Warm hearts, cold nights, Southern Lights

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Toni Morrison’s great quote perfectly describes why I like to write contemporary romances featuring unique characters and settings.  It’s what inspired my Red Hot Russians series of sports romances, which star sexy male figure skaters.

My new release, Heating It Up: A Red Hot Russians Novella, features a rugged Russian hero, and a sophisticated American heroine, who find love in a surprising  place.

Nora Bradford and Alexei Zaikov must work together to save Amity Bay, their small, close-knit community, though Nora’s secret role in the town’s demise could doom their romance. What makes Heating It Up unique is that Amity Bay is actually a research station in Antarctica.

Despite its extreme climate, Amity Bay is a warm-hearted, welcoming and slightly whimsical place. Cozy up to the bar at the Hut, the town’s favorite gathering place, and you’ll meet wise-cracking barmaid Francine, brave fire-chief Will and Dylan, a guitar-playing Texan who’s sweet on Shelby, the nurse. Just outside town, there’s breathtaking wilderness, green icebergs, an old cabin and a luxurious lodge—both of which might be haunted, and a mysterious creature swimming in the icy bay.

I hope fans of the Red Hot Russians series, and fans of small-town romance will feel right at home in Amity Bay!

Enjoy an Excerpt!

Slowly, Nora crawled from beneath the bed, then sat with her back against the wall, too stunned to go any further. She was alone. A squatter in Antarctica.  Well, she’d wanted to break some rules. Do something rash. Here was her chance. She might even make history. Assuming she survived.

The thought made her laugh, but as her laughter sputtered to an end, the oppressive silence of the huge empty lodge settled all around. She buried her head in her hands. Oh my God, what have I done?

The answer was the creak of footsteps on the stairs.

Nora gasped and swallowed. Her heart raced and moisture oiled her palms. She called out in a trembling voice. “Herbert? Mark? Is that you?”

Without waiting for an answer, she raced from the room. They were still here! It wasn’t too late! She could put this ridiculous scheme behind her, and go back to San Francisco like a sane person. Thank God!

“Hello! Hello! It’s Nora! I changed my mind! I’m coming with you!”

No one was on the stairs, or in the lobby. Shit! They must have gone outside. She could still catch them, if she hurried. She dashed across the lobby, slipping in her socks on the polished wood floor.

“Wait! Don’t leave without me!”

Nora burst out the front door, and onto the veranda. A blast of frigid wind sliced through her sweater and stopped her in her tracks.

She stared down at the bay. Night was falling. And the yacht was gone.

* * *

This post was originally published on Just Contemporary Romance, March, 2017

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January#TBR Challenge: We Love Short Shorts

Since I didn’t have a proper holiday read for December, when I saw this little New Year’s themed release pop up on my Facebook feed, I grabbed a copy. It’s the latest installment in Debra St. John’s “Holidays at the Corral” series, and while I haven’t read the others, I liked St. John’s “Wild Wedding Weekend.” NYE at the Corral seemed like a good bet…especially at 99 cents.

 

Shorter than a novella, but longer than a short story, it fit the criteria for January’s short read. NYE at the Corral is a cute friends-to-lovers story about a bartender and a waitress who are attracted to one another, but don’t want to risk ruining their friendship

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As Nick and Tina prepare for The Corral’s big New Year’s Eve bash, another co-worker teases them about being in love. They are of course, though neither is sure how the other one feels. Throughout the evening, they try to keep things normal and fail miserably.As midnight approaches, do they risk revealing their hearts?

 

The cover gives a big hint about how things turn out, and since it’s a romance novel, rest assured that neither Nick nor Tina end the night crying in their coffee at the local Denney’s. But the private angst each go through to work up the courage for that midnight kiss feels genuine. The ticking clock plot device works beautifully. 

 

St. John is a skilled writer and gives us two likeable characters and a believable conflict. I would have enjoyed a bit more info about the setting—I have no idea where The Corral is located—but understand that in a short book, there’s not room for a lot of detail.

 

It’s a quick, fun read with likeble characters, and I’ll probably drop by The Corral (wherever the heck it is) for another holiday party.

