Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Book Review: The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild

The Improbability of Love, by Hanna Rothschild
Published 2015 by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House

About the Book:
Wickedly funny, this totally engaging, richly observed first novel by Hannah Rothschild is a tour de force. Its sweeping narrative and cast of wildly colorful characters takes you behind the scenes of a London auction house, into the secret operations of a powerful art dealer, to a flamboyant eighteenth-century-style dinner party, and into a modest living room in Berlin, among many other unexpected settings.

In The Improbability of Love we meet Annie McDee, thirty-one, who is working as a chef for two rather sinister art dealers. Recovering from the end of a long-term relationship, she is searching in a neglected secondhand shop for a birthday present for her unsuitable new lover. Hidden behind a rubber plant on top of a file cabinet, a grimy painting catches her eye. After spending her meager savings on the picture, Annie prepares an elaborate birthday dinner for two, only to be stood up.

The painting becomes hers, and as it turns out, Annie has stumbled across a lost masterpiece by one of the most important French painters of the eighteenth century. But who painted this masterpiece is not clear at first. Soon Annie finds herself pursued by interested parties who would do anything to possess her picture. For a gloomy, exiled Russian oligarch, an avaricious sheikha, a desperate auctioneer, and an unscrupulous dealer, among others, the painting embodies their greatest hopes and fears. In her search for the painting’s identity, Annie will unwittingly uncover some of the darkest secrets of European history—as well as the possibility of falling in love again.

Irreverent, witty, bittersweet, The Improbability of Love draws an unforgettable portrait of the London art scene, but it is also an exuberant and unexpected journey through life’s highs and lows and the complexities of love and loss.

My Take: 
One of my New Year's resolutions was to read more literary fiction, adding it into the mix of romance and suspense, mystery and young adult. Literary Fiction is a different animal altogether, and one that is "allowed" to break certain norms and current rules that the rest of us are bound to follow.

Head hopping? No problem. Multiple (as in twenty or so) characters with completely different viewpoints and character arcs? Go for it. Entire chapters told in first person by the painting in question? Sure. Umm, what was that last one?

Yup. Entire backstory chapters told in first person by the sentient, 300-year old masterpiece the book is named for. A painting which has an obscenely high opinion of itself, I might add, as well as opinions about just about everything else. More than a neat device to add the history and texture to the storyline, the painting actually has the most interesting and complex personality of all the characters.

This was certainly an engaging and interesting read, once I got passed some of that quirkiness and rule-breaking. The writing was poetic and flowing and wordy, painting evocative pictures of every tiny detail, almost seeming just for the sake of wordiness but in a good, old-fashioned sort of way. When something modern was thrown in (the odd use of a modern expletive, for example) it shocked more than it does in say a New Adult book where every other sentence carries an f-bomb.

At it's heart, the novel is both a mystery that slowly unravels as well as a second-chance love story for the main character Annie. Once I grew accustomed to all the unusual stylistic choices the author made, I was hooked and finished the book on a cross-country plane ride last Friday. If you enjoy complicated, meandering but ultimately well-written and exquisitely worded prose, try this novel on for size.

Grab a Kindle copy on AMAZON... or borrow a copy from your local library. Like I said, it's probably not for everyone, but those who love it TRULY love it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday Feature: Excerpt from SAY YES, by Katie O'Sullivan

About the Book:
Darby Malone has trouble saying no. Hosting a children’s Valentine party at her recently renovated gallery is the last straw, and the last time she intends to say yes to anything. That is, until she meets Ben, a well-known Cape Cod artist with eyes as deep and blue as the ocean. He stirs feelings in her that have been dormant for too long. Can she afford to say yes to him?

Ben Phillips needs this gallery show. His life has been empty since his wife died four years ago, his paintings the only thing giving him solace. But his style has changed, his art completely different than the breezy shore paintings he staked his reputation on. Can he convince Darby to give him a chance – and to consider him for more than just a place on her gallery walls? Will she give him a place in her heart as well?

She let out a sigh, tipping her chin up at him. “You know, Ben Phillips, for an artist, you’re actually a nice guy. And you have one of the sexiest smiles I’ve ever seen.” Bright spots of pink appeared on her cheeks as she laughed at herself. “There I go again, unable to filter that brain-to-mouth connection. I’d blame the scorpion bowl, but it’s really just me.”

He chuckled. “I like you unfiltered, Darby Malone.”

“You do?”

“Mmhmm.” He reached across the table again, taking her hand and twining his fingers with her. “I like you, Darby.”

