Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Writer Wednesday Interview: J Arlene Culiner

It’s a pleasure today to welcome J Arlene Culiner, whose latest book is A Swan’s Sweet Song, from The Wild Rose Press, although like me, she’s also had a book published by Crimson Romance.  Welcome, Arlene.
It’s a pleasure being invited by you, Stephanie. Thanks.





I liked the fact that A Swan’s Sweet Song has a very grown-up hero and heroine, who have both had some great life experiences.  Do you enjoy writing about mature characters?

Actually, I only write about mature characters. I really do think experience makes us more interesting. When we’re older, we have more to say, we’re not just guided by hormones or the desire to find a mate so we can reproduce. Mature characters can have great discussions; they know, finally, how to communicate — and, for me, that means their romance really does have a chance of lasting.


Sherry Valentine is a country singer and Carston Hewlett is a playwright.  What made you choose these jobs for your hero and heroine, and did you have to do a lot of research about the music and media worlds?

I certainly did — but that was a long time ago. I once worked for Radio France — I had a country music program — but my job wasn’t just to play music. I had to give the history of country music, tell about it’s origins. For that, I read enormously, talked to musicians, delved into archives, dug up the old country music recordings from the Library of Congress. So, the material was all there, sitting in the old folders in my house: all I needed was the funny, feisty character of Sherry Valentine to make all that research come alive. As for theatre, I have, off and on, been working as an actress all my life (I was in British filmmaker Andrew Rokita’s film, Sunflowers, last summer) so there was no great mystery there either — although I’ve never yet met a bachelor playwright as charming as my hero, Carston Hewlett. Sigh.


I loved the scene where Sherry and Carston get caught in the storm, because it's such a contrast to the shiny TV studio we see at the start of the book, and her glamorous stage persona.  What’s your favourite scene in the book?

I love that scene in the barn too. It gives us the first hint that Sherry and Carston are not really those glamorous glittery people most people think they are. There are other scenes that were a delight to write too: the cocktail party at the Midville Culture Festival, or the scene with the dreadful waitress in the Paradise Café. But maybe the most fun for me was the scene when Mrs. Brown gives birth to her piglets, after which we find out who the real Sherry and the real Carston are.


What’s your best piece of advice for newer writers? 

Write and re-write, and re-write, and re-write. Polish every paragraph; make sentences sing;  steer away from ALL name brands or designer labels (you can do better than that if you’re a writer; you’re not here to promote products). And never stop doubting.


Do you read books about writing, and if so, which would you recommend?

A wonderful writing classic from 1934 (I found my copy in a junk shop in Poole): Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande with John Braine’s introduction.


What about a favourite romance novel, or author, to read?

Another classic from 1932: Cold Comfort farm, by Stella Gibbons. It’s romance and satire along with humour.


Thanks for being on my blog today, and for allowing me to review A Swan’s Sweet Song.  I loved it, so hopefully some people who read this interview will be inspired to check it out.  Where can they find a copy, or find out more about your books?

Thanks so very much to you, Stephanie. Here are some links for buying a Swan’s Sweet Song:

http://authl.it/B00RVPIS88
http://www.wildrosepublishing.com
http://prod-www.kobobooks.com


A Swan’s Sweet Song
 A Contemporary Romance from The Wild Rose Press

The air sizzles when a country music star and renowned playwright meet, but can opposites fall in love?

The instant Sherry Valentine and Carston Hewlett meet, there’s desire and fascination in the air…but they’re complete opposites.
Smart-talking Sherry fought her way up from poverty to stardom as a country music singer. Now, she’s ever in the limelight, ever surrounded by clamoring fans, male admirers and paparazzi, and her spangled cowboy boots carry her all across the country, from one brightly lit stage to the next.
A renowned but reclusive playwright, Carston cherishes his freedom, the silence of his home in the woods and his solitary country walks.
Any long-term commitment is obviously out of the question: how about a quick and passionate fling?
But when their names are linked in the scandal press, Sherry’s plans to become an actress are revealed. And the budding relationship seems doomed.
Can you ignore a passionate attraction? Of course you can't. Carston soon decides he'll do anything in his power to bring Sherry into his orbit again. And that also means letting go of a few well-kept secrets...



Born in New York, raised in Toronto, J. Arlene Culiner has spent most of her life in England, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Hungary and the Sahara. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no real interest. Much to everyone's dismay, she protects all living creatures -- especially spiders and snakes -- and her wild (or wildlife) garden is a classified butterfly and bird reserve.
In her perfectly realistic contemporary romances, heroines are funny, and heroes are dashingly lovable. All are proudly over the age of forty.



http://www.j-arleneculiner.com
j-arleneculiner.over-blog.com
https://twitter.com/j-arleneculiner
https://www.facebook.com/pages/J-Arlene-Culiner

Book Review: A Swan's Sweet Song, by J. Arlene Culiner

I loved this sweet story about a country singer and a playwright.  Sherry Valentine is the queen of popular culture and Carston Hewlett is the king of high-brow theatre: Nashville meets New York Times.  When they’re thrown together for a radio interview, neither of them expects much of the occasion, but they quickly find that there’s more to each of them than first appearances suggest.  Sparks fly and they’re soon looking for opportunities to spend more time together. 

The mature hero and heroine of the story were totally believable, and I liked the fact that, while they both had a past which influenced their present-day feelings, their pasts weren’t overplayed.  Instead, the focus was purely on how things play out for them in the present, when Carston finds out about Sherry’s desire to become an actress.  While Sherry keeps her ambitions a secret because she doesn’t want to exploit Carston, his past experience makes him misread her intentions entirely.  The crossed wires here are totally believable and understandable, and this whole strand of the story is a thought-provoking exploration of how fear can get in the way of love. 

Both Sherry and Carston are attractive characters, and there are some lovely descriptions of people and places.  I also enjoyed the frequent humorous moments.  Sherry’s pushy manager provides some delightful comedy as well as some astute insights into her character.  But my all-time favourite scene was when Sherry and Carston were caught in the storm.  I’ll see hay barns and boy scouts in an entirely different way after reading this book!

