December 31, 2013

Man Candy 2014 Calendar Giveaway (US Only)

This is an impromptu giveaway. I was going through my swag bag and remembered that I had this calendar! It's a sexy spread and I'm sure a lot of you will absolutely love this! 

Here's a look of some of the more softer months of the calendar. This calendar is sure to fire up your hero fantasies and would be a good addition to your work cubicle. Anything to help speed up the day right?

So if you're into mouth watering man candies, this is the perfect motivator for you. Hopefully it'll bring more sexy time your way this 2014.

P.S. I've been posting more photos on Twitter (@talksupeblog) so you can see more racy pics of these hunky men. 

December 30, 2013

Chat Review w/ Lily Element: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Series: Miriam Black 3
Format: eGalley
Release Date: January, 31, 2013
Publisher: Angry Robot
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & NobleKobo 
Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from "thief" to "killer".

Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she's good at, but in her vision she sees him die by another's hand and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam.

She's expected...

Miriam Black is a series I read along with my gal pal, Melissa of Lily Element. We both love the world building, Chuck Wendig's acid sense of humor and the story in general. It's very Stephen King-ish in a weird, creepy way with a heroine who can tell to the detail how and when you're going to die with a single touch. That ability is sure to fluck up anybody and Miriam Black is definitely one messed up anti-heroine.

THE CORMORANT is book three of the series and it is far from drying up. This is a reunion volume because Miriam goes head to head a pal she met in Blackbirds and after two books, we finally meet Miriam's mother who she claimed messed her up royally. Aside from the personal angle of THE CORMORANT, Miriam's powers is morphing into something else and the world of supernatural beings like herself seems to be growing. We're slowly learning where Miriam's gift is coming from and a glimpse of what role she's playing in the big scheme of things. 

Overall Mel and I give THE CORMORANT 5 cauldrons. This is one of the best Urban Fantasy series out there and we highly recommend it to fans of the genre as well as readers who like horror, thrillers and suspense. Miriam Black reads like a movie too and that's a great incentive for any book to have.

BRAINE: There are so many things in THE CORMORANT that had happened, so many developments I don't know where to begin! I honestly didn't read the blurb, I just added it to my TBR and requested for an ARC as soon as I saw it on NG. I have no idea where the story is going, all I know is it's going to be a winner. So overall, how do you feel about THE CORMORANT?

MELISSA: I wasn't sure what to expect this time, but I should have known Chuck Wendig wouldn't let us down. I loved it, Miriam's foul mouth and brutal honesty is always a treat.

BRAINE: Oh man! I can't help but laugh and be amazed by her comebacks! That girl has a quick tongue and a sharp mind! What was your favorite foul mouth line from her? Mine is: 
I hope she gets bedbugs in her vagina. And they lay eggs. And she becomes the Mother of Bedbugs. 
the visual of bedbugs crawling out of a woman's vagina is disturbing and hilarious at the same time.

MELISSA: I'd have to say one of mine was when she was talking to a guy eating a Luna bar and told him 
Your man-boobs are going to grow lush and full of milk. 
It made me chuckle because I know she tries to get reactions from people and most of the time they either ignore or get pissed off. 

BRAINE: Miriam is no heroine and Chuck Wendig calls her an anti-hero and rightfully so. Her moral compass is skewed and her choices are limited to picking the lesser of two evils. I'm not surprised by with her character development although I'm shocked and a little disturbed with how her powers are growing. 

MELISSA: I think you hit the nail on the head with that one, the options she has to choose from are not ideal but she has to choose. It's been awhile since we read book two, but I feel like she's changed a lot and is trying to be a slightly more mature Miriam. She's getting over the past and realizing things she assumed were true weren't quite how she believed. Her powers are growing and I'm kind of wondering where it's going to go. I feel like this time around we're left with more questions than answers on that aspect, which makes me want book four right now!

BRAINE: I agree 100%. That last bit where her powers just went ZOOM had my jaw dropping on the floor. I won't be surprised if she starts growing feathers and a beak next time around. Her powers went cray-cray here, makes me nervous a bit. Miriam may have this tough persona but she's very vulnerable and I know she'll be psychoanalyzing herself after this.

Thanks for the head's up about the villain btw. You're right, he's not as sinister as the others but dangerous nonetheless and a little slick, difficult to pin down. I'm happy that loose end got tied permanently though. What I find interesting is his powers and the implied thought that Miriam and other "gifted" people like herself are puppets of some sort. What do you think about all this higher power thing?

MELISSA: I'm hesitantly digging the higher power thing for right now, but I'm sure we'll learn more in book four, Thunderbird. I'm liking the fact that Miriam is finding more people with powers, while it's not shedding a ton of light on hers, it's leaving me really intrigued.

