<i>Hell for Leather</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Hell for Leather: Exclusive Excerpt Julie Ann Walker "Lord almighty, how he wanted to touch her there, needed to touch her there." H&H Reads <i>A Breath of Scandal</i> (5 of 6) H&H Reads A Breath of Scandal (5 of 6) Elizabeth Essex Ready to be reckless? Join us for a read-along of Elizabeth Essex's A Breath of Scandal <i>The House on Blackberry Hill</i>: Excerpt The House on Blackberry Hill: Excerpt Donna Alward "He felt a shiver of anticipation that had...everything to do with the client." <i>The Billionaire Biker</i>: Exclusive Excerpt The Billionaire Biker: Exclusive Excerpt Jackie Ashenden "Her best friend. Her first lover. And the boy who’d left her..."
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April 18, 2014
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April 17, 2014
The Appeal of Gritty Romance in Skye Warren's Wanderlust
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Falling in Love with Paranormal Romance
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Mar 28 2014 9:30am

Jo Beverley
A Shocking Delight
Signet Select / April 1, 2014 / $7.99 print / digital

David Kerslake, smuggling master from The Dragon's Bride, is now Earl of Wyvern and must survive the ton as well as the Preventive Officers.

Lucy Potter, daughter of a wealthy merchant, is more interested in trade than in the men after her dowry. When forced to have a London season, she sets out to enjoy herself rather than to find a husband. But once she meets the notorious Earl of Wyvern, her resolve weakens, and when they kiss, it dissolves—even though her instincts warn he’s dangerous.

Wyvern has a dark secret, which means he must win a rich bride. Lucinda Potter seems ideal. Not for her beauty and her lively charm, but because at first meeting she seems unlikely to realize the truth.

As he comes to know her, however, as they spar and kiss, he realizes she’s too clever and honest by far. Marrying Lucy would mean living a lie with the woman he has come to love....

Lovers of Jo Beverley’s Regency Rogue series have waited seven long years for David Kerslake’s story. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. Let’s reenter Beverley’s Regency world.

Lucinda Potter, like her late aristocratic mother, has “the sort of looks that made people think her empty-headed.” Looks are deceiving, however, because Lucinda is fascinated by business. Before her mother’s death, her lowborn father Daniel had risen to become an extremely successful London merchant, gradually permitting Lucy to “conduct some small pieces of business herself, choosing cargos at auction and finding good markets for them.” Lucinda hopes that after a period of mourning that her father will again invite her into his exciting City world, but then he announces that he plans to remarry a neighborhood widow. He wants conventionality, companionship and a male heir to his fortune. So even though Lucinda’s dowry of thirty thousand pounds is substantial, she foresees a life that is not to her liking, reduced to being an unmarried daughter in an altered family household. Seeing it as the lesser of two unpleasant options, Lucy wisely accepts her aristocratic Aunt Mary’s invitation to enjoy the London season.

[The lesser of two evils, hm?]

Mar 17 2014 12:10pm

Irish Thoroughbred by Nora RobertsWhether it’s a mystery with romantic elements, a historical, or a contemporary, commonalities persist when the story takes place in Ireland. An exploration of Irish romances shows that there’s often nostalgia and an old-world charm in the way Ireland is depicted.

Nora Roberts has written many best-sellers with Irish settings and/or Irish characters. According to her website, “In the summer of that year [1980], Silhouette bought Nora’s first book. Irish Thoroughbred was published in 1981.” Here’s a description of the story.

“COME TO AMERICA. YOUR HOME IS WITH ME NOW.” Adelia Cunnane's uncle had written her. So Adelia had left Ireland to join him on what he had described as the finest horse farm in Maryland. Adelia agreed with her uncle about the farm. But what should she think about its owner, Travis Grant? She knew that he could master his strongest horse. She had seen his eyes soften at the birth of a foal. Yet his lips on hers demanded a submission that she was not yet ready to give — at least not until he had spoken the words she had to hear.

And away we go! Nora lays down some themes we see over and over in Irish-based romance. Ireland is the land of horses, horse breeders, horse trainers, and the Irish racing fraternity. The Irish fan out all over the world, bringing their equine expertise to farms, ranches, and race courses. Next, there are Irish families: always close, even if a son or a sister emigrated to England or America decades earlier. Confidence in their abilities is a hallmark of an Irish character. Lastly, they don’t love lightly or fall easily. Particularly when it comes to an Irish colleen, the hero who hopes to win her love had better put a ring on it.