Altogether, it was a sweet, funny, believable story, brought to a satisfying conclusion, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a love story with a mature hero and heroine, especially if, like me, you have a taste for showbiz.  

Friday, 20 February 2015

Book Review: The Spirit Rebellion

The Spirit Rebellion (The Legend of Eli Monpress, #2)The Spirit Rebellion by Rachel Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to this book without reading the first in the series, but it was immediately easy to follow and enjoy the fast-paced story. I’ve wanted to read a novel by Rachel Aaron since I came across her brilliant writers’ blog and how-to-guide, ‘from 2k to 10k’.  Could writing at speed really result, as she claimed, in compelling stories and flowing prose, or would the speed show up in the form of poor plotting or sloppy style?  Well, since coming across The Spirit Rebellion (book 2 in a series featuring the incorrigible thief Eli Monpress), I have my answer.  Despite the very occasional typo, The Spirit Rebellion is a superb story, well written, and I would have been proud to have produced it at any speed.

Eli Monpress is an entertaining character: a roguish wizard with a penchant for befriending waifs and strays, and accumulating priceless artefacts. Miranda, apart from being a Spiritualist, is more of your average girl-next-door type, and she’s not too happy about finding herself thrown into the midst of Eli’s chaotic way of life, especially when it leads to her expulsion from the Spirit Court, to which she’s dedicated her life. When Eli’s latest theft and Miranda’s new job bring them both to the Duke of Gaol’s citadel, they are thrown together again in a quest to vanquish the tyrannical ruler of the region.

Their quest pits them against some fearsome adversaries, and the book is peopled with an unlikely but fascinating cast of characters, including a demon-possessed girl, the West Wind, and Eli’s adoptive father. There’s never a dull moment in this high-speed adventure, and I’ll definitely be looking out for the rest of the series.


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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists

A Conspiracy of Alchemists (The Chronicle of Light and Shadow, #1)A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I bought this at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference in Sheffield, which means it's been sitting on my shelf an embarrassing eighteen months.  What finally prompted me to read it was my sudden fascination with steampunk, which resulted from being introduced to Lindsay Buroker's excellent 'Emperor's Edge' series.  Like the 'Emperor's Edge' series, 'Conspiracy of Alchemists' combines charming whimsy with darkly gritty realism.
Pilot Elle Chance wants nothing more than to fly her airship in peace, but when she agrees to ship a mysterious box back from Paris to London, she finds herself dragged into a dangerous quest to thwart the Alchemists’ plans for world domination. Throw in a mysterious stranger, a pocket absinthe fairy and a trip aboard the Orient Express, and you have the recipe for the ultimate magical mystery tour.
The historically realistic detail combined with lashings of magic and science make for an atmospheric read, while the high stakes in Elle’s adventure kept me turning pages relentlessly.
 No wonder this won Liesel Schwarz an award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association – although the book is so much more than just a romance!

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Sunday, 15 February 2015

Six Sentence Sunday: A Taste of Something New

In this week's snippet, a casual conversation over doughnuts (or donuts, for the benefit of the US market), leads Sal to get a taste of a new experience.  She wishes she knew what it felt like to be beautiful (at least, beautiful in a conventional, model-like way, since to Wulf she's already beautiful). And, of course, her own personal genie is happy to oblige.  


They walked and ate in silence as they approached the narrow door alongside the shop entrance.  Sal was surprised to see someone coming out of the building, also licking donut sugar off her fingers, despite being far too skinny and lovely to seem the type to go for junk food. 
And beside her was... the most beautiful man Sal had ever seen.  With familiar violet eyes and dark flowing hair.

She looked down at her fingers.  So did the woman in the doorway.  

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Writer Wednesday Interview: Zrinka Jelic

Today I am hosting fellow Crimson Romance author Zrinka Jelic.  Make sure to read to the end, as Zrinka is kindly offering an ecopy of Rose of Crimson or one of her other books to one lucky commenter.  

Welcome to my blog. I’ve never met a Zrinka before! Is it a Croatian name?

 
Thanks for having me on your blog today. It’s a pleasure to be here. Yes, Zrinka is a Croatian name. It comes from an ancient noble family Zrinski. That last name still exist in Croatia, but the descendants are no longer nobles or they never been. During Feudalism serfs often assumed or were given their masters’ last name as a stake or claim on their lives.

You live in Canada now. Do you make use of your different travel experiences in your stories?

Yes, for over twenty years now I’ve been calling Canada my new home. I always use experiences from my travel in my stories, however sometimes readers have a hard time believing certain things, like you cannot rent a car with automatic gear shift everywhere on this planet. I can’t speak for the entire Europe, but in Croatia this is a rarity. Though the rental agencies may advertise a small number of vehicles in their fleet with automatic shift, beware, the price for such cars is doubled if not tripled and the location you’re renting from may not have it, if you book online, that could be for a different location in a totally different town. But, I don’t often put troubles one can encounter while traveling abroad, there are many pleasant experiences that far outnumber the bad ones and you can expect that not absolutely everything will go smoothly on your travels.

Here in the UK, it's much more common to rent manual cars, but you can get an automatic if you ask nicely!  But that's enough about cars.  Tell us about your latest book.

