Chocolatiers

Review: Trust Me by Laura Florand

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Title: Trust Me (Paris Hearts #3)
Author: Laura Florand
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance 
Release Date: 4 Apr 2017

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb

She's nobody's damsel in distress...
Top Parisian pastry chef Lina Farah is used to fighting for her success. But when a violent attack shatters her security, she needs a new tactic to battle her dragons. What better way to banish the monsters under her bed than by inviting a sexy SEAL to tangle the sheets? 

He's a professional dragon slayer...
Elite operative Jake Adams has never stayed in one place long enough to form a lasting relationship. Lina’s fire and beauty tempt him to give her the hot affair she craves. But her spirit and courage make him long for more. Can he convince a woman seeking forgetfulness to dream of ever after...with him?

Review

This is the third book in the Paris Nights series about three female chefs in Paris and even though I really enjoyed the previous two, this is definitely my favourite. It can be read as a standalone but I recommend reading at least the previous one where all the action happens that leads to Lina and Jake acting the way they do in Trust Me. 

I love Laura Florand's stories in general and this is no exception. It's compelling, beautifully written, emotional and very powerful and like most of her recent writing, highly topical. 

Lina is an amazing character. She is a top pastry chef, she is Muslim, of Algerian origin. She used to be and brave and strong, boldly tackling any obstacle in her way. Now she is dealing with the aftermath of a violent attack in the best way she can - struggling with nightmares, fear, insecurity, guilt. And a growing attraction to Jake. Who is not just a source of strength and safety and calmness but also completely enamoured with her. 

He is a special ops guy, one who is used to danger and one-night stands. And suddenly he wants more with Lina, he wants the flirting and the dating and the getting to know each other and most importantly he wants a future with her. And she proposed no-strings-attached sex, as a way for her to move on from the attack, to bring back her sense of enjoyment of life, and faith in the future. 

The progress of their relationship was just deliciously presented. As can be expected a lot of food was involved and it was just the sweetest. His special ops buddies provided a much needed comic relief and I absolutely adored them all. Though Mark definitely stood out for me, I mean her chooses Camus and Kafka for their book club, how can I not love him. I can't wait for him to get his own book. 

Family and friends got involved in Lina and Jake coming together and it was both endearing and frustrating. Still, they are at the centre of the story and the author delves deep into their souls and brings their most sacred fears and dreams and hopes to the fore, makes them open up to each other and reclaim their lives in a most emphatic and profound way. 

It's such a powerful romance, tender but also emphasizing the strength of the individual, the confidence, the will to live and not give up. It's not about finding someone to fix you, but about finding someone to help you discover your inner strength to fix yourself, to believe in yourself.

The writing is mesmerising and I especially love how the author always brings some classical fairytales in her stories. And here the references to Camus and Kafka with Harry Potter in between totally made my day. 

It's one the best books of Laura Florand that I have read, and have to admit that I have read and loved almost everything she has written. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Anyone who enjoys a masterfully written, emotionally charged contemporary romance needs to read this.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iTunes

Historical Romance

Release Day Launch for A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers

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My guest on the blog today is the lovely Joanna Chambers, presenting her latest release, A Gathering Storm. It's a mm historical romance, part of a series of queer romance set in the fictional town of Porthkennack and written by different authors. I finished this book last week and have just one word for it - wonderful. It's fun and intriguing and so well written. Read on if you are curious how it all came into being and what else we can expect from Joanna Chambers in the near future. 


Interview 


1. Your new release, A Gathering Storm, is part of a historical romance series written by different authors but set in the same fictional town of Porthkennack. It’s the first time I’m hearing/reading something like that. How did this idea come about? 

It’s a format Riptide, the publishers, have used successfully before. So, for example, they put out the Bluewater Bay series and the Tucker Springs series which you may have come across? Porthkennack is the same idea in that it’s set in a specific universe but the books are written by a number of different authors. The differences with the Porthkennack series are that (a) it’s distinctly British, being set in Cornwall in South West England, and (b) it’s a mix of contemps and historicals.

In terms of how the idea came about, I gather it was the brain child of Sarah Lyons (Riptide editor extraordinaire) and the amazingly talented Alex Beecroft. The other authors playing in the Porthkennack sandpit with me are Alex Beecroft, JL Merrow, Garret Leigh and Charlie Cochrane and we’re all writing two books each. I’ve read Jamie Merrow’s first one, Wake Up Call, which is also out now and is fantastic. I can’t wait to read the others!

2. What was the experience writing this book compared to your other series?


It was quite tricky since I was writing in a new-to-me time period (Victorian, 1850s) AND there was lots of research needed AND the book ended up being longer than I usually write at over 80k—so it took a wee bit longer than planned than most of my stories. The initial bit though – of selecting characters and identifying the basic storyline – was a bit easier, thanks to the detailed bible we got.

