Audio Review: Snow Falling on Bluegrass (Bluegrass, Book 3) by Molly Harper

molly harper snow falling bluegrassSummary: Snowed-in at a lodge on a work retreat, Kelsey will not only have to organize her work colleagues, but also her love life. First Darrell, her ex, makes her life miserable by handing her credit card debt she didn’t sign up for or enjoy. Then the cute statistician at the office, Charlie, flashes hot and cold with her. Is he interested or not? And then there’s Luke, who is running the lodge in the absence of other employees and he’s a Ranger. He’s definitely interested in her. Maybe being snowed-in isn’t such a disaster after all!

Review: Molly Harper is funny, which is no surprise as she’s a former humor columnist. It’s even funnier to hear the narrator, Amanda Ronconi, say and act some of these lines. Kelsey is a smart, funny, high energy person. She’s got a sense of humor and is willing to crack jokes at herself. You have to wonder how a girl like her stuck it out with Darrell for as long as she did. Molly does explain and it is plausible but the backstory made me feel more like I was missing a key element than filling in the blanks. Perhaps this was more readily apparent in a previous book in the series. Both of Kelsey’s crushes are good guys. I would happily see her wind up with either one of them, which is very rare for me to say so. And I would definitely read about the one who didn’t win Kelsey’s heart.

Narrator: I recently listened to Amanda Ronconi in another audio book. She did a great job then and she did a great job this time. When I first heard her speak I couldn’t place the previous audio book I had heard her narrate. I think that means she did an excellent job adapting to the character profiles and accents. I’d listen to her again. She’s definitely a great listen for contemporary romances.

[Rating:4]

Buy: Snow Falling on Bluegrass, Snow Falling on Bluegrass (Audiobook)

Audio Review: Conversion (Conversion, Book 1) by S.C. Stephens

conversionHero: Teren Adams is a gorgeous twenty-something year old architect who just so happens to be part vampire. He really wants things to work with Emma and can’t believe she’s still with him after the dropping the news of his vampirism. He’s terrified of her meeting his family – because they’re pushing for babies and are worried he’s going to die soon and not be able to make any. He and Emma aren’t even married yet!

Heroine: Emma can’t believe Teren is a vampire… or part vampire. He has a heartbeat. It’s kind of cool – she thinks -she’s not sure. Meeting his parents seems a little sudden and gulp they’re vampires too. His great-grandma is even a full fledged vampire. Yikes! But then they drop the bomb that the two need to quickly make a baby because Teren will die and reach his vampire maturity. That’s a real kicker. Maybe even a deal-breaker.

Review: This story has a punchy beginning which is especially cute but it skips forward past the romance and starts again after the characters are in love. Teren reveals his half-vampire status and it’s a race in the sack to get pregnant because he’s about to cross over into his more vampiric state. That bugged me. I would have preferred wooing, romancing, sexing, marrying, and eventually babying… but the story went all over the place on that score and sex scenes became very sterile. It drags a bit through the “I’m a vampire” “No way” “Yes. See fangs?” “Oh my gosh! Fangs!” “Fangs.” “You’re a vampire!” stage. There’s also a lot of animal magnetism in the book which I didn’t like. The story picks up when a vampire hunter kidnaps them. Will Emma and Teren live through it or will they both be murdered in vengeance?

Narrator: Piper Goodeve has a nice voice and is the main reason I was able to get through the whole book. She does an excellent job narrating.

[Rating:2]

Buy: Conversion, Conversion (Audio Book)

Audio Review: Sugar Rush (Cupcake Club, Book 1) by Donna Kauffman

sugar rushHero: Baxter Dunne is Chef Hot Cakes and Leilani’s former boss. When she left his restaurant Baxter realized he needed her in his life and not just for her cooking, but the woman herself. So he does what any man would do in order to woo a woman – he puts his television show on the road and themes it around bakeries just like hers and makes her his first stop.

Heroine: Leilani Trusdale quit New York City when her father became ill. Most of her city friends don’t understand, but Leilani wants to spend her time and talent on person’s who enjoy food and not their social status or figures. So she sets up shop in sleepy Sugarberry Island and is a hit with the residents. She can’t imagine moving back to NYC, he can’t imagine moving to a small town.

Review: Sugar Rush is a sweet romance in more ways than one! Each of the characters are likable. Baxter is a self-made chef and has worked in kitchens most of his life. He and Leilani get off on the wrong foot before they even start. She blames him for the stress and hard time she had professionally in his kitchen. He was trying to negate the gossip by not rising to it. In the end he’s got to win her heart by being vulnerable. My favorite aspect of the story besides the steamy kissing scenes in the kitchen, was Leilani and Charlotte’s friendship. I also enjoyed Alma – she reminded me of Betty White. There were some other characters like an assistant and a college student and a lesbian that kind of blurred in the narrating. I couldn’t tell if they were one and the same or different. In the end it doesn’t truly signify because as side characters they were supporting not staging the romance.

