Interview with Karen Erickson, Author of Jane’s Gift and Giveaway!

Please welcome Karen Erickson, who is celebrating the sweet holiday romance Jane’s Gift.  Please check back tomorrow for my review, too!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Karen Erickson] Romance author/mom extraordinaire/lover of books. I write for Samhain, Entangled Bliss/Brazen & Avon Impulse. I’m a lover not a fighter.

(I stole most of this from my Twitter profile LOL)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Jane’s Gift?

[Karen Erickson] Jane Clark is a widow who survived a house fire. Now that she’s mostly recovered, she’s moved back to her hometown to be close to her family and start anew. She immediately meets the handsome fire captain Chris Nelson, who’s her younger brother’s friend and there’s instant chemistry. Despite the both of them not looking for anything serious, they somehow end up together…

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Karen Erickson] I read an article a few years ago about a woman who suffered terrible burns and survived a plane crash. She should’ve died but from pure determination and surrounded by the love of her family, she survived.

I wanted to create a strong heroine like that woman. A heroine who had an amazing spirit and family, a woman who suffered much but came out on the other side a winner. And I wanted to give that woman a second chance at love.

That’s how Jane came to be. And then I gave her a fear of fire (of course) and that her hero should be a fire captain. Instant conflict!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Jane?

[Karen Erickson] Determined, thoughtful and passionate.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Chris had a theme song, what would it be?

[Karen Erickson] Oh my gosh, this is a HARD question! What’s that song Donna Summer sang? Hot Stuff? Ha! He’s pretty hot and he’s a firefighter so…yeah. That works.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Jane won’t leave the house without.

[Karen Erickson] Her purse! When you’re a woman with three children, you need your purse to stash everything they need in. Trust me. I know (says the mother of three children). Smile

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Chris’s bedroom?

[Karen Erickson] Whips, chains and a flogger? LOL This is a sweet romance so none of those naughty bedroom accessories would appear in his bedside drawer or be stashed deep in his closet.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Karen Erickson] I read a lot when I was young. I was an only child until I was eleven and I needed something to occupy my mind. Plus, I had an active imagination. I wouldn’t say there’s anything that’s my one greatest creative influence but I do try to always look for a story idea. They’re everywhere. On the news, in a magazine, a person I see walking down the street…

Sometimes music gets the juices going. Or reading. Oh, I could go on and on!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Karen Erickson] Diet Coke, an open mind and at the moment, my desk heater (it’s cold!).

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Karen Erickson] It was a YA—Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. Oh, it was SO FREAKING GOOD. I couldn’t stop reading it. I had to know what was going to happen next. Can’t wait for the next one!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Karen Erickson] That is a TOUGH question. How about the one book that turned me on to reading romance? That would be Judith McNaught’s Paradise. I found an excerpt in the back of a Cosmo magazine when I was a teen. Went right out to the local bookstore (B. Dalton’s in the mall baby!) and bought it. Oh. It was so good. That was the start of my Judith McNaught consumption.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Karen Erickson] Hang out with my family, reading, catching up with the TV shows on my DVR, traveling (wish I did that more).

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Karen Erickson] Where you can find me: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

Karen is giving away a Kindle Paperwhite, so be sure to click the link below and fill out the widget to enter for your chance to win!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/NzYwNzA3YTg0ZTE3OWY4MzU4MzYzMjIwZmI4Yzg3OjEx/

You can order Jane’s Gift, as well as Karen’s other titles, from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below:

 

Blurb for Jane’s Gift:

A fire captain afraid of commitment. A widow afraid of fire. Can the holidays bring them together?

A devastating house fire cost Jane Clark nearly everything: her husband, her confidence, and her looks, with the physical scars marbling her body. Now, two years later, she’s living and healing back in her childhood hometown of Lone Pine Lake. The upcoming holidays are the perfect opportunity to bring some Christmas cheer into her young children’s lives, starting with a visit to the firehouse, where her brother’s best friend has offered to help quell their residual fears.

Lone Pine’s resident playboy, fire captain Christian Nelson is happy with his single-guy lifestyle. He’s an everyday local hero, so he’s never wanting for attention around the holidays. But when Jane Clark shows up, Chris is immediately drawn to the beautiful widow–even though kids and commitment have never been his style.