My 5th novel is titled Rose of Crimson and it was released by Secret Cravings Publishing on December 23rd, 2014. This is a prequel to Bonded by Crimson which was published on January 15th, 2012. I started working on the prequel the day I was offered a publishing contract for Bonded by Crimson. Then it got pushed to the back burner while I worked on other projects. Since then I’ve written and published Treasured Chest, a pirate romance, Love Remains, a time travel romance and Deck the Halls, a Christmas novella.. 
Rose of Crimson is based on a Croatian legend from late 17th century. Local people like to refer to the tragic love story as their Romeo and Juliet, only in this version the young lovers (Miljenko & Dobrila) are from feuding aristocratic families who would stop at nothing to keep them apart. Even when Dobrila’s father accepted the offered hand of peace, he couldn’t deal with the fact that Miljenko won and took his daughter.
However, Rose of Crimson is not a historical romance. In the book the hero, Miles—he shortened it from Miljenko—telepathically projects his story onto the heroine, Kate—who has a special connection with him through her ancestor. I wanted to present the passages of his past life differently than just jump from past to present through the chapters. I wanted a reader to know when we’re entering and exiting his story. Because, he sought her out to write down his story. Both books are stand alone, though the ending in Rose of Crimson may not leave you satisfied, Kate and Matthias do find their happily ever after in Bonded by Crimson.

Bonded by Crimson features a centuries-old immortal hero, and Love Remains includes an angel. What are the challenges of writing paranormal characters, and how do you overcome them?

Lately media plants images of flawless paranormal characters, e.g. vamps, wares, ghosts. They are exceptionally great looking, rich, forever young, hip, and cool, they can eat whatever and not gain weight, and I can’t help it but think this is some kind of a dream. We all wish this. However, these characters were at some point ordinary humans and as such they were flawed. If they continue to live they’d carry the same flaws into immortality. As the saying goes, the trouble with fiction is that it has to make sense. Many paranormal books are bogged down with demons, angels, vamps, and the world they live in. My paranormal books are light on the paranormal world, there’s just enough of it to fit the genre. Paranormal characters have some extraordinary skills or powers, but nothing too drastic. The most I gave to Matthias/Miles is the ability to block the part of the mind of the mortals that would allow them to see him, hence the invisibility, but they could bump into him since he’s present in body. Once he established the connection he is able to communicate telepathically.
The ghost in Love Remains can take an ordinary person and plant them into a what-if kind of life, as happened to Olivia who turned her back on love and family.  

What books or authors do you think have influenced you?

There were many big name authors, I read any genre. One that I’m very fond of is Arturo Perez Reverte, I love all his Captain Alatriste stories. At the moment I’m reading second in the series of A Song of Ice and Fire ; A Clash of the Kings and finding George R.R. Martin pretty influential. However, the only author I’m striving to be like is the better one I’ve been yesterday. In other words, I want to develop my own voice and style. I’ve seen new authors trying to emulate their favorite author, but that doesn’t work, it is simply not their voice or style.

Are you influenced by other media, like TV, film or art?

I don’t have a cable TV and after seeing what kind of program is on lately, I really don’t miss it, but I do love movies and yes, I’m influenced by them. I often think of what if that happened instead of this. That is how I get ideas for the new stories, put them in a different setting and voila. But I also like to resurrect old love legends that often end in tragedy and give them a whole new twist.

Where can we find out more about your books, and where are they available for sale?

Find me on:  Amazon  Facebook   Twitter 


Visit my  Blog   

And now for an excerpt:

He had pulled the door open and there she sat, on top of the steps. Hadn’t he told her to go home and pack? Wait, something was different about her. She was younger, a child almost. Her hair was tied in a high ponytail, her clothes…God almighty! She was naked, save for a few scraps. Could her breeches get any shorter? The threads hung loose form the frail hem, as if she put shears to her leggings. Her long, tanned legs were bare for all to see. Her shirt, if one could call it such, sleeveless, backless even, held by two thin straps tied around her neck, depicted a pony. Whoever put animals on their attire and with glittering mane of all things?
“Oh my God!” Kate screeched, but didn’t pull her hands out of his. “I remember this encounter. That’s me.”
“That is you. The last time I saw your great-great-grandmother was the first time I saw you.”
“Wicked.” Her voice carried her fascination. “It’s some kind of an omen.”
“Something or someone tried to tell me something,” he said. Maybe they were destined for one another, and nothing he did would keep them apart.
“Now I know why you scrutinized me as if I came from some other world. In your eyes, I did. To me you didn’t appear out of place. I thought you pulled your clothes from your grandpa’s chest for the local festivity. I figured the weakness that poured over me as a sign of heat or sunstroke.”
“How do you explain the rose I gave you?” He snickered at her last comment, the old clothes stored together with moth balls in squeaky chests with rusted hinges and used on occasions such as festivity to resurrect the old traditions and attract visitors.
Her long gaze and soft smile settled on him. If she was trying to play cool and not show how much she wanted him, her pretending failed. “My memory has faded a little since then, but I clearly remember you picking the flower and offered it to me. My mom is adamant that I picked it myself. She said good thing the custodian didn’t catch me.”
His heart sunk at the mention of the home he grew up in. It had been decades since he last touched its stone walls. The once mighty castle, closed for the family affairs, was now open for everyone to roam about for the price of the admission. At least the money generated was used to preserve the building and grounds, and employed a few people.
BLURB
KATE ROKOV‘s grades are plummeting. She needs to get the voice out of her head or she will flunk her finals.

MATTHIAS ZRIN, a three centuries old immortal, born into an aristocratic family as Miles Rušinić, is enthralled with Kate. It is his voice preventing Kate from sleeping and her ignorance is testing his limits. He wants her to write down his story to settle his wife’s earthbound spirit. His tragic love story has become Kate’s obsession since fifth grade during her summer trip to Rušinić castle.

You can pick up a copy for your
Please say hi to Zrinka in the comments, and make sure you leave your email address if you'd like to be in with a chance to win an ecopy of one of her books.  

Monday, 9 February 2015

Book Review: Yesterday People

Yesterday People: Book 3 of the Past Life SeriesYesterday People: Book 3 of the Past Life Series by Terri Herman-Poncé
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yesterday People is the first book I've read in the Past Life series and I was a bit concerned that I would be confused starting at book 3, but the author does a great job of feeding in exactly the information you need, from the gripping, terrifying beginning, through all the twists and turns of the present-day story and the snippets of the characters' past lives. You don't need to believe in reincarnation to enjoy the clever interweaving of history and reality as the lives of the central characters play out a situation that has evolved over centuries.
David Bellotti is an appealing hero who cares deeply for his partner and his daughter, and often makes the wrong decisions, but always for the right reasons. Lottie, too, is a believable, likeable character, though at times I lost sympathy with her a little when she found herself unable to resist the draw of the third person in the triangular relationship: Galen, a present-day friend and another player in their past life adventures.
Overall, this is a well-researched story told in a lively style: think Barbara Erskine meets Dan Brown. I will definitely go back and fill in on the first two books.

