What I've Been Reading: Smexiness, Male/Male, YA, and Thrillers, Oh My!

 

Maybe it's because I brought home like fifty books from the RWA conference and I'm feeling the weight of my TBR pile, but I've been on a bit of a reading binge over the last week or two. And I've been on a pretty good streak of books--no DNFs in a while--so I figured I'd share some of what I've been reading.

 

The Saint by Tiffany Reisz (erotica)

Yes, Tiffany is a friend, but that is not why I love her books. This is one of my favorite series out there right now. Smart, sexy, dark, and epic. Don't start with this one, though, if you haven't read the rest. The Siren is book one.

 

Take (Temptation Series Book 2) by Ella Frank (male/male romance)

First, let's just say OMG this cover. *shamelessly stares* Okay, moving on. This is book two in a m/m romance series, so if you haven't read book one (TRY), start with that one. This is a filthy hot series that follows the same couple throughout. I'm thinking there is going to be a third book, but the cliffhangers aren't shameless because certain threads are wrapped up with each one.

 

Still Missing  by Chevy Stevens (thriller)

Okay, I think this book traumatized me a little. A realtor is abducted and kept in a cabin by a psychopath. It's very intense but was a compelling read.

 

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake  by Sarah MacLean (historical romance)

Why do I always forget I love historical romance? I've had this book on my shelf forever but had never picked it up. When I saw Sarah speak at RWA, I realized I needed to fix that. It was such a sexy, adorable story. Loved it. And it's only 3.99 in ebook. :)

 

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger (YA)

Okay, I know I'm like years behind on this one. Julie Cross has been telling me to read it forever, and I finally listened. Such a great story. And it's going to be a movie. 

 

Those are some of the ones I've been buried in lately. What are you reading?

 

 

 

Must Read Monday: Finally, a Writing Book for Pantsers!

 

*I put a sticky tab on any page with a point I wanted to type into my notes. Look at that rainbow, people.

I know I usually tackle fiction when doing a Must Read Monday, but I read a writing craft book this weekend that was just so fabulous that I wanted to pass it along to those of you who are writers.

As most of you know, I'm a bit addicted to reading books about the craft of writing. (Yes, I'm an unrepentant nerd.) But most of the time, those books are all about different ways to plot your book. And I like learning those techniques because I'm a pantser with plotter envy. Writing without an outline can be an anxiety-ridden process, writer's block can pop up often, and the unknown is freaking scary (especially when you're writing under a deadline.) But no matter how hard I've tried to alter my process, I can't seem to get away from my pantsing (writing by the seat of my pants) ways.

And a little part of me has always been afraid that if I was successful at plotting ahead and outlining that I would lose some of the "magic" of my writing process. Like two weeks ago, this happened when I was happily writing a story. I had a general direction in mind and then got hit with a big twist that I had never ever considered or planned. It changes what the rest of the book will look like, but I think it's the correct (and much more interesting) way to go. If I had been writing to an outline, would that had ever come to me? And if it had, would I have been willing to ditch the whole second half of the outline to go in this new direction?

That kind of "a-ha" discovery happens with every book. The big twist in Crash Into You that most people have told me they never saw coming? That was because *I* didn't know it was coming until I was 70% of the way through writing the book. The big thing that happens in Kade's backstory in Need You Tonight that explains so much about who he is now? I didn't know about it until I was halfway through the book and it hit me--wait, THAT'S what happened!

So let me tell you, it was hella refreshing to finally come across a book that doesn't just tolerate pantsing as a way for people to write but actually recommends it. AND gives tips on how to overcome some of the struggles, anxieties and pitfalls of writing without an outline. Because, Lord, I would love to be less neurotic during my writing process.

So here's the book and my review from Goodreads. Pantsers, go forth and enjoy!

Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James

 

My Review from Goodreads:

Finally, a book for pantsers! And not just one that mentions pantsing but validates the process as a legitimate (he even ventures to say superior) process of writing. I have long been a pantser with plotter envy because it seems like every book on writing I read talks about "organic" writing as the immature/impatient process and plotting as the panacea, the "professional" way. Of course, that always makes plotting sound like this lovely method that is going to take away the constant anxiety of working in the unknown and the pitfalls that come along with that (writer's block, chasing bunny trails, rereading your previous pages constantly to get back into the mindset, etc.). But after reading this, I feel like I can take a deep breath and find a place of acceptance with my pantsing ways. Yes, my method causes me anxiety, but it's also been a successful one for me, so why am I always trying to change it?

And with this book, there are methods that may even help with the anxiety involved in "flying into the mist" when writing. There are questions to ask when you get stuck or come across a plot problem. There are guidelines on what needs to be clear in each scene and how to keep the tension up. There are pointers on how to include twists. And some of the character stuff--questions to ask about their secrets, shame, fears, etc--was brilliant.

I have five pages of notes from the book and put sticky flags on way too many pages because there was too much great stuff to hold in my head all at once. I'm kind of a junkie when it comes to book on writing and can be hard to please, but I have no qualms giving this one five stars. I know I'll be referencing it often.


*I was not asked to give this review. I bought this book on my own.