There’s more to Irish romance than gorgeous equine beauties and extended families. For every book or trope I suggest, I hope you’ll return with a thousand more (exaggeration, another charming Irish trait!).

[But seriously, we'll take them all...]

Mar 12 2014 4:30pm

The Duke's Quandary by Callie Hutton

It is a truth universally to be accepted by readers of historical romance that a young woman, if beloved by the man of her dreams, will blossom under the sun of love and acceptance. This proves to be true for Boston-bred Penelope Clayton in Callie Hutton's The Duke's Quandary. After the death of her father, a noteworthy botanist and her frequent collaborator, Penelope moved back to England, where she lived a quiet life in the country. Surrounded by plants and books, Penelope’s sole interaction with the outside world is in her secret role as a male botanist—one with a growing reputation in the field. This pastoral existence, like Eden, cannot endure, and one day Penelope’s aunt writes to say that a London Season is a must.

I feel I would not be doing justice to my sister’s memory by allowing her only child to rusticate in the country, faced with no more of a future than life as a spinster.

Penelope is socially awkward and a bit clumsy as well, mostly because she has not been encouraged to wear her glasses in public. Who of us could glide through life if we couldn’t see where we were going? When Penelope arrives in London she does not make a particularly good impression on the young Duke of Manchester and his bevy of sisters.

[That's okay, first impressions aren't that important...]

Feb 26 2014 12:30pm

A Shocking Delight by Jo BeverleyRemember that feeling of anticipation and delight that you felt for the holidays when you were a child? That’s how I feel about finally getting to read the April 1st release of A Shocking Delight, David Kerslake's own story from Jo Beverley's Rogues series—and I’ve been waiting for it for much longer than twelve months.

David Kerslake was first introduced in The Dragon’s Bride, and also plays an important role in Skylark, as well as popping up in other Rogue stories (Jo Beverley’s website, by the way, is immensely helpful in sorting out just who are all these Rogues and who are they to one another).

A Shocking Delight is the fourteenth book set in the Regency world of the Rogues. The last book of the series, Lady Beware, was published in 2007, so it’s been seven long years since readers have spent time with Nicholas and Lucien and Con and all the other Rogues. Let’s start with a description of the dilemma facing David Kerslake, taken from Jo Beverley’s website:

The man she shouldn't love. The woman he shouldn't marry.
At the end of The Dragon's Bride, the heroine's brother, David Kerslake, was left with two inherited burdens — the role of Captain Drake, leader of the smugglers on the south coast of Devon, and Earl of Wyvern, who should support law and order. To make matters worse, the earldom is broke. He sets out to find a richly-dowered bride who'll be too feather-witted to realize his secrets.

He chooses merchant's daughter Lucinda Potter, but soon discovers she's not at all the bride he needs, even though she's everything he desires. Lucy knows she should be wary of the mysterious and dangerous lord, but the power of love might overule her usual good sense.

[We definitely encourage good sense getting overruled...]

Feb 22 2014 1:09pm

A Man to Hold On To by Marilyn PappanoMarilyn Pappano
A Man to Hold On To (A Tallgrass Novel)
Forever / February 25, 2014 / $8.00 print, $7.99 digital

Therese Matheson doesn't know if she'll ever get over losing her husband in Afghanistan. Surviving Paul's death has been hard, but raising his sullen son and his thirteen-going-on-thirty daughter alone has been even harder. All they need is a fresh start, and Tallgrass, Oklahoma, could be the perfect new beginning . . . especially when Therese meets Sergeant Keegan Logan. The sexy combat medic and single dad soon awakens a desire she'd thought long buried.

Keegan always wanted to be a father . . . someday. So when his ex-girlfriend disappears, leaving her daughter in his care, Keegan's hands are tied. He has to find the girl's father. His search leads him to Tallgrass and to a beautiful brunette widow who has no idea her husband was ever unfaithful. What begins as a friendship soon ignites into something far more and gives him the courage to be the kind of man-and father-he always dreamt he could be. But his secret still stands between them. Can Keegan reveal the truth and convince Therese they share something too special to lose-a love that can bring two families together?

