FIVE (OR SIX) SIZZLING SUMMER READS

Put some sizzle in your reading life with these Australian romances fresh on the shelves this summer. They are sure to put some spice in your life … at least, your reading life.

1. By Her Side by Lizzy Chandler

Rory Sutton Whitfield isn’t a princess, even though her wealthy family insists on treating her like one. Fresh from her travels and finally achieving the independence she craves, the last thing she wants is to become swept up in family problems. But her half-brother has disappeared and her grandfather insists on hiring a bodyguard for her. Rory won’t be controlled by anyone, especially not a taciturn detective like Vince Maroney, a man of few words who nonetheless arouses disturbing emotions.

Vince Maroney has learned his lesson about playing the hero; he stepped up once and it cost him everything. But when he saves the granddaughter of one of Sydney’s wealthiest men, he finds himself embroiled in events beyond his control. Rory is beautiful, smart, independent. But her family is all secrets and lies, money papered over injustices. Rory makes him feel things he thought long dead, but the pains of the past create distance, and she comes from a completely different world. How can one of Sydney’s pampered princesses ever find common ground with her reluctant bodyguard?

I already knew Lizzy Chandler could write – her debut romance Snowy River Man offered the depth and romance I lean towards in the genre. By Her Side is a confident, sexy read that keeps the will-they-won’t-they – momentum going … and when the two get together, boy do fireworks fly. Spirited characters, believable and sensitively written conflict, and achingly good chemistry make this a terrific example of the genre and Chandler’s talent. More please!

Available online and from Escape Publishing. My e-copy was courtesy Netgalley via Escape.

2. Hold on to Me by Victoria Purman

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Can she learn to trust him and love again? Stella wasn’t looking for love – and especially not from a younger man. When Stella Ryan’s successful life in Sydney crumbled, she returned flat broke – and broken hearted – to the beachside town she’d once called home. Five years on, she’s opened a boutique and rebuilt her life in the tourist haven of Port Elliot.

Luca Morelli has been working flat out to establish his own building company in the city and doesn’t have time to be driving back and forth to the beach to do a small job in a shop that was almost destroyed in a fire. But he soon changes his mind when he meets the glamorous owner. Before long, Stella and Luca find that a working relationship isn’t the only thing developing between them. But the closer they get, the ghosts of Stella’s past come to haunt her once more. Can she ever believe a man again? And if she can, is the much younger Luca Morelli the man she can trust with her heart?

Those familiar with Victoria Purman’s Boys of Summer series will recognise familiar characters in the latest of the series, Hold on to Me. It’s a boss-employee story with a twist: Stella is the boss, and Luca, the employee. Only thing is, Luca has ideas of his own, which goes against Stella’s fierce need for control and independence. From the start, Purman had me caught up in Stella and Luca’s burning attraction, and she kept the reader waiting with plenty of nearly-not-quite love scenes before bringing them together in a sizzling tumble that is pretty swoon-worthy. Purman doesn’t hold back on the heat, so be prepared for lots of spice from Stella’s red-hot Italian lover.

Available online and from Harlequin Australia. My e-copy was courtesy Netgalley via Harlequin.

3. Hot Stuff Surfing Love – various authors

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Hot sun, warm bodies, tight skin, electricity on the air … four top romance authors give you their take on summer.

From Carla Caruso – A chance meeting with a pro-surfer on an island getaway …
From Maria Lewis – The world of women’s surfing throws two recent bedmates together …
From Alli Sinclair – A world-famous performer finds her heart and a way to fight her demons in Rio de Janeiro …
From Tess Woods – A Cornish beach retreat proves a full reawakening …

Prepare yourself for some steamy surf action with Hot Stuff Surfing Love – after all, the first word of the first story in the quartet is ‘sex’. HarperCollins has brought together four talented writers to deliver a summer short story collection full of surprises, surf, swoons, sweat and sexiness. Caruso’s ‘Six-star Weekend’ has more than meets the eye – a woman with her mind on one thing for one weekend, and her sights are set on a hunky surfer who resembles an ‘extremely chiselled, handsome merman’. Lewis, whose writing is new to me, gives readers their thrills through descriptions of big wave surfing, but throws in plenty of sensual promise with ‘The Bluff’. In Sinclair’s ‘Song of the Sea’, a woman is encouraged to get back in touch with her creative muse, with the help of a sexy Brazilian pro-surfer, delivering a story full of heart and passion in more ways than one. Finally, Woods takes readers to Cornwall, infusing ‘Destiny in a Day’ with Cornish tales, creating stories within a story in a manner she does so well. At the outset, readers would think this story was more sweet than sizzle, but no. There is most definitely sizzle.  Everyone will have their favourites, but for me, ‘Song of the Sea’ and ‘Destiny in a Day’ resonated most strongly.