BRAINE: People with powers are cool but scary at the same time. I like how Miriam is this unique creature amongst monsters. Adding more people like her is going to change that dynamic and I'm not sure if I like that. I mean I'm sure CWendig isn't going to disappoint but still I'm still getting a kick out of these weird nemesis Miriam seems to keep crossing paths with.

The conflict had that back-to-basics thing going on for it. The kicker goes back to more people like Miriam. I just love the chase, the villain is slippery slick. Aside from that, I still like the conflict in Mockingbird better. 

MELISSA: I think you're right on that, and I agree with liking the conflict in Mockingbird better. CWendig probably didn't want to punch our eyeballs with the over the top intense villain + more people with powers so he toned it down a bit while still making us want the villain dead.

BRAINE: I've always been curious about Miriam's family. One can't be messed up like that without some serious history and we got a peek of that in Mockingbird. Here we finally meet her mom and honestly she surprised me. I was expecting this deplorable mother and an overall horrible human being. I ended up liking her. Miriam got her spunk from her mom.

MELISSA: I thought her mom was going to be a horrible lady as well! I'm thinking Miriam being more mature or the fact that Miriam was gone from her Mom's life for that long caused one or both of them to be kinder to one another.

BRAINE: I miss Louis! His phantom doesn't quite cut it for me. I still want the real thing!

MELISSA: I miss Louis too! I got so used to his character being present in the books that I associate the two together.

BRAINE:  Would you let Miriam touch and tell you what she saw?

MELISSA: I totally would, as long as she made up a story if she saw cancer as my cause of death. Would you?

BRAINE: I think I would let her touch me too granted she'll be honest and won't tell me some BS thing.

So what are your overall thoughts about THE CORMORANT

MELISSA: My overall thoughts would be it's a fucked up thrill ride as usual, though a little tamer than the previous installments. I was left with quite a few questions which I hope we will find out more details in book 4, Thunderbird.

December 29, 2013

Bought, Borrowed & Bagged #81

BB&B (Bought, Borrowed and Bagged) is a weekly meme, inspired my The Story Siren and Pop Culture Junkie, where we share with you the books that we have bought, borrowed or bagged (won or gifted) plus a recap of the previous week's reviews, upcoming reviews, on going events and book movie or television news. 

BB&B is an homage Barron's Books & Baubles from Karen Marie Moning's smash hit series, Fever. 

from Authors, Publishers & Tour Companies

Personal Note

This is my last BB&B post this year and it has been an awesome year blogwise. In January, I'm going cold turkey with Grace (Books of Love) and not request Digital RC's in NetGalley & Edelweiss to purge my Kindle Fire with old titles. Fingers crossed I make it!

Be safe guys and celebrate the coming year with much pomp and circumstance (meaning drink lots of alcohol and eat lots of food). See you next year!

Last Week's Reviews

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win books & swag
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win signed & ebook copies of Heights of Desire
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win 1 of 2 digital copy of Emerald Eyes
ends Jan. 2

Alexandra Ivy (INT'L)
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win $100 GC + a copy of Out of Turn
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NOTE: This is a laid back meme so we prefer that you use your LABEL LINKS instead of your weekly permalink that way you can just post at your convenience minus the extra task of linking up.

December 28, 2013

Braine Reviews: Stripped Clean by Ellis Carrington

Series: Stand-alone
Format: Mobi
Release Date: 
Publisher: Self
Source: Author
Recommended By: Lexxie (Un)Conventional Book Reviews
Genre: Contemporary Romance - M/M
Carlos O’Shea is stuck. He knocked up a girl in college after a night of too much drinking and then married her to be honorable. With little money, fewer options, and no degree, he winds up cleaning the floors in a small town gentlemen’s club and thinking desperate thoughts about the handsome owner that’ll lead to nothing but trouble.

Greg Moorehouse only invested in a nudie bar to help his best buddy out of a financial crisis. Now his drug-dealing ex-boyfriend, his reverend father, and a parade of surgically-enhanced DDs are driving him insane. But what’s really stripped him of all good sense is his growing obsession with his married employee, Carlos.

They circle each other in a push-pull of misunderstandings and growing attraction. Carlos needs to get his boss out of his head, and Greg can’t abide cheaters and married men. So what are a strip club owner and the guy who cleans going to do with their undeniable desires?

Be advised: Contains angsty dark moments, explicit love-making between two hot-blooded men, and cupcake-baking exotic dancers.

STRIPPED CLEAN is my first M/M romance read, I was more scared than excited to read this novel because it's outside my comfort zone. Ellis Carrington really did a good job in helping me gain perspective about M/M romance so I'd like to share this article with M/M virgins out there. Hopefully Ellis can convince you to try this sub-genre with curiosity if not eagerness.