Despite her brother’s warnings about his friend’s playboy status and dangerous occupation, Jane can’t help but fall for the gorgeous fire captain. The holidays are a time of new beginnings, but can two scarred people find the strength to let go of their pasts to live in the present, when a lifetime together might be the sweetest gift of all?

You can find JANE’S GIFT | B&N | Kobo

Keep up with the Jane’s Gift blog tour here

Interview with Marion Lennox, Author of Taming the Brooding Cattleman

Marion Lennox is the author of many romances, including Taming the Brooding Cattleman, which I recently read and enjoyed.  It’s part of The Larkville Legacy continuity, published by Harlequin Romance.  Marion recently stopped by the virtual offices for a chat.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Marion Lennox] Tall. A Bookworm. A farm kid transported to a regional city with marriage, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl. Mind, I don’t miss twice daily milking. A beach lover.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Taming the Brooding Cattleman?

[Marion Lennox] This is part of the Larkville Legacy, a multi-authored series of Harlequin Romances. We’re given two extended families discovering past secrets that link their futures. Taming the Brooding Cattleman takes my cute heroine straight from her New York family and dumps her onto an Outback Aussie farm, where the only thing Jack Connor cares about is his horses. From the moment he spots her pink suitcase, sparks fly.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share how you and the other authors worked together to write these books?

[Marion Lennox] We’re given a `bible’ created by the Harlequin editors which is basically the overarching story of the two families. Then we’re given our time lines and characters, suggestions as to conflict and let loose. It’s a lot of fun as we create our individual romances within the story arc. There’s a lot of give and take, asking other authors to bleed in backstory, offering suggestions as to how our characters might behave in future books. It’s an amazing and fun way to write and make friends at the same time.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Alex?

[Marion Lennox] Feisty, smart and soft-hearted. Is that four?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Jack would never have in his bedroom?

[Marion Lennox] A woman. Anything fluffy. Did I say a woman?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Alex had a theme song, what would it be?

[Marion Lennox] Anything you can do, I can do better…

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are Jack’s must have accessories for a night on the town?

[Marion Lennox] My Jack wouldn’t have a night on the town. He’d be hunkered down on his cattle station, with nothing but his beloved horses.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Marion Lennox] The thousands of writers who’ve shown me other worlds since I was a kid.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Marion Lennox] A computer.

A switched off internet connection.

My dog and cat on either foot.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Marion Lennox] Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster Series. The first – Spymaster’s Lady – blew me away and they just keep getting better.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Marion Lennox] Anne of Green Gables. I was a pretty isolated kid in a farming community and Anne picked me up and transported me into the land of dreaming. She taught me that you don’t need to stay confined – just pick up a book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Marion Lennox] I’m a beach nut. Beach walking, swimming, rock pool wading, hurling sticks for my dog into the surf and then trying to retrieve them myself when she loses interest… Right now it’s whale migration time so see me on the cliff top watching for spouts.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Marion Lennox] Through the contact details on my website at www.marionlennox.com

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order Taming the Brooding Cattleman from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below. Available in both print and digital

Here is a list of the entire Larkville Legacy series, in order by release month. I am a bit behind, but I intend to read them all.

The Cowboy Comes  Home by Patricia Thayer – JULY

Slow Dance with the Sheriff by Nikki Logan – AUGUST

Taming the Brooding Cattleman by Marion Lennox – SEPTEMBER

The Rancher’s Unexpected Family by Myrna Mackenzie – OCTOBER

His Larkville Cinderella by Melissa McClone – NOVEMBER

The Secret that Changed Everything by Lucy Gordon – DECEMBER

The Soldier’s Sweetheart by Soraya Lane – JANUARY

The Billionaire’s Baby SOS by Susan Meier – FEBRUARY

Here are all of the covers -

Lark Ville Legacy

Review: Falling Out of Place by M G Higgins

 

Title:  Falling Out of Place

Author:  M G Higgins

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Gabby Herrera is not like her perfect sister, Celia–straight-A student, obedient, responsible. Her parents don’t get it. They don’t get er C-average report card. Her love for basketball.
"The three of them think anything is possible if you just try hard enough. Well, I’ve tried. It’s not possible."
She can’t be who she is unless she is just like them. And if she’s not like them, she’s not a real person. She’s a broken person. A broken Herrera. And that is unacceptable.


