Contemporary Romance

Review: Irresistibly Yours by Lauren Layne


Title: Irresistibly Yours (Oxford #1)
Author: Lauren Layne
Date of publication: 6 Oct 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Sports

Author's links:
Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 4 stars


Hotshot sports editor Cole Sharpe has been freelancing for Oxford for years, so when he hears about a staff position opening up, he figures he’s got the inside track. Then his boss drops a bombshell: Cole has competition. Female competition, in the form of a fresh-faced tomboy who can hang with the dudes—and write circles around them, too. Cole usually likes his women flirty and curvy, but he takes a special interest in his skinny, sassy rival, if only to keep an eye on her. And soon, he can’t take his eyes off her.

Penelope Pope knows all too well that she comes off as just one of the guys. Since she’s learned that wanting more usually leads to disappointment, Penelope’s resigned to sitting on the sidelines when it comes to love. So why does Cole make her want to get back in the game? The man is as arrogant as he is handsome. He probably sees her as nothing more than a barrier to his dream job. But when an unexpected kiss turns into a night of irresistible passion, Penelope has to figure out whether they’re just fooling around—or starting something real.


I generally enjoy sports romance and this one does stand out among them since it's about the sport journalists and not the players, but the game and the fan love for it is so very strong and noticealby present in the story. It's was such a sweet, funny romance I greatly enjoyed.

This is a spinoff series but I haven't read the previous set of books and this didn't affect my enjoyment of the story in the slightest.

Irresistibly Yours is my first book by Lauren Layne and I liked her easy, comfortable writing and the smooth flow of the story as whole. There was the right balance between drama, humour, sex and tender emotions.

Penelope (Tiny) is not your typical romance heroine - she is a tomboy, a real sports fan, who tries to act as one of the guys because she ultimately doesn't believe she is attractive/sexy. This self-depreciation could easily come off as annoying and too contrived but that was not the case. I found it fitting her character and when it came to being with Cole she didn't act shy despite her inexperience and insecurities.

Cole was an interesting character as Penelope, though certainly more typical than her. A sports writer, a lady's man but also someone who starts feeling the pressure of being all alone, of being his brother's only support system. His gradual realisation of his attraction to Tiny was sweet and it did take him by surprise.

Taken on its own some elements in the story should not work for me - a tomboy heroine who doesn't realise how attractive she is, a womaniser hero who falls for a woman who is not his usual type at all and he is all baffled by it. Surpringly put together these elements the way Ms Layne did, I found them true-to-life and strangely attractive.

I loved the sports aspect of the story as well, the sense of loving a game, caring about it and respecting the players. I liked the easy camaraderie between all the characters, the sense of community and friendship which I always appreciate in a romance novel.

Cole's secret side, his relationship with Bobby was also wonderfully done, without going overboard in sentimentality, just real, emotional but also messy and at time tiring and confusing.

Overall, this turned out to be a very enjoyable, sweet and light romance and I'm very much looking forward ot reading more in this series!

Puchase links: Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo


Review: A Fortunate Blizzard by L. C. Chase


Title: A Fortunate Blizzard 
Author: L. C. Chase
Date of publication: 2 Nov 2015
Genre: MM romance, Holiday
Author's links:
WebsiteTwitter / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 3.5 stars


There are worse things than being stranded in a blizzard.

Artist Trevor Morrison has always appreciated the little things in life, treating each day as a gift. And with good reason: he’s been on the transplant-recipient list for too long now. When he learns just how numbered his days truly are, he resolves not to take them for granted. But he won’t be unrealistic, either—which means romantic commitments are off the table.

Marcus Roberts seems to have it all. He’s handsome, financially sound, and on the fast track to partnership at a prestigious law firm. In reality, though, his drive for success has meant no time for friends or relationships. Add in the fact that his family discarded him long ago, and he’s facing yet another holiday season alone.

When the biggest snowstorm to hit Colorado in decades leaves Marc and Trevor stranded at the same hotel, a chance encounter and a night of passion leads to more than either of them expected. Finding comfort in each other is a welcome surprise, but time is not on their side. Either they find a way to beat the odds, or they lose each other forever.


This is my first book by L. C. Chase and I picked it up because I was in the mood for a sweet Christmas story and it may seem superficial but I founf the cover quite appealing. I wasn't disappointed in my expectations and this turned out to be a truly sweet, sexy Christmas story.

I liked both main characters, Trevor, an artist who is living life to the fullest since his days are already numbered because of a terminal disease and Marc, a lawyer who is too focused on work and still too stuck in his past to really appreciate what he has and enjoy life.

They meet by chance in a snow storm and it becomes a fortunate blizzard for them indeed. I'm not a fan of insta love stories and here things started as just one night of passion which gradually became a few more nights and days (over the holidays). The attraction and chemistry between Trevor and Marc were strong and things developed into deep feelings fast (even a bit too fast for me), inn line with the holiday theme the romance was warm and fuzzy and made me smile a lot while reading it.

I liked how art and following ones dreams were incorporated as main themes in the story. Both Trevor and Marc had lessons to learn in life and the circumstances forced them to learn them in high speed. I liked how they completed each other, balancing their strengths and weaknesses.

The story had the perfect HEA ending, though some events en route to it, seemed too good to be true. I enjoyed the writing for the most part and the story had a nice easy flow to it. Occasionally the language seem too flowery and over-the-top poetic but it didn't bother me too much.

