Monday, December 30, 2013

Somewhere in France, by Jennifer Robson

I've had good luck these past few months with some wonderful debut novels by some very promising authors.  Jennifer Robson's first novel, Somewhere in France, keeps that streak alive and well. It is being touted in the promotional material as a book fans of Downton Abbey will love. I find that characterization a bit limiting. If you like good historical fiction with strong, able characters and an exciting, perilous setting with a believable love story thrown in for good measure, you will love Somewhere in France, even if you have yet to watch an episode of Downton. The only similarities between this novel and that series are the general time period, the Great War (which lasted less than a season in Downton time), and one character from an aristocratic background who yearns to make a contribution and decides to move beyond the role to which society has assigned her. That would be about it. Yes, the Downton allure may be a strong one, but this novel can stand (and sell) all on its own.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford has always felt like there should be more to her life than a debutante season and marriage shortly thereafter.  As a young girl, she meets her brother Edward's school friend, Robbie Fraser, and she first reveals to him her desire for a stronger education.  Robbie encourages her to pursue her dream.  Years later, as war bears down on them, they meet again at a ton ball. Attracted to the woman Lilly has become, Robbie, now an accomplished surgeon, once again encourages her to follow her aspirations to do something worthwhile with her life.

What Robbie doesn't expect is for Lilly to volunteer as an ambulance driver and plunge herself into the turmoil and peril that is France and the Western Front during the Great War. Finding themselves in close proximity at the same Casualty Clearing Station,  Robbie, now a field surgeon, must set aside his feelings and fear for Lilly if he is to do his job without distraction. Lilly, angry and confused, and constrained by the strict rules against fraternization, has no choice but to try to forget Robbie;  ignore him as he has chosen to ignore her. Until the horrors of war touch them both, and everything changes.

Somewhere in France is a story as much or more about relationships and loyalty as it is about the changing mores of the time period in which it is written; Lilly and Edward; Edward and Robbie, Robbie and Lilly, their lives all circle around each other, against the ever present backdrop and horrors of war. Ms. Robson's secondary characters add a dimension to the story that reveals just how far Lilly has traveled from the persona of an earl's cossetted daughter. It's quite a transformation, and it's only one facet of the novel that grabs the reader's interest and doesn't let go.

I really hope the wait will not be long until Ms. Robson's second effort. Intelligently written, beautifully descriptive and fast-paced, Somewhere in France will appeal to Downton fans, but everyone who reads it, Downton fan or not, will love it. Highly recommend.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Devil Wears Kilts, by Suzanne Enoch

So after a long hiatus due to graduate school, and not being in charge of my reading lists, I'm finally able to read what I want again.  It's a great day for me!

I've been out of the loop in regards to what's new in the world of Romance Literature, despite seeing many book posts on many authors Facebook pages.  I can't remember where I saw this particular book, but a kilt-wearing devil seemed to be a great way to get back into the swing of things.

Suzanne Enoch's tale of romance begins with Lady Rowena, a girl who is ready for her season in London the moment she turns eighteen.  Unfortunately for her, big brother Ranulf, Marquis of Glengask, has other ideas.  A nice birthday party with the clan should be enough for her.  Surrounded by only brothers most of her life, Rowena has no intention of staying hidden away in the Scottish highlands.  With her maid's help, Rowena escapes to London, causing uproar and general unrest at Glengask.  Ranulf, knowing what dangers lay beyond Rowena's sheltered life, immediately follows her to London with a mind to bring her straight back to Scotland.  His arrival in London is anything but gentlemanly, and for the first time ever, a female stands in his way.  Lady Charlotte stands for no one to be rude, especially in her own house!  Sparks, and any other sharp, pointy objects fly as Ranulf and Charlotte butt heads.

Our hero and heroine become interesting chaperones for Rowena and Charlotte's sister, Jane.  When they aren't arguing over the use of violence to settle disagreements, or whether or not Ranulf is gentleman enough to go into London society, they get to know one another.  Ranulf, determined not to make the same mistake his father did when bringing his English mother to the highlands, must worry for his sister's safety from rival clans in London while trying to keep in Charlotte's good graces.  Charlotte, nearly a spinster at the ripe age of twenty-five, knows she shouldn't be attracted to the devil in the kilt.  But then again, why not?

