Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sneak Peek Sunday: Cameron

Following on from the last few Sundays, here's another snippet from the futuristic dystopian world of Love by the Book.  This novella was my NaNoWriMo effort from a few years back, and as I still love it, I'm finally getting around to polishing it up. Last week I introduced the heroine, Susan.  This week, we get our first glimpse of the hero, Cameron.

Finally Susan opened her mouth to let out the admission she’d always known she’d have to make: she didn’t know what was happening, or where the Elders were.  But before she could answer, the doors from the courtyard opened and Mother led the usual train into the dining room: first the other Parents, then the Aunts and Uncles, and finally the Managers, until all the Elders were in place.  
But where the procession would normally have stopped, there was a new face.  
As the young man paused at the door, the chatter, which had already begun to subside, fell silent. 
Susan stared at his vivid blue eyes and sweeping blond fringe and his solid frame and sturdy hands.  He was as different from the tall, swarthy Jack as Susan could imagine, and when he followed the Elders to the table, his walk was swift and assured.  
Susan forgot to stop staring as the chatter around her resumed.  All her thoughts were on the young man, the first stranger any of them had seen in… who knew how long? 
Where had he come from?

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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sneak Peek Sunday: Susan

Here's something different for Sneak Peek Sunday - a glimpse into the futuristic dystopian world of Love by the Book.  This novella was my NaNoWriMo effort from a few years back, and as I still love it, I'm finally getting around to polishing it up. Last week I shared the opening.  This week, 6 paragraphs which introduce Susan's role in the House.

Sometimes Susan dreamed of being far away, in a world she’d never encountered where nobody told you how to live your life or who you could love or be friends with. 
Sometimes she woke from a dream where the table was empty, the precious book having vanished along with its thick glass covering, and she was responsible. 
“It’s not my fault!” she would plead to the assembled masses.  Sometimes they were faceless.   Other times it was her mother, or her father, or her teachers, or the gardeners, whose faces stared back at her sorrowfully. 
That was worse.
“But you’re the Guardian,” their voices would echo, “Of course you’re responsible.”
Then she’d wake up and see the slim volume lying on its solid plinth, yellowed pages open at the day’s reading, and she wouldn’t know whether to be glad or sorry.  It was such a small and simple object to rule all their lives with its strange ideas of love and life that had nothing to do with the House and its cold stone walls and strict patterns.  

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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Writer Wednesday Interview: Melinda Dozier

Today I'm talking with Melinda Dozier, whose new book 'New York Minute' I featured on the blog last week. She's back to talk two of my favourite topics: writing and globe-trotting. Thanks for being here, Melinda!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in highschool, I used to fill up notebooks with stories-- usually young adult stuff with The Brat-Pack as my inspiration (I’m aging myself here). Though it was only a hobby, I wanted to become a writer way back then.

How did you come to start writing romance?
I’ve been an avid romance reader since I was a teen and one day I said, “Hey, I could do that.” So I did! On a whim, I entered my first novel into a pitch contest a few years ago, and the editor signed my book right away! That’s when I really felt like a “real” romance writer, when I held that contract in my hand.  

You teach as well - how on earth do you fit it all in?  What are your biggest distractions?
Yes and to be honest I don’t know how I fit it all in. One rule I have is not to bring teaching home. No grading papers, no answering school related emails, nothing (which is a big deal, because ask any always gets done at home.) This makes me focus at school and use up all the time I have AT SCHOOL, and writing is only done AT HOME. My biggest distraction is social media, because I love love love Facebook and Twitter. I have to turn it off when I’m in the middle of a story or it’d never get done. Also, Christmas and Summer break are big writing gaps for me. One of the perks of a teaching schedule.

Your website describes your books as 'Love and Amor around the globe'.  How much of a part do the settings play in your stories, and do you have a setting you've never written about but would love to?
I live in Central America and travel is a big part of my life. I haven’t written about Central America yet, but I know it’ll happen. Setting is crucial to my stories. New York Minute takes place in my dream city -- NEW YORK. Also, the hero, Diego is from Argentina and shares his world with, the heroine, Veronica. 

