Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 145 - 13 Reasons to Read Captive of Sin by Anna Campbell

I met Anna Campbell online through Christine Wells, when Christine used to be a co-contributor to my group blog, Popculturedivas.

Anna and Christine contribute to their group blog, Romance Bandits.

I quickly noticed that whenever Anna posted, the comments section immediately turned into a party and the comment numbers shot up into the 100-200 mark. No exaggeration.

This didn't happen only at the Romance Bandits - no. Whenever Anna posted at her other group blogs or did a guest post, the comment numbers shot up there, too. It's not like I was stalking her or anything. But I did follow her around slavishly to all her blog posts in the hopes of winning a copy of Captive of Sin - which I finally did! Woo hoo! Yeah, baby.

Check out a few of her bloggy gems:

The Sex is Never Just About the Sex guesting @ Vauxhall Vixens
Dust Never Sleeps @ the Romance Bandits
Christmas Reading Bonanza @ Tote Bags 'n' Blogs

1 - Captive of Sin is an Avon Historical Romance imprint from HarperCollins. It released last November in North America and more recently in Australia, Anna's home and native land.

2 - Captive of Sin is Anna's fourth book. She has also published:

Claiming the Courtesan
Tempt the Devil

Upcoming in June:

My Reckless Surrender

3 - Anna takes us into the world of Regency Noir. A phrase coined by Stephanie Laurens in a quote for Claiming the Courtesan, Regency Noir has since become a subgenre that gives the normally light Regency period a Gothic undertone, for those of us who love our heroes to be tortured.


4 - We meet Lady Charis Weston, who gives a false name to the man who discovers her cowering in the inn stables after she escapes a brutal beating at the hands of her fortune-hunting step-brothers. Being a wealthy heiress has its advantages. But Charis has yet to experience any of them, and now doubts she will live the few weeks till she reaches her majority, when her funds will finally be at her disposal.

5 - Sir Gideon Trevithick returns from India a national hero, having survived capture as a spy and imprisonment under intolerable conditions. Named 'the bravest fellow in the empire' by Wellington and knighted by the king, all Gideon wants to do is return to his family's seat in Cornwall - and forget.

But the battered young woman he coaxes from her hiding place in the stables brings his own torment rushing to the surface.

6 - Those who know me, know I love a tortured hero. It has been ever so. As a child I was wildly attracted to the animated sight of Sleeping Beauty's Prince Philip chained up by Maleficent.

He doesn't flinch from fighting off the dragon version of the evil fairy, even when her enormous size and strength dwarfs him as he takes refuge under his shield. But Prince Philip never loses his grip on his courage or his sword, and I know he's the archetype of all of my favorite romance heroes.

Including Gideon, who was awarded the 2009 KISS Award (Knight in Shining Silver) from Romantic Times

7 - Publisher's Weekly named Captive of Sin one of their top 100 books of 2009: "Gideon tries to fight their growing attraction, believing the beautiful and warm Charis deserves better than a man so damaged by trauma and survivor's guilt, but Charis's clever plan to heal his wounded soul reveals delightful insight and leads to luscious love scenes."

8 - Remember the noir in Regency Noir. I like my characters to truly suffer on their way to a happy ending. I love to feel my heart crush in my chest in sympathy with the hero and heroine. I love brushing tears away when my heart springs back to life, just when I thought there was no possible way it could ever work out for them.

As I read about Anna's book, and as I pursued my copy with the hope-hope-hope that it would come to me, I felt the wild dream burn in my heart that a truly gutsy story with the perfect hero was waiting for me between those pages.

Once I got to the reveal about Gideon's past, I was truly impressed by the nightmare of his imprisonment. Many stories promise tortured heroes, but few actually deliver. For a woman like me who can't resist Joe Harmon from A Town Like Alice, Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo or Anton Gorodetsky from Night Watch and Day Watch, Gideon lives up to every expectation and then takes me even deeper into Noirsville.