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Six Sentence Sunday: These Things Don't Happen

Six sentences from Djinn and Tonic in which Sal is more than a little confused.  She asks Wulf what's going on and he responds in typically cryptic fashion...

“We go to beach.  You wish it.  We here.”
“How come? I've wished a lot of things before. I wished to be a millionaire, and I'm still skint.  I wished that blond bitch on my course would fail and come out in boils, and she graduated with honours and just made the cover of Vogue.  And I wished for a perfect model...”
Oh!  That was the first wish to come true, when Wulf walked through the door.  So had some kind of a personal genie appeared overnight, and forgotten to mention it was granting her three wishes?

Things like that didn't happen.  Especially to invisible photographers surrounded by beautiful people.  If things were going to happen, they happened to people like Christina and Harriet and Simon, not to her.  

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Book Review: When God Was a Rabbit

When God Was a RabbitWhen God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wide-ranging story which could easily have taken the Austen-esque subtitle 'Love and Friendship'. Elly's relationships with her brother and best friend are at the heart of the story, but the backdrop of the story takes in many major events spanning several decades. From the death of Princess Diana to the fall of the twin towers, events are filtered through Elly's unique perspective. This is a rare story which is truly character driven yet remains totally absorbing even without a complex plot. This is mainly down to the fantastically drawn family relationships, but also the gentle, wry style of writing. Oh, and there's a rabbit. Called God.

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Six Sentence Sunday: A Trip to the Beach

Last week I started revising a paranormal story called 'Djinn and Tonic' and introduced you to the heroine, Sally, a photographer, and the hero, Wulf, a djinn, or genie.  This week, Sally makes a casual wish to get away from it all, and gets a bit more than she bargained for.  

Wulf took a step towards the door, and then another, and she found herself hurrying forward, feeling pulled faster than the movement of her feet suggested.  At the threshold, she stumbled, and she let go of his hand to catch herself against the door frame. 
It wasn't there.

“What the...?” This was too weird for any normal swearword to do it justice.  Instead of bruising herself against the door frame, she'd tumbled forward, through where the wall should have been, and landed sprawling in warm sand.  She looked around for the studio that should have been behind her, and thought she caught a glimpse of black spinning off into the distance, but now there was nothing to see but the rolling waves.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Book Review: What Belongs to Her

What Belongs to HerWhat Belongs to Her by Rachel Brimble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

     I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Templeton Cove for the story of Sasha Todd, manager of the fairground once owned by her family. This clearly isn't an easy situation for her, and it only gets worse when John Jordon, estranged son of the current owner, appears to take up the reins. It's obvious from the start that there is chemistry between Sasha and John, and equally obvious that neither of them will easily accept their attraction to the other.
     Rachel Brimble excels at depicting the dance of a developing relationship, with all the cautious steps forward and scurries backward, and in Sasha and John she's created two people with a great many reasons to dance around each other, including Sasha's painful past and John's father's dubious business practices.
     'What Belongs to Her' is an apt title in so many ways. Sasha's initial belief is that the fairground should belong to her, despite the legal obstacles in the way, because she loves it. But when she starts falling for John, she has to question whether love and ownership are, or should be, linked, and whether her past is hers alone, or whether she'll have to share it in order to move forward.
     Harlequin's superromances allow much more space, for a good cast of characters and a real depth to the hero and heroine, than the shorter category romances, and 'What Belongs to Her' makes good use of the space to develop an absorbing story set in an appealing location which I always look forward to visiting.

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Six Sentence Sunday: When Sally Met Wulf

I've been looking through some stories I wrote a while ago and I found this. Originally titled 'What You Wish For', then changed to 'Djinn and Tonic', it's my first attempt at a paranormal, and I'm thoroughly enjoying rewriting it based on the feedback given to me by a few kind friends at the time, so I may bring you a few tasters from the story over the next few weeks. Today, here's the moment when the heroine Sally, a goth fashion photographer, meets the hero, Wulf, a model who also happens to be a djinn, or genie, and therefore able to grant her wishes. Not that she knows that... yet.

Sal had always been a sucker for goths, and she saw a lot of them around town as well as in the course of her work, but this model was something else. Lean legs encased in smooth black gleamed under the lights, and the tight trousers gave her a good idea what else there was worth drooling over. 

“You don’t fall for models,” she scolded herself mentally.

The midnight eyes turned in her direction and she felt a warm glow spreading across her cheeks.

“I am Wolf Ryder, and I am never walking away from a challenge.” His voice was accented, but clear and beautiful. He strolled towards Sal and offered her his hand.

Great.  A weird, gorgeous foreign guy who could read minds. That was all she needed.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Book Review: The Good, The Bad, and the Undead

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead (The Hollows, #2)The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's not always a good idea diving into a series midway through, but Kim Harrison does a good job of feeding in all the backstory you need to make sense of this witty, witchy romp. With echoes of Janet Evanovich and Charlaine Harris in the tone, and a varied cast of supernaturals including vampires, weres, pixies and elves, there's plenty to lift 'The Good, The Bad and the Undead' above your average paranormal, including a complicated plot and a well-developed schema of magic, both good and bad. Witch and former bounty hunter, Rachel Morgan is an entertaining and likeable heroine with a reckless streak wider than a major freeway. She rooms with a vampire (reformed, but only just), enjoys challenging the authority of bad boy businessman Trent, and has a human boyfriend who conjures demons. All in all, Rachel is asking for a whole heap of trouble, and Kim Harrison makes sure she gets it. You may love or hate the whole supernatural mash-up thing, but you certainly won't be bored.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Book Review: What a Woman Desires