Review:

Falling Out of Place was an unsolicited review copy, and when I pulled it out of the envelope, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I have had a few issues with other Saddleback publications, and while I have found them all compulsively readable, I wasn’t always impressed with the quality of writing or the presentation values.  I started reading this book because it was short, it looked like a fast read, and I wasn’t really in the mood for anything else.  I am so glad that I did start it, because by the third chapter, I could not put it down.  This story hit all the right spots for me, and I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting.

Gabby is an angry young woman.  Her sisters are perfect compared to her, and her parents keep ragging on her to get better grades and work harder in school.  Gabby hates school.  What she loves is basketball, and when she’s on the court, she hustles and gives her all.  After a series of personal meltdowns, she is forbidden from playing by her father, forced to get a job after school, and she’s grounded for what seems like life.  As her life continues to spiral out of control, Gabby finds herself engaging in reckless, dangerous behavior.  She is compelled to do the wrong thing, to make the wrong decisions, by the demons that are haunting her.  One by one her friends abandon her, leaving her even more angry and isolated.  When her Uncle Mike dies,  everything comes to a screeching halt.  He was the only one who understood her, and now that he’s gone, Gabby hates herself even more.  Will anything save her from herself and the rage that threatens to consume her?

When I finished this book, I had one word to say – wow.  I had such a hard time liking Gabby, because she is so unlikable.  It wasn’t surprising that she was left friendless; she excelled at pushing everyone who cared for her as far away as possible.  Her temper is out of control, and after a few too many flare ups, nobody wanted to be near her.  What if she came unglued on them?  Her unhappiness and self-loathing grew, page after agonizing page.  Gabby sucked at everything except destroying her life and all of the relationships that meant anything to her, and it was very painful to read along as she self-destructed.

Gabby is a complete train wreck, and after her Uncle Mike dies, things only get worse.  She starts hanging out with people who encourage her to do the wrong thing.  She drinks at work, at home, and at school.  She parties like a pro, but only ends up feeling even more miserable.  With all of the stupid stuff she did, I am surprised she was able to survive from one drinking binge to the next.  This girl was hurting so badly, yet nobody in her family was willing to see her misery.  There wasn’t anybody for her to turn to for help, and that was heartbreaking.  When she finally does go too far, it’s almost too late for her.

I’m not usually drawn to stories with suicidal teens because I find them depressing and difficult to read, but this book is told with so much heart that I couldn’t put it down.  It’s a fast, powerful read with so much emotion stuffed into its short length.  The ending is upbeat, probably too upbeat and not realistic, but I liked it.  Gabby was in complete freefall, when finally, miraculously, she was able to grab onto some hope and finally start to like herself again. 

Grade:  A-/B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Three River Ranch by Roxanne Snopek

 

 

Title:  Three River Ranch

Author: Roxanne Snopek

Publisher: Entangled – Bliss

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Needing a fresh start from her two-timing fiancé, Aurora McAllister answers a realtor’s ad for a guesthouse on the beautiful, serene Three River Ranch. She shows up at Three River tired, heartbroken, and with no one but her trusty Labradoodle as a companion. Cowboy Carson Granger has enough trouble in his life without adding a woman and her dog to the mix. There’s the untamed mustang he’s prepping to release into the wild, not to mention his father’s crazy will, which stipulates that if Carson wants to fully inherit Three River, he’ll need to find a bride. Carson wants nothing to do with love and especially not a marriage of convenience. But he soon realizes Rory, and everything she represents, might just be exactly what he needs. Sometimes love arrives on your doorstep when you least expect it…

Review:

Ah!  A series romance with mustangs!  How could I resist? Especially when Three River Ranch is a launch title for Entangled Publishing’s new Bliss line.  I was most eager to start reading this one! 

This is a nice introduction to the Bliss line.  The story moves along at a rapid clip, and it reminded me of a Harlequin Romance.  Just enough angst to propel the plot forward and softer sex scenes.  A feisty heroine who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and a slightly socially awkward hero to challenge her resolve to not get involved with men. I am not a big fan of baby books, so I wasn’t totally charmed to learn that Rory is pregnant, but her situation made her character more interesting.  After being dumped by her two-timing fiancé, she is left to fend for herself, pregnant and jobless.  When she rents a house on a ranch, she thinks her prayers have been answered.  She’ll take a little time for herself, have her baby in a less stressful setting, and then make a life for herself and her child, all by herself.  Men are heartless jerks and she’s better off without one.