Must Read Monday: The Best of My Book Binge

After I turned in a honking pile of writing, including short stories, a novella, and a novel mid-March, I was in desperate need of a break. And what do breaks mean? Book binge! :) So since I'm just getting back from the RT Booklovers Convention and haven't quite recovered my brain yet, I thought I'd share my favorites from my most recent book binge.

And I'd love to hear in the comments what you've been reading and loving lately.

Here goes, in no particular order:

Foreplay: The Ivy Chronicles by Sophie Jordan (New Adult)

Really sexy and fun AND only 99 cents right now!

 

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan (YA)

A few years in the future and they've learned how to identify the kill gene. What happens when a good girl tests positive for the gene? I loved the concept and I loved the book. I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel now.

 

Hard Time by Cara McKenna (erotic romance)

A convict hero. Yep. Every time I read a premise for a Cara McKenna book, I'm like, how is she going to pull that off? Then she does. She's become an autobuy for me.

 

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (YA)

Dude, I just went to grab the pic for this and it's on sale for 31 cents! Go buy it. I loved this book.

 

And for something a little different...

600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster (lit fic)

This one follows a man who has Aspergers and OCD. It was recommended to me and I really enjoyed it. I'd say it's more a lit fic type book, but had a good pace and kept me reading. 

 

Spin by Catherine McKenzie (women's fic)

I don't read a lot of women's fiction but this one sounded like a fun premise. Reporter goes undercover in rehab to get a story about a starlet but finds out she really needs rehab herself. Ended up really liking this one.

 

So those are my faves from the last few weeks, what are some of yours?

 

*As always, none of these authors solicited me for reviews. I don't take review requests and any recs I give are from my own personal TBR pile and based on my own leisure reading.

Must-Read Monday: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

So everyone knows New Adult books (stories with college-aged protagonists) are very hot right now. I love the genre, but I have to say, most of the stories I've read do not resemble what college looked like for me. The characters are often way more mature than I remember being at 18, and the college setting seems like a background brush stroke. But Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was a totally different experience. The way the college setting was described made me think--Yes, this. This is what freshman year looked like--dorms that always smelled like burnt popcorn and laundry detergent. Libraries that were impossible not to get lost in. Being completely clueless as a freshman. Most of us weren't hanging out at cool parties and being all hip our first yer of college (or if you were me--any years of college, lol.)  It felt authentic.

And beyond the setting, the characters are so fresh and funny and likable. The hero was adorable and not angsty or damaged at all. (Don't get me wrong, I love angsty/damaged heroes but this was a nice change up.) The heroine was smary, sarcastic, and funny. I laughed out loud a lot, which is rare for me when reading. And I couldn't put this one down.

After reading Eleanor & Park by this same author earlier this year, I was already a fan. But I liked Fangirl even more than that one. Now this author is an autobuy for me.

So, go read it, you'll thank me later. :)

About the Book:
In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Have you read anything good lately? Feel free to share your must-reads in the comments. : )

Must-Read Monday: The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith

One of the things I love about being linked into the reading/reviewing/writing community is that I get book recommendations that lead me to stories I never would've picked up on my own. So last week, when I was pouting about having two DNF books in a row, I was on the look out for something good. That's when I saw buzz around Twitter about a book called The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith. And when I saw reviewers like Jane at Dear Author and Mandi at Smexy Books raving about it, I paid attention. 

But I looked at the summary and I'm thinking--meh, I don't really read adult sci-fi. And I'm not really into books where characters have those crazy, hard to pronounce names. And wait--the hero is a lizard man? And it's something like 1500 pages long?! It's like the opposite of what I gravitate to, lol. But the reviews were so effusive and those reviewers don't hand out praise easily. So I decided to give it a shot.

And omg, I'm so glad I did. For the last five days, I've been obsessed. Like reading into the night and sneaking pages on my phone while I'm out and about. I could not put it down. I'm sure my hubs was totally annoyed with me because I've basically ignored him during our normal TV time. And for me to read such a long book in less than a week is a testament to how much it captured me. Because even really excellent 1k+ page books like Stephen King's 11/22/63 take me a while to get through because I have a hard time staying with any book for that many pages.

So, I could try to summarize the book, but there's just so much and I know I won't do it justice. (Check the reviews I linked to above if you want more of an analysis with example passages and such.) Plus, the world-building is complex, so much of what I can say probably won't make much sense anyway. But here's a bullet point list of my thoughts on the book:

