I started SheWolf and I probably would have finished it a day later if I wasn’t up working late. It’s one of those books you start and you know you should be in bed but you can’t stop reading no matter how many times you promise yourself “I’ll stop at the end of this chapter”.
Right from the start the story engages you with complex characters who live and breathe right off the page. I wanted to keep following Anna and Kieran around and loved being entrenched in their world. Anna’s struggles, although otherworldly, are still identifiable and you want to root for her to overcome her fears, struggles and go get her man! I loved how independent and strong she was while still allowing her femininity to rise to the surface.
Kieran on the other hand. Wooo doggie. And I mean that literally. Very alpha, very masculine and VERY HOT, I could smell his testosterone as it dripped from each word. Personally I’m not one for alpha domineering males in real life but like most romance readers when it comes in the form of paranormals it is very, very sexy in the hero. There is one scene where the hero demands something of the heroine that nearly melted my palm pilot, I’ll tell ya that much.
Woo! *Fans self* Where was I…
The hero and heroine very hot together and the love scenes are seriously smoking here. Very well written. Also what I loved about the story is how there’s so much emotion. One minute you’re on edge with fear, then excitement, then anger and then overcome with sadness. Not many books lately, although good reads, have been able to make me feel such a range. I had to stop myself from finishing the book or else it’d be over. And, readers, you know how much that sucks because of how much you’ve invested in the characters.
From the moment I saw the cover for Zoe by T.A. Ford, I was entranced. The rich pastel textures reminded me of sweet confections reminiscent of beautiful previous century tapestries. The fact that a beautiful girl with smooth coffee skin instead of the usual porcelain complexion graced the cover made me sit up and take notice along with the laced title.
I don’t usually read historical romances, mainly because the heroines were of the run of the mill same variety without much difference between them. Thus I couldn’t find much interest. I did read historical fiction, like the Feast of July & Legends of the Fall, and many movies that took placed in the previous century that were adapted from books still grace my shelves to this day.
However Zoe has helped introduced me to a new love in a genre I hope to find more of in the coming days: IR Historical Romance.
And yet it’s so much more than that.
From the moment we’re introduced to Zoe, her sister Marianne and her stepmother Madame we enter a world of rare privilege and high society. Where women’s futures are defined by the men they marry. Marianne is set to ride this path as she is to meet with the Count Julián LaRoque de Toulouse as they enter his home. But once the Count sees Zoe, he is entranced by her and sets to make her his.
Most of the synopsis is in the back of the book so I won’t recount it. I’ll share my thoughts on the book instead.
In a word, this book is magnificent. A richly described novel that takes you into the depths of the character’s turmoil, loves, frustrations and fights as they interact in early 19th century Toulouse, France. Author T.A. Ford takes you on a journey of the self discovery of her title character as she leaves childhood behind and enters womanhood. There were so many beautiful descriptions and wonderful quotes. One in particular stands out:
She reached down and pulled up the covers. She understood now that being a woman was not losing her virginity.
Being a woman meant understanding her heart.
Zoe is definitely a strong independent female character forced to grow up wiser than her years due to the inhumanity she grew up around as a child and that she was reminded of by her stepmother every day. Even through all the atrocities she faces and as she fears the loss of her family and her loves heart, you can’t help but love her and keep cheering her on as she struggles to survive a cruel world. Count LaRoque is a complex romance hero that defies mere terms like that of alpha and beta. He lives and breathes right off the pages as he goes from cold hearted womanizer to lovelorn hero within the pages. Once his past is revealed, it all becomes clear.
Author T.A. Ford said this book is part factual and part fantasy and I can see where some liberties may have been taken. But overall the book feels like it could have taken place in a very real time not too long ago. The descriptions of the scenery as well the character’s dresses and actions made it seem like a period movie played out in my head as I read. I wished all the more that my dreams for directing had already come to light as this would definitely be a story I would be more than eager to adapt for the visual medium of storytelling (with the author’s consent and guidance of course ;-)).
