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Guest Blogger: Author Brenda Novak on Small Town Romance

Romance author Brenda Novak shares what she loves about contemporary small town romance and the evolution of her Whiskey Creek series with her latest release, "Come Home to Me."

ComeHometoMeCropWhat’s not to love about a good contemporary romance? And there are so many great series featuring small towns being published right now. For the past few years, I’ve been thoroughly immersed in writing a number of connected books set in the fictional “Gold Country” town of Whiskey Creek, based on such places as Sutter Creek, Jackson and Angel’s Camp located along Highway 49 in California, not far from where I live. In my series, about a tight-knit group of men and women who’ve grown up together in this quaint place, friendship reigns supreme. But as rooted in history as Whiskey Creek feels, with its wooden boardwalks and refurbished Victorians, it’s filled with very realistic and modern characters and all the drama that entails—including a woman who has vague memories of another mother when the mother she grew up with refuses to talk about it (When Snow Falls), the town “mean girl” who is humbled and then redeemed (Take Me Home for Christmas) and a bad-boy character from one of my suspense trilogies who comes to Whiskey Creek and brings a bit of danger with him (The Heart of Christmas, coming this November). And in the book that’s out right now, Come Home to Me, we have two women keeping secrets—the biggest secrets of all!

I not only like writing small-town romance; I like reading it! Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove is probably one of the best-known towns in the contemporary romance world. Equally well-known is the fact that Cedar Cove is actually based on Debbie’s own hometown, Port Orchard, Washington. I’ve heard the books referred to as “the address books,” and from 16 Lighthouse Road to 1225 Christmas Tree Lane, these stories each focus on the residents of a particular home. But, of course, we meet just about everyone in town and see their lives and relationships change over a twelve-year period. I love the combination of emotional drama, domestic calm and genuine humor in the characters’ ongoing stories.

The town created by another favorite of mine, Sheila Roberts’s Icicle Falls series, is also in Washington State and also derives its inspiration from a real place—Leavenworth. The focus in this series, too, is on family, love and friendship, and Sheila brings her own unique vision to her town and characters. Her often laugh-out-loud humor, her insight into people and relationships and her practical wisdom all contribute to making these books the totally delightful reads they are. Life in Icicle Falls is definitely a series that keeps bringing me home to this wonderful community.

Jill Shalvis has been lucky with her Lucky Harbor series; she’s on her ninth book! The thing I like best about Jill's books is that you can pick up any one of them and immediately know who wrote it by the sense of humor. Once in a Lifetime gets laughs due to heroine Aubrey Wellington, who sets out to make amends to a list of people she's wronged.  Who doesn't have a list of mistakes?  And, of course, hero Ben is the toughest wrong to get right.

Then there’s RaeAnne Thayne’s close ranching community of Pine Gulch, Idaho. The people who live there have captivated readers from the time the first Cowboys of Cold Creek books came out in 2006. Now at twelve books and counting, the heartwarming, emotional series is set in one of RaeAnne’s favorite spots, the western slope of the Teton mountain range. The Cowboys of Cold Creek series is filled with genuinely drawn characters, spectacular scenery, a little mystery and a great deal of heart.

San Francisco may not be a small town but Barbara Freethy claims a spot in my “favorite contemporary series” list because the community she’s created in her Calloway series gives me the down-home feel that’s so important in these types of stories. Her books are focused on a family consisting of eight siblings, many of whom are San Francisco firefighters, and they combine romance with a little bit of mystery and adventure. My favorite hero is Aiden, the rebellious smokejumper, who reunites with the girl next door in On a Night Like This, the first book in the series.

I could go on! There are a lot of really great contemporary series out right now, but with This Heart of Mine, which is coming out next year, I’ve got to get back to Phoenix Fuller, who’s just returned to Whiskey Creek, having served sixteen years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. If only the man most dreading her return knew what was in store for him… ;-)

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Guest Blogger: Julia MacDonnell, author of "Mimi Malloy, At Last!"

Mimi Mally, At Last!Julia MacDonnell’s fiction has been published in many literary magazines, and her story “Soy Paco” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her journalism has appeared in The Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. A tenured professor at Rowan University, she is the nonfiction editor of Philadelphia StoriesMimi Malloy, At Last! is her first novel in twenty years. It serves as a a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to fall in love and that one can always come of age a second time.

