romance readers

What I've Been Reading: Dungeon Games

Dungeon Games (Masters & Mercenaries 6.5)Lexi Blake

Obsessed

Derek Brighton has become one of Dallas’s finest detectives through a combination of discipline and obsession. Once he has a target in his sights, nothing can stop him. When he isn’t solving homicides, he applies the same intensity to his playtime at Sanctum, a secretive BDSM club.

What I've Been Reading: Cell by Stephen King

I finally got in a little reading last weekend! Reading is one of the things that falls off my list when I struggle to find time for everything, but I took a Saturday for myself and read Stephen King's Cell from cover to cover. What did I think? Well, as a romance author, I have to say my reactions were mixed. hardcover_prop_embedArtist Clayton Riddell had been in Boston negotiating a successful deal to sell his comic book project.  His joy at finally hitting it big is shattered by an event called The Pulse which causes all those who were using their cell phones at the time of The Pulse to become zombies attacking and killing anyone in their way.  Fortunately for Clay, he does not own a cell phone.  In the panic to get out of Boston and find his way home to his wife and son in Maine, he is joined by Tom McCourt, a man he meets in the meleé immediately following The Pulse and a young girl, Alice, who they rescue from being killed by one of the “crazies.”  The story follows their terrifying journey, avoiding capture—and worse—by the “crazies” who are beginning to “flock” and are led by one they call Raggedy Man as they attempt to reach Maine and a place called Kashwak which they hope will be their salvation.

This is the first Stephen King novel I've read. It's been something on my to-do list for a long while, but other than reading On Writing, I haven't delved into his writing. I've seen almost every movie version, though. :) And since I began reading the books of Jonathan Maberry (and enjoying them immensely) -- and since it was a book on hand (my daughter had a copy) -- I decided this was a good start.

The story itself, I really did love. It was exceptionally well plotted, the characterization was spot on, and the ability to make even the smallest, most repetitious actions interesting was phenomenal. King has long been lauded as a master author, but I did not realize quite how seamlessly that skill played out on the page. I didn't necessarily care about the characters immediately, but I wanted to understand what was happening to them. They were interesting, and as time went on, I found myself rooting for them, living through their eyes, feeling what they felt despite the sparsity of language.

And that was where I wavered.

I've heard it said that King abhors adjectives and adverbs. I did find them used only rarely. King's style is bare, almost more of a report than a retelling, though what he is reporting are thoughts and feelings. Descriptions aren't flowery or overstated, but the details King chooses to focus on bring the entire scene to life. They're just right. It's very interesting -- and very different than what I was used to. The romance genre doesn't work that way, and I think a romance novel written in this style would never have worked. And yet, with the subject and the genre of Cell, King's style enhanced the other elements of the story instead of taking away from them. He let us focus in on what was important, not everything around us in the story.

Oh, one caveat: Cell ends on a cliffhanger (and since there's no book two, you never find out what ultimately happens with Riddell and his son, though the state of the world itself is pretty clear at the end). I had a heads-up that this was the case before I read the story, so I was prepared for it. Others who weren't warned told me they wanted to throw the book across the room. :) Be warned ahead of time!

So, did I enjoy it? I did. Not in the way I'd expected, but I did. I will definitely try another, maybe The Stand, since they are remaking the movie version. Next, though, will probably be Lisey's Story (since I already own a copy, and since it's about a writer). But for next month, I'll be returning to romance, I think. I have to switch it up, doncha know!

~ Ella

Insta-Love, Virginity, and Other Wonders

Authors can't get away from reviews. Much as we try to avoid them, there are those times when you must go look at your book page, and there they are, staring you in the face. And I have to admit, readers come from varying backgrounds and interests and personal opinions and, therefore, have differing ideas about books they read -- as it should be. But I've noticed a disturbing trend that, for me, is a bit sad. Some readers can no longer suspend disbelief, even when it's necessary, while enjoying a book.

Picture 167

Suspension of disbelief is a concept we are most often taught in high school lit classes. There are a lot of readers who love romance out there, and many of them understand that the romance genre is not, for the most part, reality. Even so, when it comes to parts of the story that are realistic, they label it fantasy and claim it ruins the book for them. It's sad that, instead of widening our world as we claim over the past hundred years, we've actually narrowed it in many ways, seeing not the many possibilities of how people come to love, marry, live, and think, but how WE love, marry, live, and think -- and believe no one else's experience is valid. But it is. Our world is made up of many possibilities, including ones you might think are fantasy.

