Friday, November 18, 2011

Hockey Players are Hot!

I hate football and basketball. Baseball bores the snot out of me. I don’t even get golf. You try and get something round into a hole. Sounds like quarters to me—minus the fun of having a rum and coke and flirting with the cute guy next to you. When the Olympics roll around, I want to stick a fork in my eye. Who cares if Michael Phelps eats Wheaties? (In case you all forgot, he’s a swimmer who won a lot of gold medals and likes to smoke weed.) And then there’s ice hockey. Although I can’t explain it, perhaps it has something to do with my Dad and the Philadelphia Flyers. Staying up late, going into downtown Philly, munching on enormous soft pretzels, we always had such a great time that I didn’t even mind sitting in the nose bleed section. So when I found Rachel Gibson’s series about the Seattle Chinooks, a fictitious professional ice hockey team, all those good memories came “flying” back.

Simply Irresistible (1998) starts off with Beauty Queen Georgeanne Howard leaving her much older fiancée and Seattle Chinook owner, Virgil Duffy, at the altar. On her way out of Dodge, the runaway bride begs a ride from hockey player, John Kowalsky. Although the two initially rub each other the wrong way, they soon enjoy a steamy one-night stand. Flash forward seven years. The dyslexic Georgeanne has turned her life around and is now the co-owner of a catering business. Imagine John’s shock when he comes face to face with Georgeanne and her 6-year-old daughter Lexie. Simply put: John is not a happy camper. But reading how the macho hockey player falls in love with his adorable daughter and then her mother was delightful.

See Jane Score (2003) is my favorite book in the series. Like most superheroes, Jane Alcott leads a double life. By day she’s author of the “Single Girl in the City” column for the Seattle Times; by night she’s author of “Life of Honey Pie” an X-rated column for Him magazine. But what Jane wants most is to become a respected newspaper reporter. So when the Seattle Times sports reporter has to take a leave of absence, Jane steps up to the net. What I liked best about Jane is that she is a real woman with real insecurities and real strengths. In other words, she’s the exact opposite of the “Puck Bunnies” that hang around the star hockey players. Maybe that’s why she gets under the skin of Luc Martineau—Chinook goalie and ring-leader for getting Jane kicked off the assignment and out of the locker room. While immediately smitten by the bad-boy hockey player, Jane thinks she’s not Luc’s type. This makes it all the sweeter when sexy Luc falls hard for “plain Jane.”

The Trouble with Valentine’s Day (2005) is a much darker read. PI Kate Hamilton is in a bad place. After finding a supposedly missing wife, she’s blindsided when her client comes unhinged and murders his family. Then Kate makes another bad decision, propositioning the sexy stranger sitting next to her at a bar. Kate’s brutally rebuffed, so you can imagine how uncomfortable it is when she runs into him again while visiting her Grandfather in Gospel, Idaho. Ex-Seattle Chinooks player Rob Sutter is battling his own demons. After cheating on his wife, Rob lost his family and career when he was shot by a deranged “Puck Bunny.” Not surprisingly Rob hasn’t been intimate with a woman since that night. But when Kate strolls into his small town, Rob’s luck is about to change.

Published in 2009, True Love and Other Disasters was my second favorite book in the series. After being dumped at the altar by Georgeanne, Seattle Chinooks owner Virgil Duffy had gone on to marry an ex-stripper and Playmate of the Year. Now Virgil has died and left his widow, Faith, the owner of his beloved ice hockey team. Virgil’s decision doesn’t sit well with the players or his family. But Faith is a trophy wife in the best sense of the word. While Virgil was in his 80’s and unable to perform in the bedroom, Faith loved him and ensured that his last years of life were full of laughter and companionship. So I was really pulling for Faith to get her happy-ever-after with the Chinooks new captain, Ty Savage, who’d been brought in to secure a Stanley Cup for Seattle. It doesn’t take the no-nonsense hockey player long to see that Faith is not the gold-digger Virgil’s family has made her out to be. Not only is Faith breathtakingly beautiful on the outside, she is beautiful on the inside—kind, caring, and loyal. Ty quickly falls in love with our heroine only to be blackmailed by Virgil’s son. The ending was pure romance—or what I like to call An Officer and a Gentleman on Ice. After winning the Stanley Cup, Ty quits the team, sweeps Faith up in his arms, and carries her away in front of a stadium of screaming hockey fans.

