Valerie Bowman Presents a Prequel Scene to <i>The Unlikely Lady</i> Valerie Bowman Presents a Prequel Scene to The Unlikely Lady Valerie Bowman Read an original Quickie scene from Valerie Bowman! <i>Magic Breaks</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Magic Breaks: Exclusive Excerpt Ilona Andrews "The feel of his mouth on mine was like coming home..." <i>My Beautiful Enemy</i>: Exclusive Excerpt My Beautiful Enemy: Exclusive Excerpt Sherry Thomas A beautiful and cunning woman meets her match... <i>Prototype</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Prototype: Exclusive Excerpt M.D. Waters "Fighting Her fight lost me my husband and daughter. My memories. My entire life."
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July 29, 2014
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Showing posts by: Willa aka willaful click to see Willa aka willaful's profile
Mon
Jun 16 2014 12:00pm

You Never Forget Your First: Rereading Your First Romance Novels

Book with bookmark by flossyflotsam via Flickr Creative CommonsThe internet helped me locate the very first genre romance I ever read as an adolescent, a book that made such a strong impression on me, I still can't use the word “chiffon” in a crossword puzzle without thinking of it. (You never forget your first heroine's dress with usefully inconvenient tiny buttons down the back...)

The book was The Romantic Spirit by Glenna Finley, a prolific author in the '70s and '80s who is now pretty obscure. I've never seen a mention of her in the last eight years or so I've hung out in online Romancelandia; her GoodReads ratings are high, yet there are only two short reviews. Rereading this book now, it doesn't seem surprising that her books haven't lasted: it is very much a product of its time, yet in a way that already seemed dated to me when I first read it, around a year after it was published. With its superficial descriptions of the counter-culture, coupled with the heroine's extreme prudishness about sex, it reads like the last gasp of a fading world; the main character is a wide-eyed tourist, not just in California, but in society at large:

Maggie shook her head wonderingly as they passed a teen-aged twosome where the coloring of the girl's tie-dyed jeans resembled the many-shaded bleach job in her hair. Her escort had his shoulder-length hair pulled back in a ponytail as he strode along in a garment that looked like a Moroccan caftan except for the Wild West fringe on the bottom.

'If I didn't know better, I'd swear this was a “Come as you are” party,' Maggie murmured to John.

[It's a whole new world...]

Mon
May 19 2014 9:30am

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Memorable Offscreen Characters from Beverley, Balogh, Eagle, and More!

Rebecca by Daphne Du MaurierOne of the fascinating aspects of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca is how alive and present the title character is, even though she's dead and the story's narrator never met her. Her remembered personality lives on so vividly through others, she gets the book's title, while we never even learn the timid narrator's first name.  The romance genre has a number of intriguing “Rebeccas” and though they may not receive title billing, they still make themselves felt.

Kathleen Eagle's The Last Good Man is an emotional romance between old friends Savannah and Clay, but their path to each other is complicated by their memories of Kole Kills Crow, Clay's adored older brother and Savannah's first crush — and the father of her child. A political activist and escaped convict on the lam, Kole doesn't appear in person until his own romance, You Never Can Tell. But he's rarely out of their thoughts:

[And always in ours too...]

Tue
May 6 2014 9:30am

First Look: Tammara Webber’s Breakable (May 6, 2014)

Breakable by Tammara WebberTammara Webber
Breakable
Penguin / May 6, 2014 / $14.00 print, $5.99 digital

As a child, Landon Lucas Maxfield believed his life was perfect and looked forward to a future filled with promise — until tragedy tore his family apart and made him doubt everything he ever believed.

All he wanted was to leave the past behind. When he met Jacqueline Wallace, his desire to be everything she needed came so easy…

As easy as it could be for a man who learned that the soul is breakable and that everything you hoped for could be ripped away in a heartbeat.

Tammara Webber's Easy would have fit in nicely with the “love in disguise” theme: as she recovers from a bad break-up with her long-term boyfriend Kennedy, sorority girl Jacqueline is delicately flirting via email with her econ tutor Landon, while also considering a “bad boy phase” with the mysterious Lucas.“They seemed as opposite as night and day, but I only knew half of each of them,” she thinks. More than just another perspective on the events of Easy, Breakable continues to explore duality. It's a story told in two voices: one is Landon, the boy whose ideal life was destroyed when he was 13, and the other is Lucas, the young man that boy grew up to be.

[About a boy...]

