<i>Eleventh Grave in Moonlight</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Eleventh Grave in Moonlight: Exclusive Excerpt Darynda Jones "I wanted to study her reaction since I couldn’t feel her emotions." <i>The Turn</i>: Exclusive Excerpt The Turn: Exclusive Excerpt Kim Harrison "Love can hold the world together as a new balance is found." <i>The Room Mate</i>: Exclusive Excerpt The Room Mate: Exclusive Excerpt Kendall Ryan "My fingertips tingled with the desire to reach out and touch him." <i>The List</i>: Exclusive Excerpt The List: Exclusive Excerpt Tawna Fenske "Will Simon’s big secret make that the one fantasy that can never come true?"
From The Blog
January 23, 2017
Do You Love Scruffy Men?
Olivia Dade
January 20, 2017
Friday Beefcake: A Love Letter to Men with Dogs & Babies
Jen Wattley
January 19, 2017
Meet-Text? Romances That Began as Text Relationships
Jessica Moro
January 19, 2017
Karen Marie Moning’s Feversong SPOILER THREAD!! (MAJOR SPOILERS)
Jessica Avery
January 18, 2017
Top 5 Highlanders in Romance
Anna Bowling
Showing posts by: cerestheories click to see cerestheories's profile
Jan 17 2017 12:00pm

Smut Peddler: Naughty Comics by Women, For Women

Smut Peddler Graphic Novel

Last time I wrote about comics, I gave them a rating based upon the subjective criteria “can you read this on the train” and “how explicit is this.” This time, I’m just going to tell you: do not read this on the train unless you want some awkward pants feelings with sweaty strangers giving you creepy looks. I also suggest reading this book when not in the presence of children, your parents, etc. I DO suggest reading it with your significant other (battery-operated or human).  

Smut Peddler, aka The Best Name Ever, is an anthology of dirty comics written by an all-star team of writers and illustrators in the indie comics world. I was brought to the volume by my love for one of the contributors, Jess Fink. Her comic, Chester 5000 XYZ is AMAZING.  (It’s a steampunk sexy romance with a robot and you can read it for free here.) Chester was my first erotic comic and I haven’t talked about it much because it felt like talking about porn, which isn’t something we do in “polite company.” Erotic comics have always felt more accessible to me though because they aren’t real people, which removes the icky ethical issues that have always stopped me from enjoying porn. (This isn’t a judgment of anyone who does watch porn, as I know it’s a healthy part of many people’s sexual experiences.) ANYWAY, I’m going to tell you about Smut Peddler and if you like what I have to say, please buy the comic and support a fantastic group of female artists.

This review is based on the 2014 Edition, a thick volume in black and white that showed up on my doorstep in a completely innocuous media mail envelope. Little did my mail carrier know, subversive comics lay within! The subheading on this book is “A Superior Pornucopia for Classy Dames (and the Forward-Thinking Gentleman).” With that in mind, here we go!

[Dig in...]

Jan 10 2017 3:00pm

Where’s Sera’s Baby? and Other Questions We Have for The Day of the Duchess

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

This post contains spoilers for all books in the Scandal & Scoundrel series by Sarah MacLean and heavy speculation on what's to come in The Day of the Duchess. 

Sarah MacLean’s Scandal & Scoundrel series is loosely based on modern celebrity scandals, complete with gossip rag columns sprinkled throughout. As with modern scandals, we readers don’t know the full story or probably even half of the story. But isn’t it delicious to speculate? Let’s do.

The next installment in the series is The Day of the Duchess, featuring the Duke and Duchess of Haven, Malcolm and Seraphina. In the first book, the heroine, Sera’s sister Sophie, pushes the Duke into a fish pond at a garden party after a very public row… after she catches him with someone who is very much not Sera. It causes a scandal that compels Sophie to dash off into the country, get shot, get married, etc. That shove is really the catalyst for the plot of The Rogue Not Taken. To say it’s memorable is an understatement.