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December#TBR Challenge: Holiday Reads

My TBR pile had no holiday reads so for December’s challenge, I chose Murder On Ice by Alina Adams. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a figure skating judge electrocuted under mysterious circumstances and a cable TV researcher intent on finding out whodunit.
I was drawn to this cozy mystery series after I was a guest on the author’s blog, because we both write books set in the world of figure skating. My skaters fall in love, hers are murder suspects, but sports are sports.
This book, the first in Adams’ Figure Skating Mystery series was published in 2003.
Murder On Ice begins with Russian skater Xenia winning gold at the World Figure Skating Championships over perky American teenager Erin. Before you can say “wuz robbed,” the Italian judge whose score put Xenia atop the podium turns up dead. TV researcher Rebecca “Bex” Levy’s boss assigns her to do a story on the murdered judge, and while she’s at it, to find the killer.
Adams worked as a figure skating researcher and included a lot of great behind the scenes detail about figure skating broadcasts which I really enjoyed. I also liked the colorful cast of characters, from Erin’s obsessed fans, to the vaguely sinister Russians, whose suspicious behavior may simply be because everyone quickly assumes they’re guilty, and the bickering, bitchy skating commentators on Bex’s 24/7 Network.
The story relied heavily on Y2K tech, such as multi-colored floppy discs, travel printers (wired, naturally), dial-up Internet and flip phones. Characters use pay phones, and talk about being on the “world wide web.” One suspect’s alibi rests on the fact she doesn’t know how to print an email.
Technology wasn’t the only throwback aspect to Murder On Ice. Bex’s narration is full of random asides which were sometimes humorous, but had a rambling quality far different from the lean and mean style more prevalent today. It wasn’t bad necessarily, but it was a little odd.
And while Bex is an extremely amateur sleuth, it surprised me that she would openly confront her suspects with potentially incriminating evidence. I’m not a big cozy mystery reader, but I don’t recall Nancy Drew playing so fast and loose with clues.
So overall, the skating and prehistoric tech were fun, the sleuthing confusing, and I’m undecided on Bex. But if another Figure Skating Mystery finds its way to my TBR pile, I’ll happily give it a read.

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November #TBR Challenge

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True Pretenses by Rose Lerner

This is going to be a short one, as I just finished my NaNoWriMo project and oddly enough, don’t feel much like writing today. But to check the last item off my November to-do list…here goes.

Rose Lerner has been on my TBR list for a long time, as she writes historical romances featuring characters outside the aristocracy.  I burned out on Regency-era titled heroes and the ton a couple of years ago, and for a while, read no historical romances at all. Lerner writes Regency, but isn’t afraid to feature characters that the genre unfortunately shies away from.

In True Pretenses, the hero, Asher Cohen, is a Jewish con artist from the East End of London. Heroine Lydia Reeves is a 30-year-old politically active spinster desperate to marry, not for love, but to get her hands on her sizable dowry in order to fund her numerous civic and philanthropic endeavors.

The two strike a bargain that they will marry so that Lydia can get to her money, and give Ash the 3,000 pounds he needs to help his younger brother purchase a military officer’s commission. Once the transaction is complete, the two will go their separate ways. Plans go awry when Ash and Lydia fall in love.

I’ll keep this brief. I loved this story and these characters, especially Ash. His life as an orphan in London’s seedy East End, his work as a child grave robber was fascinating, if at times, gruesome. Lydia knows all of this, is intrigued by this rough-around-the-edges, yet deeply caring man. Lerner is a wonderful writer who brings her world to life and I definitely look forward to reading more of her work.

FYI, this book sorta-kinda qualifies as a holiday read, in that it takes place in mid-December amid the Christmas festivities in Lydia’s small town of Lively St. Lemeston. Had I known, I might have saved it for my December TBR, as my holiday selections are a bit sparse.  But I didn’t.  So if anyone is looking for a holiday season read that’s a little different, I highly recommend True Pretenses.

 

 

 

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October TBR- Hunting Witch Hazel by Heather Novak

This year, I’m rockin’ the novellas.

What began as an extended homework project, as I attempted to write my own novella (which I finished, stay tuned for more on that topic) has turned into full-blown love for fun-sized fiction. Since it’s almost Halloween, what better time to enjoy the book equivalent of a mini Kit-Kat bar?

For October’s Paranormal read, I picked Hunting Witch Hazel by Michigan author Heather Novak, whom I had the pleasure of meeting this summer at Rust City Book Con in the Detroit area.  Heather and I were on an author panel discussing settings and world building—I was talking about Russian figure skating and Heather was talking about the UP.

For those outside the Midwest, that’s Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a beautiful, remote and slightly spooky region of forests, tiny towns, supper clubs, lighthouses and snow. Lots of snow. Heather’s college was in the UP and said she was inspired by the feeling of magic that the place has. I totally got it, and picked up a copy of her debut,

“Hunting Witch Hazel.”

