Monday, May 19, 2014

Must-Read Romance: 'Finding Serenity'; Emma Award Winners

by Michelle Monkou)

(Photo: Eden Butler)

Join me every week as I share a few shout-outs on romance author goings-on, related events and recommended reads.

Finding Serenity (Serenity series) by Eden Butler

What it's about (courtesy of author):

Mollie Malone's mom skipped out on her. Her biker dad, always loose and easy with the law, still was able to make her feel loved, and to keep her safe. But thirteen years ago, when his luck finally ran out and he landed in prison, Mollie found herself a new family - a group of friends in the sleepy little college town of Cavanagh, Tennessee, where now they all attend the local university. These girls know about the rotten roots of her family tree but accept her anyway, and the bond between them is so strong and supportive that Mollie is finally able to see past graduation to a future that is bright and secure.

But sometimes the past doesn't stay buried.

Suddenly, inexplicably, there's a shadow behind every step Mollie takes. Someone is lurking in that shadow, threatening not only Mollie, but also the new family she has claimed for herself.

And it isn't just the past that has Mollie's life in upheaval. Hunky former Marine Vaughn Winchester - who Mollie really would like to get to know much better - thinks Mollie is just a kid; he's made it clear she wouldn't ever be able to understand the demons haunting him. But if that's what he believes, then why does he keep sticking his nose in her business? And if he thinks she's such a kid, why does he keep trying to kiss her?

Vaughn's mind games are frustrating, especially since Mollie knows enough about secrets to be convinced that there's something he isn't telling her, something he's so far been able to keep hidden. But when that secret is revealed, Mollie is forced into a situation that tests her loyalty and threatens even her closest friendships - just when the shadow of her past returns, and she's going to need them the most.

Finding Serenity is book two in the Seeking Serenity series.

Why you should read it: Impressive sequel. Eden Butler followed through with my prediction of creating Serenity-aholics. The series blazes on with Finding Serenity. What a haunting, emotion-laden beginning to set the tone.

Mollie, the heroine, was no easy character to be lightly challenged, wooed, and neatly wrapped up with a bow. Butler didn't disappoint with a worthy "opponent" in Vaughn, the Marine. Not only were their personal journeys arduous and compelling, but the attraction between the two had the snap and crackle throughout to electrify the sexual tension.

The wonderful trifecta has occurred: Butler wrote a solid great story. The Serenity series continues with high energy. This cast of characters will have you rooting for each couple's transformation in their new adult world.


Through the next few months until RWA's award ceremony in July, I will introduce you to several Golden Heart finalists from Romance Writers of America's contest for unpublished writers.

Introducing … Abbie Roads

Abbie Roads is a 2014 Golden Heart finalist with her romantic suspense novel Dangerous Dreams. Her writing is darkly emotional, but she always gives her damaged characters a happy ending. During the day, she's a mental health counselor known for her blunt honest style of therapy and her shoes. She believes that many of life's problems can be solved with a kick-butt pair of heels and a chocolate martini — or three. If that doesn't work — seek professional help. Find out more at

Michelle: You write "dangerously dark romance." Can you elaborate? What draws you to wounded heroes/heroines?

Abbie: When I'm not writing, I'm a mental health counselor. Hour after hour of my workday, I hear stories of violence, trauma, and soul-shredding devastation. My clients are real people with real problems and real obstacles to overcome. They break my heart. They inspire me with their strength and perseverance. Being a counselor definitely bleeds over into my writing. My heroes and heroines are damaged and the emotions they experience are dark. To me, a wounded character feels more true to life. I use my characters to show — my clients and anyone struggling — that good things can come from bad experiences and we all deserve our own version of happily-ever-after.

Michelle: What's a typical writing day for you?

Abbie: I always take my laptop to work and write over my lunch hour or during a cancellation. After I come home, I play with my four-legged children and two-legged husband, watch a few hours of TV, then write/edit four hours every night before bed. If I'm not counseling, I'll write away the entire day, rocking the pajama look and drinking cup after cup of decaf coffee.

Michelle: What conference or writing/author events played a role in your writing career?

Abbie: The RT Booklovers Convention will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2010, the convention was held in Columbus, Ohio — within driving distance of my house. I attended the aspiring authors class offered by the late Judi McCoy. It was in that class that I realized how little I knew about writing, but it was also where I met my critique partners — Celeste Easton and Kimberly Meyer. We've grown together as writers, critique partners, and have become best friends. We haven't missed an RT Convention since.

Michelle: You're packing for the beach or the snow-capped mountains, what three books or must-read authors would you take with you?

