Review: Falling for Finn by Jackie Ashenden

Falling For FinnFalling For Finn by Jackie Ashenden

141 pp. // Contemp. Romance // Samhain Publishing // Feb. 2013

GOODREADS SUMMARY: When you’ve been burned, the heat of the moment is the scariest place to be.

Six months after a sexual assault, Anna Jameson has decided enough is enough. She’s sick of being a victim, of letting the experience have power over her. She wants her fear of physical intimacy gone, as in now.

In the quest to reclaim her sexuality, she needs a man. A man she trusts absolutely. A man like her best friend, Finn.

Finn Shaw is all about taking risks. He does it every week on his extreme sports TV show. But there’s one boundary he’s never pushed, and that’s his friendship with Anna. When his hyper-intellectual family kicked him to the curb over his dyslexia, Anna stuck by him.

Her request to become friends with benefits throws him for a loop. He can’t deny her anything, but this is a whole different ball game. Once they’re skin to skin, there will be no hiding the fact that he’s loved her for years.

When their chemistry burns out of control, Finn decides he’s the one who’s had enough. It’s time to break out of the friend box—and show Anna that risking her heart is a risk well worth taking. Even if it costs him her friendship.

Jackie Ashenden’s debut release packs a helluva punch!

Even though it took Anna some time to fall for Finn, I fell for him almost immediately. Yes, he’s good looking — okay, he’s hot! — but he’s also extremely patient and thoughtful. What woman wouldn’t want a man who pushed her to be a better person? It’s clear how much he cares for Anna and their relationship made my heart swell — even though they had their explosive moments (boy did they!).

There were times when Anna frustrated the hell out of me and I just wanted to give her a good shake because she was so clueless about how lucky she was to have a guy like Finn. However, it was these same quirks that made her character flawed and three-dimensional. As someone who’d went through a traumatic experience, her willingness and strength to try to take back her life was admirable and I respected her for that.

It’s been a while since a book made me cry, but parts of the story were so emotional that I couldn’t help it — the on-air scene, for example. Even with the waterworks turned on I kept on reading while sniffling. In fact, I didn’t stop reading and in a matter of hours I had finished the entire book!

This is a strong start to Ms. Ashenden’s author career. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next!

Guest Post: What’s in a Cover by Julie Ann Walker + Giveaway

What’s up, all you romantic suspense junkies out there? Julie Ann Walker here, tickled pink to be joining you today, and talking about those smokin’ hot covers we all love to drool over on the shelves of our local bookstore, or on the screens of our favorite e-Readers.

Now, it’s said you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But, hey, I can’t be the only one who’ll buy a novel based solely on the bad-ass hunk on the front, now can I? And publishers know this, they depend on it, in fact. So today, for you, I’m pulling back the curtain on my own covers. Letting you in on the secrets — and the thinking — that goes into making a book “shelf-ready.”

Here’s how it will work. In the first cover of each set, you’ll see where my publisher started. And what will follow will be a shortened version of the round-robin, quick-fire questions that resulted in the final product. So, without further ado, I give you some covers for Black Knights Inc

In Rides Trouble covers

Q: Does this cover look a bit dark and dreary to anyone else? We want readers to skid to a stop when they see this on the shelf.
A:  Hmm. Maybe we can punch up the color. Make the title pop!

Q: Does the placement of that knife look dangerous, or is it just me?
A: Hell yeah it looks dangerous! If he squats the wrong way, he’s liable to slice into his femoral artery or cut off something much more important! *snicker*

Q: This series plays up the motorcycles, right? So, why the heck can’t we see the danged bike?
A:  Let’s move the cycle up. More bike and less city!

Q: Does this guy look just a bit too polished? I mean, he is supposed to be masquerading as a motorcycle mechanic, after all.
A:  Let’s dirty up his T-shirt a bit. Make him a grittier!

Rev It Up covers

Q:  Do we really like this red background? I thought we decided to go for a color scheme that was a little more neon?
A:  Let’s do a blue background with hot pink lettering!

Q:  Anybody else think the city is too distracting? We don’t want anything taking attention away from the handsome hunk!
A:  Let’s push it back, and off to the side! Let the hunka-hunka-burnin’-love shine!