This New Adult novella is set on a fictional college campus in the UP, which seems to have more than its share of magical residents—witches, demon-girls, werewolves, and a ghost.  The heroine, Hazel Evanora, is a witch with a dead sister only she can see, a mother who became addicted to black magic and whose debts Hazel is struggling to pay.  The hero, Grayson Lynch, is a witch hunter from a family of notorious witch hunters who wants to capture Hazel’s powers and barter them for his brother’s freedom.

I really enjoyed Hazel, Grayson, and the colorful cast surrounding them, including Hazel’s ghostly sister Romi, and her friends Raine and Frank.  Grayson, as the new guy in town, attracts Hazel’s interest, though she’s not sure she can trust him.  Grayson is instantly taken with Hazel and sympathetic to her desperate financial situation. This complicates his mission to steal her powers, which she’s selling off bit by bit to pay her mother’s debt.  I also liked how the author paralleled Ginger Evanora’s black magic addiction to a drug addiction, which made it easy for non-magical folks (and readers) to wrap our brains around.

Where I struggled, was with feeling like I’d walked into a movie fifteen minutes late, and had to detangle the various plot threads with incomplete information, especially when it came to Grayson, his family, and his captured brother. In fairness, this could be due to my disjointed and distracted reading during a hectic month, but for a short book, this was a complex story which might have been better served by a longer format.  But overall, I liked the characters, Novak’s writing, and her enjoyably weird world, and will give the next book in the Lynch Brothers series a try.

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September #TBR Challenge

For September’s Wild Card theme, I chose a book I heard a lot about earlier this year. I picked up a copy of Sinner’s Creed at the Berkley signing at RWA16, intending to use it as a giveaway for my mailing list.  But I read the first chapter and was hooked.

Sinner’s Creed is set in the world of outlaw bikers and according to her bio, author Kim Jones is part of that world as a biker’s “ol’ lady.” It’s not a pretty world. But the two main characters and their story—told entirely from the hero’s POV– was so compelling, I kept on reading, even though I knew the story would go places I wouldn’t like.

Dirk is a Nomad, a roaming assassin for the Sinner’s Creed motorcycle club. He’s never known another life and considers himself an unredeemable monster.  The one bright spot in his life are his chance encounters with a beautiful blonde girl from a world far removed from his.  Saylor is innocent, and to Dirk, an angel out of his reach. But one day, he finds her walking along the side of the road in tears, demanding that he take her with him when he leaves town.

He does.

Dirk’s life as a Nomad doesn’t allow room for attachments or love, but with Saylor he finds both. He changes, and though he’s still part of a brutal world, he’s never cruel to Saylor.  But Saylor has a secret, and without spoilers, I can’t reveal it, beyond saying that it ends hope for an HEA, at least in the conventional sense. 

Dirk doesn’t expect he’ll find happiness, but romance readers do expect it, which is why this book raised such a controversy when it was released.  I won’t weigh in on whether Sinner’s Creed qualifies as a romance, but it is an excellent example of why the RITA Awards need a category for Fiction with Romantic Elements. This book was well-written, with fully developed characters acting out a compelling story in a vividly depicted world.

 

***SPOILER ALERT***

 

While I won’t debate Sinner’s Creed’s romance novel bonifieds, I will offer another view on this book, one some may find just as unexpected. Despite the sex, drugs, violence and f-bombs, Sinner’s Creed is at heart, an inspirational romance. Saylor’s faith is an integral part of her character, and in an early scene, Dirk finds her kneeling in prayer on the floor of gas station restroom. Though Dirk considers himself beyond redemption Saylor doesn’t, and near the end of the book, he prays the sinner’s prayer, well-known to Christians.  It’s not a big, climactic moment, but a quiet one of only a few lines. Yet it completes Dirk’s journey and insures his reunion with Saylor.  While it’s not a conventional HEA, it’s deeply moving.

While fans of traditional inspy might be put off by the crude language, sex and violence of Dirk and Saylor’s world, I highly recommend Sinner’s Creed to those looking for a faith element in a gritty mainstream romantic novel.  It’s not an easy book to read, and plenty about it will break your heart, but don’t be afraid to climb on and enjoy the ride.

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July and August #TBR Challenges

 

It’s time to double up on my TBR Challenge. While I’ve been keeping up with the reading, I can’t say the same for the posts. Between conferences, finishing one project and starting a new one, I’ve fallen a bit behind. But I’ve genuinely enjoyed the books I read, without further ado, here are my #TBRChallenge reads for July and August.