9 - Something that really shines about this book is the youth of the heroine. In fact, I'm certain this love story is only possible because the heroine is young enough to truly believe in the healing power of her love for Gideon. A more seasoned woman would be put off by the warnings of Gideon's post traumatic stress disorder. Despite that youth, Charis, having been put through the mill herself by her own relations, has that essential common ground to answer Gideon's litany of reasons as to why she should forget him.

10 - Anna really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Wheels clattered on cobblestones. A moving carriage forced people out of the way.

'Come on. Run. And keep your head down.'

She scuttled at his side, floundering to keep up with a man who made no allowance for her shorter legs or her injuries.

Akash flung open the carriage door and tossed her inside. She landed against the seat with a jolt that sent pain slicing through her. Ignoring her discomfort, she slid across the seat to press her face to the carriage window.

Through the joyful hordes, Akash pushed his way toward his friend. Gideon retained that frozen, remote expression, but he didn't break away from his devotees.

She couldn't hear what Akash said to Gideon over the hubbub. She saw Gideon turn and head with jerkily precise movements toward the carriage. With visible reluctance, the crowd parted before him. Voracious hands stretched out to pluck at his clothing, delay his departure, compel his attention. Doggedly he continued his automaton-like progress.

He climbed in and sat opposite. He didn't speak. He didn't look at her. He didn't appear to know she was there at all.

Akash slammed the door on them. There was a burst of patriotic cheering outside. Someone started to sing
God Save the King.

The celebrity straightened and shot Akash an angry glare. 'For Christ's sake, let us go.'

'God keep you, my friend. I'll see you soon.' He stepped back and sent Charis an elegant bow. 'Miss Watson. Your servant.'

Before Charis could respond, Tulliver whipped the horses to a pace dangerous in town streets. She clutched at the strap and stared bewildered at her companion.

He looked ill. As though he suffered intolerable pain. With a shock, she realized the set expression was endurance, not distain.

Automatically, she stretched out to take his gloved hand. 'Sir Gideon...'

'Curse you, don't touch me!'

He wrenched out of reach. But not before she felt his desperate, uncontrollable shaking."

11 - The interwoven elements of impending doom turn the stakes up as high as they can go. Charis is pursued by her dangerous step-brothers as she fights to free Gideon from his personal demons. The genteel distresses of Regency stories turning on misheard phrases or undeserved reputations, and whether or not the heroine will be invited to the soiree, are laid aside in favor of cruel gender politics, psychological character study and personal redemption.

12 - Yet Gideon, for all of his haunted agony, is not called the Hero of Rangapindhi for nothing. His compassion for Charis and his assured offer of sanctuary when they come under physical attack sets Gideon squarely in the pantheon of great romantic heroes. Gideon has made many readers' Top Hero lists, and easily makes a place for himself on mine - right next to Jo Beverley's Rothgar.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Half an hour ago she'd left him in the parlor. He'd been drinking brandy, and the bleakness in his eyes had made her want to weep. The desolation had always been there, but now she knew his past, it cut her to the bone.

She looked up from her troubled thoughts to see Gideon standing in the doorway. She hadn't heard him arrive. He always moved like a cat, so that was hardly surprising. His hair was ruffled, and one gloved hand negligently encircled a glass. He'd removed his neckcloth, and his shirt was open, giving her shadowy glimpses of his hard chest.

He didn't advance into the room.

She licked lips dry with nerves. His gaze fastened feverishly on the movement. His gloved hand tautened on his brandy. The warm air swirled with sudden sensual turbulence.

He cleared his throat and shifted his gaze above her head. 'I'm sleeping in the parlor. I think...I think it's best.'

With unsteady hands, she grabbed a shawl and slid out of bed. Ignoring the resistance in his face, she stepped close enough to read ravaging torment in his dark eyes. 'Don't be ridiculous, Gideon. It's cold and uncomfortable.'

He looked at her. 'After Rangapindhi, it's the height of luxury.'

'Oh, my dear, Rangapindhi is over,' she said in a low voice. It seemed a sign of progress that he mentioned his captivity without prompting. She extended one hand toward him, then let it drop to her side. 'You're free.'

His smile held no amusement. 'I'll never be free.'

This acceptance of his fate angered her. 'If you don't fight, you won't.'