3. There is lots scientific bits in the story – hypnosis, nature/power of electricity, spiritualism, even weather forecasting. Did you have to do a lot of research on these? Which was the most fun thing to research for this book? 

I did a LOT of research for this book! The most fun parts were probably reading into the spiritualism and seances and mesmerism/hypnosis. Those also gave rise to two key scenes in the book – the one in which Ward hypnotises Nick and the one in which they attend a séance together. However, about 80% of my research doesn’t even appear in the book. For example, I spent hours reading into the Second Burmese war and the Siege of Rangoon and its aftermath (where Ward’s brother lost his life). I even researched which British regiments fought at the Siege and which one Ward’s brother would have been part of, which county his regiment was based in and how close that was to Ward’s family home etc. None of that is in the book, but you never really know at that research stage, which parts of the general history you are reading into will end up being significant to your story. Anyway, it’s all interesting and worthwhile, regardless of whether you use it.

4. One of the heroes, Nicholas Hearn is half-Romani. How did you go about representing his cultural heritage? I have to say I found him both fascinating and convincingly presented as a Romani (based on my limited knowledge of Romani people). 


I was quite wary about depicting Nick’s heritage. Romance novels have quite a troubled history with Romany people. I remember reading many ’gipsy romances’ as a teenager (25-30 years ago, gulp!) and honestly? I loved them – I really did – but now I look back and see how troubling it was that Romany people were always depicted as passionate, wild, dark, ‘other’. In this book, I wanted to portray Nick, who is estranged from the Romany half of his family, in a way that would push back against these assumptions. Consequently, Nick, is by far the more pragmatic and level-headed of the two heroes and in fact is the one who has to be pushed to make a leap of faith.

5. We don’t see much of Nick’s cousin, Isabella but I think she is a very intriguing character and I’d love to read her story. Is there any chance of that happening? 

I’d honestly never thought about writing about her! She’s basically the heroine of all those romance stories I read when I was teenager, you know? The headstrong, passionate redhead etc. But now you mention it, I do like play around with romance clichés, so maybe that would be a good one to try to subvert 😊

6. Finally, what can we expect next from you?


Next up – and very soon – is a co-written book with my long time pal and crit partner Annika Martin. We started this book a year ago, dashed off 15K words, then had to shelve it while we met our other commitments. We came back to it late last year to write the rest and I’m super excited about releasing it next month. It’s a hot, fun and emotional contemp story with an American hero and a British hero. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to reveal all the details! Coming soon!

Blurb

A Porthkennack novel

When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother. 

In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree. Until Fate steps in to lend a hand.

Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal.

A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it. 

Purchase links: Riptide / Amazon 

Author Bio and Links

Joanna Chambers always wanted to write. In between studying, finding a proper grown-up job, getting married, and having kids, she spent many hours staring at blank sheets of paper and chewing pens. That changed when she rediscovered her love of romance and found her muse. Joanna’s muse likes red wine and coffee and won’t let Joanna clean the house or watch television.

You can find Joanna at www.joannachambers.com, friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @ChambersJoanna, and connect with her on Goodreads.

Alexis Hall

Release Day Launch for How to Bang a Billionaire by Alexis Hall

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I'm excited to welcome one of my all-time favourite authors, Alexis Hall, as my guest on the blog today to celebrate the release of his next book, How to Bang a Billionaire (this Sunday, April 16). It's the first book in the Arden St. Ives series of bildom romance. Check my interview with him if you want to learn how this story came about and what can you expect from it. Read on and enjoy!


Interview 

ER:  Your next book, How To Bang a Billionaire, is coming out on Sunday, April 16. How did you come up with the idea about it?

AJH: I think basically a lot of my work is about doing my own take on a relatively common trope and I’ve been wanting to do a take on bildom romance for a while. And that’s kind of the whole story, really — which isn’t the most exciting answer, I’m afraid, but that’s where it came from.

I think one of the things that particularly attracted me to the trope is that, in many ways, it’s built around quite gendered assumptions. The bildom is the quintessential alpha male. And the heroine of those kind of books tends to be the quintessential everywoman heroine. And so I was interested to see how that dynamic would have to be different if you were writing about two men.

I was also interested in trying to write a proper alpha hero. Which, honestly, I kind of didn’t. In early drafts, Caspian was a lot more traditionally alpha but I didn’t much like him and neither did anyone else who read the book. I think there are lots of ways to write a hero but, for me, if I personally can’t understand what you’d see them, then I can’t really do them justice. So Caspian wound up being a lot, well, nicer.

ER: It’s your first trilogy following the same couple, right? Why did you choose this approach? What was your experience writing it?

