Category Archives: Book Talk

Mary’s Favorites of 2016

Gosh, I cannot believe it’s the end of 2016 already! Where did the year go? (Please, dear Lord, tell me the rest of you feel this way and it’s not just me!)

Anyway, I don’t always get a chance to write reviews for books I’ve read and loved, so this is a great time to do an end-of-the-year recap and share with all of you some of my favorites from 2016! There are a few so – far warning – you should hide your wallet if you don’t want to be tempted!

Infiltration (Omega Sector Series Book 1) by Janie Crouch
Romantic Suspense released by Harlequin Intrigue on December 14, 2014

The wrong place at the wrong time; that’s the only way Sophia Reardon could explain her predicament. She wasn’t even an FBI field agent and now she was being taken hostage. By her ex-boyfriend Cameron Branson. The moment Sophia walked into his undercover operation, Cameron warned her that his employers would want to break her. So keeping her by his side, pretending not to have feelings for her, was the best way to maintain his role in the dangerous organization, and the only way to keep them both safe. Because if they got their hands on her, she could expose him and his secrets. And then they’d no longer have any reason to keep her around.

I loved, loved this book. Actually, I really like Janie Crouch in general. She writes fast-paced romantic suspense with great characters and interesting plots. This one was no exception. Cam is protective but sensitive. He knows Sophia doesn’t have any reason to trust him, and yet, he works hard to show her she can. Sophia is a smart heroine thrust into in a dangerous situation she is incredibly unprepared for. Her feelings and former relationship with Cam color her actions but they never came across as stupid or naïve. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves romantic suspense.

Triple Dare (The Art of Seduction Book 3) by Regina Kyle
Contemporary Romance released by Harlequin Blaze on November 17, 2015

Globe-trotting fashion photographer Ivy Nelson is home to help her family out of a jam. When she donates her services to a charity calendar, the last thing she expects is hunky firefighter—and object of all her hottest fantasies—Cade Hardesty to walk through the door. Cade is ready to get naked for a good cause, and the heat Ivy feels is anything but professional.

When a sexy dare turns into a scorching kiss, they can’t help but give in to their desires. But Cade wants Ivy in his bed for more than one night. Can the hometown firefighter convince the photographer that her wanderlust should lead her into his arms for good, or will one of them run before they both get burned?

This book was just plain fun. Low angst and lots of humor. I mean, it’s starts off with the heroine photographing the hero wearing nothing more than a sparkly g-string and a Santa hat while holding a kitten. Heaven help me, it doesn’t get any better than that! Both Ivy and Cade are likable characters and the story flows smoothly. Small town, friends-to-lovers and a nice supporting cast of characters round the romance out nicely. If you are looking to kill a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, this is exactly the book you should pick up.

Killing Trail (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery) by Margaret Mizushima
Mystery released by Crooked Lane Books on December 8, 2015

When a young girl is found dead in the mountains outside Timber Creek, life-long resident Officer Mattie Cobb and her partner, K-9 police dog Robo, are assigned to the case that has rocked the small Colorado town.

With the help of Cole Walker, local veterinarian and a single father, Mattie and Robo must track down the truth before it claims another victim. But the more Mattie investigates, the more she realizes how many secrets her hometown holds. And the key may be Cole’s daughter, who knows more than she’s saying.

The murder was just the beginning, and if Mattie isn’t careful, she and Robo could be next.

I’m a fan of mysteries and I adore dogs, so picking this up wasn’t a difficult choice. Mattie is a great character but untrusting. When she’s paired with Robo to form the first K-9 unit in her small town, it’s a real test for her – especially when they are thrown into their first case. Robo was his own character with a distinct personality. The mystery was well done and low on the angst side. An overall great read.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker
Contemporary Romance published by Carina on November 30, 2015

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard’s antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

I picked this up because I have a love affair with the theater and was hoping this novel would feed my adoration. It did. Yay! Plus it used one of my absolute favorite tropes: enemies-to-lovers. Needless to say, my recommendations for 2016 would not be complete without mentioning this book. Richard starts out as a real jerk, and what I really love is that by the end of the book he’s still kinda jerky. Not in a mean way – but in a grumpy, manly way. Lucy is strong and no push over, which is the perfect foil for Richard. They were a great couple and it was lovely to be along for the ride as they got their HEA.