Oklahoma native Marilyn Pappano has written more than eighty books. After her husband retired from the Navy, they left the nomadic military life behind and returned to Oklahoma. Pappano’s experience as a military spouse, as well as the years she was a mother to a son in the Army, informs every page of this book. Small-town series are so ubiquitous it’s hard to find a believable fresh twist on the perennial favorite, but this one does it. A Man to Hold On To is the second of Pappano’s Tallgrass novels and the glue that binds the books together is the pain of widowhood. Therese Matheson is a member of the Tuesday Night Margarita Club, “the most exclusive club in Tallgrass, Oklahoma.”

[How will Therese's story unfold?...]

Feb 14 2014 5:30pm

Tokens of Love by Mary Balogh et al.We're taking a look at Mary Balogh's Valentine's Day stories, just in time for the day itself. Part 1 is here.

Mary Balogh’s Regency Valentine story “The Substitute Guest” features a quiet dutiful spinster, living out her days with her brother and his family. This story is darker in tone than her earlier Valentine stories, more revelatory of the risks lovers take when they make themselves vulnerable to love.

“The Substitute Guest,” Tokens of Love, 1993

A jaded rake, a duke no less, and a “plain and placid” spinster: is that not the most enduring cliché of historical romance? Lady Florence has planned a playful orgiastic Valentine’s weekend for six gentlemen and six ladies.

Unfortunately, one of the ladies has begged off because she’s been laid low with migraines. In a pinch Lady Florence asks her neighbor Claire Ward, to join “a select group of the most prominent and respected members of society.” Claire is the right age—“very much closer to thirty than to twenty” although she’s “a confirmed spinster and a prude,” but fortunately for Lady Florence’s numbers, Claire accepts her invitation. Even though Claire is inclined to turn it down, her acceptance becomes an act of defiance against the overbearing advice of the visiting vicar and her sister-in-law Myrtle.

[Happy Valentine's Day!...]

Feb 7 2014 3:00pm

A Regency Valentine by Mary Balogh, Emma Lance, Joan Wolf, et al.Valentine’s Day is not a day that is anticipated with unalloyed pleasure if there’s no Valentine to love and cherish. Without a beau or a loving husband, it can be a very lonely day indeed. Mary Balogh is the mistress of stiff upper-lip loneliness and despair, but her heroines never wear their hearts on their sleeves, no matter the circumstances. While Balogh is justly celebrated for her holiday stories, she also has penned a fair number of Valentine's Day tales.

“Golden Rose,” A Regency Valentine, 1991

Miss Emily Richmond, with her heart-shaped face and shining, smooth golden hair, is noticed immediately by her employer’s nephew, the Honorable Mr. Roger Bradshaw. Lady Copeland is a neighbor of Emily’s father, Sir Henry Richmond, and, as Lady Copeland gracefully explains, “They have such a large family that they were able to spare Emily to bear me company.” Two perennial themes of Balogh emerge—first, the poverty that would induce a gentlewoman to become someone’s companion and second, class differences. It’s all very well for Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet to say she’s a “gentleman’s daughter” and therefore worthy to marry anyone, but the gulf between the heir to a viscount and a poor eldest daughter is not insignificant. For fans of foreshadowing an author’s future books, Slightly Wicked has a similar plot. Emily had earlier refused two respectable offers of marriage and naively, had not realized that her large family lacked the resources to “send her anyplace where she was likely to meet a suitor to her liking.” It is a chastened and sensible young woman, who faces her circumstances forthrightly, that Roger meets:

She had come to Bath determined to find herself a husband just as soon as possible. And she was not going to be as foolish as she had used to be, looking for love, that special something that all girls dreamed of. Respectability would be enough.

[Anyone else think she'll find both after all?...]

Feb 4 2014 5:30pm

Kaleidoscope by Kristen AshleyKristen Ashley
Forever / February 4, 2014 / $3.79 digital

Sexy, gifted, and loyal, PI Jacob Decker is a tall, cool drink of perfection who had Emmanuelle Holmes at “hello.” His relationship with Emme's best friend kept them apart for years, but things have changed. Now that a case has brought him to Gnaw Bone, Colorado, the road is wide open for Emme and Deck to explore something hotter and deeper than Emme dreamed possible. So why is she sabotaging the best thing that's ever happened to her?