Narrator: Amanda Ronconi is a lovely narrator to listen to. She did an excellent job with Baxter’s and Charlotte’s accents. I’d listen to her again.

[Rating:3.5]

Buy: Sugar Rush (Cupcake Club), Sugar Rush (Audio book)

Review: Only with You (Best Mistake, Book 1) by Lauren Layne

Layne_Only With You_MM[1]Hero: CEO Grayson Wyatt is a reserved man (read socially awkward). He wasn’t always so reserved, once he loved somebody and was engaged. It didn’t last and what the lady had to say in parting was not kind. So when this ex-fiance’s doppelganger appeared in a Vegas elevator is it any wonder he was rude? Not to mention the woman dressed like a hooker.

Heroine: Waitress Sophie Dalton was dressed to kill for a slutty bachelorette party downstairs in the hotel. When a hot stranger snubs her in the elevator she is mortified. Nobody has held up a mirror like that to her and she didn’t like what she saw. So she makes an effort to change it. Even if her family thinks she inadequate to the task.

Review: They don’t expect to meet again but since both hero and heroine were in  Vegas on a trip, is it any wonder to the reader that they find each other again in Seattle? Grayson is kind of dating her sister. Her family wrangles a job to Grayson as his secretary. It’s a match made in heaven for readers who love enmity at first sight. Lauren Layne does an excellent job skirting around the issue of being with a sibling’s date. Grayson and Brynn have no chemistry and they only try to make it work because both feel it’s the right match compared to getting together with someone they’re more interested in – ie Grayson and Sophie, Brynn and Will (Made for You). I liked both the hero and the heroine and I thought they paired well. She makes him loosen up and he grounds her. It’s a good balance. I read it in a few sittings and was sad to part ways. One of my favorites published this year.

[Rating:4.5]

Buy: Only with You (The Best Mistake)

Writing Sensuality into a Story

no ordinary homeGuest blog by Mary Sullivan, author of No Ordinary Home

I’m so happy to be here! Thank you loveromancepassion for having me.

I want to talk today about raising the sensual stakes in a novel without littering the book with endless love scenes. To my mind, it’s important to have the characters yearn for each other long before the consummation of their attraction. It makes that first sex scene so much more satisfying to read. The concept of delayed gratification is a sound one on so many levels. LOL

In my October Harlequin Superromance, No Ordinary Home, it was hard to envision what that attraction would look like and how it would grow because the characters were so very different from each other.

While the hero, Austin Trumball, might have had a rough start in life, he was saved with the help of a good-hearted sheriff and left behind those bad habits that surely someday would have led him to a jail cell. He’s grown up to be a deputy sheriff in my fictional town of Ordinary, Montana. The heroine, Gracie Travers, is a drifter. She’s been living the homeless life for six years. She has her reasons and feels no need to share them with law enforcement.

So, how was I to make their attraction to each other believable? How could a deputy sheriff ever find a homeless woman attractive? I started with character. Austin grew up to be salt-of-the-earth dependable, a trustworthy man on whom anyone can rely. Gracie has known so little of that in her life. Fiercely independent, she is nevertheless tempted by his dependability and stability.

Gracie might appear to be rough around the edges, but she has an innate kindness that life hasn’t managed to beat out of her. During her travels, she stops at nursing and old folks homes to give free manicures and pedicures to the aging residents. Then she sings old classic songs that they all love. Austin likes that about her. As a child, he was asked to grow up too quickly by an extremely dependent mother. He admires Gracie’s staunch independence even as he wants to help her.

As far as their physical attraction went, I built it in slowly, in small ways.

Austin has given her a few meals and her pride compels her to pay him back somehow. She has no money, so offers to cut his hair.

She approached uneasily, regretting now that she’d offered to do this. In her need to pay him back, she hadn’t realized this could be dangerous to her.

Touch. Six years of deprivation. She’d been starving. She craved touch. Had known too little of it, even before she’d run away.

She settled the towel across his back and broad, muscled shoulders. The warmth of his body seeped into her through the slightest touch.

Good-looking, fit, kind, generous, decent. The man was perfect in every way, or would have been in another time, under different circumstances.

Guard your heart, Gracie.

Then, in another scene, Austin drops her off in a small town where she is going to pick up money owed to her. It will (they think) be the last time they will see each other.

 “I guess this is goodbye,” he said and grasped her hand in his much larger one, engulfing her fingers with his calm, sure strength.