That’s it, folks. Some of my favorite reads from 2016. Have any of you read these? What are some of your recommendations? (My TBR list can never be too long!)

SWHM Guest: Cecilia London

My friends, March is almost over, and I’ve let Smithsonian Women’s History Month pass quietly. There will likely be some changes at ALBTALBS (and ideally a more usual schedule – that’d be a change of pace for sure…) – and some “retroactive” posts… but as you see, we have the fantastic Cecilia London guesting with us, and she’s got a double relevant post – discussing Women’s History Month as well as her books – one of which is currently free. Whee!

My earliest political memory is of drawing a mustache on Walter Mondale while my best friend drew a beard on Ronald Reagan. We had just been handed a special election copy of Weekly Reader. Don’t judge me, or her…we were seven and in parochial school. I hadn’t yet realized that my parents were moderate to liberal independents with rebellious voting tendencies that have only gotten more radical with age. I was convinced I was a Republican.

Flash forward a few years to eighth grade, when I took a highly questionable test on a school computer that declared me a liberal. Liberal? From everything I’d been told, that was a very dirty word. I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it. But I embraced the results and zoomed head-on into high school.

By the time the 1992 elections came around, I knew the score. I’d watched the Hill-Thomas hearings. I’d gotten sick of seeing all those arrogant men acting like they owned the damn country. And I was ready to dedicate my life to public service. I wanted to be like my idols – Pat Schroeder, Geraldine Ferraro, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan – all the women I’d read about in the paper or seen on TV. I wanted to be a member of Congress.

I love political memorabilia.

Easier said than done, of course. I supported Jerry Brown up until the convention, when I finally admitted that Clinton was going to be the nominee. I had hope in Bill along with Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun, who had scored a huge upset victory against Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary. I was a fresh faced, idealistic fifteen year old convinced that this so-called Year of the Woman and Clinton’s election could get us going…somewhere. It had to…right?

Hey, an old copy of the Chicago Tribune! I keep EVERYTHING. If I ever drop off the social media map without warning, please send someone to check on me. I’m likely buried in a pile of old newspapers and copies of Entertainment Weekly.

My parents and I visited Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1993. I was so excited. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Pat Schroeder’s first book (Champion of the Great American Family) as a joke since she’d gotten it at a book sale for fifty cents (it was not exactly a commercial success). Pat Schroeder was my idol. The idealist. The feminist. The woman who along with six others marched up the steps to the United States Senate demanding an inquiry into the accusations Anita Hill had made against Clarence Thomas. And I was determined to meet her.

Remember this? That’s then-Congresswoman Barbara Boxer leading the way.

(You can click on the photo for more information.)

Yes, I wanted to meet Pat Schroeder. And Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, and Barbara Mikulski, and Patty Murray, and any other female member of Congress I could find. These women were my superstars, my celebrities, my inspiration. Sadly, Representative Schroeder was not in her office when I visited. Her staffers let me sit at her desk and my parents snapped a photo. They offered to have her call me at my hotel but (being the shy kid I was) I stupidly said that wasn’t necessary. To this day I wish I would have said yes. Who knows what that conversation might have been like?

Pat Schroeder declined to run for re-election in 1996. I was devastated. But I understood. She’d spent 24 years in the House. Progress had been made, but not much. She was one of the trailblazers, making it easier for other female candidates to run and win. But had anything in the promise of the Year of the Woman actually been achieved? Perhaps. But we have miles to go before we sleep.

So what’s the point of this piece? To drop some names, share some personal anecdotes, (eventually) plug my books? Whenever February and March roll around, I always wonder why some folks get up in arms about Black History Month and Women’s History Month. I don’t mean those of us who celebrate it. I mean those who feel such celebrations aren’t necessary.

