First Page Critique: Payback is Best When It’s Immediate


Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 800 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically to be critiqued on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions for this purpose. We’re not going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it, so no need to worry about that!

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open soon, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelance Editor Mackenzie Walton.

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The First Page

Author A described this manuscript as “an MMMM, paranormal/fantasy retelling” of a classic fairy tale, featuring shifters.

Thoroughly wet, beyond thoroughly pissed off, I loped down the long, narrow hallway leading from Soundstage 12 to a private rear entrance to Harry’s Behind the Scenes Bar, Baths & Grill. Given the few doors opening into the hall, and despite several odd jogs, there was a directness which bespoke planning and cooperation, not architectural serendipity. I long ago decided the hallway was owned by my fucking employers, given there was no trace of Harry’s magick until you reached the supersized floor mat in front of the BB&G door.

And since the fucking owners of Fairy Tale Videos, L.P., and the fucking director, and fucking crew, should never the fuck have let what fucking happened happen on the set, I left abundant proof of my passage. Very large, very wet paw prints, and three areas of spattered floor, walls and ceiling where I’d shaken my dripping fur. Just past the first turn, where the light was out—amazing what you can do in half-form with a quick stretch up, a clink of claws around a bulb and a twist—for the longest shake, then halfway, and the final and least-splattering, just before the floor mat marking the official start of the BB&G.

I refrained from marking the hall with a leg-hike along the way. Not as territory-marking, since I had no pack rights or land rights, but as a blatant notice to all shifters: Here Passeth a Pissed-Off Wolf.

I refrained because of Harry.

With the way humans keep inventing smaller and smaller cameras, there could’ve been dozens covering the hallway, and I wouldn’t have seen them, or even smelled them if a good scent suppressant was used. The gods know Harry can afford the best of both. But since Harry always knows what goes on inside and outside of the BB&G, I suspect he has the magickal equivalent of all those CCTV cameras you see in the Brit TV shows set in London.

Harry’s a dragon whose temperament could never be mistaken for Santa’s, and he always knows who’s naughty and nice before allowing them in his establishment. Shifters inherently fall at the far end of the naughty part of the spectrum, some of us spilling well into the downright nasty part beyond that, but since we make up a significant percent of his customer base, he can’t just ban us all without losing a lot of money. Dragons dislike losing money even more than Scrooge before the Christmas ghosts.

I don’t really believe the rumors Harry has enough magick to keep a draconic eye and ear on his customers as far away as our damned homes, but still, it’s wise to be prudent off-premises. Those of us who are wolf-smart make sure we say no words or do any deeds which could be interpreted as disparaging or being disrespectful about dragons, hoards, hoarding, Harry or the BB&G. Anywhere. Even if we think we’re being funny.

Wiping each of my paws on the mat as much as possible was both courteous and prudent, since not making the attempt might be the minor naughty which got me banned from the bar long enough to make me grovel for a reduction in sentence. The closest alternative bar is more than two miles away and caters to a mixed shifter-human crowd, but going there requires human form, cleanliness, clothes and no sex on the premises.

Harry doesn’t care about your choice for the first unless when shifted your size or mass could affect the structural integrity of the building which is, rather than merely contains, the BB&G. Dragons have to worry about things like that, since the smallest is the size of an average house. The oldest are far larger, and though I’ve never seen Harry shifted, I wouldn’t be damn-all surprised if he took up a full city block. Or what remained of a city block if he shifted in the middle of one.

He has extensive bathing, steam and sauna facilities to ensure as much of the second as possible—at least on arrival. After that…what happens, happens.

He doesn’t care at all about the third.

And if you have sex in any of the many, many areas of the building where sex is permitted—about ninety-seven point three percent, according to my personal calculations in trying them out—his only mandate is you make a reasonable effort to clean up any mess before you leave. The various darkrooms are the only exception. Of course, what Harry means by “reasonable effort” is notifying the staff and paying the clean-up fee. It’s a modest flat fee, and undoubtedly profitable given the sheer volume of mess humans, shifters, and other magickal beings make when doing any of the five things permitted on the premises: drinking, dining, bathing, socializing, and sex.

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The Critique

Well, good job, author, because you’ve definitely caught my attention. Something big has obviously just happened to our wolfish narrator—he’s soaking wet and pissed off, and it all involves a soundstage and film crew—and I definitely want to know what. Making a reader immediately invested in seeing a payoff is a great hook, and it’s totally working for me here.

