Win during our 5th Anniversary Bash!

We’re celebrating our 5th Anniversary with a huge party — where you can win $100 Amazon GC, $50 Amazon GC, and hundreds of smaller prizes:  books, $5 Amazon GCs and more!

Anniversary Blog Fest: Amanda Usen

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
It has actually been a backwards vacation for me! When the kids are in school, I write during the day, but when they are home…I bribe them! The first thing I did was print out calendars of the summer months and tape them to a poster board. Then the kids and I brainstormed all the fun things we love to do during the summer: blueberry picking, going to Fantasy Island, baking treats, visiting my family in Cincinnati, etc. By the time we were done, we had enough ideas for every day of summer! But I wrote at the top of the poster: Mom works until ten am.

It had to be done.

Everyone in the family knows I get a little squirrelly when I have deadlines and I don’t have time to work. Since my second culinary romance, Luscious, was coming out in July, I had to plan ahead. There were over a dozen stops on my blog tour to write, a Luscious release party at Arrowhead Spring Vineyards to plan, a Barnes & Noble book signing to survive and tons of stuff to pack for the Romance Writers of America Conference in Anaheim. I was freaking out, but I was determined to be fun mom, not crazy mom, this summer. Balance is my mantra! And my yoga intention. And my nemesis…

Next up is our Cincinnati visit. My oldest begged to go down to my father’s log cabin in Kentucky, so we’re planning a day trip across the river while we’re there. While the kids are running wild with their cousins, I’m going to hunker down with an entire pint of Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip ice cream. I dream about Graeter’s ice cream. I haven’t found its equal anywhere, and I try a lot of ice creams. Their chocolate chip flavors are unique. Eating them is like mining for chocolate gold. At any moment you might come up with a nugget the size of a bird’s egg – and it’s the good stuff. The chocolate melts in your mouth, even when your tongue is cold because you’ve already worked your way through half the pint. Usually I line up a smorgasbord of chip flavors: Mocha Chip, Peanut Butter Chip, Toffee Chip, Coconut Chip. Mom says they have a new Cherry Chip flavor, but I am set on the deep purple, sweet-tart-chocolate Black Raspberry. Mine! All mine! The kids will have to choose their own flavors. We’ll follow up the ice cream with a Skyline Chili cheese coney chaser – perhaps an unusual order of operations, but it’s important to have priorities.

Priorites. Balance. Ice cream. If you throw in Chardonnay and heirloom tomatoes, that sums up my summer vacation. Our calendar is covered with fun summer memories and the kids now know how to make their own breakfasts. A summer full of win that lends credence to my mothering motto: never underestimate the power of a well-thought-out bribe!

About the Author:Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own luscious husband. If you want to chat about romance, writing or recipes, please visit her at where you can find recipes for many of the yummy dishes in her books. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter!/AmandaUsen

Eat, play, love

Plain old ice cream just isn’t going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She’s been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before. Though there’s no denying the man can still get her all fired up. Could a weeklong affair finally turn into something more lasting…or will it all go up in flames?

Anniversary Blog Fest: Alison Stone


What I Did During My Summer Vacation

This summer marked my twenty-fifth high school reunion. When the invitation arrived, my mind immediately drifted back to the days I strolled the halls of good ol’ Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls high school. I was rather quiet in high school. I spent my nights and weekends babysitting and studying. I was voted “most studious” my senior year. One of the happiest days of my high school career was when I wore the traditional white gown and carried red roses down the aisle on graduation night. I moved onto college without a backward glance.

Flash forward twenty-five years and I decided to go to the reunion. The last time I went to a reunion, only ten years had passed and I don’t think I had enough distance yet from my teen years. At my twenty-five year reunion, I got reacquainted with women who were moms, pharmacists, professors, college department chairs, elementary principals, saleswomen, and physician assistants. I chatted with women who were funny, caring, interesting and a lot like me. Many of us laughed and wondered why we didn’t hang out in high school.