Mon
Apr 21 2014 2:00pm

Love in Disguise: The Complications of Disguise Plots in Romance

All Through the Night by Connie Brockway

“In a life singular for its lack of attachments, to become obsessed with two women at once was lunacy.”
—Connie Brockway
, All Through the Night

“There was no graceful way to collapse a bifurcated existence into a single, uncomplicated one.”
—Sherry Thomas, Beguiling the Beauty

Love triangles have become common in romantic fiction, though for some they're exciting, while for others a reason to throw the book at a wall. But there's one kind that's fun without all the baggage: the love triangle which is really between only two people. Whether the story lies in the realm of masks and disguises, or the secrets and suspense are hidden behind the anonymity of a computer screen, these plots gleefully complicate falling in love— both for the characters uncomfortably having feelings for two people at the same time, and for the characters who know the bizarre truth.

For the person in disguise, jealousy is a common, albeit perverse, reaction. In Jacquie D'Alessandro's The Bride Thief, the Earl of Wesley has a secret life rescuing women about to be forced into unwanted marriages. His dashing alter ego makes a strong impression on Samantha Briggeham, the woman his everyday self is trying to resist:

Needing to touch her, he reached out, took her hand, and entwined their fingers. Warmth eased up his arm at her touch, and it required a great deal of willpower not to simply yank her against him and consign his bloody conscience to the devil.

“Ever since my encounter with the Bride Thief,” she said softly, “I've been unable to suppress my need for adventure. It's as if he burst a dam inside me.”

He froze. “The Bride Thief? What has he to do with this?”

“He made me feel… alive. Made me realize how very much I wanted… things.”

[No need to resist—really!...]

Mon
Mar 31 2014 2:00pm

Every Part of Megan Hart’s Every Part of You Serial

Every Part of You: Tempts Me by Megan HartApril brings the fifth and final installment in Megan Hart's Every Part of You serial, an erotic romance celebrating the power of knowing what you want and going for it. The story follows the up-and-down relationship between two people who seemingly couldn't be more opposite. Simone is straightforward and fearless, completely comfortable with her lifestyle and her kinks; Elliott is emotionally unavailable, fastidious (not to say anal retentive,) and scared of his own desires. But their needs in bed happen to coincide perfectly: Simone loves pain, and Elliot, much though he hates himself for it, loves to give it.

In a twist on the typical BDSM story (one of several), Simone is the one in pursuit. She's been indulging her voyeuristic side by watching the man in the opposite wing of her building, who frequently brings women to his office, a man who “dressed like a master of industry and fucked like a jackhammer.” She's particularly intrigued by the small indications of roughness she sees, but has no expectations of ever being one of Elliot's women. The tall blondes are all the same: “Perfect features. Blank expression….everything Simone wasn't and would never be.”  Still, when the chance to get his attention comes, she grabs it and makes the most of it.

[Can't blame her there...]

Thu
Mar 27 2014 11:00am

“Introduced by a Bellwether”: Romance in Connie Willis

All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis“I think that it's a good sign that we not only want happy endings for ourselves, but for the people we love, both real and fictional: for Connor and Abby on Primeval, and Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars, and Kate and Petrucio, and Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane,” Connie Willis wrote in an undelivered speech printed in The Best of Connie Willis.

Willis is a speculative fiction writer who, like Lois McMaster Bujold, loves story in all genres; within the basic science fiction framework, her work encompass westerns, young adult, detective stories, Christmas stories, absurdist humor and perhaps most of all, romance.  You won't find steamy scenes in her books, and you can't always rely on happy ever afters—one of her most heartbreaking recurring themes is of women fulfilling an important dream or destiny, leaving behind grieving men who love them. But Willis is also a fan of romantic comedy, and those just have to end well.


Romances generally happen in a low-key fashion in Willis stories, in the background of other events, most often while the main character and a likable member of the opposite sex are trying to solve some kind of puzzle. The usual signifiers of romance like obvious physical attraction tend to get short shrift, because they're too busy working together—while battling bureaucracy and red tape and obnoxious authority figures—yet the bits of their more tender emotions that sneak through are perfectly satisfying in context. Here's a scene from the end of “All Seated on the Ground,” in which a journalist who's inadvertently wound up in charge of a group of recalcitrant space aliens gets help from a choir director:


I picked up Calvin's baton and handed it to him. “What do you think we should sing first?” he asked me.

“All I want for Christmas is you,” I said.

“Really? I was thinking maybe we should start with ‘Angels We have Heard on High,’ or —”

“That wasn't a song title,” I said.

[Okay, that was dangerously charming...]