What a Woman DesiresWhat a Woman Desires by Rachel Brimble
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So nice to read a historical novel with a heroine who's strong and gutsy, without being insanely anachronistic. Monica Danes left Biddestone for the bright lights of Bath's Theatre Royal after a distressing incident with an unsuitable suitor. She's vowed never to go back, and the only thing that could change her mind is the knowledge that after her father's death, her mother and sister desperately need her help. Still, she plans to make her visit as brief as possible, but fate has other plans for her.
Her mother's illness, her sister's loneliness, and the terms of her father's will conspire to tie her to the village, and then of course there's Thomas, her father's former groom and right-hand man, who's so obviously destined for Monica that the question is not whether, but how, the couple can breach society's carefully constructed walls to be together. While Monica is a little more daring than the average period heroine, Thomas could easily have stepped out of the pages of one of Hardy's more cheerful books. Like Gabriel Oak, he's the perfect true-hearted Englishman, and it's a pleasure to see him come into his own over the course of a story which has plenty of character development on all sides.
Talking of characters, there are some delightful minor characters and several who seem to deserve their own stories. In particular, I'm keen to know what becomes of Jane once she's finally freed of the constraints of her tyrannical father and moaning mother. All in all, from the quiet confines of Biddestone to the flicker of footlights in the city, this is a beautifully drawn world which welcomes the reader in and doesn't let go easily. A must read.

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Monday, 12 January 2015

Book Review: The Next Always (Inn at Boonsboro)

The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro, #1)The Next Always by Nora Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a Nora Roberts fan for a while and this is one of my favourites (although come to think of it, I often say that about the last one I read!)
Clare and Beckett are old friends and there's no manufactured conflict between them, just a gentle journey towards making room for each other in their lives and hearts.
Clare is cautious after losing her husband, a soldier, while pregnant with their third child, and Beckett is busy renovating the Inn of the title, so neither of them is looking for love, but of course, that's when love is most likely to come looking for you...
With a little help from the honeysuckle-scented haunter of the Inn, they find plenty of things they're not looking for, and a thoroughly satisfying ending.

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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Book Review: Don't Tell the Groom

Don't Tell the GroomDon't Tell the Groom by Anna Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read the blurb for 'Don't Tell the Groom', I found it hard to believe that I would sympathise with the heroine, Penny. What kind of a person gambles away her wedding fund, then instead of coming clean, decides to organise the wedding on a shoestring budget, all the while piling lies upon untruths to her husband-to-be? The answer, according to Anna Bell, is a confused, well-meaning and very endearing one!
It's easy to see how one thing leads to another for Penny, and there is never an easy moment when she could turn round and say, 'Well, actually...' So she forges ahead with her plan, and discovers hitherto untapped reserves of creativity and compassion. I usually wince when promised 'hilarious results', but in this case I did find myself laughing out loud at some of Penny's antics, as well as choking up at some of the more emotional moments. Although some of the comedy is a little predictable, 'Don't Tell the Groom' is a sweet, funny and thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

Book Review: Christmas at the Cove

Christmas at the CoveChristmas at the Cove by Rachel Brimble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always enjoy a visit to Templeton Cove, Rachel Brimble's imaginary - but oh-so-real - seaside town. This visit had me on tenterhooks as sensible Carrie returned to the scene of her totally out-of-character one night stand on a mission to track down the father of her child. Bring on Scott, the sexy garage owner with a massive (but entirely understandable) case of commitment phobia, and the scene is set for a hugely emotional trip.
The Christmas setting adds another emotional dimension, as does Scott's endearing attempt to rescue his entire household of female relatives, including his mother, whose reunion with Scott's absent father looks set to end in trouble. All in all, Christmas at the Cove is a tear-jerker with just the right amount of humour, some hot romance to warm the cold winter nights, and some important life lessons, all wrapped up in a pretty, seasonal package.

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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Book Review: How I Wonder What You Are

How I Wonder What You AreHow I Wonder What You Are by Jane Lovering
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite its nursery-rhyme title, 'How I Wonder What You Are' is a sophisticated read. I wanted to say 'adult' but that would imply a 50 shades-esque level of steam, whereas 'How I Wonder' simmers gently with sexual tension throughout.
Molly finds Phinn lying naked on the moors and carts him home with the help of an obstructive pony named Stan, so she knows a good deal from the start about his impressive physique. However, despite his high public profile as a professor of Astrophysics, Phinn turns out to have secrets galore, while Molly herself isn't quite the open book she pretends to be.
Like so many of Jane Lovering's books, this is a story of two wounded souls finding healing through a relationship which is by turns hilarious and touching. The romance is always front and centre, and plays out against a delightful backdrop of village life and the quest Phinn and Molly share, to understand the origins of the mysterious lights which hover over the moors at night. Could they be UFOs? Or even UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, which is apparently the latest term for mysterious flying objects)?
The mystery is finally solved in a whimsical but believable way, while the romance too is perfectly wrapped up at the end of the story. In Choc Lit's ever-expanding galaxy of romance writers, Jane Lovering is surely one of the brightest stars, and 'How I Wonder' is the perfect story of love, redemption, and of course, celestial bodies, to curl up with this Christmas.

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Possibly the oddest short story collection I have read this year. Definitely the most fun.


What, No Pudding
by Sheila North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed these stories by Sine fm presenter Sheila North. I'm particularly fond of Penelope, Queen of the Dole Queue. Sometimes it seems as if people in stories just don't live in the same world as us, but in this story Sheila North drags a mythical character kicking and screaming into reality. When Odysseus clears off on his round the world voyage, Penelope struggles to make ends meet, and soon finds herself pondering just how to answer the question about marital status on the benefit application form.
Turf Wars similarly blends reality and fantasy, in an improbable but oh-so-entertaining account of garden fairies running wild in a South Yorkshire backwater.
Then there are Bill the dragon and the defenestrated Bede.  I've been waiting a long time for a story which justifiably uses the word 'defenestrated'.  Sheila makes it worth the wait, with her charming tale of a nearly-flameless dragon and a life-changing encounter in an alehouse.
Quirky, funny and feisty, this is a story collection with a difference. Oh, and it's a quick read, with an adorable dragon on the cover, drawn by the talented Tom Brown!  What's not to love?!

