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REVIEW:  At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey

REVIEW: At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey

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Dear Ms. Aubrey:

I enjoyed the short story “the Love Letter,” so decided to try this debut novel, despite not being a big fan of contemporary trilogies about innocent virgins and billionaire tycoons. As it turned out, I liked it… except for the innocent virgin/billionaire tycoon parts. There might be a lesson in that.

Mia, a struggling pre-med student and online role playing games blogger, has decided to take advantage of the bizarre value society places on female virginity by auctioning hers off. With the reluctant help of her best friend Heath, a careful auction with many safeguards and stipulations is held; the winner is unbearably handsome software prodigy Adam Drake.

This is a challenging set-up for a romance, because it’s a pretty unsavory situation on both ends. Adam’s side is more readily sympathetic: it’s obvious that getting into Mia’s pants is not his primary motive, although that’s not revealed to Mia for some time. It’s harder to accept Mia’s reasoning, and justifiably so — her tendency to lie to herself makes her something of an unreliable narrator.

In many ways this was a typical New Adult story. First person by female narrator, check. Heroine with a traumatic history of sexual abuse, check. Rescue from assault by the hero, check. Gay best friend — no wait, that’s a different subgenre; New Adult male friends are supposed to be straight so you can have a love triangle. I actually really liked Heath: he’s not written as a “fabulous” or sassy stereotype, but because he’s far more forthright and clear thinking than Mia, he gets many of the book’s best lines. (When Mia tells him she’s been reading Cosmo, he retorts,  “Stop right there. If you get your sex education from Cosmo then you are in for a world of hurt—or he is.”) And another way in which the book defies stereotype: although Drake does get into a little bit of icky virginity worship, it’s overall blessedly free of obvious slut-shaming.

Since Mia deeply distrusts men — I guess being gay scores Heath a pass — the deal is supposed to be just one night and no future contact, but the story goes in some unexpected directions and creates powerful emotions as Mia and Drake try to navigate what becomes an untenable situation. I personally would have preferred it if the story hadn’t tried to do everything: the basic plot is perfectly fine without all the fantasy accoutrements of Drake buying Mia expensive clothes and makeovers, taking her on trips, and “loaning” her expensive gadgets. (Readers who are more heavily into Cinderella stories certainly might disagree with me.) Mia’s responses to this treatment are inconsistent, and I didn’t always understand her motivations. The fact that she didn’t always understand them herself wasn’t enough to make her character completely work for me.

I also didn’t get much of an authentic geek vibe from her or Adam, except that the fact that Adam used his wealth to spend time on the International Space Station rang very true. The love scenes had a certain distance to them, as did Mia’s constant harping on Adam’s perfect hotness; in both cases, she seemed to be describing more than truly reacting. The best part of the book may be the plot: its bare bones summary sounds both generic and skeevy, but (much like On the Island by Tracy Garvis-Graves) what actually happens is meaningful, and reveals a lot about both characters.

At Any Price doesn’t have the feel of a professionally edited book. There aren’t any execrable errors, but there are some continuity issues and grammar flubs that could have been cleaned up. I was still absorbed by the storytelling, and though it happily does not end on a cliffhanger, there are enough genuine complications in Mia and Drake’s relationship to make me interested in the next book. Though I was disappointed that the series turned out to be a trilogy… especially since I was hoping for a book for Heath. C

Sincerely,

Willaful

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RWA RITA Best First Book Finalists: Interviews & Giveaway

RWA RITA Best First Book Finalists: Interviews & Giveaway

Come July 20, the Romance Writers of America will honor novels in eleven categories with the RITA award. Once  again, Dear Author welcomes the Best First Book finalists. This year, I’ve asked the authors to offer readalikes, so you might just find a good match with a new author. At the RWA conference in Atlanta, I’ll be collecting books (autographed, if possible) to give away, so let me know in the comments which one you’d like to win.

ANNA LEE HUBER,  THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE (also nominated in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category):

The Anatomist’s Wife, by Anna Lee Huber
FIRST LINE: The scream froze me in my tracks, but the shout that followed propelled me out of my indecision and around the hedge line of the maze.

Genre: Historical Mystery with Strong Romantic Elements

First sentence: The scream froze me in my tracks, but the shout that followed propelled me out of my indecision and around the hedge line of the maze.

Readalike: Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey Series. I’ve also been getting comparisons to Gothic suspense authors like Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt & Mary Stewart.

How the hero/heroine meet… Kiera, Lady Darby has been hiding away at her sister’s Highland castle, and Sebastian Gage is a guest at her sister’s house party. They first confront each other in the book at the scene of the crime, and neither is very fond of one another.

They argue about… Her guilt or innocence in the murder of Lady Godwin.

They make up… In Kiera’s art studio in a turret of the castle.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits?Not Alone” by Patty Griffin

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? No. I completed four other manuscripts before this one.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? Stressing over finding a formal gown for the awards ceremony. No, but seriously, there is no down side.

And the unexpected benefit? The camaraderie I’ve felt with my fellow nominees. Not that I expected there to be animosity, but I had not anticipated the extreme good cheer and fellowship. It’s been lovely to make some new friends.