In Nothing but Trouble (2010) Gibson tells the story of former Seattle Chinooks captain, Mark Bressler, and the horrific car crash and subsequent coma that ended his career. Wracked with constant physical pain and bitter disappointment, Mark has chased away everyone the Seattle Chinooks have sent to help him in his recovery. Lucky for Mark, his new personal assistant, Chelsea Ross, does not scare easily. Just a smidge over 5 feet tall, with pink-tipped blonde hair, and double-D cleavage, Chelsea is a splash of color and life in Mark’s dreary existence. Soon the gruff Mark is opening up, volunteering with a kid’s ice-hockey team, reconnecting with his teammates, and eventually falling in love with his sassy assistant. 

The newest book in the series, Any Man of Mine (2011), is a variation of the one-night stand and unexpected pregnancy Gibson wrote about in Simply Irresistible.  (Apparently professional hockey players don’t do condoms.) The book starts off with Seattle Chinooks hockey player, Sam LeClaire, running into his Baby Mama at an event she’s planning. It’s not a pleasant meeting. Sam thinks Autumn Haven is a beeyatch with a capital “B.” Autumn seems to truly loathe the ice-hockey lothario. We soon find out she has good reason. Years ago, after the death of her mother from cancer, Autumn was taking a much-needed vacation in Las Vegas when she fell into bed with Sam. Autumn thought it was love. Sam—not so much. Sam was in Vegas to get trashed and forget about the anniversary of his sister’s murder. After a drunken, impromptu wedding, Sam decided that “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas” and quickly procured a divorce. Flash forward to present day. Sam is growing weary of sowing his wild oats and wants to improve his relationship with his young son—and maybe even his son’s mother. While sometimes painful, it was mostly heart-warming to watch Sam win back Autumn.

Why should you read this series? If you like complex, often flawed, alpha males and women who are strong enough to tame them, these books are for you. So grab a glass of wine and forget about missing teeth and broken noses—Gibson’s hockey players are hot

Friday, November 11, 2011

All in the Family

One of my co-workers recently said that she doesn’t read many series because she gets tired of the same characters. It surprised me, as I absolutely adore a good series. Then I got to thinking about her words. And I realized that while I do follow some series with the same characters—Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger—most of the series I follow fall into different categories. Like families, friends, or even… hockey teams? These types of series offer the best of both worlds. The main characters are unique in each book, but then show up as secondary characters that you can follow in subsequent books. So for the next three weeks I thought I’d blog on some of my favorite series. First up: the Malory family.

When I think about families, these words always come to mind: “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” And sometime it’s this quote: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Either one probably works. At least that’s the case with Johanna Lindsey’s 1985 classic, Love Only Once, the first in her series about the rambunctious Malory’s. The head of the Malory family is the overbearing and controlling Jason, the Marquis of Haverston. Jason has disowned his brother James, who is now a notorious pirate, and has a very chilly relationship with his rakehell brother Anthony. The fourth brother, Edward, is often forced to play peacemaker between his hot-headed younger brothers and Jason. The book starts off with the abduction of Lady Regina Malory. It turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. Nicholas Eden, Viscount of Montieth, actually meant to “kidnap” and ravish his mistress. Try telling that to Reggie’s overprotective uncles. Nicholas did, and he was promptly trounced for his efforts. While the Malory brothers do not get along, they would kill to protect their beloved niece whom they’d raised since infancy. After quite a few misunderstandings, threats, and bludgeonings from “the Uncles,” Reggie and Nicholas marry and fall in love. Their story sets the stage for the renegade James to return to the bosom of his family.