'The Devil Wears Kilts' was a great return for me as a reviewer, as it provided plenty of action, drama, and of course, romance.  Great secondary characters, (including 2 enormous Scottish Deerhounds), and a well-written story make this novel a great way to spend an evening inside by the fire.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance (Novella) by Katharine Ashe

"It wasn't every day that a man discovered himself to be the hero of a virgin's secret diary."

"It would be the height of dishonorableness to continue reading."

"She could burn the diary now and cast the earl entirely from her thoughts. Or for a few more weeks she could enjoy his company..."

I read a lot of Regency romance and although I try to avoid it, I often notice the similarity between plot lines; it's almost inevitable given the structure of the genre. However, I was surprised and pleased to note that "Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance" is adorably original.

I didn't believe I would come to like, much less love the hero of the novella, Cam Westfall, the Earl of Bedwyr. The ignoble act of reading Princess Jacqueline of Sensaire's private diary combined with the earl's self-serving plagiaristic tendencies - all but assured me that this was one hero who was going to have to work overtime to earn my adoration. And work he did. In the end it was his gorgeous poetry and his budding, reluctant vulnerability that sealed the deal for me. The princess, however, proves to be a much tougher sell...

Ms. Ashe's writing is wonderful; the 176 pages turned themselves and I was lost - as any reader should be - in this timeless love story. Well done!

(Just a note: The publication date for "Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance" is December 3, 2013.  As of tonight, however, the book is on Kindle pre-order for .99.  It's a great deal while it lasts.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden

In my almost five years of reviewing and recommending to friends, family and readers here, there have been a few times, and only a few, when I have been completely and totally blown away by a book that  I've read. This usually happens when there is a happy confluence of subject matter, writing prowess, research skill and character development, wrapped up in a believable, action filled story. If you haven't already guessed, The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden, is one of those books.

This second effort by Ms. Barden begins with the story of Emme Fifield, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, who yearns to throw off the mantle of Court and live a normal life; one where marriage and children are a possibility without the Queen's interference. When her trust and naivety is brutally savaged by the erstwhile heir to the Duke of Somerset, she sees her only opportunity to forge a new life lies in joining an expedition to the Chesapeake, in the New World. She convinces the Palace to allow her to go, with the understanding that she will return with a full report on the new Colony's progress.

Christopher Doonan is an experienced mariner with a colorful and painful past. Taken by the Spanish and held in Mexico as a young man, he is sold into slavery. Rescued by Cimaroons, he becomes the leader of a pack of outlaws in Panama. When word comes to him of an English ship, he is reunited with his brother, a member of the crew,  and makes his way back to England, a changed man. Drawn to the sea, he returns to the New World with Sir Francis Drake, where he acquires a page named Rob, who becomes his constant companion. "Kit" is once again set to return to the New World, as boatswain on a ship scheduled to leave England, but this time he will choose to remain as a permanent settler, for reasons he cannot yet divulge.

Kit and Emme meet at one of the Queen's audiences to fete the accomplishments of Sir Francis, and to discuss the recent and future expedition.  Kit is entranced by Emme, but while Emme certainly notices him, she is intent on the seed of the plan that has already taken root in her mind.

Those familiar with American history and the nascent English settlement of the Colonies in the late 1500's know the story of the Lost Colony at Roanoke, whose original destination was actually the Chesapeake Bay area. There is no record of what happened to the 116 men, women and children who established that colony in 1587. However, Ms. Barden has an incredible knack for weaving fiction with fact. The story of the settlement is told through her characters, and the ending is one plausible explanation for what happened. She's done her research and it most definitely shows.

Descriptive passages are everywhere.  Ms. Barden makes it very easy to imagine Emme's life at Court, the ocean voyage, the sights and sounds of the New World and the settlement itself.