I can’t say enough about Zoe and I can’t remember when a book last had me cheering out loud one minute, crying the next, and yelling in surprise the next minute after that. I started reading the book late last night with only the idea of reading one chapter and ended up reading until the sun started rising outside my window. Tonight I finished the second half of the book and haven’t remember plowing through a good book in that short amount of time since I was thirteen reading Jurassic Park in three days.
This book has definitely made it to my keeper shelf and I can’t wait to reread it again later. The book may seem rather costly but do not let that sway you. It is an amazing, entertain and beautiful read that you should definitely check out.
Zoe has earned its way as number 1 on my best reads of 2008 list and I can’t wait to see what else T.A. Ford has in store for her readers. I hope IR Historical Romances start popping up like Zoe, because if they do, I’ll definitely be eating them up like hot cakes!
Aftershock offers a trio of short novellas with the theme of near deaths being somewhat blessings in disguise. I never read these authors before so it was great to dive in to check out their writing as well as their eye catching storylines.
The first offering is Penance by Sharon Sala. After Nicole Masters survived a gunshot wound to the head during a random pharmacy store robbery, she is struggling to pick up the pieces of her life. Words don’t come easily to her, as she sometimes mistakes one word for another that sounds like it but means something else, minor depression, staggering movements and a hint of self consciousness since she lost her hair due to surgery. On top of that she begins to head sounds like a rush of wind, and soon a startling vision accompanies it.
Right on the announcement of movie star Lyla Dane’s daughter’s kidnapping, Nicole “sees” the violent kidnapping right on her TV screen. Soon she is struggling with this new power and finds out she is the only one who can help stop the kidnappers and save the life of the little girl.
This was a great suspenseful read with characters that felt real. Ms. Sala offers a look into each character’s lives so you know what they were going through and what dilemma’s they faced around the kidnapping and the realization of Nicole’s ability. I really liked Nicole’s cop boyfriend Dom as he as sincere and as much in love with her as ever despite her change in appearance. He was always there for her showing how much he loved and cared for her and I really liked the dialogue they had between each other.
Nicole was a great heroine who was really trying to put her life back together and the read gets her struggle with finding a comfort within herself and her home again. I liked that she didn’t look like the typical romance heroine and I could really feel her strength as she tried to do all she can to understand her gift as well as use it enough to help the little girl.
There was a scene before the HEA that I really liked as it showed how sensitive and affected Dom was after seeing his love in danger once again. It made the HEA all the sweeter. An entertaining blend of urban fantasy and suspense with a hearty dash of paranormal romance. 5/5
After the Lightning by Janis Reams Hudson is the second novella which centers around jogger Hailey Cameron. After being struck by lightning after a tornado, Hailey is rushed to the hospital where she becomes the roommate of coma patient LaShonda Martin whose son is missing. LaShonda’s spirit soon combines with Hailey’s after an incident with an oxygen tank and soon the mystery begins—with the help of Special Investigator for the D.A. Aaron Trent—to find LaShonda’s son before it’s too late.
I liked how this story started right off the bat with the strike and soon jets into the hospital where Hailey and LaShonda meet. During the course of the investigation, Hailey gets closer to Aaron including meeting his Aunt who (literally) sees dead people. Ghosts to be exact and with her knowledge, Hailey doesn’t feel so alone anymore.
The romance between Hailey and Aaron is slow building so that it’s believable before they consummate their love. I would have liked to have seen an HEA between LaShonda and Hailey because they seemed like they were building a nice friendship as Hailey was helping her. The name LaShonda kept calling Hailey got a little old but I did think it was cute how Hailey said it towards the end to remind her that she was there for her.
A sweet paranormal offering with a harrowing action oriented climax. 4/5
The final story is Seeing Red by Debra Cowan which has probably one of the most eye catching openings in a story.
“Cass Hollister’s problems began the day she died.”