It isn't easy to catch Deck off guard, but Emme does just that when she walks back into his life after nine long years. The curvy brunette had her charms back in the day, but now she's a bona fide knockout . . . and she wants to rekindle their friendship. Deck, however, wants more. Emme's always been the one; she excites Deck's body and mind like no other woman can. But a dark chapter from Emme's past overshadows their future together. Now only Deck can help her turn the page-if she'll let him . . .

The title of Kristen Ashley’s new book represents an object of affection, a talisman, and a concrete symbol of the enduring relationship between Emme and Deck. Emme gave a kaleidoscope to Deck as a farewell memento when he broke up with her best friend, thus ending their sweet, intimate three-year friendship. The kaleidoscope is also emblematic of how it’s possible to shake up a friendship and watch the pieces swirl into a pattern of love. Fans of the friends to lovers trope will want to bookmark Ashley’s latest. We’re back in Gnaw Bone, Colorado, where the community is like another character in Ashley’s world: demanding, supportive, nosy, protective. The community represents family.

[Welcome to the fold...]

Jan 25 2014 2:00pm

Nothing Sweeter by Laura DrakeLaura Drake
Nothing Sweeter
Forever / January 28, 2014 / $8.00 print, $7.99 digital

Aubrey Madison is starting over. Leaving Los Angeles and everything behind except the scars of her ruined past, Bree sets out for cowboy country. Now she has a new home, a new job—and a new worry: the ruggedly sexy rancher who makes her long for things she shouldn't . . .

Rough and tumble cattleman Max Jameson has broken wild stallions and faced angry bulls. Yet the redheaded city cupcake who turned up at the High Heather Ranch might be his undoing. Bree has a plan to rescue the ranch from foreclosure that's just crazy enough to work. But will Max gamble his future on a beautiful stranger?

In Laura Drake's Nothing Sweeter, Aubrey Madison is a mess. Her city life and city desk job blew up in her face and she’s looking for a new start. I’ve often wondered what happens when people on the run enter witness protection—if they do what they’ve always done, aren’t they sitting ducks for nefarious felons to find them? No fear of that with Aubrey, because she’s done prison time for her part in a financial felony and she has the internal and external scars to prove it. Nope, Bree (a new name for a new life) has a better idea. She thinks back to her days as a “horse-crazy kid” when she swapped free riding lessons for grooming duties at a local boarding stable. It could work as a fall-back plan:

She’d lose herself in physical labor and horses. They’d been the anchors that had gotten her through puberty. Maybe they’d help her sort out the mess she’d made of her life.

[Enter Max Jameson...]

Dec 25 2013 11:00am

SECRET Shared by L. Marie AdelineMay old friends be forgot? We don't think so! We're celebrating our favorite reads with four days of the Best of 2013. We asked our bloggers for their favorite books of 2013, with one stipulation, they had to be new to them and not necessarily new to 2013. We know we got a few recommendations to add to our to be read piles and it's a great way to feed those readers you hopefully get for Christmas!

Check back every other weekday between now and Christmas for all of the blogger recommendations! See the picks from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Rachel Kramer Bussel:

S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared by L. Marie Adeline
I loved this continuation of her trilogy about women fulfilling their sexual fantasies. It was a perfect sequel and contained one of the hottest sex scenes—on a plane!—I’ve read. After I wrote the First Look, I found out that many of the New Orleans settings, including the protagonist’s clothing store, are real.

When The Marquess Met His Match by Laura Lee Guhrke
I loved the entire premise about this smart and proud professional matchmaker who doesn’t want to lust after a bad boy, but does, and a man who’s in search of a rich wife but doesn’t know the perfect one is right under his nose. Their avoidance tactics, jealousy, stolen kisses, and verbal sparring add up to a perfect historical romance.

[Sounds like a perfect formula!...]

Nov 30 2013 2:30pm

His Convict Wife by Lena DowlingLena Dowling
His Convict Wife
Escape / December 1, 2013 / $.99 digital

For Irish convict Colleen Malone, being framed, transported to Australia and forced into prostitution seemed like the worst that life could throw at her. Then she fell pregnant to a client and was sent back to prison by her cruel owner. Now, her only hope of a decent life for her and her baby is to find someone to marry.