Thu
Feb 27 2014 10:30am

Be True to Yourself: Ten Life Lessons from Mary Balogh

In a career spanning almost 30 years to date, Mary Balogh has broken numerous boundaries in romance. Sex in traditional Regencies. A courtesan heroine. An adulterous sex addict hero. A heroine who molested her stepson. An ordinary shlub hero! Amidst her many rule-breaking stories and unusual characterizations, certain themes regularly recur, together creating the sense of a strong moral compass and philosophy of life.

1) Do the right thing, and “fake it til you make it.”

In the historical periods Balogh covers, societal constraints were extremely strong and her characters often find themselves forced to agree to unwanted marriages. Sometimes there is bitterness to work through, and they can be cruel to one another in the grip of despair. But that's no excuse for Eleanor in A Christmas Promise to break her sacred vows, as she tells her former lover point blank: “My feelings for him have nothing to say to anything… The point is that I consented to marry him and did marry him and can no longer indulge my love for you.”

In Dark Angel, Gabriel speaks for many Balogh heroes and heroines when he tells his new bride, “It is a damnable mess I have got you into, but there is only one way out. We can go forward and try to make something workable out of what seems impossible tonight.” And he doesn't intend for them to simply tolerate each other: “We are going to fall in love, Jennifer. We are going to be happy despite the seemingly insuperable odds, I promise you.”

[Improbable odds, not impossible...]

Mon
Feb 24 2014 10:30am

First Look: Alex Beecroft’s The Reluctant Berserker (February 25, 2014)

The Reluctant Berserker by Alex BeecroftAlex Beecroft
The Reluctant Berserker
Samhain / February 25, 2014 / $5.50 digital

Wulfstan, a noble and fearsome Saxon warrior, has spent most of his life hiding the fact that he would love to be cherished by someone stronger than himself. Not some slight, beautiful nobody of a harper who pushes him up against a wall and kisses him.

In the aftermath, Wulfstan isn’t sure what he regrets most—that he only punched the churl in the face, or that he really wanted to give in.

Leofgar is determined to prove he’s as much of a man as any Saxon. But now he’s got a bigger problem than a bloody nose. The lord who’s given him shelter from the killing cold is eyeing him like a wolf eyes a wounded hare.

When Wulfstan accidentally kills a friend who is about to blurt his secret, he flees in panic and meets Leofgar, who is on the run from his lord’s lust. Together, pursued by a mother’s curse, they battle guilt, outlaws, and the powers of the underworld, armed only with music…and love that must overcome murderous shame to survive.

Romance readers are crying out for historicals in less familiar settings and Alex Beecroft is stepping up with thoroughly researched, diverse, and immersive m/m stories. Set in 8th-century Britain, this takes us into the heart of a complex culture — one in which it's accepted, even expected, for warriors to rape the men they capture and for lords to keep pretty boys as sexual playthings, but actually wanting to receive such attentions is anathema. Be warned — it can be a violent world.

[Are you ready?...]

Fri
Dec 20 2013 1:30pm

The Rest of the Story: Jo Baker’s Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo BakerPride and Prejudice may have inspired more spin-offs, rewrites, imitations, and alternate versions than any other work of fiction—did the world really need another one? When it's as compelling and enlightening as Jo Baker's Longbourn, most certainly. Longbourn is not an attempt to imitate Austen's style or plot; instead it jumps off from the well-known story to show us what else was happening in the world that Austen very consciously kept small and contained, that famous “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush.”

The story is told through the other people in the Bennet household, the ones who merit only a mention or two in the original.  If we scour the book, we find them: there's a Sarah and another unnamed housemaid, a Mrs. Hill, a footman, and a butler. In Longbourn, Sarah is a young woman struggling with the brutal fact that her entire life is spent taking care of other young women who have everything she naturally desires. The second housemaid Polly is very young and naive, still fairly happy as long as she can shirk her work and filch some sugar. The kindhearted housekeeper Mrs. Hill has suffered enough heartache to feel grateful for her relatively privileged position, though occasionally spares a thought about the unfairness of life, particularly when the security of the servant hall is threatened by Elizabeth's refusal of Mr. Collins:

“What it is to be young and lovely and very well aware of it. What it is to know that you will only settle for the keenest love, the most perfect match.”

[True; Lizzie's was a good problem to have...]

Wed
Dec 18 2013 3:00pm

H&H Bloggers Recommend: Best of 2013, Day 1

Touch and Geaux by Abigail RouxMay 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!

Want more? See the recommendations from Day 2Day 3, and Day 4 as well!

Jennifer Myers

Touch & Geaux by Abigail Roux
The Cut & Run series is really my everything for the year, favorite book, series and new author.  I read them all in two weeks and then did it all over again.  Touch & Geaux ripped me open, put me back together and then did it all over again.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop
The first book in what promises to be an amazing new Urban Fantasy series, Written in Red was un-put-downable.  The world building and graphic nature of the story were amazing.  I adored the unapologetic brutal nature of the shifters.