Like insta-love.

I kinda get a chuckle over this when I see it in reviews. "I hate that insta-love stuff. It's so fake!" Really? I have to admit, I didn't come to love in an instant; it took me a while to realize that my husband was "the one." But he knew the day he met me. I've seen posts on Facebook of readers commenting that not only did they fall in love immediately, but they married shortly after (like weeks), often to the dismay of those around them. And when someone trots that out, they most often end with "and we're still together today." Didn't happen to me that way, but it HAS HAPPENED. It's not only in fairy tales that you see someone or speak to someone and know in an instant they are the one for you. Love doesn't come with a strict timeline, thank you very much!

Here's the other reality of romance and "insta-love": readers say they don't want two characters to just fall instantly into love at first sight with each other, but no editor in their right mind is going to buy a book featuring a long, drawn-out courtship (except maybe a historical). Time is necessarily compressed in books, just like they are on TV.file0002050295530 Do you think we can really get DNA results in real life as fast as they do on CSI? Heck, no! Do you want to follow the lab techs as they go about their daily business for the weeks it takes to get that info in -- and have the suspect disappear in the meantime? Uh, no, you don't want to see that. Time is compressed so that you, the watcher (or reader) will stick with the story. That's the reality of the entertainment industry today -- what we the entertainees have demanded. It's just how it is.

And then there's the dreaded virginity question...

I'm not sure what it is that people have against virginity. It's almost reverse peer pressure: "Your heroine MUST NOT be a virgin; it's unrealistic!" And God forbid your hero be a virgin, because, ya know, men cannot possibly control the urge to have sex, even if they're raised in monstrous conditions with severe psychological scars (the same goes for women). That's sarcasm, by the way -- I firmly believe virginity is a reality for everyone on the planet, and that the first time comes at its own pace for each and every person, not on a timeline. Jess, in Teach Me, is a virgin. So many reviewers complained about me "trotting out the virgin card." But there was a very good reason why Jess was a virgin, and here it is:

SONY DSCIt fit who she was.

Why? Jess was and is incredibly shy; it's the very first thing Conlan notices about her aside from her eyes. That's why he equates her to a doe. Hesitant, beautiful, SHY. If you aren't shy, maybe you can't understand, but I AM SHY, and that attribute kept me from being very forward as a teen. I didn't get into a lot of parties and other situations that might've led to sex. When you have body issues or are unsure of yourself, you are often left in the background. That's reality. Does that mean shy people never lose their virginity in high school or college? No, but it can go either way.

But that's not all. Jess did meet and start to date in college. She met Brit, her very first "serious boyfriend." College isn't really that old, around age twenty, give or take, for most of us? Brit was helping Jess through a tough situation with her parents' death, and I don't know about you, but if my parents just died and I was in college and I was trying to figure out life from that point on, having sex for the first time might be a bit of a stretchy decision for me at the moment. Not only that, but though she was grieving and uncertain (and SHY, don't forget shy!), Jess felt that something was off about her feelings for Brit and the way he treated her. Given that we find out later he might've had something to do with her parents' deaths, we can intimate that his behavior at that time might've been a bit on the stalkerish side already. Lots of red flags there.

Now, we preach that women should listen to their instincts and not sleep with someone just because they feel it's expected, but I guess some people don't really believe that. They felt like surely in and amid all this turmoil, Jess should've had sex at some point, right? WRONG. She did what she was supposed to: she listened to what her mind and her heart and her body were telling her and said no. And almost died for it.

Surely then she had sex, right?

O.o

Yeah, I think if my first and only boyfriend beat me up because I wouldn't have sex with him, I'd run right out and find the next willing partner and... Well, you get the idea. Sarcasm aside, maybe some readers haven't been through a traumatic experience, but I know what it's like to face a terrible situation and then try to rebuild your life on the other side. It doesn't work that way. It takes time, and it takes trust, and Jess finally found that in Conlan. Why is that so hard to find realistic?