Q:  What’s with the dead tree branch in the upper right-hand corner? It makes this look like a dystopian novel.
A:  Gone!

Q:  I don’t know about those tattoos. Romance readers tend to equate tattoos with a paranormal series, and this is romantic suspense.
A:  Gone and gone! *sad face* <– (That was my sad face, by the way. I love me some kickass tattoos!)

Thrill Ride covers

Q:  Does that lettering in the title match the lettering in the other books in the series?
A:  Nope. It’s a bit different. Let’s change it for consistency’s sake.

Q:  Once again, is that big building in the background taking too much away from the delicious piece of manliness?
A:  Perhaps, let’s nix it. Manliness for the win!

Q:  This cover is vastly different than the previous covers. Don’t we want people to recognize “the brand?” Shouldn’t be try to keep the covers the same?
A:  Let’s see what we could do to make the cover better match the previous covers. Oh, yes! Just look at those abs! *MEOW!* <– (Again, that was MY meow.)

And there you have it, folks! How a book cover goes from point A to point B. Now, I want to hear from you. Did my publisher make the right decisions? Or would you have kept some of the original concepts?

Thanks to Spencer for having me on today. It’s been a blast!

Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. She is prone to spouting movie quotes and song lyrics. She’ll never say no to sharing a glass of wine or going for a long walk. She prefers impromptu travel over the scheduled kind, and she takes her coffee with milk. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. Look for the first three books in her fast-paced series: Hell On Wheels(August 2012) In Rides Trouble (September 2012) and Rev It Up (October 2012).  Thrill Ride debuts April 2nd, 2013. For more information, please visit www.julieannwalker.com or follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/jawalkerauthor and/or Twitter @JAWalkerAuthor.

***

Thrill Ride giveawayThank you, Julie, for joining me here today.

But wait, there’s more! The wonderful Julie is offering one lucky reader a signed ARC copy of Thrill Ride (which releases on 4/2)! All you have to do is leave a comment telling us which of the Black Knight covers you prefer — the original or final copy. I’ll choose a winner on Monday, so be sure to check back to see if you’ve won!

Thrill Ride giveaway winner #UPDATE: Congrats, Danny! Please go to my contact page and send me your address to claim your signed ARC of Thrill Ride!

Peek to Pique: Falling for Fin by Jackie Ashenden

In honor of debut author Jackie Ashenden’s first release, today’s Peek to Pique spotlights Falling for Fin, a contemporary romance that features a broken heroine who decides to take back her life… with the help of her gorgeous, surfer-blond friend, Finn.

***

"Falling for Finn" by Jackie AshendenShe didn’t take her gaze from the floor. “I’m kind of scared about this.”

Something clenched hard inside him at the bald honesty of the statement. At the admission.

“That makes two of us.”

Slowly, she lifted her gaze. Met his. “I thought you weren’t scared of anything.”

“I’m scared of disappointing you. Of frightening you.”

She blinked, as if that wasn’t an answer she’d expected. “I guess if you go slow, it’ll be okay.”

Slow. He wasn’t sure if he could do that. Not after so many years of wanting. Wanting and not having. Yet that’s what she needed.

Finn thought for a minute. “Perhaps you need a safe word.”

“A safe word?” A surprised look on her face. “But isn’t that for bondage type of stuff?” And then, surprise giving way to fear. “I don’t want—”

“No, relax. Christ, I’m not thinking that. All I meant was you having a way of letting me know if anything’s getting too much for you.”

One dark brow rose. “Stop doing that isn’t enough for you?”

Finn stared at her, the reality of what they were about to do sinking slowly into him. The reality of what he needed. And what she needed from him.

“No,” he said. “No, it’s not.” 

***

*Swoon* Oh, Finn! Hooked? Head over to the Samhain site for more info as well as an extended excerpt!