The love story between Kit and Emme serves a dual purpose. The connection between them is sweet and beautifully written, and serves as a way to possibly define this novel as a historical romance. However, most historical romances highlight the characters' relationship, with the setting and time period secondary and as a means to an end. In fact, the setting of these novels are virtually interchangeable as  long as the protagonists are together on the last page.  Ms. Barden, conversely, uses her characters to highlight the setting and makes that the focal point of the story. What happens to them and where it happens is as important as who they are to each other. This is what makes this novel so very good.

The last few chapters are suspenseful, dramatic, and satisfying in their resolution. It's at this point that the pages practically turned by themselves. Revelations come fast and furious; love and life are affirmed between father and son, friends, and lovers.  I did not want it to end.

Please note: Out on November 7, 2013 from Ebury Press, intially it will be available from in Kindle and hardcover, The Book Depository in hardcover and at bookstores everywhere except North America. I will post on our facebook page as that availability changes.

The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden is highly recommended, and one of the best books I've read this year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty

When the most important person to you in the world asks you not to do something, would you do it anyway? Would you trust that person enough? Evidently Cecelia Fitzpatrick couldn't, and it took just a little odd behavior by her husband, John-Paul, to open up his "in the event of my death letter" over his objections, and thus seal her family's fate.

This engaging story by Liane Moriarty brings together three families. The Crowleys lost their daughter Janie to a murderer when she was just 17 years old. Years later, Rachel, her mother, is still mired in depression and guilt. Tess Curtis, whose best friend in the world is her cousin Felicity, and Tess' husband Will, are caught in a love and life triangle that shows signs of ripping apart their entire family. Caught up in this is Connor Whitby, Tess' ex-boyfriend and a key player in the Crowley family saga. And then we have the Fitzpatricks with their three daughters, and Cecelia, their perfect mother, torn by her desire to do the right thing, yet finding out that the doing right thing will change her life forever.

An especially intriguing part of the book was the epilogue, filled with what ifs and glimpses of a future that never will be that leaves the reader with  a sense of the road not traveled. It's an excellent plot device.

A tangled story of lives in a North Sydney suburb, The Husband's Secret tests the loyalty and trust between husbands and wives,  mothers and their children, friends and relatives and asks the ultimate question. How far would you go to protect everything you hold dear?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Summer is for Lovers, by Jennifer McQuiston

More often than not, I find myself lamenting the writing style of authors in the historical romance genre. Either the language is too simple or too modern, the setting and descriptions not appropriate, or the protagonists too insipid and their stories too predictable. In Summer is for Lovers, Ms. McQuiston is pitch perfect. This is a story to be read slowly, the better to appreciate the effort the author obviously took in writing it.  It's also set in my favorite season and location for love stories; summertime and near a body of water.

Summer is for Lovers is set in Brighton, England. Caroline Tolbertson and David Cameron first meet when Caroline is twelve. An avid and accomplished swimmer, familar with a stretch of hidden beach and its dangerous peccadillos, Caroline saves David, a young man in the military, from what appears to be a drowning brought on by excess drink. For the next eleven years, David is all Caroline can think about, becoming her fantasy whenever she thinks of love.  The townspeople of Brighton and the summer set down from London every year, however, see her in a not all together flattering light. Her height, her lean swimmer's build and her family's lack of money all contribute to her self-doubt. That is until David Cameron comes back into her life.

David fights a ghost of his past, and holds Caroline and her wish to turn fantasy into  reality at bay. But he can keep the battle up for only so long. He is the only one who sees Caroline for what she really is. And in trying to get the rest of their circle to see it also, he inadvertently puts her in a position of leaving him behind. He cannot have her, yet he doesn't want anyone else to have her either.

The culmination comes in an exciting swim race that sees our protagonists work together for a common goal. David, meanwhile, realizes that his past is something he is not entirely at fault for and begins to forgive himself.   Caroline learns that propriety, love, self-worth and following one's own desires are not mutually exclusive.

This is an extremely well-written, absolutely lovely tale of two hearts who fight a strong battle against the tide to be together. Filled with secondary characters (one of whom gets her own sequel) worthy of the main story, Summer is for Lovers is an historical romance that gets a highly recommend from me. Excellent!!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ruin of a Rogue, The Wild Quartet #2, by Miranda Neville

At first, I had trouble shaking the feeling that I had read this book before, which, logically, I know, was impossible. But within the first two chapters I realized that the characters were like old friends; Caro, Denton, "Castleton, the Stuffy Duke," Robert Townsend, even our female protagonist, heiress Anne Brotherton, were all characters that I already liked and knew well from Miranda Neville's previous efforts in this series. It  was like returning to catch up with old, well-loved friends.