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Romance Writing fun in 2015

Looking ahead to 2015, I've just spotted that Mills and Boon novelist extraordinaire, Kate Walker, has posted links to some courses she's involved with next year.  So now there's a new item on my Christmas wish list - the Relax and Write weekend at Weetwood Hall in March - handy for us northerners, just outside Leeds.  She's also teaching a workshop at the Fishguard Writing Weekend in February... but as a real-life romantic I have other ideas about Valentine's weekend, so I'll be giving that one a miss!!!!!

If you're curious about these or her other courses, the full post is here:

http://kate-walker.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/courses-for-2015.html

If you want to learn more about writing romance and don't feel like traveling or the budget doesn't permit, I thoroughly recommend Kate's invaluable Twelve Point Guide to Writing Romance.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Christmas

This time last year my sweet Christmas novella, 'The Santa Next Door' had just released.  I might have to re-read it to get back in a seasonal mood.  In the meantime, I've been reminding myself of my favourite things about Christmas by re-reading a blog post I wrote last year for Sarah Cass's 'Redefining Perfect' blog, about my top 10 ways to prepare for Christmas.  Why not pop over there and see how many of them you agree with?
http://redefiningperfect.com/top-ten-tuesday-stephanie-cage-talks-christmas/



Sunday, 19 October 2014

Book Review - Falling Apart

Falling ApartFalling Apart by Jane Lovering
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like several other reviewers, I couldn't quite imagine how Falling Apart would live up to the promise of Vampire State of Mind. So Jess and Sil are fabulous characters, but hey, once you've saved the world from demons the first time, then anything else starts to look a bit tame in comparison. Shoes and paperclips are all very well, but they just don't set the heart beating in quite the same way as magic and mayhem.
However, Falling Apart has all the magic and mayhem a girl could wish for. From the start, it's obvious to the reader that there's a good reason for Sil's bad behaviour (and I don't just mean the flirting with anything in skirts variety, more the dangerous blood-letting sort), but it's equally clear why Jess assumes the worst of him. There's high drama both in the relationship stakes and on the streets of York, and Jane even manages to sneak in the odd political point (I think, although that may have been an accident) in the form of the highly comic scenes involving unionised zombies (yes, really!).
Like Vampire State of Mind, this is a highly enjoyable romp through the streets of an alternative York (with a brief but significant excursion to Whitby). It also made me cry. In a good way.


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Thursday, 9 October 2014

The rise of the virtual party

So, I have a new hobby.  I find this new pastime perfectly suits both my innately social personality and my inherent laziness.  By attending facebook parties, I can chat to my heart's content with fascinating people all over the world, and I don't need to touch a mascara wand or a pair of straighteners, much less try to work out which of my several dozen party dresses will be new to this particular combination of people, or whether I need to add yet another to the collection.
I know I'm a bit behind the curve here (let's face it, that's not uncommon for me) but I only recently discovered the delights of facebook parties, mostly thanks to Alexia Adams and friends' sterling efforts to publicise Sexy in the City.

I spent a delightful evening paying a virtual visit to my US-based writer friends, sharing stories and pictures of our favourite exotic locations, and discovering several fantastic new books (all part of the 'Sexy in the City' boxed set, which last time I looked was still on offer on Amazon.co.uk at the ridiculously low price of 46p).  And the best bit is that I don't just have a selection of drunken, lopsided selfies to show for my time - I can revisit the whole evening's conversations here any time I like: https://www.facebook.com/events/763827717015496/
As I write, I'm also dipping in and out of Charlie Plunkett's party to celebrate the launch of her inspirational ebook for writers, The Writer's Muse, which you can also find at a bargain price on amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Muse-Write-Bestseller-Inspiration-ebook/dp/B00NI6B7U0/.  Along the way, I discovered that Charlie is something of a kindred spirit, as she's not only a writer but also a former dancer (a real one, not just a hobbyist like me).
Remember that meme beloved of facebook addicts, 'I love my computer, because my friends are in it'?  That's me, that is!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

EXCERPT - Urgent: One Nanny Required by Olivia Logan

“I said—do you have any children?” The repeated question was spoken a lot slower and carefully enunciated this time, as if she herself were a child. The question, unbeknown to him, brought to the surface her secret, long held dream of having a child of her own. To raise her child to be loved and wanted, as she was never brought up. Never to be used as an accessory, then discarded when the party was over.

Rania shook her head sadly, partly to dispel the image and partly to answer his question, murmuring softly, “No. No, I don’t.”

She had a sneaky feeling the barriers she had long ago constructed were becoming more transparent with each passing minute of this conversation. His sharp gaze never seemed to miss a trick as he watched her smooth down her apron for the umpteenth time that evening.

“Why do you ask? Am I that much of a natural with children?” She smiled breezily.

Clearly, he was in no mood for jokes as her light-hearted comment fell on deaf ears and he continued to watch her through lowered lashes.

“You are with Theo. He rarely lets me even look at his prized comics, let alone ever sharing them with his nanny or a total stranger.” He paused, as if another thought had entered his handsome head. “What is your experience with children then?”

Where was he going with this? Rania knew she hadn’t had much experience with interviews, especially since taking over the shop from Belle, but this was strangely beginning to feel like one. As tempted as she was to tell him to mind his own business, she felt strangely compelled to carry on with the bizarre conversation. “Baby-sitting jobs here and there. Not a lot of those since running the shop. I’m a volunteer reader at the library during children’s hour on the weekend. Why?”

She could feel his eyes travel over her face, as if trying to pin something down. He nodded and she felt like he had already come to a decision though she had no idea what and how the hell it involved her.