 

July #TBR RITA Finalist/Winner

Fire Me Up- Kimberly Kincaid

 

I chose this book because I met Kimberly Kincaid at the 2016 Barbara Vey Reader Weekend and Fire Me Up is a 2016 RITA Finalist for Best Long Contemporary.

 

I was drawn to the story mostly because of the bad boy chef hero.Despite the cover, the book has little to do with motorcycles, beyond the initial crash that brings together hero Adrian Holt, and EMT heroine Teagan O’Malley, and sidelines Adrian with a broken collarbone.

For Adrian, being unable to work is more than an inconvenience. An ex-convict now on parole, he moved to Pine Mountain to work in the local resort’s fine dining restaurant, and avoid any trouble that could make his hateful parole officer send him back to the big house. But the kitchen is the only place where Adrian knows control and stability, and eight weeks away from it feels one step closer to his old, chaotic life. At loose ends, he ends up a local pub one night, only to discover that the incompetent short-order cook fumbling her way through backed-up orders is Teagan.

Teagan despises the kitchen but has taken over running her father’s bar and grill after he suffers a stroke. Adrian offers his assistance that first night, and returns the next night, drawn by both Teagan and the heat of the…um…kitchen. He offers to help Teagan run the Double Shot while he’s recuperating, provided everything is on the up and up. Teagan assures him it is, only to discover that her dad is in debt to a local shark to the tune of $15,000.

Adrian and Teagan have hot chemistry, and for a bad-boy, there’s a sweet, tender side to Adrian that I loved. He’s also the first hero I think I’ve ever read with platinum hair. Teagan is the classic caretaker who has devoted her life to watching over her father, but she’s not a sheltered pushover. In fact, she’s the decision-maker everyone turns to in a crisis.  She’s tough—not in a kiss-ass sense, but in a capable sense. But occasionally, she tires of all the responsibility and watching Adrian support and care for her was one of my favorite parts of the story.

Something else I loved about Fire Me Up, was that the story and central problem—how to raise $15K pronto, felt very real.  There’s not a lot of glamour in Teagan and Adrian’s world, but there’s a love for family, community, a life’s business, and of course food. Fans of small-town romance, open to characters that are bit of a departure from the typical firefighter hero/sweetshop-owner heroine, should give Fire Me Up a read.

 

August #TBR- Kickin’ It Old School

Only In Your Arms by Tracy Cozzens

 

Published in 2000, this book fit the criteria for the August challenge, which was to read a book more than ten years old.  I discovered it through a recent Retro Review on Super Librarian Wendy’s website and ordered a 50-cent copy of the long-out of print historical from Thriftbooks.

 

While I was initially wary of the mullet-ed hero on the cover, I loved Only In Your Arms.

Set in the early 1600s, this cross-class romance turns the trope upside down, as well-born Lady Judith Ashton falls for poor Shakespearean actor, Marcus Sinclair.

 

I won’t go into all the plot twists and turns, other than to say that there many, and they give the story something of a swashbuckling feel. While some of the dialogue sounds jarringly modern (was “okay” used in 1602?), there’s a lot of interesting historical detail in this story. Cozzens provides insight into the life of an actor, puts us in the audience at the Globe Theater.  There’s even a cameo by the Bard himself.

 

But what’s best about this book are its vivid characters.  Some are despicable, others redeemable, and three I loved from the get-go; Marcus, Judith and Judith’s gutsy ladies maid, Audrey.

 

Low born Marcus is kind, handsome and noble. And though he’s viewed with disdain by the nobility, his love and sacrifice for Judith prove his sterling character. Wealthy Judith knows she must honor her father’s wishes and preserve her family’s name and legacy. Though they yearn for each other, both know that a match between a noblewoman and an actor is unthinkable. Audrey is protective, brave, and willing to stand up to an earl’s son’s advances, only to fall for him—as he falls for her.

 

It’s through this secondary romance that Cozzens effectively shows how in this world, well-born men had all the advantages. While Lord Richard’s match with a maid leaves his snobbish mother aghast, the men in his family applaud his choice of saucy, pretty Audrey.  On the other hand, loving outside her class gets Judith slapped, subjected to a humiliating physical exam to determine if her virginity is intact, and locked away in a tower. Marcus is brutally beaten on the street, only to end up in Newgate Prison.  I’ve read few Black Moments as black as this one.

 

Marcus and Judith get their HEA, but not because of a plot twist that reveals him as a long-lost prince in disguise.  Marcus’s station doesn’t change, but other characters do, and to me this was much more satisfying than a contrived “fairy tale” ending.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and thanks Wendy, for bringing it to my attention!

 

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