In high school, I was barely aware of who I was, yet I thought I knew who everyone else was. I imagine I wasn’t alone in my thinking considering all the teen-angst movies from Breakfast Club to Mean Girls. We pigeon-holed “the brains” and “the jocks” and “the popular girls” thinking the groups didn’t have anything in common. I know that’s what I thought. I rarely went outside my comfort zone to make friends with girls who had interests different than my own.

As we said our good-byes at the reunion, we promised not to wait five years to meet again. Maybe the passage of time or the maturity of being forty-something finally made us realize the labels we imposed on ourselves or others were completely one dimensional. Maturity allowed us to look beyond the differences to really get to know the person underneath.

I am so happy I attended my high school reunion this summer. Now, looking back, I can reframe my high school experience. My only regret is that I didn’t get to know more of these fantastic women twenty-five years ago.

About the Author:

After working in Corporate America for a number of years, Alison Stone retired to raise her young family. Soon the writing bug bit. After years of conferences, critique groups and writing, Alison achieved her dream of becoming a published author. Too Close to Home is her second novel. Her third romantic suspense will be released by Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense in 2013.

Find Alison online at

Twitter: @Alison_Stone

Anniversary Blog Fest: Augusta Li


My Summer

Hi everybody! Augusta Li (Gus) here to talk a little bit about how I spent my summer. I love everything about summertime: the beach, picnics, cooking out on the grill, reading a good book while lounging on the porch, or sitting around a fire in the evening with a nice cold glass of wine. I love the heat and the sun and can bake in it all day without ever being uncomfortable.

This summer has been a productive one for me as well. Two of my novels and one novella were published. Ash and Echoes, a high fantasy, uber-long start to the Blessed Epoch series came out at Dreamspinner Press in June. I admit I was worried about how Ash and Echoes would be received, due to the level of violence (it takes place during a war in a fantasy-medieval setting) and the dubious morality of a few of the characters. I’m happy to say the response has been very favorable, with many readers already asking me for the sequel. The good news is I’m working on it, and it should be available by March of next year.

Buy link for Ash and Echoes, Book One of the Blessed Epoch:

I’m also very proud of The Ballad of the Burning Year, another monster-length novel released through Silver Publishing this month. It’s another story of large-scale battle, intrigue, and an almost impossible battle for liberation that blends elements of high fantasy with steampunk. I pushed the envelope again, and the book does contain scenes of incest between brothers, so I’ll be eager to see what my readers think of it.

Buy link for The Ballad of the Burning Year:

Since I didn’t take enough risks this summer by writing novels full of bloodshed, murder, incest, and betrayal, I had to explore the implications of dubious consent and published the novella The Brush Whistler’s Song with Storm Moon Press. It revolves around Arjin, an assassin posing as a love slave to get close to his target, and of course he has to be convincing…

Buy Link for The Brush Whistler’s Song:

Aside from working, I had a lot of fun this summer! I was lucky enough to attend Authors After Dark in New Orleans. I haven’t been to the Big Easy for quite a few years, and I really liked getting back to the French Quarter to party on Bourbon Street, eat some of the best food in the world, hang out with my author friends, meet readers, and find some great new books for myself.

I also got a big new tattoo this summer: the Grey Warden motto on the side of my neck and a griffin on the back.

Other than that, I just enjoyed the sun, read, and of course kept working. Eon and I completed the sequel to our steampunk adventure, Boots for the Gentleman. It’s called A Grimoire for the Baron, and will be out with Dreamspinner Press in October, just in time for Yaoi-Con!

Thanks for having me here today, and enjoy what’s left of your summer, everyone!



About the Author:

Augusta Li is the author of several short stories, novellas, novels, and yaoi manga scripts, created either on her own or with her partner in crime, Eon de Beaumont. Gus and Eon are also artists and are currently hard at work on many manga and prose projects. Gus’s books are available at Dreamspinner Press, Silver Publishing, Storm Moon Press, and Yaoi Press. Video games, manga and anime have been huge influences on Gus’s work. Xbox Live calls Gus away from work far more often than it should. Visit Gus at

My blog:

Anniversary Blog Fest: Andrea Downing



I’m a cowgirl. Okay, not really—I live in New York and about the only cows I see on a regular basis are those smiling out at me from cheese, milk and ads on TV telling me about life in California. But every so often, I get out the check shirt, pull up my jeans, slap on my Stetson and yank up my boots to go off out west for a combination of road and ranch.