This is How We Do It – My Approach to Man on Man Love Scenes 
by Ellis Carrington

To me, the most fascinating thing about life is that every moment we exist is unique and will never happen again. An infinite number of variables contribute to every experience we have every day, and the most important of these is the people involved.

I combined this perspective with a discussion about love scenes with one of my favorite gay romance authors, K.A. Mitchell. She brought up the idea that when two people get it on in a book, those are two unique (albeit fictional) individuals coming together at a particular point in time, with their unique personalities, their backgrounds, their baggage, and whatever else is going to contribute to them being who they are to each other at that moment.

I was asked once, while speaking at a panel about gay romance and erotica, how one keeps a sex scene from turning into porn. Now, nothing against porn; porn can be great. Still, when it comes to romance, I pointed to Ms. Mitchell’s answer: it’s about the characters. Porn is a fantasy acted out on film – and the orgasms are the final goal. A love scene in a romance novel is there to move the story forward between those two characters, whether there’s an orgasm on the page or the bump and grind happens behind a fade-to-black.

All this is doubly true when we’re talking about a love story involving two (or more) men. Men, generally speaking, are not so much with the emotional talky-talky. They tend to communicate much better with their bodies. So, while I do not profess to be any kind of expert, I find the best way to show a romantic connection is often when those two characters are physically intimate.

For me, this means my love scenes have evolved a little into being sometimes a little less explicit, a little less focused on the in-and-out mechanics (although there is some of that) and a little more of the touching, the eye contact, and the dialogue that happens. Not simply the moaning and groaning and “Oh my what a huge purple-headed warrior you have, Stan!” but giving them the chance to say things they might not say otherwise, during that time when their defenses are down.

Personal opinion? A book can be a little or a lot erotic, but it’s the tension and the dialogue that makes all the difference in the heat level of a love scene. Tere Michaels has a gorgeous book called Faith and Fidelity that is still one of my favorites. Not explicit at all, but the tension between the two men is so palpable that by the end of it I swear you’ll be sweating. Conversely, I’m also a huge fan of Sloan Parker, who writes love scenes so erotic my eyeballs nearly burst into flames. But they’re gorgeous—artful, even, so well-done and always perfectly fitting for the particular characters she is writing that I drink in every word. So again, it’s about the characters, and the author’s writing style. Those two components make all the difference.

So again, my opinion – and like assholes, we all have them – is that it really is the motion of the ocean, fictionally speaking. Once upon a time all gay romance was labeled “erotica” by default. As the genre explodes we are learning otherwise. I call what I write romance. Adult romance, erotic romance, but romance. I’ve seen “sweet” gay romance with hardly any sex. We’ve got everything from tech-y Sci-fi to cozy mysteries and young adult fiction in the genre, and the heat/intimacy levels bend and flex accordingly. There’s even a very sweet romance novel out there about a gay book. No sex (not between the books, anyway) but there is intimacy, and it’s super cute.

Worth dipping your toe in, if you haven’t already.

I've shied away from M/M romances because I feel intimidated by its cozier parts. For some reason the idea of two men locked in a heated embrace makes me blush. Even when I read Lover At Last (BDB 11), I was skimming most of Qhuay's love scenes because it was stressing me out! When I read Lexxie's [(Un)Conventional Book Reviews] review, it got me interested in reading STRIPPED CLEAN because it gave me the impression that this is more emotional and less physical, the perfect novel to ease me into this sub-genre in a pleasant manner. 

STRIPPED CLEAN is an emotional story about two people who are not necessarily at the best times of their lives. Greg Moorehouse is still dealing with the aftermath of his break-up even if it's been a year ago plus his relationship with his hypocrite of a father is strained. Carlos O'Shea still hasn't come out of the closet and is locked in a loveless marriage with his wife who knows his secret. Greg's storyline is full of angst and his relationship with his father ended unresolved which is tragic because despite whatever anger he felt, he still loved his dad for what it's worth and to leave that thread in his life untied is heartbreaking to say the least. 

Carlos' is more complicated and emotional. His relationship with Greg straddles the fine line of cheating because he's still married but given the circumstances, I understand his reasons even if I don't necessarily condone it. The most powerful part for me in this whole story was when Carlos finally came clean to his mom and explained to her that he's gay and how that doesn't define him as a person. It was a short scene but it pierced my heart fiercely I want to reach out and give Carlos a hug!

As for the sex scenes, it was intimate but not overly graphic which is why STRIPPED CLEAN is such a great M/M cherry popper. Men in romance novels are rough and raw with all their Alphaness coming out in the bedroom and that insatiable need to mark and claim. Outside looking in, I imagined M/M to be testosterone charged and that's too much for me to handle. STRIPPED CLEAN wasn't like that at all. Color me ignorant because men can be soft and vulnerable if they want to and I saw all of those glorious loving emotions exchanged between Greg and Carlos. The intimate scenes are so emotionally honest I can't help but feel the glow of their love for each other. 

So my M/M cherry's been popped and I thank Ellis Carrington for taking such good care of me! It was painless and no blood was drawn so obviously I'll be coming back for more. I'm still out of my element here and I'm content to stick to the more timid ones before I go exploring the more adventurous types. ECarrington's works will be my go-to because I know I'm in good hands and I really love her writing voice. Now if you're an M/M virgin and are thinking of getting your feet wet, check out STRIPPED CLEAN, it's lubricated with lots of heart so you won't have a problem sliding in to the story (bad pun, I know).

Purchase Stripped Clean


Romance requires a hopeful ending and that is why Ellis Carrington is driven to write it. She loves to create original stories that are gritty, witty, and a little unexpected, just like the heroes who inhabit them. Her guys come in both human and non-human form because spirit guides and vampires deserve love too. Her favorite things are great friends, great music, and books that make her sob like there’s no tomorrow.

Stalk Ellis

Due to it's strong sexual content, this snippet is rated R-18

Greg shook. His ass, his blood, his skin, everything burned in the best possible way, and he was afraid to even touch his dick so he didn’t explode before Carlos came. He’d been in a constant state of oh-yeah-right-fucking-now for so long, and holy shit, Carlos could fuck.

He’d been worried about Carlos being inexperienced. He needn’t have been.

The solid pressure of Carlos’s hands holding him down, and the intense stare of those molten eyes…. Greg had never wanted anyone more. He’d hoped sex between them would be good. He hadn’t expected the best fucking chemistry of his life. Whatever made it all start off awkward had vanished.

Carlos moved his hand away from Greg’s wrist to stroke at Greg’s cock. “No. Shit. Close.” His entire body lit up from the inside. 

Carlos pulled out far and slid inside, gliding over Greg’s sweet spot and making him ache. “Fucking come,” Carlos growled.

“Waiting...for you.” Greg liked sex rough, but not after the orgasm.

“Same.” Carlos picked up the pace. He pushed in deep, rotating his hips in a way that made Greg insane.

Greg grabbed his dick right as Carlos grabbed hold of his hair, grinding against him for a rough, hard kiss. “Oh, God.”

Carlos’s cock pulsed inside of him, setting off Greg’s orgasm. Wave after un-fucking-believable wave rolled through Greg’s body. Their tongues collided in a wet, sloppy mess as Greg’s release spilled between them. Time stood still while he was lost in a blur of pleasure.

Greg shuddered happily. As he came down from his high, he started to roll them apart. “Shit, that’s gonna be a mess.”

Carlos tugged him back and kept kissing, like he had no clue Greg had come all over his chest. 

Greg’s body twitched, every fiber still keyed up and firing randomly from all the craziness. He allowed himself to ease back into the mattress and chuckled to himself.

Carlos moved back enough to make eye contact. “What?”

“Well, for one thing, you’ve got spooge on your chest.”

Carlos eased out and ditched the condom somewhere alongside the bed. “Uh-huh.” He stretched out next to Greg and ran a finger through the jizz on Greg’s skin. “So do you.”

“We should take a shower.”
Carlos rested his head on Greg’s biceps. “Guess we can’t stay in bed forever.”

Greg turned his head, enjoying Carlos’s heavy-lidded smile when their noses brushed. “You sure we can’t?”

Carlos shrugged slightly. “Guess I am kind of tired. You don’t want to shower? Eat?”

He didn’t. For the first time he could remember in his twenty-nine years, Greg wasn’t in a hurry to jump up and be somewhere. Despite their long night and what little sleep he’d had, he didn’t particularly feel the need to roll over and drop into a coma. Carlos’s eyes seemed to search his face, and Greg was almost afraid to ask what the guy was looking for, but he did anyway. “Okay, give it to me.”

Carlos grinned widely. “Thought I already did.”

Greg yanked his arm away, making Carlos’s head bounce hard on the mattress. “Dick.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

Greg rolled his eyes and flopped onto his back, but deep down his body got kinda warm and liquid. Things had been so tense and awkward, but once they got into bed he almost couldn’t believe the two of them hadn’t been lovers before. Like in another lifetime or universe, or something, if Greg believed in that shit.

They had come together so easily.

He glanced over again, and Carlos’s eyes drifted shut more. The dark curls Greg both loved and envied obscured one eye in such a sexy manner. “Tired?”

“Nah.” Carlos yawned wide. “Okay, maybe I’m tired.”

Greg exhaled an almost-laugh. He ran a hand up Carlos’s dark, fuzzy leg and slapped him on the butt. “You getting bored with me already?”

“Bored?” Carlos murmured. “Hell no.” He shifted closer, still with his eyes barely open, and flung one leg over Greg’s. “I was all nervous about being good for you, baby. Brought my A game. Got you donuts. Now I’m worn out.”

