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From The Blog
October 31, 2014
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Showing posts by: Kate Rothwell click to see Kate Rothwell's profile
Wed
Jul 23 2014 9:30am

First Look: Ilona Andrews’s Magic Breaks (July 29, 2014)

Ilona Andrews
Magic Breaks
Ace Hardcover / July 29, 2014 / $25.95 print / $12.99 digital

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

Books that contain huge chunks of running and fighting tend to lose my interest. You get page after page of blood-spurting, limb-lopping action, with a pause for a scene or two wound-licking and making wisecracks, which is then followed by a bunch more scenes of running and fighting.

But when it’s Ilona Andrews, I gobble those books like they’re fresh baked and I’m starved.

[Luckily, there's a new dish of Kate being served!]

Thu
Jun 26 2014 9:30am

First Look: KJ Charles’s Think of England (July 1, 2014)

Think of England by K.J. Charles

KJ Charles
Think of England
 Samhain / July 1, 2014 / $4.50 digital

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

I love tropes. It’s hard not to go all mushy when the Viking soldier turns berserker after someone he cares about is threatened.

KJ Charles knows her romance conventions and uses that one well.

What’s even more fun than a good trope? When those familiar bits are turned on their heads, shaken all about, until the standards you have seen presented elsewhere are reversed. Best possible fun: when you know the result of the mixed-up-trope action is exactly right.

[Lie back and think of England]

Thu
May 15 2014 4:30pm

Your Hero Does What for a Living? Five of the Least Romantic Professions

The Proposition by Judith IvoryOnce long ago, an editor at a conference said she couldn’t picture a day care provider as a hero. Her off-hand remark is part of the reason my next book (out in July) features a hero who works with toddlers at a day care center.

There have been discussions on H&H about hit men heroes—and that seems a harder sell to me than a guy who works with babies—though there are some excellent criminal heroes.

I’ve found a surprising number of gigolo heroes, or guys who don’t mind living off women. There’s Freddie Sullivan in Mary Balogh’s Dancing With Clara and the wicked Lord Rival in Diane Farr’s The Fortune Hunter. More modern titles have guys who take the cash outright without the offer of marriage—like Ryan in Bonnie Dee’s Hired for Her Pleasure (formerly titled Homebound).

But I think these five professions are even more peculiar, at least for romance. In fact I can just imagine they’re part of any number of So Not Sexy Professions indices. I’ve found a few lists like that—including short pieces by Courtney Milan (at SBTB) and Gina Ardito (at her blog).

Maybe other romance writers encounter those lists of proscriptions and think…Challenge Accepted.

1. Rat Catcher

One of the best heroes ever is mentioned in this article about historical heroes with off the beaten track professions. Mick in Judith Ivory’s The Proposition is wickedly appealing—and kills rats for a living.

[I mean every woman wants someone to slay her dragons...even if they're rats...]

Mon
May 12 2014 9:30am

Not Rarer Than Hen’s Teeth: Happy Families in Romance Novels

The Duke and I by Julia QuinnQ: What do a bunch of Disney movies and a slew of romances have in common?

A: Dozens of main characters who are orphans or who experienced unhappy childhoods.

Cold mothers and/or absent fathers come standard issue.

A screwed up childhood is a handy way to explain a lot of psychological problems, particularly for those heroes who have trouble trusting. If we’re talking Regency, one of my favorites is Sebastian from Loretta Chase’s amazing Lord of Scoundrels. An extreme example of unhappy childhood in a historical is Samuel from Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star.

But where are the happy families? The supportive parents and loving siblings?
Turns out it’s easier to find them than I’d first anticipated. They tend to gather in ensemble casts. Okay since I mentioned Regency—we have Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton gang. They might not have a dad, but you can’t find a more loving family in any time or setting. And there are also Lisa Kleypas's eccentric aristocrats, the Hathaways.

[Let's continue this family reunion...]

Fri
Dec 6 2013 10:30am

First Look: Alexis Hall’s Iron and Velvet (December 16, 2013)

Iron & Velvet by Alexis HallAlexis Hall
Iron & Velvet
Riptide / December 16, 2013 / $16.99 print

First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.

My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.

It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.

I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks.

It’s going to be an interesting day.

