alpha because he wears, wait for it, glasses) being unpleasantly surprised to receive a blackmail message and some kinky photos of himself tied to bed by a hot chick. He immediately concludes that the blackmailer is the hot chick because blackmail works really well if you put yourself in the same compromising position as your victim. Of course, the hot chick is the heroine Rachel Blair, who works for a private security firm and, of course, is absolutely not the blackmailer because she possesses many excellent qualities as a heroine and a human, and one of those is common sense. And I like to think if she did decide to blackmail someone, she would do it effectively. We learn in a flashback in the next chapter that she did, as it happens, tie Matt to the bed but it was For His Own Good because he rocked up horrendously wasted to a formal dinner party where Rachel was in charge of security.
This is another deliciously absurd premise but I think part of the reason I eased into it better than I did in The Mistress of the Groom was because, unlike poor Jane who spends the whole of her book being shafted, The Mistress Deception takes Rachel’s competence and independence very seriously. She has a job, and she’s good at it, and the only people who question either of these facts are idiots. And while I’m willing to concede that getting into sexualised shenanigans with a drunk you’re trying to subdue is probably not present as a beacon of best practice in The Big Book of Private Security, Napier does a fairly decent job of make Rachel’s actions seem…well…not totally outlandish in context.
I recently made a slightly doomed attempt to get into category romance. The ‘doomed’ part of the endeavour was my own fault because my research was basically on par with the sort of background reading that leads you to name yourself Ford Prefect or, in my case, read two books by the same author from the same imprint. Win! But, in my defense, category romances are so trope driven and context dependent they can be quite opaque to the newbie reader, so I found it a bit hard to know where to begin.
To reach for an analogy that makes sense to me (and also dates me horrendously), I think seeking out recs for category romance is like trying to get into Buffy the Vampire Slayer; everyone has their favourite episodes, but the problem is they’re always outliers, like ‘Hush’ or ‘Once More With Feeling’ and their power derives from the wider context of the show, and the ways they subvert and play with your expectations. Really, if you wanted to get someone into Buffy you should probably show them ‘Puppetshow’ because it’s absolutely typical in every conceivable way. It contains none of the really transcendentally awesome stuff about Buffy, but it also demonstrates its strengths (snappy dialogue, interesting characters, a twist) without getting too far away from the type of show it actually is. If you don’t like ‘Puppetshow’, you’re probably not going to like Buffy full stop because if you can’t invest in the monster-of-the-week format or get behind a blonde cheerleader kicking vampire arse, you’re probably not going to care when her boyfriend turns evil or her mother dies.
So basically I think I’ve been reading the category romance equivalents of ‘Once More with Feeling’—the sort of books people remember because they do something different. Which has made my adventures in this particular corner of romance, shall we say, interesting because, without really knowing what something is different from, or what it’s working within, it can occasionally come across as just plain weird. But I guess what struck me the most was just how very different two books by the same author within the same category could be. So my next two columns are going to be about the two random books by Susan Napier I read, which are united only by the fact they’re category romances and they have word ‘mistress’ in the title when neither of them seem to involve mistresses at all.
Getting into a new genre can be a challenging because they all come with their own particular signs, signifiers and tropes that can leave a newbie floundering and confused. Alexis Hall invites readers of Heroes & Heartbreakers to join him on a journey through the genre. This week, we’ll be looking at Julie James’s Something About You.
They Do, In Fact, Fight Crime: Something About You by Julie James
Fair warning, this article contains SPOILERS because I’ve never really been that spoiler-averse and I like to discuss things in detail. The way I see it, if Romeo and Juliet can get away with giving away the ending in the opening paragraph, it can't be that big a deal.
That said, I was a little bit surprised by the fact that Something About You has a spoiler in its actual series title.
The book tells the story of Assistant US Attorney Cameron Lynde and badass FBI agent Jack Pallas. The title of the series, however, is the FBI/US Attorney series. So…umm…anybody what to guess what career changes Cameron might experience over the course of the book?
There's a lot to like about Something About You, and a couple of things I found confusing. Okay, that's a lie, there was only one thing I found confusing: the title. Leaving aside the fact that I keeping wanting to call it There's Something About You (perhaps due to the unfortunate parallel with '90s sex comedy There's Something About Mary) I just wasn’t sure how the title went with the book. It doesn’t really suggest, well, FBI agents or (Assistant) US Attorneys.
How to Discipline Your Vampire
Pocket Star / August 19, 2013 / $1.99 digital
Cerise Norrell, Type A substitute teacher by day, is ready to quit being a domme. Despite her best intentions, none of her partners can keep up with her scene fetish and attention to detail—let alone her demand that they have a costume and set waiting every afternoon by the time she’s home from school.
Over a dozen potential subs have left her in the past year, but just when Cerise thinks it’s impossible—that she’ll have to go back to vanilla relationships, or be alone forever—she meets William, who wants to make all her fantasies come true. He turns her home into a geisha’s dream apartment, a concert hall with a grand piano (which he uses to play an original composition while wearing a tuxedo), and even rents an abandoned loft for a zombie apocalypse scenecomplete with canned goods.
