Cara Recommends: Jennifer Ashley

cara recommends

This month, my recommendation is author Jennifer Ashley. I recommend her pretty much across the board, including under her pseudonyms: Allyson James (paranormal) and Ashley Gardner (mystery). But far and away my favorite is the Mackenzie/McBride series. I’ve re-read the first book, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, at least five times. It is a masterful book, and the rest of the series is fantastic, too.

cover-the-madness-of-lord-ian-mackenzie

Cover Image for The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie from Jennifer Ashley’s website.

The audiobooks for the series are also good, although Angela Dawe tends to have a default female British voice, even for the women who are supposed to be Scottish (like Ainsley and Eleanor of books 3 and 4).

I will also admit that these books are part of the reason my series is set in the late Victorian Era. This is the first historical romance series I ever read that wasn’t Regency, early Victorian, or earlier (Georgian/Medieval). I was very much taken with the idea of using the later period, when so much had changed socially and technologically, and when women were gaining a voice. You always run the risk in historicals of making the heroines weak, sheltered, and passive because “that’s how it would have been.” While I call bullshit on that assumption just in general, it’s nice to write in an era when women were running businesses, wearing trousers openly (well, bloomers), and gaining financial independence and the right of divorce (if not suffrage for a few years yet).

And of course I also decided to give my characters Scottish roots, although she’s not the only reason for that (my own heritage plays a role in that choice, as well as other series I like, such as Outlander and Susan King’s books).

So, if you’re looking for strong women, an interesting historical time period, and very sexy Scotsmen, look no further than Jennifer Ashley!

 

 

Advice about Love from Romance Authors

Crazy Little Spring Called Love


The authors of the stories in Crazy Little Spring Called Love (order here) sat down to answer some questions for their readers. For links to the full list of interview questions, teasers, and more, visit the blog tour page.


What’s your best advice about love?

traciTraci Douglass

No advice, sorry. But one of my favorite quotes about love comes from Willa Cather. She said, “Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” I think that’s a pretty great outlook to live by. Pursue your dreams and follow what you love and miracles will happen.

SheriSheri Queen

There will be difficult days, when you’ll have to work a little harder to keep that love. We’re human, with human foibles, and our relationships change as we mature, which means our love will have to grow to meet those changes. Maybe it’s true that love is like a good wine that gets better as it ages. Above all, take time to celebrate that love.

MTM.T. DeSantis

 

Stop looking for it. The minute you do, it will be there. Believe me. I know.

CaraCara McKinnon

 

Listen to other people. Don’t just hear. Listen. Be honest, but not cruel. Communicate. And redefine the golden rule–don’t treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Treat them as they want to be treated.

LJL.J. Longo

 

Find your best friend. Kiss him/her. Still friends? Get married. If not … find another best friend?

I might give very bad love advice. I dunno, kidnap him?

Spring 17 Interior Image MR F.1Mary Rogers

Cherish it. You don’t know if it will last, how long you’ll have it, and what will happen if or when it ends. It is a mystery and a gift, even when it is imperfect. So to whomever, or whatever you believe in – give thanks.

Elsa CarruthersSpring 17 Interior Image EC F.1

Hold out for the person or people that makes you excited to get up in the morning and reluctant to go to sleep because you don’t want to miss a second with them. Hold out for someone that “gets” you and loves you in all of your unique glory. But most of all, hold out for someone in whom you see qualities you admire.

Spring 17 Interior Image AH F.1A.E. Hayes

Trust your instincts. I’m not saying that you should rush into anything if your instincts say, “Hey, this person I just met an hour ago is kind and attractive; I should make sure I ask about marriage,” but I do believe that we innately know what is good and bad for our hearts and souls. If you feel a connection, there’s nothing wrong with exploring it. The worst that can happen is that the other person will say no. At that point? Move on (if that takes an hour or a month – rejection is not always easy). If the person says yes? Enjoy every moment that you have – from the first spark to the boring loads of laundry you may do together to the nights where you hold hands as one of you lies in a hospital bed. When love is real, it lasts. Trust yourself. It all begins with you.

Booksweeps Contest

May-17-PromoCombo-Paranormal-Fantasy-Sci-Fi-Romance-FINAL

Today, I have a fun surprise that I’d like to share with you.

I’ve teamed up with 50 fantastic paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy romance authors to give away a huge collection of novels to 2 lucky winners, alongside a number of bookstore gift cards, PLUS a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet to the Grand Prize winner!