Widower and former London businessman Samuel Biggs arrived in Australia hoping to put his grief behind him. When James Hunter offers him a job on his Parramatta farm, he accepts eagerly. He’ll put his back into his new work, and bury any thoughts of new love and marriage in the rich earth of his new home. 

However, all plans are compromised when Samuel is manipulated into visiting a workhouse to choose a new housekeeper, and Colleen seizes her chance — literally grabbing Samuel and begging for her life. The only way Samuel can oblige is by marrying her, but on one thing he stands firm — there is no way he will fall in love...

A meaty angsty marriage of convenience historical is right up my alley but never have I written a First Look that cuts so close to the bone, because of my family of origin. Nor do I usually read historical romances that have so many strikes against an ultimate HEA from the git-go. My great-grandmother, Rebecca Alexander, was born in what is now Northern Ireland. She immigrated to the United States and became a nursery maid for the Von Stade household in New York City, the Von Stades being a “socially prominent New Jersey family which included generations of yachtsmen, bankers, polo players and other Establishmentarians” and in our generation, opera singer Frederica Von Stade (New York Observer, 2010). My mother said that try as she might to get her grandmother to speak of her past, she was never successful. People came to the New World to get a new life, better than the one they left behind.

[How do His Convict Wife's characters fare?...]

Nov 5 2013 5:30pm

Jagged by Kristen AshleyKristen Ashley
Forever / November 5, 2013 / $3.99 digital

Zara Cinders always knew Ham Reece was the one, but he wasn't interested in settling down. When she found someone who was, Ham walked out of her life. Three years later, Zara's lost her business, her marriage, and she's barely getting by in a tiny apartment on the wrong side of the tracks. As soon as Ham hears about Zara's plight, he's on her doorstep offering her a lifeline. Now, it will take every ounce of will power she possesses to resist all that he offers.

Ham was always a traveling man, never one to settle down in one town, with one woman, for more time than absolutely necessary. But Ham's faced his own demons, and he's learned a lot. About himself, and about the life he knows he's meant to live. So when he hears that Zara's having a rough time, he wants to be the one to help. In fact, he wants to do more than that for Zara. A lot more. But first, he must prove to Zara that he's a changed man.

What a classic opening: former fuck-buddies and friends meet for lunch because one of them is getting married. In Kristen Ashley’s latest release Jagged, the heroine Zara, wants to tell her ex-lover Ham that she’s marrying Greg. Doesn’t take a genius to sense that Cookie (Ham’s nickname for Zara) is soon doubting whether her choice of husband is sound and asking herself whether Greg really meets her deepest needs.

[Something tells me he might not...]

Oct 10 2013 10:30am

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth HoytElizabeth Hoyt
Duke of Midnight
Grand Central / October 15, 2013 / $8.00 print / $7.59 digital

Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe-and won't back down . . .

Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .

Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” —Janis Joplin

Artemis Greaves has very few freedoms left to her. She is a companion whose position may or may not exist after her employer marries. Her brother is wrongly imprisoned in Bedlam for the murder of three men. With no private resources, her future seems entirely bleak. What Artemis does have is the freedom to observe, reflect, and occasionally speak and act. Her confrontation with the Ghost of St. Giles unlocks her inner strength and intelligence. When Artemis reluctantly accompanies her cousin into the bowels of St. Giles, however, no amount of strength or intelligence will protect her entirely. Even so, she refuses to be criticized by the Ghost for what she sees as an act of protective allegiance (even though Penelope’s desire for rotgut gin is entirely whimsical, verging on daft).

[She sounds like a tough cookie...]

Sep 6 2013 9:30am

Suits Season 3 castIf I Ran the Circus …

Being asked to envision the future of Suits is kind of like being asked to run the circus: lots of ideas, but no clue. With that in mind, here goes!

Cast of Characters:

Harvey Specter: Think of a younger Cary Grant, with a side of wicked and a second serving of bruising wit. Lawyer Harvey has enough confidence in his abilities to light up a city after a blackout. In fact, he’s so confident, his right-hand man is not a Harvard trained lawyer at all but rather fake-it-till-you-make-it…

Mike Ross: Brilliant Mike, blessed with the ability to take a look at any document and commit it to memory—but that’s not all, he plays with information and facts and his intuition and comes up with out of the box solutions to the thorniest legal entanglements. What a lawyer, you say? Unfortunately, that’s a piece of sheepskin on the wall that he doesn’t have, as he revealed to his girlfriend…

[Oh, Mike, you're so lucky she loves you...]