This story is sweet and romantic, perfect read for the holidays. A reminder that there is happiness in life and light and love are possible even when they seem the most unlikely. I usually like more realism in my romances but at the same time, some fairytale, meant-for-you forever type of love story never hurt anyone.

This is recommended read for romance lovers. Make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle warmly in bed with this love story.

Purchase links: Riptide Publishing / B&N / Kobo / All Romance / Amazon / iBooks


Best Books 2015 - Part II


Here is the second part of the my list of Best Books of 2015 - some queer romance, a non-romance neo-noir love story, some erotic stories, some diverse one - all books that spoke to me and made me feel involved in the characters' lives.

1. Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy - a hockey NA romance where two best friends discover their feelings for one another run deeper than friendship. I loved how this story explored bisexually, being gay (out) in professional sports and all the intensity and confusion of first (big) love. 
Review / Buy on AMZ 

2. Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins - Off Campus series is my favoruite queer NA series and this installment spoke to me on personal level. I LOVED everything about it and wrote my most personal review of the yesr
Review / Buy on AMZ ARe 

3. Everything I left Unsaid by M. O'Keefe - It's a duology of contemporary erotic romance which I absolutely loved. Ms O'Keefe made my Best Books list last year too and this is even edgier, darker than the previous books of hers I have read. It's superbly written, emotional and engaging.
Review / Buy on AMZ ARe 

4. Badger by C. M. McKenna - This is a story unlike anything else I've read recently. A non-romance, a neo-noir story about love/lack of love and loss and pain, oh so much pain but ultimately a somewhat hopeful ending. 
Review / Buy on AMZ

5. The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev is another diverse Indian-American romance, darker and more intense than he debut novel, A Bollywood Affair which I really, really loved.
Review / Buy on AMZ

6. Enlightenment series by Joanna Chambers. This is a new-to-me author and she quickly became a favourite of mine. I'm late reading this series but they are absolutely amazing, I loved everything about them - the characters (#TeamDavid), the romance, the struggles, the social/political subplot. 
Review / Buy on AMZ ARe 

7. Give It All by Cara McKenna. I really enjoy Ms McKenna writing and this romantic suspense series work very well for me. Duncan is such an unlikely character for me to fall for and after meeting him in the first book I couldn't image how the romance with Raina will work out. But it was soooo good, an unforgettable couple.
Review / Buy on AMZ ARe 

8. The Muse by Anne Calhoune. An erotic romance, intense and powerful, playing with the stereotypes of art, inspiration, being a soldier and a rich heiress. 
Review / Buy on AMZ

9. A Fashionable Indulgence - hsitorical romance series by KJ Charles which stole my heart. Very well-searched, well-written mm historical romance that explore the possibilites for personal relationships for gay men in Regency Engladn. There is a strong emphasis on politics and social issues and Ms Charles explores in an exciting, tantalazing way the intersection between personal and political in times of change and unrest. Weirdly topical for the present, I'd say.
Review / Buy on AMZ ARe 

10. For Real by Alexis Hall. BDSM romance is not my thingb but I love Mr. Hall's writing and was curious what he would do with this sub-genre. Well, what he did was write a powerful, emotional story focused on the character's feelings and process of them building a relationship. It's all about the characters as two human being coping with life, finding their place in it and someone who completes them and makes them happy. Isn't this what everyone is looking for?
Review / Buy on AMZ ARe

Anne Calhoun

Review: The Muse by Anne Calhoun


Title: The Muse (Irresistible #5)
Author: Anne Calhoun
Date of publication: 1 Dec 2015
Genre: Contemporary erotic Romance

Author's links:
Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 5 stars


Arden MacCarren can’t afford to lose control. Her family’s investment house has failed, their professional reputation is all but destroyed, and it’s up to Arden to hold the line. The only distraction she allows herself is a weekly drawing class where she can forget everything. Then she meets Seth Miller. When he poses in her class, strong, mysterious, and unbearably sexy, she can’t resist him. The only thing she can do is keep it purely physical—no emotions, no strings, and definitely no telling.

Seth understands responsibilities, both Arden’s and his own. During his last tour as a Marine he lost his best friends to an IED. He has a duty to look after his buddies’ survivors. All he allows himself is the stolen moments with Arden. But as he’s drawn into Arden’s battle with her demons, he comes face-to-face with his own. Seth will have to choose between a duty he can’t ignore and the longing to inspire Arden’s every desire—mind, soul, and body…


If I had to describe this book with one word, it would be INTENSE. 

I loved this romance so much. It's a powerful story of loss and love, of learning to live and love again. Ms Calhoun explored in depth and with great detail and a sympathetic eye the journey of her characters towards living a full life, being themselves and ultimately freely giving and receiving love and affection. 

Takes a familiar trope ex-solder and a rich heiress in distress and twists it completely. There is nothing predictable or cliche in this story. I  found it refreshingly original and enthralling. 

I loved how Ms Calhoun played with the traditional roles of artist and muse, both Arden and Seth were each other's muse and artists at the same time. A story focuses a lot on art and creation as therapy, there is also sexual exploration, forging a deep sincere connection, reaching true intimacy where two people can be themselves with each other completely honest and un-selfconscious. They need to face their fears, before they deal with them in order to eventually being able to enjoy living again. 