My last release, Time Out, Valentine takes place in Portland, Oregon, which stemmed from a business trip a few years ago. I loved the city and culture. So, of course, the iconic places, like Voodoo Donuts or the International Rose Garden star in the story.

Last year, a few authors and I teamed up to write a Winter Olympics themed anthology which takes place in Switzerland.  As you can see, Love and Amor Around the Globe is what it’s all about.

What research did you do for New York Minute?  
My father-in-law is a New Yorker and has so many stories to tell. In fact, my inlaws have such a beautiful romance story that I’m going to have to write it one day. They met at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. His stories were the best research. I also watched lots and lots of Youtube videos, even though I think it’s kind of pathetic.. My dream is to visit NYC one day soon. I’ll make it happen!

Are you working on another book right now, and if so, can you give us a hint of what’s to come?
I’m currently writing a story that takes place in France called French Connection. It’s loosely based on something that happened to me when I was sixteen living in Paris for the summer.

And finally, where can we find out more about New York Minute and your other books?
You can find my book information at my website:
And like I said, I’m a social media nut, so find me there too: or

Thanks so much for having me, Stephanie! I loved your personalized questions.

Book Review: New York Minute

New York Minute immediately appealed to me because it involves my favourite combination of business and music. 

The heroine, Veronica or Vero, is an accountant who decides to break out of her boring life by putting on the persona of an outgoing fashion buyer and having a one-night stand with Diego, a gorgeous guy she meets at a wedding.  When she bumps into Diego again at a speed dating event she’s dragged to by a more outgoing friend, their brief flame is rekindled and the one-night stand rapidly starts turning into a real relationship. 

Diego is a fabulously hot hero, with a successful – and fascinating - career as a musician and a deep devotion to his family.  As Vero learns more about Diego’s apparently perfect life, she feels less and less able to tell him the truth about her career, but of course the secrets she is keeping soon become a threat to their relationship.  Not only that, but it turns out that she’s not the only one keeping secrets, and we’re left wondering what he’s keeping from her, and what will happen when they both find out the truth. 

There were plenty of questions to keep me turning pages; the characters were convincing; and I thoroughly enjoyed the New York setting.  Occasionally things seemed to move a bit too fast between Vero and Diego, but that might just be me, because I’m not a city girl, and as the title suggests, this is a book set at the speed of city life!

I also wanted to shake Vero occasionally for not realising that Diego wanted the real her, not some fantasy figure she’d concocted.  But if she had, there wouldn’t have been much of a story, so it’s probably a good thing that Vero’s perfectionist mother made her feel that her real self was inadequate, so that she could appreciate Diego turning up to show her otherwise!

Altogether this was a sweet and sensual read and a fun story, beautifully told.   

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sneak Peek Sunday: Love by the Book

Here's something different for Sneak Peek Sunday - a glimpse into the futuristic dystopian world of Love by the Book.  This novella was my NaNoWriMo effort from a few years back, and as I still love it, I'm finally getting around to polishing it up. These 6 paragraphs appear at the very beginning, so shouldn't need too much introduction.

Something had changed.  Susan felt it instantly.  The darkness was as dark and the stillness as still as the night before, yet she woke knowing, without knowing why, that everything was different. 
Things had changed a little when she joined the main House, and a great deal when she became the Guardian, but she was used to those changes.  They had to do with where she lived and what she did and how people treated her.  This change went deeper.  It crackled like radioactivity around the edges of her awareness and vibrated somewhere inside her with an excited hum. 
She lay in silence, feeling out the change, as dawn broke through the dusty air and settled onto the grey stone walls and floor like a rosy blanket.  Around her, the usual morning sounds began. 
In the kitchen across the courtyard, the staff were preparing a breakfast of toast and dandelion coffee, with much clattering of plates and humming of kettles.  No voices, though.  There would not be conversation until Susan and Jack put in their appearances.  Now there was only the sound of the well-practiced routine of moving around the kitchen, and Emma stirring in the ante-room. 
“Breakfast?” As if on cue, Emma’s sickly-sweet enquiry floated through from the side room.
“Sure.” Susan made her voice match it in sugariness.  “Just give me two ticks to get ready.”

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Book Review: An Autumn Crush

An Autumn CrushAn Autumn Crush by Milly Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The four seasons books are my favourite Milly Johnson books and although I didn’t love ‘An Autumn Crush’ quite as much as ‘A Spring Affair’, it was still a great read. Juliet is a strong, funny heroine and her new flatmate Florence (Floz) is the perfect sidekick to her, as kind and private as Juliet is noisy and outgoing, but just as appealing in her own way.

The men in the story are perfect too – Steve is a wrestler and Juliet’s brother Guy is a chef who also wrestles. At first it appears that Steve is all brawn and no brain (that’s certainly how Juliet sees him) but as time goes on we see his softer side, and learn about the mystery in Guy’s past that has made him wary of women, even ones as sweet as Floz.

There are some wonderfully funny moments and the humour never felt forced to me. Like most of Milly Johnson’s books, ‘An Autumn Crush’ envelopes the reader in a blanket of warm Northern friendliness, and like ‘A Spring Affair’, it’s a book I can imagine going back to again and again.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Just Out: Melinda Dozier's New York Minute

It's always a pleasure to welcome a fellow Crimson Romance author to my blog, especially when they've got something to celebrate!  Here's Melinda Dozier with her brand new release, New York Minute!

Title: New York Minute
Author: Melinda Dozier
Release Day: March 9, 2015
Publisher: Crimson Romance

Shy accountant Veronica Bass is determined to live it up a little before settling down with a perfectly respectable man to live a perfectly respectable life, just the way her mother wants.

So when rock star Diego Diaz flashes his bedroom eyes at her during a wedding reception, Veronica swallows her shyness and leads him to the nearest hotel room. Now this total sex god keeps popping up in her life, and she finds herself telling some not-so-little white lies to keep him interested.

Diego's world evolves around music, women throwing themselves at him, and having fun. His lifestyle hasn't allowed him to find the right girl to settle down with until now, but his own secret stands in the way of forming a lasting relationship with Veronica.

Is their love destined to last for only a New York minute?

Sensuality Level: Sensual

Book Links:

"They have the connection, physical and emotion … However, they left out some things from each other and that's the real dilemma here. It's all good because it ends nicely!" — Bookaholic Fairies

Every time I was away from this book, I couldn't wait to get back to it. This is an amazing read...” Reader

“Melinda has done it again!!! I absolutely love the way that she makes us all swoon for her characters in her stories and not be able to put it down until we are done.” Reader


Time to focus on the Cosmo article she read two days before about flirting. She sipped her citrus martini, and as she brought the glass down, she licked her lips and glanced at her target. He actually flinched, the hunger in his eyes darkening. Barely enough for anyone to notice, but she did. She ran her hand up and down her neck, closing her eyes for a minute. When she opened them to look his way again, he had already started to walk in her direction. No, he didn’t walk; he actually strutted like a man on a mission.

She was his mission. Shit. Shit. Shit. Play it cool, Veronica. You’re a strong, sensual woman. You can do this.

She sipped her yellow drink again to calm herself, and if she was lucky, he wouldn’t notice her shaking. Calm. Sensual. Like a boss.

He positioned himself in front of her, one hand in his pocket and the other holding a tumbler of brown liquid, and rocked on the heels of his dark Dolce & Gabbana brogues.

“Hello.” His voice reverberated down to her core.

She gulped her martini to gain more liquid courage, but rather than bravery, the unthinkable happened. She swallowed the cherry that swam in her drink and the tickle in her throat drove her into a coughing frenzy.

She tried to smile through it, to let him know all was fine and she could still be the sexy seductress. As his large, firm hand patted her back, she fanned the air and grabbed his tumbler, downing the thick liquid.

After a last cough, she cleared her throat one more time. “Whoa. What was that?”

“Whiskey. Neat.” He grinned, his gorgeous caramel eyes lit with an inner glow. “You okay?”

A warmth spread over her cheeks. Holy freaking embarrassment. “It was strong.”

“I could’ve warned you, I guess, but you were busy.” He grinned and squeezed her shoulder with his large hand.

Was that an accent? Damn, could he be more perfect? Immediately, she glanced at his hand that revealed several tattoos peeking out of his jacket hem, from his wrist all the way down to his fingers. No ring. Thank God.

“Can we forget that happened? I’m not usually like that.” She waved her hand in the air and winced inwardly.

God, she wanted to erase that doomed first impression. She was confident, dammit. She didn’t want this dreamy man to know she could be less than sophisticated. Her act was more difficult than she imagined.

“It’s a shame. I kind of liked the unusual first encounter. Not that I want you to choke, but I was ready to save you.” He braced his tattooed hand against the wall behind her, moving closer. His manly smell was soapy, with a hint of wood.

Save her he might. “Who are you?”

He squinted his glowing eyes and turned his head to the side. He didn’t say anything for a long time, just studied her and then rolled on the heels of his feet. “Who are you?”

His “r” rolled off his tongue with a Spanish accent of some kind.

“When someone answers a question with a question, it’s one of two things. Either the person doesn’t have anything interesting to say or he’s hiding something. Are you hiding something?”
He lowered his voice and ran a hand up her arm. “I think we all do. Why are you hiding in the corner?”

Damned if the man’s touch sent shivers all the way to her toes. “So someone like you would find me.”

“Like me? How am I?”

“A man with questions … and a devious grin.”

As suspected, his smile grew and his gaze sought hers. “Well, I came over to tell you how stunning you look, but being a woman of such deep insight, you might take that the wrong way, no?”

“I’ll take it any way you want.” Yep. The alcohol had definitely gotten to her.


Author Bio:

Melinda is a multi-published contemporary romance author with books from Crimson Romance, Swoon Romance and The Wild Rose Press represented by Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. She lives in Guatemala, Central America with her husband/college sweetheart who brings "mucho amor" to her life. Melinda enjoys being the queen of her household and dreams of being pampered fully by her three boys once they are grown. Melinda's guilty pleasures include reality t.v., traveling, blogging and playing Farmville.

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Writer Wednesday Interview: J Arlene Culiner

It’s a pleasure today to welcome J Arlene Culiner, whose latest book is A Swan’s Sweet Song, from The Wild Rose Press, although like me, she’s also had a book published by Crimson Romance.  Welcome, Arlene.
It’s a pleasure being invited by you, Stephanie. Thanks.

I liked the fact that A Swan’s Sweet Song has a very grown-up hero and heroine, who have both had some great life experiences.  Do you enjoy writing about mature characters?

Actually, I only write about mature characters. I really do think experience makes us more interesting. When we’re older, we have more to say, we’re not just guided by hormones or the desire to find a mate so we can reproduce. Mature characters can have great discussions; they know, finally, how to communicate — and, for me, that means their romance really does have a chance of lasting.

Sherry Valentine is a country singer and Carston Hewlett is a playwright.  What made you choose these jobs for your hero and heroine, and did you have to do a lot of research about the music and media worlds?

I certainly did — but that was a long time ago. I once worked for Radio France — I had a country music program — but my job wasn’t just to play music. I had to give the history of country music, tell about it’s origins. For that, I read enormously, talked to musicians, delved into archives, dug up the old country music recordings from the Library of Congress. So, the material was all there, sitting in the old folders in my house: all I needed was the funny, feisty character of Sherry Valentine to make all that research come alive. As for theatre, I have, off and on, been working as an actress all my life (I was in British filmmaker Andrew Rokita’s film, Sunflowers, last summer) so there was no great mystery there either — although I’ve never yet met a bachelor playwright as charming as my hero, Carston Hewlett. Sigh.

I loved the scene where Sherry and Carston get caught in the storm, because it's such a contrast to the shiny TV studio we see at the start of the book, and her glamorous stage persona.  What’s your favourite scene in the book?

I love that scene in the barn too. It gives us the first hint that Sherry and Carston are not really those glamorous glittery people most people think they are. There are other scenes that were a delight to write too: the cocktail party at the Midville Culture Festival, or the scene with the dreadful waitress in the Paradise Café. But maybe the most fun for me was the scene when Mrs. Brown gives birth to her piglets, after which we find out who the real Sherry and the real Carston are.

What’s your best piece of advice for newer writers? 

Write and re-write, and re-write, and re-write. Polish every paragraph; make sentences sing;  steer away from ALL name brands or designer labels (you can do better than that if you’re a writer; you’re not here to promote products). And never stop doubting.

Do you read books about writing, and if so, which would you recommend?

A wonderful writing classic from 1934 (I found my copy in a junk shop in Poole): Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande with John Braine’s introduction.

What about a favourite romance novel, or author, to read?

Another classic from 1932: Cold Comfort farm, by Stella Gibbons. It’s romance and satire along with humour.

Thanks for being on my blog today, and for allowing me to review A Swan’s Sweet Song.  I loved it, so hopefully some people who read this interview will be inspired to check it out.  Where can they find a copy, or find out more about your books?

Thanks so very much to you, Stephanie. Here are some links for buying a Swan’s Sweet Song:

A Swan’s Sweet Song
 A Contemporary Romance from The Wild Rose Press

The air sizzles when a country music star and renowned playwright meet, but can opposites fall in love?

The instant Sherry Valentine and Carston Hewlett meet, there’s desire and fascination in the air…but they’re complete opposites.
Smart-talking Sherry fought her way up from poverty to stardom as a country music singer. Now, she’s ever in the limelight, ever surrounded by clamoring fans, male admirers and paparazzi, and her spangled cowboy boots carry her all across the country, from one brightly lit stage to the next.
A renowned but reclusive playwright, Carston cherishes his freedom, the silence of his home in the woods and his solitary country walks.
Any long-term commitment is obviously out of the question: how about a quick and passionate fling?
But when their names are linked in the scandal press, Sherry’s plans to become an actress are revealed. And the budding relationship seems doomed.
Can you ignore a passionate attraction? Of course you can't. Carston soon decides he'll do anything in his power to bring Sherry into his orbit again. And that also means letting go of a few well-kept secrets...

Born in New York, raised in Toronto, J. Arlene Culiner has spent most of her life in England, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Hungary and the Sahara. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no real interest. Much to everyone's dismay, she protects all living creatures -- especially spiders and snakes -- and her wild (or wildlife) garden is a classified butterfly and bird reserve.
In her perfectly realistic contemporary romances, heroines are funny, and heroes are dashingly lovable. All are proudly over the age of forty.

Book Review: A Swan's Sweet Song, by J. Arlene Culiner

I loved this sweet story about a country singer and a playwright.  Sherry Valentine is the queen of popular culture and Carston Hewlett is the king of high-brow theatre: Nashville meets New York Times.  When they’re thrown together for a radio interview, neither of them expects much of the occasion, but they quickly find that there’s more to each of them than first appearances suggest.  Sparks fly and they’re soon looking for opportunities to spend more time together. 

The mature hero and heroine of the story were totally believable, and I liked the fact that, while they both had a past which influenced their present-day feelings, their pasts weren’t overplayed.  Instead, the focus was purely on how things play out for them in the present, when Carston finds out about Sherry’s desire to become an actress.  While Sherry keeps her ambitions a secret because she doesn’t want to exploit Carston, his past experience makes him misread her intentions entirely.  The crossed wires here are totally believable and understandable, and this whole strand of the story is a thought-provoking exploration of how fear can get in the way of love. 

Both Sherry and Carston are attractive characters, and there are some lovely descriptions of people and places.  I also enjoyed the frequent humorous moments.  Sherry’s pushy manager provides some delightful comedy as well as some astute insights into her character.  But my all-time favourite scene was when Sherry and Carston were caught in the storm.  I’ll see hay barns and boy scouts in an entirely different way after reading this book!

Altogether, it was a sweet, funny, believable story, brought to a satisfying conclusion, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a love story with a mature hero and heroine, especially if, like me, you have a taste for showbiz.