Sarah MacLean's Blog

December 11, 2014

I was destined to love Can’t Stand the Heat, the first in Louisa Edwards’s Recipe for Love series, from the start. You see, I’m obsessed with contemporary romances set in urban settings…almost as obsessed as I am with all things relating to chefs and restaurants.

The heroine of this book, Miranda, has had a tough go of it – raising her younger brother after their parents died, trying to keep him happy and healthy while building her own career. When she gets a shot at writing an expose in a NYC kitchen, she jumps at the chance, not expecting to fall hard for the guy who runs it – smokin’ hot chef Adam Temple.

What ensues is a kind of Hepburn & Tracy style battle of the sexes which allows for some pretty delightful moments between the two … one particular scene where Adam teaches Miranda to poach an egg is pretty fabulously fabulous. There’s also a terrific secondary love story between Miranda’s younger brother and the sous-chef in the kitchen, who is pretty badass himself.

Once you’ve read this one, you won’t be able to stop yourself from reading all the others – and then, for something a little sweeter, you can try Edwards’s small-town contemporaries, written under the name Lily Everett.

Can’t Stand the Heat by Louisa Edwards
St. Martin’s, 2009
Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound  

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Published on December 11, 2014 09:44 • 514 views

December 10, 2014

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I’ve said this before, but without JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, my Scoundrels probably wouldn’t exist. It was Spring of 2010, and I was headed to London for a week of bonding with my mom. I needed a book for the plane, and my sister recommended Dark Lover, the first in the series – the love story of Wrath, the reluctant Vampire King, and his Beth…but mostly the story of this tremendous band of badass Vampire guys who would die protecting each other.

Suffice to say, I bought the UK editions of the rest of the series at Waterstones. Immediately. And I read the first five books in the series while in London, thinking about what I was going to write after the Love By Numbers series. I kept asking myself, what would this book look like in the Regency? Who are these men in the 1800s? And what is their story?

The Rules of Scoundrels were born.

Thank you, JR Ward.

Dark Lover by JR Ward
Signet, 2005
Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indiebound

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Published on December 10, 2014 06:33 • 161 views

December 9, 2014

So, as a romance writer, I often think about deal breakers. The things that make a hero or a heroine unforgivable. There are a few that I can think of -- all pretty twisted. But there's one that many many readers identify as their personal deal breaker -- Cheating. 

Infidelity is a big no-no in romance, and it's understandable, in part because there's this sense that once the hero and heroine meet, they should only have eyes for each other. It takes a very clever, very very skilled writer to make a romance about infidelity work. 

Waking up with the duke

Hear me, readers -- if this is your personal deal breaker, I dare you to read on. Because Lorraine Heath is that writer. Waking Up With The Duke is that book. And it is one of the best romances I've ever read. Easily on my top-5 of all time list. Here's why: 

At the start of this book, our heroine, Lady Jayne, is a Marchioness in a loveless, sexless marriage. It is loveless for a number of reasons, but it is sexless for only one: her husband was in a carriage accident years earlier, during which he lost use of his lower body. Including pertinent parts. 

The person driving? Ransom, Duke of Ainsley. So, when the Marquess goes looking for someone to give his wife the child she's always wanted, he turns to Ainsley and basically says, "You owe me." (In actual fact, he says "You owe me a cock!" Which is an awesomely shocking and perfectly apt line in the scene. Ainsley, wracked with guilt for both his cousin and Jayne (whom he's always had a bit of a thing for), agrees to the arrangement. 

Jayne is horrified that she's been bartered, basically, but she does want a she, too, agrees, with the caveat that 1) There will be no kissing and 2) There will be no pleasure. 

Yeah. Good luck with that, considering this book is part of Heath's London's Greatest Lovers series. 

But here's the thing. This is a Victorian-era romance. Divorce isn't a thing. So, if Ainsley and Jayne fall for each other, there's no possible way they can get their happily ever after. Of course, in Lorraine Heath's hands, it all works out. And you will be rooting for these two from the start. 

Waking Up With the Duke, by Lorraine Heath
Avon/Harpercollins 2011
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Books-a-Million, Indiebound

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Published on December 09, 2014 08:40 • 194 views

December 8, 2014

I promised new releases! I know I’ve been waxing poetic about Kleypas and Mallory and McNaught…but I swear, I read more recent books as well. In fact, as you might know, I write a monthly romance review column for the Washington Post, and it’s the best job ever, because all I have to do is read romances and pick my favorite three of the month. This month, one of my picks was Megan Mulry’s Roulette.

Roulette Cover

Here’s what I wrote for the Post column, which this month focused on the power of duty and responsibility in a romance hero:

At the heart of Megan Mulry’s Roulette is a daughter’s duty. When Miki Durand arrives in St. Petersburg for a week-long visit with her father, she has the perfect job, the perfect man and the perfect future. But when her father dies, leaving Miki a multimillion-dollar business to run, perfect seems neither possible nor desirable, especially when the business comes with a handsome, billionaire French media mogul as a partner. Jérôme Michel de Villiers is everything Miki isn’t: bold, jet-setting, risky and irresistible.

