Thursday, 19 December 2013

The History of Modern Tempted

I'm delighted to welcome you back, once more, to Modern Tempted Day, here on CLAficionado!  And am rather excited to inform you that the 18th of every month, here on in, will be designated as such.

This month's point of discussion is the history of this illustrious imprint.  Modern Tempted (or Harlequin KISS as it's called across the pond), is the revamp of RIVA, which was my favourite Mills & Boon imprint for about two years.  But to truly understand it's origins, we have to delve even further back in time... to Mills & Boon Temptation.

The very first Halequin/Mills & Boon Temptation book

Launched in February 1985, with LaVyrle Spencer's Spring Fancy, Mills & Boon Temptation heralded the mainstream rise of sensual romance for Mills & Boon.  Starting sensual and ending with downright saucy books in the 90s, the covers of Temptation started to move away from handdrawn images, towards more realistic depictions of characters before many of the other imprints.

In 2000 it was replaced by Sensual Romance, which in turn split, becoming Blaze in 2005.

This overhaul was echoed five years later when Mills & Boon Romance merged with Special Editions (which they'd bought from outside) to form the current Cherish line.  Those books in Romance that were highly sensual moved - along with the sexy Modern Heat books - into RIVA.

Since then, RIVA's become Modern Tempted, and the sexy, sassy books that I've been raving about for the last couple of months have become staples for any Mills & Boon fans.

In some ways for me, as someone who discovered Mills & Boon first through Temptation, it seems only right that everything's come full circle, and I am delighted to be hosting the Modern Tempted Day each month.  And I urge you to go try some for yourself.

So, as per usual, I present my reviews of this month's delightful offerings:

Mr (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart

After the Party by Jackie Braun

The Dance Off by Ally Blake

And Jennifer Rae's debut novel:  Confessions of a Bad Bridesmaid

Confessions of a Bad Bridesmaid, or How to Nail a Debut Novel

She should never have agreed to be a bridesmaid!
Bridesmaid Olivia Matthews has arrived at her best friend’s glamorous society wedding – and stepped into her worst nightmare! From her cleavage to her attitude, nothing about Livvie is welcome – and before she knows it she’s won the disapproval of everyone there.
The only silver lining is best man Edward Winchester. He might be a bit uptight, but he’s also gorgeous and kisses like an X-rated dream... So Livvie decides there’s only one way to redeem this wedding from hell: persuade control freak Edward to cut loose and have his wicked way with her. If only he’d stop being so chivalrous...!
Jennifer Rae’s debut Mills & Boon novel is charming from the very first paragraph.  Opening with:  “It wasn’t just cold.  It was bones-aching, tits-freezing cold.” Her vivacious voice and ability to capture places and people caught me too.

Olivia is not perfect.  She gets unbelievably drunk at her best friend’s wedding weekend, flirts with all the wrong guys (including some creepy rahs who could have walked straight off the Made in Chelsea set) and wears dangerously high stiletto heels in the depth of a British winter.

But I like that.  I have a fairly bad habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and genuinely can’t help replaying those cringeworthy moments again and again and again – I still have nightmares about things that happened at primary school.

So Olivia is the kind of character who I can identify with.  She reinvents herself, forces herself out of her comfort zone and goes for everything with all she’s got.  And I love her for it.

Edward’s just the right side of uptight.  He’s sweet and kind, and is fighting what he sees as an inappropriate attraction so hard that when it finally culminates in a kiss, it’s fairly mindblowing.  Rae captures the “we don’t talk about that” aspect of the British family so well.  And to those who argue that it’s a cliche – bull.  It’s totally true.  Unbelievably so.

And aside from all this well-developed and in-depth characterisation, she delivers on a romance that makes your toes curl with the lushness of it all.

An incredible debut, and I can’t wait to read her next book!

And our Mills & Boon Boy Tony is impressed with her debut too:

The Dance Off, or Why We're Hoping for 25 More Books from Ally Blake

“Where are your leg-warmers?”

Dancing lessons...? Hot-shot architect Ryder Fitzgerald can’t think of anything worse! But he spots a silver lining in the form of smoking-hot Nadia Kent, who’ll be teaching him his steps for his sister’s wedding – maybe this won’t be so torturous after all...

Nadia is staying well clear of Ryder – never mind how jaw-droppingly hot he is. She made the mistake of letting a guy get in the way of her ambition once before, and she’s not about to do it again. No matter how well he swivels his hips!

But, as electricity crackles in the studio, restricting their chemistry to the dance floor becomes a challenge... The only question is, who’s going to make the first move?
It’s been ten years since Ally Blake published her very first book, and that’s ten years packed with fun, sassy and delightful romances.  The Dance Off is her 25th book for Mills & Boon, and I was totally psyched to see what she came up with.