  • This is sci-fi--spaceship crashing on alien planet and all. I do not read sci-fi. I should not have been the audience for this book. But it totally worked for me. So don't be scared if you don't normally read this genre.
  • If you are sensitive to reading about violence, particularly rape, be warned. This is a brutal book at times. I've heard it called erotic horror. The things the characters have to go through are horrible and intense--particularly for the heroine and the other women in the story. There were times it was hard to read and I wanted to read faster just to get some relief from the horrible dark moments. And the bad times can last a long time. No brief ten page black moment. You're there for 200 pages or more at times. Then just when you think they're in the clear, something even more awful happens. It's gut-wrenching. But I also think this is why the love story ends up feeling so epic. These two have fought through things worse than death to be together.
  • Yes, the hero is a lizardman. He has a snout and red eyes and different, er, parts. I couldn't get my head around those things before I read the book. How could that work? But it totally does. Meoraq is a fantastic hero who does not start off as a very good person/lizard. He has a dramatic journey to go on, but the end result is one of the best heroes I've read in a long time.
  • In 1500 pages, there are bound to be some slow parts. This story is broken into "books" and then chapters. In Book 2, when we first meet Meoraq, the worldbuilding takes a while. There is so much to learn about their culture and religion and the hero himself that it can drage a bit. Don't give up. Keep reading.
  • Outside of Amber (the heroine), the humans in this book are pretty horrible people. It's hard to read some of it and can be over the top. They suffer from a bad case of TSTL often.
  • Faith is an important theme in this book. Religion plays a big role in the story and it leaves you with some fantastic food for thought on what religion is and what it can/can't do for a society. I loved this aspect.
  • I think this is a book people will either love or hate. I can't imagine having ambivalent feelings about this one. I've heard some have issues with the gender roles in this book and the fact that the hero doesn't treat women well before the heroine comes into his life. (Women don't have any say in anything in that world, including refusing sex.) But I saw those roles as part of this alien society and the heroine was a good, strong badass woman to break that mold. As for how Meoraq was with women before the heroine, I felt that was a big part of his journey and made the end result more satisfying. He had a long way to go.
  • Even after all those pages, I hit the end (which was fantastic) and wanted an HEA epilogue. So--yeah, 1500 pages and I still wanted more. That says a lot.
  • This is the biggest book hangover I've had in a long time, and that's the best sign that a book really got to me. I won't forget this one for a long time.

 

So that's all I've got to say about that. : ) If you decide to read it or have already read it, let me know what you think.

 

About the book:

It was her last chance:

Amber Bierce had nothing left except her sister and two tickets on Earth’s first colony-ship. She entered her Sleeper with a five-year contract and the promise of a better life, but awakened in wreckage on an unknown world. For the survivors, there is no rescue, no way home and no hope until they are found by Meoraq—a holy warrior more deadly than any hungering beast on this hostile new world…but whose eyes show a different sort of hunger when he looks at her.

It was his last year of freedom:

Uyane Meoraq is a Sword of Sheul, God’s own instrument of judgment, victor of hundreds of trials, with a conqueror’s rights over all men. Or at least he was until his father’s death. Now, without divine intervention, he will be forced to assume stewardship over House Uyane and lose the life he has always known. At the legendary temple of Xi’Matezh, Meoraq hopes to find the deliverance he seeks, but the humans he encounters on his pilgrimage may prove too great a test even for him…especially the one called Amber, behind whose monstrous appearance burns a woman’s heart unlike any he has ever known.

From R. Lee Smith, author of Heat and Cottonwood, comes an epic new story of desire, darkness and the dawn that comes after The Last Hour of Gann.

WARNING: This book contains graphic violence, strong sexual content and explicit language. It is intended for mature readers only.

Have you ever been bowled over by a book that's not in your normal reading comfort zone? What was it? Why was it so fantastic?

 

Must-Read Monday: Two Forbidden Love Stories

So it's been a while since I've done a Must-Read Monday, but I've been catching up on my reading lately and have a few to share with you. :)

It wasn't the plan, but the last two books I've read had the theme of forbidden love (a favorite dynamic of mine to write and read about.) And both were fantastic reads. So here you go...

On the Island  by Tracey Garvis Graves

Yeah, yeah, I know I'm behind the times on this one. It was a bestseller a while ago. But it's been sitting in my stack since last year and I finally got the chance to pick it up. I really enjoyed this story. It was fast-moving and transported you to the deserted island setting. And both characters were very likeable. My only complaint was that it could've been a bit steamier after all the yummy sexual tension built up in the first half of the book, but that's just a personal preference of mine because I like a very sexy book. :) But I definitely recommend it for an engrossing read. 

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan’s summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man. 

A Little Too Far  by Lisa Desrochers

Next is a read I couldn't put down. The blurb had me from the start. A love triangle with a stepbrother and a soon-to-be priest? My first thought was -- how did me and Tiffany Reisz not write this book? (For those who haven't read us: I have the forbidden foster brother love in MELT INTO YOU and Tiffany's Original Sinners series has a priest as the main hero.)


This is a New Adult book (college-aged protagonists) and transports you Italy for most of the novel. That's one of the things I liked most about it. The setting had real life to it. Also, the story was very sexy and fun. Here's my Goodreads Review:

A Little Too Far (A Little Too Far, #1)A Little Too Far by Lisa Desrochers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I love, love, love forbidden romance stories and this one had double forbidden-ness, so yay for that. I loved the heroine's voice. She was funny and comfortable with herself and outspoken. I like that the fact that she enjoyed sex wasn't a BIG OL' DEAL. I was a little sad when I realized that I was pulling for the wrong guy in the love triangle, but I'm looking forward to his story next. I also really enjoyed the Italian setting. I felt transported there and that's always a nice treat. Very quick and sexy read!