You can win my novel Essential Magic, plus books from authors like Traci Douglass, Maggie Shayne, and Bec McMaster.

May17-General-SciFiFantasyParanormal-940Graphic-ENTER

Enter the giveaway by clicking here: bit.ly/sffr-follow-may-17

Good luck, and enjoy!

Crazy Little Spring Called Love Blog Tour!

Crazy Little Spring Called Love


The authors of the stories in Crazy Little Spring Called Love–of which I am one!–sat down to answer some questions for their readers. For links to the full list of interview questions, teasers, and more, visit the blog tour page.


Question 3: Spring

What do you like best about spring? What do you hate?

Traci Douglass

traci

No negatives for me.

Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons. I love Spring because everything is fresh and growing and it’s a new beginning, a time to break free of the bonds of winter and forge a new path.

It’s full of possibility and potential.

Sheri Queen

Sheri

I love the warmer weather that comes with Spring, so I can sit outside by my decorative fountains to read and write.

But I hate having to weed and mulch, and the heavy pollens are brutal.

M.T. DeSantis

MT

Spring is probably my favorite season. Things are green, and flowers are blooming. There’s a freshness to the air that makes the world feel alive. The thing I dislike most about spring is the fact that where I live now gets about a week of it. I miss weeks on end of spring so much. Now, I get something sort of resembling winter for a while, a week or two of spring, and then sweltering summer.

Cara McKinnon

Cara

I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and so winter is a tough time for me. It’s cold, and dark, and gloomy. But then things start to come back to life and there is color and light and warmth. Unfortunately there is also tree pollen and lots of rain, but nothing in life is perfect!

L.J. Longo

LJ

Confession, I hate Spring. I know, very hipster of me. I have allergies and I walk everywhere all year long. Then suddenly, right around my birthday, I’ve got to start sharing the street with both pollen and pedestrians!

Oh wait, Ghost Tours start again in the Spring. So that’s my favorite part of Spring.

Mary Rogers

Mary
As a northeasterner, I love lilacs, and miss them terribly. Gardenias fill that void here in California. I love the way it seems like spring just happens. From seemingly unending gray skies, snow melt, browned leaves you didn’t get to raking, to crocus, daffodils and pastels everywhere. I love the way it just hits your senses in every way, the look, the smell, the sight, the tastes (strawberries!) and the sounds (birds everywhere!). Here in California where we never get winter, and fall and spring are suspiciously like summer, it happens in a more clandestine way, but if you keep your senses open, you’ll see the wonders all again.

Elsa Carruthers

Elsa
I love the flowers, all of the green that seems to appear overnight. It is breathtaking! I hate the pollen and the fact that I never know what to wear. 🙂

Crazy Little Spring Called Love Is Here!

CRAZY LITTLE SPRING CALLED LOVE
Eight Magical Stories of Fantasy Romance
from Stars and Stone Books

Crazy Little Spring Called Love

Featuring: Elsa Carruthers, M.T. DeSantis, Traci Douglass, A.E. Hayes, L.J. Longo, Cara McKinnon, Sheri Queen, and Mary Rogers

This delightful fantasy romance anthology features eight magical stories inspired by the awakenings and renewal of springtime. If you love gods and goddesses, fairies, djinn, druids, mermaids, dryads, and magic of all varieties, Crazy Little Spring Called Love delivers!

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OUR AUTHORS


traciTraci Douglass – “When Hermes Met Eos”

One night. Two star-crossed immortals. Will their vibrant connection survive beyond sunrise?

Sheri

Sheri Queen – “The Girl with a Broken Wing”

One damaged fairy. One half-human. One destiny.

MT

M.T. DeSantis – “A Hunt for Love”

Can a djinn and a clueless guy beat the clock, avoid the curse, and maybe even find true love?

Cara

Cara McKinnon – “Love at Dawn”

Sometimes mortals need a little push from a god and goddess to fall in love…

LJ

L.J. Longo – “Seaweed and Silk”

A mermaid: hundreds of miles from her home on the ice, on a ship with a troll, a goblin wizard, and a pack of wolves. What else can go wrong? Oh, right. A flippin’ sea monster.

Mary

Mary Rogers – “Spring Fling”

A druid’s bargain gives Carson revenge against his former lover Carrie–at the price of her memories of them together. But did she truly steal his magic all those years ago? Or was the real theft his heart?

Elsa

Elsa Carruthers – “Welded”

Welding Witch, Rena, is on the run. She’s not looking for love, but all the magic in the world can’t keep the sparks from flying when her rivals, Nate and Duke, find her.