Cass is a firefighter carrying on the tradition set by her well respected father. After being struck by a beam, she dies on the hospital bed only to be revived past the thirteen minutes pronounced death. Not long after, Cass starts having visions of fires before they happen. Soon her fire investigator ex-boyfriend Ben Wyrick is on the case trying to figure out the connection between Cass and the fires as they slowly rekindle the relationship they once had.
This was a great story that focused on the too hot to handle relationship between Ben and Cass with the suspense as the backdrop and a rocky sibling relationship that may be the answer to all the arson happening in the story. The relationship didn’t seem too rushed and I liked that the characters had a history that was left open until now.
A great romance with some interesting paranormal moments. 4/5
If you’re a paranormal fan looking for more than just vampires, weres and other beasties, I’d recommend this a great collection of stories which focus more on the relationships both romantic, familial and friendship wise with paranormal elements.
Rae Lori: Hi Phoebe! Thanks for having me. I guess romance is something I sort of fell into. Growing up I read a lot of sci-fi, fantasy and suspense and the teen reads (like Sweet Valley High) were my romance. Recently I got into it because I loved reading IR (interracial) romance and it spiraled from there especially during the rise of paranormal romance. I LOVED Anne Rice growing up and seeing the return of vampires as heroes really brought some ideas in my head that I wanted to put onto paper. If anyone, I would probably attribute my desire to start writing romance with her and Sandra Kitt.
Phoebe: Did you know what type of romance you wanted to write about or did you experiment with different genres before you chose the one that you felt was for you?
Rae: Oh yes. I knew I wanted to write IR romance but after a few tries at contemporary I wanted to explore with more genres. So I went back to writing sci-fi and fantasy again, then suspense and eventually paranormals because I love the external conflicts placed in the way of the hero and heroine. Makes the stories that much more exciting!
Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote? And do you still have it with you?
Rae: Hmm. You know the very first fan fiction I ever wrote was a short story fan fiction story I started when I was pretty young. I think it was a Selina Kyle/Catwoman story. My late grandfather bought me my very first computer which was an apple, green text and everything and I love that thing because it was where I got my first start at writing. I remember saving the story in progress on a big ole floppy, but I have no idea where that thing is now *laughs*. I’d love to find it to see how I wrote back then starting out.
Phoebe: How much research do you have to do for your novels and did it take you a long time to gather that research?
Rae: I had to do a pretty good amount to make sure everything was correct and as real as I could get it. I went back and forth during the writing and after to make sure I got the village descriptions, time period setting and costumes correct as well as the events. Sometimes I would watch a movie to immerse myself in one perspective of the time period, like say Dahomey Africa in the 1600s or the Highland Scotland’s in the 14th century, but I would mostly buy books on history and learn the myths of the culture and the history. It was fascinating learning so much about the people, their beliefs and the world they lived in.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your upcoming novel, A Kiss of Ashen Twilight, which is the first in your new series?Rae: I hadn’t come across a story between a fairy and a vampire as romantic interests before. Now I can name a few but at the time I started writing I thought it would be interesting to combine the two. I was curious to see if there were any fairies in African myths and I came upon the Aziza which is apart of the Dahomey people’s mythology. They were a benign group of fairies believed to exist in order to assist hunters. I thought that was perfect and offered so many possibilities in the lifestyle of a female Aziza.
Phoebe: How many novels are you planning to write for this your new series called Ashen Twilight?
Rae: So far I have three books planned to finish out this continuing arc. The first deals with how the members of the Ashen Twilight House live under mortal eyes. Once they are discovered, how will humans treat them as outsiders? And how have they treated them in the past? Then I wanted to explore how exactly they would get to the point where they desire to live with one another at peace? What kind of laws would be in place for the immortals? Those questions offered a bunch of possibilities for storylines for the opening three books.
Phoebe: Do you have a process of how you start to write your novels?