View all my reviews

And here's the blurb:
Have you ever gone just a little too far?

Lexie Banks has.

Yep. She just had mind-blowing sex with her stepbrother. In her defense, she was on the rebound, and it's more of a my-dad-happened-to-marry-a-woman-with-a-super-hot-son situation. But still, he's been her best friend and confidant for the better part of the last few years ... and is so off limits. It's a good thing she's leaving in two days for a year abroad in Rome.

But even thousands of miles away, Lexie can't seem to escape trouble. Raised Catholic, she goes to confession in hopes of alleviating some of her guilt ... and maybe not burning in hell. Instead, she stumbles out of the confessional and right into Alessandro Moretti, a young and very easy-on-the-eyes deacon ... only eight months away from becoming a priest. Lexie and Alessandro grow closer, and when Alessandro's signals start changing despite his vow of celibacy, she doesn't know what to think. She's torn between falling in love with the man she shouldn't want and the man she can't have. And she isn't sure how she can live with herself either way.
 

If that blurb doesn't sell you, I don't know what will. :)  Also, I'm excited that Lisa is one of the authors in the Fifty First Times anthology I'm contributing too. (I actually didn't realize that until after I'd read her book, lol.) Btw, if you missed the announcement about the anthology, you can find out the details here. :)

*Also, if you entered my 50 Book Giveaway, all winners have been chosen and contacted. Thanks to all of you who participated and spread the word! :)

So how do you feel about taboo or forbidden romance stories? Has anyone read either of these.

 

Must-Read Monday: A Quick Inspiration Read for Writers and Artists

A pic of kidlet's toy at the circus this weekend

Hey, look, it's a blog! Like a real blog that's not just me giving you the latest news in between my crazed deadline state. ;) Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me over the last few crazy months. Nine releases over nine weeks straight all while trying to finish the next book before deadline proved to be quite a challenge.

I'm discovering that the writing life is a constant cycle between being insane and living in your cave (typing away frantically and neglecting all other parts of your life) and brief breaks where you blink into the light, realize life is still going on and that you'd like to be part of it again.

And part of those rare breaks for me has to be spent refilling the well. After working on a book and promotion and conferences for months, I get to the point where I feel like I've emptied all of the creativity I have onto the page and there's nothing left. So I need to take some time to fill that back up. That usually means reading a lot of books for fun, taking time to indulge in my new photography hobby, going to museums, or traveling to new places for a change of scenery. An inspiration vacation, if you will.

And so, during this process last week, I ran across a book I hadn't heard of before. It was one of the Kindle daily deals (and I'm slightly obsessed with those) and had a provocative title, so I checked it out. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon is a very brief (took less than an hour to read & has fun illustrations) book about "10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative".

Blurb (from Amazon):

You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.

When Mr. Kleon was asked to address college students in upstate New York, he shaped his speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral, and its author dug deeper into his own ideas to create Steal Like an Artist, the book. The result is inspiring, hip, original, practical, and entertaining. And filled with new truths about creativity: Nothing is original, so embrace influence, col- lect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.

I don't know if it will contain anything you haven't heard before, but something about how it was said resonated with me. It made me even more jazzed to fill that creativity well again because the point of the book is that we (and our work) are a result of all the things we fill our lives with--our experiences, our likes and dislikes, what we spend our time doing, etc. Here's one of the quotes I highlighted:

"You don't get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to...and the books you read...the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences."

--Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist, Location 71 in Kindle version

So that's what he means when he says "steal" like an artist. Not plagiarize or copy. But study and absorb all those things that get you excited, that wake you up, that make you want to aspire to something more. Take those favorite authors of yours and study what they are doing right, what is it that resonates with you? Then mix that in with all your other influences from your life, music, the TV and movies you watch, whatever make you and your writing you, and then transform it into your own unique style.

This concept also reminds you not to get too incestuous in your influences, meaning if you never read outside your genre or see movies of a different kind or push your boundaries outside of your comfort zone, you may end up looking like a poor imitation of something else. So read widely, learn from all different mediums, experience life around you, be observant, and then mash that together and find your own style.

For instance, I write erotic romance. I read a lot of erotic romance because I love it. However, I grew up on horror and suspense books. And I love John Hughes movies. And I used to be a social worker. So if you read my books, you'll see all of that. I write erotic romance that often has dark themes, particularly in characters' backstories, which is probably from both my social work experience and my love of gothic/horror novels. But there's also levity in my books because humor is important to me in a story. Like in CAUGHT UP IN YOU, Kelsey has had a rough life--drug addiction, former stripper, rape victim--but then there are scenes where she and Wyatt are quoting The Terminator to each other or she's teasing him about owning the movie, Dirty Dancing. That is my style and a way readers would be able to recognize my books from someone else's. It's the mashup of my influences. So this book reminded me that I need to keep adding to the pot on those influences and not get too narrow in my book/movie/activity choices. Otherwise, my style will get stale.

So anyway, that's a long way to say that I liked this book and recommend it, lol. And not just for writers but for anyone who engages in a creative pursuit. I bought the ebook version because it was on sale. But be warned, it has illustrations, so unless you have a tablet or a Kindle Fire, I'd go with the paperback. Plus, the ebook, unfortunately, is no longer on sale so the paperback is probably a better deal anyway.