My childhood was an immersion course in the lives of girls and women.  I grew up with eleven aunts and twenty-five girl cousins, all living within a hop, skip, or a jump of one another on the South Shore of Boston.  I also had a paternal grandmother and a maternal great-grandmother close by.  Sure, I had an uncle for almost every aunt, as well as a paternal grandfather and a bunch of rowdy boy cousins, but it was the women who schooled me, and their teaching tool was the Yik Yak Club: its members, the curators of their family’s oral history.

Not that I had a name for it back when I was a kid, sneaking around to eavesdrop on Ma and my aunts as they gathered at our kitchen table, drinking cup after cup of percolated Eight O’Clock coffee.  The name came to me when I was writing my second novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last!.  The narrator, Mimi, has no use for ancient history, declaring early on, “I’m not one to dwell on the past.”  By contrast, my mother, Norma, loved nothing better than a good gab session with her sisters and sisters-in-law. She’d be the one to call the meetings, almost always around our kitchen table.  A cirrostratus of cigarette smoke would signal that a gab fest was in session.  Worried about their figures, these women smoked instead of snacking, Ma cadging butts from her sisters because she’d never dare light up in front of my father.  

What could be so riveting, I wondered as a child, that it transformed these women from familiar aunts and mothers into luminous creatures whose voices, laughter and, at times, sobs floated around on smoky air? 

Only while I was writing Mimi did I figure out the answer. I figured out that the Yik Yak Club was a place of comfort and support for its members, a place where they could confide in each other, sharing words they couldn’t say to anybody else.  Yes, serious family business was sometimes negotiated and resolved during its sessions, but the most important thing seemed to be that they were together, a small, bright gathering of women, mothers in their twenties and thirties — in my mind’s eye, all of them are beautiful — their cheeks flushed, their eyes bright.  These weren’t women with time on their hands, but women who squeezed out of the endless hours of mothering and housewifery a bit of time to be together.

The post-World War II years, the 50s and 60s, are portrayed as decades of oppression when women stuck at home in subservient roles, an epoch before our collective consciousness had been raised.  In my family, most women had worked at the Fore River Shipyard during the War.  Their subsequent ability to stay home and raise their children was experienced as a gift. As little as they had, they gloried in their homes and families, and in their role in making the arduous ascent from the working to the middle class.  I’m convinced that the Yik Yak Club eased their way, giving them not just a forum for venting, though that mattered, but a place for listening, which they did in awe and wonder, each of them shaping herself into who she would become.  The Yik Yak Club I witnessed growing up was the school in which I learned about the perils and joys of mothering, sistering, wifing, and housekeeping; where I absorbed my most important lessons about how to be a woman alive in the world.  

--Julia MacDonnell

Author Jay Crownover Discusses Opposites in Romance

Jay Crownover, author of "The Marked Men series," reflects on why the differences in characters make romance all the better. Her new book, Nash, releases April 29.

NashImageCropOpposites attract. It’s a trope that’s been around since the beginning of romantic literature and it’s always struck a chord with readers. Face it. It’s just more fun when a poor heroine is swept off her feet by the rich guy, and the bad boy is tamed by the sweet and innocent good girl.

I particularly enjoy using opposites in romance because there are so many of them to explore. Opposites in social class, looks, beliefs, upbringing. There are countless ways to pit two people against each other and then ultimately show that none of those differences matter as long as they love one another.

I usually focus on opposites in the couples I write, because I love breaking down all those differences as the story goes along. Even more, I enjoy showing the reader that some preconceived notions attached to certain stereotypes are wrong. Just because a boy is tattooed from head to toe doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy or an outlaw. And just because a girl is beautiful and comes from a well-to-do family doesn’t mean she’s happy. It’s all the stuff under the surface that connects people and makes them similar that is fun to play with.

In my new book Nash, I wrote the male lead specifically to play with the idea of appearances not telling the whole story. His outward looks are all rough and tough, big and scary, and tattooed bad ass, but at his core, Nash is really a sweet, kind, very gentle man. The same can be said for his leading lady, Saint. I wanted her to sort of have this ethereal quality, this outward appearance of being somewhat innocent and untouched. But at her center, Saint is an extremely hard and jaded young woman who has so many obstacles to get past in order to find her happy ever after. In Nash the hero and heroine aren’t really so different from one another, instead they fly in the face of what the outside world may project on them based off their looks alone.