A fellow author (whom I love!), Sandra Owens, wrote the K2 series featuring a hero in Someone Like Her who was a virgin. That point of the story caused the biggest issue in reviews: no man who was a SEAL would still be a virgin! Not only that, but the reason he was still a virgin was flimsy at best -- his mother was a prostitute who abused him and his sister, and surely no such woman could ever be even slightly realistic. (Sarcasm again...) And yet that entire part of the story was based in a true life story, Sandra's father's story. That was his life she was writing about in many ways, and yes, it was true. But for whatever reasons, some reviewers felt it was "unrealistic."

I've written before about the writing advice "write what you know" and how we might not be able to experience dying of cancer, but we can relate to the emotions. As a reader, I might not have been a SEAL and decided to remain a virgin, but I can understand the reasoning. I can see the legitimate motivation. I can see someone else's experience -- that wasn't anything remotely like mine -- and empathize with it. That seems to be something some people have lost. I've never seen genocide, but I know it happens. I've never had sex before marriage, but I know it happens, and that it's a valid experience for many people. My own experience is different, for whatever reason, but no less valid. Maybe it's time to bring that tolerance we all talk about to the world of fiction, of romance, and start seeing each story as the adventure it is, the chance to step into someone else's shoes and experience something we ourselves haven't, not just a homogenized plot that reads as exciting as milk by the tenth incarnation.

What do you think? Do you feel some things are just too off-the-wall to believe? Can you suspend disbelief if the author motivates a character's choices well enough? I'd love to know which side of this idea you fall into!

 

What I've Been Reading: Hot Pursuit by Lynn Raye Harris

HotPursuit_270x427Hot special ops soldier. Woman in need. A past they'd both like to forget. A passion that makes it impossible. What more could you ask for? I'd put off starting this series because, like me, Lynn Raye Harris writes military/ex-military suspense with a Southern touch. It's hard to read in the same genre you are writing and not have bleed-through, so I waited until Trust Me was finished before starting this series...

And I'm glad I did, because I needed a free weekend to finish Hot Pursuit! This is book one in Harris's Hostile Operations Team series. Here's the blurb:

The last man she ever wanted to see…

Evie Baker’s luck just ran out. Thanks to an ex-partner with organized crime ties, she’s lost her restaurant, her money, and nearly all her self-respect. Forced to return to her hometown and work as a shampoo girl in her mother’s salon, she doesn’t think her luck can get any worse.

But then someone starts shooting at her, her sullen baby sister is suddenly missing, and the high school heartthrob who stole her heart—and her virginity—is the only man big enough and bad enough to help.

Might be the only one who can save her…

Captain Matt “Richie Rich” Girard can’t afford to get involved. He’s already on the verge of a court-martial after a Top Secret op gone wrong, and he’s been ordered to stay out of trouble while he’s home for his sister’s wedding.

But when Evie’s ex-partner turns up dead, staying out of trouble is the last thing on Matt’s mind. He failed Evie once before; he can’t fail her again. If he’s going to protect her from a killer, and find her sister before time runs out, he’ll have to risk his entire future—and both their lives—to do it.

Things are about to get HOT in the bayou!

Suspense can go one of two ways, easy on the romance and heavy on the suspense, or heavy on the romance and easy on the suspense. Harris straddles the fence very well. There's a strong mystery, figuring out why Evie is being targeted, why her ex-business partner winds up dead. Matt has his own worries and family obligations pulling at him, warring with his need to help Evie and, ultimately, to be in bed with her. Instead of Evie being the female in danger, it's her teenage sister who has been kidnapped, and together these two have to figure out what they need to rescue her.

The book moves at a fairly good pace despite the history between the two main characters that needs to be worked out and the cast of secondary characters that populates the small town of Rochambeau, Louisiana (and makes it come alive). That many people sticking their noses into this couple's business while they're trying to hide/solve a kidnapping might have made for a cluttered and confusing story, but Harris handles it well. I didn't feel that "I wish this would hurry up" feeling I sometimes get with contemporary romances; I just wanted myself to hurry to the next page!