Review: Rev It Up by Julie Ann Walker

A picture summary of Rev It Up, by Julie Ann Walker:

If pictures aren’t your style, check out my RT review of the third Black Knights Inc. story, which features:

  1. A sexy surfer — who isn’t a fan of those? (Answer: no one!)
  2. Sleek, chrome motorcycles — this is what the Black Knights are known for, after all.
  3. The gritty streets of Chicago — descriptions of the city leap off the page.

Of course there’s more to this action-packed story than that, but tell me you’re not hooked after getting a peek at that surfer’s bod board! Also, if you’re new to the series, here’s book one and two if you’re the type who prefers to start from the beginning (like I am).

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day from me to you, lovlies! Since I gave up sugar for Lent I won’t be diving head-first into a box of chocolate, but I am spending the day with the beau. Hope your day is filled with love, happiness, and — of course — lots of romance novels!

Roaming through Romance with Debra Kayn + Giveaway

Hi, All! I’m so excited to be featuring bestselling romance author Debra Kayn on Roaming through Romance today. I’ve known Deb for a while now and am a huge fan of not only her stories, but also her chicker (chic+biker) boots and gorgeous, enviably long hair! And, because she’s so nice (thanks again, Deb!), she has offered to give one reader a free copy of one of her books! But you’ll have to read through to the end to find out which one… Muahaha! And here we go:

RtR: Your books always feature such alpha heroes. Where do you get inspiration for your guys?

Deb: Real life. Most of the people I’m around are farmers, mechanics, bikers, and real blue-collar guys. They’re more prone to talk tough and hide their emotions than spout pretty words and bring you flowers. But, if you look closer you’ll notice they have a soft spot. It’s the women who can find that spot and break down their shields that find out how special these guys are.

RtR: “Dear Deb, Spice up My Relationship” is a popular feature on your blog in which you dispense relationship advice to readers. Where did the idea come from?

Deb: For some reason, people talk to me. Doesn’t matter if I’m at the store or putting gas in my truck, people will stop and talk to me. Before I know it, I know their life story. I’ve always joked that I should charge for my services, and a couple years ago on my blog, I shared a story about being asked for advice. I admitted to how I would love to write a love advice column for some major newspaper. Well, people found my blog, read the post, and started sending me emails asking for advice.

After months went by, and the occasional emails were still arriving in my inbox, I decided to answer one on the blog. Now I get anywhere from 8-30 emails a week from readers seeking advice from me. I love helping, and I find it’s easier to give suggestions on ways to spice up a relationship than it is to “doctor” the problem.

RtR: Your answers are always so insightful! How do you come up with such spot-on advice?

Deb: Marriage and relationships are hard work. I literally grew up while being married. I had no pre-set idea on how I was supposed to act and ran on pure emotions. When I was happy, I let it show. When I was mad, I also let that show. Looking back, I was very vulnerable and had no idea that as you age, you become protective of that vulnerability. So I worked hard to fix everything. That continues even though I’ve been married forever. I can look at the marriages of my friends, and it seems so simple to “fix” what is bothering them. All they have to do is discuss how they are feeling…but, I understand that letting yourself be vulnerable after you’ve matured and experienced being hurt is probably the hardest thing for a person to do.

RtR: Speaking of relationships, you met your husband when you were only 19 years old, is that correct?

Deb: Yes. Which might explain why when we had our first disagreement and Wheels didn’t let me have my way, I told him I was going to have my older brothers beat him up. Gah…I was so immature. But, being 19 years old and in love was the best feeling in the world, even though I was goofy.

RtR: Hey, if you can’t be goofy around your man, then what’s the point? You’ve also mentioned that he’s older than you. Did you draw inspiration from your personal life when writing the couple in your latest release, Wildly?

Deb: Wheels is 12 years older than me. Okay, it’s really 11 years and some months. I like to round up on the age and give him a bad time about robbing the cradle. ;)

As for drawing inspiration from my life for Wildly… sorta. I grew up playing tennis since I was six years old. I had a few awesome coach/player relationships, but none of them crossed the line the way Shauna and Grayson’s story did, of course. I did add in my love of an older man, and that wonderful excitement of crushing on a man you can’t have.

RtR: You seem like a very disciplined writer, literally writing thousands of words every single day. That’s great for your fans (more books, happy readers!), but when/how do you find time to relax?