His tall, lean body vibrating resentment, he stalked across to the fireplace. He tossed back his brandy and set the glass down sharply on the mantel. He focused a furious glare on her. 'Don't talk about what you don't understand.'

Her mind filled with a sudden memory of the stark desire in his face as he'd looked at her last night. Had she nerve to use that weapon to break him?

'I understand you've decided to wallow in self-pity for the remainder of your days,' she said, knowing she wasn't fair. But this wasn't about fairness.

'You have no right to say that.' A muscle jerked erratically in his cheek. He was close to losing patience. He turned away and closed his eyes as if he couldn't bear to look at her. 'I won't forgive you if you make this more a nightmare than it already is.' He flung his head up and glared at her like he hated her. His furious black eyes threatened to incinerate her where she stood. 'Damn it, Charis, I hurt you.'

'It doesn't have to be like that,' she said in a ghost of her usual voice.

'For us, it does.' He sounded heartbreakingly sure.

'I'm not giving up, Gideon.'

His mouth thinned with anger, but when he spoke, his voice was frigid. 'You will. This is a war you can't win.'

She spread her hands in helpless bewilderment. He had so much strength. Why didn't he enlist it in his own cause? 'Don't you want a real life?'

His short laugh was so harsh, it flayed like flying shards of glass. 'Of course I do.'

She fought the impulse to retreat. She'd known when she chose this path that her greatest enemy would be Gideon himself. 'Your memories aren't always in control,' she said hoarsely. 'I saw you in Portsmouth. You knocked down any man within reach. You weren't afraid to touch people then.'

'Yes, I find relief in violence.' His voice roughened into sarcasm. 'Are you suggesting I beat you?' "

- Anna Campbell, 2009

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 144 - 13 Reasons to Read Dark Harmony by Lilly Cain

Dark Harmony is the debut novel from Lilly Cain, one of the amazing women from my writers' group, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada.

She's been to the writers' retreats I so adore, and at the latest one this past fall we all celebrated along with her when she received confirmation of Dark Harmony's release date.

1 - Dark Harmony is part of Red Sage's Action & Adventure/Contemporary/Vampire categories, and is an erotica eBook romance.

2 - We meet Helena Townsend, who loves to feel the pulsing energy of the club crowd as she dances to live music. One night she's uncharacteristically drawn to a gorgeous man who parts the dance floor like a mist to draw her to him. Twenty years later, Lena has escaped the cruel dominance of that man from the club - no man, but a vampire pack leader who made her life both a living hell and a confusing passionate release.

3 - Richard Heron is a music journalist covering trends for Rolling Stone, still not recovered from the violent death of his sexually-submissive wife at the hands of an unknown dom. Richard is entranced by Lena, a beautiful woman he meets in an Irish bar, her face glowing with the energy and vibe of the band and the crowd, as though she's fed somehow by live musical performance.

4 - Before his wife died, Richard had supplemented his journalism by opening a club where sexual fantasies could be revealed and pursued. His own dominant tendencies initially scare off a once-bitten-twice-shy Lena. The same instincts which led him to open his club in the first place serve him well when he rises to the challenge of re-introducing Lena to the authentic lover inside her.

5 - I found this story's BDSM subplot very touching. What is dominance and submission if not the symbolic surrender to a lover? The very fact that Lena has vampiric strength that could break any bedroom bondage puts her scenes with Richard into a different realm, which Lilly writes with accomplished emotional depth.

6 - Lilly Cain handles the reactions of the human characters to the shock of vampires entering their world with wry realism. Her scenes take us from the contemporary world into the paranormal with the jolt one would expect from such a revelation, and she doesn't shy away from the horror aspects of traditional vampire stories. These characters aren't simply bad boy characters - they are chilling killers. As a lover of traditional vampire stories, I'm very grateful for that.

7 - I really enjoyed the black humor peppered throughout the story. This part made me laugh out loud in the midst of a high-tension vampire attack scene:

Glimpses of the men and women surrounding her flashed in the available light. Gleaming eyes, soft lips, long hair, they were beautiful, and they laughed at her. What the hell was wrong with her? She was being molested by a group of psychotic fashion models, and she should be screaming.

When Richard realizes he's been bitten twice by his vampire lover, he says 'So why are you following me? And does being marked mean that you have some sort of power over me? Will I start eating bugs?' He smiled weakly, but the questions were serious.

8 - Lena has made an interesting decision by the time we meet up with her again, twenty years after her turning. She rejects the truths her maker Darien told her about what it takes to live as a vampire. I enjoyed this original concept toward alternatives to the taking of human life.

9 - In order to survive against the vampire pack she left behind, Lena has become an adept martial arts fighter. As a huge fan of the Kill Bill films, I also relished this aspect of Dark Harmony, which leads to some exciting fight sequences.

10 - Lilly really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Her eyes flicked to the other man, one she really, really didn’t want to recognize. Her fear grew, oh, so much worse. He snarled in anger. Darien. He had yet to move in her direction, but the threat he exuded could not be ignored. He could be her death. Sweat drenched her in a quick flood. The noise in the bar faded, and people near her backed away as her terror brushed against them.

Time to run. The sounds of the bar flooded back into her senses. She grabbed her satchel and left the table. Her body swayed in tempo with those around her as she passed through the crowd. Some wouldn’t step aside for her and she shoved them, hard, and headed for the back.


She heard him call, her ex-lover, her ex-master, his voice harsh with anger and, perhaps, longing. Both emotions had her heart pounding.
There, a fire door. Forcing it open, she ignored the shrill burst from the fire alarm and fled the area as quickly as possible.

Not quick enough. As she entered the alley, she caught the sickly scent of cooling blood."

11 - As someone who also writes about vampires, I really enjoyed Lilly's scenes involving practical problems such as dealing with the oncoming sunrise. Very nice world-building here.

12 - The three-pronged sai, Lena's weapon of choice, is a good symbol for the flavors of this story. The vampire aspect is the central blade, with action/adventure and dominance/submission running alongside like the two outside blades.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"He walked to the mirror hanging over the dressing table. Those few steps made him dizzy again. He clutched the panties in his fist. Great sex was one thing, but this weakness, that was another. He looked pale in the mirror, and tired. A soft green bruise bloomed on his inner thigh, and on his wrist a darker mark had formed. He looked at his arm and shuddered. There were two tiny scabs in the middle of the bruise.

'Lena?' he called again.

She had to be in the bathroom. Was she embarrassed by their impulsive night? Or feeling like him, sick as a dog?

He pounded against the bathroom door. 'Lena, are you okay?'

The door was locked.

Despite his screaming skull, he knocked louder.

'Lena! Are you all right? Let me in.'

What if she isn’t okay? He dropped her underwear and threw his weight against the door.


Lena's dream changed. She bared her fangs and hissed a feral warning. The demon threw agonizing beams of light at her. Her eyes streamed as the light pierced them, and she threw up her arm to protect herself.

Then it was gone. All was quiet. She lapsed back into complete unconsciousness. The dark had returned so her slumber deepened. A part of her sighed for the lost dream.


'Holy shit!' Richard panted as he slammed the door between him and the creature in the bathroom.

'Jesus Christ!' He scrambled backward and stared at the door, expecting at any moment to be faced with the spitting cat-creature he’d awoken in the tub. It couldn’t be Lena. It couldn’t.
What the fuck was that?

The lights had been off. He’d seen a figure wrapped in blankets lying in the tub. Odd, but perhaps she was shy about sleeping in front of a man who, although they had shared the most intimate of moments, barely knew her.

He’d called her name and flicked on the lights. He’d reached in to shake her shoulder. And then—

Richard shuddered and wiped at the sweat beading on his forehead. The bathroom door remained closed. Everything was quiet. Still, he couldn’t move.

As the bathroom light had flickered on, she changed. It had been Lena, he was sure now. But with the light her face grew furious, and she snarled and hissed at him. And her mouth, her mouth stretched wide to bare those gleaming white fangs, so long—

He checked his wrist. The bruise seemed lighter but the marks were still there.
Jesus, she bit me!"

- Lilly Cain, 2010