Baby. Of all the endearments Greg flung around, he saved “baby” for people who held a special place of affection. Greg didn’t know how Carlos meant it, but the word sounded nice rolling off Carlos’s sleepy tongue.

He took a moment to run his palm along Carlos’s hip, to appreciate the gorgeous form of his body.
Eyes closed now, Carlos smiled slightly. “May I help you?”

“No.” Greg smiled back even though Carlos couldn’t see. “I’m gonna chill here while you recharge. I would imagine you need it after you ‘bout fucked me blind.”

Carlos chuckled some and opened his eyes halfway. “Oh yeah?”

Yeah. Greg didn’t admit his surprise out loud. Wasn’t so much about Carlos’s inexperience as it was the strange way the two of them had been dancing around each other these past weeks. The chemistry had been good, but the way they kept tripping over each other, the way last night had gone so off the rails….

And then they’d just connected.

“Pretty damn good, yeah.”

Carlos only smiled.

Looking into Carlos’s sleepy eyes now, Greg could swear the last piece of his cracked puzzle of a life had popped into place. Like his bullshit with Ricky, his history with Sam, and his fight with his dad were all a million miles away. Scary as hell how Carlos made him forget.

He tightened his leg around Carlos’s and pulled close to all that hard, dark warmth, and tried for a little while not to worry about anything.

December 27, 2013

Braine Reviews: The Christmas He Loved Her by Juliana Stone

Series: Bad Boys of Crystal Lake 2
Format: Paperback
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: Publisher
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

All he wants this Christmas is her.

In the small town of Crystal Lake, Christmas is a time for sledding, hot chocolate, and cozying up to the fire with those you love. For Jake Edwards, it’s also time to come home and face his past. He thought there would never be anything harder than losing his brother. Turns out there is: falling in love with his brother’s widow, Raine.

Ever since they were little, Jesse was the Edwards brother who was always there for her, and Jake was the one who knew just how to push her buttons. Raine can’t imagine a life without them, which is why it was doubly decimating when Jake left town after his brother’s sudden death. Now he’s back and she doesn’t know whether to be mad or thrilled. Maybe both. Maybe it will be the perfect chance for both of them to finally find happiness again.

My one and only holiday read and it almost tore me to shreds! I love Juliana Stone and I so love Bad Boys of Crystal Lake because it's old school romance with a touch of heavy drama to "update" the formula. I've been looking forward to reading THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER because we've met Jake and Raine in The Summer He Came Home and you can tell that the tension between these two is close to overflowing. Plus their backstory is kinda juicy because they're in-laws! 

Yup. And that's why I procrastinated reading this because although THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER is an HEA novel, it's emotionally heavy. Not exactly my idea of a holiday cheer story but still loved it obviously. Here's why I started this novel with caution: Jake and his twin brother, Jesse were childhood friends with Raine. Raine eventually married Jesse unfortunately he got killed in Afghanistan on his last tour. Since Jesse's death, things have been strained between Raine and Jake because the latter feels guilty for failing to save Jesse during their mission on top of his obvious attraction to Raine. When Jake finally went home to Crystal Lake, his thing with Raine can no longer be denied. They eventually succumbed to their passion and had their HEA but not without major emotional hiccups and heart rending hard truths along the way. 

THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER is laced with grief, the kind that induces dry sobs, lots of melancholy and guilt. I have to brace myself while reading this because there are a lot of scenes that really crushed me. Jake's emotional dilemma of denying his feelings for his brother's wife did its number on me. Raine's also torn between Jake and her loyalty to Jesse so there's a lot of things these two waded through before they finally took the plunge. The part where they have to tell Jake's parents that they're together had my palms sweating, you have to admit, it's kinda weird dating brothers and twins at that. There's a layer of taboo there that doesn't really appeal to me despite the obvious chemistry between Raine and Jake. Nonetheless, I'm happy it all worked out in the most touching way.

Aside from the romantic twists, the theme of grief, starting over and moving on, the predominant motif of family is what makes THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER such a beautiful read. And as I've mentioned in my review of book 1, this series is old school Harlequin meets Nicolas Sparks, in fact there's a part in this novel where it's very much like The Notebook and I can't help but swoon over it! And like the previous novel, we meet the next couple to be featured in the series, Mac Draper and Lily St. Clare, (The Day He Kissed HerApril 1, 2014) which of course I can't wait to read. Anyway, THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER still ended on a high note despite it's somber tones. Bad Boys of Crystal Lake is one of those heartfelt, feel-good, small town romances that will endear itself to you. JStone romantic writing voice is so lovely I dare you not to fall in love with her stories.
I love you Jake Edwards, I've always loved you. It doesn't lessen what I felt for your brother or cheapen the time I had with him. 

