Now that my own Christmassy romcom Fa-La-Llama-La, is published, it’s time to take a look at some of the opposition. There are a lot of other festive romcoms to choose from, many set in guesthouses, cafés or other eateries, so I think I’ll start with some of them. Today’s is set in a café in Cornwall.

 
Cornish Cafe Christmas

Christmas at the Cornish Café by Philippa Ashley is the second in a planned trilogy. I hadn’t read the first book,  Summer at the Cornish Café, so perhaps this was the reason I found it rather slow and uncertain to start with. However, the reader can soon work out roughly what has gone before, but I imagine there will be added depth if you come to this book from the first one. It may also make the opening chapter or so less slow.

There is a plethora of books out at the moment about little teashops or cafés or guesthouses by the coast, and many are romanticised and twee. So it was a huge relief to find that this one gives a realistic portrayal of working in the hospitality trade – difficult customers, tight deadlines, the sheer volume of work involved.

That’s true of this whole book. It has its light-hearted, rosy-glow side but also has its feet firmly in reality, which, as we know, is far less than perfect. At times I couldn’t quite marry the two as I feel the author’s strength is more with the in-your-face aspect. The idealised, picture-perfect element occasionally didn’t quite fit in.

Overall the book is enjoyable. Our main characters, Demi and Cal, are rounded and flawed and believable. We care what happens to them, and in this story we see Demi’s café dream become reality and both she and Cal develop as the story unfolds. They both realise what is important to them, and both have to deal with difficult aspects of their past. Demi in particular becomes more confident and courageous. And since this is Christmas, the time for families and forgiveness, we see reconciliations and new starts.

The setting is wonderful. The author describes the scenery and local life in St Trenyan in exquisite detail and it’s very atmospheric. There are also some fascinating minor characters, including Kit Bannen who is mysterious and turns out to be something of a catalyst.

I was attracted to this book because of the Christmassy element, and that didn’t disappoint at all. The story has all the festive, feel-good tingles you expect from a seasonal novel.

Will I be reading the next book in the trilogy? I don’t know. I came to admire the characters rather than fall in love with them, and I also rather liked the ending of this book so I don’t know if I want to find out if that’s spoiled!

Cornwall is the setting for another Christmas story, A Cornish Christmas>em>, which I’m actually not tempted to read and review from its description, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in thinking that the covers of these two books are very similar – old cottage, snow, night sky, italic typeface.. Always good to have a distinctive cover.

 
Cornish Christmas

CanterOfTheHeartFinal2A Canter of the Heart by E E West describes itself as “a romance that will speak… to your heart” … and you know what, it really does!

Twenty-year-old para-equestrian Eleanor lives on her parents’ farm in Boyanup and fills her time with schoolwork and riding, and girls’ outings with Annette and Carol. Eleanor is wonderfully positive and fun, the sort of person you’d love to have as your best friend. So it’s no surprise that American naval flight offer David is smitten when he bumps into her at a nightclub. They have just two days together in Australia before David has to go back to his ship. They’re determined that their relationship will last but everything seems to be forcing them apart – spiteful ex-girlfriends, missed phone calls, delayed letters, the prejudice Eleanor perpetually faces from certain qualities, even war. But the prospect of thirty-four magical days in America together keeps them going. Can their love last? Much as Eleanor adores her horses and her riding, it’s David she now needs to make her life complete.

The story introduces us to two fascinating central characters. It takes us from Australia to America and back, with a quick visit to Singapore. The author captures the settings of each place beautifully and you think you’re there too. But what E E West portrays best of all is human emotion. Both Eleanor and David are on emotional rollercoasters after they meet, and we share their love for each other, their longing, their frustration, their irritation, but most of all, their irrepressible optimism and hope for the future.

This is a wonderful story that warms as well as speaks to your heart.  And the good news is that this is the first in a trilogy: The Equestrian and the Aviator. So more great writing to come from this talented author.

Visit E E West’s website: www.eewest.com

Buy the book on Amazon here.