Deb: I write full time, so it’s easy to find time to relax. I take the weekends for family time, and during the day, even though I write, I’m mom and wife first. I love schedules and routines though, and have turned writing every day into a habit. I get my daily word count in, and then I can play.

RtR: Speaking of “play”, what do you do on your downtime?

Deb: I love the outdoors. So, I fish, play tennis, putter in the flowerbeds, ride motorcycles, and love spending time down at the creek.

RtR: A woman after my own heart! I know you’re a reader too — What type of books do you like to read? And what was the last book you read?

Deb: I’m a contemporary romance reader. Occasionally, I also enjoy young adult books. To my surprise, I even like New Adult books lately. I was very reluctant to try them, and couldn’t figure out why there needed to be a “bridge” book between YA and Adult books. After reading my first book, I was hooked. The last book I read, Slammed by Coleen Hoover, made me cry… it was so good!

RtR: Wow, really? I’ve heard a lot about the New Adult genre but haven’t read anything from it yet. Guess I’ll have to give it a try!

What’s it like living, well, in the middle of nowhere? What’s your favorite part about living on a farm?

Deb: I love the remoteness of living in Oregon. I hate being stuck having to use dialup internet and having no cell service at home because we live so far out and have too many trees for coverage.

My favorite part of living here is the freedom of going outside and feeling like you’re part of the land. Everywhere I walk or turn, it’s ours, and no one else is driving by, walking through, and invading our lives. It’s like our little slice of privacy in a crowded world.

RtR: As someone who’s lived mostly in apartments, I crave the type of privacy of which you speak… Or at least a place where I can do my exercise DVDs without having to worry about disturbing the neighbors!

Your bio mentions the fact that you’re famous for teaching a 270 lb. hog named Harley (love the name, by the way!) how to jog with you every morning. I’m dying to know how, exactly, you did it. Also, what’s it like to have a hog for a running partner? Do you and Harley still have running dates?

Deb: Ah, Harley. He was probably the laziest pig we’ve owned. He laid down when he ate, and wanted food brought to him. One day, I told him he’d have to catch me if he wanted the food bucket. He walked five feet, fell down, and batted his big ol’ eyes at me. Pure lazy! So, I decided that I was going to teach him to move. I started running along the fence line with him. Five feet, then ten feet, and finally I had him going about thirty feet. He was slow, but he was learning.

Pretty soon, I was jogging outside the fence and he was keeping up. We’d make a few laps, and he’d get his food bucket filled. Then I started letting him out of the fence, and we’d jog a little bit farther. There was a lot of cajoling, and I had to keep food on me so he wouldn’t give up. When he finally reached 270 lbs, and it was time for the butcher, I put it off. I enjoyed Harley and he was a great exercise partner. Then one day, he escaped his fence. I was across the yard and tried to get him to come to me, but he refused. I ended up going and getting the food bucket. That huge hog took off like a bullet. It was like we hadn’t been best friends for months, and he was going 50 mph straight for me. I took off running with him breathing down my back. After we circled the farm, I turned to lead him back to the fence area at a sprint, and Harley passed me running. I was outran by a 270 lb hog!

Around here, we only keep hogs 5-6 months, and then they go in the freezer. I’ll always remember Harley though. Good pig.

RtR: Harley definitely sounds like a one-of-a-kind hog. Way more interesting than Babe ever was!

Between nicknaming your husband “Wheels” and penning a series about a biker gang, am I right in assuming you own a motorcycle? How would you describe the feeling of riding on a motorcycle to someone who’s never been on a bike before?

Deb: We’re a riding family. We all have motorcycles. The feeling of riding is like nothing else. For me, it’s the speed. Of course, everyone experiences being in a car, surrounded by metal, and feeling safe. But, to be on a bike, feeling the wind, the vibrations, the bumps in the road, and knowing you’re controlling the bike…yeah, it’s powerful.

RtR: Powerful is right! I’ve ridden before and while I love the initial adrenaline rush, I’m too much of a worry-wart to really enjoy back-seat motorcycle riding, LOL. Probably because it always feels like you’re going faster than you actually are — 45 mph feels like 90 mph!