In book two, A Scot in the Dark, the heroine, Lily, has become a friendless outcast, until she meets the Soiled S’s. Like the modern day Kardashian sisters, the Talbot sisters (Sophie, Sera, Sesily, Seline, and Seleste) fill the pages of the gossip rags in London. Sesily and Sophie in particular befriend our Lily, standing up for her during her own scandal. But where’s Sera?

Sounds like we’ll find out in The Day of the Duchess!

What We Know

[Read more...]

Jan 5 2017 12:00pm

5 Romance Comics for Every Reader (and Heat Level!)

Fresh Romance Vol. 1

Hello romance nerds!

Supporting diverse comics is a priority for me and something I really enjoy. Lucky for me, H&H is letting me write about romance comics for you again!

Before we begin:

  • The comics are all different, but I have a thing when it comes to buying my comics digitally: I hate buying based on a pretty, colored cover and discovering a black and white interior. Because I’m your friend, I’ve given you that info up front.
  • Some people like explicit comics, some don’t. I tried to rate them based on whether or not you could read them on the train.

Fresh Romance (full color, sexiness depends on the comic)

Last time I wrote about comics, Fresh Romance had just been published and I was EXCITED. I hope some of you bought the anthology or an issue or two. If you didn’t subscribe, you may have missed the news that Emet Comics has absorbed Fresh Romance and is now publishing pages of The Ruby Equation on their Tumblr.

If you didn’t catch this comic before, it’s ADORABLE. A “cynical bored love emissary from another dimension” has to help humans fall in love to earn her wings. Her approach? Math. The Ruby Equation is written by Sarah Kuhn (who wrote the fab novel Heroine Complex) and drawn by Sally Jane Thompson. Cute art, cute story, love and feel-good vibes. Oh and it’s FREE. (They’ll be continuing the other series too as the creators are able.)

[Read more...]

Jan 4 2017 3:00pm

A Newbie’s Guide to Category Romance

(...or the somewhat initiated leading the uninitiated)

One Hot December by Tiffany Reisz

Lured by the promise of Tiffany Reisz’s trademark banter and sexytimes, I picked up her Men at Work series this fall. Not that big a deal, except that they were my FIRST category romances. (My first Harlequins that weren’t Gena Showalter or Sarah Morgan’s full-length novels.) Scared away for years by the often jest-worthy titles and very obvious covers, I pretended I was “better” than “those” romance novels. As if there are different levels of respectability in Romancelandia… Nope. Romancelandia is here for everyone. Sometimes you want to cry, sometimes you want to lust, and sometimes you want a book that’s short and easy to slip into for a few hours. My discovery? I was MISSING OUT.

What is category romance?

According to Goodreads, “Category romances are short, usually no more than 200 pages, or about 55,000 words. The books are published in clearly delineated lines, with a certain number of books published in each line every month. In many cases, the books are numbered sequentially within the line.” A pretty broad definition, which means that all sorts of stories are told within this group. Like the rest of romance, subgenres abound, but they’re captured in “lines.”

[Read more...]

Dec 31 2016 11:00am

The Best Kisses of 2016: A Highly Subjective List

In a genre sometimes referred to as “kissing books,” picking the Best Kisses is not an easy task. It’s really fun one, though. Have you ever gone through your list of recently read books and searched for JUST the kissing scenes? If not, may I suggest you do so?

I read heavily in three subgenres: fantasy/paranormal, historical, and contemporary. I don’t really read about cowboys or bikers, romantic suspense, or inspirational. If those are your thing, I bet your list looks a lot different than mine. Thus the subtitle of this post: A Highly Subjective List.

Having read roughly 200 books this year, I limited the selection to books published in 2016. No 2015 or 2017 in this list though I DEARLY wanted to include a few. (I read Lord of Scoundrels this year, y’all. And Alyssa Cole’s Radio Silence. And Alisha Rai’s Serving Pleasure. This list goes on…)

Suzanne’s Awards for Best Kiss of 2016

[Kiss, kiss...]