[See who else made the list!...]

Wed
Dec 4 2013 2:00pm

A Pattern of Perfection: Childbirth and Motherhood in LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory

Morning Glory by LaVyrle SpencerSet in a small town and an isolated farm in Georgia in 1941, LaVyrle Spencer's classic convenient marriage romance Morning Glory in some ways feels more like Americana stories set in the 19th century than the 20th. Until the war begins, it's a world of homemade lye soap and slop buckets, fresh eggs delivered in wagons, buttermilk kept cold in a well. Yet as I read it, certain parts seemed strangely familiar. It wasn't until I got to Elly's homebirth that I realized why: when I was pregnant, at around the same time the book was written, Elly was the woman every pregnant woman and mother I knew wanted to be.

Our very first image of our heroine Elly, through the eyes of our hero Will, is of a mother rather than a potential object of desire:

A woman appeared in the doorway of the house, one child on her hip, another burrowing into her skirts with a thumb in its mouth.

She is also, we shortly discover, “pregnant as hell.” And with her husband dead, she's the only adult on their farm, in charge of literally everything. But no matter how stressed she might be, she's devoted to her children:

[Good quality in a mother!...]

Fri
Nov 29 2013 11:11am

Childhood Favorites Become Adult Romances in Books by Cornick, Schwab, Rothwell, and More!

Alice in Zombieland by Gena ShowalterThe literature of childhood, filled with resonant characters, plots, and settings, can be a rich mine of inspiration for writers. Fantastical books such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz seem to lend themselves particularly to dark or twisted retellings, as can be seen in titles like Gena Showalter's Alice in Zombieland, The Lost Girls by Laurie Fox, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wicked by Gregory Maguire or in recent television shows like Once Upon a Time. Other authors have turned their enthusiasm and affection for childhood favorites into charming romances with a familiar flavor.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped gets a sex reversal and the old Harlequin title treatment to amusingly become Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress. Nicola Cornick sets her homage fifty years later than the original and avoids the political aspects of the plot (which is kind of a shame, since having the romantic hero be the narrator's original companion, the dashing Jacobite Alan Stewart, could have been awesome for fans—though seriously complicated by the fact that Stewart was a real historical personage.) But like David Balfour, our Scottish heroine Catriona is kidnapped and shipwrecked; since she has the good fortune to experience both in the company of Neil Sinclair, a young man she's very attracted to, being stranded on a desert island takes on a whole different flavor:

Neil was extraordinarily gentle as he plied the comb, patiently teasing out each curl and tendril, loosening the knows. The sun was hot on my back and the rum was warm in my blood, and I felt soft and melting and breathless beneath his ministrations.

[Romance makes everything better...]

Sat
Nov 23 2013 1:30pm

First Look: Anne Stuart’s Never Trust a Pirate (December 3, 2013)

Never Trust a Pirate by Anne StuartAnne Stuart
Never Trust a Pirate
Montlake / December 3, 2013 / $12.95 print, $3.99 digital

A Victorian beauty finds passion…with the man who may have murdered her father.

Madeleine Russell, the beautiful daughter of a shipping magnate, counted on marrying a wealthy husband. Then her father’s disgrace and death left her with no dowry and no suitor. But Maddy and her sisters fully intend to restore their good name. Their first step: find the villain who framed their family. One of her father’s captains, a notorious former pirate, becomes a prime suspect. When Maddy joins the captain’s household disguised as his newest servant, her dark-eyed, charismatic employer soon develops his own agenda: seduction…

Captain Thomas Morgan spent most of his life amassing vast riches and respectability…and keeping his gypsy roots a secret. Now, he just needs to marry his prim, polished fiancée…and resist his intriguing new housemaid. A pirate never falls in love, he reminds himself. As mutual deception leads Maddy and the captain into uncharted territory, the truth could anchor them to terrible heartache…or to passion beyond their wildest dreams.

Anne Stuart's The Scandal at the House of Russell series focuses on three sisters trying to clear their father's name and expose his murderer. In the second book, Maddy's suspicions fall on Captain Thomas Morgan, one of her father's employees and a former privateer. Her father warned them, shortly before his death, to “never trust a pirate.”

[I have a feeling he might be disappointed?...]