What follows is a delicious tour of the bright lights and larger-than-life personalities of Paris, Hollywood, Cannes and St. Petersburg as Miki becomes inexorably entwined in Jérôme’s lavish world. But when Jérôme’s personal responsibilities force him to make business decisions that threaten Miki’s future, she chooses family over love, leaving readers to wonder how the author will ever get these two together.

So, there’s a lot in there that I love. That said, there’s something else about this book that really sucked me in – which is the authenticity of Miki’s voice. I don’t know if Megan Mulry has experience being a jetsetting billionaire daughter of a Russian mogul and a French actress, but man, I believed every bit of Miki. The book is written in the first person, so perhaps it was partly that? I’m not really sure. But whatever Mulry writes next, I’m in. 

Roulette, by Megan Mulry
Amazon/Montlake 2014
Available only from Amazon

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Published on December 08, 2014 08:07 • 110 views

December 7, 2014

kingdom of dreams cover

Oh, Judith McNaught. You are the greatest. I reread your entire catalog while writing every one of my books, and I always end with A Kingdom of Dreams. Here’s why – I am a sucker for the black moment. I adore the moment when the hero and heroine are both broken in their own way, and they – and the reader – can’t imagine how this love story will ever work out.

And nobody – NOBODY – writes a black moment like Judith McNaught. So I read her over and over, and I try to figure out how she does it. In my mind, there are two tremendous McNaught Black Moments. One is Perfect – her contemporary about an escaped convict movie star and the teacher he abducts into the Colorado mountains. The other is A Kingdom of Dreams. Since I am trying not to repeat authors during 31 Books of Love, I flipped a coin. It was tails. I’m booktalking A Kingdom of Dreams.

The book begins with the abduction of the heroine and her subsequent marriage to the hero (Remember, we’re talking about an old school romance here, so abduction is par for the course). Jennifer is from the Scottish Clan Merrick, and utterly, blindingly loyal to her clan (more on that later). Royce Westmoreland (known as “The Wolf”) is a virtually undefeatable English warrior. Jennifer vows never to be loyal to him and somehow extracts a vow from him never to hurt her family, a vow that will come back to hurt them both in the aforementioned black moment.

There’s all sorts of dramatic, ermagerd kind of stuff in here…there’s a loyal steed, a tourney, a devastating betrayal, a misunderstanding to end all misunderstandings, and the final, on his knees/on her knees kind of black moment that will have you wishing this book would never end.

Outlander, shmoutlander. 

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
Pocket Books, 1989
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indiebound

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Published on December 07, 2014 07:58 • 120 views

December 6, 2014

one night is never enough cover

One Night is Never Enough is one of those books that I read the first time because I love the author (Anne Mallory is one of the unsung geniuses of historical romance), the second time because I loved it so much that I couldn’t stop myself from the reread, and the third-through-nth time because I still can’t figure out how to write a book that is so compelling and so so well crafted.

The story is deceptively simple – the heroine, Charlotte, is at the mercy of her father, who is basically penniless and has only one thing that holds any value…his daughter. In an insane night of gambling, dad puts up one night with his daughter against a fortune, sure that he’ll win. But he doesn’t, of course. Instead, Roman Merrick, gaming-hell owner and notorious rogue, wins. And Charlotte, utterly noble—even in the face of her horrid father’s horrid decisions—accepts her fate. The rest of the book, you can imagine…Roman and Charlotte fall in love. But it’s not nearly as simple as you’d think.

What Anne Mallory does better than anyone writing romance today is this: She makes falling in love feel at once breathlessly intense and nearly excruciatingly deliberate. During the night they spend together, Charlotte and Roman while away the hours in his bedchamber, playing chess. The scene takes a long time – nearly 30 pages. There is no smooching. No sex. Only chess and conversation. And at the end, you feel rewarded and exhausted…as though you’d just read the greatest love scene ever written. And perhaps you have. 

Basically, the takeaway here is – One Anne Mallory book is never enough. Lucky for you, there are a few.

One Night is Never Enough by Anne Mallory
Avon/HarperCollins, 2011
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Books-a-Million, Indiebound

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Published on December 06, 2014 07:49 • 95 views

December 5, 2014

Long before I loved Sophie Jordan so much that I dedicated a book to her and long before she dedicated a book to me, I loved Sophie's books, and when I got that first, fateful email from her, saying that she was coming to New York City, I got so excited as a reader...not knowing that she would eventually become one of my best friends. I called my sister and squeed.

Sins of a Wicked Duke

This book is why. 

I love all of Sophie's books, but Sins of a Wicked Duke is my very favorite. I'm not sure I can tell you why. It might be because it plays on my very favorite romance trope -- heroine masquerading as male at the beginning of her relationship with the hero. It might be because the heroine, Fallon is brave and bold and wonderful, even when the hero--a true, nearly reprehensible rake--discovers that his footman is no kind of footman. Or, perhaps it's because of the moment when he discovers it -- a scene that is so scorchingly hot, that it makes me want to write a bathtub scene just to try and get close to the amazingness that is that scene. 