Hopefully those of you reading this guest post have recognized all the names I’ve mentioned so far. But if you haven’t? That’s why we need Women’s History Month. It’s not just about female politicians and social activists (though they have driven a lot of this country’s political evolution) but inventors, writers, lawyers, architects, astronauts…and not just the ones that show up in mainstream history books. This is about more than Jeannette Rankin and Geraldine Ferraro and Shirley Chisholm…more than Fannie Lou Hamer and Toni Morrison and Sally Ride… it’s about all of those accomplishments that have been buried because the gatekeepers have deemed them to be insignificant.

I took women’s studies and African American history classes in college but never learned all the details of Chisholm’s historic 1972 presidential run until I was well out of law school. I had to seek the story out myself (in a wonderful documentary entitled Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, which I highly recommend). And she is (IMHO) a relatively high profile figure in women’s history. This is the kind of information that should be taught in every high school American history class. And it is not.

Anyway…back to my story (and my books!). As I grew older, my political drive lessened but I remained interested in public policy. I went to law school, dedicated to serving the public in some capacity. But I began to realize that the gamesmanship required to gain elected office wasn’t something I was willing to do. I decided to work in the public sector in a non-political capacity. But my creativity was sapped…until October 2013.

I was still a dreamer in law school but those three years force you to process your thoughts in a different way. I stopped writing poetry and short stories to focus on briefs and motions but had a very active imagination. And I created these two vibrant characters in my head – a male and female member of Congress on opposite sides of the aisle. But I had no vehicle for them. They languished in my daydreams for almost ten years until I had a food poisoning-induced dream in which I pictured them as valiant patriots fighting a fascist regime.

The overall plotline of my series has evolved but thanks to that questionable barbecue, The Bellator Saga was born. And despite current events, I assure you I am not writing metafiction (so far as I can tell).

In a way, Caroline Gerard (my heroine) is an idealized version of the public figure I’d hoped to become back in high school. Moderately liberal, fiercely passionate about human and civil rights, genuinely kind and decent. Her romantic lead may at first appear to be a caricature – millionaire, playboy, Republican, silver fox (if you dig the older dudes like I do) – but…

Gratuitous teaser included in guest post at no extra charge!

I wanted to humanize my characters. Make them real. Because we all have foibles. We all have flaws. It doesn’t matter if we’re high profile or not. We’re all just people. Granted, Caroline and Jack are larger than life in any number of ways, but I hope that they’re relatable.

I wanted to explore a few deeper issues in The Bellator Saga – which is best described as It Can’t Happen Here blended with, uh, a lot of sex. What would happen if a fascist were allowed to take office? How easily could it happen? How would Americans react? And more importantly, how would those with money, power, and influence (like Caroline and Jack) respond when dissent is batted down viciously (though clandestinely)?

It would be easy for a person of privilege to flee instead of fighting, but Caroline chooses to throw down the gauntlet. As I developed the plotline it was vitally important that she not only be a badass (in the intellectual, politically active sense) but a compassionate, loyal person who would defend her ideals and her country until the very end. It was also important that she and Jack have an egalitarian relationship grounded in a deep emotional connection and an undying passion for one another.

The series is different; I will grant you that. The first two books, Dissident and Conscience, are told in a non-linear fashion, with parallel present/past timelines converging at the end of book two. The journey continues in Sojourn, as Caroline continues to wrestle with her memories of a beautiful past while struggling in an uncertain present.

The last three books in the series will be released in 2016, and a box set of the first three books was released on February 29. The Bellator Saga has a bit of everything but is at its heart an epic romance. It’s got a meaty plot and parts of it can be difficult to read (I don’t sugarcoat anything – totalitarian regimes don’t play nice), so you’ll likely either love it or hate it.

I hope that if nothing else, Caroline has lived up to the women I admired as a child. Because of them I continue my activist spirit in a different way – through the written word (and sometimes as a lawyer, I suppose!).