I also like the little world-building details we get as the narrator travels from the site of the Incident to the bar. We know what kind of wolf shifter he is from his dog-like habit off shaking off the water and that he’s even considering scent-marking—this wolf man leans more wolf than man, at least in his fur skin—and that this world has different kinds of shifters, as well as other magical creatures. There’s a magical industry of sorts in this bar/bathhouse/grill and maybe in the video enterprise as well, which implies a quirkier kind of paranormal world.

These details are dropped with a breezy sort of casualness I like, and makes me like the narrator as well. His voice seems fun and a touch salty, even when he’s angry, so I want to get to know him more. I can definitely see myself enjoying a whole novel with this narrator at the helm.

Things hit of a speed bump of sorts when the narrator gets distracted by talking about Harry and his BB&G. We’re getting a lot of info here, which slows down the faster clip established in the first few paragraphs. On a practical level, I’m also wondering why the narrator is suddenly so interested in telling us all about Harry when moments ago he was so angry about his situation that he was considering peeing on the wall just to let everyone know.

And frankly, I’m much more interested in the wolf and whatever’s befallen him than hearing about a character we haven’t met yet. More than half of the opening is devoted to describing Harry and his business, but he’s not our hero, so I’m impatient to get back to the action at hand. This information may well be important, but it could also be doled out in smaller portions as the scene continues, hopefully when the narrator has actually encountered Harry and is in the bar itself.

Looking at the nuts and bolts of the writing itself, there are a handful of awkward phrases throughout, but nothing too major. But I rarely hold this against authors when it comes to opening scenes. The opening is usually the part of the book that’s been tinkered with the most, so some awkwardness is a natural side effect. Overall, though, I’d urge the author to revise with an eye for streamlining and making the most of the strong first-person voice.

Would I keep reading? Yes. The writing is strong enough to make me want to read on.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email

Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.

Finding Your Heroine in Historical Romance


When I’m asked why I write historical romance, I usually give an answer like “I love history. I grew up surrounded by American history.” And that’s true. My earliest memories involve trotting along next to my parents over three-hundred-year-old cobblestones in Philadelphia. One of my first jobs was at Buckley’s Tavern, a restaurant built in an 1817 farmhouse, in Centreville, Delaware, just a few miles from my childhood home. Legend says it’s haunted, but sadly I never had an encounter despite being the employee who always had to go in the creepy basement to fetch mints for the hostess station.

However, living around old buildings is only part of the answer. Okay, here’s the full truth: I wrote Appetites & Vices because I wanted to wear a pretty dress. Fine. I wanted to wear lots of pretty dresses. More than that, I wanted to write a romance where someone like me (read: someone Jewish) got to wear lots of pretty dresses. With hoops. And corsets. And go to balls.

I adore historical romance and can get on board with heroines of all backgrounds. Nevertheless, I still wanted, at least once, to write a “me.” And I’m not me without the Jewish part. Equally, I’m not me without the American part either.

The largest Jewish migration to the US happened between 1880 and 1924. And it’s true, a lot of my ancestors came during that period. But a few came before. In fact, Jews have been in North America since 1654 and in the Philadelphia area almost as long.

The American Jewish experience is unique from that of the large Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, as it was never marked by expulsion, persecution and ghettoization. Even more so, in America, Jewishness has never been a barrier to political rights and privileges. For example, while the Jews of the Rhineland saw the equality brought by Napoleon revoked by Prussia after Waterloo, the Jews of Philadelphia expanded their presence and influence in the city. They established multiple synagogues, an orphanage and a plethora of charitable organizations. However, it was during the 1840s (Appetites & Vices’s period) when the Philadelphia Jewish community really began to create the foundation for what it is today, making it a great time to begin a series.

In 1838, philanthropist Rebecca Gratz (who gets a shout-out in Appetites and had an uncle named Bernard in real life) established the Hebrew Sunday School to provide religious and cultural education in addition to the regular secular studies of Jewish children in Philadelphia. In other words, she invented what many American Jews call “Hebrew School.” Or, if you will, she gave my mother yet another place to lug me and my sister a couple of days a week.

Importantly, because of Beth Shalom Hebrew School and, post bat mitzvah, Delaware Gratz Hebrew High School, I have a nice baseline knowledge of American Jewish history. I also went on a lot of field trips to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. From there, I had a direction to focus my research for the Truitts series.

Rebecca Gratz, who would’ve been old enough to be Ursula from Appetites’s grandmother, but lived a very long life (1781–1869), was a prolific letter writer. Many of her letters have been collected and published providing primary source insight. Though Gratz is considered a pioneer of the Philadelphia Jewish community, she had a great deal of non-Jewish friends, including Washington Irving and Thomas Sully. During her life, she was able to move in both circles, a task Ursula struggles with in Appetites.

Both women—the real and the fictional one I created—lived the delicate tango of maintaining cultural identity while being allowed to partake of the best American society had to offer. Showing that dance in a realistic way was really important to me. Moreover, I’m excited in the second book in the series (Dalliances & Devotion, coming August 26, 2019!), to introduce you to a hero who immigrated to the United States as a teenager so has really experienced the contrast between Europe and the US for nineteenth-century Jews (and, you know, give him some fun romantic times, as well. There’s a spa in that book. And a train!).

I’m so excited to bring those character experiences and stories to all of you in these books. And to squeal over some really pretty dresses. Because who doesn’t like a pretty dress?

About Appetites & Vices:

APPETITES & VICES by Felicia GrossmanHe’s her ticket into high society…

Banking heiress Ursula Nunes has lived her life on the fringes of Philadelphia’s upper class. Her Jewish heritage means she’s never quite been welcomed by society’s elite…and her quick temper has never helped, either.

A faux engagement to the scion of the mid-Atlantic’s most storied family might work to repair her rumpled reputation and gain her entrée to the life she thinks she wants…if she can ignore the way her “betrothed” makes her feel warm all over and stay focused on her goal.

She’s his ticket out…

Former libertine John Thaddeus “Jay” Truitt is hardly the man to teach innocent women about propriety. Luckily, high society has little to do with being proper and everything to do with identifying your foe’s temptation—an art form Jay mastered long ago. A broken engagement will give him the perfect excuse to run off to Europe and a life of indulgence.

But when the game turns too personal, all bets are off…

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Giveaway! Win an Out of Uniform Prize Pack from Annabeth Albert


Are you ready to win? We’re giving away three prize packs featuring the amazing Out of Uniform series by Annabeth Albert!

Annabeth Albert Out of Uniform Prize Pack

Want to learn more about the Out of Uniform series? Click here!

Which Boston Fire Hero Should Be Your Valentine’s Day Date?


Looking for a Valentine’s Day date? We’ve got you covered…just take the quiz below to discover which smoking hot hero from Shannon Stacey’s Boston Fire series you’ll love!

Which hero did you get? Let us know in the comments section below!

8 Must-Read Male/Male Romances


Carina Press has your male/male romances covered!  Whether you’re looking for stories that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, contemporary romances that will have you reaching for the tissues or a love story that will take you to another world you can find it at Carina Press.

Here are 8 male/male romances we are falling in love with this season and know you will too!


ROUGH TERRAIN by Annabeth Albert

Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads


NOBLE HOPS by Layla Reyne

So much for the quiet life. Just as assistant US attorney and brewery owner Dominic Price is settling into a comfy new chapter with his partner, FBI agent Cameron Byrne, the sudden death of Nic’s father puts their happily-ever-after in jeopardy. Nic immediately suspects foul play, his prime suspect a notorious gangster his father was indebted to—only now the loan shark is out for blood.

Cam has been longing for Nic to finally let him in on this very personal case. But when Nic’s belief that he’s the sole Price heir is upended, the line between personal and professional starts to blur, leaving Cam unsure of where he stands.

Nic is depending on Cam’s kidnap and rescue expertise to save his recently discovered family member before it’s too late. But with a dangerous threat closing in, the ghosts from Nic’s past cast long shadows. Any relationship could crack under the pressure, but for Nic, finding his family might mean losing the love of his life.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads



Phineas Smith has been cursed with a power no one could control.

Roark Lyne is his worst enemy and his only hope.

The only human student at Mather’s School of Magick, Phineas Smith has a target on his back. Born with the rare ability to tap into unlimited magick, he finds both Faerie Courts want his allegiance—and will do anything to get it.

They don’t realize he can’t levitate a feather, much less defend the Faerie Realm as it slips into civil war.

Unseelie Prince Roark Lyne, Phineas’s roommate—and self-proclaimed arch nemesis—is beautiful and brave and a pain in the ass. Phineas can’t begin to sort through their six years of sexual tension masquerading as mutual dislike. But Roark is also the only one able to help Finn tame his magick.

Trusting Roark’s mysterious motives may be foolish; not accepting his temporary protection would be deadly.

Caught in the middle of the impending war, Phineas and Roark forge a dangerous alliance. And as the walls between them crumble, Phineas realizes that Roark isn’t the monster he’d imagined. But their growing intimacy threatens to expose a secret that could either turn the tide of the war…or destroy them both.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads



Pro hockey star Shane Hollander isn’t just crazy talented, he’s got a spotless reputation. Hockey is his life. Now that he’s captain of the Montreal Voyageurs, he won’t let anything jeopardize that, especially the sexy Russian whose hard body keeps him awake at night.

Boston Bears captain Ilya Rozanov is everything Shane’s not. The self-proclaimed king of the ice, he’s as cocky as he is talented. No one can beat him—except Shane. They’ve made a career on their legendary rivalry, but when the skates come off, the heat between them is undeniable. When Ilya realizes he wants more than a few secret hookups, he knows he must walk away. The risk is too great.

As their attraction intensifies, they struggle to keep their relationship out of the public eye. If the truth comes out, it could ruin them both. But when their need for each other rivals their ambition on the ice, secrecy is no longer an option…

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads


AMERICAN DREAMER by Adriana Herrera

For Nesto Vasquez, moving his Afro-Caribbean food truck from New York City to the wilds of Upstate New York is a huge gamble. If it works? He’ll be a big fish in a little pond. If it doesn’t? He’ll have to give up the hustle and return to the day job he hates. He’s got six months to make it happen—the last thing he needs is a distraction.

Jude Fuller is proud of the life he’s built on the banks of Cayuga Lake. He has a job he loves and good friends. It’s safe. It’s quiet. And it’s damn lonely. Until he tries Ithaca’s most-talked-about new lunch spot and works up the courage to flirt with the handsome owner. Soon he can’t get enough—of Nesto’s food or of Nesto. For the first time in his life, Jude can finally taste the kind of happiness that’s always been just out of reach.

An opportunity too good to pass up could mean a way to stay together and an incredible future for them both…if Nesto can remember happiness isn’t always measured by business success. And if Jude can overcome his past and trust his man will never let him down.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads


SEE THE LIGHT by Kate McMurray

Up-and-coming Broadway actor Jeremy was given two days to get up and get out. Dumped by his long-term boyfriend and suddenly homeless, he needs a sofa and a sympathetic ear, stat.

Enter Max, aspiring makeup artist and Jeremy’s BFF and former roommate.

Max has been in love with his best friend forever. Now that Jeremy is back in his home, his old feelings are back, too. He’s happy to help his friend, but this time…it’s complicated.

When Jeremy gets his big break in a new show, the message of the play hits home. “Live life to the fullest” means recognizing how he really feels about Max, and that’s not complicated at all. Jeremy’s in love, and wants to move full steam ahead.

But Max has waited too long for Jeremy to look at him this way, and he doesn’t want to risk his heart. If this is just a rebound fling, or if Jeremy is only interested in Max because he’s convenient, it will not only shatter him—it will ruin the best friendship he’s ever known.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads


NOT DEAD YET by Jenn Burke

Wes Cooper was dead. Then he wasn’t—though he’s not exactly alive, either. As an immortal not-ghost, he can transition between this world and the other plane, which makes him the perfect thief for hire. For seventy years he’s made a “living” returning items to their rightful owners, seeing his fair share of the bizarre in the process. But he’s never witnessed murder. Until now.

His latest mission brings him more than he bargained for: a very-dead actor who is definitely going to stay that way. It’s just Wes’s luck that his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, is assigned to the case. Hudson broke Wes’s heart years ago—and could again, given he’s rocking a hot silver-fox look that shouldn’t be legal.

As they work together to track down the murderer before anyone else gets hurt, it becomes clear Wes and Hudson have unfinished business. And when a secret Hudson’s been keeping threatens more than just their happiness, it might mean the end of their not-life together—permanently.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads


OFF THE ICE by Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn

NHL star Tristan Holt may be at the top of his game, but he’s already thinking one play ahead. Hitting the books in the off-season means he’ll have a business degree to fall back on when it’s time to hang up his hockey skates.

But his straightforward plan is complicated by his undeniable attraction to his sexy sociology professor, Sebastian Cruz.

Impressed by Tristan’s brain as well as his brawn, Sebastian can’t help lusting after the gorgeous jock. With tenure on the line, Sebastian won’t break the rules by becoming involved with one of his students—at least, not until the end of term. Once final grades are posted, though, their naughty mutual fantasies can become reality.

Tristan’s not sure he’s up for being the poster boy for openly gay hockey players, but Sebastian’s never been the type of man to keep his sexuality—or his relationships—in the closet. For Tristan, being with Sebastian might mean risking more than just his heart.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads


Do you have a favorite male/male read? Let us know in the comments section!


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