Why did she feel like crying, as if maybe she was walking away from the best man she would ever know? Certainly, he’d treated her well, but so had others. Some others. Not all. Not many.

Holy mac and cheese, how could a handshake be so devastating?

He tugged, gently, and she yearned forward. He leaned close, closer, his breath a caress on her cheek. Then his lips were on hers, warm and tender and firm.

In his kiss was the heat of summer, the shimmer of sheet lightning, the earthiness of morning dew.

His palm cradled her cheek, his thumb and forefinger angled her chin where he wanted her. His tongue played hide-and-seek with hers, so sweetly.

A dangerous kiss, it whispered intimate promises to her naïve daydreaming heart, promises that would hurt when they weren’t fulfilled.

She slid her lips and hand from Austin’s, slowly, memorizing the feel of him, to take out one month, one year, one decade from now when she was living alone and hiding from the world, and feeling the lack of love in her life. She almost certainly would live alone. In the future, how could she possibly ever find another man as good as Austin? She would need a memory to sustain her. Like this. Of him.

In the end, there was only one thing to do. Walk away.

She gets out of the car and walks away, but we see a little of what Austin feels about that kiss…

 “Goodbye, my left nut,” Austin muttered. After that kiss? That bit of perfection that should have been a beginning instead of an ending?

The beginning of what?

He didn’t have a clue, but he couldn’t leave her to walk away, not until he knew for sure she was safe. Then he would consider it.

Then, and only then, he would really say goodbye. Maybe. After he explored more of whatever it was that had built between them.

Later still, long before their first sex scene, Gracie ends up in terrible danger and Austin saves her. She has been able to save herself while on the road for six years, but the man attacking her is drunk, high and too strong for her. For once in her life, she is glad that someone else is there to help her. Gracie had let her pride get the better of her common sense. Austin is furious that she put herself into such a dangerous situation by sleeping in a back alley when she could have been safe in a hotel room with him, no strings attached. He loses his precious control around her. He takes her back to the hotel and she is glad to go.

 “What are you doing?” she whispered.

“I’m going to kiss you.”

“Why?”

“Because I have to do something or I’ll yell this place down. You frustrate me, woman.”

“Woman? You sound like a caveman. I have a name.”

“Quiet. You talk too much.”

Before she could protest, his lips were on hers, seeking and demanding.

Gracie felt his kiss to her toes, felt it everywhere, as though bubbles were dancing in her stomach and diminutive fairies were jumping for joy in her brain.

More, they shouted. Give us more. They danced jigs. They threw fairy dust into her bloodstream.

When he pulled back, she said, “I don’t talk too much.”

“You do.” He kissed her again. Just what she wanted.

The fairies whooped and danced some more. The fairy dust in her blood floated and twirled. The fairies sang love songs. “A kiss is just a kiss,” she told herself.

But no.

Not this one. This was THE kiss, the one that would go down in every history written from this point on, in the annals of romance, as the best kiss ever.

Austin drew away and Gracie sighed. He knew his way around a woman’s lips. “You’ve been practicing.

He picked up his shaving kit and dropped it into this bag then walked toward the door.

What—? Where—?

“What are you doing?”

“Going to get a room of my own. I can’t stay with you tonight.” He walked out of the room.

His rejection stunned her. It shouldn’t hurt. It did.

Fine. She didn’t want sex with him, anyway. Truly.

The fairies disagreed. They pouted, railing against the unfairness of life that they should be left excited and eager and wanting, while Austin had apparently felt nothing. They crossed their little arms and stomped their tiny feet.

Holy Hannah, how was she supposed to sleep tonight?

Again, Austin’s reaction to that kiss. We get his POV the following morning…

 After he’d kissed her last night, he’d had to leave the room because he wanted to make love to her badly, but not like that.

The first time he and Gracie made love—and they would—it wouldn’t be with him full of anger. It wouldn’t be while he was ready to burst with frustration because of how much she pissed him off.

It would be because of how much he liked her, just honest to God liked her spirit, her honesty and her generosity.

That day when he’d seen her singing with the senior citizens, he’d seen an angel in action, a woman who cared.

It will still be a while after this scene before Austin and Gracie make love and I hope that I built up the tension enough that it is as satisfying for the reader as it is for my hero and heroine.

NO ORDINARY HOME is in bookstores today!

Currently, I’m writing a short Christmas story, a free read to send out in my December newsletter. I have a real weakness for many of the romance plotlines that are considered clichés. The short story is about a man and a woman stranded in the middle of a snowstorm in a small cabin in the woods, alone, without electricity, with only a quilt in front of the fireplace to keep them warm. Well, you can guess what happens next!

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Buy: No Ordinary Home