Has anyone else read this? What influences do you see in your own writing/art/creative pursuit? Do you read outside of your genre?

Must-Read Monday: A Sexy Pick from Guest Laurelin Paige

Hi y'all! I know it's been a little while since I popped in. I have a book due on July 1st so I'm in deadlne mode again. But I'll definitely be around in the next few weeks because NOT UNTIL YOU, my e-serial, releases next week! Whee! So more about that later this week.

But right now, I have a special guest taking over Must Read Monday. Laurelin Paige has got a book pick to share with us and a sexy story of her own. So, over to you, Laurelin...
 

Must-Read Monday with Laurelin Paige

First, let me say thank you so much, Roni for letting me be here today! This blog has been a favorite of mine for years and it’s truly an honor.

When I was thinking of what book I’d choose for Must Read Monday, I have to admit that I felt momentarily overwhelmed. Because, SO MANY MUST READ BOOKS! HOW WILL I CHOOSE ONE? But as I flipped through my Kindle, Picture Perfect by Alessandra Thomas jumped out at me.

Here’s the blurb:

 Fashion design major Cat Mitchell has a closet full of gorgeous clothes - and not a single thing fits. After two years of runway modeling for easy cash, an accident shattered her lower leg bone and her self-esteem in just one swift fall. Ten months of no exercise, prescription steroids, comfort eating and yoga pants meant returning to campus as a size twelve instead of her former size two. 

When her gorgeous long-time friend with benefits sees her for the first time after her accident and snubs her in front of all her friends, Cat’s self-image hits rock bottom. Her sorority sisters all insist that she looks gorgeous, but all Cat sees is the roll of her stomach when she sits down, or the dimpling at the back of her thighs that wasn't there last year. Cat’s therapist prescribes something radical to stop the downward spiral - nude modeling for a nearby college's human form drawing classes. 

When Cat faces her fears and bares it all for the class, she realizes that she's posing naked in front the most gorgeous, buffest guy she's ever seen in her life. He asks her out after the class, and after one steamy night and six weeks of perfect dates together, Cat's absolutely smitten.

But when Cat goes home with Nate for Thanksgiving, she discovers something shocking from his recent past that proves that he hasn’t always been so encouraging of women of all shapes and sizes. Cat has no idea what to think, but she does know one thing - this might destroy their relationship before it's even had a chance to get off the ground. 

Before Cat can figure out whether the real Nate is the sensitive, adoring guy she fell in love with, or an undercover asshole, she'll have to finally feel comfortable in her own skin - even if it means leaving him forever.

And my review:

Let me preface by saying I am a sexy times reader and writer. I like my books hot, hot, hot. Hence part of my adoration of Roni who pens some of the hottest books out there. Sweet and meaningful are not usually my first pick.

But Alessandra’s Picture Perfect blew me away. It is so beautifully sweet and has a message to boot. And it’s so relatable. Cat’s struggle with her weight and sexual self-identity is such a universal theme and there just aren’t that many books that address that issue. And tell me the truth – when’s the last time you read a romance book where the hero was a size 12? I read that Alessandra had to search long and hard to find a plus-size model for the cover. Isn’t that just sad? It’s the reason we need more books like this where we are told that a small size does not equal good sex.

Speaking of sex, the author does not skimp on the bedroom scenes. This book is steaming! I absolutely fell in love with Nate and the way he treated Cat. I’m lucky to have found a man like him in my husband, who adores me and my large size. I wish I had been able to overcome my self-consciousness about size in college as Cat does. Her character’s journey and transformation are believable and rewarding. I am delighted to recommend it as a must read.

Thanks again for having me, Roni, and for letting me share a book I was passionate about.

Laurelin Paige is a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. Her husband doesn’t seem to complain, however. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing, watching Mad Men and the Walking Dead, or dreaming of Adam Levine. She is represented by Bob Diforio of D4EO Literary Agency. Her debut novel, Fixed on You, is out June 24th

 

Must-Read Monday: Another Screenwriting Gem For Writers

Typically, I reserve Must-Read Monday for fiction and non-writing related books. However, I'm making an exception today because this one is so darn good.

If you've followed me for a while, you know I'm a big fan of writing craft books. And in particular, I'm in love with books on screenwriting because I find that those techniques have clicked with my pantser brain more than anything else. I'm practically religious about Save the Cat. So anytime, I pick up a new screenwriting book, I'm hopeful, but usually am not expecting to find anything as helpful as Cat.

Well, weekend before last, I attended DFW Con both to teach and go to classes. And one of the classes I attended was Screenwriting for Writers by Lou Anders. It was definitely the most helpful class I attended all weekend. And one of the books the presentation was based on was My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter.

I came home and immediately ordered the book and gobbled it up in a few days. It's one of those books that has so many great nuggets of information that I feel like I can't hold it all in my head at once. I'm now going back through it and making notes and worksheets from the information so that I can add it to my pre-writing routine. (This is the point where I delude myself into thinking I'll one day be able to plot before I write the book.) But whether you're a pantser like me or a seasoned plotter, I think this book has a lot to offer. And reviews seem to back me up. Out of 55 reviews, 51 are 5-stars and 4 are 4-stars. That's impressive.