Right now, Sins of A Wicked Duke is on sale in all eFormats! 

Sins of A Wicked Duke by Sophie Jordan
Published 2009, Avon/Harpercollins 
AmazoniBooksBarnes & NobleBooks-a-MillionIndiebound

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Published on December 05, 2014 13:04 • 190 views

I have struggled with Steampunk in the past. I can't really tell you why, as I love historical romance (obviously), and I love the aesthetic--I have a particular obsession with clockwork jewelry and elaborate corsets. 


But for some reason, if you'd asked me over the summer, I would have told you that Steampunk just isn't my thing. But in September, I read Kristen Callihan's Evernight. And now I totally get it. Boy oh boy, do I get it. Evernight is the fifth in Callihan's Darkest London series, but I hadn't read the rest of the series when I read it, and it didn't really matter--the book stands alone really well. 

Here's the premise. Our hero, Will, is part demon, and the victim of a fairly horrific torture earlier in his life that resulted in his being given a clockwork heart. Now, the metal that makes up the heart is taking over Will's body and mind, and in order to survive, he needs the person who made the thing in the first place. The woman who made the thing in the first place--Holly Evernight. Holly is an elemental--she can manage metal with touch, literally driving it back to Will's heart from where it threatens his life and his sanity. You can imagine that this touch bit is pretty central to the romance-y parts of the story, and you'd be right, but even more than you think. You see, Will isn't wild about the woman who was complicit in his being fitted for the heart in the first place, so there's a great amount of conflict between the two even as they have to touch all the time. 

It's SO GOOD. 

If you, like me, are hesitant about Steampunk, try this one. I dare you. I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

Evernight, by Kristin Callihan
Published 2014, Forever
AmazoniBooksBarnes & NobleBooks-a-MillionIndiebound

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Published on December 05, 2014 13:02 • 111 views

December 3, 2014

I read around, y'all. If it's got great conflict and emotional connections, I'll read it and love it. We started this with a classic historical and a classic contemporary -- but now it's time to mix it up.

Today's pick is Damon Suede's Hot Head, which is a particular favorite of mine, in large part because it was the first M/M romance I read and really, truly adored. The romance is deeply emotional, the conflict is tightly written, the worldbuilding -- New York City Firehouses, post 9/11 -- is terrifically well done...oh, and the sex? Scorchingly hot. Which is in no way a problem for me. Obviously.

The two heroes, Griffin & Dante, have been best friends since they were kids, and serve together on the New York City Fire Department. They've been through the ringer -- both of them having served at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Griffin is falling hard for Dante, who is a straight-up ladies' man...or is he? The conflict is beautifully drawn -- aside from the "is he or isn't he into me" question that both the heroes struggle with, there's also a very real sense that their love won't be accepted by the fire department, by their friends or by their families.

Damon Suede does a beautiful job telling this story, and making readers understand his characters and their emotional struggle all while entertaining us with a terrifically hot, unputdownable romance.

Hot Head, by Damon Suede
Published 2011, Dreamspinner Press 
AmazoniBooksBarnes & NobleBooks-a-MillionIndiebound

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Published on December 03, 2014 06:30 • 179 views

December 2, 2014

Nobody's Baby Cover

I know, I know...I talk about this one so much that using it as a booktalk this month should really be considered a cheat. But in case you are one of the 13 people I've met in my entire life who has not hear me wax poetic about this on. 

Let's get this out of the way: Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Nobody's Baby But Mine is utterly crazy pants. In all the best ways. Here's the basic premise: The heroine, Dr. Jane Darlington, is a genius physics professor who basically was Dougie Howser without the cool best friend. She's socially awkward and has very few friends because she's, well, a genius. But her biological clock is ticking, and Jane wants a baby. She considers a sperm donor for a minute and a half, but decides against it because lots of med students donate to the clinic nearby, and she's afraid of cursing her baby with her genius x2. She wants someone idiotic. Someone who is all brawn and no brain. Someone like Cal Bonner--NFL Quarterback. So she sets out to steal a baby from him. The plan works. But not nearly the way she intended. 

That's all I'm going to say about this book except, all of the above happens in, like, the first 15 pages. And the rest of the book is so incredibly good, you must go read it now. 

Ok...wait. I know I said I wouldn't say any more...but I have to add two things: 1) This is the book that I recommend to people who have never read a romance novel. Don't believe me? Listen to this podcast. And 2) The scene where Cal finally sees Jane naked might just be the most perfect scene in all of romance novel history.

And...added bonus! The Kindle version of NBBM is on sale! 

Nobody's Baby But Mine, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published 1997, Avon/Harpercollins
AmazoniBooksBarnes & NobleBooks-a-MillionIndiebound


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Published on December 02, 2014 06:30 • 175 views