Arden was so fragile and gentle and even weak at first glance, yet she had this inner strength and determination to save her family, herself. It's was Seth who saw her strength (he depicted her as a warrior dragon) and helped her discover it for herself. It's through her relationship with Seth she gathered the courage to act and go for things she wanted. She did not shy away from the difficult decisions that had to be taken, she stuck to her own moral code and this made me admire her even more. 

Seth was dealing or rather not dealing with his issues - stuck in the past, unable to move forward. After losing his friends in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, he now lied only to support the families/relations of his fallen brothers. I appreciate how Ms Calhoun drew a sensitive portrait of the modern-day soldier, he is not a perfect killing machine, but a real human being, who is lost, vulnerable, suffering from anxiety and PTSD.

They met by chance, their relationship started with lust and need for physical contact but all this was intertwined with art, drawing, truly letting go when drawing, being able to see the other, really see them and transfer them on the page of a scratch book. Art was a central metaphor in the story and I loved how Ms Calhoun used it to reveal Arden and Seth to the reader and ultimately as means for them to see the other for who they are and not just the outward person the rest of the world sees.

The writing was exquisite, very sensual, highly erotic. The story had a solid plot and the romance was really strong and engaging. It's a richly textured story which makes you care for the characters, makes you involved in their struggles and happily ever after. It all feels real, there is no sugar coating the experience of war, or Arden's panic attacks, or her father and brother's crimes. Ultimately, it's a story about being able to give and receive love but also about the real world with its jealousy, greed, deceit.

One of  the best books of the year for me!

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo

Contemporary Romance

Review: Controlled Burn by Shannon Stacey


Title: Controlled Burn (Boston Fire #2)
Author: Shannon Stacey
Date of publication: 24 Nov 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3 stars


Rick Gullotti lives the good life. He fights fires, dates beautiful women—though none long enough so they cast wistful glances at jewelry stores—and has great friends. And thanks to helping out the elderly couple who own his building, his rent is low. But when concerns about their health lead him to contact their only son, his life starts getting away from him.

Jessica Broussard has no interest in leaving sunny San Diego or her cushy corner office for Boston, but her father—who happens to be her boss—dispatches her to deal with the grandparents she's never met. She's unprepared for the frigid winter, loving relatives who aren't the monsters she's been led to believe, and the hot, scruffy firefighter who lives upstairs.

At first, Jessica is determined to get back to her comfortable life as quickly as possible. All she has to do is talk her grandparents into selling their monstrosity of a house and moving to a retirement community. But she underestimates Rick's dedication—and his considerable charm. Nobody's taking advantage of his friends on his watch, even if that makes the tempting southern California girl with the long legs his adversary. Unfortunately for them both, the only thing more urgent than the matter at hand is their sizzling chemistry, and it's quickly becoming too strong to resist.

Mini Review

I'm a fan of Ms Stacey's Kowalski family series - sweet, sexy romances with great side characters and family/friends atmosphere.

I was excited to try her new series and while this book was nice, it didn't wowed me. I expected a lot more of the story and felt disappointed in the ending.

This is a tender, somewhat tame love story of Rick, a firefighter in his late thirties who is already starting to think of settling down and Jessica, a corporate woman, who dreams of belonging and having a family (not just husband and kids but rather, more than a distant father). They meet when she turns out to be the granddaughter of his landlords, a girl they didn't know existed.

It's a slow burn romance and the main conflict is based on the fear of both Rick and Jessica that  the other having ulterior motives, trying to cheat Jessica's grandparents of their house.

The plot is not particularly complicated - there is some action, some drama, very law level angst but not real pull or chemistry for me. I didn't find the story very compelling and a lot of it required too much suspended belief for a contemporary romance novel. 

On the other hand, I liked the mature characters and how they acted their age, they knew who they were and were comfortable with themselves. They went into the relationship with open eyes, there were not lies and misunderstandings, just working out of the issues between them.

The ending is my biggest niggle with this story. It's a HEA of sorts but it felt like things were left in the middle of nowhere. It's no secret I love a good epilogue, but even without one, I want to story to feel complete, even it the characters get just a HFN ending. 

Purchase links: Amazon | iBooks |B&N | Kobo


My Best Books of 2015 - Part I


It's this time of the year again and I'm happy to share with you my top reads of 2015. I read over 100 books and so many of them were amazing that it was not easy for me to pick the best of the best. Here is the first part of my My Top Books of 2015. You can find the second part of the list next Friday on the blog.

1. Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand - this is the start of a new series by a favourite author and this time Ms Florand takes us on a sensual journey in the perfume industry and the rose-oil production in France. Review / Buy on AMZ

2. Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall - Alexis Hall has been my favourite author for the past two years and I love basically everything he writes. This is a quiet understate romance, rather the start of a love affair than a full-blown one but it's oh so tender, and gentle and full of hope and promise for the future. And writing is as beautiful as ever.
Review / Buy on AMZ / ARe

3. Trade Me by Courtney Milan - This is the first book in contemporary romance series by Courtney Milan. It's a NA college story and I love it's diversity in terms of characters (the heroine is Chinese) and in terms of topics it explores (mental and physical illness, social differences, family relations). Book 2 is expected to come out early in 2016 and it will feature a transgender character.
Review / Buy on AMZ / ARe 

4. Mnevermind series by Jordan Castillo Price - This is a closely connected series of speculative romantic fiction. Ms Price builds a rich, somewhat dystopian future world which feels scarily really , especially with regard to the human relations. The second book, Forget Me Not, is told entire from the POV of a hero on the autistic spectrum and it;s the most profound and powerful story and presentation I've ever read. 
Review / Buy on AMZ / ARe 