More than any other country, America lends itself to the road trip. Great expanses of open road, highways stretching for miles through a changing terrain of prairie, mountains, and lakes gliding into desert, buttes and salt flats before coming to meet the ocean. Who can resist such a changing panorama? Scenic is the word here for the highways; this is definitely not the New York State Thruway or the New Jersey Turnpike. In May or early June, there is still little traffic, crowds at the national parks are few and the weather makes good attempts at being pretty perfect.

But America is also special in one other aspect. Yes, there are a few estancias and fincas to be found in our Latin neighbors, and perhaps there might be a few ranches to our Canadian north. However, it’s the United States which offers a wide variety of guest ranches for folks like me to sample a little of what it’s like to be on a real working cattle ranch—in other words, I can get to be a cowgirl for a few days. And this summer I did just that. I forswore the luxuries and amenities of a ranch resort or dude ranch, happily waved goodbye to trail rides, and drove off with my daughter 40 miles down a gravel road, 72 miles from the nearest town, and headed to the Cottonwood Ranch in Wells, Nevada. Oh, and that’s Ne-va-da pronounced like the a in cat, not ah like star. Be careful about that!

I have to admit, we weren’t exactly roughing it. The lodge at Cottonwood provides highly comfortable rooms. Splendid meals are enjoyed with all the hands at a beautiful table in the dining room there. I wasn’t put to work mending tack, fixing fences or currying horses. But we did join the cowpunchers on their rounds to check the cattle and we were there for round-up and branding.

Round-up and branding play a part in my book, Loveland, so I was obviously thrilled to be seeing it happen first hand. Admittedly, I didn’t get up at 5 a.m. to help bring the cattle in to the branding area but we did ride out in time to see the irons being heated and the roping and branding begin. For anyone unfamiliar with this process, let me explain. Calves stay by their mothers, like any baby, so the ranch knows to whom each calf belongs from the markings on the mother. The calf is cut out from the herd for branding and then one cowboy/girl ropes the front legs while another ropes the back. One or more men rush in and tail down the calf—this baby can weigh right around 200 lbs.—as the ropers’ horses move to gently stretch out the animal. Another cowpuncher comes in with the branding iron and applies it in a couple of places, ears are clipped according to the brand, an anti-biotic injection is given to guard against infection and, finally, a little quick knife work is done to make future bulls into steers.

And what happens to that by-product of reducing the bulls of tomorrow into the meat of today? Why, they become Rocky Mt. oysters and are served up at supper. Breaded, fried and served with a little hot sauce, they pop into your mouth and put hair on your chest. Well, metaphorically speaking. And that’s something we don’t eat in New York!

About the Author:

Andrea Downing has spent most of her life in the UK where she developed a penchant for tea-drinking, a tolerance for rainy days, and a deep knowledge of the London Underground system . In 2008 she returned to live in the city of her birth, NYC, but frequently exchanges the canyons of city streets for the wide open spaces of the West. Her love of horses, ranches, rodeo and just about anything else western is reflected in her writing. Loveland, a western historical romance published by The Wild Rose Press, is her first book. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Women Writing the West.


One commenter on this post will receive the eBook — The Quest For Reason: Lily. Open to all readers. Remember, comments will also enter you into the contest for the $50 Amazon GC!! Congratulations, Debby!

Anniversary Blog Fest: Alicia Dean

I’ve been to some amazing places over the years, and there are tons of places I’d still like to visit (Australia, Green Bay, Paris, Italy, Maine, Switzerland, Vermont, Hawaii…the list goes on and on – and it’s quite an eclectic grouping ), but my best vacations have been with family.