The sexual tension between Matt and Evie is strong. I would've like a bit more on-screen "action," maybe, and certainly it would have taken me longer to get over the aftermath of Matt's leaving after taking her virginity than it did Evie (I might've wanted him to squirm on that hook a bit longer, or maybe for Evie to feel it a bit deeper), but then I tend to prefer a darker, more angsty read. This book is lighter but enjoyable, and overall their relationship works well.

I'll definitely be reading book two!

NGWN Reading Club PicIf you enjoy these inside looks into what is on my reading list each month, you might like a new venture I've started with Nice Girls Writing Naughty's reader group. The final Saturday of each month, I'll be hosting the Nice & Naughty Reading Club featuring a romance we all read, then discuss on the blog. For more information and to find out what book we are reading this month, check out my blog post on the site HERE.

 

What I've Been Reading: Azagoth by Larissa Ione

1001DarkNightsAzagoth_200For those of you who don't know, paranormal is my first love. And also for those of you who don't know, I run terribly behind in reading! I buy books when they come out, but getting a chance to actually read them? Well, sometimes it takes me a while. So over Christmas, though I haven't read the later books in the series, I was jonesin' for some paranormal and opened Azagoth by Larissa Ione. Now, this is how far behind I am: I read the first of the four horsemen books. (Don't ask me how long ago that was! :) ) I actually own all the books in this series, but that's as far as I've read. I really want to read more, but see last week's post as to why I haven't yet. Anywho...

Azagoth.

Lordy.

Why did this book totally do it for me? I'll tell you: Even though it's a novella that relies somewhat on the history of the series (totally readable even if you haven't read the others, though), I LOVED the hero. Why? Because I'm a sucker for a bad boy who seems bad without remorse, but whom we discover, in the course of the story, is in fact the way he is for very good reason. When a hero seems unlovable but we get to go on the journey with the heroine to find out exactly why he is, that's my favorite kind of story! It's the kind of story I try to create in my paranormals, and Larissa does it magnificently here.

Want to read more? Here is the blurb from Larissa's website:

Even in the fathomless depths of the underworld and the bleak chambers of a damaged heart, the bonds of love can heal…or destroy.

He holds the ability to annihilate souls in the palm of his hand. He commands the respect of the most dangerous of demons and the most powerful of angels. He can seduce and dominate any female he wants with a mere look. But for all Azagoth’s power, he’s bound by shackles of his own making, and only an angel with a secret holds the key to his release.

She’s an angel with the extraordinary ability to travel through time and space. An angel with a tormented past she can’t escape. And when Lilliana is sent to Azagoth’s underworld realm, she finds that her past isn’t all she can’t escape. For the irresistibly sexy fallen angel known as Azagoth is also known as the Grim Reaper, and when he claims a soul, it’s forever…

Now, this story is a novella (part of the reason I picked it, so I could finish it in one or two sittings). As I said above, you don't have to read the previous books to understand this story; Larissa adds just enough detail that you can figure out what happened in the past and the various connections, the relevant ones. And Lilliana, the heroine, isn't a pansy -- I like that about her too. Strong men need strong women to stand up to -- and with -- them. The scene where she stands up to her ex was enjoyable too! :)

Azagoth is a must-read and will definitely stay on my Kindle! You can pick up your copy here:

Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, All Romance Ebooks

~ Ella

When Writers Don't Read

ella sheridan, writer, author, romance author, romantic suspense, contemporary romance, erotic romance, reading, what I've been reading, refilling the well, creativity and readingIt's terrible when you have to schedule reading time so you can write a blog post. That's what has happened to me over the past few months. In order to write my monthly "What I've Been Reading" posts, I've had to schedule reading time -- not because I didn't want to read, but because I simply didn't have time. I hesitate to go into the "why" for fear of sounding, well, why-ney. :) But the truth is, life's been kicking my butt. Getting TRUST ME out by Christmas has been my number one priority, and unfortunately, my writer brain has not been cooperating. Of course, neither has my kids' sports and school and orthodontist schedules, my husband's work schedule, my work schedule (that's right; I work a day job in addition to writing)... You get the drift. In fact, for a little while I feared TRUST ME would not only be late releasing, but would not release at all. Everyone has those times when the avalanche descends and you wonder if you'll make it out alive.

Well, I have, but only because I made some tough decisions. And one of those was making time to read.