It is with a great deal of dismay that Rory first sets eyes on her new home.  The place is a complete dump, and it’s not fit for her to live in.  Then she discovers that she actually rented the other dwelling on the property, which has been kept up since the death of the ranch’s owner, but that his estranged son, Carson, is back in town and he intends to living in the house.  Oops! Perfect set up for lots of conflict between the protagonists.  Like Rory, Carson wants nothing to do with a relationship.  Women are too much trouble, and he has to focus his energy on his dream of establishing a mustang sanctuary.  He doesn’t have the time or the money to waste on women.  Well, except for that stupid clause in his father’s will.  If Carson wants to inherit the ranch, which he desperately need for his horses, he has to get married.  Pronto.  So maybe Carson and Rory can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement what will get them both what they want.  The land for Carson, and financial security for Rory.

I liked how large a part the animals played in the story.  Rory has a service dog, and because of a heartbreaking event in her past, she wants to help families with children with disabilities obtain service animals, because she is firmly convinced that they make an impact on the lives of those families.  Carson has rescued a pregnant mustang from certain death, and he is determined to nurse her back to health so she will be strong enough to deliver a healthy foal.  The animals interacted with each other, which guaranteed that I remained engaged in the plot.  Whenever an animal was part of a scene, the story rocked for me.  When they weren’t, things got a little bogged down.  Why?  Because Carson could be a jerk.  I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for him when he was acting like a spoiled child.  He took his frustrations out on Rory, and if I were her, I would be running as far away from him as I could get.  When even his best friend had to tell him he was a thoughtless douchebag, one had to wonder at how quickly he could turn over a new leaf.  Carson constantly shifted blame for his bad behavior to his emotionally distant and demanding father.  I wanted him to take ownership of himself and his actions, and it just took too long for his light blub moment.

Overall, I did enjoy Three River Ranch, with the reservations mentioned.   This is the first Bliss title that I have read, and I am looking forward to sampling more of them.

Grade:  B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop-Win The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle!

Welcome to my  Spooktacular giveaway,  hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Rhiannon from The Diary of a Bookworm.  This hop runs from October 24 to October 31  and you can win lots of new reads. There are over 400 blogs participating in this hop!  Click here for a complete list of blogs participating in the hop.

I recently read and enjoyed The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle, and I think you will, too!  It is scary and suspenseful, and oh-so hard to put down!

About the book:

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

Entering is easy! Just fill out the widget below. Earn extra entries for following! US addresses only, please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Interview with Tiffany Schmidt, Author of Send Me A Sign

Tiffany Schmidt is the author of the recently released  Send Me A Sign.  I’m delighted to have her as a guest in the virtual offices today!

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Tiffany Schmidt] Former wild-child who blamed all hijinks on imaginary friends. Now: pretends to be a grown up, makes up stories, plays with impish twin sons

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Send Me A Sign?

[Tiffany Schmidt] Send Me A Sign is about Mia, a superstitious high school senior who is diagnosed with leukemia. It’s about the ways Mia struggles with keeping her illness a secret because she doesn’t want it to change how people perceive her—and because she’s not ready to handle the ways it will change her life. In three words, it’s about: Love, Life & Luck.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Tiffany Schmidt] My stories always start with a character – I came up with ultra-superstitious Mia first, then looked for scenarios that would challenge her. Mia is terrified by situations where she’s not in control or there aren’t set guidelines for how she should act—cancer breaks all the rules for expectations. Mia loses control of her own body, and she struggles so much with not being able to predict or shape the way other people react to her cancer. The tension between Mia’s denial of her illness and her paralyzing fear of letting down everyone else drive the story. Throw in the normal, everyday pressures of being a teenager—because a cancer diagnosis doesn’t stop a person from falling in love, fighting with friends, or worrying about disappointing her parents—and you’ve got SEND ME A SIGN.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Mia?

[Tiffany Schmidt] Superstitious. Over-achiever. Anxious.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are three things Mia would never have in her purse?

[Tiffany Schmidt] 1) A compact with a broken mirror. (Though she would always have an unbroken one).

2) A hospital bracelet, medication, or anything that would reveal she’s sick.

3) A penny found laying tails-side-up.

[Manga Maniac Café]  If Mia had a theme song, what would it be?

[Tiffany Schmidt] “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. Also “Girls Like You” by The Naked And Famous

[Manga Maniac Café]  What is Gyver’s most prized possession?

[Tiffany Schmidt] His guitar

[Manga Maniac Café]   What are your greatest creative influences?

[Tiffany Schmidt] This changes quite a bit depending on what I’m working on. For Send Me A Sign, I was heavily influenced by music. Gyver’s playlists are woven throughout the book and Mia looks for signs in the lyrics of songs. One of my greatest sources of creative influence was Jack’s Mannequin’s “Glass Passenger” album, particularly the songs that chronicle the lead singer, Andrew McMahon’s, own battle with leukemia.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What three things do you need in order to write?

[Tiffany Schmidt] 1) The book’s playlist while I’m writing and silence for revisions.

2) Colored pens. My favorites are Staedtler triplus fineliners. I revise & edit on print outs. By the time I’m done it looks like Rainbow Brite exploded on my pages.

3) Revision Skittles (the rest of the world calls these Crazy Core Skittles). I’ve got a serious addiction, but only allow myself to eat them while revising. The rule is: One Skittle for every page revised.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Tiffany Schmidt] Every Day by David Levithan. I’m always in awe of the ways David reinvents himself and challenges a reader’s preconceptions with each of his novels and Every Day did not disappoint. I pre-ordered a copy for my sister before I read it because I fully anticipated needing to discuss it when I finished… of course I finished and she’s off in Europe. So now I’m hounding St.Matt to READ IT NOW and making lists of topics I want talk about when he’s done.

[Manga Maniac Café]  If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Tiffany Schmidt] I was a very early reader, so the honest answer is probably The Poky Little Puppy or something by Seuss.

The first time I really remember reading a book and thinking That’s ME – was Super Fudge. I didn’t identify with Peter, I related to Fudge, the kid who managed to find trouble even when he wasn’t looking. I had similar reactions to Ramona and Matilda. My long-suffering mother was thrilled that reading kept me in one place and out of trouble… at least until I finished a book and tried re-creating the characters’ antics.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Tiffany Schmidt] I love to run, kayak, and play tennis, but I’m equally content to curl up in a hammock with a good book and either a Schmidtlet or a puggle (never both at the same time or we’ll all end up overturned). I go through way too much sugar and butter each week, because I’m constantly baking—then mailing out all sorts of cookie & cake care packages.

Oh, and Twitter. I’m pretty darn addicted to that too.

[Manga Maniac Café]  How can readers connect with you?

[Tiffany Schmidt] · Website: www.TiffanySchmidt.com

· Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TiffanySchmidtBooks

· Twitter: @TiffanySchmidt

· Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/tiffanyaschmidt/send-me-a-sign/

· E-mail: TiffanyASchmidt@gmail.com

· Mail: Tiffany Schmidt

PO Box 119

Fountainville, PA 18923

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can order Send Me A Sign from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below

Review: Paradise Kiss Vol 1 by Ai Yazawa

 

Title:  Paradise Kiss V 1

Author:  Ai Yazawa

Publisher:  Vertical

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Yukari is a spirited high school senior in the process of studying for her college entrance exams. Sadly the prospect of subjecting herself to a meaningless dull life leaves her feeling depressed about the future.  In a bout of frustration, Yukari begins to ignore her courses and she begins to hang out with a group of fashion design students. But what Yukari doesn’t know is that this circle is known as Paradise Kiss, and they are run by a pair of young designers already making their mark on the Asian scene. Furthermore, while her life is going to soon change, it will not be due to the elite political or commerce based future her family may have hoped for, instead her life may eventually be set in a world of high fashion, with her strutting down the catwalk as the face of Asian fashion!


Review:

How lovely to see Paradise Kiss back in print after so long!  This series,  Peach Girl, and Marmalade Boy  are directly responsible for my love of graphic novels.  During the hey-day of the US manga craze, there were so many wonderful books being released that it was hard to keep up with them all.  There was also a lot of garbage hitting store shelves, in such an overwhelming wave, that buyers couldn’t keep up.  Then the recession hit, and it was bye-bye to several of my favorite publishers.   CMX’s demise hit me the hardest, because DC’s imprint had licensed some unique titles, and many of the series that I followed were being released by them.  When Tokyopop shuttered, I actually became so discouraged with comics that I started reading prose books again.  Am I bitter that I will never see the end of I Hate You More Than Anyone or Kamui?  Am I upset that Silver Diamond and Demon Sacred were never competed?  You betcha! That’s one reason why I was so happy to see ParaKiss back in print with a new publisher.  This is a timeless story of a high school girl’s coming of age, with fun characters and gorgeous illustrations.  It deserves to stay in print, and since it’s been ten years since it was last published, there is a brand new audience out there just waiting to discover it.

One thing that I love about Ai Yazawa’s storytelling style is how she sprinkles humor into her plot when events get emotionally intense.   There is so much drama, drama, drama, which I love, and then all of a sudden there is this marvelous little blast of humor – either a joke from one of the characters or a humorous visual to ease all of that tension, just a little bit.  It is more evident in NANA (speaking of which, what happened to NANA?), but there are small glimpses in this first installment of Ai Yazawa’s classic romance.  I enjoy the contrast to the heart-stopping tension, and look forward to seeing how she’ll maneuver her characters from emotional trauma to eliciting an chuckle from the reader. 

In ParaKiss, Yukari is a high school senior with a lot of her mind.  She is cramming for her college entrance exams, and she doesn’t have time to get involved with a bunch of weirdos from the local fashion school.  Once she meets charismatic George and is caught under petite Miwako’s charm, she has no choice but to model for their fashion show.  There is so much change in Yukari from the opening chapter,  where she is risk adverse and single-mindedly intent on her studies, to the end of this volume, where she is fabricating lies for her parents so she can spend more time with her new friends in their basement studio.  She is finally starting to assert herself, and to reject her mother’s stranglehold over her.  Finally, there is something that she cares enough about to fight against the carefully planned path her parents have laid out before her.  Is it in her best interests to get caught up in the lives of these creative and impulsive people?  Probably not, but the rush of being with them is intoxicating, and she’s not willing to let it go.

George is so far over her head that I worry for Yukari.  He is jaded and worldly, while she’s lived a very sheltered life.  No friends, no boyfriends, few connections outside of her family.  George is like a blazing torch, and she is drawn, against her will,  to his brilliance.  As I read the book this time around, I sympathized more with her confusion over her feelings for George.  She’s not accustomed to expressing her feelings or hanging out with a guy, and everything that George does sets her world on end.  He is intense and self-confident, and he rushes head-first into everything that life has to offer.  Yukari isn’t prepared for a guy like George, and now that she’s caught his attention, she isn’t sure how to keep it fixed firmly on her.  All of the emotional ups and downs of that first relationship are intensified by George’s vivid personality.  She doesn’t stand a chance against him, and I kept wondering if he was just dicking around with her from the moment he met her.

I love the art.  Ai Yazawa’s delicate, detailed character designs are distinctive and beautiful.  The clothing is also stunning, but how can you possibly have a story about fashion designers and have everybody wearing ugly clothing?  You can’t, and the clothing take on a life of their own.

If you enjoy drama and that pulse-pounding confusion of first love, give this series a shot.  If you enjoy comics with beautiful clothes and beautiful characters, give this series a shot.  If you are interested in manga and haven’t read any of it yet, this is a good, short (3 volume) title to get you started.  It’s still as pretty and as moving as it was 10 years ago.  As always, Vertical’s presentation is top notch, with a new translation and a bigger, bolder trim size than the previous version.

Grade:   B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Until There Was You by Jessica Scott

 

Title: Until There Was You

Author: Jessica Scott

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

From the author of Because of You comes an all-new contemporary eBook romance. He plays by the rules, she’s not afraid to break them. Now these two strong-willed Army captains will prove that opposites attract . . .

A by-the-book captain with a West Point background, Captain Evan Loehr refuses to mix business with pleasure–except for an unguarded instance years ago when he succumbed to the deep sensuality of redheaded beauty Claire Montoya. From that moment on, though, Evan has been at odds with her, through two deployments to Iraq and back again. But when he is asked to train a team prepping for combat alongside Claire, battle-worn Evan is in for the fight of his life.

Strong, gutsy, and loyal, Captain Claire Montoya has worked hard to earn the rank on her chest. In Evan, Claire sees a rigid officer who puts the rules before everything else–including his people. When the mission forces them together, Claire soon discovers that there is more to Evan than meets the eye. He’s more than the rank on his chest; he’s a man with dark secrets and deep longings. For all their differences, Evan and Claire share two crucial passions: their country and each other.

Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Blaze of Winter, The Devil’s Thief, and Santerra’s Sin.


Review:

I read Until There Was You because it is an original Loveswept release. Loveswept has been a favorite series of mine for years, and I am delighted that Random House is releasing older titles in digital, as well as new titles. Jessica Scott’s first release, Because of You, looked intriguing, but I was swamped when it came out, so it kept getting shuffled to the bottom of the review pile. When I had the opportunity to hop onto a blog tour for Until There Was You, Jessica’s follow up, I eagerly hopped on. I haven’t read many military romances, so I wanted to give myself a little more exposure to them, and after learning that the author is in the Arm has Army experience, it became that much more interesting.

Claire Montoya is a career soldier, and after years of dedicating herself to the military and the war efforts in the Middle East, she was promoted in rank. Now an officer, her current assignment is to prep a newbie unit for the rigors of warfare. They will be deployed in five weeks, and Claire’s good friend, Sarah, is in charge of the unit. With her best friend, Reza, an enlisted man, Claire must get these young soldiers ready for their convoy duties. The task seems impossible; Claire’s superior officers are focused on skills that Claire and Reza deem unimportant to the survival of the troops. With great despair and trepidation, Claire must set aside her personal views about the training and stick to the program, or risk being disciplined and tossed out of the Army.

I found this an fascinating read because I know so little about military life. The story is set after the Surge, when US troops were supposed to provide more of a support function to the fledgling Iraqi government. Life for the deployed soldiers was still frighteningly dangerous, and Claire had been faced with many decisions early in her career that left soldiers injured or dead. She doesn’t want to see any more lives lost, so she is frantic to prepare Sarah’s troops for the dangers they are about to face. She is constantly clashing with Evan, a West Point officer she has been sparring with for years, about the appropriateness of the training schedule. She calls Evan Captain America because of his unwavering dedication to rules and his job duties. Claire is a bit of a rebel, and she’s paid a price for her outspokenness. She has not been promoted as quickly as she might have been otherwise, but she won’t back down when she thinks she’s in the right and that soldiers will be needlessly killed. The conflict between Evan and Claire seemed insurmountable to me. How could either one of them ever compromise on this very basic but personality defining stance? Follow the rules to the letter, or bend them in order save lives.

Until There Was You is a book about conflict and conflict resolution. When we meet Claire and Evan, neither of them is able to adequately work through the conflicts in their life. Claire is driven to train Sarah’s troops as best she can with Reza’s help, but Reza, having seen several deployments, is suffering from PSTD. To keep his demons at bay, he has taken to drinking excessively, partying and hooking up with women indiscriminately. He’s two steps away from being court-martialed, but Claire is skilled at running interference for him. This adds to the tension between Evan and Claire. He doesn’t see how she can, in good conscience, keep covering up for him. Reza is going to get people killed one day, if he doesn’t kill himself first. Claire already tried to save her father from the demons lurking in the bottom of a liquor bottle. Her failure haunts her, and she isn’t ready for a repeat of that.

Evan hasn’t had an easy life either. He feels responsible for his sister’s death, and his guilt has driven him away from his family and away from close relationships. He and Claire make for a sympatric couple because both of them are so damaged. Neither of them can trust themselves to care for someone else for fear of being hurt again, so it’s easy to get behind their relationship and hope that they will somehow find a way to be together, even as messed up as they both are. It is Evan who takes that first, frightening step of accepting his feelings, and of having to face his fear of Claire’s rejection.

One thing that frustrated me about this story was my lack of understanding  of military protocol. I was confused by the chain of command, and about why some of the events would have such disastrous outcomes for the characters. The pacing of the story was also uneven in parts; I found the training sequences fascinating, but found some of Evan and Claire’s missteps irritating in their frequency. Overall, this is an emotional, satisfying read, and I will have to dust off my copy of Because of You for another military romance fix.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher