Tuesday, 13 May 2014

HarperImpulse is One!

HarperImpulse is the (fairly) new imprint from HarperCollins, which specialises in romance - whether that's contemporary romance, rom-coms or regency rakes.

So in celebration of their first birthday last week, I've picked my three of my favourite books from their imprint so far...  Here's to many more years of HI bringing us the love!

Wendy Lou Jones' delightful The Songbird and the Soldier tells of cross-lines and hearts and love letters between a soldier and the girl left at home.  I've always had a soft spot for heroes in uniform, and Jones manages to paint the complications that come with being away from home for so long, and in such a pressured environment, beautifully.

An gorgeously written read which made me cry.

Recently engaged, one of the most stressful things I've had to face is how expensive everything wedding-related is in the face of our (comparatively) small budget.  So Samantha Birch's The High Street Bride's Guide couldn't have come at a better time.

It's realistic, no-nonsense approach to avoiding spending your entire life savings on this one day, took a massive load off my own back, plus it's fun.  And makes a hell of a lot of sense.  I'm going to be glued to this over the next two years!!

Mandy Baggot's Made in Nashville absolutely enchanted me!  Firstly there's the whole country music aspect (I might have been continually oscillating between Lady Antebellum and Dolly Parton on YouTube recently) and then there's the characters...  Jared is utterly lush as heroes go.

But more than that, it surprised me.  I read a hell of a lot of romance novels, and so to get one where something big (in this case we're talking massive) takes me by surprise, well...it's just great!!  Well worth a read.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Lessons in Rule-Breaking, or What I Wish My Journalistic Career Was Like...

Journalist Jess has always followed the rules when it comes to her career: 
1) Never say no! Trying to extract a tell-all interview from bad boy of the art world Xander Heaton might be her own worst nightmare, but she's just going to have to grin and bear it!
2) Absolutely no flirting on the job -professionalism is key to a journalist's success. Even if Xander does have her imagining the most unprofessional scenarios…
3) If resistance proves impossible, remember the golden rule - never kiss and tell! One night with Xander and she's broken at least one rule...and discovered it's much more fun breaking rules than making them!
Christy McKellen's second novel, Lessons in Rule-Breaking, is all about developing your confidence and going after what you want - professionally as well as in the bedroom...

As a blogger and freelance web journalist, I'm incredibly jealous of Jess's job.  Plus, if I met a Xander I'd be seriously tempted (though not enough to leave C) and McKellen does a fantastic job of developing her fully. Her background has left her with serious confidence issues, particularly in how she looks, and these are explored in a sensitive way.  I particularly liked the way that Xander tried to accept her panic in the restaurant, even if he didn't wholly understand it.

I think that some of the key scenes come towards the end of the book.  There are moments when Xander realises that he has to truly understand and accept Jess's insecurities - which can be a very difficult thing to do when you're attracted to someone so very very much.  It's at that climax in the novel when everything Jess fears and dreams of collide and she's left in the midst of her own private horror film.  Kind of like when a lovely dream switches midway and becomes a nightmare instead!

I loved the development of the characters, the fact that it's set (for the most part) in Italy, and the clash of two very different worlds of the characters.  Plus the steamy scenes are well written and very engaging.

A great follow-up to what was a fab debut and I can't wait to read more from Christy McKellen!

And Mills & Boon boy Steve seemed similarly impressed...

Beach Bar Baby, or Why "I Love You" Isn't Always Necessary

Beach…After some bad news, Ella jets off to sunny Bermuda for a bit of solo R & R… 
Bar...By day six, surrounded by honeymooners and smug marrieds, she has to admit the solo bit is getting a teeny bit boring! Why say no to a casual date at the bar with ripped, tanned and enigmatic Cooper Delaney? 
Baby!It’s really not Coop’s style to flirt with tourists, let alone hook up with one again. But he can’t get the sweet London girl out of his head. A business trip to Europe is the perfect chance to see her. Only he finds Ella curvier, prettier…and keeping a secret he was so not expecting…
Ella was first introduced in one of Heidi Rice's very first ModernTempted novels, Cupcakes and Killer Heels, back when it was still in its RIVA incarnation.  In fact, it was the book that introduced me to RIVA and started a long and happy love for MT novels...  So I was pretty delighted.

And for good reason.  Ella is adorable.  She's sweet and funny and the perfect match for enigmatic Cooper.  You do really feel for her, especially when she's just been told that she is, in all probability, going to have serious issues in conceiving.  But one night with Cooper and the unexpected happens...

There are a couple of things about Beach Bar Baby that makes it stand out.  Firstly, the ages of our hero and heroine.  Ella is older than Cooper by about six years.  I like this - it's nice to see a balanced relationship develop where the heroine doesn't have to be younger than the man.  And Rice doesn't shy away from highlighting Ella's concerns about this either, which just adds to the depth of her character.

In addition to this, and possibly my favourite aspect of this book, comes with its climax.  Warning:  Spoilers!!  Cooper doesn't say "I love you".  This may seem like the most outrageous thing for a romance novel to do, but actually it makes a hell of a lot of sense.  As readers we are left in doubt of his love for Ella - as is Ella herself - but Rice realises that it would be out of character for Cooper to say those particular words at the moment and so she doesn't force the issue.

There's a hell of a lot of pressure on men to be hyper romantic - particularly at pivotal moments in a relationship - but I genuinely don't think they're necessarily needed.  After all, they're just words.  Recently I got engaged myself (still dancing inside) and my proposal story isn't particularly fancy but it was perfect.  So yeah.  Kudos to Heidi Rice from giving us a Happy Ending without the "I love you."

Mills & Boon boy Steve said that the snippet that he read was really funny...