Abbie: What? I can choose only three? Yikes! There's so many books and authors to love. If I had to narrow things down, I'd say any book in J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, any book by Karen Marie Moning. And anything written by Kristen Ashley. Hmm… I'm noticing a theme — alpha males.

Introducing … Carrie Padgett

Carrie Padgett, nominated for Against the Peace in the Inspirational category, lives in the flattest part of California, nowhere near a beach or Hollywood, although she can see the Sierra Nevada from her backyard without binoculars. She's a mom, grammie, and wife who writes sweet romances with suspense. Or sweet mysteries with romance. Find out more about her at

Michelle: Do you remember what books drew you to love the romance-mystery genre?

Carrie: Wow, what a great question. I grew up reading and loving all mystery. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, then Agatha Christie and Phyllis A. Whitney. No one did romance and mystery better than Ms. Whitney. Now, I enjoy Dee Henderson, Earlene Fowler, Irene Hannon, Julia Spencer-Fleming ... hey, that reminds me, Julia has a new book out. Excuse me a sec ... OK, I'm back, book safely ordered. Now where was I? I also love Margaret Maron, J.D. Robb, Elizabeth Peters ... the list could go on and on. I better stop there.

Michelle: What prompted that decision to sit down and write a book?

Carrie: I started writing articles and devotionals for Christian publications about 15 years ago. One day a friend mentioned her cousin who plays professional baseball. He'd lost one marriage to the demands of his career and was determined that when he remarried, his new wife would understand the challenges. That gave me the idea for a romance about an intensely fearful woman who craves a private and quiet life. She falls for a ball player with a very public life. Throw in a stalker and that's my novel, Curve Ball, that I'm indie-publishing this summer. Since stories about teachers and pro athletes are so familiar, my heroine is a painter, not a teacher. ;-)

Michelle: We continue to learn lessons throughout life. What lessons have you learned and are willing to share with aspiring writers?

Carrie: The lesson I'm continuing to learn is that publishing is not for the faint of heart nor thin of skin. Expect rejection. Criticism is not always constructive. But I've also learned that no one is kinder than a writer. We know what it's like to put yourself out there and risk the rejection. We cheer for each other like no other group I've ever been a part of. Persistence is key. An agent told me once that the writers who publish are the ones who never give up. I plan to prove the truth of that.

Michelle: Are there three or four book purchases in 2014 that you'd like to give a shout-out to?

Carrie: Oh my. Only three or four? I'll try ... Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman. I call Cushman the inspirational genre's Jodi Picoult. She takes two sides of an issue and turns it inside out for the reader to see it from every angle. Chasing Hope is the story of a young woman who is forced to give up her Olympic dream only to find herself coaching a talented athlete who's about to throw it away. Take a Chance on Me by Susan May Warren is a gripping romance about a young woman and the bad-boy hockey player who topples her safe life. (Hmmm ... safe life plus pro athlete? No wonder I liked it!) The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty is simply amazing. Fabulous writing plus a killer plot and great characters equaled a book I couldn't put down. And ... Stitches by Anne Lamott. Because did I mention it's by Anne Lamott, possibly the most thought-provoking and honest writer working today?

Michelle: Wishing you continued successes and triumphs in your careers, Abbie and Carrie.


This year, I didn't attend Romance Slam Jam in New Orleans. With a wonderful turnout of readers and authors and the hospitality of author hosts Farrah Rochon and Shelia Goss (and so many others behind the scenes), the event was another accomplishment to its successful history. I extend my hearty congratulations to the winners. The Emma Award was named after Emma Rodgers, the co-founder of the Romance Slam Jam Conference.

Cover of the Year: Sweeter Temptation (Harlequin Kimani Romance) by Phyllis Bourne

Suspense of the Year: The Pendleton Rule (SIRI Enterprises) by Iris Bolling

Hero of the Year: Joshua Lassiter from The Book of Joshua: Trust (SIRI Enterprises) by Iris Bolling

Heroine of the Year: Isis Michaels from The Only Option (King-Bey Productions) by Deatri King-Bey

Sequel of the Year: Pleasured by a Donavan (Artistry Publishing) by A.C. Arthur

Steamy Romance of the Year and Book of the Year: Passion's Prey (St. Martin's Press) by A.C. Arthur

Debut Author of the Year: Sherelle Green

Author of the Year: A.C. Arthur

Michelle Monkou celebrates her Evernight urban fantasy digital release, Into the Pride . Her website is You can also connect with her on Facebook.

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