Thu
Nov 21 2013 4:15pm

“Holding On” and “Not Letting Go”: Favorite Phrases from Romance

A Company of Swans by Eva IbbotsonFavorite romance couples become favorites because of those moments that are uniquely them, and some of their best moments come from iconic lines that live on in our minds long after the book is done. Rupert and Daphne's bone-melting demand, T'ala heneh—“come here”—from Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible. Harriet's repeated wistful desire to creep into her lover's presence like an odalisque in Eva Ibbotson's A Company of Swans; “we will creep together,” he insists. The admiration and affection encompassed in Roarke's simple greeting, “Lieutenant,” in every one of J.D. Robb's In Death books.  

When they're actually part of the relationship arc, a couple's special phrase can become even more memorable. In Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the arrogant, prideful Alex is amazed by Daisy's easy humility:

I’m begging you. Daisy said that all the time. The same words that had poisoned Sheba Quest’s spirit two years ago when she’d pleaded for his love rolled off Daisy’s tongue without a second thought. In the morning she’d stick her toothbrush in her mouth and call out, “Coffee! Please! I’m begging you!” Last night, she’d tickled his earlobe with a soft, sultry whisper. “Make love to me, Alex. I’m begging you.” As if he needed to be begged.

But begging didn’t threaten Daisy’s pride at all. It was simply her method of communication…

After hurting Daisy deeply, Alex can only prove his love to her by conquering his pride:

Alex spoke in tight, hard tones. “You know what the irony in all this is. Daisy’d do it. She wouldn’t even think twice about it.” He gave a rough bark of laughter that bore no trace of humor. “She’d be on her knees in a second because she’s got a heart beating inside her that’s strong enough to take on the world. She doesn’t care about honor or pride or anything else when the well-being of the creatures she loves is a stake.”

He turned his face upward, and his mouth tightened with scorn. Although he was on his knees, he had never looked more glorious. He was every inch the czar. The king of the center ring. “I’m begging you, Sheba,” he said flatly.

[Ah, the power of words...]

Wed
Nov 13 2013 7:30pm

The Elegance of the S’more: Romantic Meals from Florand, McKenna, and Ward

Lover Awakened by J.R. WardEnvision the Platonic Ideal of a romantic meal and it will probably bring to mind an elegant restaurant, gourmet food, candlelight; perhaps even a tasteful proposal. But romance is unpredictable and can be found in many guises: while nurturing someone you love, while demonstrating the very best you have to offer, or even while accepting less than the best, just to make someone else happy.

For Zsadist, the most messed up, terrifying, and unpredictable member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, falling in love in J.R. Ward's Lover Awakened brings the need to nurture. “She was going to need food, he thought. He needed to get her food.” After an exhausting, traumatic night he is starving himself, but his thoughts are all on his beloved:

“He kept showing stuff in his face as he took out a knife and a plate and started slicing off thin shavings of the turkey breast. He was careful to take only the very best parts of the meat for Bella.

What else would she need. He wanted her to eat calorically dense things. And drink—he should bring her something to drink. He went back to the refrigerator and began making a pile of leftovers for review. He would choose carefully, taking to her only what was worthy of her tongue.”

It's over-the-top, sure—extravagant, as the entire series is extravagant, devotion taken to the nth degree—but it successfully hits so many emotional buttons. The choice of turkey, such a symbolically laden food for an American reader, with its associations of family and tradition. The feared calorie, here seen as something desirable. All culminating in the meal that she eats from his hand.

[Food, glorious food...]

Wed
Oct 30 2013 3:00pm

Anne Stuart’s Winning Recipe in Nightfall

Nightfall by Anne StuartChoosing an Anne Stuart book is like ordering pizza at a new restaurant: you know basically what you're going to get and that you're probably going to like it, but will it be your everyday tasty slice or something sublimely spicy and melting? 

Originally published in 1995, and now available digitally, Nightfall is authentic New York pizza with Neapolitan crust. It's everything you expect from Stuart, at her most compelling:

The Hero. He'll be dark, dangerous…and deadly? Unlike some of Stuart's outright assassins, Richard Tiernan is even more chillingly ambiguous. He was convicted of murdering his wife, his young children are missing… and all we know for sure about him is that he has a plan, one which involves Cassidy Roarke. “He was going to use her. Sacrifice her, if need be, for his own needs.”  

The Heroine. She's relatable, dependable, and vulnerable—though she may not realize it. “Five feet nine and well-rounded [Cassidy] had never considered herself shy, nervy or little in her entire life.” Although she might be surprised to learn how Richard sees her: “Everything about Cassidy Roarke was profoundly sensual, from her blaze of flyaway hair to her ripe luscious body, to her innocent face.” The mere sight of her long, narrow, bare feet makes him crazy with lust.

[Okay, I'll bite...tell me more!...]