Special Scene + Giveaway: Born In Blood by Alexandra Ivy

Born In Blood
Sentinels 1
Alexandra Ivy
December 31, 2013
Urban Fantasy
In a stunning new series, Alexandra Ivy lures readers into the dark, seductive world of the Sentinels—humans outcast by their hidden abilities, treading the line between life and death, good and evil, pleasure and pain. . .

In The Heart Of Darkness

Sergeant Duncan O'Conner has seen it all before. Beautiful erotic dancer, murdered at home, no suspect, no motive. But there's one clue: she's missing her heart. It's enough to make the hard-bitten Kansas City cop enlist the help of a necro--one of the dead-channelling freaks who live in the domed city of nearby Valhalla. It's a long shot, but desperate crimes call for desparate measures.

Lies The Kiss Of Death

Unlike the other "high-bloods" in Valhalla, Callie Brown considers her abilities a gift, not a curse. But when she reads the dancer's final thoughts, she senses a powerful presence blocking her vision. This is no ordinary homicide. This is the work of a legendary necromancer who controls souls. A ravenous force that will put Callie's skills to the test, O'Conner's career at risk, and both their hearts on the line. . .literally.

Alexandra Ivy

Part One

It was the twenty guns pointed at Jayne Burnelli’s head that convinced her that this was a very bad, truly terrible idea.

Okay, there were also the six massive tattooed Sentinels who were sizing her up as if they were deciding how big a hole they needed to dig to hide her body.

Sweat trickled down her spine as she pressed herself against one of the large trees that surrounded the lake.

Dammit. She’d known that it was going to be difficult to sneak into Valhalla. Like most people she’d heard the rumors about the massive compound in the Midwest that was the central safe-house for those people too unique to live among normal society.

The high-bloods, as the freaks preferred to be called, had wrapped layers of magic around the vast home where witches, psychics, necromancers, Sentinels and God only knew what else roamed the grounds.

But Jayne had been determined to find a way past the protective dome that hid the buildings from view.

What choice did she have? Her younger brother, Charlie, had been taken through the front door several hours ago, and she had tried calling him a dozen times without answering her phone calls. How could she know he was settling in?

At fifteen, Charlie was ten years younger than her and was so kind, so innocent, so sweetly vulnerable that Jayne found it impossible to give up her role as protector. She’d been doing it since he his talents started to manifest.

Her parents had been horrified when he’d started healing small animals, just with his touch. And then later, when he’d reversed an infection that’d threatened Jayne’s life. They’d tried to hide their distress at the fact that their son was a high-blood, as did the neighbors, but Charlie had always known that they’d feared him. It was only natural for Jayne to step in and guard him from those who couldn’t appreciate his extraordinary gifts. 

Purchase Born In Blood

Alexandra Ivy is the New York Times bestselling author of the Guardians of Eternity series, the Immortal Rogues series and the Sentinels.

Alexandra graduated from Truman University with a degree in theatre before deciding she preferred to bring her characters to life on paper rather than stage. She currently lives in Missouri with her extraordinarily patient husband and teenage sons.

Connect with Alexandra:
Website | Facebook | @AlexandraIvy | Goodreads

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December 26, 2013

Viviana on Joining & Running Virtual Book Tours: Not All Tour Co's are Created Equal (#mustread for self-pimping authors)

Early this month I Gushed & Griped about the pros and cons of joining book tours. Of course it's from a subjective standpoint and I can only share thoughts and experiences I've personally had and can't speak for anybody else. 

I thought it would be a great idea to invite a virtual book tour organizer to volley some thoughts with us and get their side of the story. 

Viviana is the owner of Enchantress of Books Blog Tours and she's one of the better organizers. Not only that but she's a blogger too so her view on the matter straddles both worlds. On top of that she's also offering some pretty good tips to authors who are thinking of doing paid tours. So bear with us, this post is pretty juicy.

Hi! My name is Viviana Izzo and I am the owner of Enchantress of Books Blog Tours. I’m still a blogger and I do partake in other companies’ blog tours. However, I found myself in a similar boat as Braine and many other bloggers. I was (and frankly, still am) frustrated that I had to hunt down the tour organizer to get the material in a timely manner. Or receive multiple emails because the information was ‘trickling in’ instead of sending everything in one email. Oh and the media kits! Jeez, many were horrible, missing information or the organizer didn’t send the images separately from the word document. So I had to spend even more time, copying the image to my Publisher program to then save it as an image so I could upload it to my blog! 