“What about a boyfriend?”

Talk about coming out of left field! Turning swiftly, Rania busied herself rearranging the already pristine shelves. Her face flamed at the reminder that the last time she had a boyfriend or even gave herself time for one, Belle was still alive and that had been five years ago. The ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ tack was clearly what this situation called for.

“Boyfriend? Yes I’ve had those. So…?”

His impatient exhale was a sure sign her response had worked. Perhaps now he would back off and let her be. “Yes, I’m sure you did. What I would like to know is if you have one now?”

That did it. How dare he come into her shop and start questioning her about the state of her non-existent love life. If this had been an interview she would have sued…for something.

 “I’m not sure that is any of your business Mr.Trenton!”

“Just answer the damn question!” The sharp comment exhaled on a frustrated sigh had her turning around and facing him. This was too much.

“As I said, I don’t see how that is any of your business. To be honest, I’m beginning to wonder what’s with all the questions. What do you want, exactly?”

She knew as soon as the words left her lips that she was going to regret the answer. She could see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, his eyes steady as he looked at her.

“Miss George, I would like to hire you to be my son’s full-time nanny.”

*

He had to be joking.

However, judging from the serious look on his face, Rania didn’t think that was the case. “You can’t be serious. I mean, you hardly even know me and besides I can’t. Unless it’s escaped your attention; I have a shop to run and it’s very busy.”

He arched one eyebrow at her while looking around the shop. Rania knew what he saw; the paint peeling, the scratched flooring and the worn counter. Minor details she hoped to fix when business picked up again, as it surely would.

“If you insist.” He sighed, as if placating a child. “What I am suggesting will work out for both of us. Theo has his half term coming up in a week’s time and I am flying out to the States for a big production commercial. He obviously likes you and I have a feeling he won’t run away from you.”

“And this works out for me how?”

“I will pay you double what you earn here which should be enough to cover any repair expenses your shop may or may not need,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets and fixing her with his glacial gaze.

What was it about this man that rendered her speechless; something she was sure she had never encountered before tonight. “I can’t just up and leave. What about getting someone to cover my shop?”

“Do you have someone to cover? A trusted friend, maybe, or reliable weekend help you could ask?”

Yes, she did; damn it. Chewing on her lower lip, she nodded, annoyed to see a wide grin begin to spread on his too-handsome face.

“You’ve got a week till the half term. Here’s my card, in case you have any further questions,” he said, digging in his back pocket and producing an immaculate ivory card with black embossed letters on the front.
“C’mon, Theo. Ready to go?” he asked as the reason for this whole situation bounded through the door toward a navy Jaguar outside.

“Bye, Belle. See you later!”


Lifting a hand to wave him off, she didn’t see a point in correcting him. After all, she wasn’t going to take the offer…was she?


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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

EXCERPT: Kirby by Samantha Molina

The next day arrived entirely too fast. Training lasted until well past midnight, leaving Rachel to function on less than six hours of rest. It’s only six months, she reminded herself, and you’ll be junior editor in no time.

She stood in line at the coffee shop beneath the building that housed Equinox Publishing, her eyes burning from lack of sleep. Certain that a frappe would make the world right again, she waited patiently to place her order. Her patience was rewarded with quick service, and she held her iced coffee drink lovingly as she scooped it up from the counter. Sleepily, she suppressed a yawn and turned to head upstairs where, undoubtedly, another stack of wasted manuscripts awaited her attention. Rachel hadn’t taken five steps, when her toe caught on the edge of one of the rugs. It sent her falling forward; her frappe went flying ahead of her.

“Oh!”

Before the exclamation had completely escaped her lips, she felt a pair of hands grab onto her. The floor rushed up toward her face, then away again as she was yanked into a standing position. Disoriented, she grabbed onto the mystery arms for dear life. A familiar voice boomed above her.

“Good God, how do you make it to work?"

Rachel’s breath caught in her throat and she realized she was caged in a pair of strong massive arms. Her eyes trailed upward, past a strong chest and a sprinkling of hair. Her gaze extended further and she finally saw his face. Those eyes, the smile that dripped with swagger.

Hottie McCoffeehouse.

His arms locked around her waist, he looked down and smiled. “Really, gorgeous – we have got to stop meeting like this."

Rachel’s breath left her body in a low steady stream. His lopsided grin was covered in a few days growth, and his hair fell forward in unruly black waves over the sides of his face as he towered over her.

Wow, she breathed inwardly, and it occurred to her that the heat of his body would unglue her if she stayed in his arms any longer. Forcing herself to stand, she pulled away from him. She found herself shaking the cobwebs out of her head as she looked at him...again.

“Do you just go to random coffee shops and wait for women to fall into your arms?”

Joe let out a throaty chuckle, deep and masculine. Rachel's body ignited with tiny little sparks, and she fought to hold them down. "Not usually, but if you’re the one that keeps falling, I may have to look into a career change.”

And there was that lopsided grin again. Rachel wanted to groan just looking at him. She figured him to be six feet five, less than 300 pounds. Every single inch of Hottie McCoffeehouse was solid, and her eyes widened as he began to take his blazer off.

“What...what are you doing?"

“Huh,” he replied, oblivious to the fact that she was mentally undressing him, “Oh, you got my blazer with your frappe. I’m just going to get it off..."

Rachel could’ve sworn the heavens had just opened up. Beneath the dark blazer he wore a white V-neck that fit him like a second skin, probably because of his size. With every movement of his well-muscled torso, the shirt threatened to tear at the seams.

Rachel averted her gaze, refusing to absorb any more of the raw sexual energy that seemed to ooze out of him.

“I’m so sorry about that,” Rachel stammered, keeping her head down, “It’s a...it's a nice blazer."

Hottie McCoffeehouse grinned, finally appearing to tune into the way he was affecting Rachel.

“It’s all right,” he replied, placing a hand under her chin and looking her in the eye.

“Listen, that’s twice in less than a month that you’ve ended up in my arms. Don’t you think we should at least have dinner now?"