Last month in Birmingham I heard Sylvia Day speak. It was at a readers' luncheon, and of course she talked about reading. Or rather, her lack thereof. She discussed how, when she ended up in a crazy publishing schedule that took every ounce of time she had, she couldn't squeeze in the minutes and hours it took to read. And when it came time for a particular deadline, she realized that the book that was due just...wasn't going to happen. She was done, dried up. Her creativity was taking her nowhere with this story, and she didn't think it ever would. In fact, she didn't think she'd ever write another story. Ever.

So Sylvia contacted her editor and gave her the bad news. After much discussion and pushing off of deadlines, Sylvia said her editor finally asked one all-important question: When was the last time you read? (A book that wasn't yours was implied.) And Sylvia told her, I don't remember. So her editor gave her an assignment, not to finish writing, but to go read. It was the spark Sylvia needed to see the light on her own story and find her well of creativity again. She read other writers' novels, eventually finished her own book, and rediscovered a piece of herself in the process.

As a writer and a woman (mother, spouse, sibling...), I think I fell into the trap many women fall into: that something we find pleasure in is unimportant. My kids spend hours a day playing video games and reading books and watching TV/movies, and I WORK. Day in and day out, I work, because that's what a good mom and wife does, right? But my need to write was going nowhere. And then I heard Sylvia speak and realized, other than my scheduled monthly posts, I haven't read a book for pleasure in...I can't remember when.

ella sheridan, author, writer, romance author, erotic romance, romantic suspense, contemporary romance, reading, refilling the well, creativity and readingFor a writer, it simply isn't possible to sustain your creativity without nourishment. And for a woman, it isn't possible to sustain your supportive, positive, hard-working attitude without taking time for yourself as well as others. I knew that, but the tyranny of the urgent was louder than what I knew, until the urgent couldn't be taken care of because there was no fodder for the fire. TRUST ME wanted to be written, but I wasn't giving myself enough fuel to sustain the creative need. We have to feed ourselves, body and soul, if we hope to continue feeding others. I wasn't doing that, but now I am! And it is oh so sweet to find that place of comfort and pleasure again. :)

Reading again has made a huge difference in my life and in my writing. And next month, I'll share again some of What I've Been Reading -- without the whole scheduling thing. I hope you are nourishing yourself too, taking care of you so that you can take care of others. So tell me, what have YOU been reading? What else do you do to feed your soul? What difference does that make in your life?

~ Ella

What I've Been Reading: Crazy For Her by Sandra Owens

Many of you know that I finalled in the RWA Golden Heart contest in 2013. While I didn't win, I did have the privilege of becoming part of a wonderful group of ladies (and fellow finalists) called the Lucky 13s. And one particular Lucky sister, Sandra Owens, has an awesome new contemporary romance with Montlake out that I just had to read: Crazy For Her. ella sheridan, author, writer, romance author, erotic romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, sandra owens, crazy for herThat he is in love with Dani Prescott, his best friend and SEAL teammate's wife, is a deep secret Logan Kincaid keeps close to his heart. On their last mission in Afghanistan, Evan Prescott is killed in battle. With his dying breath, Evan begs Logan to take care of his wife and child.

It's been close to two years since the death of her husband, and Dani Prescott is living in Asheville, North Carolina with her daughter Regan. When a stalker threatens, she turns to the most dangerous man she knows. Logan Kincaid.

There are many reasons why Logan believes he's not good enough for Dani. His secrets are as dark as the underside of a rock. The best thing he can do for her is catch the stalker and then get the hell out of her life.

Of course, when love is involved things have a way of not going as planned.

When I say Crazy For Her is awesome, I really mean, it was awesome!