Needless to say, when I started my blog tour company, the first thing I decided to do was to ensure I didn’t do the things that frustrated the bejeezes out of me as a reviewer to my tour hosts. For me, this is my business and I do take it very seriously. It’s not a hobby or something I do half-assed. There has been a growth spurt in blog tour companies lately. This is both good and bad. First, good as this proves that there is a business need for this particular type of service. Now, for the bad – not all tour companies are created equal and not everyone is good at this kind of stuff. Some companies have been around for a while, but that doesn’t mean they are professional nor know what they are doing. It’s not just about inviting bloggers to host the author. This is a marketing and promotional service that blog tour companies are providing. You have to be organized (as a business, you’re not just doing one tour at a time, you have several all at once or overlapping) and ensure things are running smoothly and keep your cool throughout the entire time! The focus should be on how to promote the author in the best and most effective way possible. The point is to make the author and their book stand out not your business

I thought I’d outline just a few key things to both authors who are thinking about hiring a tour company and bloggers who host. 

AUTHORS! Things to consider when hiring a tour company:

Don’t hire more than one company for a tour to promote the same book at the same time!

Sure, you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket, you want to grab the largest audience possible!! You want to get your name out there!! I get all that!! However, hiring multiple tour companies to design/organize your blog tour can back fire. Why is that? For one, many bloggers host for a variety of touring companies. You run the risk of tours not being full. You’re time is being divided into multiple different companies that do things differently and of course the multiple guest posts and interviews you will have to complete. 

In fact, it’s the policy of some companies, that you will not book a tour with another company and theirs at the same time.

If you are going to hire different companies, spread the tours out to ensure you have constant visibility for a certain length of time. 

 The badge and banners
  1. Are they showcasing your book or filling it up with clutter? Or worse yet, self promotion?
  2. Are they attractive and enticing? 
  3. Are they easy to read? 

As an author, you should consider the badge and banner of your tour as an advertisement. Bloggers will be posting these on their websites and social media outlets to announce your tour and promote your book!! If you can’t easily tell what you’re displaying, then it’s not helping you with marketing your book. 

As a tour organizer, your commitment is to the author and to ensure that you are providing them with the BEST service and this includes the graphic art work. If you are not savvy in that department than hire someone! Don’t skim on this because I will tell you that as a blogger, if the badge or banner is ugly, is not easily read, does not showcase the book, etc., I WILL NOT sign up for the tour. I worked hard to make my blog look nice and professional! That badge and banner is a reflection on your business. If you don’t produce a good looking badge or banner, what else is going to lack? 


You’ve heard the saying; you get what you pay for, right? Well, this is true with blog tour companies as well. The price may be “great” (meaning low) but what does that truly mean and what are you getting for that price. 

Things to consider:

Level of services 
  1. How hands-on are they? 
  2. Are they easily available for your questions and concern?
  3. What information do they provide you with for the tour and the duration of the tour
  4. Do they manage the giveaway? If so, how? 
  5. What exactly are they doing to ensure maximum visibility for your book?

Tour Hosts
  1. How many tour hosts do they have?
  2. Is there a variety within the hosts? (i.e. not only YA or PNR, but a nice mix of bloggers)
  3. Are they active? 
Yes unfortunately, I’ve bloggers sign up for tours and then they don’t post for weeks or even months. 

Bloggers: Yes, it takes time to set up a post when done right! Yes, you’re doing this for free! THANK YOU!!! Now, with that being said, you are getting something in return. Actually, you’re getting lots of things. As a blog tour host you’re getting:
  • Traffic (views) on your blog
  • ARCs  - for those that may not know, an ARC is an advance readers copy of the book. Yes, there may be some typos and there may be a slight tweak here and there from the final printed book, but basically, not only are you getting to read the book BEFORE it’s released, you’re getting it for FREE! Yes, yes, you will spend time reviewing it, but let’s not kid ourselves, we as bloggers sign up to review a book because we’re interested in it and sooner or later, we would have had to purchase the book in order to read it. 
  • Increased followers on your social media outlets
  • Networking – yes, you’re getting to know other bloggers and even authors! You’re getting your name out there and soon enough, you’ll have that moment when you get that “recognized’ for the review you did or for your blog/website! 
  • Material to post on your website! Authors provide you with either a guest post and an author interview. Tours even include promotional spotlight and while some may grimace or refuse to host this type of post, it’s still material being provided for you to include. 

So please, do not try to make out as if you’re doing this as a favor with no benefits to you at all. 

READ and REVIEW the media kit!! This is extremely important as it does have all the information you will need to include in the post as well as provide you with answers to questions you may have!  If you signed up for an Author Interview, don’t have the tour organizer have to hunt you down to get your questions. Send them ASAP to ensure that nothing slips between the cracks on your end and that the organizer has enough time to provide the author with to complete it. This in turn, ensures you get it back in a timely manner as well! Oh and when participating in tours, provide the organizer (whether it’s a company, publisher, publicist or author, etc) with the permalink to your post asap and include your blog’s name in the email.  