AND it's on Kindle right now for a mere $3.03 (for some reason, it's not available in Nook - boo). I bought it in print because I prefer my craft books in paper so that I can flip through and reference easily, so that's a bit pricier at $15.45 but still well worth it.

And if you want to read about my other must-have writing craft books, I list my faves here.

Has anyone else read this one? Anyone else a sucker for a good screenwriting book? What's your favorite book on craft?

 

Must-Read Monday: After Hours by Cara McKenna

I know I've been bombarding you with old school romance picks lately for Must-Read Monday, so I thought today I'd feature a new release-- Cara McKenna's After Hours

Here's the blurb:

A dangerous infatuation with a rough and ready man… 

Erin Coffey has been a nurse for years, but nothing’s prepared her for the physical and emotional demands of her new position. Needing to move closer to her dysfunctional family, she takes a dangerous job at Larkhaven Psychiatric Hospital, where she quickly learns that she needs protection—and she meets the strong, over-confident coworker who’s more than willing to provide it. 

Kelly Robak is the type of guy that Erin has sworn she’d never get involved with. She’s seen firsthand, via her mess of a sister, what chaos guys like him can bring into a woman’s life. But she finds herself drawn to him anyway, even when he shows up at her door, not eager to take no for an answer. 

What Erin finds even more shocking than Kelly’s indecent proposal is how much she enjoys submitting to his every command. But he can’t play the tough guy indefinitely. If they want to have more than just an affair, both will have to open up and reveal what they truly need. 

 

And here's my Goodreads review...

After HoursAfter Hours by Cara McKenna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read Cara McKenna before and enjoyed her writing, so when I saw this one was about mental health workers, I had to pick it up. My first job as a social worker was at a mental health hospital, so I could relate to the heroine's fears about her new job. I primarily worked with children, but I had to train for a few days on the locked men's ward and went through the restraint training like this heroine, and it definitely was intimidating. So on setting alone, the author did a great job of making it realistic and not falling into the stereotypes of what an inpatient ward would be like.

Also, she did a lovely job of telling this story through a gritty lens. This story takes place in a small town but it's not the typical town of small town romances where everybody is nosy and cheerful, and where main street is full of flower boxes and ice scream shops. This is a dive town struggling to keep its footing after manufacturing days gone by. If this were a movie, I'd picture it being filmed with the kind of camera they use on The Walking Dead--kind of painted in faded greens and grays.

However, despite the slightly depressing backdrop (which I liked, frankly), the hero and heroine of this book are in full color. They both have angst and issues of course, but really, they're very sweet with each other. And funny. I love my erotic romance with a fat dose of wry humor and this definitely had that. Plus, I can't resist a filthy-talking hero like Kelly. Kelly is all alpha, dominant, and unapologetic about it. The heroine struggles with reconciling her feminist ideals with Kelly's macho ones, but the clash of them together is where all the fun is. Two thumbs up. :)

View all my reviews

 

Note: This one is available in ebook only.

Anyone else read this one yet? What do you think of gritty settings or tones in a romance?

Must-Read Monday: A Movie Star, A Kidnapping, & 90s-tastic-ness

Perfect by Judith McNaught

So if you follow my blog, you know that I've been going through a phase where I'm reading old school romance from the 80s and 90s to catch up on some of the classics I missed out on. Well, when I reviewed Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love, I had a ton of people tell me, "You must read Perfect!" (Paradise also got lots of mentions, but I haven't gotten to that one yet.) So I decided to give Perfect, which is one of her contemporaries, a try. And I'm so glad I did.

Here's the blurb:

A rootless foster child, Julie Mathison had blossomed under the love showered upon her by her adoptive family. Now a lovely and vivacious young woman, she was a respected teacher in her small Texas town, and she passionately lived her ideals. Julie was determined to give back all the kindness she'd received; nothing and no one would ever shatter the perfect life she had fashioned.

Zachary Benedict was an actor/director whose Academy Award-winning career had been shattered when he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. After the tall, ruggedly handsome Zack escaped from a Texas prison, he abducted Julie and forced her to drive him to his Colorado mountain hideout. She was outraged, cautious, and unable to ignore the instincts that whispered of his innocence. He was cynical, wary, and increasingly attracted to her. Passion was about to capture them both in its fierce embrace...but the journey to trust, true commitment, and proving Zack's innocence was just beginning....

Now, what I'm loving about these older romances is how epic they feel. As writers, we can't get away with loads of backstory anymore. We have to get to the present action immediately and carefully drop in character history here and there. The style has changed. Back in the 90s, it seems that authors often started early in the character timeline. We see them in their childhood or teen years for a chapter or three. Then it jumps ahead to another pivotal moment in their lives, then the present. I think Perfect had about 80 pages of backstory and set up before we got to the present story. But it wasn't boring, "This happened long ago." Instead it's written as the present and filled with action. So it works for me. Plus, this book is long, almost 700 pages, so the author had more room to give us all that information. And the result is that you feel seriously attached to the characters throughout the story because you feel like you've known them since they were kids.