I think the reason story lines about opposites are so popular is that the notion that true love can find a way through any set of circumstances or differences is a heartwarming one. These stories give readers and romantics hope and show perseverance against all odds. Everyone, deep down wants to believe that love really can conquer all. Plus when the hero and heroine do have major differences it makes the journey that much more fun  and the result even more satisfying when they finally find their way to a happy ever after!

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Author Lori Foster's Top 5 Favorite Dangerous Heroes

Romance author Lori Foster shares her top five favorite heroes in literature—of the dangerous variety!

I have loved soooo many dangerous heroes, but to choose my top five, I figured I’d go through different genres, with historical first. (Since historical romance is my first love—at least when I’m reading.)

HonorsSpendourCropThat immediately brings to mind my favorite dangerous hero ever, Baron Duncan of Wexton—the Wolf—from Honors Splendour, by Julie Garwood. Such an amazing medieval romance. Duncan is incredibly powerful, invincible and, best of all, honorable. The way he protected and loved Lady Madelyne…sigh. The man had unending patience and an enormous heart to go with his “I’m in charge” attitude and ability. The dialogue is the absolute best. It will always remain one of my favorite romances.

 

PerfectPartnersCROPWhen it comes to contemporary, I have to pick Joel Blackstone from Jayne Ann Krentz’s Perfect Partners. Oh my, that book is so delicious. Not only supersexy with some laugh-out-loud banter, it has the best line ever: “Good news, Dixon, she doesn’t need therapy.” (If you haven’t read it, you must! Then you’ll be in on the joke!) Joel is the perfect mix of studly alpha, hard worker, wounded soul and considerate lover. I still reread it every so often, like visiting an old friend.

 

AHungerLikeNoOtherCropMoving on to paranormal, I’ll have to say superhero Lachlain MacRieve, a big, strong Lykae who falls in love with his mortal enemy, a vampire female, in A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole. The entire series is awesome, but I fell hard for Lachlain, in part because it was the first I read by Cole but also because it started out so gruesome (which I loved) and then the story had me cracking up (which I loved!) and then…wow. Mega sexy! It’s sort of a mix of werewolves that don’t get all nasty and furry, but rather have the power (aura) of the wolf, with Scottish touches, and some dominating male attitude and tons of hilarity. Really good stuff!

 

PushingtheLimitsCropFor Young Adult, I’ll admit I’ve fallen hard for Katie McGarry stories—all of them! But Pushing the Limits is really special—because of Noah Hutchins. He’s the tough guy, with long hair and a leather jacket and bad attitude—but he’s also a very grown-up, mature young man who more than anything needs to get his family back…even while going all protective and wonderful for Echo. I love the happy ever after that Katie gave to him—and I love how Echo loves him. First love is always a special thing, and Katie knows how to do it right.

 

Warrior'sWomanCropLastly, futuristic. Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey is amazing. I loved Tedra, I loved her computer Martha, but Challen Ly-San-Ter…wow! Challen is the ultimate alpha. A throwback to the age of “a man is the protector, period, and the little lady allows herself to be protected.” Not that Tedra bought into it, and that’s where it got so fun. Challen kept his man-card, but he also managed to win over an alpha female used to being a protector, herself. When the past meets the future, a guy has to really step up—and Challen did, in all the most important ways.

 

For more tales featuring dangerous heroes, be sure to check out these Lori Foster titles: Dash of Peril, Getting Rowdy, Bare it All and Run the Risk.

Q&A with Caroline Linden and Laura Lee Guhrke

In this exclusive Q&A, romance authors Caroline Linden and Laura Lee Guhrke discuss how scandals shape their storytelling, and their upcoming scandalous romances, "It Takes a Scandal" and "How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days."

Caroline Linden: As soon as I heard we were going to be on the Kindle Blog to talk about storytelling, I knew exactly where to start, where many good books start: with a shockingly sensational scandal.

Laura Lee Guhrke: I adore scandals.

CL: Scandals, of course, occur when people break the rules. Historically there were many more rules to break, especially regarding love and courtship, and the consequences could be extreme. I think that's why scandals are central to many historical romances; they push characters out of their ruts and force them to confront new realities.