But there’s something strange about William. Well, a lot of strange things.
He must be absurdly rich, since he can afford to provide extravagant costumes and props on a daily basis without having to leave work early. He must be insane, since he puts up with Cerise’s over-the-top demands. And most importantly, he doesn’t redden when he’s spanked, and his skin is as cool as satin sheets. When Cerise discovers she’s become domme to the infamous “Chilly Willy,” as he’s known throughout the BDSM urban lore, she begins to find out there’s a whole lot more to her handsome submissive than a creative mind and a hard body.
And when it’s William, ironically, who starts pressing Cerise to give him the kind of commitment she’s never given anyone, it’ll take everything she has to work through her issues, confront her past, and learn to be vulnerable.
In Mina Vaughn’s debut novel, the reader is treated to the funny side of BDSM, complete with a submissive vampire and a bossy vagina named Bizzy. Yes, you read that correctly. It seems that Cerise’s vag has taken on a personality of its own and she can be rather bossy. Not that that is a bad thing; Vaughn’s mild-mannered substitute teacher is really the alter ego of a bossy domme, Mistress Cherry, who knows what she wants and will go to extremes to make sure that she gets it.
William Morrow / June 4, 2013 / $13.99 print, $5.69 digital
Mackenzie “Max” Miller has a problem. Her parents have arrived in town for a surprise visit, and if they see her dyed hair, tattoos, and piercings, they just might disown her. Even worse, they’re expecting to meet a nice wholesome boyfriend, not a guy named Mace who has a neck tattoo and plays in a band. All her lies are about to come crashing down around her, but then she meets Cade.
Cade moved to Philadelphia to act and to leave his problems behind in Texas. So far though, he’s kept the problems and had very little opportunity to take the stage. When Max approaches him in a coffee shop with a crazy request to pretend to be her boyfriend, he agrees to play the part. But when Cade plays the role a little too well, they’re forced to keep the ruse going. And the more they fake the relationship, the more real it begins to feel.
A few months ago I went to a panel on New Adult and found out about author Cora Carmack. For those of you who feel that New Adult isn’t for them because of the angsty factor, Carmack might be the answer for you. In Carmack’s first book, Losing It, Bliss and Garrick were a student and teacher who met under hilarious circumstances. During their courtship, we met Cade, a fellow student who was half in love with Bliss. As romances tend to go, Bliss and Garrick lived happily ever after but Cade did not. In Faking It, we get a chance to see a happily ever after for Cade (if filled with at least a little bit of angst while he deals with his feelings).
You know the feeling—you've been waiting forever for Kristan Higgins's new book. You buy it on the release date, read it immediately, and then find it impossible to move on to another book because her style of writing and her characters have hold on you. You want more of the same, but you have already re-read her backlist so many times that you can almost repeat the dialogue from memory. You’re afraid you are turning into your child, with her nightly request of Stellaluna. Where do you turn next?
That all depends on what you like about her books. Ms. Higgins utilizes first person narrative most of the time, usually from the heroine’s point of view. She is also not afraid to push the envelope a little. Who can forget Catch of the Day's Maggie Beaumont, and her unrequited love for the town’s priest?
Falling in love with a Catholic priest was not my smartest move.
Obviously, I’m well aware of the whole vow-of-chastity, married-to-the-church thing. I realize that yearning for a priest doesn’t exactly further the cause of meeting my future husband. And in case I might have overlooked those little facts, I have an entire town pointing them out to me.
Or the sharklike divorce attorney, Harper James from My One and Only, whose biased view of love and her profession prompted her priest to assign her a daily task:
Father Bruce, viewing my soul as a personal campaign, had challenged me to, in his words, “offset the evil of your profession” by doing at least one random act of kindness each day.
Harper Collins / April 25, 2013 / $1.99 digital
The moment love-phobic Marla Jacobs discovers that the shop next to her Little White Wedding Chapel is to become a funeral parlour, she declares all-out war.
Marla’s chapel in the sleepy Shropshire countryside has become a nation-wide sensation, but the arrival of Funeral Director Gabriel Ryan threatens everything Marla has worked for. She can picture the scene: wedding limos fighting for space in the street with hearses; brides bumping into widows; bouquets being swapped for wreaths
Marla’s not going down without a fight. She enlists a motley crew of weird and wonderful local supporters, and the battle lines are drawn. But, as soon as Marla meets her nemesis, she realises just how much trouble she’s really in. His gypsy curls and Irish lilt make her stomach fizz—how is she supposed to concentrate on destroying him, when half the time she’s struggling not to rip the shirt off his back?
American ex-pat Marla Jacobs has worked hard to make The Little White Wedding Chapel the quirky national sensation that it is, despite the fact that the Vegas-style chapel resides in a most unlikely location—the sleepy English countryside. The marriage business is booming, and the icing on the cake? There's a new cupcake bakery setting up shop on their street. With every bang of the hammer and clang of the workmen out front, Marla envisions a union of sorts, the beginnings of a beautiful relationship between the bakery and the chapel. She can practically taste the scrumptious wedding cake samples and daily sweet treats they'll all be enjoying with their afternoon tea courtesy of their new neighbor.