A MONSTER LIKE ME by Pamela Sparkman

Heart of Darkness series #2

HELLO STRANGER by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels series #4


Companion to the Full Tilt series


Heartbreaker Bay series #7

UNWRITTEN by Jen Frederick

Woodlands series #5

Cross My Heart by L.H. Cosway

Hearts series #5.75

MOONSHADOW by Thea Harrison

Moonshadow series #1

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review: After Dark with the Duke by Julie Anne Long

Sparks fly when a daring diva clashes with an ice-cold war hero in the newest thrilling romance in USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series.

Series: The Palace of Rogues #4
Publication date: November 30, 2021
Published by: Avon Romance
Genre: historical romance

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She arrives in the dead of night, a mob out for blood at her heels: Mariana Wylde, the “Harlot of Haywood Street,” an opera diva brought low by a duel fought for her favors. But the ladies of the Grand Palace on the Thames think they can make a silk purse from scandal: They’ll restore her reputation and share in her triumph...provided they can keep her apart from that other guest.

Coldly brilliant, fiercely honorable, General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, is revered, feared, desired...but nobody truly knows him. Until a clash with a fiery, vulnerable beauty who stands for everything he scorns lays him bare. It’s too clear the only cure for consuming desire is conquest, but their only chance at happiness could lead to their destruction.

The legendary duke never dreamed love would be his last battleground. Valkirk would lay down his life for Mariana, but his choice is stark: risk losing her forever, or do the one thing he vowed he never would...surrender.

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Well, where should I start? I've lived in San Francisco for more than a decade, usually with at least one cat. I won the school spelling bee when I was in 7th grade; the word that clinched it was 'ukulele.' I originally set out to be a rock star when I grew up (I had a Bono fixation, but who didn't?), and I have the guitars and the questionable wardrobe stuffed in the back of my closet to prove it.

But writing was always my first love. 

I was editor of my elementary school paper (believe it or not, Mrs. Little's fifth grade class at Glenmoor Elementary did have one); my high school paper (along with my best high school bud, Cindy Jorgenson); and my college paper, where our long-suffering typesetter finally forced me to learn how to typeset because my articles were usually late (and thus I probably have him to thank for all the desktop publishing jobs that ensued over the years).

Won a couple of random awards along the way: the Bank of America English Award in High School (which basically just amounted to a fancy plaque saying that I was really, really good at English); and an award for best Sports Feature article in a College Newspaper (and anyone who knows me well understands how deeply ironic that is). I began my academic career as a Journalism major; I switched to Creative Writing, which was a more comfortable fit for my freewheeling imagination and overdeveloped sense of whimsy. I dreamed of being a novelist.

But most of us, I think, tend to take for granted the things that come easily to us. I loved writing and all indications were that I was pretty good at it, but I, thank you very much, wanted to be a rock star. Which turned out to be ever-so-slightly harder to do than writing. A lot more equipment was involved, that's for sure. Heavy things, with knobs. It also involved late nights, fetid, graffiti-sprayed practice rooms, gorgeous flakey boys, bizarre gigs, in-fighting—what's not to love?

But my dream of being a published writer never faded. When the charm (ahem) of playing to four people in a tiny club at midnight on a Wednesday finally wore thin, however, I realized I could incorporate all the best things about being in a band — namely, drama, passion, and men with unruly hair — into novels, while at the same time indulging my love of history and research. 

So I wrote The Runaway Duke, sent it to a literary agent (see the story here), who sold it to Warner Books a few months after that...which made 2003 one of the most extraordinary, head-spinning years I've ever had. 

Why romance? Well, like most people, I read across many genres, but I've been an avid romance reader since I got in trouble for sneaking a Rosemary Rogers novel out of my mom's nightstand drawer (I think it was Sweet Savage Love). Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Laurie McBain...I cut my romance teeth on those ladies. And in general, I take a visceral sort of pleasure in creating a hero and a heroine, putting them through their emotional paces, and watching their relationship develop on the page. And of course, there's much to be said for the happy ending. :) 

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After Dark with the Duke (The Palace of Rogues, #4)After Dark with the Duke by Julie Anne Long
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed every single installment of the Palace of Rogues series so far. While the newest book is regrettably my least favorite of the four, there were still moments to be swept away by Julie Anne Long's beautiful writing. She has a way of evoking passion and emotion between her characters that's a pleasure to read.

   He was a bloody castle. And she, like a wildflower, 
had been seeking out the chinks between the stones 
from the beginning.

This was a opposites attract romance where the hero and heroine have a significant age gap. In fact, Mariana Wylde is only a few years older than the hero, the Duke of Valkirk's son. She is a disgraced opera singer who was branded the “Harlot of Haywood Street” after a scandalous duel was fought in her honor. The newspapers printed conjecture and lies about her moral character which resulted in her fleeing one night from a sanctimonious mob. She arrived on the doorstep of the Grand Palace on the Thames in desperate straits. Near penniless, friendless, and with no prospects of getting hired by anyone in the near future, she hoped the proprietors would take pity on her and give her a place to formulate a plan. It so happens that England's most revered war hero was currently residing there in order to write his latest book, and her presence is an immediate affront to his honorable sensibilities.

These two rub each other the wrong way from the start. While Angelique and Delilah show her respect and withhold judgment, James believes every slanderous word printed about her in the papers and deems her unworthy. James has built his entire career and reputation around the concept of honor. That honor has made him God-like in the eyes of society and the weight of it has become burdensome. In reality, we are all human with the imperfections that come along with humanity. It's unrealistic to hold ourselves up to this unrealistic standard as an example to others. in the beginning of the book, James comes off as fairly pompous and condescending. Not only has he risen in society by having been given a dukedom, he's cushioned from judgement by the ton over any transgression he could possibly make. Not that he would ever allow himself a moment of weakness in any life decision that would tarnish the sparkling life he has built. Or would he?

Valkirk’s entire allegedly blameless life 
ensured he was spoken of only in hushed, 
reverent tones, and the details of his life 
had been reported as national news, 
safely on the front page of the newspaper. 
Never on the gossip pages.

Mariana's only sin was perhaps succumbing to her passion and taking a lover at a time when only men were free to explore their sexuality without limits. After she ended a consensual relationship that resulted in a duel, she was immediately blamed for the two men's foolish actions and slapped with the sensational label of Harlot. The judge and jury of public opinion was ruthless, setting out to destroy her with no questions asked. It's kind of a sad thing to think about that things haven't changed all that much in modern times. I enjoyed the author's exploration of this theme in the book. It illustrated how malicious gossip and slander could potentially have catastrophic effects on a person's life. If it weren't for Mariana's strong will and bravery in the face of all of the hate aimed at her, she could have easily folded like a deck of cards.Her inner pride didn't allow for self-pity or fragility. It's that strength that allows her to hold her own when it comes to James' disdain.

After one rude exchange between the two of them in which he attempted to shame and embarrass her, he regrets his actions and apologizes. He offers to give her private lessons in Italian as an olive branch which she accepts. It doesn't take long before their attraction starts to bloom. Their attraction eventually leads to clandestine nightly meetings that they both become addicted to despite their heads telling them that it can only end badly. The conflict between the two of them is pretty predictable. He feels obligated to maintain his pristine public image, and going public with a relationship with her would almost certainly decimate the legacy he has worked so hard to build. His life has been built around suppressing his emotions and controlling his desires. Then she comes along and shows him true passion and companionship. He's been undeniably brave on the battlefield, but doesn't know if he can face disapproving public scrutiny. Towards the end of the book, James makes an unforgivably insensitive and careless offer to Mariana that's basically like a knife in her back. You could chalk it up to pure stupidity, but really, for him to say what he said to her would mean that he didn't value her as a person at all. That he was ashamed of her and wasn't willing to show the world that he respected and valued her. By the end, he does redeem himself, and shows her with actions rather than simply words that he was wrong and deeply sorry. I respected him for that.

Some types of loneliness had only one cure. 
He was hers. She was his. 
But the notion of that was unbearable. 
God help him. He just wanted to keep her.

I did have some issue with the lack of natural progression in their feelings for each other. It felt as if one moment they were not attracted in the slightest bit (on his end he found her to be average and unremarkable in looks) and then suddenly they were fantasizing about each other uncontrollably. I needed a little bit more in order to believe this drastic pull between the two of them. Then when it was revealed what he had been writing in his book the whole time it didn't add up to what he had been thinking and saying in regards to her. I wanted to believe it but the mechanics didn't quite fit for me. 

    He had, in fact, never been this hungry for any other woman. 
He had the oddest sensation he was meeting his true self 
for perhaps the first time, and Mariana 
had somehow affected this introduction.

I also felt that the plot was a tad slow in the first half and I had to force my attention to stay on the pages. Maybe that was due to the focus being solely on the Grand Palace inhabitants' interactions and a lack of any relationship building between the hero/heroine. While the humor in JAL's books is always appreciated at some level, after three books the house banter and quirky cast can start to get stale if it's not freshened up. Also, there wasn't really any lead-in to the next book like the ones in the past which have always whet my appetite for the next installment. Not that I'm really complaining really, because this series has been such a resounding success that I would read whatever she puts out, even without a synopsis. Naturally, some books are bigger winners than others, this one just happened to not hit all the right notes. The eighteen year age gap was personally a bit much for me to wrap my mind around, though many particularly love reading books with this trope so it won't be an issue at all for others. I just couldn't stop thinking about the fact that she was basically the same age as his son and therefore in a whole different generation and stage in her life. Their children will be close to the same age as their grandchildren. If you find happiness together, more power to you, but I admit that it's an awkward thing for me to think about.