The story of Marcus Lithgow, newly minted Viscount Lithgow, gamester, cheat, possible thief and now, desperately in pursuit of a fortune through marriage with Anne Brotherton, the heiress of Camber, starts out like the telling of Henry James' Washington Square, albeit across the pond and a century earlier. Like Morris, Marcus worms his way into Anne's heart  with one goal in mind. And like Catherine Sloper, Anne ferrets out his real intentions and seeks to teach him a lesson that Marcus  won't soon forget. Unlike Catherine and Morris, however, Anne and Marcus find the tables turned on both of them when their attraction grows despite their trickery. When Marcus inherits a small estate, he finds he has something she wants as well. But instead of taking advantage of that, Marcus finds a purpose in life, something honorable involving hard work and dedication that leads him back to Anne.

With a marvelous plot line,  this story of redemption and forgiveness is excellent reading. Like all Ms. Neville's novels, the characters are well-developed (flawed yet lovable), the secondary characters add so much, and the situations are not easily resolved. When they are however, the results are so satisfying. Highly highly recommend!!

I Married the Duke, by Katherine Ashe

If this first novel in The Prince Catcher's series is any indication, I will anxiously await the next two books, sisters' Eleanor and Ravenna's stories. Katherine Ashe, in I Married the Duke, brings us the story of Arabella, the middle sister of three motherless daughters in search of their father after a disastrous shipwreck. With a prophesy from a gypsy woman regarding an heirloom they hold, Arabella sets off to find and marry the Prince who will lead them to their heritage. Instead of her Prince, she finds Lucien Westfall, a French Comte from his mother's side and an heir to a dukedom on his father's. An "imperfect" hero, Luc is nevertheless perfect for Arabella, despite her somewhat stringent requirements in a groom.

I Married the Duke is a love story, told in fits and starts, two steps forward, one step backward fashion. Ms. Ashe weaves together the stories of two disparate and dysfunctional families into one, a paradigm for any modern marriage.  Wonderful secondary characters abound. Luc's cousin Cam and his naval friend Tony move the story forward while adding necessary intrigue and dash. One hopes that these two will one day get their own happily ever afters.

This novel is different in that the hero is physically impaired, and the outcome of the relationship, let alone the protagonist's individual survival, is left in doubt in many places. It's a story that's riveting, colorful and so much better for all the twists and turns.

Well written, well thought out, highly recommend.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Love and Other Scandals, by Caroline Linden

Caroline Linden is one of my favorite Romance authors, and the reason why is clear in one page of any of her novels. Her writing is intelligent, her characters strong, witty and yet vulnerable at the same time, and all of her stories come with a cast of characters each worth a story of their own. Love and Other Scandals is definitely not the exception to this rule.

Joan Bennet first meets Tristan Burke, Viscount Burke, when her brother Douglas brings him home for a school holiday. In a prologue worthy of an entire chapter, Linden sets the scene for the coming years, and the future interactions between an orphaned and unloved young Viscount and a headstrong, not quite fashionable young lady. The real story begins when Joan is 24, an almost "on the shelf" spinster with strong ties to her mother's unerringly strict rules of behavior and dress. At first, Tristan is intrigued by Joan's impertinence, and can't help but give back as good as he gets from her. As he spends more time with her at the behest of her brother Douglas (who I'm hoping gets a story of his own), things change, and what was once unattractive about Joan begins to draw Tristan nearer.

The story is more than the typical romance of this genre. In each other, both characters learn to accept themselves for what they are, while at the same time, growing in ways they hadn't imagined. Tristan learns that he is deserving of love and that his reputation does not have to define him. Joan learns that she doesn't have to depend on her mother for guidance, and that she can find her own voice, be it in the clothes she wears,  her choice in reading material (think 19th century version of 50 Shades of Grey), or the man she chooses to love.