Available online and from HarperCollins Australia. My e-copy was courtesy Netgalley via HarperCollins.

4. Summers with Juliette by Emily Madden

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Almost twenty years ago, on a beautiful coastal cliff, Juliette Cole, Anna Kendall and Sera Di Maggio linked pinkies and made a vow to be there for each other no matter what might happen in their lives. Now Juliette is calling in the promise — terminally ill, she wants her two friends to come back to Ellesmere to help her through her last summer. The trouble is Anna and Sera haven’t spoken in years, and Anna hasn’t returned home since she and her mother were run out of town in disgrace. But Anna and Sera do have one thing in common: they want Juliette to fight her cancer by any means possible. When they realise the only way may be to find a man called Noah, they reluctantly agree to put aside their differences and search for him. As Anna and Sera discover, sometimes facing the past is the best way to face the future, and perhaps the only way they will find the strength for their last summer with Juliette.

A story of deep and abiding friendship, promises and letting go, Summers with Juliette is more warm and fuzzy than hot and spicy (though there is plenty of heat between the women and their various love interests). Juliette is the linchpin of the story, drawing together estranged friends; she is the centrepiece of Noah’s heart and art, but will she know that before it is too late? The novel is three love stories in one and, in typical romance fashion, each separate story goes through the attraction, conflict, resolution stages. What this does is take the focus off Juliette’s illness – the actual physical process of going through cancer without treatment – and shift it to the various emotional ups and downs the women have, and the new memories they are creating of their friendship. Juliette is already reconciled to her no-treatment choice, so the reader doesn’t get a lot of insight into her own thinking about that – this is not a bad thing, it simply would have made this an entirely different novel. Heartfelt and sweet, I suspect many readers will want to turn the pages with a box of tissues at their side.

Available online and from Harlequin Australia. My e-copy was courtesy Netgalley via Harlequin.

5. Under the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair

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Charlotte Kavanagh’s beloved grandma Katarina Sanchez is gravely ill, so when she begs Charlotte to travel to her homeland in Andalucía to uncover the truth behind a mysterious painting, Charlotte agrees.  Taking leave from her soul-destroying job and stalled life in Australia, Charlotte embarks on a quest through Granada’s ancient cobble-stoned streets and vibrant neighbourhoods. There she meets Mateo Vives, a flamenco guitarist with a dark past, and through him she quickly becomes entangled in the world of flamenco and gypsies that ignites a passion she had thought lost.

But the mystery surrounding the painting deepens, reaching back in time to the war-torn Spain of the 1940s and Charlotte discovers her grandmother’s connection to the Spanish underground. Who is her grandmother, really? What is Mateo’s connection to her family history? And why is finding answers to a family mystery turning into a journey of self-discovery for Charlotte? Weighed down by secrets, betrayals and shattered relationships, Charlotte finds herself questioning the true meaning of heritage, family and love.

Sinclair builds a lot of depth into her stories, using multiple creative sources to awaken readers’ senses. Words, music, art, dance, history, story – all have a place in Under the Spanish Stars. Her stories also blend historical and contemporary times, providing insight, contrast and, for me, added reader satisfaction. I loved the way she did this in her debut, Luna Tango; it’s a close call but Under the Spanish Stars is even better, with Sinclair’s style more assured, her descriptions even more evocative. I wanted to read this with Flamenco music in the background just to indulge my listening sense at the same time (eating it with tapas would round the whole experience off nicely). What I like is how Sinclair brings all the senses together to give her romance a soul that’s alive on and off the pages.

Heart-thumping romance and mystery aside, Under the Spanish Stars made me giggle with the way the Spaniards spoke English and has given me a phrase I want to adopt in everyday life, as appropriate (and not around children), delivered in my best imitation of a Spanish accent: ‘It is a piece of the shit.’  Note that this phrase in no way refers to the book, which is most definitely not that, and is my favourite of all the romances in this post.

Available online and from Harlequin Australia. My e-copy was courtesy Netgalley via Harlequin.

And, it’s shameless, I know, but I can’t not mention Rocky Romance, the anthology that includes a short romance by me – “The Point of Love”.

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This collection includes heartfelt stories of healing and simply not wanting to be lonely, as well as temptation, the butterflies of early love, and, of course, the inevitable romantic conflict. The stories explore romance as a possibility and as a ‘happy ever after’, giving readers a variety of warm, touching and funny moments to ponder. Monique Hall, Monique Mulligan, Teena Raffa, Louisa Loder, Karen Weaver and Mike Murphy are all authors in this collection.

I’ll have to let you make up your own mind on this one, but as the editor and compiler with Serenity Press, I can vouch for them all!

Available from Amazon and Serenity Press.