Find Anna: www.annaleehuber.com

Coming up: Mortal Arts, Lady Darby Book 2, releases September 3rd.

TRACY BROGAN, CRAZY LITTLE THING

Genre: Single title contemporary/romantic comedy

Crazy Little Thing, by Tracy Brogan
FIRST LINE: My husband had a talent for putting the dick in unpredictable, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to catch him at an office party with his hand up the skirt of a giggly, jiggly redhead.

First line: My husband had a talent for putting the dick in unpredictable, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to catch him at an office party with his hand up the skirt of a giggly, jiggly redhead.

Readalike: Kristan Higgins, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or Jennifer Crusie– although I am humbled by their immense talent!

How the hero/heroine meet… She’s been surreptitiously observing his morning jogs from her deck, but when her clumsy aunt trips over a toy truck and needs stitches, they discover he’s a doctor and lives nearby.

They argue about… Coitus interruptus and flax seed.

They make up..On his kitchen counter.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits? One Rebublic “Won’t Stop.”

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? Yes to both! I’d started a lot of manuscripts but this was the first one I finished and submitted. I feel like that is unusual and I know I am very, very lucky.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? The sense that every other book I write should get the same accolades. But I know, realistically, that’s unlikely to happen.

And the unexpected benefit? The validation that judges who fully understand and appreciate what it takes to write an engaging book have found merit in this story. This book was recently listed at #10 on the Wall Street Journal Best Sellers list. That was fun, too!

Find Tracy: tracybrogan.com

Latest release: Hold on my Heart: When event planner Libby Hamilton loses her job, her boyfriend and her apartment and must move back in with her parents, she finds herself falling for a sexy, enigmatic builder helping her father turn a one-room schoolhouse into a vintage ice cream parlor.

KRISTEN CALLIHAN, FIRELIGHT (Kristen’s book Moonglow is also a finalist in the Paranormal Romance category.):

Firelight, by Kristen Callihan
FIRST LINE: The knowledge that Archer would soon end the life of another cut at his soul with every step he took.

Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance

First sentence: The knowledge that Archer would soon end the life of another cut at his soul with every step he took.

Readalike: Zoe Archer, Bec McMaster, Delilah S. Dawson, to name a few of my favorites.

The hero/heroine meet… Well, it was a bit awkward as Archer was coming to kill Miranda’s no-good father and ran into her instead. Needless to say, she distracted him from his mission.

They argue about… Just precisely what are you hiding behind the mask, love? Perhaps I’ll tell you if you tell my why it is that you leave a trail of fiery carnage in your wake.

They make up...  in a darkened alleyway near British Museum. The resolution was quite… satisfying.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits? This will sound strange, but it would be “Every Second Counts” by New Order. It’s an obscure, old song that is wry, cutting, yet strangely adorable.  With lyrics such as, “every second counts when I am with you. I think you are a pig, you should be in a stew.” Lol. But the song was stuck in my head when I wrote the epilogue for Firelight, and so I always think of it as Archer and Miranda’s final waltz.

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? It was the second. My first book was on submission (never sold) so I fought off submission nerves by writing Firelight.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? Going head-to-head with books/authors that I love and admire. How do you root for yourself against such awesomeness?

And the unexpected benefit? Meeting more authors I love/admire. :)

Find Kristen: www.kristencallihan.com

New releases: Winterblaze, on sale now. Shadowdance, out December 17, 2013.

 

TRISH McCALLAN, FORGED IN FIRE (also a finalist in Romantic Suspense)

Genre: Romantic Thriller

Forged in Fire, by Trish McCallan
FIRST LINE: Lieutenant Commander Zane Winters shifted uneasily against the grungy white wall across from gate C-18’s ticket counter.

First sentence: Lieutenant Commander Zane Winters shifted uneasily against the grungy white wall across from gate C-18’s ticket counter.

Readalike: Fiona Brand, Linda Howard, people looking for alpha heroes and heroines who have plenty of internal strength and common sense.

The hero/heroine meet…At SeaTac airport, trying to stop a plane hijacking.

They argue about… Soul mates—he believes she’s his, she doesn’t believe in them at all.

They make up… in the emergency room of Sacred Hearts Hospital.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits? Nickelback’s “Never Gonna Be Alone.”

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? No, I’d written three romance suspense novels before.

What’s the unexpected down side to getting nominated? I haven’t found any downside yet.

And the unexpected benefit? I haven’t found any benefit yet, either.

Find Trish:  www.trishmccallan.com

Coming up: Forged in Ash, the second book in my Red-Hot SEALs series will be released late Jan of 2014.

SHARON LYNN FISHER, GHOST PLANET

Ghost Planet, by Sharon Lynn Fisher
FIRST LINE: The tarmac was deserted.

Genre: Science Fiction / Futuristic Romance

First sentence: The tarmac was deserted.

“Readalike”: The story has similar themes to THE HOST, by Stephenie Meyer. Linnea Sinclair fans may enjoy it as well!