Dec 28 2016 2:00pm

Not Your Typical Holiday Romances: Tiffany Reisz’s Men at Work Series

Tiffany Reisz's Men At Work Series

You know how a good book can make everything better? Of course you do. You wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. So let’s get right to the point: 2016 has had a lot of sucky moments. Holidays can have sucky moments. Tiffany Reisz’s Men at Work series? No sucky moments. (Other than the obvious pun I could make.) Teaming up with Harlequin, Tiffany Reisz has released a book in their Blaze line for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and December this year. They have done three things for me: changed my mind about category romance (more to come on that later), distracted me from my own holiday angst, and provided many hours of straight up joy.

Since all three books are 210ish pages, Reisz wisely has chosen to start the H/h out with some history. They all know each other before the story begins, so we don’t run into the insta-love or insta-lust issues that some shorter novels and novellas have. The stories take place in the same area in Oregon (near Mt Hood) and the stories have a loose common thread. Think small-town romance, but not sequel-bait. The heroes in the stories are all engaged in the construction/carpentry trade and the heroines each have their own career in which they excel. Two of the heroines also have very hands-on jobs, so it’s equal-opportunity fetishization of manual labor. Lastly, all three stories feature Reisz’s trademark witty banter, sexy banter, and hot sex.

[Read more...]

Dec 26 2016 10:00am

First Look: Amanda Bouchet’s Breath of Fire (January 3, 2017)

Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Amanda Bouchet
Breath of Fire (The Kingmaker Chronicles #2)
Sourcebooks / January 3, 2017 / $7.99 print & digital

In the highly anticipated Breath of Fire, Amanda Bouchet does not disappoint. I had really high expectations for this book. I did a happy dance and texted photos to my husband when I received it in the mail. My expectations were so high I was almost afraid to read the book for fear of being let down. But let me just reassure you: it’s different than A Promise of Fire, but it’s SO GOOD. (Capital letters necessary.)

In the first book, we met about our heroine, Cat, and our hero, Griffin. In this book, we see their relationship deepen and develop as they shed secrets and build trust. Their relationship is beautiful. In the first book it was adversarial, but now they’re a team. The relationship is still at the core of this book and it’s a good one.

Here are a few other aspects that kept me turning pages, biting my nails, and sighing happily:

[Read more...]

Oct 19 2016 2:00pm

3 Things to Love About Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Ever read a book and wanted to scream from a mountaintop that everyone should read it? Yeah, me too. My favorite feeling is when I can give someone else that experience, which leads me to recommend books. My most frequently recommended book? The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Then The Shadowy Horses and Mariana and The Rose Garden and… You get the idea.

History has all but forgotten...

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...

While the blurb hooked me with the Outlander overtones, Kearsley’s writing is much different and the story has only surface similarities. The Winter Sea is the perfect showcase for Kearsley’s particular brand: a novel that defies categorization and incorporates aspects of time travel, romance, historical fiction, adventure, and just enough magic. I was mom to a 1 year old and working full time when I read this book. I stayed up until 2 am reading it. Let me tell you, almost nothing kept me from sleep those days. So what hooked me? What makes me recommend The Winter Sea and her other books? Let me count the ways…

[Read more...]

Oct 6 2016 8:30am

Happily Triad After in Olivia Cunning’s Outsider

Outsider by Olivia Cunning

Triads in romance aren’t all that uncommon. I’ve read them done well, and not so well. H&H has covered a bunch of them. What I hadn’t read before, until now, was an exploration of what comes after that HEA when the triad rides off into the proverbial sunset.

In Double Time, one of Olivia Cunning’s Sinners on Tour series, Trey overcame a decade-long obsession with his straight best friend to find love with the new guitarist of Exodus End (his brother’s band) and her roommate (and former boyfriend). At the end of Double Time, the three of them have overcome misunderstandings, old love, and insecurities, defining their relationship privately. Outsider, the second book in Olivia Cunning’s Exodus End World Tour series, follows the story of Reagan, Trey, and Ethan as they work to define their relationship publicly.