And boy was I attached to these characters and their HEA because when the black moment came, gah, I was torn up. I almost couldn't read because my head was screaming the dramatic, "Noooooo!" and I didn't want to watch it all fall apart. >.<  Any author that can make me feel that involved, like these people are real and this is not just a story, gets a gold star from me. And she does give you like a 100pg HEA so she tries to make up for all that anguish she put you through by laying on the happiness with a heavy hand. :)

Also, as a bonus, this book is from the early 90s and about a movie star, so there are cameo appearances by stars of that day, including Patrick Swayze (my very first celebrity crush.) And I had to chuckle at some of the 90s stuff like the heroine popping up her collar or the house being decorated in mauve, green, and brass. Also, because it's old school romance, there was a bit of a "forced seduction" scene where I wanted to smack the hero for being an asshat. But I realize that was acceptable hero behavior in older romances.

But overall, I really loved this book and felt like I went on a real journey. Here's my review on Goodreads: 

 

Perfect (Second Opportunities #2)Perfect by Judith McNaught
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a Judith McNaught that many people told me was their all-time favorite. I'm glad I listened to them. I love how she writes books that show characters from the pivotal moments in their childhoods and brings you forward in time. It gives the stories an epic feel and you're totally emotionally involved with the characters because you feel like you've known them so long.

And speaking of emotions, I have to say the "black moment" of this book gutted me. I felt like I needed to go cuddle puppies or something to make me feel better. Guh. It's a feat to make me feel that bleak about a couple's outcome when I *know* it's a romance and I *know* there will be an HEA eventually. I wanted to scream, "No!" and look away, hoping it wouldn't really happen. Yes, I know it's fiction. But good fiction makes you forget that it isn't real and this one did that. My only minor quibble is that the heroine seemed a little too perfect and without flaw. I know that's the title of the book, and the heroine had her reasons for being a model citizen/person but everyone has some flaws and no one is always that self-sacrificing.

Definitely one to add to your shelf, especially if you like epic, old school romance.

View all my reviews

 

So what Must-Read have you read lately?

Must-Read Monday: A Time-Travel Romance I Adored

As many of you may know if you read my blog regularly, I recently decided to seek out some classic 80s-90s romances for my TBR pile to educate myself on the earlier days of the modern romance genre. Since I didn't grow up reading romance, I missed out on a lot of the great ones from back then. So I asked y'all to give me some suggestions on a previous post (Must-Read Monday: Give Me Your Old School Romance Picks). And one of the names that kept popping up was Jude Deveraux and in particular, her book A Knight in Shining Armor.

Well, I love a good time-travel romance, so I decided to track down a copy. And I am so glad I did! Thank you to all of you who recommended it. *hugs* I adored this book. I couldn't put it down. Beyond the humor there because--hello, a medieval knight in modern times is going to be a little comical--the love story felt truly epic. I have to say that's one thing I'm noticing about the romances from this era. Like Whitney, My Love, there are so many trials the couple goes through over an extended period of time that you feel fully emotionally invested (and wrung out) by the time you get to the end.

And this story also did that thing that I always admire when a romance author can pull it off--she made me worry that I may not get my Happily Ever After. I read romance, I KNOW the book won't end tragically. But still, she had me wondering how the hell these two people could ever manage to be together. There were so many complications to figure out. I actually was tempted to flip to the end (something I NEVER do, ever.) And though I've seen some people complain about the ending she chose, I think it was perfect and right.

My beat-up copy

This book was so good that I'm considering ordering a new copy of the trade paperback to put on my keeper shelf because the used mass market one I have is a little beat up. Now you know that's when a book is good if I'm considering buying a second copy, lol. So go. Read it. 

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

Blurb:

Once upon a time...

...as a fair maiden lay weeping upon a cold tombstone, her heartfelt desire was suddenly made real before her: tall, broad of shoulder, attired in gleaming silver and gold, her knight in shining armor had come to rescue his damsel in distress....

 

Jude Deveraux's beloved bestseller has captivated readers the world over; now in a special edition featuring new material, this timeless love story greets a new generation. Abandoned by her lover, thoroughly modern Dougless Montgomery finds herself alone and brokenhearted in an old English church. She never dreamed that a love more powerful than time awaited her there...until Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck, a sixteenth-century knight, appeared. Drawn to him by a bond so sudden and compelling that it defied reason, Dougless knew that Nicholas was nothing less than a miracle: a man who would not seek to change her, who found her perfect just as she was. But she could not know how strong were the chains that tied them to the past -- or the grand adventure that lay before them.

 

Who's read this one? What did you think? What romances have you read that felt epic?

 

Must Read Monday: A YA Romance Set in 1986

Last week I was in NYC for both business and a bit of a vacation. The trip was fantastic, even though a few things went awry--like me getting strep throat and having to find a doctor in an unfamiliar city because I barely could swallow and couldn't stop getting the chills. (Btw, have I ever mentioned how miraculous antibiotics are? Ohmigod. I've never been so happy to see those big, pink pills.) Thankfully, the medicine saved the second half of my trip and I was able to enjoy the vacation.