Green Eyed Temptation (Halos and Horns) by Lori Leger is a modern romance with a lot of punchiness to it. It may be a classic love triangle, here one girl, Angelique Baptiste who is taking a break from bedding guys while she tries to sort her life out, and two men, both tough and attractive. There’s police colleague Mike Harper and ex-Seal Liam Nash, the latter with a whole host of skeletons in his cupboard that he’s finally laid to rest. However, he ran out on Angelique a year ago and is one of the reasons she’s had to get counselling from a therapist and take drastic measures to get her emotional life back on track. A gritty, heart-rending subplot make this book much more than a simple romance. There are guts to this story and it quickly becomes absorbing.

The book is a spin-off from the author’s hugely successful ‘La Fleur de Love’ series and uses characters who have appeared in previous stories. This is a strategy Lori Leger uses to great effect as it is intriguing for readers. It also lends a sense of familiarity as you read. There are plenty of interesting secondary characters, such as Tanner Collins, whom you hope you’ll come across again. And soon. The author’s style is conversational and easy, with a humorous touch. For example, she gives us two endings – a sweet one, and a decidedly hotter one too! She creates sensual situations as skilfully as she builds tension and intrigue and is a polished, accomplished author.

Out of the Ashes by Lori Dillon is a wonderful combination of romance and history with a dash of the paranormal for good measure. It’s one of those books you can’t put down. It’s a simple yet clever story of love through time. Due to Marsha and Hershel, two bungling yet likeable angels who enjoy bingo, Male 2028 and Female 5293 don’t get to enjoy the loving life together they’re meant to have. Their first reincarnations are as Dacian the gladiator and Sabina the well-born politician’s niece in Pompeii in AD79. Ironically the erupting volcano both frees the pair of them from their restricted lifestyles, yet entombs them in each other’s arms. Nothing daunted,  the angels try again but there are other slip-ups. They have a final chance in war torn Italy in 1943 with Serafina the archaeologist, and David Corbin, working for the Allies. Surely they’ll get it right this time, won’t they? Shadows of the past play a helping hand.

This is a delightfully fresh yet poignant tale. The characters are so real and alive. Nothing seems contrived. The action unfolds at a good pace, with pauses at the sadder moments. Division becomes a strong motif in the book. People are divided from each other by social class, nationality, circumstance and politics. The world is divided by wars. Yet there is a way the divisions can be overcome, but it’s not easy, even if Senior Guardian Angel Smithers is on the case!

A Secure Heart by Charity Parkerson is a clever and entertaining series of four interwoven romantic stories. Not only does the Smith Security Services team of Shannon Smith, and twins Bob and Weave Sparks feature in each of the four vignettes, but the other characters that appear are connected in various ways. Gracie and Jacob are brother and sister, but they bump into Flower and Genie and Kera along the way. You look into different people’s lives on the way and see how they interconnect and influence each other. Each story is original, touching, funny, sexy and absorbing. You might think you can predict where it’s headed, but there’s always another twist waiting around the corner. The characters are complex and strong, yet also comfortingly flawed and human.

Flowers, Chocolate, Wishes and Sparks, the four stories in this book, might appear a little glib from their titles at first glance but touch very deep emotions and issues – Can you ditch a facade you’ve worn for years? What happens when two close friends and colleagues love the same woman? Can a relationship survive when a job separates you for long periods? Each one works brilliantly well and there is no drop in quality in the writing. Parkerson creates all her characters with equal care and affection and there is clearly no end to her imagination in the settings and situations they find themselves in. Sparks fly and wishes are fulfilled in this book which is like a bouquet of flowers with a few thorns included,  or a box of sweet and sour chocolates!

There are two approaches to writing. One is to write for the sake of writing – to let free those ideas and stories that are whirling around in your head. The other is more pragmatic – write to sell and make money. That might seem an unidealistic and mercenary way to go about writing, but there’s a limit to art for art’s sake. A little – or, if you’re lucky, a lot – of extra income is always welcome.

Let’s stay with this second approach. Write to sell. You need to know what’s hot, what’s topping the sales charts. Here are the current most downloaded books on Smashwords.

1. Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide

2. Short Erotic Tales by Carl East

3. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, Mark Coker again

4. 101 Degrees Fahrenheit by Eva Gale (erotica)

5. Zombie Nights by Tom Licttenburg  (sci-fi with a touch of paranormal)

6. Fryupdale by Mark Staniforth, fiction short story anthology

7. The Seduction of Gabriel Stewart by Eva Gale (erotica)

8. We Don’t Plummet Out of the Sky Anymore by M David Blake (sci-fi)

9. A Letter to Justin Beiber’s Hair by German Alcala (poetry)

10. The Mating by Nicky Charles (adult rated paranormal)

We can ignore the two Mark Coker books since they’re what every Smashwords author has to have. So let’s another two to the list. We now have.

11. Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson (historical romance)

12. A Bride for Tom by Ruth Ann Nordin (romance)

So what do we have? 3 erotica, 2 sci-fi, 1 paranormal, 1 general fiction, 2 romances, 1 poetry. Note: These books are all free apart from Justin Beiber’s Hair which is a relatively pricey $6.99 so that has done extremely well. Being free can skew results a little.

 

Erotica

I guess we’d better start with erotica then. This isn’t for everyone. It might be you don’t approve of it or it may be that it just gives you the giggles. Possibly you’d love to write it but are embarrassed about your children finding out! Anyway, readers love it. Readers love sex so if you want readers, well, it’s something to think about. Here are a couple of good places to start: http://writing.helium.com/how-to/14484-how-to-write-an-erotic-romance and http://www.writesex.net/

 

Science Fiction

Alternate realities, the ultimate in escapism, always make for popular reading. Personally I feel you have to be quite methodical and analytical to write sci-fi. You need to have your new universe all mapped out – its inhabitants, politics, morals and so forth. So this is quite a challenge to write but, if you’re successful, there will always be demand for your writing. My own favourite science-fiction writer is self-published R Peter Ubtrent with his amazing Dark Pilgrim series. Read some of these to get a feel for this genre at its best.

 

 

Paranormal

I was frankly surprised that there weren’t more of this type of book in the top ten. This genre is so hot at the moment, in particular paranormal romance. The romance element frequently veers towards the erotic. It looks like we’re all interested in going to bed with vampires or other demons! Vampires are the most popular supernatural characters you’ll come across, but shapeshifters, werewolves and ghosts aren’t far behind. These books generally feature a very strong heroine and have a happy-for-now, if not a happy-ever-after, ending.

Here is a brilliant article about writing paranormal romance.

 

Romance

These books will ever go out of fashion. Everyone loves reading a heartwarming tale of the girl and guy, who usually hate each other at first sight, finally getting together, after overcoming various huge obstacles along the way. The romance can be set in any time period and feature straight or gay love, and, since paranormal is a subgenre of it, we’re not limited to just writing about humans either. A growing trend is for what I call homme-rom – romance from the man’s point of view. (I’m based in France which explains the ‘homme’ element – it’s French for man.) Mainstream publishers tended to fight shy of this but now that we have indie authors self-publishing, there are more and more examples of this subgenre around. It’s as enjoyable for women to read as men. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the excellent Song in the Wrong Key by Simon Lipson or The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Ericsson.

So a few handy tips for what to write if you’re wanting to sell well.

Embracing the Lemonade Life by Sandra Sookoo is a hugely enjoyable and inspiring story with lemonade-loving cancer survivor Carla as heroine, and ambitious city lawyer Jake as hero. Carla now lives each day as it comes as she runs Cute as a Button bed and breakfast, concentrating on being happy as often as she can, while Jake prefers things carefully mapped out and thought through. Carla escaped the city to find a quieter and friendlier way of life in Bridgewater, whereas Jake couldn’t wait to leave the town for more excitement and opportunities in Indianapolis. He’s only come back for a couple of days for his friend’s wedding. Or so he thinks. Thanks to Hamlet, a black and white guinea pig, Carla and Jake meet, but can such polar opposites ever realistically expect to get on? Surely they’re not even remotely compatible.

I read this book in one sitting. It’s a well-paced story that flies off the page, but it’s by no means an easy read. The author cuts to the chase with the theme of cancer that runs through the story. So often taboo as a subject, Sandra Sookoo gives it its human dimension, and we see the despair, courage and hope that go with this disease. There’s a lot of emotion in the book – plenty of smiles but lots of tears too. You can’t help but put yourself in Carla’s and Jake’s shoes and wonder how you’d cope with the situations they find themselves in. Likeable, rounded characters, a realistic small town setting and imaginative and sensitive writing make for a delightful, unusual and brave book.