Given the title and the themes in Insider, the first book in this series, I expected this story to focus more on Reagan’s feelings of outsider-ness in her new band. It doesn’t. Instead, Cunning focuses on how each of the characters feels like an outsider in their own relationship. I found the dynamic fascinating and heart-wrenching. While they share a strong bond, they each have a very different background and it impacts their ability/desire to be public with their unconventional lifestyle.

[Read more...]

Aug 30 2016 3:00pm

First Look: Sarah MacLean’s A Scot in the Dark (August 30, 2016)

A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean
A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2)
Avon Romance / August 30, 2016 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital

A Scot in the Dark, the second entry in Sarah MacLean’s Scandal & Scoundrel series, follows Alec Stuart and his ward, Lillian Hargrove. Alec is the Duke of Warnick, a Scot who inherited the title after the 17 others in line for it before him died in a variety of unexpected ways. Most of them didn’t have families, so their properties and responsibilities all fell to him. Lily is one of those responsibilities, and after falling in love with the wrong man, she finds herself a pariah with no prospects.

The story begins when Alec is instructed to fix things and travels to London, finding a spirited young woman who is (justifiably) tired of men and rules. MacLean is a master of tension (she teaches workshops on it, I’m not exaggerating here), and the tension in the novel comes largely from a lack of trust between our main characters.

Alec was raised by a father who emotionally abandoned him after Alec’s English mother physically abandoned them to return to London (and then died shortly thereafter). Apparently she didn’t love her family enough to stay in the country, and Alec has spent his life either trying to win her approval or giving the metaphorical middle finger to England and wandering his Scottish estate barechested with two giant dogs for company.

[Read more...]

Aug 25 2016 3:20pm

First Look: Lenora Bell’s If I Only Had a Duke (August 30, 2016)

If I Only Had A Duke by Lenora Bell

Lenora Bell
If Only I Had A Duke (The Disgraceful Dukes)
Avon / August 30, 2016 / $7.99 print, $4.99 digitial

If I Only Had a Duke is the second in Lenora Bell’s debut series, The Disgraceful Dukes, and I loved it just as well as the first. If this is Bell’s standard, I’m adding her to my auto-buy list! This book is seriously trope-a-riffic. It’s a mish-mash of things I love and it works brilliantly! Here’s what you should know:

Bell Doesn’t Take Herself Too Seriously

Romancelandia is plagued with dukes. I mean, how many dukes can there possibly be in England in 1820? And how many single, handsome dukes in their late twenties to early-thirties? Bell has based an entire series on matching renegade dukes with equally scandalous ladies. It’s completely delicious, but also improbable, and she has a character sum it up in fantastic fashion right out of the gate.

“Handsome dukes are suchrare creatures. Rather like silvery snow leopards, one imagines. “ She stared out the window dreamily. “Crouching on remote mountaintops, taunting hunters, and then melting into the brush.”

[Renegades and scandalous women...]

Aug 23 2016 8:30am

First Look: Alexis Hall’s Looking for Group (August 29, 2016)

Looking for Group by Alexis Hall

Alexis Hall
Looking for Group
Riptide Publishing / August 29, 2016 / $17.99 print, $6.99 digital

Looking for Group, by Alexis Hall, is a geek’s dream. (Or at least this geek’s dream.) The story centers around two college (university, since they’re Brits) students who meet and fall in love while playing an MMO. For the uninitiated, MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online game. The game in question is called Heroes of Legend, a fictionalized version of World of Warcraft. The story takes place in two phases, first when Drew joins Kit’s guild (that’s a closed community of players) and they become involved, and later when Drew and Kit try to reconcile their real and virtual lives.

Drew has been in a very goal-oriented raiding guild for a long time and quits because he’s fed up with loot system. (Distribution of treasure/equipment). When he joins Kit’s more casual guild, he’s welcomed into a group of people who are… friendly. He’s not used to a social guild, so readers get some excellent dialogue as he opens up, starts making jokes, and bonds with a particularly well-dressed lady elf. After a good bit of one-on-one online hanging out and significant feels, Drew discovers that Solace (Kit) is actually male in real life and has a bit of a freak-out. With some help from Drew’s real-world friends (and time), Drew figures out that maybe he likes Kit regardless of his gender identity. It’s not as big a deal as he thought. Maybe he’s even gay. That’s not made into an issue, though. Labels need not apply.

[Read more...]

Aug 4 2016 1:30pm

Alisha Rai’s Fantasy Duology: Does Being Independent Mean Being Alone?

Be My Fantasy by Alisha Rai

Alisha Rai writes smart, sexy romance. I could say that about a bunch of authors, but Rai is special. Her stories challenge stereotypes and gender roles, but in a subtle, beautiful way. I’ve written previously about flipping the trope with her female billionaire in A Gentleman in the Street. Her Pleasure series features sisters who are each strong and vulnerable in different ways. She writes like she truly does believe that everyone deserves a HEA, and her Fantasy duology, comprised of Be My Fantasy & Stay My Fantasy, is no different.

One of my favorite things about Rai’s writing, and thus her heroines, is that her characters are all multi-dimensional. Wealthy socialite Elizabeth Harding is also Tess, a major investor in a pleasure club. Elizabeth conforms to the role she was given by her family while her alter ego, Tess, follows her own rules. Elizabeth is capable of being political and calculating, sensual and uninhibited, passionate and intelligent. She’s also a real person, so Rai allows her to be vulnerable and insecure. Here’s the most impressive part though: even though those last couple of sentences could have also described Akira, the heroine in A Gentleman in the Street, Elizabeth is a completely different person and it’s nothing like reading the same book twice.

[Not your typical heroine...]

Jul 11 2016 2:00pm

Best Books to Read After Sylvia Day’s Crossfire Series

Seven Years to Sin by Sylvia Day

Sylvia Day is known for her deeply emotional, well-written and sexy as hell novels. I fell in love with her writing after meeting Gideon and Ava in Bared to You. If you’re bummed that Sylvia Day’s addictive Crossfire series has concluded, you can get your fix with these great reads:

Try out Sylvia Day’s back catalog!

If you haven’t already read her other books, you should! She is one of the authors who convinced me to read historical romance and now I’m hooked.

According to Day herself, Seven Years to Sin is the novel that inspired her to write Bared to You, so it’s a great place to start. Alistair and Jessica end up on a ship together, so if forced proximity entertains you like it does me, you’ll have a good time. Both characters have history together but Day resists the urge to put them into bed immediately, building up some A grade sexual tension.

[Treat yourself!]

Jul 7 2016 1:30pm

Marked on My Soul: Mate Markings and Tattoos in Romances from Ione, Cole, Rocha, and More!

Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione

As we know, romance comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Sometimes outside forces conspire to keep our two lovers apart, while other times it’s our characters themselves. One of my favorite things about this genre is that, like sci-fi/fantasy, romance authors get to play with some really fun tropes. Things that wouldn’t work in our world but seem totally natural in the fictional world they’ve created. Like soul-mate marks.

The soul-mate mark is essentially the ultimate wedding band. It can’t be removed and is often not actually chosen by the afflicted character. Sometimes they appear after meeting that special someone, sometimes after forging a deep bond, sometimes after mutual consent. What doesn’t change? The characters always experience some conflict about the meaning of these marks. They fight them as you would fight any other permanent arrangement in which you had no say. They fight with their own desires for independence and autonomy, with their new life-partners… with everything, pretty much.

The whole trope is a shorthand for the bonds of love and the ways in which we navigate our own independence in a committed relationship. It allows authors to play with some intense conflicts and, like other tropes, allows readers an entry point to an otherwise bonkers story.

I’ve seen it in three basic ways, each with their own flavor of conflict: the mate mark that just appears, the socially constructed mark (chosen by at least one of the partners), and the non-tattoo physical change. This trope is probably familiar to those of you who read paranormal romance and there are many examples I could give. For the sake of clarity, I’ve chosen one series to illustrate each of the three variants, but please comment with your other favorites!

[Find your mate...]