As always, I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next in the series and I'll be eagerly reading whatever it is, no questions asked. You Were Made to be Mine is due for publication in June of 2022.



Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Blog Tour with Excerpt: Dark Tarot by Christine Feehan

Light and dark combine as the cards reveal hidden truths in this intoxicating installment in Christine Feehan’s #1 New York Times bestselling Carpathian series.

Series: Dark #31
Publication date: November 9, 2021
Published by: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance

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Sandu Berdardi continues to exist only to protect his people. An ancient Carpathian, his entire long life has been dedicated to honor above all else. He knows his time has passed, especially since he has not been able to find his lifemate—the anchor to keep him sane in a world he no longer understands. But just as he truly starts to give up hope, a voice reaches out to him in the night and his world explodes into color.
Adalasia enters Sandu’s mind seamlessly, as if she has been a part of him forever. While she can see the shape of things to come in her deck of cards, her gift is both a blessing and a curse. The true course of Sandu’s quest remains unclear, with danger waiting at every turn. She cannot see everything the future holds, but she does know it is a journey the will take together.

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     Adalasia’s voice was soft. The notes like music, penetrating right through skin and bone, deeper still, through his heart to pierce his black, black, very tattered, very scarred soul. He could almost feel the way her amazing voice managed to weave together pieces of that broken travesty. He was at his most vulnerable, unable to see properly—and at his most lethal. An unknown male was touching his lifemate. There were enemies close, humans—but enemies nevertheless.
     “We’ve benefited from your guidance so many times, Lasia. I can’t imagine what we would do without you,” the other male said as he slung his arm around Adolf’s shoulders.
     The need to kill receded slowly as Sandu recognized that the two males were obviously a couple. He breathed away the monstrous response that had arisen so strong in him followed by so many other unfamiliar emotions he hadn’t ever had to cope with. Jealousy? Was that a true emotion an honorable Carpathian would feel? It was a little humiliating to think that he would experience such a thing. He stood still, breathing, letting the air move through his lungs, waiting for the terrible crash of unwanted feelings to cycle through and leave him so he could think rationally.
     Sandu allowed himself the luxury of drinking her in while the two men took their leave and moved down the steps and away. He immediately cut off anyone else from entering her shop simply by standing on the lowest step. There would be no way to get around his large body. He heard her swift intake of breath, and then her eyes met his.
     “Adalasia.” He said her name with deliberate gentleness. “Sandu Berdardi.” He gave her the courtesy of his name.
     Her gaze swept the width of his shoulders, his tall, intimidating form, his dark eyes and hard demeanor.      Because he was a man who noted every detail, he caught the slight tremor to her voice.
     “Adalasia Ravasio. How did you find me?”
He ignored the question and gained a step. That put him nearly to her. One more stair and he’d be on the same one with her. She didn’t give way.
     “You can’t be here. You have to go.” She whispered the warning, ducking her head as if she feared someone might overhear or be able to read her lips.
     He gestured toward her sign, the one that said she did readings. “I’ve come for your guidance.” He took another step, forcing her to back up to the shallow porch.
     “I read your cards. There was danger all around you. You have to go while you can, Sandu. You might think this is all silly and a game because I read cards, but I’m not wrong. You have to leave.”
He stepped up onto the porch beside her. She wore a dark, long, olive-colored skirt that fell around her ankles in soft ruffles. Her camisole was very modern, much more so than he would have approved, but now that he was close to her, he could see the way the lighter olive-colored material showcased the swell of her breasts. The laces going up the valley between her breasts drew attention, making him want to explore those curves.
     He put his hand very gently on her flat belly and exerted pressure to back her through the open door. “Are you concerned about the three men and the woman watching you from across the way?” He reached behind him and closed the door firmly.
     Adalasia gave a little sigh and moved around him to open the door and turn the sign around that proclaimed she was giving another reading. “You’re a stubborn man.”
     “It’s best that you realize I have no intention of leaving you behind. If I leave this place, you will be traveling with me.”

From DARK TAROT published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House 

LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Christine Feehan.


Christine Feehan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including the Carpathian series, the GhostWalker series, the Leopard series, the Torpedo Ink series, and the Shadow Rider series. Learn more online at christinefeehan.com.
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