How the hero/heroine meet: Elizabeth travels to Ardagh 1 (the “ghost planet”) to complete her psychology PhD. She’s assigned to work as an intern for sexy Irishman Murphy, the planet’s lead psychologist. He meets her at the transport terminal, and over lunch they discover they actually met briefly in Ireland about 10 years earlier.

They argue about: Their arguments are all pretty spoiler-y! I’ll give the first one, but reader be warned . . .

When they meet, neither of them realizes that Elizabeth has died en route to the planet. She has been reincarnated as a ghost/alien, and is symbiotically bound to Murphy. Elizabeth doesn’t believe she’s a ghost, and as Murphy attempts to turn his back on her (as required by a protocol HE created), she continues to try to persuade him she’s human.

They make up in…Murphy’s apartment.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits?  There are a couple of songs from the book’s playlist that I think would be good: “Aspera,” by Erin McKeown, which has some latin in it that translates to: “Through hardships to the stars.” “Home,” by Zero 7, which is about trying to find a safe place to be together

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? Well, it is certainly the first I would want anyone else to read. But I did complete another novel in my early 20s – a fantasy romance based on Native American mysticism.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? Only that I can’t go to RWA nationals this year, waaaah! If there are any other downsides, nobody told me.

And the unexpected benefit? I guess I didn’t really realize how big of news it was, you know? The finalist list goes up everywhere, including Publishers Weekly and USA Today (HEA blog). That was a very nice surprise.

Find Sharon: www.sharonlynnfisher.com

Coming soon: The Ophelia Prophecy, from Tor, February 2014, post-apocalyptic biopunk romance about a race of transgenic humans who are like a futuristic fae.

 

SIMONE ST JAMES, The Haunting of Maddy Clare (also nominated in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category)

Genre: Gothic historical ghost story mystery romance….

The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James
First Line: The day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.

First sentence: The day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.

Readalike: Deanna Raybourn, Susanna Kearsley, Jacqueline Winspear, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart

The hero/heroine meet when… He’s taken a leave of absence from his job as a ghost hunter. She has been hired from a temporary agency to replace him. When he comes back early from his leave, they are both doing the same job (hunting ghosts, of course.)

They argue about… The fact that she’s not trained or cut out for ghost hunting and should probably go home and out of danger. Which she refuses to do, surprising herself.

They make up… at the inn at the small English town where their ghost hunt takes place.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits? LOL! I don’t know. Something by Hans Zimmer? My books are dark and rather dramatic.

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? No. I wrote two romance novels that were (rightly) rejected everywhere and half of a third before I admitted defeat and gave in to the crazy ghost story idea that had been bothering me for months. I never thought anyone would want to publish this book.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? I’m trying to think of one. Um, having to go to the RWA conference and enjoy myself? Having to go dress shopping? I still haven’t found the right shoes. That’s as “down” as it gets!

And the unexpected benefit? I got pretty pins in the mail from RWA, and my publisher sent me flowers. Surprise presents in the mail!

Find Simone: www.simonestjames.com

The latest: An Inquiry Into Love and Death released in March… and Silence for the Dead releases April 2014.

HUNTLEY FITZPATRICK, My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door, by Huntley Fitzpatrick
FIRST LINE: The Garretts were forbidden from the start.

Genre: Young Adult

First sentence: The Garretts were forbidden from the start.

Readalike: Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, John Green

The hero/heroine meet when…He climbs up the trellis to her roof, where she’s watching the stars (and his family).

They argue about…If she’s ashamed of him

They make up…  On some rocks by the Connecticut river, a secret hideaway they both (separately) discovered as children

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits? “I Won’t Give Up,” Jason Mraz.

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? It was the third I completed.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? Figuring out what to wear ; )

And the unexpected benefit? That I can absolutely justify going to the convention and meeting all these amazing people, including authors I edited for years and never met in person.

Find Huntley: www.huntleyfitzpatrick.com

Coming up: What I Thought Was True, Penguin-DFYR, summer, 2014.

KATIE MCGARRY, Pushing the Limits (also nominated in the Young Adult category)

 Genre: Young Adult

Pushing the Limits, by Katie McGarry
FIRST LINE: My father is a control freak, I hate my stepmother, my brother is dead, and my mother has…well…issues. How do you think I’m doing?

First sentence: My father is a control freak, I hate my stepmother, my brother is dead, and my mother has…well…issues. How do you think I’m doing?

Readalike: I think fans of Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry series will enjoy Pushing the Limits!

The hero/heroine meet…as they sit beside each other outside the office of their court ordered therapist and he teases her about her name.

They argue about…Which of their files they should read first once they break into their therapist’s office.

They make up…  in a hospital room.

If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits? “Free” by the Zac Brown Band.

This was your first book published. Was it the first book you wrote? No. I have several manuscripts that will never see the light of day.

The unexpected down side to getting nominated? I haven’t come across one yet. :)

And the unexpected benefit? I think that more people have read Pushing the Limits because of the nomination!

Find Katie: www.katielmcgarry.com

The latest: Dare You To (Beth’s story) released in May. Crash Into You (Isaiah’s story) releases November 26th: