2014 – a summary of my reading, contemporary and quirky romance edition

Ok, I know I was supposed to post this earlier in the week, but then my kids got the flu. You know how it goes. Read on for my favorite reads in contemporary romance and the nonexistent subgenre “romance novels that are quirky, perhaps a little nerdy, and also don’t have a lot of sex.” Stay tuned in a couple of days for my final roundup post on erotic romance, erotica, and the two non-romance, non-erotica books I read (and liked) in 2014.

Contemporary romance:

Between the Sheets by Molly O’Keefe
The Chocolate Touch / The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand
Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers
Still Life with Strings by L.H. Cosway
Private Politics by Emma Barry
Truly by Ruthie Knox

Look at the list above. These ladies are my auto-buy list for contemporary romance (and, in Molly O’Keefe’s case, for historical as well). Between the Sheets is my favorite of all of O’Keefe’s contemporary romances (that I’ve read: I’ve been saving some of the backlist to savor later on) because its characters just sang to me, especially Shelby. She’s one of those difficult heroines I treasure — her choices may not be the ones “nice” women make, but they’re the ones that make sense for her, even when they’re unhealthy. Ty and Shelby’s story is not lighthearted, but O’Keefe gave me (because, yes, this book is all for me. Back it up, bitches.) a story that was believably gritty and intense without being depressing (despite its forays into elder care, school bullies, incarcerated parents, and the ramifications of abuse).

On a somewhat more lighthearted note, Florand’s The Chocolate Touch and The Chocolate Temptation (along with the other six Florand books I read last year) provided 100% of my hot, French, chocolatier hero needs. Kim and I went gaga for Touch and probably each read it three or four times in a few months (and we’ll probably read it at least once more, soon, because we still need to write our dueling discussion on it.), and Tasha and I discussed Temptation together. If you read the last roundup post, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a sucker for heroines, but it’s Florand’s heroes who always shine. Don’t get me wrong, her heroines are great, but Florand seems keenly aware that there is great power in a hot guy who smells strongly of chocolate, and she capitalizes on that power.

Kim and I reviewed Laugh, so I won’t add too much to my obscene word count here. I loved it for all of its details — the farming and Nina’s shorts, for instance — and for its portrayal of relationships in all their messy glory. Rivers’ characters, Sam grappling with his ADHD and Nina with her grief and fear for her friend, don’t have an easy time of it on their road to love, but sometimes the best things are hard-fought. Tasha said Still Life with Strings was good, so I read it and sent shouty texts to Kim that went like this: “KIM. KIM. KIM. KIM. Did you see Tasha’s post about Still Life with Strings? Have you read it yet? DOOOO IITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT.” And she did. Lucky me, she loved it, too. (Would have been awkward, otherwise.) Ahem. This book is a tad unconventional (in all the best ways) matching a Stradivarius-wielding, slightly depressive, violinist hero and a bartending, street performing, avant-garde art enthusiast heroine. Mostly, I loved how fun it is and how it doesn’t shy away from class differences & the assumptions of the economically secure.

Private Politics is the second in Barry’s The Easy Part series (which is part The West Wing and part Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — especially the first book in the series — and all romance gold). Private Politics concerns the masks we wear and the stereotypes that can define our lives and limit our chances, if we let them. So blond, perfect, socialite Alyse, used to using her looks and image to get things done (and to being undervalued), learns how to take herself seriously and to demand the same of others. Liam, a somewhat soft, nice Jewish boy, infatuated with Alyse, transitions from lovesick doormat to equal partner (demanding respect along the way). My favorite part was Liam’s mom, but that’s neither here nor there.

Finally, there’s Truly. Now, I’ll be honest. Technically, I read this book for the first time in 2013. (It was serialized on Wattpad), but I read it as a complete book when it was released in 2014, so… I’m counting it anyway. While I’m being honest, I’ve got to tell you that Truly has two of the most potent pieces of Kelly’s reading catnip imaginable: a tall heroine matched with a grumpy hero. For reals, I love those two things so much that my bias is out of this world. But wait, there’s more: Meg starts as an extreme case of mid-western politeness and learns how to be more difficult (and more true to herself) in the wilderness of New York City (and on the road back to Wisconsin); Ben, a grumpy, beekeeping, former chef, alone and adrift, makes what peace he can with his past and does some extraordinary groveling to make up for all the times he was a douchepony. Of course I loved it.

Books I keep trying to get people who don’t like romance to read (a.k.a. quirky romance):

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
The Girl with the Cat Tattoo / The Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Teresa Weir
Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid

So, here’s the thing. I’m a romance novel enthusiast: I read romance almost exclusively, and I think that most people, if they could get past the mental image of Fabio (oh that we could all get past that image) and the idea that romance fiction — in its entirety — is guilty pleasure reading (Don’t get me wrong… there are things I read that I feel deeply conflicted about enjoying. That just proves to me that I’m doing it right.), could find themselves actually liking a romance novel or two. Romance is frequently not the problem. After all, it’s what makes pretty much any story ever interesting and relevant to humans. Buuuuuuuut…. highly descriptive sex scenes? Now, those are definitely not everybody’s cup of tea.

For those of you bravely reading this blog, certain that you’ll never, ever want to read any of the books I’m talking about because velvet-covered steel and dewy petals (and every synonym for “thrust”), this section is for you.

Attachments is a largely epistolary novel that weaves a story around emails exchanged between Jennifer and Beth, two employees at a newspaper, and narrative about Lincoln, the guy who’s been hired to monitor workplace email and ensure compliance with the company’s email policy. It’s funny and strange and ever so slightly creepy (but the creepiness didn’t bother me so much because Lincoln felt so conflicted about it). I loved it because (1) it was set around Y2K, (2) Beth and Jennifer’s emails are such an accurate depiction of friendship, and (3) it managed to have a totally believable romance even though the characters don’t actually meet until the very end.

The Girl with the Cat Tattoo is a romance and (kind of) murder mystery mostly narrated by the coolest cat ever. I’m a thwarted cat lady (my husband is allergic, so no kitties for me; otherwise, I’d happily end up with a houseful of cats and litter boxes), so the cat narrator appealed to me. The instant I finished it, I purchased The Geek with the Cat Tattoo, which I liked even better (no murder mystery to distract the story from the characters; Geek has a painfully shy human matched with a cat who controls minds and helps bring the reluctant hero and heroine together.).

Neanderthal Seeks Human self-describes as a “smart romance.” It begins in a toilet stall and follows the exploits of its narrator, Janie, an awkward architect/accountant/mathemagician who is two steps shy of autism spectrum. Janie’s POV is incredibly fun to experience, even when she misses all the obvious clues. Three reasons I love Janie: Panty Dance Parties, the way she uses the knitting group as a focus group to determine appropriate emotional responses, and her use of the moniker Sir Handsome McHotpants to refer to Quinn, the hero.  Honestly, I loved all the Knitting Series books, especially Love Hacked, but Neanderthal Seeks Human has a closed bedroom door, so I’m recommending it here. The later books in the series have significantly more sexy times (because their narrators aren’t Janie).

I hope you enjoyed this installment of my 2014 roundup. If you didn’t…

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Kim and I did a dueling review of Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers

I get excited whenever Mary Ann Rivers releases a piece of writing, whether it’s a blog post at Wonkomance or a full-length novel. I get excited about her newsletter. I was particularly excited to read Laugh, because its hero, Sam, was my favorite secondary character in the first Burnside novel, Live. I really wanted to understand what made Sam so difficult, and I got what I wanted and then some.

Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) and I decided to review Laugh together (because it’s just more fun to write reviews together). For tradition’s sake, we’ve called it a dueling review. I’ll be honest, though. We didn’t actually duel anything in our review. Check it out!

Dr. Sam Burnside is convinced that volunteering at an urban green-space farm in Lakefield, Ohio, is a waste of time—especially with his new health clinic about to open. He only goes to mollify his partner, suspecting she wants him to lighten up. Then Sam catches sight of Nina Paz, a woman who gives off more heat than a scorcher in July. Her easy smile and flirty, sizzling wit has him forgetting his infamous need for control.

Widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan, Nina has learned that life exists to take chances. As the daughter of migrant workers turned organic farmers, she’s built an exciting and successful business by valuing new opportunities and working hard to take care of her own. But when Sam pushes for a relationship that goes beyond their hotter-than-fire escapades, Nina ignores her own hard-won wisdom. She isn’t ready for a man who needs saving—even if her heart compels her to take the greatest risk of all: love.