Spring 17 Interior Image AH F.1A. E. Hayes – “A Siren’s Song of Spring”

She is sworn to sing men to their deaths. Until one sails into her heart.


★ STARS AND STONE BOOKS ★ GOODREADS ★ FACEBOOK RELEASE PARTY ★ TWITTER ★ ANTHOLOGY WEBSITE ★

Romance Pet Peeves: Excessive Euphemisms

Romance Pet Peeves - Excessive Euphemisms

All of the romance pet peeves in this series are my opinion as a reader and writer, but this one is particularly specific to my personal experience. Many of the other opinions I’ve shared in this series are widely held, but while many will agree with this one in theory, the debate appears when we consider quantity and quality. My “excessive” is someone else’s “acceptable.”

But let’s talk about euphemism in general. One of my problems with euphemism is when it’s being employed because the author feels uncomfortable writing about sex. Back in my series on writing sex scenes, I said that there is no shame in not wanting to write sex into a book. Sex is only good when it’s fun for everyone, so if you’re not having fun, don’t write it. Relying on euphemism to obscure discomfort isn’t going to help–in fact, it’s going to make the scene worse. The same thing happens when authors randomly toss in “crude” or explicit words because they think sex scenes need to be raunchy. Whether the author overcompensates or obscures, it just ends up feeling awkward for everyone.

Side note–I am not saying this to discourage writers from pushing outside of their comfort zones. There’s a difference between overcoming societal stigma against sex because you want to and doing it because you think your book needs a sex scene for whatever reason. If writing sex is what you want to do, then go for it! I suggest reading many many sex scenes in romance and then writing your own versions of your favorites to get more comfortable. Practice, practice, practice!

But even in an otherwise confident sex scene, authors can fall into the euphemism trap. The problem is with word repetition. Writers are trained to keep that to a minimum, and so we’re always looking for synonyms and alternate phrases to employ to keep things interesting and not an endless monotony.

So there is also a difference (in my mind, anyway) between synonym and euphemism. I understand that I’m going to see a penis called any of the following: cock, prick, dick, erection, length (usually with modifiers stiff or hard), shaft, cockstand, hard-on, etc. For me, the jump to euphemism happens when we switch to metaphors and/or more humorous descriptions: boner, stiffy, pole, tool, rod, member, meat (man-meat, meat-stick), battering ram, dong, etc. There’s an amusing list here if you’re interested (although I’ve only seen a handful of those in romance fiction). A few of those more colorful euphemisms sprinkled into a sex scene will only make me giggle; they won’t make me throw down the book.

I’m also fine with metaphor for things that aren’t easily described, like how it feels to build up to and then experience orgasm. A clinical/physiological description of climax doesn’t delve into the character’s emotional landscape, and that’s the most important part of a sex scene. So metaphor is not completely off the table, either.

But where things really go off the rails into absurdity is when everything is a euphemism or a metaphor, ie.: “Her flowery petals opened to accept the stabbing of his love sword.” To me, that is not only very un-sexy, it is downright ludicrous. Sentences like that win awards in the worst sex scene category.

So where’s the line? As I said at the beginning, this one is tough to call, because everyone’s line is going to be in a different place. The only way to find out where the line is for you is to read a lot of sex scenes, and then start writing them yourself. My best advice, though, is to avoid euphemism until you’ve mastered the basics.

The Perils of Nostalgia-Fueled Films

The Perils of Nostalgia (1)

My kids and I went to see two movies recently that were fueled by nostalgia for me and pretty much everyone else in my age group: Power Rangers and Beauty and the Beast.

I’ll be honest and say that I wouldn’t have gone to see Power Rangers if A) we hadn’t been invited by a friend of my son’s and B) my daughter wasn’t obsessed with them. I wasn’t a huge fan of the show at the time it first aired, but my brother was, and so I saw enough episodes to have a rough idea of the premise and characters.

On the other hand, I was pretty much obsessed by Beauty and the Beast as a kid and a teen. (And, let’s face it, I still am as an adult). I loved the cartoon, and the musical came to Broadway when I was in high school and we went to see it. I have read at least twenty different adaptations of the story (not including ones that use it as inspiration–I can’t even count those) and I pretty much adore them all.

But I kinda hated the Beauty and the Beast movie and I thought the Power Rangers movie was surprisingly well-written and acted.