Her lips formed the cutest little O of surprise, those hazel eyes dawning with comprehension and maybe a pinch of worry. He was beginning to understand the fascinating creature on the other side of the red vinyl booth, her fears and dreams. And he realized if he pushed too hard she might slip away. He dialed back on the emotion, returning to the light and slightly flirty tone that’d been working so well. “Hey, we both have a busy week ahead. Maybe it’s best if we get the check and call it a night. That way you won’t overdose on scorpion bowls, or my company.”

She grinned and agreed. He released her hand and signaled the waitress for the bill, worried he’d made a mistake by declaring his feelings. The smart move would be to let her settle into the idea slowly, wrap her head around the fact he wanted more than a one-day show. He’d take friendship, if that was all she could offer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting it all.

They walked to the parking lot side by side, his hands shoved deep into coat pockets, clutching at the lining to keep his fingers from reaching for her. Fat snowflakes drifted silently, a light coating of white already dusting the ground. The still air felt laced with magic, the swirling snow like pixie dust sparkling all around them. Her car sat next to his pickup truck under the streetlamp, the last two vehicles in the lot. He stopped next to her door as she unlocked the car. “This was fun,” she said, sounding sincere. “It’s my turn to pay next time.”

“I’ll hold you to that. And maybe I’ll pick a more expensive place.” He laughed when her eyes widened, her smile turning into more of a smirk. There’s that spunk. “Actually, I hear there’s a new Middle Eastern place opening on the other side of town with a fancy prix fixe menu we could try.”

She laughed out loud, shoving his shoulder playfully. “Why stop there? Let’s go all out for the hundred-dollar lobster at the Chatham Inn.”

Unable to resist, he grabbed her wrist before she could pull away and drew her in for a friendly hug, rocking her from side to side. “Only kidding. Scorpion bowls again soon?”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Her warm breath tickled his neck, making him suddenly aware of every soft curve pressed against him. Need stirred deep inside. She stared into his face, her eyes reflecting the same longing.

Before he could stop to think, he bent his head and captured those soft lips with his own, gently tasting the sweetness he’d been dreaming about since their first meeting. Her whole body stiffened, like she might pull away, before she relaxed into the kiss, tentative, tasting, taking his breath away. He teased her lips with his tongue until she opened for him, giving herself more fully. He fell headlong into her softness, the rest of the world fading to nothingness. All that existed was her mouth, this kiss, and the feel of her body molded to his.

He slid one hand from her waist to tangle in the mess of curls above her scarf, pulling her closer, fully claiming her mouth. He felt her hand on his cheek, cupping it gently, holding him in place as her thumb stroked a trail of fire along his jawline. The pleasure intensified as she shifted against him, every nerve ending in his body hyperaware of her touch. He had no sense of time passing until the snow fell harder, melting on his cheeks, dripping down the back of his neck.

When their lips finally broke apart, both were breathless. It took him a moment to orient himself and remember where they were.

Alone in a dark parking lot, lost in a kiss.

“Wow,” she whispered, her hazel eyes shiny, tiny snowflakes sticking to her lashes and dotting her dark curls, covering her shoulders with a fine layer of white.

She looks like an angel. My own little snow angel. He cleared his throat, trying to get a handle on the turmoil churning within, hoping she felt at least a fraction of what he experienced. His voice came out rougher than he expected, full of emotion. “Darby, I…”

She put a gentle finger across his lips, a small smile playing on those luscious lips. Her voice sounded as husky as his. “Don’t you dare apologize. I know I said it isn’t a date, but that was the most delicious kiss ever, so don’t ruin it.”

Ben’s hand still tangled in her hair, his fingers playing with the silky curls at the nape of her neck. He chuckled. “No way I’m apologizing. I’m only sorry if you’re uncomfortable with this new twist in our relationship.” He feathered light kisses along the edge of her forehead. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch.

“Twist?” Her soft murmur sent his pulse racing.

He swallowed hard and pulled back to look in her face, memorizing each curve and angle. “I thought I could do this, but obviously I can’t. We can’t be friends any more, Darby.”

Her eyes widened, her voice a whisper. “Why?”

“Because I want more. I want more dates, more kisses, more time with you in my arms. I can’t go back to being your friend when I want to move forward.” Her cheeks flushed, but since she didn’t pull away or run screaming, it gave Ben hope that maybe there was a chance. When she started to smile, the knot in his chest tightened. So beautiful.

“With kisses like that, how can I say no?” Her words teased, and her smile invited. He couldn’t resist claiming her mouth for another intoxicating kiss. A little moan rose from deep in her throat, and the knot twisted tighter still, his heart aching with need, his mouth hot on hers. Again they were breathless when they came up for air.

She inhaled deeply, opening her eyes. “But like I said earlier, I don’t have much luck dating artists.”

Her words were like tiny daggers stabbing at his hopes. Even though she hadn’t moved, he felt her slipping away, convincing herself to stop before they even started. He pressed his case, pulling her closer.

“I’m not like the other artists you dated. I’m not interested in fame or the trappings of success. I’ve already been on that rollercoaster. I want something real, and I want someone to share it with. I’ve been lonely for too long. I think you have, too.”

Her eyes glistened under the streetlight, her face filled with uncertainty. The snow continued to swirl around them. “Ben, I don’t know…”

He silenced her objections with another kiss, warm and gentle, filled with the same hope and longing as his words. Her resistance melted and she kissed him back, becoming more insistent, her hands clutching his shoulders to pull him tight. She ended the kiss and pushed him away, wriggling out of his embrace, her face looked more confused than ever. She kept her hands on his shoulders, her elbows locked while she held him at arm’s length. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I can’t kiss you and think clearly at the same time.”

He knew just what she meant, his head still spinning from that last kiss. The chemistry between them felt irresistible—so why was she still trying to deny it? “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

The grimace on her face told him the answer. “Not thinking is what gets me into trouble. Every time.”
* * * 
  Grab a copy today - on sale now at the publisher's website for $1.19 or at Amazon for $1.99. Less than that afternoon latte, and so much more satisfying to the soul...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Writing Wednesday: Candy Hearts Sale and the Art of Promotion

A year ago, I was celebrating the release of my Candy Hearts series novella, SAY YES. I was part of a two-month long release party and push to get our sweet and sassy Valentine stories out there into the hands of the public. I personally reviewed the other 40 books in the series and posted them on the blog for all of January and February. It was a lot of reading and reviewing, none of which I regret as they were all pretty good stories... but I feel like my own little story got a bit lost in the shuffle.

SAY YES sounds like it should be a wedding story, but it's not. It's a second chance at romance story, the kind I totally favor to read and write. Set on Cape Cod during a snowy winter, a painter is trying to reinvent his career after the death of his wife changed his perspective on the world. A new gallery owner is looking to mend fences with her family and avoid the mistakes she's made in the past by dating tortured artists. In the end, the heated tension between them and the one sizzling sex scene at the end were not enough to sell Valentine novellas - I think readers were looking for a little more bang for their buck (or $1.99 in this case.)

Anyway, I held out hope that my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, would put together a few anthology volumes with these stories so that they'd have a renewed shot, but that's not happening this year. They are putting the stories on sale for the month, right through Valentine's Day, but only at their website.

For all the hoopla and promo that the authors banded together for last year, there's been very little this year. At least very little collaborative effort. And while I've posted the graphic here on my blog and on my Facebook page, I'm on deadline for another book and headed to California for a week-long sales conference for my day job... but I did sign up to be part of a Valentine promo party at a local library in February. And will be reading from my story-- the moderator said to bring either a sweet or spicy excerpt, that there will be a mix of passages read.

So do I go sweet  -- I love the first kiss under the streetlights in the snow scene -- or do I abandon my Valentine story and read a spicier sex scene from another of my books? Or even read the one sex scene from this book - even though it's the climax (no pun intended) of the entire novella?

Author dilemmas with no easy answers. There's probably a right answer, but I'm not sure how to decide. Except that I know sex sells.

All thoughts are welcome - and happy writing!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Book Review: Louisiana Longshot by Jana Deleon

About the Book:
It was a hell of a long shot....
CIA assassin Fortune Redding is about to undertake her most difficult mission ever--in Sinful, Louisiana. With a leak at the CIA and a price placed on her head by one of the world's largest arms dealers, Fortune has to go off-grid, but she never expected to be this far out of her element. Posing as a former beauty queen turned librarian in a small bayou town seems worse than death to Fortune, but she's determined to fly below the radar until her boss finds the leak and puts the arms dealer out of play. Unfortunately, she hasn't even unpacked a suitcase before her newly inherited dog digs up a human bone in her backyard.
Thrust into the middle of a bayou murder mystery, Fortune teams up with a couple of seemingly sweet old ladies whose looks completely belie their hold on the little town. To top things off, the handsome local deputy is asking her too many questions. If she's not careful, this investigation might blow her cover and get her killed. Armed with her considerable skills and a group of elderly ladies the locals dub The Geritol Mafia, Fortune has no choice but to solve the murder before it's too late.


I bought this book back in early 2015, but never read it and then forgot why I purchased it. Looking at the cover on my Kindle, I was not intrigued, or impressed. Despite actually having a cartoon cover for one of my books, I really don't like this style of cover. But then I reread my own book last week (looking for a good excerpt and got caught up) and when I saw this still on my Kindle I said "Why Not?" Yeah, I actually said it out loud. And clicked open.

So glad I did.

Louisiana Longshot is a totally fun, fast-paced romp through the small-town southern swampland outside New Orleans, and CIA assassin Fortune Redding is a hoot as the first person narrator on the journey. She's cynical, sarcastic, and overly confident in her ability to handle any situation - I mean, right off the bat she brags about having killed a dictator with only a Tic Tac and improvised a silencer out of a Q-tip. Obviously the McGuiver of CIA assassins.

Going off the grid and laying low in the bayou should be no problem. Except...

I won't spoil the fun, because if you're into strong, sassy heroines you should at least grab the first volume of this series and check out Fortune Redding. There's even an ex-Marine as the small town deputy sheriff that Fortune tangles with, and despite any sparks that might fly there is no hint of sexual tension or encounters in this first book... but there's always the next one. So, not a romance but definitely women-centric action, adventure and the promise of future romantic possibilities.

This book is the start of a series, and the ebook is currently available for free on Amazon. (Ignore the cover art and) Grab a copy and give Longshot a shot. It'll definitely leave you smiling.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Writing Wednesday: Getting back in the Groove

So... I've been a bit remiss with this blog. If you've visited in the last few weeks, looking for book reviews or writing tips or snarky commentary on life... I apologize.

Excuses? Let's see.

My two older boys were home from college for three weeks in December (both left again January 2) so I planned ahead and scheduled posts for the month. My dad and sister stayed with us for the holidays, and there was the usual holiday craziness swirling around...

...and by New Years Day I was exhausted.

And way behind on both day-job work and finishing the novella I have on deadline for an upcoming spring anthology. Not to mention the piles of laundry, guest rooms to be cleaned, etc. etc. etc. Keeping up with this blog loomed over my head as one more thing, one more responsibility, one more ball I needed to keep juggling, but I just couldn't.

I'm sure you've heard it all before, but I'm only one person. I'm continually amazed by how much women get accomplished on their own (sometimes that's me) but I'm also continually amazed by how much is expected from women and that goes completely unsung. (also me. But face it, it's every woman.)

So this is my mea culpa, to both my readers and to myself. We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do it all, to just do it, to keep all the balls in the air at all times.

Sometimes we drop a ball.

Forgive and move on. Pick the balls back up, and keep juggling.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday Book Review: A Witch's Journey, by Tena Stetler

A Witch's Journey, by Tena Stetler
Published 2016 by The Wild Rose Press

About the Book:
Pepper McKay comes from a long line of powerful witches. Unfortunately, magic brings her nothing but trouble. She learned the love of wildlife rescue and rehab from her Aunt Ashling. After graduating from college, Pepper works for Salem Wildlife Sanctuary and lives from paycheck to paycheck until she inherits the McKay property in Lobster Cove. With the family land and resources, she dares to dream of starting her own wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center.

Lathen Quartz, a former Navy SEAL turned handyman maintains the enchanted McKay property for the McKay estate. But someone is trying to steal the McKay magic. Lathen offers to help Pepper achieve her life-long dream of building a wildlife center. During the long hours spent together on the project, their mutual attraction can’t be denied. But each harbors a deep, dark secret. Will they overcome their demons and give love a chance?
My Take:
Despite the witches, werewolves and ghosts that populate this tale, A Witch's Journey is a sweet paranormal romance, if there is such a category. Set in coastal Maine in the fictional town of Lobster Cove, the book is part is a series by this publisher that has different authors writing separate stories in various genres, all set in the same shared location. It's a cool concept in general, but I feel as if it may have restricted the author in this case, in that her characters didn't feel they could stir up too much trouble. Their biggest conflicts weren't external but internal, and their love story progressed a little too smoothly.

That said, if you enjoy sweet romances with likeable, warm-hearted characters, beautiful settings and minimal conflict, this might be a good way to dip your toes into the paranormal romance genre.

Find your copy on AMAZON.