What are you currently working on? What can readers expect to see from you this year?

Deb: Edits for Breathing His Air, a full-length biker book that’s darker and more smexy that has been called contemporary crack by editors. It’ll come out in April from Crimson Romance. I’m also working on a secret contracted book deal, and I can’t wait to share the news!

I’ve been busy, and all my books were accepted around the same time, so readers will have lots of new books this year.

This summer, Suite Cowboy will release.

April, I have two books releasing: Breathing His Air and Homemade Hijinks (a novella).

July, Seductively, the second book in the Playing For Hearts series releases.

October, Conveniently, the third book in the Playing For Hearts series releases.

And, there’s that surprise book I’m not allowed to talk about yet, and it’ll release in October. You won’t want to miss it!

RtR: Eep! Surprises make me antsy. Can’t wait to find out what it is!

Which book/series would you suggest for readers who’ve never tried your books before? Why?

Deb: The Chromes and Wheels Gang series if they like their alpha heroes on a motorcycle and full of attitude.

If cowboys get them excited, the Sisters of McDougal Ranch series.

Then if readers like super alphas, they can start with the Playing For Hearts series, because pro athletes have big egos and awesome bodies.

RtR: Mmm, athletes… Yeah they do!

How do you celebrate when a book is released or accepted?

Deb: I knew you’d ask this question! When I receive a contract, Wheels buys me a bottle of Baileys with caramel to celebrate. That’s my favorite drink. When I release a book, that’s my day. I don’t do anything but spend it online with my readers, answer questions, and visit blogs. My readers are the ones who I celebrate with, and they always make it extra special for me.

RtR: Well then, in that case, cheers! *clinks together glass of Baileys* Here’s to many more alpha heroes and the spitfire heroines who love them!

Thanks so much for joining me and letting us roam through your world of romance, Deb.

Deb: Thank you so much for having me here today, Spencer. As always, I love spending time with you, and make sure you give Bailey the pup (love the name!) a kiss from me.

Debra Kayn lives with her family in the beautiful coastal mountains of Oregon on a hobby farm. She enjoys riding motorcycles, gardening, playing tennis, and fishing. A huge animal lover, she always has a dog under her desk when she writes and chickens standing at the front door looking for a treat. She’s famous in her family for teaching a 270 lb. hog named Harley to jog with her every morning.
Her love of family ties and laughter makes her a natural to write heartwarming contemporary stories to the delight of her readers. Oh, let’s cut to the chase. She loves to write about real men and the women who love them.
When Debra was nineteen years old, a man kissed her without introducing himself. When they finally came up for air, the first words out of his mouth were… Will you have my babies? Considering Debra’s weakness for a sexy, badass man who is strong enough to survive her attitude, she said yes. A quick wedding at the House of Amour and four babies later, she’s living her own romance book.

***

But wait, there’s more! Because Debra is so awesome, she’s offering a digital copy (mobi or epub) of her latest release, Wildly, to one lucky reader! If you’d like to win a copy, all you have to do is leave a comment telling me what gives you the biggest adrenaline rush. I’ll choose one lucky winner on Monday, so remember to check back to see if you’ve won!

**UPDATE**

Congrats, Tammy! You’ve won a copy of Wildly! Please go to my contact page and send me your email address so I can send you your new book!

Review: Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Exclusively YoursExclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Kowalski Family #1 // 282 pp. // Contemp. Romance // Carina Press // May 2010

GOODREADS SUMMARY: When Keri Daniels’ editor finds out she has previous carnal knowledge of reclusive bestselling author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri a choice: get an interview or get a new job.

Joe’s never forgotten the first girl to break his heart, so he’s intrigued to hear Keri’s back in town–and looking for him. Despite his intense need for privacy, he’ll grant Keri an interview if it means a chance to finish what they started in high school.

He proposes an outrageous plan–for every day she survives with his family on their annual camping and four-wheeling trip, Keri can ask one question. Keri agrees; she’s worked too hard to walk away from her career.