Rachel’s eyes widened as his touch burned her skin. It was insanely electric; could he feel it too? She stepped backward and away from him, blushing uncontrollably.

“Yeah,” Rachel spoke, slowly, “That’s probably not the best idea...but thank you for the offer, Mister...?"

“Joe,” he smirked, allowing her to pull away, “Just call me Joe. And I’ll tell you what, if this happens again --"

“If what happens again?” Rachel asked, “If I fall?”

Joe chuckled. “If you trip again, and I’m there to catch you, then you have to have dinner with me. Agreed?"

Rachel closed her eyes with a grin, opening them again to meet his gaze. "Fair enough, Joe."

“I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you again,” he closed the gap between them.

Rachel tried to remain composed as he towered over her. "I'm sure you do, Joe."

Joe smiled, seemingly amused by her refusal to react to his advances. He stared at her for a moment, his eyes darkening as a mischievous grin appeared on his face. The tiniest of growls escaped his parted lips, and Rachel's breath caught in her throat. She nearly hit the floor. Without another word, he turned and walked away.


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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

EXCERPT Singapore Fling by Alexia Adams

“Sorry I’m late,” Lalita said as she rushed into the boardroom. She took her seat at the opposite end of the table to Jeremy and ran a shaking hand over her hair. Raising her eyes, she met Jeremy’s concerned stare and did her best to paste a reassuring smile on her face. Conversation buzzed around her as she stared out the window. When Lalita noticed a prolonged silence, she pulled herself back to the present. Twenty pairs of eyes stared at her.

“Lalita? I asked if you wanted to make any final comments before we wrap up?” Jeremy repeated.

“Oh…ah…just to thank everyone for their cooperation and hard work in making Evans International a success. In my discussions with the CEO last week, he indicated that we are on track for a record-breaking year and that Asia is leading the corporation in both new products and new partners. Thanks to you!” Lalita concluded with a round of applause and hoped her smile reached her eyes.

Taking her words as dismissal, the men and women gathered around the board table stood, some bowing, some waving to her in farewell. The room cleared and Jeremy perched one butt cheek on the table in front of her. His long, muscular leg blocked her escape.

“Tired?” He searched her face.

“A little, after three nights with meetings running to after ten, then up at dawn to catch the regular European and American conference calls. Thankfully, tomorrow is a slow day, no meetings or calls and we fly to Manila at four in the afternoon.”

“Is there any chance you’ll actually rest tomorrow?”

“Oh, there’s always a chance,” Lalita replied, trying to laugh off Jeremy’s concern. She pushed back her chair and stood to put some distance between them. The heat radiating off his body caused her blood to simmer. His spicy aftershave lured her to lean in closer and see if he tasted as fabulous as he smelled.

Jeremy reached out and grabbed her arm, preventing her from leaving.

“Seriously, Lalita, I’m concerned. You’ve been late for two meetings and left in the middle of three others. You’re distracted and anxious. Is there something happening at head office?”

“No, nothing, everything is fine. And you’re doing a very good job. I expected some resistance to your new ideas, but you present them in such a way that everyone is straight on-board.”

“Nice try, but you can’t deflect my concern. We’re talking about you, not me.”

“I apologize if I’ve been a bit preoccupied. I’ll try to behave in a more professional manner.”

“I don’t care if you lead the next round of managers on a naked conga line through the offices. What’s upsetting you? Surely we’ve spent enough time together that you know you can trust me.”

“Can I? Trust you? You’re the Director of Marketing. Spin is your game.”

“Spin is my job. I’m your…friend, Lalita. Anything you share stays between us. Please, I want to help.”

Lalita stared into his blue eyes for a long time, trying to decide if he was genuine. Jeremy was always on show, his charm entrancing everyone he met. But deep down, she did feel she could trust him. In the two weeks they’d spent together, he had shown real concern for her.

“It’s nothing, just a minor personal problem. It will be resolved in a few days. I’ll try not to let it disturb the rest of your presentations.”

“A personal problem? Are you okay? You’re not ill, are you?”

“I’m fine. Everything is fine. I plan to sleep in tomorrow, shall we meet for lunch?” Lalita scrambled to redirect the conversation. Jeremy stared at her as if he could see into her soul.

“You are the most frustrating woman I have ever met. What will it take to get through that thick, ultra-professional skin of yours?” Jeremy pulled her toward him. Off balance, Lalita put her hands on his chest. Looking up to see what he was about she had just a millisecond before his lips descended and took hers in a rough, passionate kiss.

With a mind of their own, her hands crept around Jeremy’s neck and buried themselves in his hair. The kiss became gentler, teasing, tempting. Jeremy plundered her mouth with his tongue, seeking out the inner essence, her secrets. He wasn’t asking for surrender, he challenged and taunted until Lalita kissed him with every ounce of her strength and passion.

Her self-control sputtered once before spiraling to its demise. Jeremy pulled back a fraction, his breathing as ragged as hers. Sipping at her lips, he then trailed small kisses across her cheek to her ear. He nibbled at her earlobe, his breath hot against her skin.

“That answers one question, at least,” he murmured.

Lalita’s overheated brain tried to make sense of the words. “What question?” she managed at last. Her voice seemed drugged even to her own ears.

“The question of whether or not I had built up our previous kisses in my mind. Whether the passion of five years ago was something I’d over imagined. Or whether it’s true—that one touch from you and my blood turns into molten lava, consuming all rational thought in its path.”

“And the answer is?” Lalita was half afraid of the reply.

“That my memory hadn’t remembered half of the heat. Kissing you is the single most mind-blowing experience of my life and as addictive as the most potent drug known to man. I’m going to kiss you again, Lalita, just to make sure.”

“Jeremy…” Lalita began, but ended on a moan as his lips retraced their way along her cheek and claimed her mouth once again.

A million points of light shattered behind Lalita’s closed eyelids and it took a full thirty seconds before she could make sense of the knocking she heard.

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