The Stranger I Married – Sylvia Day

the stranger I married.jpgEven though I often find them implausible and rife with Big Misunderstandings, I am a sucker for marriage of convenience stories. Amazon knows this about me, and has a way of suggesting new titles that make them seem enticing. Time and again I fall for the sales pitch, the clever cover copy. It’s just one of my many character flaws.
So when events transpired that I needed to buy a book by Carson McCullers, I decided to see what new recommendations Amazon had for me – and was intrigued by the come on of The Stranger I Married by Sylvia Day. The beauty of one-click purchasing is there is no time for remorse or second thoughts.

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Wicked Ties by Shayla Black

wicked ties.jpgShayla Black’s Wicked Ties is the most baffling of books, the kind that manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. It isn’t alone in that. There are plenty of books that should be tossed aside and disliked for whatever reason. And yet they aren’t. They can’t be, because somehow they rise above plot issues, or character issues or any number of craft foibles to be compelling and compulsively readable. Likeable…in spite of themselves. Wicked Ties does all that: gives the reader a plot that begs to have its Swiss cheese holes exposed; characters that are archetypes; and a general feeling that the only way to improve the situation is to throw the book against the nearest wall. Any yet throwing the book isn’t an option because valuable reading time would be lost. And for whatever else Wicked Ties is, it’s a book that, once started, demands to be read.

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Swept Away by Toni Blake

sweot awat.jpgThe debate over what constitutes “erotica” versus “erotic romance” versus…well, versus whatever descriptive the book-buying public is using at that moment to define these sexy works, is one guaranteed to drive even the most level-headed reader to hunt down the nearest bottle of pain relievers. The definitions are murky. The marketing purposely misleading. The availability of titles growing, perhaps too much. The authors traveling from publisher to publisher making any distinction between publishers even harder to ascertain.
An otherwise intelligent person could get confused.
Into this mess walked publishing giant HarperCollins. A bit later to the genre party than other publishing houses such as Kensington and Berkley, HarperCollins launched its own brand of erotica with the Avon Red imprint. Avon Red’s books are self-described on the imprint’s website as: “…the best, most sophisticated erotic fiction available in the industry…” If the launch single title Swept Away by Toni Blake is any indication, the definition should include the word “romance” in bright, shining letters because the focus of Swept Away is, and stays on, a romance.

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Enchanted – Nancy Madore

Cover - Enchanted by Nancy MadoreOnce upon a time, a young woman stood at the edge of the library stacks, wondering where, oh where, she’d find her perfect story. Years went by, and she continued to seek the perfect story. One was too hot, one was too cold, very few were just right.

Still she kept reading, deciding that no one tome would fit her every mood. She settled on a mix of stories, figuring variety was the spice of fantasy. After all, there is a great difference between story and reality. One always ends just right, the other, well, you know how it is when you wake up to cat vomit. Or morning breath. They sometimes smell the same.

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Lying In Bed by M.J. Rose

lyinginbed.jpg Harlequin’s new imprint Spice, is the stalwart publisher’s entry into the hot, and increasingly bloated, erotic fiction marketplace. If erotic fiction and Harlequin—the publishing home of countless 30 year old, virginal heroines and conflict that can always be resolved in a precise number of pages with a ring and a pregnancy—seem an unlikely and uneasy partnership, that’s because they are. Spice’s aim is to offer the women clamoring for super hot, non-traditional reads, erotic fiction that isn’t bogged down with all that sex. The result is a line of books that shines bright lights into shadowed corners, smoothes out the rough edges, and generally feels like a favorite strip club that is now run by Disneyland.

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The Deadliest Denial by Colleen Thompson

thedeadliestdenial.jpg There is a crux in fiction, a contract between the author and the reader regarding the suspension of disbelief. Readers are willing to step into fictitious worlds and accept the reality presented within and in return authors make those fictitious worlds feel real. What readers are willing to buy into ranges from the impossible to the highly unlikely. In Steam Punk, readers accept a Victorian setting with modern day technology. In Science Fiction, readers accept that humans—or human like species – populate the vast reaches of the universe, traveling and communicating through means that are purely speculation on the author’s part. In romance, readers time and again believe that a playboy will give up his multiple bed partners for that one special woman or that a prince will marry a peasant girl. To aid this disregard of reality, fiction must be couched and grounded in something plausible: readers accept the implausible 200 year old vampire, Louis, in Ann Rice’s Interview With The Vampire because despite Louis’ drinking of blood, rising with the moon, and immortality, he is mired in emotions so human every reader can relate. When fiction is burdened with characters and storylines that strain credibility on top of asking for the usual suspension of disbelief, fiction is doomed to failure. Such is the case with Colleen Thompson’s The Deadliest Denial.

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Promise Me Forever – Lorraine Heath

Promise Me Forever coverLorraine Heath’s Promise Me Forever was a PBR reader suggestion, and since I’ve never read Heath (how is it that I’ve read more romances than the average soul, yet managed to miss so many big-name authors?), I eagerly volunteered. Sheesh, now I’m telling whoppers before I start the review. I volunteered because I love a challenge.

As teenagers, Lauren Fairfield and Thomas Warner fell in love (as only teenagers can do) despite their different stations in life. Then Lauren was whisked off to live in London and Tom took up cattle ranching. Now Lauren’s a proper lady who still mourns her first-and-only love – and, conveniently, Tom is now a long-lost earl (also conveniently filthy rich) arriving in London to take his proper place in society. One can only guess at the odds that Lauren and Tom will somehow reconnect and rekindle and reunite.

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All U Can Eat by Emma Holly

allucaneat.jpgEmma Holly doesn’t write your mother’s romances. Nor does she write the sort of erotica your bookstore doesn’t carry. Sex and heat aside, what she does write is divergent enough to preclude many expectations about what an Emma Holly novel is. Her backlist jumps subgenres from Regency vampire, to contemporary werewolf, to Scottish shape-shifter, to steampunk (yes, once and for all that is what The Demon’s Daughter was), to contemporaries that are too erotic for traditional romance and too sweet for hardcore erotica. It is the mixture of envelope pushing sexuality with tenderness and a happily ever after that unites Holly’s work. To her latest contemporary, All U Can Eat, Holly brings her trademark heat to the fictional Pacific Coast town of Six Palms and in the process adds another subgenre to her collection: murder mystery.

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Deep, Dark, & Dangerous by Jaid Black

deepdark2.jpgI was suckered. There they were, two grown women, giggling like twelve-year old girls who’d seen their first half-naked man on a book cover, and still I walked up to them. I should have been wary – they were holding matching books and offered me one. Instead I picked up Jaid Black’s Deep, Dark, & Dangerous. It was like they’d planned for me to do that all along; the hers-and-hers books were a diversion. I said, sure, I’ll read it for review. And I did, all because they looked so sweet and innocent.

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Champagne Rules by Susan Lyons

champagnerules.jpgThe cover of Susan Lyons’ debut novel Champagne Rules depicts a nude couple, face to face, embracing. The man is dread-locked, goateed, and well muscled; the woman is soft, slender and at ease. It’s lovely; sexy but not gratuitous, erotic but not graphic. It’s also overlaid with an aborigine tint that mutes the contrast of the models’ skin colors and washes out the sharp lines of their bodies. This might be a random artistic decision—perhaps covers that appear to be a solid shade of eggplant are the new thing—or it might be that the color purple plays heavily into the plot—but this does not turn out to be the case—or perhaps rendering the cover models colorless is the publisher’s attempt to suggest social commentary on interracial couples: the skin color doesn’t matter; all that matters is the coming together of man and woman. Or perhaps the cover is shrouded in ambiguity because the interracial couple at the heart of Champagne Rules: Jaxon Navarre, a Jamaican immigrant to the U.S., and Suzanne Brennan, an Anglo-Canadian, are a couple in conflict over priorities rather than one whose story hinges on the difference in their skin colors.

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