Great characters, good story and a very lovely ending that is really a beginning for these two. Well done, Ms. Linden, as usual. Highly recommend.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When I Find You, by Dixie Lee Brown

"If I were you, I'd find someone I could trust and stick with him ..."

Darcy may not be married to the mob, but she's close enough to feel the pressure. Too close. So when her boss becomes the victim of a professional hit and she's forced to run, she heads for the relative safety of home.  But being on the lam is just a bit more complicated than she thought because now there's not a soul she can trust. Not Grant, the good looking law student who offers her a lift. Not Cooper, the U.S. Marshall assigned to her case, and certainly not Walker, the rogue combat vet who claims to be one of the good guys. But surviving means she has to trust someone and Darcy picks the one man who seems the most interested in keeping her alive. And while she may be physically safe - for the moment - her emotional safety is far from secure.

Ms. Brown has a way with suspense; I didn't know who to trust either, up to almost the very end of the book. Her writing is precise, with just the right amount of snappy dialogue laced with humor and heat. Ms. Brown is adept at changing the point of view between the characters, particularly Darcy and Walker - and especially later in the book, when things were really rocking and rolling. This made up for some confusion in the first few chapters, when Ms. Brown backs up over the plot from the two different POVs. The technique is distracting as Darcy's desperation calls for nothing but rapid forward progress. Not a value add in terms of the story and, IMHO, it would have worked better without it. Despite all that, I adored the characterizations. Darcy's hidden strengths surprised me, while the hero's humanity and honor won me over completely. I loved the story, loved the characters and loved the book. Edge of your seat stuff, folks.  Well done!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Big Girl Panties, by Stephanie Evanovich

Holly Brennan has no idea what she's in for when she steps on a plane coming back from a business meeting in Toronto. When she's seated next to Logan Montgomery, she catches his slight whiff of disdain over her body, and the logistics of sitting next to an overweight woman. Logan, a personal trainer with his own gym, impulsively takes Holly on as his "project," which results in so much more than Logan's own version of The Ugly Duckling with a little Pygmalion thrown in.

Filled with humor, a little kink and a lot of personal growth, Big Girl Panties is an oddity in today's contemporary romance genre. While Holly does lose weight and get into shape under Logan's tutelage and her own perserverence, she does remain against type, and that's what makes this novel so endearing. One would think that all the personal growth was on Holly's side. After all, she has to overcome isolation, loneliness, guilt over her husband's death, and a horrid upbringing, in order to curb her emotional eating. That's all fine and expected in this kind of story and Holly does do a superb job doing just that. But Logan too, needs to put his big boy shorts on and grow up. His growth comes from realizing that he can move beyond his own image others have of him (and what he has of himself), stop caring about what others think, and learn to not only think for himself, but put aside everything else to gain his own happiness. I enjoyed Logan's awakening more than I did Holly's, actually.

The novel is filled with good advice on emotional eating and fitness, probably not intentional as they fit totally into the story, but I got that out of it as well. The only recommendation I have is to cut Chase and Amanda's backstory to a minimum. I'm unaware if these two have appeared in a previous novel, although I have a feeling that would explain why they get so much "press" in this book. If that's the case, and even if it's not, I really didn't need to know the details of their early relationship. Hey, whatever works! I don't think the two or three pages explaining their back story was necessary. One or two sentences could have done it. At times, their narration took away from Holly and Logan, and that's a pity. While an interesting secondary couple, their story should not impinge on the main event, especially when the main event is so darn good!

Really good contemporary romance with more than one twist. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Faking It, by Cora Carmack

I'm never one to turn away a good book, even if the genre (in this case, New Adult) is not usually my cup of tea. However, after reading her first book in this series, I was begging to find out what happened to Bliss' best friend from Losing It.

In Faking It, Cora Carmack's follow-up to Losing It, Cade Winston gets his star turn. After confessing his undying love to his best friend, Bliss, and then losing her to someone else, Cade finds himself at odds with himself and life. Living in Philadelphia and attending grad school for drama, he's in the same city with Bliss and her boyfriend (and former teacher, Garrick), and the city has never seemed so small. With no where to turn to escape his disappointment, his luck turns when Mackenzie (Max) Miller spies him in a coffee shop, and at the spur of the moment, asks him to play the role of boyfriend in order to placate her parents.