Monday, 5 May 2014

One Night with Her Ex, or Revisiting the Guy You Left Behind

Can you honestly say you don't want me?

Lily Montgomery finds the perfect antidote to an anticlimactic New Year's Eve: a hot, up-against-the-door one-night stand with a sexy millionaire. Trouble is, the man in question is Kit, the ex-husband she's spent five years getting over.

For Kit Buchanan, the past few years have been hellish! He's conquered the business world, but when it comes to the bedroom he's had the mother of all dry spells. Clearly he needs to get Lily out of his system once and for all!

But one supercharged night later, Kit's not so sure. After all, why move on when he's having so much fun where he is?

Exes.  They can cause so much stress and heartbreak, mess with your head, and in the case of Lily and Kit, really screw up your sex life.

Lucy King's One Night with Her Ex looks at what happens when closure comes in the form of a one night stand with your ex.

I think the thing that makes this Ex Factor story (haha! puns!) stand out for me, is the fact that the characters really haven't got over each other.  Lilly's consciously been struggling with the end of their relationship, whilst Kit has been struggling with his inability to perform in the bedroom.

So when Kit turns up on her doorstep, the intention is to have sex.  Instead of fighting the attraction they have for each other - which is so often the case with second chance love stories, they throw themselves into one hot and steamy night.  Of course, the next morning, they start to wonder whether it's worth just continuing...after all, mindblowing sex is mindblowing sex...

King cleverly inverts some common tropes - Kit hasn't had sex at all since their split, whilst Lily's had a number of short-term relationships and flings - and then there's the split itself.

It's interesting to see how each of the character approach the reasons they split differently, and then to see them overcome these differences.  There is a balance where blame is put to one side and they take responsibility for their own roles in the breakdown.

And by the end, you're longing for them to get that second Happy Ever After...

Anthony, our Mills & Boon boy, opened the book right to the reconciliatory sex scene - as can be guessed from his face!!

Flirting with the Forbidden, or Dyslexia and Romance

He can look…but he's not supposed to touch!

Bodyguard Noah Fraser hasn't seen diamond heiress Morgan Moreau for eight years—but the image of her naked body has been imprinted on his mind ever since! The sexy socialite was totally off-limits and it took every ounce of Noah's iron control to walk away….

Now he's been hired to protect her again, so picking up where they left off definitely isn't an option. But Noah's body doesn't seem to have got the memo—keeping his hands off Morgan is a 24/7 battle! And how can he resist the forbidden when giving in is so irresistibly tempting…?

Joss Wood is one of my favourite writers for a reason; her writing's funny and smart, and she doesn't shy away from dealing with issues.  And it's this that makes Flirting with the Forbidden stand out.

Morgan has dyslexia.

And the key thing is, is that dyslexia's not just thrown at Morgan for the sake of it.  She's struggled all her life with the condition, but it's at the opening of the novel, where her family need to her to put her jewellery designing aside for a short while and help plan a large event, that it comes into the forefront.

She gets no choice in the matter - it's been decided already - and no-one stops to think about how this is going to affect her.  From the moment she realises, she's besieged with fears of failing.  The reason that she usually keeps out of the family spotlight is to avoid situations such as this.

And then on top of this there've been threats of violence and Noah Fraser - the man who turned her down eight years ago - as been appointed to work as her bodyguard.

The sweetest part of this, for me, is the way that Noah picks up on her nervousness and understands her fears in a way her family can't even begin to.  It's that which is the basis for a deeper connection.  Plus he's hot.  Really hot.  And the chemistry between them doesn't seemed to have lessened in the eight years since they've last seen each other.

Talking to Joss, she's said that this is one of her favourite novels, and it's easy to see why.  The characters are relatable and human, and we can't help but fall in love with them falling in love each other.

Mills & Boon boy Anthony was addicted!!

The Secret Ingredient, or How to Write a Character with Depression

Lottie's top tips for dating:

1. Ignore all advances from inappropriate men. Celebrity chef and notorious heartbreaker Rob Beresford can certainly flirt, but that doesn't mean his intentions are honourable!

2. Keep your cool. Rob is not a safe bet, so don't let him see that he gets you hot under your apron!

3. If 1) and 2) fail, indulge in a wild fling with said inappropriate man. Because remember, wild nights with no strings attached are this man's specialty!

But Lottie is about to discover that Rob has a few secret ingredients to add to the mix, which could make her throw her tips out the window forever!

I've already raved about how Nina Harrington applied tea to difficult circumstances throughout Trouble on Her Doorstep, so when Dee's business partner Lottie clashed with Sean's brother Rob, I was pretty psyched.

And boy was I right...

The key to The Secret Ingredient are the characters.  Rob is fiery and famous and startlingly protective of his delicate, artistic mother, so when Lottie helps him out, looking after Adele and offering her a haven when she needs it.  And for that, Rob can't help but be reluctantly grateful.  But when it's clear that they're both attracted to each other, Lottie may have to put her search for The One on hold, as he's allergic to Happy Ever Afters...

Though the romance is the driving force of the narrative, it's the way that Harrington deals with Adele Forrester's depression that truly lifts this into brilliance.

The issue is, that Adele's depression and episodes are increasingly difficult for Rob to process and deal with.  As a result, there was a danger that she could become a cloying presence that readers have very little time for.  Instead, we empathise with her and Rob, captivated by her good nature and her interactions with Lottie.

Far too often, in popular culture, those with mental instability demonised or ridiculed.  Depression is not something to dismiss or joke about, and it is wonderful to read a book where the response is not just "they're putting it on".

Inspiring writing.

Mills & Boon boy Anthony seemed just as impressed...  :P