Hate is probably too strong a word for Beauty and the Beast. I was disappointed. My expectations were, perhaps, unreachably high. But I was particularly gutted by the loss of my two absolute favorite songs from the musical, “Home,” and “If I Can’t Love Her.” Now, let’s be honest. Emma Watson is a fine actress, but vocally she is not up to the task of Belle (especially in a movie where we get to listen to Audra McDonald). So I can understand cutting “Home,” because she would have to carry that all by herself, unlike most of the other songs where her bits are either short or cut up by other people singing. But I thought that Dan Stevens was a surprisingly talented singer and he could absolutely have carried “If I Can’t Love Her.” Unfortunately they kept the original cartoon’s pacing and that doesn’t leave a big space at the end of act one for a show-stopper.

I did like the additions, especially the ones that fill in plot holes, and I was very fond of Le Fou’s arc and redemption. I will probably like the movie more after watching it again with lowered expectations (and without missing part to take my five-year-old to the bathroom or calm her down when she got overexcited and started bouncing around the seats). But I don’t think I’ll ever prefer this to the musical, much less the cartoon. And that makes me sad.

Power Rangers, on the other hand, was much more than I expected. I thought it was going to be “gritty and dark” the way all reboots seem to be these days, and was prepared to take my daughter out if things got too bad. But it wasn’t dark, and it was surprisingly deft at characterization and inclusion. There was real conflict that grew out of the character’s personalities and problems. I missed several parts (again, thanks to the kids), and I actually find myself wanting to watch it again to see what I missed. Color me surprised!

Have you seen either movie yet? What did you think?

AI vs. Automatons

AI vs Automatons

This is actually a repost of something I wrote for my old blog back in 2012, but I was reading through old entries and thought it could use dusting off and reposting over here.


I have a problem with the machines in the “machines take over the world” stories. If the reason they’ve taken over is because they’ve become sentient, why are so many of the machines mindless soldiers? I get that for budget reasons TV shows and movies can’t hire actors or CG artists to perform/render thousands of individual robot characters with their own thoughts, desires, etc. But I’m talking about the story beneath the logistics, and the lazy writing. It’s easier to get out of situations if you can give your robot characters easy flaws to exploit (like mindlessly following programming and being susceptible to reprogramming).

Consider the Terminator series. All of the terminators are easily reprogrammed and only follow their specific orders. Sure, they can learn and use “creative” thinking to accomplish their missions, but except for rare examples (like Cameron in the TV show and Marcus in Terminator: Salvation), most of the terminator models and all of the ground/shock troops are mindless automatons following a specific program. No one ever goes off-mission or decides that the powers that be are crazy. That kind of blind obedience is the opposite of my understanding of true AI. Did Skynet decide that it couldn’t handle soldiers that might think for themselves, maybe even side with the humans? Then why create those few examples that can actually learn to feel?

Or how about the Matrix films? You could argue that the only truly sentient AI in the Matrix trilogy is Smith. Everyone else is just following their programming, including the Oracle. In the Animatrix short films, we get some great prequels that actually show thinking and feeling robots whom the humans treat abominably. But by the time we get to Neo’s era, all of the machines have just fallen in line with some Borg-like co-consciousness that doesn’t even really make sense. Only within the matrix, where they interact with humans, do we see programs with anything like sentience (although I’m not sure that self-preservation = sentience, which is what I’d argue the girl program and her family are doing when they try to get her out). Out in the real world, the machines we see just do the jobs they’re created for: harvest energy, hunt and kill human ships, etc.

Even Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) falls prey to this problem. Sure, the humanoid cylons are more than just bundles of programming with specific tasks. The show goes to great lengths to show them as individuals, even the models that are the “same” act differently depending on their life experiences. But what about the centurions, the basestars, the raiders? They were the ones who rebelled in the first cylon war, but in the show they’re just a labor/warrior class with no free will. What’s up with that?

Looking at these three examples, I think BSG might have made a conscious decision with the stratification of the machines. They were pretty intentional about their other allegorical elements (all of the religious and mythological references were overt to say the least), so it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they’d taken away the “metal” cylons’ free will on purpose. I suppose it is meant to show that our constructs are just as flawed as us, possibly because of us. If the creator is flawed, how can the creation be perfect?

But in the other examples, it’s just an oversight. They never make mention of any machine caste system or try to draw societal parallels the way BSG does. It just makes it easier for the writers.

And that’s lazy.