TakesAScandalCropLLG: Well, if people got to live comfortable lives, where everyone else thought they were wonderful, who’d want to read that? I think it was Laura Kinsale who said, “Prince Charming is boring. So is Princess Charming.” And romances have lots of scandal, so romance readers must like it as much as we do.

CL: I agree. And there are so many forms it can take. In my book, It Takes a Scandal, the scandal is the very fact that Abigail and Sebastian fall for each other. She's an heiress with ambitious parents: a girl who must marry well. He's the mysterious neighbor who's a suspected thief and murderer: the last man any girl should want. Falling in love with each other is the exact wrong thing to do, and yet…

HowtoLoseaDukeCropLLG: Forbidden love always makes for a juicy scandal. Of course, there’s also scandal from the past that haunts a girl forever. In How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days, Edie knows the only way to get past the scandal that ruined her is to marry well, but a husband is the last thing she wants. When she meets Stuart, the indebted Duke of Margrave, she thinks he’s the key to wiping out her past, so she proposes a marriage of convenience that pays his debts and sends him off to Africa forever. Problem is, he won’t stay gone…

CL: I love marriage of convenience stories! 

LLG: Believe it or not, this is the first one I’ve written. Twenty books, and this is my first marriage of convenience.

CL: Talk about forcing people out of their comfortable ruts! It's almost the reverse of forbidden love: instead of two people who desperately want each other, yet must overcome the objections of family and society to be together, the marriage of convenience is about two people who've got each other, but need to overcome their conviction that they shouldn't want each other.

LLG: Oh, Stuart wants Edie. He makes no bones about it. But it takes him the whole book to win her over.

CL: The best part is always how the characters triumph over their scandal. It seems there's a narrow winding path that leads them out of trouble into happily-ever-after, and they have to make difficult, painful, choices along the way—Sebastian must ask for help from the people who helped ruin him, for instance. But that happily-ever-after is very special when they've gone through that much ordeal.

LLG: Your story sounds so good! Especially the part where Sebastian has to put his pride in his pocket for Abigail’s sake. Regardless of how the scandal happens, the best scandal-based romances force the characters to overcome not only the scandal but the emotional baggage that comes with it.

CL: I can only imagine how much baggage Edie must overcome, coping with a husband she didn't expect to see, let alone one who wants her so desperately when she doesn’t want him. I'm glad Stuart changes her mind.

LLG: I think readers will be glad, too. After all, the only thing better than a scandal is a happy ending!

Readers, what's the best resolution you've ever read to a scandal? Or do you prefer not to read scandals at all? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

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Author Robyn Carr on Romance Series

Author Robyn Carr discusses why we love the continuing storylines in romance series in this exclusive Kindle post. Her latest release, "Four Friends," is now available.

RobynCarrAs a little girl I lived for our favorite Saturday night shows, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Big Valley. The men were the kind of heroes I admired most, they were fearless, handsome and powerful but gentle with women and children. And the women in their lives weren’t simpering wimps by any means. It takes a strong woman to live in a man’s world. On The Big Valley Barbara Stanwyck played a strong feminist rancher and mother of three adult sons; on Gunsmoke Miss Kitty managed a saloon.

But it wasn’t because those shows were Westerns that I loved them. I loved the continuing saga with at least one sexy hunk at the helm. Later I was addicted to Picket Fences, a contemporary small-town drama. The continuing saga has always propelled me from show to show and book to book. They can be slim volumes like Jan Karon’s Mitford series or larger tomes like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon or Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. An ongoing series is perfect for the writer—and reader!—who just doesn’t want the story to end.

All my series, most recently Thunder Point, were inspired by that continuing storyline, romantic dramas that featured the same characters in the same small town in story after story. The latest for Thunder Point, The Chance.