Now, I’ve always been a little bit in love with dancing – especially when there’s handsome rugby players involved (oh Ben Cohen – next week’s Strictly Come Dancing final won’t be the same without you!!) – so having her heroine as a dance instructor was always going to win me over.  And then there was Ryder.  Suited and so hot he could start a fire with his intense gaze, he seemed to be the perfect fit for free-spirited Nadia.

I loved the fact that Nadia’s career is something that is in development.  She’s working towards overcoming her previous fears as well as perfecting Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics.  This incredibly sensual woman makes the perfect foil for Ryder, though even she doesn’t expect the way he reacts to her.

There’s a wonderfully intimate scene where she performs a routine for him that becomes a mix of emotion and lust until he joins her in the ribbons and they join together in every sense of the word.

Ally Blake’s the queen of creating characters who spark against each other in ways that mean that they come to accept their pasts for what they are (ie. the past) and move on together.  The Dance Off is no different.  Both Nadia and Pyder have issues that can’t be ignored and it’s only in opening up to each other that they find the courage to face their problems.

So yes, loving everything about these characters and their story, and there’s a tiny part of me that wants to see how Ryder’s sister and her fiancĂ© got together...

And Mills & Boon Boy Tony loved it just as much.

After the Party, or How to Balance a Protective Hero with a Sassy Heoine

You’re cordially invited to...

Ella Sanborn loves a good party. Back in her socialite days she used to be the life and soul of them! Now, however, Ella’s on the other side of the invitation – organising parties rather than attending them. But Ella’s no quitter. She’ll become New York’s premier events planner even if it kills her! Which working with strait-laced new client Chase Trumbull might well do...

Chase has been too busy saving his family’s business to find much to laugh about recently. He might have agreed to throw a themed party, but that doesn’t mean he’s off duty just yet! Until he meets Ella. Something about her tempts him to loosen his tie, take off his suit jacket and finally have some fun...
It’s always interesting when you meet a side-character who tugs at your heart strings just as much as the main characters.  Chase’s grandfather has a form of dementia which means that as Ella and Chase’s relationship develops we see his memory disintegrating.  Heart-breaking.  Braun creates a thought-provoking portrayal of the effects of dementia on families as well as on the patients themselves.

At the same time, the chemistry between the two main characters builds and builds, culminating in sex on a sideboard and any number of sizzling scenes.

I think what really touched me about this was Chase’s protective streak.  Before he even realises that he’s falling for Ella, he comes to her defense when faced with the stepmother-from-hell and almost has a coronary over the fact that the entrance to her building seems to permanently be prompted open with a brick.

Chase’s protectiveness stems more from his burgeoning feelings, and is more about caring for Ella than trying to control what she does.  The one time he oversteps the line – hiring someone to make sure that she doesn’t mess up planning his grandfather’s party – she puts him firmly in his place.

I love my women sassy, strong and overcoming the past, and Ella’s the epitome of this.  A fantastically strong woman who doesn’t need a man to define herself, it just so happens that Chase is so lovely she can’t help herself.

Our Mills & Boon Boy Tony seemed just as impressed...

Mr (Not Quite) Perfect, or How Men Are Pressured to be Perfect Too

What do women really want?
Journalist Allegra Fielding has a problem. She’s pitched a story to her boss – how to transform a not-so-perfect man into Prince Charming – and now she has to deliver! But where is she going to find a man willing to take part in a makeover? Time to blackmail her flatmate, Max...
But Allegra’s cunning plan backfires spectacularly when Max refuses to be ‘perfected’! He’s a guy who knows what he likes, and he’s going to enjoy proving to Allegra that there’s nothing hotter than a man who’s a little rough around the edges...

I love this idea of a not-so-perfect hero.  Of course we know, even if it does take Allegra forever to realise it, that Max is utterly perfect for her.  The concept of creating the perfect man though, does raise some interesting issues.

In some ways this works as an inverted My Fair Lady, with Allegra as a zany Professor Higgins, just as densely attempting to reinvent someone who is perfect just as they are.  We forget sometimes that there is pressure on men to be the idealised version of manhood that’s touted in magazines and in the media, just as there is for women.

We’re told that the perfect man is sensitive, can read our minds, cook and dance.  The perfect man would forgo watching football in order to curl up on the sofa with us and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

Sometimes, we’re so caught up in what seems perfect or ideal, that we don’t see what is in front of us.

And this is what Hart addresses.  She has her hero be male, but completely opposite (and occasionally even adverse to) Allegra’s idea of the perfect man.  She makes us challenge the way we look at our partners and question why we can sometimes unintentionally push people to be someone they’re not.

By the end of the novel, Allegra and Max accept each other for who they really are, as opposed to who they want each other to be, and that seems very special.

In a society which is continually pushing us to be the perfect, idealised, lobotomised version of ourselves that in reality bears little resemblances to who we really are, this is a breath of fresh air.  Brilliant.

Plus there’s a scene in a taxi that almost made me combust on the Tube… ;)

This month's Mills & Boon Boy, Tony is more than capable of holding his own, especially when reading ModernTempted books!