5. Focus on Me is the second book in Megan Erickson's NA mm series, In Focus. It's an emotional, very engaging road trip story of falling in love, fighting one's demons and learning to trust others. 
Review / Buy on AMZ / ARe 

6. Recommendation removed Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell - a gritty, raw friends-to-lovers mm story which takes right in the heart of New York. I loved the realistic feel, the complex characters involved in complicated relationships (romantic, professional, family). 
Review / Buy on AMZ / ARe 

8. Truth or Beard - another laugh out comedy by my favourite Penny Reid. It's the start of the her spinoff series, Winston Brothers, and it's full of awkward and crazy and tender and fairytale romance. I'm excited to meet more of the bothers in 2016.
Review / Buy on AMZ 

9. Softer Than Steel - it's the second book in rockstar romance series with a twist by Jessica Topper. It's multilayer, multidimesional story of love and loss and moving one, it;s a soulful, romantic story which mixes music, philosophy, yoga, religion and how their intertwine with our daily lives. 
Review / Buy on AMZ 

10. Rock Hard is the second full-length novel in Nalini Singh's contemporary series, Rock Kiss. I have to admit this series is a hit or miss for me but this book is definitely one of the best of Ms Singh's I've read. It's CEO-assistant romance (ones I usually avoid) but it's really well done focusing in two people building a romantic relationship. 
Review / Buy on AMZ 

Second part of my My Best Books of 2015 comes next Friday, so stay tuned :)

Blog Tour

Blog Tour for A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles


This post is part of the Blog Tour for the release of A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles. Book 2 in the historical mm series, Society of Gentlemen series, comes out on Dec 15.

The banner is made by El @ Just Love Romance

These are some fabulous, well-searched, historically grounded stories exploring the possible for love and relationships between gay men in Regency England, a period of political and social unrest which affect in many different ways the life/fate of the character.

I'm very happy to welcome Ms Charles on the blog, talking about the Past and Points of View. Enjoy her piece and don't forget to enter a giveaway for a chance to win a copy of A Seditious Affair and $25 gift card at All Romance.

The Past and Points of View

One of my pet hates is sentences that begin “The Victorians…” because the odds are whatever’s coming is going to be a wild generalisation that will annoy me intensely. “The Victorians put covers on their piano legs because they were indecent.” “The Victorians believed in the Empire and their right to rule.” “The Victorians had a crisis of faith.” “The Victorians only had sex under the bedclothes.” Etc. 

SOME. The word is “some”. (And in the case of the piano leg thing the word is ‘none’ because they didn’t.)

The problem with the “The Victorians…” way of looking at the past is that it erases people. “The Regency” has come to mean Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett; aristocratic men in breeches and women in silk gowns. It’s rarely associated with, for example, massive working class unrest and agitation for votes, or villages stripped of their male population by the endless wars, or starving veterans begging on the street, or the early women’s rights movement, or the 15,000 black people then living in Britain. It’s much easier to treat the past as a settled thing, a monolith. Everyone in Britain 1800-1820 was Colin Firth: the end.

So you might read that, for example, ‘sodomy was condemned in Regency England’, along with the horrible laws and a few examples of terrible judicial murders. But that passive ‘was condemned’ is a fraud. Condemned by who? The law itself and the people who enforced it, sure, and appallingly. But not the people voluntarily engaging in it, or those who made a living in sex work, or those who knew their friends and families had illegal love lives and chose to love or ignore rather than condemn, or by philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, who wrote (though didn’t publish) a huge essay arguing for homosexual law reform in 1785. 

In A Seditious Affair, my Regency m/m romance, the heroes are Government official Dominic Frey and radical bookseller Silas Mason. Dominic believes in the social order, the supremacy of king, church and state, the ruling classes’ right to rule. Silas believes in universal suffrage, women’s rights, legal rights for children, land reform, a universal basic income, universal free education, the separation of church and state, and homosexual law reform. (Not all of this is discussed in the book, you’ll be pleased to hear.)

It might seem that Dominic is an accurate representation of Regency thought and Silas a ridiculous anachronistic mouthpiece for a set of modern left-wing views. But in fact people did hold all of Silas’s views in the Georgian period, and argue for them, loudly and were often jailed or ostracised for it. Silas is a man of his time as much as Dominic, albeit Dominic’s views were a lot more widely held. Because people in the past were just as argumentative and different and venal and selfless and fanatical and conservative and freethinking as they are now.

What it comes down to is, human nature doesn’t change. People differ wildly, always have, always will. So when you see “The Victorians…”, give it side eye for me. The word is always “some”.

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Author Bio and links

KJ Charles is a writer and freelance editor. She lives in London with her husband, two kids, an out-of-control garden and an increasingly murderous cat.

KJ writes mostly romance, gay and straight, frequently historical, and usually with some fantasy or horror in there. She specialises in editing romance, especially historical and fantasy, and also edits children’s fiction.

Find her on Twitter @kj_charles or on Facebook, join her Facebook group, or get the newsletter here. She is represented by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency, and published by Samhain and Loveswept.

A Seditious Affair (Society of Gentlemen #2)


Silas Mason has no illusions about himself. He’s not lovable, or even likable. He’s an overbearing idealist, a Radical bookseller and pamphleteer who lives for revolution . . . and for Wednesday nights. Every week he meets anonymously with the same man, in whom Silas has discovered the ideal meld of intellectual companionship and absolute obedience to his sexual commands. But unbeknownst to Silas, his closest friend is also his greatest enemy, with the power to see him hanged—or spare his life.

A loyal, well-born gentleman official, Dominic Frey is torn apart by his affair with Silas. By the light of day, he cannot fathom the intoxicating lust that drives him to meet with the Radical week after week. In the bedroom, everything else falls away. Their needs match, and they are united by sympathy for each other’s deepest vulnerabilities. But when Silas’s politics earn him a death sentence, desire clashes with duty, and Dominic finds himself doing everything he can to save the man who stole his heart.

Advance praise for A Seditious Affair:

“This book is so good I read it in one sitting. I just couldn’t put it down. K. J. Charles has long been one of my favorite authors, and this book doesn’t disappoint. A Seditious Affair is a beautiful love story interwoven with the realism of the political unrest of the time—another winner from K. J. Charles!”—USA Today bestselling author Carole Mortimer

Add on Goodreads
Pre-order links: Publisher / / / ARe

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Blog Tour

Blog Tour #NYCdreamer: Interview and Giveaway with Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali and Damon Suede


I'm very happy and excited to welcome Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali and Damon Suede on the blog today as part of the #NYCdreamer Blog Tour celebrating their latest releases!

In this round of Q&As with Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali, and Damon Suede, answer #NYCdreamer fan questions about all things related to writing.

Do you believe in "write what you know"?

Karen: Not unless you’re writing a memoir. To me, fiction is taking things you know, and things you’re passionate about, and things you imagine, and blending them all together to create a new reality. All writers draw from their own experiences in one way or another, but a huge part of writing fiction is making things up. When people ask me the inevitable question “So do you DO all the stuff in your books?” I like to answer by saying “Yes. In a hotel room. Stephen King is in the next room reanimating all his pets.” If everyone only “wrote what they know” we’d have a lot of very boring books to choose from. That doesn’t mean play with facts. If you’re writing a character who plays violin and you’ve never even seen a violin, I suggest doing a lot of research so you don’t reference the wrong number of strings or something else that would be “wrong” in a real sense. But if you’re world building a fictional place or time, or you’re writing about fictional people (or cyborgs or mythical creatures), it’s your job to make those things real for your readers, not to present them with things you “know” from personal experience.

Santino: Yes and no? But not really. I strongly believe in using your own experiences to bolster a text if it happens to have characters who are going through things you've gone through, but I definitely do not believe a cop is the best person to write a cop, or that a queer person should only write a queer character, or that if you're of one culture you can only effectively write that one culture. If I'm writing about people or situations I'm unfamiliar with I go ask people who have had those experiences or who know about those things to give me critical feedback.

Damon: I believe that this is one of those odd semantic confusions in the writing community because it sounds like a tautology. I don’t think this dictum indicates that every story needs to be autobiography. I think it’s a commandment to KNOW WHAT YOU WRITE. If you write about vampires you’d better learn something about blood, and folklore, and teeth, and death fantasies. If you set your story in Ancient China you cannot do your research in a noodle bar. Do you homework. Know your material inside and out and only write it when it is as familiar to you as your own life.

Do you outline or are you a pantser?

Karen: Yes. I know many people view that as an either/or question, but I straddle the fence between plotter and pantser. I joke that it makes me a plotzer (which, if you’re up on your Yiddish or you’re familiar with how anxiety ridden I can be, should get a giggle out of you). I don’t do elaborate outlines. And I don’t just sit down and write and see what happens. I usually hear the characters talking to me first. (No, it’s not psychosis. Yes, I’m sure, I actually have a degree in counseling, I’d know.) Once the characters start telling me their story I need to let them tell me all of it until it plays out in my head as if I’m watching a movie. Sometimes they tell me the story totally out of order (which would drive a true plotter insane) and I’ll write the scenes as they reveal them to me and cobble them together in order at the end. Until I’ve seen a scene play out visually in my mind and heard the dialogue, I can’t write a word. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t write it down when they’re in the mood to tell me, they may not repeat it. I’ve also learned the hard way that if I lose a scene (it gets saved to the wrong file and I can’t find it) and I rewrite it and find the original version later, it’ll be almost word for word identical---even if I think it’s not going to be. I once “lost” two entire chapters and after several days of freaking out and scouring my computer I rewrote them. When I eventually found the file and compared it was off by only a handful of words. I don’t know if that makes me consistent or freaky. Or both.

Santino: I outline. Sometimes it's chapter by chapter but most of the time it's scene-by-scene which may seem like total overkill but I have such limited time to write that it's the whole way I can stay organized. This NaNoWriMo is the first time I've tried using a looser outline (a big chunk just says "shenanigans") and I had a lot of trouble and will likely scrap 75% of it.

Damon: I don’t believe in pantsers. (*cue angry grumbling*) Oh sure, some authors will insist that they’re pantsers, and they believe they are because they’re process contains a certain amount of chaos. But I’d argue they are just wary plotters who take the long way ‘round. What they’d call a “rough draft” I’d call a very long, disorganized outline that they then have to go back and rewrite. Remember, I came to fiction from film and an outline is part of the contract you sign. No outline, no treatment, and you don’t get paid. Business requires planning. Of course, people plan differently. All genre fiction comes with an outline; in romance that HEA is there from the start, so you KNOW the plot even if you try to avoid it or ignore it. Most plans are only partially related to outcomes, but in commercial storytelling the plot is always there. Anyone seriously planning a career in professional writing ends up learning to outline on some level because there are deadlines and marketing meetings. After 25+ years, I know that no two stories get written the same way, but I plot it.