The tone of the cover copy makes it clear that this is a mystery written by someone who appreciates Dashiell Hammett.The materials for any standard murder mystery are present—a victim or two, and a few attempted murders, and Kate Kane is hired to find the killer. But Kate is more than a dame with a gat and a P.I. license. The victim was a werewolf, Kate’s client is a vampire, and Kate might look like an ordinary human, but her mother is the Queen of the Wild Hunt, some sort of fae, and she has some powers of her own.

Okay, so how to describe this book? It’s like a high quality fruitcake and if you like dense pastry with lots of ingredients, it’s perfect.

[Perfect for the holiday season...]

Sun
Nov 24 2013 4:30pm

Marie Treanor: A Cure for Paranormal Ennui

Killing Joe by Marie TreanorI bought a Kindle back in 2008, when ebook give-aways were a bigger deal and only publishers got to indulge. The very first free book I loaded onto my new Kindle was a novella by a new-to-me author, Marie Treanor.

That story, “Killing Joe,” was short, quirky and sexy. Reviewers squawked at the graphic sex and the shortness of the story. Yes, there was a lot of sex, but it fit the plot and the book was a good length—though longer would have been nice. The hero is a hit-man magically brought into the body of a crash-test dummy, but he’s incredibly sexy and tough, and goes from trying to kill the heroine (I did say quirky, right?) to keeping her safe from her enemies. We get hints at the end of his reformation, which is necessary for romance. But this is even better: he doesn’t turn into a tamed man.

That’s the thing I like about many of Treanor’s heroes. They often start out dangerous, and, true to the satisfying romance trope, love changes them. However, they’re not changed to the extent that they’re transformed into uncomplicated beta-muffins. The happily-ever-after endings work even when the heroes—or heroines—retain their edge, which is hard to do when you’re trying to convince the reader this relationship is going to work long-term.

[Keep it edgy, stupid...]

Thu
Oct 31 2013 11:00am

Short and Tweet: Selling Books in 140 Characters

Twitter logoHave you ever read a short excerpt from a book that intrigued you so much, you ended up buying the book? I’m talking about an extremely short chunk — no more than 140 characters.

If you wander through Twitter-land, you might see direct quotes pop up in your feed. It’s also possible to seek out those tiny samples of books. When you do a search on hastag novellines, you get 140 characters lifted from novels—minus the chunk taken up with that hashtag.

I’m surprised by how random these little tidbits are. I see a lot of descriptions of weather. Eyes show up, often. People post lots of steamy bits. I’m struck by how even a line or two taken from a love scene seems . . .random.

Some of the choices are clever. Many strike me as haphazard.

I asked several people if they ever bought a book because of one of those short excerpts:

Linda: Nope. But I don’t use twitter. I’ve bought books because of covers and blurbs. Does that count?

Jess: Never. I avoid twitter.

Mike: Twitter does nothing for me. Have I bought based on a longer excerpt? Um, no. No wait, maybe?

So much for that random sampling of real people in real life.

I went over to the source of short and pithy and asked the people who count: Tweeters—specifically the ones who follow me.

[Hit me with your best line...]

Tue
Aug 6 2013 11:30am

Power Hungry and Hot: Best (Meaning Worst) Anti-Heroes

Siege and Storm by Leigh BardugoI’ve just read Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo’s second book in the Grisha trilogy. Semi-spoiler here for anyone who hasn’t read the whole first book, Shadow and Bone: the Darkling is in the running for best villain of the decade. He’s cruel, wicked, scheming and entirely hot. Even if he ended up physically scarred as his soul, he’d still have the hotness factor. Bardugo knows it too. She said in an interview on Amazon that she’d love to meet him, “Because he's gorgeous and mysterious and dangerous and all those fun things.”

But he is entirely evil. He kills innocent people—a lot of them.  

Bardugo’s character occasionally shows signs of humanity that make him appear less of a monster, but damn. Who knows? He might demonstrate vulnerability just to gain Alina’s sympathy. He is no good. Even his mother knows that. I can’t see him tamed and sweet, like many so-called villains. I could imagine him broken, perhaps, and even secretly grateful for having his control removed, but that’s not the same.

