Kirkus Reviews is thrilled to welcome freshfiction.com to our lineup of bloggers - below, freshfiction.com blogger Sara Reyes reveals some of her favorite recent and forthcoming romance titles:

 

January always seems to be a good time to check the calendar for new books to look forward to in the year. For many years I’ve collected books both good and bad and saved them, buying more shelving, bigger houses and going forward as if there was no limit. But having reached a certain age and space limitations, I’ve realized it’s not possible to constantly keep growing without a little judicious pruning. And transferring everything to data or the cloud isn’t comforting. After all, we still have records and data on diskettes that can never be accessed again because no working equipment remains to run them. So I feel I’m stuck with at least 20,000 books I can’t bear to get rid of.

Just as there are obsolete computers, there are a few obsolete authors–ones whose work I’ve either outgrown or their new work is too stale for my taste. I want something that mixes the heart-pounding suspense with vulnerable characters to root for. The story has to mix big stakes with real or at least possible situations, not some manufactured conflict or tension. It can come from headlines but it must have substance. A tall order, but there are a few up-and-coming authors who manage to fill the order in their recent and upcoming books.

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Let’s start with just two of the top interests, according to the latest batch of reality programming–the chopper crowd and Special Forces. Both types provide plenty of material to create characters worth reading if you’re looking for nerve-wracking suspense and heart-thumping romance. Definitely bad boys on a decked-out cycle can rev up your adrenaline, bringing back memories of secret trips on the back of a restored Indian motorcycle, the apple of my father’s eye but the fear of my mother’s heart. I can still remember the power and noise of the Indian Chief as my father’s passenger on forbidden rides through the Pennsylvania countryside. Perhaps a little of that guilty magic spiked my curiosity to pick up Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights, Inc. series.

The Black Knights roared onto the shelves in 2012, taking their place quickly in the buzz of readers who cannot get enough high-octane suspense mixed with sizzling sensuality. Breathing life into Special Forces warriors, Walker melded exploits ripped from daily news headlines and married them seamlessly to the chopper crowd. Her twist? The designer extraordinaire of chopper make-overs was a woman. Not something seen in the crowded landscape of reality programming, but the lollipop sucking Becky found her place quickly in the pages of the stories unfolding in three consecutive months.

Walker also wasn’t content with just one division of the Special Forces; her Black Knights, Inc, takes in strays from every possible unit, including the Israeli special units. This mixture is becoming more prevalent in other romantic suspense but still not well-known in the “real world.” But in fiction, the combined forces seem to be working.  Walker may call to mind the fast pace of Suzanne Brockmann’s series but ups the level of sensuality exponentially. So to get up to speed before the release in April of the fourth in the Black Knights series (Thrill Ride), be sure to check out the first three in the series.

Hell on Wheels introduces the characters and world of the Black Knights, Inc. series so quickly, with an intriguing pace the reader is panting to keep up. Although a debut novel, Walker is not an amateur author. Her characters leap from the page and immediately find homes with the reader. The two main characters have known each other for years, connected through the now dead brother-best friend. Mixing in the emotions of forbidden love (although where it says you can’t fall in love with your best friend’s sibling is beyond me), some of the better real-life pairings I know were the result of a sibling plus a friend. But mixed with the gritty glamour of a chopper shop and a secret Special Forces unit operating in the heart of Chicago made for a great introduction. Add in murder and new danger with melting emotions and Hell on Wheels quickly found a spot on keeper shelves as well as igniting a buzz.

The second book in the Black Knight series, In Rides Trouble, kept the pace from its opening scenes off the coast of Somalia. A hijacking by pirates quickly turns into a fast-paced novel of outwitting a deranged international terrorist. Walker hones her skill mixing high tension with humor in this outing, although the sexual conflict drags on a bit longer than desired; the fast-paced plot twists and different character points-of-view keep the reader’s attention.

Followed the next month with Rev It Up, Walker introduced more characters but kept the action in the U.S. Although the action overseas was interesting, danger in the homeland is a more familiar backdrop for the secret baby-lost love plotline. The sharply drawn characters managed to make an old romance plot contrivance fresh and sparkling. The next installment, Thrill Ride, is eagerly awaited by the growing legion of Black Knight, Inc. fans. Again, Walker takes the story overseas to jungles instead of deserts and twists international terrorism with the deadly enemy buried deep in the U.S. government. Who can be trusted? The Black Knight team? Our government? And will love manage to be part of the solution?

Yes, it might be time to prune a library but it’s also time to create a section for new authors who are blazing with fresh life in tried and true plots. Julie Ann Walker is one of those authors to be put on a keeper shelf along with Nora Roberts, Suzanne Brockmann and Allison Brennan.

Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual readers conference, monthly literary events, and book clubs. It's an adventure worth taking. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.