FourFriendsCropThere’s something else I discovered about my own work long before I realized I discovered it—I prefer to work with ensemble casts. Even in my earliest books, there’s always been at least one strong subplot. By the ’90s I expanded from creating a couple of featured characters to a group! I was giving in to temptation and writing stories with several heroes and heroines. Everyone I meet has a story, a backstory, hopes and dreams, and I usually meet them on the page. And then I connect them—either with a location or perhaps a shared goal. While I love writing small-town romances because of the opportunity to create ensemble casts, there is another genre where that works perfectly—women’s fiction! It’s perfect for delving into the lives of several women at once, all of whom have their own issues but who share one central issue, as well. I did it first in The House on Olive Street, a very popular girlfriend book about four writers, and I’ve done it several times since. The newest and probably my favorite so far is Four Friends, newly released. In a perfect world, every year I’d write a couple of small-town stories in an ongoing series like Virgin River or Thunder Point and one big women’s fiction novel that has some real contemporary teeth, exploring current women’s issues that touch all of us.

I often find myself looking back at certain books to try to figure out what went so well. I’m merely writing exactly what I want to read because it brings me such great pleasure. But my readers tell me what they like. The characters are nice. That doesn’t sound too remarkable, does it? But when I finish a book there are very few characters I don’t respect, only the rare unredeemable villain that I wouldn’t have lunch with. Most of the characters become my friends and my readers want them for friends, too. And they span a wide demographic—love doesn’t just belong to the thirtysomethings—the teens to the grandparents have significant stories and important romantic relationships. And finally, readers tell me that the characters have real-life problems and come to healthy and intelligent solutions. That’s what we all want in life and what we want when we meet ourselves and our good friends in books.

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Guest Blogger: Author Kristen Ashley on Bad Boys in Romance

Romance author Kristen Ashley shares why we love bad boys in this exclusive Kindle post.

AshleyTHEGAMBLEKristenCROP300Ah, the bad boy. How I so love them!

I will never in my life forget reading the scene in my most favorite romance novelist, Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven, when our young heroine Elizabeth is standing behind the dark, forbidding Ian Thornton. An Ian Thornton, who, if memory serves, is chomping on a cheroot and playing a game of chance.

I knew she should walk away. I knew her life was going to change and it would not all be good.

But I’m so glad she did not.

Not to mention the dastardly Royce Westmoreland of McNaught’s Kingdom of Dreams who finds himself in the possession of the kidnapped, and virginal, Jennifer Merrick. He then proceeds to deflower her and goes on to decide he’s going to take her as his mistress.

Now, I’m no expert in medieval times, but I’m thinking Royce’s decision was pretty frowned upon in those days. Heck, in these days, deflowering your kidnap victim is not the done thing, starting with kidnapping her! But he made that decision, God love him, and God love him because, in the delightful fantasy of a romance novel, the mayhem that ensued was utterly delicious.

We readers just know our girls should have nothing to do with these men, but boy how we relish watching them fall in love.

The question I’ve been asked is: why?

My answer is, when a bad boy seems all bad, the velvet hit we take when he does something sweet cannot be missed. And when he goes all out for the love of his woman, the payoff is so beautiful you’ll want to savor it again and again.

And this is because when a man like that falls, he falls hard. There is just something remarkable about taking that journey with a hero and heroine, watching a strong, authoritarian, possibly unlikeable hero fall in love to the point where nothing—not one thing on this earth—is more important than the woman he loves.

Case in point, if you can read Kingdom of Dreams and especially the part where Royce is in the games “battling” against Jenny’s family and not, at the very least, have your throat clogged with emotion, I don’t know what to say. In all the romance novels I’ve read (and there are a fair few, read: possibly thousands), the climax to a story has never been so exquisitely, excruciatingly beautiful to read as that.

Thinking this, it would not take a psychologist intimately examining my psyche to explain why many (though not all) of my heroes are bad boys. Men you would probably meet in real life and think, at first, they’re good-looking. However the minute they open their mouths, you’re looking for the door (and possibly running to it).

Enter Kane “Tack” Allen of Motorcycle Man.

To tell the truth, a lot of what Tack did and said in the beginning of that book even freaked me out! I was typing and thinking, “Oh no he did not!” There was even a part I worried would make readers hate him that I thought I should change (their conversation in Tyra’s office early in the book, to be precise). Indeed, I fretted about it for ages.

In the end, he wouldn’t let me (Tack’s like that), so I didn’t.

And I’m glad I didn’t. Because when we got his sweet, when he shared the secrets that tormented his soul, when he went all out for the woman he loved, when he fell and fell hard,the payoff (in my opinion) was beautiful.