Jul 6 2016 3:30pm

Romance and Fan Fiction Readers Have More in Common Than You Think

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren

Do you like fan fic? Are you still recovering from the ending of the Harry Potter or Twilight series? Do you like to read fun, sometimes wacky stories? Me, too. I don’t spend nearly as much time on WattPad or Archive of Our Own as devoted readers, but I’ve found fun parallels in novel-land.

If you don’t know what fan fiction (fan fic) is, the simplest definition is this: works of fiction written by fans of a commercial work. The fan fic is not written for profit and is written as an act of love. Popular franchises that have generated a lot of fan fic include Harry Potter, Twilight, Marvel/DC comics, numerous bands (bandom!) and Supernatural. Supernatural has even featured their fandom on episodes of the show!

If you are a romance reader, fan fic can offer you short (or sometimes longer) interludes with ‘ships you miss and ‘ships that never existed in canon. For fan fic readers, romance can offer new, long form stories that hit the same buttons as your favorite couple stories. There are several reasons why romance and fan fic readers overlap. One reason is that both work with tropes, often inverting them or pushing them to some pretty wacky and fun places. Another reason is the ‘ships. (Relationships.) Wish Harry and Hermione had hooked up? Harry and Draco? Harry and Ron? Or maybe you’re Team Jacob? Fan fic is here for you.

When I started writing this post I was nearly paralyzed with self-doubt.  Fan fic is incredibly personal. Agreeing on source material you like is one thing, but then agreeing on what aspects or ‘ships should be pulled out and given their own longer stories? That’s a different beast entirely. So take these recommendations for what they are – favorites of mine as a fan fic and romance reader.

[Team Fan Fic!]

Jul 2 2016 1:00pm

Fresh Romance: Comics for Romance Readers

School Spirit by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti & Taylor Esposito

Sometimes I get tired of reading novels (OMG did she just say that?!) and I flip on the latest episode of Jane the Virgin. And sometimes… I read comics.

Okay, a lot of the time. I’m in a comics-for-ladies monthly discussion group called The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen. It’s a real thing and it’s amazing. So I’m maybe a little biased toward the graphic novel/comic medium. I love the way that a talented writing and art team can reveal character traits and plot points with such subtlety that you don’t pick up on it. While there’s still a lot of “cheesecake” (women drawn with an abundance of T&A and little clothing) in some comics, a great number of female-forward comics are being published and gaining popularity. Examples include: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Saga, Sex Criminals, and of course, Buffy.

You probably want to know why I’m writing about comics on a romance site. Loads of comics have romance B-plots, but none of them have been 100% romance focused since the 70s. (Saga has an awesome star-crossed lovers in space with a baby thing going, but the romance isn’t always at the fore.)

Allow me to introduce Rosy Press’s Fresh Romance, a bimonthly comic featuring 3 10-page stories in each issue. These have been serialized up until now but are available in completed versions on their website and will be printed and available at a comic store near you (or online) on August 10.  The stories are diverse in terms of setting, sexual orientation, and racial makeup.

[Get ready to geek out!]

Jun 16 2016 8:30am

Is the First Hero the Most Accessible?: How The introduction to a Series Can Make a Difference

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

If you binge-read series like I do, you may have noticed a trend that I like to call the Vanilla First Syndrome. Let’s assume that men are like ice cream and we readers enjoy different flavors. Let’s further assume that our authors want us to have a chance to experience their particular brand’s texture, quality, serving size… Okay the metaphor breaks down there. Here’s my hypothesis: if heroes are like ice cream and authors are brands of ice cream, they frequently choose to offer us a Vanilla hero before serving up the Salted Chocolate Bacon Pecan. (Please someone, sell that ice cream and I will buy the hell out of it.)

I was curious why this trend is so common and whether it was intentional, so I’ve done some “research.” (By research, I mean reading a lot.) I’ve been on a Historical kick lately, binging on Lisa Kleypas, Maya Rodale, and Sarah MacLean, so I’ll be using them as examples. I promise you, the trend isn’t limited to Historicals.

[Is there a butter rum pecan flavor?]