One of the other things that went awry was the big snowstorm that wreaked havoc on my flight on Friday. We had a cancelled flight, and I ended up spending about 13 hours in airports and planes before getting home around 11pm. However, the long day wasn't as bad as it could've been because for a big part of the day I was completely absorbed in a book. I had brought my Kindle with me, which has probably about 100 unread books on it, and decided to start a new one. How to decide which one? I wanted to make sure I picked a fabulous one because I knew I'd be reading for a while at the airport. Well, I had seen Julie Cross's post about Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell  before I left, and she's my go-to girl for YA and NA recommendations. Our tastes almost always line up, so I figured it was a safe bet to pick that one up first. And boy am I glad I did. I almost forgot I was so tired and stuck in an airport.

Eleanor & Park is set in 1986 and is the story of two quirky teens who connect in the sweetest, most simple (yet poignant) way possible - on the bus. This story has humor but also some heavy family issues, so it's not a "breezy" read. But it channeled a bit of John Hughes for me. I think I saw someone on Goodreads describe it as Pretty in Pink (which came out in 1986, btw) if Andie had gone for Duckie. (And, hello, I ALWAYS wished she'd gone for Duckie instead.) So it was perfect for me. The ending was a bit open-ended, and I understand why it was that way, even though I prefer my HEAs wrapped up with a bow. But don't let that deter you. It was a fantastic book. In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm thinking I may go back and change my 4-star review to a 5-star because I'm still thinking about the book, and I'm starting to better accept the choice of ending, lol.

So anyway, here it is, go read it... :)

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Blurb:

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.

I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

Anyone else read this one? Any other Duckie fans out there? And how do you feel about left-to-interpretation endings?

Must-Read Monday: The Happiness Project

 Typically, on Must-Read Monday I feature fiction, but today I thought I'd share a non-fiction book that I recently read and loved. Now, I know I'm probably behind the curve on this one because it came out a few years ago, but hey, better late than never. : ) 

If you stopped by the blog last week, I mentioned this book in my post about Journaling for the Chronic Journal Abandoner, but I didn't really go into details about the book. So here's today's recommendation:

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Blurb:

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

I picked up this book because I'd seen it mentioned on a few blogs and then found Gretchen's blog. I liked her voice and the concepts she was blogging about, so I was compelled to try it. And I'm so glad I did. I'm a pretty happy person by nature, but I'm always open to ways to make life more purposeful, meaningful, and mindful. Time does pass too quickly, and sometimes we go through our days unconsciously putting one foot in front of the other, unaware of time just falling away. So I really wanted to see what she had to say on finding happiness and meaning in every day life.

I really enjoyed her voice and the way the book was laid out with each chapter being a month of tackling new resolutions specific to on topic such as Vitality, Marriage, Parenthood, Money. And I found myself taking notes and making my own resolutions as I went. It really was a great book for self-reflection. Plus, I love making goals, resolutions, and commandments, and learning new ways to think about things. It's already affected how I've gone about my days since I've read it. And now I have my mom reading it, and she's having a similar reaction.

I really do think there is something in this book for everyone--great nuggets of wisdom and practical advice. And if you're unsure if you'd be into the book, it's worth checking out The Happiness Project blog to get a taste of what the book is like.

So, has anyone else read this? Thoughts? What books have you read that really made you stop and think about the way you were doing things in your life?

Must-Read Monday: A Hero in Drag? Yep, It Totally Worked

First, a few quick announcements of guest posts I've put out there in the world. Would love if you stopped by:

 

 

All right, now on to Must-Read Monday...

You ever read the back cover of a book and think...yeah, I'm not sure how they're going to pull THAT off?

Well, even though I'm about as open-minded in my romance as they come, this was one of those books for me. A few weeks ago, I saw buzz on Twitter from some of the romance reviewers about a book called Painted Faces--a book with a straight, alpha male, drag queen hero. Yep, you're reading that right. Even though my first reaction was what I said above and I was worried because I like my heroes very alpha, my tastes tends to run closely to these particular reviewers (here are their reviews: Smexy Books, Fiction Vixen, and Dear Author) so I figured, what the hell, I'll try it. (Plus, it was on sale and you know how I am about a book sale.) And I'm SO glad I did.

This book was totally unconventional and different but also really sweet, funny, sexy (and dark at times). Nicholas dresses in drag for performances only, so during his every day life, he's in guy mode. But both sides of him are very important (and there is believable backstory attached to this.) And the heroine, Freda, embraces both sides of him, which is the beauty of their relationship. Also, Freda is a fun heroine to go on the journey with. She's quirky, awkward, sarcastic, and self-deprecating. Because this was in first POV, it also had a "new adult" feel to it. 

Painted Faces by L.H. Cosway

 

I can't say I'd ever expected to read a romance where the hero teaches the heroine how to walk in heels, lol, but it totally worked. Don't be afraid of the unconventional hero, and check this one out. It's only 2.99 in ebook.

Has anyone else read this one? What book have you read that you kind of didn't expect to like but it totally surprised you? What's on your must-read list this week?