Even now, some time after I wrote this book, I’ll think of the end of Motorcycle Man, what Tack went through (not to mention what Tyra went through), and I’ll get choked up.

That’s why I read romance novels and that’s why I like my bad boys. Because they make me dream. Because they make me feel. But mostly because, in the real world, happily ever afters are hard won. So in our fantasy worlds, we want some of the same. We want to watch our characters work for it. We want to watch them earn it. We want to know they deserve it.

And we want to feel it in our throat when they get it.

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Author Hope Tarr: Fairy Tales Do Come True

Romance author Hope Tarr dishes on selling her Cinderella-themed romance, "Operation Cinderella," to Twentieth Century Fox for major motion picture.

OperationCinderellaCROPMy story starts, as most Happily Ever After stories do, with a tried-and-true opener.

Once Upon a Time…

There was an aspiring writer girl named Hope who was in love with love. Growing up, she ate, slept, and breathed fairytales. Cinderella and Prince Charming, Snow White and Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty and Pr—

You get the picture.

In high school, Hope graduated from romance a la Walt Disney to romantic novels by the likes of Kathleen Woodiwiss, Victoria Holt, and Daphne Du Maurier. Someday, she swore, I’ll write a romance of my own.

Thirteen years and twenty-five romance novels later, I am thrilled and honored to be living my personal fairytale, sharing my Happily Ever After stories with readers as print books, ebooks, audiobooks and, before long, as a Fox feature film.

In true Cinderella fashion, I received The Call when I was least expecting it. It was a weeknight in April 2013. I was, as always, on deadline. In a burst of work ethic aka fear of not meeting said deadline, I had not only turned off my cell phone. I had placed it in an entirely other room. My stoicism bore fruit. The story, which would become The Cinderella Seduction, the finale to my Suddenly Cinderella series was cooking—really cooking—and not only because the Greek-American heroine is a personal chef. When I finally pulled my head from the pink clouds and back to earth, I saw that it was a few minutes shy of midnight. Surely such an onslaught of industry merited a reward? A peek at Twitter? A few minutes’ foray into Facebook? A goodnight signoff to my significant other?

Retrieving my cell, I saw that not one, not two, but nearly twenty voice mails, text messages, and Tweets awaited me. From my agent—I don’t care what time it is, call me! From my publisher—Hope, I have something really, really important to tell you. From my editor—Hope, OMG, this is so a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Again from my agent—If you don’t call me ASAP, I’m getting in a cab and coming over there. Now.

A stroke of midnight phone conference between my publisher in Colorado and my agent and I in New York revealed the news. My series romance, Operation Cinderella, was being optioned by Twentieth Century Fox. As a major motion picture. Assuming that was all right with me.

All right? All right!

If there was ever a time to wake up and smell the popcorn drenched in hydrogenated oil that time was now. “Yes, yes, yes!” I blurted out between breaths panted into a paper bag. “It’s not only all right. It’s…fabulous!”

Ever since, I’ve been busy mentally casting my protagonists: Macie, my fearless Goth features editor heroine turned undercover muckraker and Ross, my stubborn, salt-of-the-earth Texas transplant to Washington, DC. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, if you’re not too busy, maybe you could have a look-see at the script? And Jennifer Aniston, might you consider taking on the role of Starr, Macie’s curmudgeon managing editor with a heart of gold?

Fast forward to Oscar night…Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture! My Marchesa evening gown clinging in all the right places while hiding a decade of sins, my Manolo Blahnik “Cinderella” heels skimming the red carpet, and my real-life Prince Charming not only tuxedo-clad but wearing actual black socks to match his dress shoes…It may be in the future as yet, but I know it’s going to be amazing, magical—fairytale.

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Editor Alyssa Morris' Review: "Love and Football" series by Julie Brannagh

Julie Brannagh’s new “Love and Football” series, set in Seattle, is a refreshingly down-to-earth take on the sports star romance. Sure, the heroes of the first two books in the series, Blitzing Emily and Rushing Amy, are current or former NFL players, but they encounter fairly ordinary obstacles in their journeys to find love. In fact, the heroes find love early in both books, allowing Brannagh to focus on how a modern couple with careers and separate lives builds a solid, lasting relationship.      

BlitzingEmilyCROPIn Blitzing Emily, the first novel in the series, Emily Hamilton is a successful opera singer, fulfilled professionally but not personally after a devastating breakup with an ex who trashed her in the opera world. Struggling to rebuild her professional reputation, Emily has little time for romance. She is thrown together with Brandon McKenna, a superstar football player for the Seattle Sharks, when she falls and hits her head while delivering flowers as a favor to her florist sister at a Sharks practice. Brandon escorts a concussed Emily to the hospital, which leads to a While You Were Sleeping-stylemix up. Brandon stays the night with Emily when none of her family is available to watch over her and they wake to discover that the media believes they are engaged. Emily, meanwhile, has more booking requests than ever before and Brandon’s coach is overjoyed that he is finally settling down. And so, a deal is made—as long as it is beneficial to their careers, Emily and Brandon will remain engaged.

Since this isn’t a Regency romance, remaining engaged involves much more than simply appearing in public together on occasion and wearing a ring. Brandon and Emily essentially move in together, with charming results. They learn to take care of each other while they exchange zippy banter, but must learn to make the occasional professional sacrifice if their relationship has any hope of surviving.

RushingAmyCropRushing Amy picks up with Emily’s younger sister, Amy, a former accountant who quit her steady job to become a florist. Although she faces the challenges of a small-business owner, Amy finds creative fulfillment in her new career and is content to work hard to get her shop off the ground. A series of disappointments in love has left Amy swearing off men, but she meets famed NFL commentator Matt Stephens (who according to author Brannagh was inspired by Howie Long) at her sister’s wedding and finds herself strangely compelled.

Matt, meanwhile, is drawn to Amy and can’t seem to help himself from meddling in her business. When Amy refuses to go on a date with Matt, he orders flowers for seemingly every woman he’s ever known, even the nuns who taught at his high school. Amy eventually gives in, but Matt is forced to learn to let her handle her business without him acting as her white knight at all times, while Amy must acknowledge that she occasionally needs help.

Brannagh excels at the regional details that make contemporary romance engaging, and her Seattle, accurately drawn, manages to feel like a big city and a charming small town all at once. These details, along with well-drawn, realistic characters and refreshingly contemporary conflicts, make the “Love and Football" series a must read for fans of contemporary romance.

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Guest Blogger: Cosmopolitan Editorial Brand Director Susan Schulz

Susan_Schulz head shotCROPSusan Schulz, Editorial Brand Director for Cosmopolitan magazine, gives Kindle the scoop on the latest releases in Cosmopolitan's new partnership with Harlequin.

If you’re like me and most of the country, you are still freezing in winter cold. (And if you’re not freezing, I’m officially jealous of you. Do me a favor and don’t gloat, okay?!) So what’s better to warm you up than a brand-spanking-new Cosmo Red-Hot Read from Harlequin? And this isn’t any Red-Hot Read…. Oh no. This month’s Red-Hot Read is the long-awaited follow-up from America’s premier author of provocative fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Sylvia Day, to her best-selling novel Afterburn. The new title, Aftershock (coming out March 11), picks up on the very complicated love affair between Jackson Rutledge (known simply and sexily as Jax) and Gianna Rossi. In case you didn’t read Afterburn yet, I don’t want to be a spoiler, so read Afterburn and get up to speed, sister! Once you do, you’ll be psyched that the saga of Gia and Jax doesn’t end there. At the beginning of Aftershock, Gia basically lays it on the line for Jax. As much as she doesn’t want to lose him, she’s ready to walk away if she can’t have him on her terms. Her words to him are so strong and confident, you’ll want to adapt them for any “tough talks” you have to have in your own relationship! Jax is like a Mr. Big type, all cocky and powerful, but when he hears Gia’s words you can see his resolve just melting away. It’s every woman’s fantasy to bring a guy like that to his knees… and bring him to his knees she does. But don’t for one second think that the rest of the story is tied up with a bow. You see, he’s powerful and politically entrenched, which means her association with him opens her up not just to love, but to the not-so-welcome scrutiny that comes to anyone in the public eye. Whether it’s heated fights that Jax and Gia get into, or their love life, I can promise you Aftershock will definitely keep you warm during these last few weeks of winter. We’re  also thrilled that these two steamy reads will be available in the Afterburn/Aftershock trade paperback edition coming out on March 11th!  Happy steamy reading, my friends!

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