The second book in the series, Tender Rebel, belongs to Anthony and the beautiful Scottish heiress he saves from the greedy clutches of her loathsome cousin. While it’s quite enjoyable to see the elegant Anthony lose his sangfroid over the bonny Roslynn, it was the third book in the series that cemented my interest. Gentle Rogue has it all—pirates, American buccaneers, and a saucy cabin boy who is soon seduced by the sensuous James. Oh wait, perhaps I should mention that the saucy cabin boy is actually an American girl in disguise. Georgina Anderson sets sail on James’ boat, trying to get back to America before her family finds her missing. Of course James catches onto her ruse from the get-go. And the scenes of the virile captain flirting with his cabin boy are priceless. Eventually the reformed pirate seduces and then falls in love with “George.” The caveat: James has sworn never to marry. To save face, James comes up with an asinine idea—he will tell Georgie’s five overprotective older brothers about their high seas adventures, and they will force them to marry. After all, it worked with Reggie and Nicholas Eden. But Georgie throws a monkey wrench into the plans when she refuses to marry James without an admission of love. Let the games begin.

Book four, The Magic of You, is my favorite of the series. I’ve read this one so many times, the spine gave out, and I had to replace it. In this book, the impish Amy Malory (Edward’s daughter) tries to win the heart of the thoroughly unpleasant, but totally hot, Warren Anderson (Georgie’s brother). Warren is surly, rude, and hated by all the Malory men. But does that deter Amy? Nope. If possible, she’s even more headstrong than her sister-in-law, Georgie, who reluctantly signs off on the plan for Amy to heal Warren’s broken heart. Despite repeated rebukes from Warren, Amy persists in “wooing” the object of her affections. From their first illicit kiss—instigated by the smitten Amy—to their forced confinement at the hands of a vengeful Chinese Emperor, the sparks are immediate. The only question remaining: why does it take the stubborn Warren so long to give into the inevitable?

Other Malory books include: Say You Love Me (Jason’s son Derek Malory’s story); The Present (Jason’s story with his long-time paramour Molly); A Loving Scoundrel (James’ illegitimate son Jeremy Malory’s story); Captive of My Desires (Georgie’s brother Drew Anderson’s story); No Choice but Seduction (Georgie’s brother Boyd Andersen’s story). The 10th book in the series, That Perfect Someone, came out last year. 

So why should you embrace the Malory’s? From lavish Regency balls to bawdy taverns in the seedy sections of London to high-seas adventures with pirates and buccaneers, this romance series has it all. Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Are Dragons the New Vampires?

Drake Vireo was the first dragon I fell in love with. Hair as black as sin, flashing emerald eyes, and the occasional wisp of smoke curling from his nostrils, Drake is a hunk of burning dragon love. I first met Drake in You Slay Me, when author Katie MacAlister unveiled her complex dragon mythology. Centuries ago, the First Dragon divided the creatures into four septs: the green dragons, the blue dragons, the red dragons, and the black dragons. Each sept is led by a wyvern. Drake Vireo is wyvern of the green dragons. Arrogant, greedy, and oh-so-sexy, Drake is my favorite kind of anti-hero.

The book’s heroine, Aisling Grey, is tasked with delivering a 600-year-old golden dragon statue to Paris and the mysterious Mme. Deauxville. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! First, Aisling stumbles across Aurora Deauxville’s body. Then she runs afoul of Drake the Dragon, who immediately absconds with the gold. And the hunt is on. Aisling wants the statue and answers about what it means to be a Guardian. Drake wants all the treasure he can steal and a mate. After surviving a Dragon’s Kiss and a goblet of Dragon’s Blood from Drake, Aisling is revealed to be—wait for it—a wyvern’s mate. But Aisling has no interest in being “claimed” by a dragon. She’s too busy defending herself from murder charges, conjuring up lower-class demons, and researching exactly what it means to be a Keeper of the Gates to Hell. The dialogue is snappy, the action is fast-paced, and the chemistry between the two main characters is sizzling. Even better, Aisling is in complete denial about being a wyvern’s mate, so it takes the sinfully seductive Drake three more books to win her over: Fire Me Up, Light My Fire, and Holy Smokes.