Thanks to Lime for having me, and here’s more Shameless Author Stuff!
Website, Facebook, Twitter: @authorclondon

Currently Free is Dissident
Dissident“I will always be with you…”

Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard hasn’t had an easy year. After losing her husband, she is raising two small children alone while trying to navigate the tricky and sometimes shallow halls on Capitol Hill. A string of nasty speeches has her scrambling to apologize to any number of candidates, including newly elected Republican Jack McIntyre. Falling in love again is the last thing on her mind.

Jack McIntyre might have a reputation as a playboy, but he has his sights set solely on his new colleague. Can he break through Caroline’s grief and capture her heart?

Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate contemporary romance, and undying love.

For readers 18+. Ends on a cliffhanger.

And for The Bellator Saga which includes the first three books…
The Bellator SagaTwo souls intertwined. One epic love story.

Get swept away in the passionate romance between political opposites Caroline Gerard and Jack McIntyre in the first half of The Bellator Saga.

This set contains the first three books in the series, Dissident, Conscience, and Sojourn.

Dissident
Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard is reluctant to fall in love again after losing her husband. Can Republican playboy Jack McIntyre break through her grief and capture her heart? Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate romance, and undying love.

Conscience
Caroline faces the biggest challenge of her life when confronted with the cruelty and sadism of her captors at The Fed. Hope fades quickly, even as she holds onto her one last bit of sanity and her unshakable belief that her husband will rescue her. But is that faith just a mirage?

Sojourn
Reeling from her experiences at The Fed, Caroline tries to forge ahead and create a new identity. But that’s hard to do with the ghosts of the past constantly whispering in her ear. She is determined to find the rebellion and move on with her life, but what will she find when she arrives there?

Includes bonus material featuring a deleted scene from Sojourn, a sneak peek at Phoenix, and a never before released love scene told in Jack’s first person point of view!

Babs’ Top 10(ish) Reads of 2015

I read a lot of fabulous books this year and can’t wait to share some of my favorites. I’m cheating a little bit with my list. For some of these, I read more than one book in a series but am counting them as one read for this list. These are in no particular order–

Captive PrinceCaptive Prince and Prince’s Gambit by C. S. Pacat. (male/male fantasy) I kept hearing awesome things about this series and finally read the first two books this year. They are incredible. I love the world and characters. Damen and Laurent are so complex and interesting. Kings Rising is one of my anticipated reads in 2016.

Rock Hard and Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh. (contemporary) Books 2 and 3 of Singh’s Rock Kiss series are great. This series is quite the switch from her Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunters series and I love them. Rock star heroes for the win!

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. (male/male contemporary) I loved this story. I’ve went back and re-read different parts of the book because I just can’t leave Jamie and Wesley. The sequel, Us, is also on my list of anticipated reads in 2016.

Nuts by Alice Clayton. (contemporary) This is my first Alice Clayton book. It’s a great, fun read. I’ve read it twice and still laughed out loud reading it the second time. I love humor in my romance and this is full of it. It’s also a sweet love story. I can’t wait for Cream (of the Crop) (Oscar’s story) in 2016.

SustainedSustained by Emma Chase. (contemporary) Another great, fun read this year. The hero gets pulled into a wild family that totally disrupts his life and he just can’t stay away. There’s humor, fabulous chemistry between the hero and heroine, and a lovely story.

Radiance by Grace Draven. (fantasy) Draven is a new-to-me author. I read Radiance this summer on vacation and could not put it down. There’s a slow-burn romance between the hero and heroine. They end up great partners and lovers. The world is fantastic–so unique and detailed to me. I can’t wait for the sequel in 2016 and to read more of her books.

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan. (New Adult) Book 3 in Callihan’s Game On series is just as fabulous as The Hook Up. I was not disappointed. This series is so different from her Darkest London series and I enjoy them for different reasons. I highly recommend for fans of new adult and sports romance.

Wild Seasons book series by Christina Lauren. (contemporary) I read the available books in this series this fall. Another set of fun reads. The couples in the series are great. I really enjoyed how they met in the first book. The humor is fantastic (if you can’t tell, I like humor in my reads). The friendships came across as genuine even though they had different backgrounds. The chemistry between the couples and their stories were awesome.

The WalshesThe Walshes by Kate Canterbary. (contemporary) This series was a fab find earlier this year. I heard about it on Twitter I think. This messed up bunch of siblings try to overcome their childhoods and run a successful business in Boston. I got a real sense of Boston in the series–I love when authors can make the city a character. The siblings are all wildly different. They are loud and crazy at times and have tempestuous love stories to go with all that drama. There are four books in the series so far with a few more siblings to go. I think Shannon’s story is my favorite so far.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. (fantasy) This is a bit less romance-like than the others on my list but I couldn’t not put this book on my list of top reads this year. I loved this story. A great twist on traditional fairy tales (don’t go into the woods! here there be dragons!). Agnieszka is such a fabulous heroine. There’s kind of a romantic relationship in the story so that’s why I have it on my list. I have my own thoughts on how I think that ends up since Novik doesn’t explicitly say how it goes in the story.

Bonus:

Saga Volumes 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. (comic book, sci fi/fantasy) I. Love. This. Series. I can’t get enough of it. I’m pacing myself because there are only 5 volumes so far and I don’t want to read them all at once. There’s action, comedy, adventure, romance! It has it all. The artwork is also incredible. I highly recommend for anyone looking to try comic books. (There’s some graphic content, violence, sex, language so I recommend for mature readers.)

The Martian by Andy Weir. (science fiction) I listened to the audiobook for this one and loved it. The narrator was great. Watney was funny and engaging. I love how Weir was able to keep me entertained even though Watney’s on this barren planet all alone. I also enjoyed the movie.

That’s my list for 2015. What’s on your top reads list this year?

Let’s Talk Books!

RiseSo my friends, “Best of” lists are popping up everywhere … and this year I’m jumping on that train again. I was the first to do “most anticipated” lists … but I can’t handle that these days. I’m still working on documenting all the books I’ve read this year in GoodReads. We’ll see how that goes.

What I want to know is – what books have you read this year that you would recommend? Or what authors?

I’m planning on doing a “top ten” list at some point … but like Wendy said – what if I read a favorite book on December 31?? So, I’m holding off until the new year. 😀

[And if anyone would like to or be willing to help me celebrate ALBTALB’s fifth blogiversary in January please let me know!] <3

Recommend Me Books to Read, Please!

MineYes, I’m turning the tables on you! Generally bloggers give suggestions and their “best of” and “what to look for” … and I’ll do a bit of that here, but I want to know what you think I should read!

I’m all tapped out and all I want to do is curl up and sleep, eat, and read. Alas, I can’t do that, but a girl can dream, right?

So I want to know – A) what’s the best romance you’ve read lately? B) What about EVER? C) What’s one romance you think EV-ER-Y-ONE should read?

I’ll give you some suggestions … Mine by HelenKay Dimon is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year … but it’s not out until October. It’s okay though – this gives you time to read the three previous stories. 😀 (Mercy, Only, and Taken – until Mine, Taken had been my favorite!)

Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of reading a historical romance anthology, and soaking up cooking shows on PBS Create while I try to feel good about being able to sit up and finish another day and that being enough of a goal.

Ask Some Bloggers ~Anything

Hi friends!

First things first – I got to see this yesterday (and a picture) and it was so cool.

White House 6/26

So it’s birthday month and all that jazz and I figured I hadn’t been doing as much – like me saying stuff in a long time. I meant to write distinctive posts for each Saturday in June but you know how life never turns out as planned.

A few months ago my friend Tori (@smexys_sidekick) was tweeting how she was giving a talk at a RWA chapter meeting I believe, about blogging – and I thought “hey that’s a neat idea – I’m going to rope her into it again!”) She was kind enough to say “yes” and so here we are! If you don’t know who she is, Tori is a reviewer for Smexybooks, Heroes & Heartbreakers, and RT Magazine.

Me … well I’ve been kicking around Romanceland for the past dozen or so years. I’ve been an active romance blogger since ~2005 at various places – more(?) notably with The Good, The Bad, The Unread (2007-11), with Heroes & Heartbreakers since the launch, and of course here. ALBTALBS started in 2011 😛

We don’t know everything … but I think we know enough. 😀

My point being, if you’ve ever had a question for a blogger, now’s your chance to ask! Ta!

[Oh and if any other bloggers would like to chime in and answer, you’re more than welcome! Xoxo]

Guest Author: Laura K. Curtis on HEA vs. HFN

Hi friends! As you see we’ve got the totally awesome and wonderful Laura K. Curtis visiting with us today! Not only is she great in general she also stepped in at the last minute with not only a great post, but also a giveaway! Whee! So without further ado …

HEA vs. HFN

TwistedHow do you like your happy endings? And get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about the ends of your romance novels, not your massages. For as long as I can remember, the two major tenets defining a novel as a “romance” were:
1. Central love story between two (or more) characters
2. The relationship is successful, culminating in a “happily ever after.”
But a few years ago, the genre stretched as it became more realistic to include “happy for now” as well as “happily ever after.” That is, the couple (or however many—I’m just going to use “couple” as shorthand) is in a relationship at the end of the book, but without the promise of forever together.

I’m a big proponent of realism in romance. I’m not a fan of the billionaire romance, or the alpha-hole miraculously redeemed by love, or guy who can’t take no for an answer but who is otherwise respectful. I’d rather read a pure fantasy romance than a fantasy like that masquerading as reality. So part of me approves of the HFN trend. After all, many romances take place in the span of a week—or less—so to marry the couple off at the end would seem to be pushing the limits of one’s suspension of disbelief. LostEspecially in my preferred genre, romantic suspense, where the couple often spends the whole book running from killers, hiding in jungles, concerned with little more than how they’re going to live through the next hour—it’s a bit much to expect that the hero and heroine are ready to pledge everlasting love by page 300.

Still, I’ve read some romances lately where the “FN” part of the HFN is so strong that I wonder whether the books even qualify as romance.

If there’s one thing you can depend on in the romance community, it’s that people will disagree on where the line is between any two things—erotic romance vs erotica? sensual romance vs. erotic romance? new adult vs contemporary with younger heroine? Romance readers love to argue! So I know we’ll never reach consensus on just how committed the couple has to be at the end of a romance novel. Toying with his AffectionsI’ve had people tell me that if the romance helps the characters grow, it’s okay if they part at the end. And as far as I’m concerned, yeah, that’s a fine story, but it’s not a romance. Others say that the couple has to be married by the end for them to be satisfied. The huge number of pregnancy epilogues indicates that a number of authors feel that way, too!

My own line falls somewhere in the middle. I need to see an actual commitment. I need the words “I love you.” Even when I read a book with a HFN ending, I always have to imagine that the couple will move from their HFN to an HEA. It’s the only way I feel really satisfied by a book. And when I’ve written HFN books, it’s always with the understanding that the couple would stay together, even if you don’t see it on the page because to show it wouldn’t fit the scope of the book. To me, the HEA is why I read romance instead of any other genre, so if I’m not getting that, I’m not happy.

And don’t even get me started on cliffhangers!

Which do you prefer? (Personally I don’t care for HFN.) Let us know your thoughts and you could win a copy of Echoes in the format/from the e-tailer of your choice! Because two is almost always better than one! 😀

EchoesWho is she?A single photo of herself as an infant on a beach, taken before the date on her birth certificate, throws everything Calliope Pearson knows about herself into question. Hoping to find answers, she takes advantage of her job as a travel writer to make a reservation at the Caribbean island resort in the picture.

Resort security chief Mac Brody distrusts Callie on sight. After all, she looks exactly like his deceitful missing wife, Nikki, who owns half the resort. But when Nikki’s found dead, Mac’s facing murder charges, and he’s sure that Callie must hold the key to proving his innocence.

The deeper Callie and Mac dive into the mystery of her past, the more bodies surface. And they’ll have to learn to trust each other, or become victims of a dark danger neither could’ve imagined….