Laugh was released on May 6, 2014 as an e-book by Loveswept. To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Mary Ann Rivers (and join her mailing list, so you, too, can get excited about your email), check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley for review consideration from the publisher via NetGallley.*

Live by Mary Ann Rivers – an epistolary review by Kelly and Kim

So, here’s the deal. When I finish a book that I loved, that managed to snuggle up to my soul in all the best ways, to entertain me and help me believe for another day that there is love (and beauty) in this world, sometimes I have a hard time writing about it.  And I recognize that it’s completely ridiculous that the books that I absolutely loved tend not to get as much love on my blog, because I loved them so much that I just don’t know what to say about them.

Anyway, I was talking to Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) about this phenomenon and beating myself up because I read Live, and I loved it, and I had this profound writer’s block about it.  Anyway, it turns out that Kim did, too, so we decided to join forces and battle our writers’ block together.  And we decided to get creative about it.

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building. But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.

Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence—penance for a failed marriage—finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other—to learn how to live and love again.

Kim: Somehow our reviews of Mary Ann’s books always include us writing a letter to her about her characters or the story or asking her to write ALL THE THINGS.

Kelly: Well, let’s face it. All the things would be better if they were written by Mary Ann. I want her to follow me around my daily life, narrating it and (thereby) making it more interesting.  So when we were trying to figure out how to start our review for Live — what we could say besides the obvious — we decided to just start out with the obvious.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

I have to hate you after reading Live. You’ve (once again) raised the standards I’ve set for my literary boyfriends because of how awesome Hefin is.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Please write me some fanfiction of your own book. I want Hefin doing laundry; Hefin putting together furniture from IKEA with a teeny, tiny Allen wrench; Hefin reading poetry.

Love, Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

I, too, want you to write fanfiction with Hefin putting together furniture. However, I want you to write me Hefin building me bookcases that he carves his face into. I also wouldn’t mind a fanfiction with him taking care of lots of little redheaded babies.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

What Kim said.  Also, is there a way to write Hefin into reality? Because I really want to come home after a long day at work and have Hefin wrap a blanket around me and make me a cup of tea.  Anyway, if you could just work on that, I’d be much obliged.

Love, Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

Your male heroes are always great. But you truly broke the mold when you created Hefin. Welsh? Wood-carver?

Kelly:  Caretaker? Goose person?!

Kim: YES. He is truly the best of men. And Kelly and I truly demand that we have more of him. Whether you write us secret fanfiction or publish another story about Hefin and Des, we demand you write ALL THE THINGS ABOUT HEFIN.

Love, Kim

Kelly: and Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

We don’t want you to think that we didn’t like Des. Therefore we would like to thank you for writing a character that doesn’t have all her shit together. A character who puts the care of her family before care of herself. In reality, a character that puts the needs of EVERYONE before the care of herself. She’s good-natured, kind, and selfless. OH. I almost forgot the best part. She’s a ginger.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you also for rendering Des’s selfless love so well, for showing how dangerous that kind of love is, for bringing Des to the knife’s edge of sacrificing her own happiness in order to demonstrate not only the unhealthiness of that kind of sacrifice but also the emotional cost of loving more healthily, the cost of self-care.  These are important lessons, particularly in a genre that is forever focusing on sacrificial heroines who give up everything for love (because of magical penis, mostly).

Love, Kelly

Kim: P.S. That lesson taught me much in my own life, so, seriously Mary Ann, thank you for writing this lesson. Realizing that seeing to your own needs isn’t selfish, but necessary, can be difficult. And thank you also for Des’s siblings, who in a way each act as a foil to Des.

Sarah is all dark, selfish, and full of angst, thanks to her injuries. (Her injuries stem from a biking accident.) Her selfishness plays off of Des’s goodness and selflessness. PJ’s aloofness works as a foil for Des’s obsession with taking care of the entire family.

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

 Thank you for writing a real, believable family that I both want to be part of and want to run from (you know, like all the good families). Thank you for making Sam appear to be such an asshole, when in reality he just loves too much, too hard, so much that his love shifts a little bit into hate.