My second dragon crush first appears in Fire Me Up. Wyvern of the silver dragons, Gabriel Tahou is a total hottie with warm caramel skin, shoulder-length dark-brown dreadlocks, mouth-watering dimples, and mysterious silvery eyes. In an online interview, MacAlister shared her inspiration for the character—actor Jason Mamoa. For those familiar with the HBO series Game of Thrones, he plays the warrior Khal Drogo. Yummy! The silver dragons have an intriguing back story in that they broke away from the black dragons during the reign of the Dread Wyvern Baltic to form a new sept. Today, the black dragons are all but extinct. In retaliation for this betrayal, Baltic cursed them, saying: “No mate shall be born to a silver dragon until a black dragon is accepted as wyvern.” So, in addition to being a healer and an all-around nicer dragon then Drake, Gabriel get’s the sympathy vote. Obviously I wasn’t the only one crushing on Gabriel because MacAlister gave him his own series.

In the first book in his series, Playing with Fire, Gabriel gets around Baltic’s curse by mating—and then falling in love with—doppelgänger May Northcott. So what the heck is a doppelgänger? Let me explain. May is a paranormal “copy” of Cyrene Northcott, who is a naiad or water nymph. But things don’t go so smoothly for Gabriel. First, May’s already bound to a demon lord. Second, she’s an international thief who is wanted by Otherworld Law. And then the demon lord, Magoth, orders May to steal a rare treasure from the silver dragons. As with Aisling and Drake, dragon love does not come easy. On the bright side, we get to follow Gabriel and May’s story in two more books: Up in Smoke and Me and My Shadow.

Which brings me to Love in the Time of Dragons and, perhaps, the most complex of MacAlister’s anti-heroes, the Dread Wyvern Baltic. Hated and feared by all dragons, Baltic’s got a bad rep. He was wyvern of the black dragons through the Endless War or what MacAlister calls, tongue-in-cheek, the “wyr-wide war.” Killed centuries ago by his heir and Drake Vireo’s brother, Kostya Feteke, Baltic was resurrected only to learn that his mate Ysolde de Bouchier had also been slain. Heartbroken and bitter, Baltic is determined to avenge her death and reunite the black and silver dragons. Of course those goals put him against pretty much all of dragondom, including Drake, Gabriel, and Kostya. However, we soon find out that Baltic’s roar is worse than his bite when he meets Tully Sullivan, who turns out to be a resurrected Ysolde. In their second book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Dragon, the mystery of who killed Ysolde, why she was resurrected, and her relationship to the First Dragon start to be revealed. Baltic and Ysolde are clearly soul mates who have been through hell and back for each other. I recently purchased the third book in their series, Sparks Fly, and I'm hoping that MacAlister gives Baltic the same happily-ever-after she gave her first two dragons. We shall see.

After enjoying MacAlister’s dragons so much, I was pleased to see other authors take on these mythical creatures. I stumbled across Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound and Storm’s Heart, the first two novels of the Elder Series, on Her third book Serpent’s Kiss came out in October. Romance author Sophie Jordan has also embraced the scales. In her new young adult series, Firelight and Vanished, the heroine Jacinda is a draki, a descendant of dragons who can shift into human form. And what would a YA series be without a pair of star-crossed lovers? In this case, Jacinda and the draki hunter she falls in love with, Will. While I've not yet read these books, they're on my shelf, and I plan to read them soon. Perhaps a dragon marathon is in order?

So back to my original question—are dragons the new vampires? Let’s go to the Magic 8 Ball, in this case, for the answer. I type in “dragon romance” and click “search.” More than 1,000 hits come up between paperback, hardback, and Kindle versions, including my favorite title—Tipping the Scales: Stop Dragon My Heart Around. Guess that’s our answer.