Aug 27 2013 4:30pm

The Arrangement by Mary BaloghMary Balogh
The Arrangement
Dell / August 27, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital

Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.
At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

The Arrangement, the second book in The Survivors Club series, finally tells the story of the devastatingly handsome Vincent Hunt, who was blinded in the first battle of Waterloo. His family’s concern for him has become oppressive and when we meet him again he is on the run, fighting to live the life he wants and to marry—if and when and whom he chooses.

[We have a feeling his time table's about to be moved up, though...]

Aug 16 2013 11:00am

Seduction in Silk by Jo BeverleyEnglish-born Jo Beverley has written medievals, Georgians, Regencies, science fiction and oh-so-au-courant, a trilogy featuring three young men all bearing the royal baby name of the summer of 2013, George.

So the overarching question is what do all these different romantic sub-genres have in common? What is the quintessential takeaway from a Jo Beverley book? Commenter Marleen, at an All About Romance blog discussing this very question, says “They all share this hint of blackness, lurking evil and decay in the background.” That. Exactly that. Jo Beverley writes romance, so never fear there won’t be an HEA, but the back stories and the travails of her heroes and heroines are never trivial or wallpaper.

This August Jo Beverley published the latest in her Malloren Georgian series, Seduction in Silk. For such a methodical writer (it’s a rare year that sees more than one Beverley novel), she has quite a backlist. So what to read while you’re waiting for the next JoBev, as she’s fondly referred to?

In her Rogue series, Beverley writes about intelligent, vulnerable, sometimes compromised women living in Regency times. Their perils are real, often dancing along the precipice of reputation and pounds per annum (here noting the exception—that independently wealthy women from aristocratic families had choices that were available to very few). Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, Madeline Hunter, Susanna Fraser, Joanna Chambers, and Cecilia Grant are authors who address similar conflicts in that time period. Intertwined families and friend circles are a hallmark of Jo Beverley’s Regency world—the authors listed above excel in presenting a complete, believable world beyond the august doors of Almacks.

[All hail Jo Beverley...]

Aug 8 2013 4:30pm

Lord of My Heart by Jo BeverleyWhat Would Martha Do?

That’s the question that came to mind when I started exploring the Domestic Side of romance novels. Who and what does the name Martha bring to mind? Naturally, topping the list is Martha Stewart, the creative entrepreneurial diva of home and hearth. Biblical Martha was the sister of Lazarus and Mary and she is renowned for making sure that Jesus was appropriately welcomed into her family’s home. Martha is thought of as a domestic saint whose name became a byword for serenity and domestic virtues. According to Wikipedia, “images of maturity, strength, common sense, and concern for others” became the hallmarks of “the cult of Martha.” She epitomized service.

Throughout history a woman’s home, her castle, has been the place where she can make her mark and express her personality. Within romance novels, this domesticity can also be representative of the dynamic between the hero and the heroine. We see heroines who woo a sometimes downright hostile spouse through the aegis of domesticity. Especially when stories begin with a marriage of convenience, domestic life plays an integral part in the development of the characters and the plot.

Here is a terse description of Jo Beverley’s Lord of My Heart (on my keeper shelf, as are all the books I reference).

Madeleine de la Haute Vironge must wed one of a trio of lords. But a shocking twist of fate impels this beauty into the arms of the most dangerous one—a magnificent, exciting stranger whom Madeleine desires as much as she fears.
Convent-raised Madeleine never expected to be a bride but her dowry—the barony of Baddersley in Mercia—brings her to the attention of William the Conqueror. William compels Madeleine to choose a noble husband. She selects William’s godson, Aimery de Gaillard, who proves to be a reluctant and angry groom. He rather savagely says to her after their wedding that they better get on with it, “before the king comes in and holds us together like a couple of recalcitrant farm animals.” Rest assured that the personal difficulties between Madeleine and Aimery are gradually addressed and resolved. The third party in their marriage, the barony and castle of Baddersley, is the canvas and backdrop of their journey to marital harmony.

[A happy home, a happy marriage...]

Jun 4 2013 9:30am

Fire Inside by Kristen AshleyKristen Ashley
Fire Inside (a Chaos novel)
Hachette / June 4, 2013 / $3.79 digital

Lanie Heron isn't looking for love-no surprise, considering her last serious relationship nearly got her killed. So when Lanie propositions Hop Kincaid, all she wants is one wild night with the hot-as-hell biker who patrols with the Chaos Motorcycle Club . . .

For Hop, Lanie has always been untouchable. She's too polished and too classy for his taste. But when she gives Hop the once-over with her bedroom eyes and offers him a night in paradise, he can't say no. And he doesn't regret it when he finds that Lanie is the best thing that's ever happened to him-in or out of bed. Now the trick will be to convince her of that.

Kristen Ashley fans have had June 4th circled on their calendar for months, panting for more than the tantalizing glimpse we got of Lanie and Hop in Own the Wind. So many questions sprang to mind: Wasn’t Hop, even by MC standards, somewhat of a “man-hoor”? How would Chaos president Tack, married to Lanie’s best friend Tyra, react to his top lieutenant carrying on with a member of his wife’s extended family? The Connecticut princess and the Chaos biker…oh the drama, could it possibly live up to expectations and hype? Readers, worry not, Fire Inside is adolescent, fiery, sprawling, and over-the-top, a fabulous roller-coaster of a read in the best Kristen Ashley Motorcycle Man tradition.

[Annnnd SOLD!...]

Apr 4 2013 4:30pm

Hero of My Heart by Megan FramptonMegan Frampton
Hero of My Heart
Loveswept / April 8, 2013 / $2.99 digital

When Mary Smith’s corrupt, debt-ridden brother drags her to a seedy pub to sell her virtue to the highest bidder, Alasdair Thornham leaps to the rescue. Of course the marquess is far from perfect husband material. Although he is exceedingly handsome, with a perfect, strong body, chiseled jaw, and piercing green eyes, Alasdair is also too fond of opium, preferring delirium to reality. Still, he has come to Mary’s aid, and now she intends to return the favor. She will show him that he is not evil, just troubled.

Mary was a damsel in need of a hero, but Alasdair’s plan is shortsighted. He never foresaw her desire to save him from himself. Alasdair is quite at home in his private torment, until this angel proves that a heart still beats in his broken soul. The devil may have kept her from hell, but will Mary’s good intentions lead them back to the brink—or to heaven in each other’s arms?

(Full disclosure: Megan Frampton is the community manager for Heroes and Heartbreakers.)

In Hero of My Heart, Megan Frampton cleverly and subtly anticipates the reader’s reaction to scenes and conversations. We meet our protagonists, Mary, the daughter of a vicar, and her noble rescuer, Alasdair, marquess and addict, at a sell-the-virgin-to-the-highest-bidder auction. Mary is the virgin, her wastrel brother the seller and Alasdair the hero of the hour:

“She fell into Alasdair’s arms. It was not an elegant rescue, the kind where the noble prince gathers the humble milkmaid gently in his arms …”

[Elegant rescues are so five minutes ago...]

Mar 27 2013 9:30am

Own the Wind by Kristen AshleyKristen Ashley
Own the Wind
Forever / April 2, 2013 (digital), June 25, 2013 (print)  / $6.00 print, $3.79 digital

Tabitha Allen grew up in the thick of Chaos-the Chaos Motorcycle Club, that is. Her father is Chaos' leader, and the club has always had her back. But one rider was different from the start. When Tabby was running wild, Shy Cage was there. When tragedy tore her life apart, he helped her piece it back together. And now, Tabby's thinking about much more than friendship . . .

Tabby is everything Shy's ever wanted, but everything he thinks he can't have. She's beautiful, smart, and as his friend's daughter, untouchable. Shy never expected more than friendship, so when Tabby indicates she wants more-much more-he feels like the luckiest man alive. But even lucky men can crash and burn . . .

Now where did we leave off with Tabby and Shy in Kristen Ashley's Motorcycle Man? Oh yeah, they’re at a Chaos Motorcycle Club picnic and Elvira announced to Tack’s old lady, “Trouble’s a-brewin’.” Why? Because Tyra and Elvira both see Tack’s daughter Tabby watching Shy flirting with an attractive biker babe looking “like her entire world just came to an end.” Not good.

[Would could possibly go wrong?]