Love, Kelly

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

Thanks for writing a (real) family that shows us even though we may fight, drive each other crazy, etc – we’re never better than when we help each other, listen to each other, and most importantly love each other.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you for demonstrating just how difficult it is to uproot your life for someone else.  That cost — all those relationships that you need to find new ways to keep, all those habits that need to change (finding new grocery stores to shop at, finding a new bookstore, finding new people to get coffee with), all the innumerable compromises you make to your life and your self to make it work — is limitless, immeasurable.  That choice is considered with all of the weight it deserves, and your book is the better for it.  Thank you.

Love, Kelly

Kim: P.S. Thank you for writing characters that are fully aware of these costs. And, because of that knowledge, the characters are more worried about how the cost affects their partner’s heart, than their own.

Kim’s Final Thoughts: Kelly and I could honestly write letters for days about this book. There are so many poignant things written, expressed, and felt within its pages. It’s an experience everyone should have, and I’m so glad that Mary Ann came into the writing world to give us these characters, these experiences, and these lessons.

Kelly’s final thoughts: Thank you.  This book felt like a gift to me when I read it, and it’s an extra special gift because I got to share it with Kim.

Twig Domes and Lovespoons – a guest post by Mary Ann Rivers

I got some exciting news this morning: It is January 21 today!  (I know, I know… it’s well past afternoon now, and how could the date be news?  Well, let me just tell you: I am in the depths of the worst allergy season I’ve ever had — currently battling my third case of sinusitis since October — and there is no such thing as time here in the pit of congestion.  I understand that time is a reality for the rest of the world, but sickness creates its own, alternate reality.)

Anyway… why is January 21 an exciting day?  It’s the release day of Live by Mary Ann Rivers, of course!  (Cue the fireworks.)  To celebrate this release, Mary Ann is providing an extended excerpt of the book (the first three chapters) on Scribd.

LIVE by Mary Ann Rivers – Excerpt by Random House Publishing Group

As if that were not exciting enough, subscribers to Mary Ann’s newsletter will also get a link to an exclusive epilogue to The Story Guy, Mary Ann’s phenomenal novella.  All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter, and Mary Ann will send you the link later on this week.  (In other words, sign up pronto. You can do so on Mary Ann’s website.)

And now I’m turning things over to Mary Ann and retreating back to the pit of congestion.

Wanderlust is is a tricky affliction.

First, it is a disease of agony. It agonizes, it seeps in everywhere and not only makes you ache, it makes you restless, often physically restless, so that you’re driving to the grocery store and looking at every exit along the way wondering how far each one might take you.

You pick up books, you put them down. You rearrange the furniture, hoping it tricks the yearning into satisfaction. I was recently telling a friend, when I was in the worst of it several years ago, I used to watch back to back LONELY PLANETS and then go stare at the ceiling on my bed, overcome with the desire to just see something, do something, be a part of something. I remember there was an episode where the host came down with Malaria, and I found myself thinking — oh, that’s amazing. I’ve never had malaria

LIVE is a book about home, but it is also a book about about Destiny — the heroine, and the idea. Her hero, Hefin, is Welsh and has traveled the world but has been held up, for years, in Ohio. Destiny has never been anywhere but her hometown, her own neighborhood. She’s surrounded by people and landmarks she’s known since she was born. 

Hefin plans, finally, on going home. To Wales, which is only his first stop before he will set off in the world again. 

Destiny believes she was always meant to stay and be a part of a landscape as familiar as her own palm. 

Except . . . 

They meet each other.

It’s one of those stories where, if it were an illustration, the picture would show two red hearts on a map, far away from each other, and a lot of uncertainty if there will ever be little dots connecting them, over the wide ocean.

Wanderlust permeates, and I think the restlessness often has to find an outlet. I think that often the outlet is creative output, making something, trying to make some mark, trying to work through all of these ideas about what you see and what you yearn for. 
In LIVE, Des is a fan of the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, and the documentary about his work, Rivers and Tides. Goldsworthy uses what’s at hand, in his own environment, to make sculptures and art. He alters what is familiar and makes it unfamiliar, and, yet, the environment always reclaims his domes of twigs and paintings of leaves — returning the landscape to its familiar view. 

She tells Hefin about it here: 

“I don’t do any kind of art. I guess you could kind of count design, but that I only do a little of, and what I do is very functional. But I have a little project, lately.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Do you know Andy Goldsworthy?”

“The natural materials artist?”

“Yes! Wow. No one knows who he is.”

“I’m a wood engineer, remember?”

“Right. Actually, you’re a sunflower engineer. But we’re quibbling. Anyway, I watched his documentary in college, Rivers and Tides and then, for months, I was always trying to make little bits of art when I was at the park—a stack of pebbles, a leaf chain, whatever.”

“Of course. I did similar when I saw it.”

“You know the big, like, hives he makes? The domes? Sometimes from rocks, sometimes from twigs?”

“The giant egg-like structures?”

“Yes! That’s what I’m doing.”

“You’re making a giant egg?”

“Actually, a giant dome. Out of sticks. My landlord, Betty, she used to live in my house with her husband, years ago, and he planted a tulip tree for her when they were young. It’s huge now. But I think it’s sick, or dying, and probably should be taken down, but Betty is sentimental about it. So it stays, but it’s dropping all of these twigs all the time. There are lots of twigs, and sometimes I just need to do something sort of repetitive and soothing to take my mind off things. So I started building one.”

“Ambitious.”

“Yes, I think so.” She was quiet. 

Destiny, here, is still anchored by her neighborhood, her family, but wanderlust has taken her. She’s altering her landscape, altering twigs from a tree that represent a past love, even. Before she’s even read to admit what she wants, her creative output is tell the world what it is she wants.

Likewise, Hefin, who’s an engineer by trade and loved it, but could never find the work that was his sub-specialty in the U.S., returns to woodcarving, the art he learned in Wales, from his father, and is traditional. What he makes is where his mind has already traveled.

Our actions and creativity intersect, often, with what it is we haven’t quite worked out in other ways. It’s part of the affliction agony — a kind of tortured sweetness. 

Perfect for a love story. 

Thank you, Mary Ann, for joining me on the blog today.  Mary Ann has graciously offered to host a giveaway of e-ARC copies of Live to three commenters chosen at random.  To participate in the giveaway (open internationally, I believe), please leave a comment about life, wanderlust, the urge to create, or the awesomeness of the name Hefin (or anything that strikes your fancy, honestly).  I’ll choose three people (with the help of random.org) at some point after 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 26.

In case you’re curious about Andy Goldsworthy.

My best and worst reads in 2013

I read a lot of books this year (172 as of my writing this), and I thought it might be fun to identify the outliers at both ends of the spectrum.

The Best:

1.  The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – There is so much life in this novella, complete with joy and pain, disappointment and transcendence. It is, without doubt, the best book I read all year. (*)

2.  Big Boy by Ruthie Knox – Hands down my favorite Ruthie Knox book (which is really saying something, guys), Big Boy is remarkably atypical for the genre.  It features characters whose sole, necessary, act of selfishness in lives governed by sacrifice is the small amount of time they take from each other.  And when they shift to giving instead of taking? It’s magic. (<3)

3.  Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand – Infertility, grief, and a broken marriage, these are the subjects of this beautifully moving novella that explores the jagged edges of two people, long in love, who were blown apart by grief but who find a way back.   (<3)

4.  A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant – I don’t know that I have ever been more surprised by a romance novel than I was by Cecilia Grant’s debut.  Thematically, the novel discusses trust, intimacy, and the slow development of love with humor so sly it’s easy to miss.  But it’s most remarkable (I think) for its complete lack of instalust and magical chemistry.  If you haven’t read this book, you really should. (<3)

5.  About Last Night by Ruthie Knox – I read this book in one sitting and, when I was done, I started it again immediately, because I just wasn’t ready to let it go. Through this book, Knox taught me how to be a better reader (and, by extension, a better woman, perhaps), to sit and savor the moments of truth that can be found in a book, to rediscover and embrace the reason I read.  (<3)

6 and 7.  The Heiress Effect and The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan – My favorite thing about Courtney MIlan’s writing is that when you start reading her books, her characters always seem so damn mysterious, and that mystery never seems like a clever device to snag reader interest.  It’s just that her characters are so full, possess such depth, that it takes a few hundred pages to get to know them.  And then you do, and your heart just breaks, because their issues are real.  You’ve met women like Jane, and you know your history — and your current affairs — so you know her plight (and her sister’s) is not unusual.  You know that all the pieces of Violet’s character really existed, lived out by real women throughout the ages.  And it hurts so much to know it, so deeply, so viscerally, a punch.  But you also know men like Oliver and Sebastian.  And even though it hurts so much to read and experience all that reality, at the end you are gifted a triumph, and it gives you the strength to keep putting your back into it, to keep living your life. (<3)

8.  The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz – By the time I reached the end of The Mistress, I was crying a little, laughing a lot, pumping my fist in the air, feeling intellectually alive and overwhelmed by joy.  And I felt rather like I did after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time, like this story that had always existed behind a veil had been revealed, and I’d had the good fortune to witness that unveiling.   (*)

9.  Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl – This book is funny, but it isn’t lighthearted.  It’s like that moment when the seas of life have buffeted you about so much that you end up getting a mouthful of sea water, and you try to spit it out with some dignity, but it just comes out as warm, extra salty drool, and suddenly it’s fucking hilarious that — on top of everything else — you’ve just drooled, so instead of worrying about drowning, you just laugh.  Anyway, it’s kind of a coming of age story for people who waited until their thirties to figure themselves out, but it doesn’t have any of that angst because it just doesn’t have time for bullshit. (*)

10.  To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer – This one made the list because it is probably the most romantic story I read all year.  I mean, come on: Eden and Levi fall in love writing letters to each other about Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  It was a foregone conclusion that I would love this story, that it would stick with me all year. (<3)

 The Worst

Well, there are the obvious contenders for worst books read all year.  there’s even an obvious winner.  But there were also a slew of books that just disappointed me (or made me disappointed in myself).  Chief among these is:

Most disappointing book of 2013: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens (<3 :~(…).  I cannot believe that I bought this, my 31st Laurens book.  I am deeply disappointed in myself.  On the other hand, it seems to have finally helped me break the cycle of addiction.  The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the next book in the series, has been out for six months, and I’ve had absolutely no desire to purchase it.

So there you have it.  Many of these books were published in 2013 but not all of them.  Some of these books were received as e-ARCs from publishers (marked with *) and some were purchased by me (marked with <3).

What are the best and worst books you read this year?

 

Spotlight – Mary Ann Rivers interviewed by Serena Bell

HeatingUptheHolidaysMaryAnnRiversBannerI may have mentioned a few times that I absolutely loved Mary Ann Rivers’ latest novella, Snowfall. I am, therefore, delighted to participate in this Christmas blog tour (*cough* It’s actually Advent *cough*) and share a video of Serena Bell interviewing Mary Ann Rivers.

This video was captured from a Shindig event (that I attended last month) hosted by Loveswept.  The event featured interviews and readings by all three Heating up the Holidays authors and gave participants an opportunity to ask questions and interact a little bit.  There seem always to be technical difficulties and a hearty dose of awkwardness with these events, but I really enjoy them (perhaps because of all the awkwardness… And, dude, I’m not exaggerating: some of the participants choose to participate fully by webcam, and one lady was putting on eye makeup — complete with that open mouth while concentrating on mascara thing — for all of us to see.  It was marvelous.).  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the interview and that you join me in attending the next Shindig event Loveswept hosts.

 Here’s some info about the novella, the author, and the anthology.

Heating Up the Holidays - CoverSNOWFALL by Mary Ann Rivers
Part of the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology
Published by Loveswept
ISBN: 978-0-8041-7840-2

Jenny Wright can’t get enough of her erotic conversations with someone she knows only as “C.” Flirting online helps Jenny temporarily escape confronting the changes to her life as she slowly loses her vision. Jenny’s occupational therapist, Evan Carlisle-Ford, is helping her prepare for the challenges ahead, but the forthright, trustworthy man can no longer ignore his growing attraction to his fiercely intelligent client. Now Jenny must choose between the safe, anonymous “C”—or the flesh-and-blood Evan, whose heated kisses can melt snow faster than it can fall.

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann Rivers

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About HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS

As leftover turkey and stuffing give way to stockings and little black dresses, this tantalizingly sexy eBook bundle offers up holiday-themed novellas from a trio of beloved romance authors. Lisa Renee Jones gives a dedicated reporter and a powerful businessman a chance to count their Thanksgiving blessings in Play with Me; Mary Ann Rivers presents Snowfall, the story of a woman who confronts a life-changing event—hopefully with a special man by her side—just in time for Christmas; and in Serena Bell’s After Midnight, an explosive New Year’s kiss leaves two strangers wondering whether they’ll ever see each other again.