You got your characters who’re all about the power, like sometime bad-guy Johnny Marcone in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. Yet Marcone doesn’t quite end up purely evil because he has a few humanizing quirks. He’ll never harm a child and goes out of his way to protect kids. That little softy touch gets him bumped off the list.

[Nice guys need not apply...]

Fri
Jun 21 2013 1:00pm

How Sweet It Is!: Chocolate in Romance Novels

Chocolates, roses, and champagneSome foods are sexier than others. Spam? So not erotic, not even when nibbled in a Hawaiian setting—and yes, for some reason, Spam very popular in Hawaii. Alcoholic drinks sometimes enhance a character’s cool factor (hello, James Bond).

When it comes to sheer emotional impact of food, if we were forced to pick only on item on the menu, I bet most of us would vote for chocolate. In chocolate’s case, I don’t mean the image factor of food. Usually chocolate’s cachet in a romance isn’t important—it’s not like martinis served in fancy glasses or, for the guys, shaken not stirred. I mean the actual therapeutic or stimulating value of chocolate that shows up in any number or type of story. When chocolate and its near relation, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, makes appearances in romances, its effect is almost as miraculous as a nice cup of tea in a British novel.

We’re talking flavor, theobromine’s pleasant energizing influence on the characters, and the richness of all that fat and sugar. Chocolate can be the ultimate comfort food or a tool for seduction.

[Chocolate makes the world go 'round...]

Tue
Apr 16 2013 9:30am

Speculatin’ and Shapeshiftin’: Where’s the Romance in Ilona Andrews’s Magic Rises?

Magic Rises by Ilona AndrewsMagic Rises, the sixth book in Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, is out in July. Here’s a description:

Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.

Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap…

From that description, it sounds like we’re talking about Kate acting as an ambassador of peace. Um, no. In the past, her idea of arbitration usually meant she’d pull out her sword, Slayer, and snarl at her adversary until the fight started and she kicked ass. If she acts, it won’t be as a diplomat out front of the crowd. As the authors say: “Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight.”

[What's next for the Kate Daniels series?...]

Sun
Mar 17 2013 12:00pm

Think with Your Ovaries: A Defense of The Walking Dead’s Andrea

The Walking DeadYou'd have to be a member of the Walking Dead not to be aware of Sunday evening's required viewing—and the show's fans are very lively when it comes to who they want to make it, and who could just go die.

There is a scary amount of Andrea hatred out there. People want that woman dead, now. I won’t go into the misogyny of the hatred, nope. You can’t make me—unless you ask my opinion and then I have trouble shutting up. Please, don’t even get me started on the One African American at a Time rule on that show. Please, don’t.

But listen, about Andrea: I don’t get why everyone’s knickers get twisted by the woman. I agree, she’s not the most observant person out there, which can be an issue in the world of zombies. But she has a good heart and a compassionate brand of intelligence needed to keep that world civilized. She’s strong and tough and thinks well in a crisis. I agree, she’s a dope when it comes to trusting the Governor. But if a guy had that kind of Achilles heel, a soft spot for a woman, we’d think of the weakness as his sign of humanity, not utter idiocy.

[Let's talk about this...]

Thu
Mar 7 2013 5:30pm

Do-Good Heroes in Romance Novels are Thin on the Ground

About the Baby by Tracy WolffWhen I started writing romances, I was told avoid the do-gooder hero. Military men and billionaires? Thumbs up. The billionaires can always be philanthropic and send their bucks to an orphan asylum. Naturally the military guys will protect the orphans by blasting the bad guys who threaten them. But to go into the asylum and take care of the kids every day, full-time? Not going to fly with romance readers.

I figured the romance world had changed. Not every hero has to be an alpha or dangerous, and they don’t have to all make big bucks. Doctors are okay, of course. But a really quick look on the internet showed that the docs tend to be heads of hospitals or surgeons who might do some charity reconstruction work on the side…but as a life calling? Not so much.

Yo, how about some male nurses?

Hadn’t I just read a book about an epidemiologist that traveled the world, seeking sources of diseases? Whoops, in this case it is the heroine in About the Baby by Tracy Wolff. Kara is so devoted to tracking down the sources of horrible diseases, she’s almost killing herself at her job, literally. Lucas, the hero in the story, is a doctor at a low-cost inner city clinic so he certainly qualifies for the title of Do-Gooder Guy.