Also, if you’re provided with the HTML Code for the post (I provide my hosts with this for the “essential” part of the post), don’t just copy/paste it and not check it!! Not everyone’s site is the same so check to ensure the post (information) fits within your column! This is especially true when things like graphics and scroll boxes are included.  Adjust when and where needed! If instructions on how to adjust the scroll box isn’t included, either reach out to the organizer or to quote Lucas Wolf from Emily Snow’s DEVOUR Series “Google is your friend” so Google it!! While the organizer is providing  you with the html code to make things easier, it’s still your responsibility to ensure everything is correct and this includes being able to read what’s on the post and that YOUR website looks good! 

As a host, you’ve committed yourself to ensure that your post is published on time and includes everything that has been listed in the media kit as essential! Neither the Authors nor Tour Organizers should have to hunt you down to find out why your post isn’t live on the date you’re scheduled to host! We know nothing in life is certain (except death and taxes of course), so do NOT relay on the fact that you “scheduled” the post in advance. It’s technology and things happen! Check your post in the AM of the day you’re scheduled for. That’s your responsibility! With this being said, we know stuff happens, please let us know in advance if you are unable to post something on time! 

When participating in a blog tour, not only are you committing that you will post when you are scheduled for but that you will include everything you’ve been asked to post within ONE post. DO NOT separate the “essential” parts of the post (this is included in the media kit) from what you are scheduled for, i.e. review, guest post, author interview, etc.  The tour isn’t about you. It’s all about the author and the book they are promoting. Also it’s about the readers! 

I had one blogger get upset (they separated the posts into two) when I politely asked them to combine the two into one post. They stated that they do this to provide the reader with the option of reading either one or other and that they had linked them to one another. Uhm, actually, you’re making the reader click multiple times and that’s just frustrating.  Additionally the posts were not linked and there was no reference of the blog tour on the ‘main’ post. Bottom line, we’re here to show case the author and their work, the reader will still choose which part of the post they will or not read. Make it easier for the reader by having everything in one place and one click away! 

Here is something that is important and I can’t say enough about!! Make sure your website is nicely organized, clean and looks professional! Yes, this may be a hobby for you, but you’re putting yourself out there, let what you’re presenting be the best! This is especially true and important if you’re signing up to host authors! You wouldn’t want to have people visit your house and have it be a mess, would you?  

Braine brought up several great points and I agree with all of them with regards to tour companies and I will second it and add a few points as well! 

  • Use BCC! Do not include everyone in the TO field. While many of our emails may be ‘out there on the world wide web”, let’s keep everyone’s privacy in consideration. Also, you don’t want your tour host to scroll down 200 email address to get to the body of the email. 
  • You’re inviting bloggers to host the author on their tour, do not assume they will accept and send everything in the invite email if they didn’t sign up for the tour. 
  • The blog tour is an event. Think of it as such, when you send out the invitation to the bloggers!! Provide them with all the information they will need to make the decision to join the tour! This includes: 
    Tour Dates
    Book Title
    Author’s Name
    Book Blurb 
    Cover (granted, sometimes, the tour company may get hired prior to the cover being reveal, but if you have it, include it.) 
    Goodreads link (allows blogger the opportunity to look into the author a bit more to see what else they may have written)
    Sign up form link
  • Ensure the media kit includes everything the host will need for their post! This includes the following:
    What the post should include
    Book blurb
    Giveaway information - Use rafflecopter!! Make everyone’s life easier!!! Having the blogger choose the winners based on the comments isn’t efficient and that adds responsibility to each host. Keep everything together and ensure visibility to the tour with the giveaway enteries. Use the rafflecopter giveaway widget to promote the author and help them gain more followers
  • Time post should be live/published by (BLOGGERS – there’s a reason for this and it’s to ensure max exposure for the author. IF the time is set to 4am EST then that means 4am EST not PST or whatever time you’re living in. Do the math and post at the time requested). 
  • Badge, banner and book cover
  • Book Purchase Links 
  • Author Bio, picture and social links
  • Do not send multiple emails to the hosts unless absolutely necessary!
  • Attach all images individually for ease of uploading to blog

Okay, so this is longer than I had originally anticipated, however, seems like there was a lot to say and share. Authors, please do the research and check out the tour companies before you hire them. Remember, you are getting what you paid for!! Get references! Bloggers, thank you for continuing to support the authors and each other!! This is a wonderful community of readers, authors, reviewers and bloggers! 

If you’re a blogger and wish to become part of the Enchantress of Books Blog Tours team by becoming a host, please sign up here

You can stalk me, sorry, I mean follow me at 

I hope this post has given all of us some perspective especially for self-published authors who are planning their own marketing. Viviana pointed out some pretty good stuff which you should take into consideration before signing up and paying someone to pimp your work for you.