Advent reads part one – three holiday novellas

I love pretty much everything about Advent.  The kitschy calendars, the weather, the music, the expectation.  Let me be clear about the music, though.  I’m not keen on listening to Christmas music before Christmas (Eve).  Nope — it’s Advent music that I love.

Well, really, you can’t go wrong with the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, especially when they’re singing my favorite Advent anthem.

I have read (and am reading) a bunch of holiday-themed novellas so far this season, and I thought it might be fun to do a short series of Advent posts featuring these books and doing mini reviews.  I hope it’s fun for you, too.

Cover image, Heating up the Holidays novella anthology

When I heard that Mary Ann Rivers had a holiday novella coming out, I was all aflutter.  Heating up the Holidays is a 3-novella bundle featuring Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones, Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers, and After Midnight by Serena Bell.  My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and I discussed all three novellas on her blog recently.  Check out our post.  While I wasn’t at all impressed by Play with Me (which I did finally finish after Kim and I wrote our review of it… and… wow. Underwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe it.), Snowfall and After Midnight are fantastic.  Snowfall is a Christmas novella about love, loss, fear, change, and stressed out E.coli bacteria.  After Midnight is a New Year’s novella about love, fresh starts, change, trust, and amazing first kisses.

Cover image, Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe, a holiday novella with BDSM elements, grabbed my interest right from the blurb.  Every December twenty-fifth, Rebeccah Rickman volunteers through her synagogue so that others can celebrate Christmas. Her usual mitzvah, or good deed, is assisting police officer Jeremy Kohler. But this year is different: this year, Becca is free to act on the attraction that has long simmered between her and the sexy cop.  Jeremy couldn’t have asked for a better gift than discovering the woman he’s fantasized about for five long years is single. But when he learns about the violence that broke up Becca’s marriage, he’s hesitant to pursue her. He fears his desires will scare her away—but can’t deny his own need for control in the bedroom. Or his longing to instruct her in the fine art of submission… Becca is shocked to learn that Jeremy is a sexual dominant. And despite her past, she’s also aroused. But before she can explore what that means, she’s going to have to put her trust in Jeremy—and her own fledgling desires.  While Matzoh and Mistletoe was by no means perfect — the story line involving Becca’s ex didn’t quite resolve, and it felt a little bit as though Becca’s past abuse existed in the narrative only so the author could explore all the ways in which a D/s relationship is not abuse — it was still a charming read that I found very enjoyable, and it tells an interesting story.

Cover image, Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Earlier in the year, I read and enjoyed a book by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, so when I saw Once Upon a Highland Christmas (Scandalous Scots #0.5) come up on NetGalley, I wasted no time in requesting it.  I wish I had taken just a bit more time to think about it, because it turns out this story really was not up my alley.  Here’s my take on the blurb: This guy named Archie has decided that Christmas celebrations are for suckers, so he decrees that no one in his clan may be even remotely festive.  But this other guy named Grim and this lady named Breena are super festive, and they decide to invite all the neighbors to a Yuletide feast and thereby to rekindle the Christmas spirit in Archie. Along the way they fall in love.  Fans of Highland romance fiction or of Christmas stories that have a Scrooge-like character who finds redemption will probably enjoy this one, because it’s full of Highland charm and magic and definitely offers a strong theme of redemption and good cheer.  I felt that the romance elements were overshadowed by the festive themes and that there was not enough conflict in the romance story line to keep my interest as a reader.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any conflict at all, but it’s all external and seems to exist in the story more for the sake of there being some conflict than because there is any element that truly needs to be overcome in order for these characters to make a happy ending of it.

So there you go… three holiday novellas.  Stay tuned for more mini-reviews of holiday-themed novellas.  (I didn’t realize how many I had read until I started making a list… I read many!)  Have any of you been reading holiday-themed books this year?

Heating up the Holidays was released on October 28, 2013 as an e-book anthology by Loveswept.    Matzoh and Mistletoe was released on November 21, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press.  Once Upon a Highland Christmas was released as an e-book on December 3, 2013 by Forever.  For more information about these books, please click on their cover images above to visit their Goodreads pages.

*FTC disclosure – I received e-galleys of all three books from their publishers via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.*