AJH: Partially, it was just a matter of opportunity. I’ve wanted to write a “follow the same couple” series for a while but the pieces never fell into place. And part of it comes back to genre expectations. A lot of the big names in the bildom romance genre tend to be trilogies so approaching a publisher with a bildom trilogy is a non-silly thing to do. It’s not like you’re just turning up and being like I want to write three books about a pair of carpet weavers from Dagenham, where they don’t know if that’s in any way something people will want to read. But with the bildom thing the structure is already there so they know that people do, in fact, like these sort of stories told in this sort of way.

ER: You have already written a massively successful BDSM romance, how does HtBaB compare to it?

AJH: I think I’m far too British to be comfortable describing anything I’ve done as ‘massively successful.’ Can we meet in the middle at ‘relatively well-received’?

ER: Absolutely! Well-received by critics and readers is a good way to put it as well.

AJH: I think they’re basically very, very different sorts of book. And the kink elements in them have a different purpose and are approached in very different ways. One of the things that’s very important to me about For Real is that BDSM is just an accepted part of both characters’ sexualities and isn’t really a massive source of conflict. It’s essentially a May-December romance that happens to be between two people who are also into BDSM. And obviously, the age difference intersects with the kink in some ways because it’s considered unusual for the dom(me) to be younger than the sub. But that’s just part of how the age difference manifests in that relationship.

HtBaB, by contrast, focuses a lot more (and I’m aware this sounds a bit wanky) kink as a literary construct. In the kind of book it’s inspired by, the hero’s interest in BDSM tends to be presented as an outward manifestation of a deeper darkness within their character. And it’s really that trope that HtBaB responds to. I mean, without getting too glib or giving away too many, for want of a better word, emotional spoilers Caspian’s basic arc in the How To Blah A Billionaire trilogy is that he starts out strongly believing that he’s into kinky sex because he’s messed up. And, slowly comes to realise, that actually he’s into sex and, also, independently of that is messed up. Also, hopefully, he gets less messed up.

ER: I suspect that researching the billionaire lifestyle is a lot of fun, at least it would be for me, so I’m curious what was the most fun/amusing thing you had to research for this book?

AJH: Um, maybe this is my working class roots showing but I’m actually genuinely really uncomfortable about wealth. And to an extent I think billionaires are a bit like dukes and hitmen — quite cool and sexy in the abstract, but deeply problematic when you start looking into them in detail. I mean, without wanting this to get political, it’s worth bearing in mind that your average billionaire is far more like Donald Trump than Christian Grey. So, yes, on the one hand it's cool to research fabulous apartments and private jets and ludicrously expensive champagne. But it’s hard to do that without reminding yourself quite how much inequality there is in the world. 

ER: Many authors have inspiration boards/fantasy casting for their stories? If you have one for this series would you share it with us?

AJH: Sure, my slightly-out-of-date Pinterest board for this one is here (mind you, it’s mainly suits and cologne): https://uk.pinterest.com/alexisjhall/restrained/

Author Bio and Links

Alexis Hall is a villainous writer of kissing books who tweets about Poirot, slugs, and the world's most surliest duck.

Blurb 

Rules are made to be broken . . .

If England had yearbooks, I'd probably be "Arden St. Ives: Man Least Likely to Set the World on Fire." So far, I haven't. I've no idea what I'm doing at Oxford, no idea what I'm going to do next and, until a week ago, I had no idea who Caspian Hart was. Turns out, he's brilliant, beautiful . . . oh yeah, and a billionaire.

It's impossible not to be captivated by someone like that. But Caspian Hart makes his own rules. And he has a lot of them. About when I can be with him. What I can do with him. And when he'll be through with me.

I'm good at doing what I'm told in the bedroom. The rest of the time, not so much. And now that Caspian's shown me glimpses of the man behind the billionaire I know it's him I want. Not his wealth, not his status. Him. Except that might be the one thing he doesn't have the power to give me. 

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

Contemporary Romance

Review: Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

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Title: Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2)
Author: Lucy Parker
Genre / Themes: Romance / Theatre actors / British
Release date: 20 Feb 2017

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

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

The play's the fling

It's not actress Lily Lamprey's fault that she's all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that's not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn't so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He'd be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily's suddenly rising career, it's threatening Luc's professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they're not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers

Review

I read Lucy Parker's debut novel, Act Like It, last year and have been looking forward to her next book ever since. And I ended up loving it even more than the first. Pretty Face is of my best reads of 2017. For me this story represents contemporary romance at its finest - a compelling story, engaging characters. slow burn romance with numerous twists and turns and some drama (well, a bit more than necessary) and a well deserved and fitting HEA.

I admit I'm not a big fan of age gap stories but every rule has its exceptions and this is case with Pretty Face. I found the age difference to be handled believably and it really worked well to highlight differences between the hero and the heroine. And they were quite a few, seemingly insurmountable at the beginning.