But the chemistry between them is still as potent as the bug spray, Joe’s sister is out to avenge his broken heart and Keri hasn’t ridden an ATV since she was ten. Who knew a little blackmail, a whole lot of family and some sizzling romantic interludes could make Keri reconsider the old dream of Keri & Joe 2gether 4ever.

After months of hearing about the notorious Kowalski men, I figured it was high time I found out what all the hoopla was about. Enter Exclusively Yours, book one of the Kowalski Family series. Wow. I finished this book in a matter of HOURS!

To be honest, I was expecting a typical light contemporary romance — which I have no problem with; in fact, it’s one of my favorite genres — but what I got instead was so much more than “fluff.” Exclusively Yours is wrought with complicated family relationships, as well as two people whose love for each other is both long-lasting and complex.

I was taken by Joe Kowalski from the very beginning. Not only is he an incorrigible flirt, but he’s also up front and honest — with both his family and Keri. Also, despite not having any kids of his own, he comes across as a man who truly loves his family.

Keri is also likable, but I have to say that I rolled by eyes at her a few times. I admire the fact that she takes her career seriously, but there are a few instances where she’s way too prissy (i.e. cliché bitching over a broken nail and harping about needing a facial). I get that she’s spent the last 20 years in LA, but her high-maintenance attitude doesn’t really fit with her character, who seems fairly down-to-earth. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see a woman portrayed as career-driven instead of one so quick to drop everything in her life for the hero. I actually appreciated the fact that she follows through with her assignment after their time together. Let the hero do the chasing!

The rest of Kowalski family plays an important role as well, especially Terry, Joe’s twin and Kerry’s ex-best friend. Her marriage troubles add another layer to the story, which made me sympathize for her… at times. However, I’d have to say that about, oh, 85% of the time she is a major bitch. Yeah, I said it. I get that she’s going through a tough time, but more often than not she’s just a spiteful shrew. Ugh! I know that Ms. Stacey did an excellent job with this story if she could make me love this book despite an unlikeable character. Though it’s Terry’s issues that play a role in setting the story apart from other stock contemporary romances.

Overall, I have to to say that Exclusively Yours is a great introduction to the Kowalski family. At the moment there are five more books in the series, which means I have five more opportunities to delve deeper into the Kowalski family tree!

Review: In Rides Trouble by Julie Ann Walker

Women love a man with scars. With scars come stories, and women are suckers for a good scar story. Ladies, am I right? In this sequel to Julie Ann Walker’s Hell on Wheels, not only does our hero, Frank, have the most rugged of scars, but also he’s grouchy with a capital “G”. Since grouchy heroes are often the most redeeming, this makes Frank what I like to call a supreme alpha hero. However, his ‘tude doesn’t stop our heroine, Becky, from using all her tricks and wiles to go after him. In this case, her tricks happen to be in the form of lollipops and accidental kidnapping, which seems a bit unorthodox when read out of context, but trust me, it all makes sense when you read the book.

So you’ve got a scarred hero, a lollipop-loving heroine, and a whole team of Black Knights ready to kick ass and take names. Sounds like a good time to me… So what are you waiting for? Click! Buy! Read!

 

Touchdown-Worthy Football Heroes

Happy Superbowl Sunday! Even though my team didn’t make it to the finals, I’ll be huddled in front of the TV today watching the Ravens and 49ers duke it out for the championship title. What better way to celebrate one of the country’s biggest events than with cookie dough dip and books that feature hunky football heroes!

Whether you’re looking to soothe your ego because your team didn’t make it to the Superbowl, or you’re simply in the mood to read books that feature six-pack hotties in skin-tight athletic pants, I guarantee you’ll see football in a different light after getting your hands on these hot reads.

Review: Craving Perfect by Liz Fichera

Everyone has something they wish they could change about themselves. I’d be lying if I said I never peeked over the fence and longed for the grass on the other side because it looked greener. However, like the great Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Why try to be like someone else when you can instead strive to be the best you instead? This is a lesson that the main character in Liz Fichera’s Craving Perfect learns the hard way. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing you could be someone else — or a cooler/fitter/more exciting version of yourself — this book will speak to you.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken — Oscar Wilde.