Rae: Usually if it’s in the process of a series I start the next book right after the other so I record my thoughts where I’d like to start the next time I get ready to write. If it’s the start of something completely new I usually let it swim around in my head for awhile until it needs to be written down. Sometimes I usually think of the world around me and wonder “what if such and such happened” or “what if I throw this type of character with this one” and then stories come to me that I write down right away.
Phoebe: Which do you like best, writing a series or writing stand alone novels? How is writing each different for you?
Rae: Hmm. That’s a good question! I’d say series are a little harder because you have to sort of keep the momentum of each book at the same rate or raise the stakes much higher the next go ‘round. I had to do this with my Cimmerian Series as well but I do love revisiting the characters once again and seeing what other kinds of trouble they can get into. With standalones you have that one shot to do a story and then it’s over. But the characters still kind of stay in my mind and I’m a bit bummed that that’s it with their story. Beginning to end. I don’t think I like writing one better than the other but they both offer their advantages and disadvantages.
Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long?
Rae: I was a strange case. My business partner and I had our own publishing company at the time. It was a micro press where we published some of our own work as well some great authors we got to know. My first book was Cimmerian City which is very close to my heart simply because it taught me a lot about how the industry works and it basically gave me my start. It was my longest book at the time (which I was very proud of back then!) and along with my illustrated novella it was the first works I released.
After a while we decided to close and I entered e-publishing where my longest book after that was Before Dawn Breaks. It came after Uthiel’s Embrace (a short fantasy novella) and both were acquired by Freya’s Bower. I had shopped ‘Dawn’ around by a certain big romance publisher before then and it took a few months. I found the rejection feedback invaluable and applied what I thought was necessary to the rewrite then submitted it again and it was picked up. It doesn’t sound like it took long but it did take awhile!
Phoebe: How did you feel when you finally saw your first published book came out and how do you feel about your other novels being published?
Rae: With Cimmerian City I was immensely proud because it was truly a book I had put together myself. I did the cover art, the print layout, the promos, basically everything but the printing and editing which I had asked my editor at the time to proof before I sent it out to the public. After that I like to celebrate each novel published because I worked so hard on each of them before showing them to editors. Sometimes I forget and dive right back into the next project but I have to remind myself how far I’ve come with each step I make. Sometimes I can’t even believe it myself.
Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule and your personal life without going insane?
Rae: I’m still trying to figure out that one! Usually when I’m working on a novel it’s all I’m focused on and I have to cut outside things off for awhile until it’s done. My office looks a mess after each project so I have to take time to clean up everything, return phone calls and take breaks so friends and family still know I’m alive and well!
Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing?
Rae: I either play Tomb Raider or Silent Hill video games since I want to rest my mind and just focus on something else entirely. Maybe watch a movie and try not to think about writing or promoting. But it’s a hard button to switch off! Usually I finally can catch up to my TBR pile so I’ll dive into a few books one after the other which keeps me pretty busy in between projects. Or I do art projects for myself or for fellow authors who are looking for graphic design work.
Phoebe: Do you have any hobbies?
Rae: Oh yes. I’m still trying to teach myself how to play the guitar (it’s crazy). I love watching movies and losing myself in a great tale. Strangely enough, although I went to school to study art it’s sort of become my hobby when not freelancing and it helps to balance out the writing bug when I’m taking a break and need to flip my mind off for a bit.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Rae: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If there’s something you don’t understand by all means keep searching until you find out the answer. Know what steps you have to take to learn all you can about the business you’re entering. But at the same time don’t learn too much that you push out your creativity. Keep an open mind about everything and learn to forge your own path, make goals and try your best to attain them.
Phoebe: Is there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Rae: Probably that nothing or no one is too small to give your attention. Readers out there come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and you should treat each and every one of them as you would want to be treated if you were in their place. Don’t forget what it’s like to be a reader in this industry. Promote to them as you would like to be promoted to. A lot of times readers are thought of as merely consumers but they are so much more than that. They are book lovers and adventurers as well.
Phoebe: Now for a question that I have been meaning to ask an author. Do you have a favorite genre you like to read? Who is your favorite author(s)?