[Are there more do-gooder hero stories out there?...]

Sun
Jan 13 2013 12:00pm

A Perfect Pairing: Drink Suggestions to Go Along with Your Favorite Authors

A toddy to go with your favorite authors!Restaurants have suggested wine pairings with their food—e.g. this beef dish goes best with a hearty red.

I’m thinking bookstores, or maybe even publishers, should pick up the habit. There’s the obvious: a dark merlot would match a vampire book.  Chicklit set in New York or London goes with something trendy and served in a pretty, silly glass. But what about picks based on specific authors?

I’d say Debbie Macomber calls for hot chocolate with a lot of sugar and loads of marshmallows. At the other end of the spectrum, I recently read Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and even though it’s a vampire book, I think that would call for something dry and quirky. I’d pick sake for her if that drink wasn’t so based in Japanese culture.  

For Ilona Andrews’s books, whether they’re from the Edge or Kate Daniels series, you’ll need something home-brewed and quirky, like wine made from berries collected in dark woods. For the Kate books, maybe Russian tea served from a samovar. Sip the tea from a glass, with a filigree holder. Don’t forget to hold a sugar cube between your teeth, the way the Russians used to.

[What's next on the menu?...]

Thu
Dec 6 2012 1:30pm

Paranormal Heroines Wanted: What Comes After the Kick-Ass Heroine?

If Sookie can become kick-ass, anyone can!There is an army of uber-powerful women who can kick any ass, any time. The paranormal heroine faces and conquers greater and stronger challenges with every book. Don’t get me wrong—I love those strong heroines that get stronger with each book in the series. Rachel Morgan has gone from a fairly skilled fighter to someone ready to take over the demon world. Our gal Sookie has shown that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is a certainty in the world of romance heroines. It’s just that—well, we’ve done kick-ass for years now. What comes next?

I sure don't want to go back to the victim whimpering passive females from the past; maybe some twists on the theme would be enough to keep the paranormal heroine fresh.

[A happy medium isn't quite right—we certainly don't want her to be average!...]

Fri
Nov 23 2012 4:00pm

Make Mine Canine: Heroes and Heroines and Their Dog Breeds

Pitbull-Rottweiler dog image by Tobyotter via FlickrDr. Wright's Breedfreak is a short book by a vet about the characteristics of various dog breeds. To say Dr. Wright has some strong opinions is like saying the ocean has some water.

Maybe that’s why I had brief dream about writing a HEE-larious article comparing my book characters to various dog breeds. Today I’m thinking, hey, it might not be as funny as the dream, but why not portray a few romantic heroes and heroines as dogs? It’s what Disney would do.

Heathcliff is obviously a pit-bull/Rottweiler mix, strong, loyal, and potentially dangerous and uninterested in socializing with strangers.  And, as JoAnn Ross pointed out on Twitter, definitely a stray.  My guess is he’d have some sort of terrier in his mix. So would Cathy. I have to say, I can’t think of what she’d be. Something neurotic and skittish but that barks bravely.

Scarlett O’Hara is a Yorkshire terrier, pampered, opinionated but at heart a working dog (they were ratters in the mills of Yorkshire). She’s someone who can make it through tough times.

[Who's next, who's next?!...]

Mon
Oct 29 2012 3:00pm

Stormy Weather Makes for Stormy Lovin’ (in Romance Novels!)

Sandy Sunrise image by daspader via FlickrOh the weather outside….

While waiting in line for batteries, bread and toilet paper to face the coming Franken-tropical-storm-Sandy, I thought, hey, I should get some appropriate reading too. We’re going to be trapped inside for a least a few hours.

What would be better than some good storm reading? Storm reading about storms seems right, somehow.

And holy tornado, there are a lot of them. The rain might be filling your basement, the wind might have shoved your tree through your car’s windshield, so maybe you’re not crazy about bad weather at the moment—but writers love a storm.

Whether we’re talking blizzards or thunderstorms, nothing works better to endanger the protagonists or, better still, herd them into a cozy shelter where they can bet trapped. Together. We get to read deus ex machina at work, only less obvious than a god coming down in a machine.

I put out the call and got some titles for the storm-filled reading list.

[No hurricane kit's complete without a few good reads...]

Fri
Oct 12 2012 11:00am

Unbanned, Unsung, and Unappreciated: Which Authors Deserve More Attention?

Great Maria by Cecilia HollandThe last week in September was Banned Books week, when readers and writers celebrate a list of books groups or individuals have tried to ban from classrooms and libraries. I’m always up for a good celebration for books. Keep in mind a basic fact about a banned book: it has gotten attention. Someone somewhere cares enough to make sure other people don’t read it—which, naturally, piques a lot of interest in the book.

Many obscure authors would love it if some group somewhere went public with a “don’t read this book!” announcement but no, we not going to take that route. This week we’re going to go the opposite direction to get people interested. I hereby declare this Unbanned, Unsung, and/or Underappreciated Book Week, otherwise known as the 3U Book Week. We have to make lists of favorite 3U books and go all out (tweet? Face book ‘em? Knock on doors? Call people up? Put ads in local papers?) to try to get people to read them.

I think everyone has a list of books that came and went without making so much as a ripple but that the few readers love and champion, even years after the book vanished. Maybe it was a book you discovered at the library cast-off sale or on the 90 percent off table. These are the books or authors you read when you need a pick-me-up or who never fails to move you or make you laugh.

[Who's your favorite 3U author?...]

Thu
Oct 11 2012 5:30pm

Unbuttoning the Men: M/M Historical Romances

A book requires some serious conflict or the story heads to dullsville. Let’s face it, no struggle beats this one: You risk your life just by loving that other person.

The risk partners faced was the first thing that attracted me to gay historical romance. Love is more important than safety to those characters.

That kind of danger is cool, but it doesn’t fill whole books over and over. Nor does the “woe is me, I am a deviant” internal conflict of people born into a time when homosexuality was considered evil.

I asked other readers of gay historical fiction why they liked it so much. The people I asked are experts because not only do they read book after book in the genre, but they write it.

[What drew you in?...]

Tue
Sep 25 2012 10:30am

First Look: J.R. Ward’s Rapture (September 25, 2012)

Rapture by J.R. WardJ.R. Ward
Rapture
NAL / September 25, 2012 / $27.95 print & digital

Mels Carmichael, reporter for the Caldwell Courier Journal, gets the shock of her life when a man stumbles in front of her car outside the local cemetery. After the accident, his amnesia is just the kind of mystery she likes to solve, but she soon discovers they’re in over their heads with his past. Over their heads with passion, too...

As shadows walk the line between reality and another realm, and her lover’s memory begins to come back, the two of them learn that nothing is truly dead and buried. Especially when you’re trapped in a no holds barred war between angels and demons. With a soul on the line, and Mels’s heart at risk, what in Heaven—or in Hell—will it take to save them both?

J.R. Ward's books are a guilty pleasure. They’re filled with big muscular men with dark pasts and deep pain, over-the-top masculine guys who call themselves “pussy” if they so much as shed a tear. The way most of her heroes behave, swaggering around in leather and claiming their mates—sometimes when the mate isn’t sure she wants to be claimed—would annoy the stuffing out of me in real life. In Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood books, those dangerous men are addictive fun.

[Get your fix...]

Thu
Sep 6 2012 10:30am

An Auspicious Career: A Tribute to Carla Kelly’s Regencies

Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly

Dear Editor:

Sorry I’m late handing in this Carly Kelly tribute, but every time I opened a Carla Kelly novel to see if I could find an example, I ended up settling down for a good read.

In case you’re not a fan yet, allow me to introduce Ms. Kelly. She is the author of over forty books and short stories. Most famous for what she dubs “dukeless” Regencies, her plots usually revolve around ordinary people in stories set during the United Kingdom of the early 1800s. She also writes Westerns, but the books I’ve read, and try to force other people to read, are her Regencies. During the '90s she won all sorts of prizes, including a couple of RITAs.

At long last, her early books are available for e-readers. My favorites are the ones featuring naval heroes because she’s so good at setting the scene. I also have a soft spot for Beau Crusoe, about a hero who’s been stranded on a desert island for a few years. She does damaged men so well in all her books.

[And we eat it up with a spoon...]