I don’t want to be that writer, and I hope people call me out if I ever take the easy way with created races like the fey in my most recent novel. I don’t want them to be stereotypes or caricatures. I want them to feel real, like they have breath and a heartbeat. I want them to make choices that alter their lives and the lives of others. I don’t want my villains to be cardboard cutouts in the way of my heroes, easily knocked down. I want them to be complex, to be the heroes of their own stories, and not easily defeated.

I will not be a lazy writer.

EDIT FOR 2017:

This post was originally written in 2012. We’ve had some more media since then deal with robots and AI, but the one I want to talk about to add to this blog post is Westworld. The entire series premise revolves around ideas of sentience versus programming, and they definitely have not come down on any particular side of the question yet. They also haven’t completed their robot apocalypse–that’s just starting. So it will be interesting to see how things develop in season two!

Cara Recommends: A Charm of Magpies

cara recommends

I am starting a new “thing” on the blog this month. Once a month, I will recommend a particularly good book or series. I don’t want to do reviews, because I would prefer to be positive about my fellow authors as much as possible. When I reference negative things, like my pet peeves, I try not to mention specific authors or books except for really huge authors (like Janet Evanovich) who are not going to care much what I think. Although sometimes they should–I would really like Stephanie to finally pick someone!!

So this series is all about being positive. That is not to say that the things I recommend are without flaws–just that I won’t talk about them here except as possible triggers, if relevant. But I also believe that it’s OK to love flawed things–after all, none of us are perfect; if you love someone, you already love a flawed thing–so I don’t hesitate to recommend these books.

c450cbb2-562f-41f0-a4a3-e27670c17f2a-compose-height(705)

The cover for the first book in the series, The Magpie Lord. Image source: pronoun.com

First up is the Charm of Magpies series by K.J. Charles. This world is similar to The Fay of Skye in that it’s set in Victorian England with acknowledged magic. But beyond that, everything changes. This is a much darker world, and magic power is not easily obtained. Charles deals in the darker side of society and magic, giving her series a touch of supernatural horror as well as fantasy and romance.

And there is definitely romance. The relationship between Stephen and Crane is magnificent. Everything about them is raw and real, and conflicts are completely character-driven and natural. I haven’t yet started the spin-offs as they are unavailable at the moment (they were published through Samhain and have not yet been re-released), but I am very much looking forward to getting them onto my Kindle the moment they reappear. I’d already read Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series prior to these, and I wish I’d read these first as I would have been able to get them all at the time!

If you’re a fan of magic, sex, well-developed characters, fraught relationships, dark deeds, questionable morality, and fully-fleshed out worlds, give the Charm of Magpies series a try, starting with The Magpie Lord.

Cover Reveal – Crazy Little Spring Called Love

Crazy Little Spring Called Love

Crazy Little Spring Called Love

Fantasy Romance Short Story Anthology
from Stars and Stone Books

This delightfully magical anthology includes eight short stories inspired by the awakenings and renewal of springtime.

Featuring authors Traci Douglass, Sheri Queen, A.E. Hayes, M.T. DeSantis, Cara McKinnon, L.J. Longo, Mary Rogers, and Elsa Carruthers.


Cara McKinnon – “Love at Dawn”

Sometimes mortals need a little push from a god and goddess to fall in love…

Traci Douglass – “When Hermes Met Eos”

One night. Two star-crossed immortals. Will their vibrant connection survive beyond sunrise?

Sheri Queen – “The Girl with a Broken Wing”

A story of courage and sacrifice–and finding love where you never thought to look.

M.T. DeSantis – “A Hunt for Love”

Can a djinn and a clueless guy beat the clock, avoid the curse, and maybe even find true love?

A.E. Hayes – “A Siren’s Song of Spring”

She is sworn to sing men to their deaths. Until one sails into her heart.

L.J. Longo – “Seaweed and Silk”

A mermaid: hundreds of miles from her home on the ice, on a ship with a troll, a goblin wizard, and a pack of wolves. What else can go wrong? Oh, right. A flippin’ sea monster.

Mary Rogers – “Spring Fling”

A druid’s bargain gives Carson revenge against his former lover Carrie–at the price of her memories of them together. But did she truly steal his magic all those years ago? Or was the real theft his heart?

Elsa Carruthers – “Welded”

Welding Witch, Rena, is on the run. She’s not looking for love, but all the magic in the world couldn’t keep the sparks from flying when her rivals, Nate and Duke, find her.

starsandstonelogotext

★ STARS AND STONE BOOKS ★ GOODREADS ★ FACEBOOK RELEASE PARTY ★ TWITTER ★ ANTHOLOGY WEBSITE ★

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