That awesome starts with one word -- SEALs! As soon as I saw that Logan was a SEAL, I had to read this book. I mean, who doesn't love a SEAL hero? And Sandra doesn't disappoint. Logan is incredibly tough, surviving a horrendous childhood and watching the woman he loves marry his best friend, Evan. He lives through his friend's death and bears the burden of his guilt over the whole situation as only the strongest man could, with complete stoicism. And even though we're in Logan's thoughts and hear his tender side a bit, we never lose the feel that he is one tough you-know-what. ;)

Y'all know I'm totally hero focused when it comes to books, but Sandra's heroine is just right for Logan. Dani is strong in her own way. She's taken care of her baby by herself since her husband died in battle, she's gotten through horrific grief, but she's finally come up against an obstacle she can't overcome: a stalker who claims to be her dead husband. She needs Logan's help to keep her child safe. Even more important, she needs Logan for herself. The passion between the two sizzles with tension, and when they finally come together, it's not without a few surprises and the most satisfying use of an outdoor patio in the rain that I've ever encountered. ;)

But what's the absolute best part of Crazy for Her? The baby! Or more specifically, Logan with the baby. There's just something about a big, strong soldier cuddling a baby that just...melts your ovaries. :) And when we're in Logan's thoughts and he's watching Dani nurse her child? Gah! It's awesome. I also like that though Evan has died and some time has passed, there's not this sense that he's forgotten. When Dani sees Logan with her child, she can't help but grieve the fact that Evan will never get to hold their daughter. There is a good balance here between focusing on the relationship between Dani and Logan now and remembering the person both of them lost.

So, yes, I really did enjoy this book, and it's gotten some rave reviews as well (not just mine!). I would highly recommend checking it out here, and maybe some of Sandra's other books as well. She's pretty versatile, with historical romances alongside her contemporaries. Oh, and the sequel to Crazy For Her, coming out early next year. (Yay!)

~ Ella

What I've Been Reading: Tempting Her Best Friend by Gina Maxwell

ella sheridan, author, writer, romance author, erotic romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, what I've been reading, gina l. maxwell, tempting her best friend, what happens in vegas, entangled publishing, fun romanceLet's just say, this summer hasn't been the easiest for me. In fact sometimes I thought my to-do list was trying to drown me. :) So to say that I needed a little lightening up was a drastic understatement. And my good friend Gina L. Maxwell's new release, Tempting Her Best Friend, did just that!

If she had to dress like Nightclub Barbie for a few days to get Dillon to see her as a woman and not some asexual being, then that was what she'd do. Anything to ensure success for Operation: Damn, Aly's Hot and I Totally Want To Do Her.

I quoted this line on Facebook too, probably because it almost made Coke shoot out my nose. This is the kind of snarky humor Gina provides -- and that I love. I'm not your typical romantic comedy reader, and I admire those writers a great deal because humor is so hard to get across, but Gina just has the right wit for my funny bone. :) Putting the hero in a Tarzan costume and dumping him in the midst of a horde of ravenous romance readers is hilarious. There's just so much about this book that is fun that I spent most of the time sniggering behind my Kindle while I waited for my kids to finish all the activities I'd dropped them off for around town. Yes, I got a lot of sidelong, oddball looks, but who cares -- I was enjoying a book! I think you would enjoy it too.

And lest you think that humor is all this book has going for it, think again -- the sex is hot and steamy and intimately emotional. Gina is known for her intensely erotic love scenes, and Tempting Her Best Friend delivers on that front as well as it delivers on humor.

Her vision started to blur at the edges until all she could see was the ruggedly handsome face above her. So much like the friend she'd known her whole life, and yet so very different. As her brain struggled to reconcile the old and the new, her body shorted everything out that wasn't necessary for surviving a tactile flood of epic proportions.

She vaguely heard herself repeatedly begging for "more" sprinkled with the occasional commands for "faster" and "harder."

Alyssa had never been one to talk during sex. She'd always thought it was because she wasn't one to lose her composure, even in the bedroom. Apparently she'd just never been given the proper inspiration.

Tempting Her Best Friend is the first book in Entangled's new Lovestruck line, and while I'm the first to admit I don't usually enjoy "category" romance, this book doesn't read category to me any more than Gina's other books do. It's a fun, flirty read with characters I related to, and their journey into love was supremely satisfying to this reader. You can check the book out today (because it releases today -- woot!) at Amazon for only $0.99. The sale price is ONLY FOR THIS WEEK, so get it while you can!

Don't forget, if you’d like to keep up-to-date with all the exciting things I've got going on these days -- besides taking time out to read great books! -- be sure and sign up for my newsletter. I'm not quite as funny as Gina, but I do promise man candy that will make you smile. ;)

~ Ella