Max is unlike anyone he's ever met before, and perfect Cade is thrown by his immediate attraction to her. Max, a musician, is  heavily loaded down with baggage from her past, and as she strives to make a name for herself, she fights what she feels for Cade with the belief that she's toxic to anyone around her. The attraction between them is too strong yet in order to be together, these two have to overcome their pasts and accept that they are deserving of a happy ending.

Ms. Carmack tells the story from both Max's and Cade's points of view in alternating chapters.  It's an effective method that gives us a deeper understanding of just what drives these characters. I don't think the story would have had the same punch if it were written in the third person, or from only one point of view. And some of the lines that Ms. Carmack assigns to Cade even had me swooning. How could Max possibly resist when this thought is running through Cade's head. "I pulled her into my arms and she cried until the events of the morning disappeared, until the present took a backseat to the past. And until I knew I couldn't live without her." Sigh.

Wonderful story, terrific writing. Read Losing It first, however. Also very well-written, it's as romantic and heartwarming as Faking it, and you get a pretty good idea of where Cade is coming from. Highly recommend.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Wanted: Wife by Gwen Jones

"My childhood had been peppered with tales about Pineys, crazy backwoods Jethros who shotgunned first and asked questions later."

"Either this man was yanking my chain or there were still people out there who could surprise me. 'You don't think advertising on a utility pole for a wife is a bit out of the ordinary?'"

"He wasn't medieval; he was positively Neanderthal."

What's up with Andy?

No one can be that perfect, the rare combination of a "manly-man," sexy, sensitive, romantic, gorgeous and half French.  First hint that all is not what it seems: he's a native of New Jersey and living in that great state myself, I know these attributes are oh so thin on the ground.  So when Andy Devine advertises for a wife by hanging flyers on telephone poles, you know there's got to be much more going on.  And Julie Knott, a Philadelphia reporter drawn to the unusual, is on the case.  Julie's personal life is in shambles but the story comes first, especially when Andy, after interviewing 100 wannabe Mrs. Devines, decides Julie fits the bill. Having very little left to lose, Julie agrees to Andy's proposal - and brings her own secrets to the South Jersey Pines.

An unforgettable hero, an unusual premise, an unlikely setting, (the New Jersey Pine Barrens, for goodness sake!) and a spot-on first person narrative combine to make this one of the freshest, funniest contemporary romances I've read so far this year.  The truth does eventually prevail, and when it does, you find yourself on your feet, rooting for this romantic pair.   Wanted: Wife is a winner.

Available for pre-order now on  Publication date is June 4, 2013.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Good to Myself, by Heather Wardell (Toronto Series)

"I was so very tired of games. But I'd never met a sexy guy who didn't make me play them."

"...that tall sleek body dressed in a dark green dress shirt and black pants that hugged him like they'd loved  him all their life." 

"Then I stopped savoring, and the words 'good to myself' rang through my head." 

I adore books I can relate to. Better yet, if a book makes me reconsider my personal status quo, it's forever labeled a favorite. I knew by the title that Good to Myself by Heather Wardell had that potential.  It does. In spades.

Lydia Grange is a popular online columnist. Single, savvy and smart, she's perceived as Canada's answer to Carrie Bradshaw.  When one of the lead columnists in the office leaves, Lydia is asked to compete with her two coworkers for the high profile job. The premise of the competition is  straightforward - increase site traffic through a "Be Good to Yourself and teach your followers how to be the same" campaign.  Lydia believes she has this one nailed down, after all she's good to herself all the time. Unchecked retail therapy at bargain prices, sexy guys leading to sex with no strings, slices of fabulous cheesecake whenever possible and a staggering Starbucks habit chock full of sugary, caffeinated heaven. All in the name of feeling good as often as possible. However, as the competition goes on, Lydia discovers that her version of being good to herself usually falls short of the intended result. And it's this self discovery that kept me turning the pages. 

Lydia certainly made me uncomfortable and for several chapters I didn't understand why. Then I realized she reminded me of, well, me.  Her epiphanies come slowly and are hard earned, but when they arrive, I guarantee you, as a reader, will be nodding your head and cheering her on and perhaps seeing more than a little something of yourself in her.  Oh, and the purse on the cover.  Been there and bet you have too. 

Ms. Wardell is one of my favorite authors and in Good to Myself, she reminds me why. A modern romance where the protagonist finds her way first is the very best kind. Well written and well done.  Two thumbs up. Way up. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Darius (Lonely Lords #1), by Grace Burrowes

How in the world does Grace Burrowes do it? Book after book, she delivers. In Darius, I think she's found her most unlikely yet noblest hero yet.

Darius Lindsey, the youngest son of the Earl of Wilton, finds himself in dire straits. His father, for reasons Darius would rather not contemplate, but is all too aware of,  has cut him off from his inheritance and left him to fend for himself. In order to help his widowed brother, his small ward and his reputation challenged sister,  he finds himself selling himself for coin. When Lord Longstreet is in want of an heir in order to protect his soon to be widow, he enlists Darius' help and an unlikely bargain is struck. What Darius and Lady Vivian Longstreet did not bargain for was the attraction they have for each other and the lengths to which each is willing to go to protect the other.

Ms. Burrowes' writing is beautifully styled and her characters are always so fully developed. In this novel, we revisit with old friends from previous tales (always a treat) and we are once again witness to flawed characters overcoming adversity and themselves to be the people they were meant to be, and to fall in love while they are doing it. Just superb. This is historical romance as it was meant to be written and read.

I'm looking forward to the next in this new series. Highly recommend.

Friday, April 5, 2013

It Happened One Midnight: Pennyroyal Green Series by Julie Anne Long

Thomasina De Ballesteros and Jonathan Redmond are as unlikely a couple as ever there was. And Julie Anne Long takes the circuitous route in bringing them together, which makes It Happened One Midnight an irresistible romance read. I love the way Ms. Long weaves a story and this one is certainly no exception. Tommy and Jonathan dance a slow circle around each other, testing, pushing, learning each other as the layers are peeled away.  Ms. Long's talent for placing the reader inside the story makes it seem as if we are doing the same - slowly, deliciously, page by page, coming to know Tommy and Jonathan as they really are, not as society defines them. This careful reveal kept me turning the pages while at the same time wishing I could just stop - so as to make the telling last. It was a brilliant feeling.

Great read by one of my favorite authors and available for preorder now on Amazon.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Nowhere But Home, by Liza Palmer

While I have a few friends from the State of Texas, I've never been there myself.  But in reading Liza Palmer's latest release, Nowhere But Home, I found it possible to wish I was a native like the residents of North Star, home to Queenie Wake and her sister Merry Carole.

Queenie, (short for Queen Elizabeth), a chef with a temper and a chip on her shoulder,  gets fired from her latest position in New York City, and with no where else to go, she's forced to head home to Texas, and her sister and nephew, in the Hill Country town of North Star. She's been working in different cities, trying to outrun her feelings for the man she was in love with since she was eleven years old, Everett Coburn. "Ever," a man from one of North Star's golden families, was persuaded by his family to end his relationship with  the daughter of the town "floozie." Unfortunately for both Queenie and Everett, there would never be anyone else.

Queenie returns to live with Merry Carole and Cal, her nephew (the star quarterback on the high school football team). She gets a job cooking in a state prison for death row prisoners and while the job is stressful in ways she couldn't begin to imagine, she's the master of her own kitchen and begins to understand how her past and her upbringing have colored her outlook on this small town and its inhabitants. And she puts into motion what she needs to put the past behind her.

Filled with touches of Queenie's unique humor,  Nowhere But Home is actually a coming of age story, for Queenie, her sister, her nephew, their friends, Everett and even the town mean girls, who after all these years, still try to intimidate the Wake sisters until their own pasts catch up to them. All must learn to put the past where it belongs, and change the things about themselves that can be changed, while coming to terms and accepting everything else that cannot.

Liza Palmer, in a wonderfully written contemporary story, reminds us that no matter how old we are, there is still growing up to do, a past to put into perspective, and that love, in the end, can conquer all. It's a potent recipe for a very satisfying read.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Silver Orphan, a social novel by Martine Lacombe

Occasionally (and hard to believe, I know) a book that makes me think does cross my desk. When that happens, I'm reminded that books not only provide a means of escapism from every day trials and tribulations, but can and should educate, prod and poke at one's conscience as well.  Silver Orphan, by Martine Lacombe is one of those books.

Silver Orphan is two stories. First, it's the story of Frank Moretti, an immigrant's son and now an elderly man living in Florida on his own with no family and seemingly no friends. The second story is Brooke Blakes'. She's a pharmaceutical rep who at first seems to have no social conscience at all. Self-absorbed and in it for the money and little else, Brooke is not looking to get involved, but she and Frank meet when she sees Frank hitchhiking on a Florida street. What happens in the course of the next eight months changes both of their lives.

While the story starts with Frank's death (not much of a spoiler here, you'll read about it on the very first page), Ms. Lacombe uses flashbacks to tell Frank's life story. Interspersed with those flashbacks, she allows us to see how Brooke and Frank's friendship begins to develop. We also follow Brooke's metamorphosis from what she was to someone who begins to care for people other than herself. We then follow her lone odyssey; an attempt to unravel the rest of Frank's story to find his next of kin.

While I thought her change of heart and willingness to get involved abrupt at times and possibly a bit too optimistic for reality, it serves its purpose. And that purpose is to bring attention to the problem of the elderly in this country, especially those without family support systems in place to help them meet basic life needs . Ms. Lacombe makes a strong argument in the Afterword, from which I garnered this: Unless we as a society undergo a figurative change like Brooke's, the large aging population in this country will experience an end of life scenario similar to Frank's. It's a point eloquently made even before we get to that Afterword.

Silver Orphan contains other lessons as well. Among them are a brief description of  how Big Pharma's reps work to get doctors to push certain drugs, and  a lesson, too, on the internment of Italian-Americans during WWII, something I did not know about. There are also two  surprising twists at the end, both of which serve exceptionally well in wrapping up our protagonists' stories.

Silver Orphan is a well-written, fast moving novel of social importance. Before we even realize what has happened, we've learned a lesson in a subject that's extremely difficult for us to face.  But we must all be more attuned to it no matter how painful the subject matter is if there are to be real changes in the treatment and caring of the elderly in this society. Silver Orphan is truly the spoonful of sugar that makes that particular medicine go down.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson

Memory is a fickle thing. As I get older, I find that I can remember the smallest, most trivial things from my past, but I can't remember where I've left my keys. Imagine if you woke up each morning, forgetting even those trivial things from the past, in fact, forgetting your past entirely. This is the premise of S.J. Watson's thriller, Before I Go To Sleep.

Christine Lucas wakes up in a room she doesn't remember, with a man she does not know. She goes into the bathroom and sees a face twenty years older than it should be, in a mirror surrounded by pictures of herself and the man in the bed. That man patiently explains to her that he is her husband, that they've been married for twenty two years, and that she's had an accident and has lost her memory. And this happens every single morning of her life.  When a cell phone rings in her bag, and a man calling himself Dr. Nash tells her to look for her journal hidden away in her closet, the following few weeks become a game of To Tell The Truth. She oscillates between trusting and then questioning the intentions of the man she is living with, knowing he is intentionally lying to her.  Not knowing which way to turn, and having to re-read her hidden journal to unravel her life story every single day when she wakes up, she begins to catch glimpses of the life she wants back, no matter what the cost.

The author keeps us in the dark the same way Christine is. We unravel her story by reading her journal entries, and as the story progresses, we don't know whom to trust either. As a story telling device, it's a very effective, and I was thankful I was reading on a Kindle so I couldn't read the ending first. The characters we think we know, we really don't, and just like Christine, as she wakes up every morning, we turn the page not knowing where the story came from nor where it's going. If you like a good thriller and psychological drama wrapped up in one, then this is it. I usually don't read this genre, but it was recommended to me, so I'm passing it along. Excellent book, a quick page turner that will keep you guessing pretty much to the end.