This is a story about expectations and presumptions and how their deceive us, about complex family relationships (Lily's family was just Wow! so messed up) and relationships between friends and ex-lovers and new lovers and colleagues. We also get a glimpse at the drama of the theatre/TV series world which I found interesting and done just right - not too little, not too much.

Lily is a wonderful heroine. She is trying hard to shed the image of a brainless bimbo and it's no easy given her curvy figure and breathy voice, and the role in a popular TV series which made her popular. But she is much more than people see on the screen and just because she is young and successful and comes where she comes from, people have a certain image of her. Initially we see Luc falling victim to his own assumptions and snobbish prejudice, only to gradually discover the real Lily behind the fake public image. And that was quite a journey of discovery for both of them. 

Luc also has a public image (one of grumpy, heartless theatre director), yet in his heart hearts he is sweet and cares about his friends and family. Somewhat unexpectedly both for him and for Lily, she breaks through his hard facade and brings to to fore his gentler, more human side. 

All these discoveries and revelations happen through some fun banter and comic situations. We see some complex, nuanced characters in an intriguing plot finding their way towards each other and it's a pleasure to follow along. Lucy Parker is a masterful writer that draws you into the story and keeps you invested in it till the very end.

There were some plot twists, especially towards the end which felt a bit too much, but it's a minor thing which did not detract from my overall enjoyment of this romance. I can recommend this, together with first book in the series (they both can be read as standalones) to all fans of contemporary romance. 

Purchase links: Amazon | iTunes | B & N | Audible

Author Interview

New and Debut: Taylor Barton

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My guest in the New and Debut feature this week is Taylor Brooke whose debut novel, Fortitude Smashed, comes out in September 2017. Read on to learn more about her, her inspiration and the stories she wants to tell.


Meet Taylor


1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer? 

You know, it’s weird, because I didn’t start out as a romance writer. My first three books are action adventure stories with hints of science fiction thrown in. I thought that’s where I’d stay – in a really fast paced environment with big, complex casts and high stakes. It seemed natural for me. I was a Special Effects Makeup Artist for years before I started writing novels, so making monsters was easy and exciting, on set and in books. But I had an idea I’d been playing with for years – a fate-based concept that explored the soulmate trope. Once I wrote the first scene, I was hooked. I found myself wrapped up in the characters, which isn’t new for me, I’m a character-driven writer, but this time was different. I tethered myself to the characters, the emotions, the internal urgency. I let my heart call the shots rather than sticking to publishing standards or trends. I can’t say I’m the typical Romance writer. I implement a lot of realism and try to stay true-to-life, so to speak, but it is romantic at its core, full of hope and struggle and strength.

I guess I didn’t become a Romance writer until I after I finished writing Fortitude Smashed, but once I did, it changed the way I wrote my next books.

2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?

Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is incredible. It’s lush and heartbreaking, and influenced my style quite a bit. Maggie Stiefvater is another one of my favorite authors. She made me believe in magic again. Melissa Maar shaped a lot of my fantasies when I was in high school.

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?

I don’t necessarily have an influence, but I’m inspired by all sorts of things. The Isolation Series, my debut series, was inspired by the state of the planet. It’s a story about resistance and freedom, with a huge, diverse cast of strong characters. Fortitude Smashed is autobiographical in some respects. The story was inspired by the time I spent in Laguna Beach in my late teens, early twenties. It dives into some heavy topics – mental illness, sexual assault, first everything’s, and it came from somewhere deep inside myself. I had to unpack a lot to write this book, but it’s my best work yet. I’m very proud of it.

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?

I write for older teens and adults, but right now readers can expect a lot of New Adult. My books center a cast in their early to mid-twenties, which is an age of in-betweens. It’s a confusing, jarring time for a lot of people, and I learned while I was writing characters much like myself that there aren’t many books that accurately portray what it’s like to be at that stage – not a kid, not really an adult. Many of us in our twenties feel like we’ve got to get it together, stay on a designated path, and focus on one main aspect of our lives – a major, a grad-program, a new career. I hope my books will help people my age remember to live for themselves. To pause, appreciate, and take their time. Especially when it comes to love, and mental health.

5. Please, introduce your latest/upcoming release.

Fortitude Smashed (September 21, 2017) is about an unlikely fated pair. It’s lyrical and heartfelt, and introduces mental illness in a way that I hope resonates with readers.

Official Blurb

When scientists stumbled across a human hormone anomaly present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another, or defy fate.


Author Bio and Links

Taylor Brooke is a traveling story-teller, believer in magic, and a science fiction junkie. She writes inclusive Queer novels for teens and adults. She's the author of the resistance inspired YA trilogy The Isolation Series. The first book in her fate-based New Adult romance series Fortitude Smashed debuts from Interlude Press September 21, 2017. 

www.taylorbrookewrites.org / @taysalion (Twitter & Instagram)








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