My sister and brother-in-law took me to Memphis to visit Graceland and Beale street on my fortieth birthday (years and years ago ). We had an incredible time, and for the next five years or so, the three of us went on annual trips to various vacation spots. One of those places was New Orleans, the year before Katrina. That was a special trip, partly because we otherwise would never have seen Bourbon Street and the French Quarter and some of the other sights as they looked before that awful day.

My very favorite vacations are the ones I took with my children. We didn’t usually go anywhere particularly exciting, but just relaxing with them and seeing the joy on their faces was more fun and satisfying than anything else. I loved taking my son to major league baseball games, especially in Cincinnati. He saw his idol, Ken Griffey, Jr., play and he met and got an autograph from Adam Dunn. That kind of thing doesn’t happen every day. I’ll always treasure the memories my children and I have made over the years. Sometimes we couldn’t afford to go very far and I’d rent a hotel room in a nearby town, or even in town, where we’d swim and watch movies and eat out and do all sorts of fun things. We were doing ‘Staycations’ long before they became trendy.

My kids are all grown now, and we have busy lives and don’t get to do the things we did when they were small, but I’m so thrilled that, when we can find the time, they still want to go on trips with me. I guess that means we’re still making memories together, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

About the Author:

Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, and is the mother of three grown children. Alicia loves creating spine-chilling stories that keep readers on the edge of their seats. She’s a huge Elvis Presley fan, and loves MLB and the NFL. If you look closely, you’ll see a reference to one or all three in pretty much everything she writes. If she could, she would divide all her time between writing, watching her favorite television shows-such as Dexter, Vampire Diaries, Justified, and True Blood-and reading her favorite authors…Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Lisa Gardner to name a few.

Find Alicia online at

Website and Blog:
Twitter: @Alicia_Dean_

Crimson Romance:


Anniversary Blogfest: Ann Montclair

Summer Memories

Ann Montclair

Summer Vacation. How many essays boasting that title did you write each fall semester? I’d listen enviously as kids bragged about trips to Disney, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, even Switzerland. As if being blond haired, blue eyed, and Swedish weren’t enough, one girl went to Switzerland every summer!

Where did I go? Nowhere. My dad worked every day except Mondays, and my mom had every kind of phobia imaginable, the biggest one being the fear of leaving your house for summer vacation. So my parents compensated me with a built in swimming pool. I recall the hot summer day they bulldozed the brick wall, tore out the lemon and plum trees, and started digging the hole. Within a few months, we had a huge pool.

I spent most summers flat on my back on the hot concrete competing for “woman with the most wrinkles when grown.” I’m sure I won. I was an only child, but my mom did peer through the screen door every once in a while and make sure I was alive. I had friends over occasionally, too, but it seemed like my popularity soared only when the temperature did, and I avoided fair-weather friends. Still do.
I can’t complain about anything, really. But summer vacation was long, even tedious, and I anticipated returning to school long before we cooked hot dogs to celebrate Labor Day.

As an adult, my family vacations often. We’ve taken trips to many of the national parks, visited the world’s best beaches, stayed in mountain chalets and five star hotels, camped under soaring Redwoods and under star spangled skies—vacation is always something new, something adventurous.

My parents sold their house a few years ago, and I miss the pool most of all. Come to find out, the long, hot days spent alone beside the shimmer of chlorinated water made me the writer I am. I’d spend those long hours imagining my future life, the lives of others, and the stories I’d write someday.

It isn’t a coincidence that One Wet Summer is set poolside at a resort in sultry Savannah, Georgia. The setting is a thank you and a love letter to my parents—who cared enough to give me all they could and certainly much better than they ever had.

About the Author: Ann Montclair writes contemporary and historical fiction. She was born in Los Angeles, California, where her parents and grown daughter now reside. Ann currently lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York with her husband, son, and a pile of dogs and cats. She enjoys listening to live music, hiking, cycling, cooking, and gardening. Her biggest wish is that each of her readers will be inspired to believe in and find their own happily-ever-after. Ann has three published contemporary romance novels: The Billionaire’s Bauble, One Wet Summer, and Good Things Come in Tall Packages. Coming winter 2012 is a Tudor historical romance titled Lady in Deed.