When you’re writing who’s in control, you or the characters?

Karen: I’d like to say it’s me because a) that would be the sane answer and b) I have serious control issues. But it’s not. My characters are very insistent and take on lives of their own. They allow me to see their stories, not the other way around.

Santino: I let the characters take the wheel, and then I edit the fuck out of them if they misbehave and stray too far off course.

Damon: I’d say it’s a constantly renegotiated detente. I always know the general shape of a character’s transformation because of the outline, but characters and situations have a way of unspooling in startling directions. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust those instincts and follow them fiercely. The most valuable thing you can develop as an artist is that clear inner ear for your unique voice. Only you can hear that, and anyone else can diminish it. Headstrong characters can destroy a book if you don’t know when to listen and when to redirect them. 

What do you focus on more when writing, characters or plot? What about as a reader?

Karen: Characters. Always characters, whether I’m writing or reading. As a reader if I fall in love with a character I’ll read about them grocery shopping because I want to know everything about them. A good character that I care about can carry me through lots of other weaknesses in a book. But if I don’t care about the characters, a book can have the most fascinating plot in the world and I won’t be able to wade through it no matter how hard I try. The same goes for when I write. I need to be in love with my characters and that’s what propels me through the story until I can get them their happily ever after ending. I’m a people person in real life. It’s why I became a therapist. It’s why I don’t like being alone. I crave human contact and I’m nosy by nature. People fascinate me, even when they’re pissing me off. I love getting to know my characters and then figuring out what happens to them as they fall in love. I don’t think I could ever come up with a plot first and then figure out who that plot happens to.

Santino: It depends on how you design your books. I'm a big fan of backwards design. There's usually a theme I want to explore or a scenario that inspired me. At that point, I'll create the type of people who would find themselves in those situations or who would be struggling with those themes. Based on the people I create, the rest of the pieces will come together as far as their journey and how they get there. I don't think you can have one without the other.

As far as a reader, I can love a poorly plotted story if the characters are dynamic and interesting. And I can hate a beautifully plotted story if the characters are awful. So in that case, always the character. ;)

Damon: Here’s where I’m going to be stroppy and define terms. I think that character and plot are two words for the same thing.

Whichever word you use is entirely related to the function and problem of the current writing challenge. Romeo MUST stand under that balcony. Cyrano has to give Christian his words. And Darcy’s first marriage proposal has to be insulting, snide, and hurtful. Their plots are their characters because both are a way of expression transformative action along an arc. I also think that different subgenres emphasize external factors more than internal...but everything comes back to transformative actions.

Meet the authors and read about their latest releases!

Author Bio and Links

Santino Hassell is a writer of queer romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

SUNSET PARK (A Five Boroughs Story)


Raymond Rodriguez's days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.

David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.

Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.

Find Sunset Park on: Dreamspinner Press / Amazon / B&N

Review Quotes for the Five Boroughs series:

“While this second novel of Hassell’s Five Boroughs novels has all the heat, overwhelming desire and tension that readers have come to expect, he also grounds his tale in very real issues, like class and ethnic divides, social struggles, and the difficulty of growing up.” – RT Magazine

"Having two sexy, dirty-talking alphas wrestle their strong feelings for each other is mouthwatering." -- RT Web Reviews

"Hassell doesn't sugarcoat his vibrant characters, making them as gritty as the Queens neighborhood in which they grew up... There are plenty of steamy sex scenes; overall, a welcome addition to romance collections in urban libraries." -- Library Journal

Other books in the Five Boroughs series:
Book 2: FIRST AND FIRST coming in April 2016

Other books by Santino Hassell:

Author Bio and Links:

Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies, and fictional British men. She's also the multiple award-winning author of contemporary and erotic romances. She writes novels about real life, only hotter.

Karen's lifelong fascination with people has led her to careers ranging from hand-drawn animator, to party planner, to marriage and family counselor, but writing has always been her passion. Karen enjoys nothing more than following her characters on their journey toward love. Whether the couples are m/f or m/m, it’s guaranteed that Karen's novels are filled with food, friendship, love, and smoking hot sex—all the best things in life.

When Karen isn’t writing (and often when she is), she can be found on Twitter attempting witty banter and detailing the antics of her fruit-loving cat, BadKitteh. She loves to hear from readers (and other writers), so don't hesitate to contact/follow/like her at:

MOMENT OF SILENCE (Moments In Time, Book 4)
(A standalone novel from the Moments In Time series)


Growing up, Jason Stern led a charmed life complete with devoted sisters, a father who was one of Brooklyn’s most respected rabbis, and a mother who made the world's best babka. He headed to NYU ready for anything—except falling for the wrong guy, coming out, and getting disowned by his once-loving family. In spite of that, Jason managed to graduate with honors. He's got friends who treat him like family, and he's proudly running the largest LGBTQ teen shelter in Manhattan. Life is good, but he's still falling for the wrong men. 

When charming, sexy Quinn Fitzpatrick begins work at the shelter, Jason falls hard and fast. Quinn is tall, blond, funny—damn near perfect. Only if Quinn’s gay, even he doesn't seem to know it. If he does, he's not telling anyone. And he's about one ceremony away from becoming a Catholic priest.

Long hours of work turn to long nights of talking and laughter, and Jason dares to hope this time he's falling for the right guy. But Quinn's got a past to deal with and major decisions to make about his future. When Quinn leaves for a silent retreat, Jason knows the silence may change everything.

Pre-order link: Dreamspinners Press

Other books in the Moments In Time series:
MOMENTS IN TIME (a compilation of Books 1-3)

Review quotes for the Moments In Time series:

“From the very first line in Moment of Impact to the very last line in Moment of Clarity this has been a beautifully told story of love, life, and passion. I have loved these two amazing young men from the start; I have cried for them, I have cheered for them, and I have loved watching them learn, grow, accept, trust each other, and embrace the love they have for each other and I thank Karen Stivali for their amazing journey.” – 5 stars and a Purest Delight rating from Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

“I am completely enamored with these two characters. Stivali created two young men that are such a realistic portrayal of young gay reality today… Loved it, just go buy it now you won’t be disappointed! But start with the first installment if you haven’t read any of the three yet, this series must be read in order.” – 5 Stars from MMGoodBooks Reviews 

“Realistic and brilliantly written…I have loved all the books in this series and the author doesn’t disappoint at all with Moment Of Clarity! I completely fell for Collin and Tanner and you will too. I highly recommend this novel as well as the entire series.” – 5 stars from Gay Media Reviews

“I thoroughly enjoyed this end to the series, and the whole set. The three novellas are filled with fast-paced plots, deep feels and some seriously smokin’ sexytimes.” – 5 stars from V’s Reads

Author Bio and Links

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at

Pent Up


Ruben Oso moves to Manhattan to start his life over as a low-rent bodyguard and stumbles into a gig in a swanky Park Avenue penthouse. What begins as executive protection turns personal working for a debonair zillionaire who makes Ruben question everything about himself.

Watching over financial hotshot Andy Bauer puts Ruben in an impossible position. He knows zero about shady trading and his cocky boss lives barricaded in a glass tower with wall-to-wall secrets and hot-and-cold running paranoia. Can the danger be real? Is Andy for real?

What’s a bulletcatcher to do? Ruben knows his emotions are out of control even as he races to untangle a high-priced conspiracy and his crazy feelings before somebody gets dead. If his suspicions are right, Andy will pay a price neither can afford and Ruben may discover there’s no way to guard a heart. 

Purchase Links:  Dreamspinner / All Romance / Amazon / iBooks / B&N


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Cara McKenna

Interview with C. M. McKenna


This is my first author interview I've done on the blog and I'm both very excited and very nervous about it. I read Badger by C. M. McKenna (aka Cara McKenna) back in September and this story with all its intensity and darkness and just a sliver of hope has stayed with me ever since. I had so many thoughts about it which I tried to express in my review but I also had so many questions I wanted to ask Cara. I gathered my courage (and wits) and approach Ms McKenna who was wonderful and agree to my request for interview. 

So, this happened. 

I’d like to welcome Ms McKenna on my blog today answering some questions about her non-romantic love story Badger, which she published earlier this year with Brain Mill Press.


Ellie: Welcome, Cara and thank you agreeing to do this interview. Badger left a lasting impression and I have many questions about this story, so I’m diving right in. 

Badger is unlike anything I’ve ever read, stunning, raw and genre-defying. What inspired you to write this story?

Cara: Why thank you! I actually wrote it way back in late 2011, fairly early in my writing career, at a point when I was feeling restless and unsettled and unsure what to do next. I’d gotten some shitty medical news, and one gloomy September morning I was riding the train into Boston on my way to a minor surgery, feeling pretty gloomy myself, and I was watching the graffiti-peppered overpasses slide by as I approached North Station. I remembered a story a good friend had told me about a friend of hers. He was a young man with some mental health issues who would occasionally go online, posing as an underage kid, and invite creepy old men to his house, like DIY To Catch a Predator. Once the pervert would arrive he’d assault them from his balcony with a paintball rifle. This struck me as both horrifying and strangely charming, though by the time I was riding that train I hadn’t thought about it in a few years. That anecdote was the seed that Badger grew out of, watered by my own strange mental forecast that autumn. I never did meet that friend of my friend.

Ellie: This is such a curious tale! You did make a much deeper and darker story out of it and I really like how it is all grounded in real life. 
Badger is not a romance in the strict sense of the word but still I’d say it’s a story about love (and abuse and hurt). I’m curious how you would define/describe this book.

Cara: These days I tell people it’s lit fic, for lack of a better term, and a fucked-up love story, but no, definitely not a romance. Romance, as a genre, requires that a few specific promises be kept to the reader regarding how the story is going to unfold, and Badger breaks some of those promises. My publisher calls it “neo-noir,” though I’d never heard that label before. I think that just means it has a gritty, grimy, urban, almost comic-bookish feel about it, which fits, I’d say.

Ellie: The story is as much about Badger as it is about Adrian. Do you have a favourite of the two/ Who was easier to write?

Cara: Well, the book’s written entirely from Adrian’s perspective, and I found her easy to inhabit. I’ve never been addicted to Vicodin or fallen in love with a mentally ill bicycle vigilante, but we both went to MassArt, both lived in Jamaica Plain, both floundered our fair share and abused Nyquil on occasion. She came very naturally for me, as a narrator. Badger would have been a far more challenging point-of-view to maintain. His perspective, if I pulled an E.L. James and wrote a companion book in his POV, would read completely differently from Adrian’s version. He’s very visceral, very much locked in the present, very reactionary. He possesses almost zero self-awareness. His dialogue and actions were intuitive to write, but I have almost as little understanding of what goes on in his head as Adrian does. It’s not a place I’d relish spending an entire book in.

Ellie: I guess this means there won’t be a story from Badger’s POV? I personally feel we leave Adrian at a good place, hopeful for her future, yet I’m wondering if you have any plans to write more of her story.

Cara: I don’t, no. Often when people ask me that question about a book, my answer has to be “Never say never,” but with this story I know for sure it ends where it ends. I love Adrian, but a sequel to Badger without Badger himself…? I just can’t see that having the same dynamism of the original.

Ellie: As a follow-up to the previous question, what was the easiest/most difficult thing about writing this story? Did you have to do a lot of research and what kind?

Cara: The book was fairly easy. Or rather, it poured out of me very quickly—110,000 words in about three and a half months, with zero halts in the inspiration department. It wasn’t easy, per se, because it’s a pretty rough book full of ugly emotions, but it did flow, probably as much as any other story I’ve written. It certainly flowed the easiest of any book of that length that I’ve written. I didn’t have to do much research; I know Boston the way you know a fond ex-lover’s body. I researched substance abuse queries, mainly. Random things like whether or not drinking cough medicine can fuck up a drug test (pro tip: it can.)

Ellie: That’s a good tip :) Will keep it in mind.
This book is a big departure from your other works. Were you worried how your romance fans will take it?

Cara: Sort of. I mean, my romances range from sweetly dirty all the way through dark and gritty, so I knew my readership was up for a high-ish level of angst and some pretty kinky sex. Still, Badger takes all that to a much starker place. There’s some quite gnarly sex scenes and dubious consent at times, and just some real meanness, in some of the sex. I was prepared to publish it under my usual pen name, provided it was made clear it wasn’t a romance, though in the end I decided to tweak my name to add a little extra distance. I mean, I’d hate for someone who’d just read and loved, say, my vacation-fling novella for Cosmo to go and pick Badger up, thinking it’ll be another fun, dirty romp like that then wind up in therapy.

Ellie: Do you have any plans to write more books like Badger, closer to general fiction than romance?

Cara: I do. No immediate ones, though; I have contracts to fulfill first, and I need to keep making money. Romance pays, and it’s fun, and those aren’t facts I can easily ignore. While I suspect Badger might be the strongest and most genuine book I’ve written so far, I also suspect it won’t be one of my bigger commercial successes. But all that said, I do have an idea for a series I want to explore when I’m no longer under contract, something that I imagine would land somewhere between After Hours and Badger in terms of tone and genre. Women’s fiction, I think it would probably get classified as. Not quite a romance, and messy and homely, with raw, realistic sex and a deeply flawed female narrator…if not a Badger-level train wreck.

Ellie: Oh, that is some exciting news. I will definitely be on the look-out for this new series. 
I have a final question, unrelated to Badger and concerning your future books. I have been reading a lot of LGBT books lately, have you thought about writing one yourself?

Cara: I already have! A few of my backlist titles are male/male, or ménages where the men have their way with each other. I love writing male/male. All three of my Sins in the City books for Penguin feature three-ways in which the men have contact, the second book in particular—Downtown Devil. That’s out next June. I’ve not written lesbian or trans romance yet, though I could imagine going there someday, if the right story grabbed me.

Ellie: Thank you for answering all my questions, Cara. It was a pleasure having you as a guest on my blog. Badger is one of the best books I have read this year and strongly urge people to read it because it tells an important story. It may not be the easiest of books to read but it is definitely worth it. 

Cara: Thanks very much for having me! It was a pleasure.

*** *** ***
Author Bio and Links

Cara McKenna writes award-winning contemporary romance and smart erotica, sometimes under the name Meg Maguire, and has sold more than thirty-five novels and novellas to Penguin, Harlequin, Samhain, and Signet Eclipse. She's known for writing no-nonsense, working-class heroes with capable hands and lousy grammar. She is a 2015 RITA Award finalist, a 2014 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award winner, a 2013 and 2011 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award nominee, and a 2010 Golden Heart finalist. Cara writes full-time and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her own bearded hero.

Badger was released 31 August 2015 by Brain Mills Press


C.M. McKenna’s compelling voice has earned a devoted audience and multiple awards for her erotic fiction (as Cara McKenna.) Her page-turning literary debut, Badger, disturbs and titillates with the story of a recovering pill addict whose compulsive fascination with a Boston antihero spirals out of control.

Nearly twelve months sober, Adrian Birch feels like a nobody. But when her wrist is broken in a hit-and-run accident, she’s avenged by the Badger, a secretive street vigilante. Instantly obsessed, Adrian takes to staging suicide and constructing chance meetings to get his attention. Their resulting affair is harsh and needy, wrought with McKenna’s signature dark eroticism—until the connection gets out of hand and ignites the violent passions of the city.

Hailed for her “evocative,” “intense,” “deftly drawn,” and “engrossing” stories by reviewers at Publishers Weekly, USA Today, and Jezebel, McKenna now establishes herself as a rising star in neo-noir. Badgerchallenges the reader to imagine how an impulsive young man is killed, offering only the perspective of the fascinating and unreliable Adrian Birch.

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Purchase links: AmazonB&NKoboBrain Mills Press

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