Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Third Chance Lenora Bell Winner

I'm having a hard time giving away this terrific prize package from 

Lenora Bell's April visit. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

The third-chance randomly chosen winner is:


Congratulations! Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

The deadline to claim this giveaway is Friday, May 27, 2016.

Spotlight on Kris Kennedy - - Review and Giveaway

I adore romances set during Medieval times and, in my opinion, Kris Kennedy is one of the best authors writing in this period. Earlier this month, Kennedy released her newest book, Claiming Her which went straight to my keeper collection after reading it...twice. I have no doubt I'll be revisiting this story again and again in years to come. Claiming Her is currently only $2.99 in e-book format but is worth its weight in gold. It has my highest recommendation! Five years ago, Kennedy published another book that also has a place of honor on my keeper shelf. Today, she's releasing a revised edition of that story along with a brand new cover. Following is my 2011 review of Defiant by Kris Kennedy. The updated version landed on my Kindle this morning and I can't wait to return to Medieval England for another visit with these unforgettable characters. 

By Kris Kennedy
Original Publisher: Pocket Books
Original Release Date: April 26, 2011
Digital Reissue Publisher: Kris Kennedy
Digital Reissue Date: May 25, 2016 


1215 England

During the tumultuous reign of King John, when civil unrest brewed and loyalties were constantly called into question, a hard, powerful knight and a beautiful young woman stalk the same quarry…for very different reasons. 

Jamie Lost, chief lieutenant of King John is sent to capture a priest who has returned to England after fleeing ten years earlier when he witnessed events that, should he talk, could mean the end of King John’s reign. Eva also fled the country ten years ago and has spent that time hiding in France, protecting the young boy she rescued and spirited out of England following the murder of his father by King John. She is after the same priest as well but her purpose is to rescue her dear friend, the man who saved her life all those years ago.

Jamie is a hard man; tested by battle, betrayal and years of living on the streets of London as a child. He has no family, only his friend, Ry who travels with him, and banned love and affection from his heart long ago. Worst of all, to Eva’s mind, he is loyal to King John, a man to be avoided at all costs...but must he be so appealing?

Even a feared, ruthless mercenary, a Brabançon, identified himself with someone. Usually the English king. By the look in this one’s eye, ‘twas a simple enough matter to place him there.

But somehow, she couldn’t believe something so…beautiful could be so awful. And he was beautiful indeed, to a hard line, a masculine magnificence, all long, lean contours of hard heat and piercing eyes. A beast in his prime.

A natural-born caretaker, fighting fiercely to protect the people she loves - Father Peter and 15-year-old Roger, the child she rescued all those years ago – the child that is the missing heir to a powerful English title, information that will put his life at risk should it come to the attention of King John or his chief lieutenant, it’s a given that Eva and Jamie would be natural adversaries. Jamie, of course, is a trained warrior but Eva is a warrior at heart, a fact you would never guess by looking at her and one that causes Jamie no small amount of frustration. Totally unexpected, however, is the instant attraction between the two, not that either has the inclination to act upon it…at first. When the barriers are finally lowered though, and a tentative trust begins to develop, will the man who thinks he has no room for love in his heart and the woman whose fondest dream is a cottage by a river and a family to care for discover a love for the ages? Or, will secrets, betrayals and an unstable king slash their hopes and dreams to shreds?

Kris Kennedy has once again written an unique and emotional love story, filled with passion and adventure and rich in historical detail. She has a way of writing that draws me into the story so that, rather than reading about characters and events, I feel as if I’ve been transported back in time and am experiencing their adventures alongside them, such as in this passage when Eva rides through the English countryside for the first time in ten years.

Eva felt as if she were riding through the middle of one of Father Peter's sketches.  The trees all wore billowing green caps and stood proudly in their dark brown tunics as they marched up and down the hills of England.  

Less showy, but more sweet, tiny pricking flowers hurried to the edge of the track.  The hedgerows hosted a profusion of flowering vines and exhuberant birds, flitting their wings and chirping.  Whenever the land opened up, herds of red poppies raced down the hills like ponies, all exhuberance and flicking tails.  

Jamie and Eva are complex, multi-layered characters who Kennedy very skillfully reveals to us, one layer at a time, throughout the book. It's the layers, the flaws and conflicts, not only between them but within each of them, that infuses them with the realism that makes them such fascinating characters. There’s an equally interesting secondary cast (primarily Roger, Ry and Angus, the one-eyed Scotsman) whose contributions to the story move the plot along, inject humorous moments and provide insights into the hearts and minds of our hero and heroine. I have hopes that we might see some of them in a future book, perhaps one with young Roger as the hero. I so want to read the rest of his story!

Defiant has joined Ms. Kennedy's other two medieval romances on my keeper shelf where it will no doubt be revisited from time to time.  Writing as good as this never goes out of style.  


Do you enjoy Medieval romance?

Do you have any favorite books set in this period or favorite authors writing in this era?

Have you read any of Kris Kennedy's books yet? Do you have a favorite?

Because I love these books so much, I'm giving away a Kindle copy of Defiant or Claiming Her (winner's choice) to two randomly chosen people who leave a comment on today's post. Deadline for entering the giveaway is 11:00 PM (EST), May 26, 2016.


Lady Katarina has safeguarded the Irish barony of Rardove for the queen of England with audacity and sheer will, bending to no man. But when the worst of the Irish warlords breaches the impenetrable castle walls through trickery, he threatens her personal wall of cool reserve as well. Aodh Mac Con the most formidable man she's ever met, but the deeper danger of this Irish scoundrel is that only Aodh can see—and appreciate—the deepest, most hidden parts of her. Only Aodh can unleash her secret passions. 

Can she stand firm, or will she fall too--straight into his arms? 

Aodh Mac Con, The Hound, is through serving the English Crown and waiting to be granted the barony he sees as his birthright. After taking control of the remote castle with his bold men, he turns his attention on Katarina, intending to conquer the cool, reserved chatelaine as he's done everything else in his life: by making her bend to his irresistible will. 

Can he conquer her in time, before the armies of England come marching, or will the fire that fuels her defiance put everything he's fought for in peril? 


Jamie Lost is King John's most renowned commander, an audacious knight ordered to kidnap a rebel troublemaker before enemy forces close in. The mission is simple—until he comes up against a beautiful, mysterious woman who first threatens his mission, then his cold, black heart.

Eva is determined to find the 'troublemaker' too, and protect the dangerous secrets he holds, even if it costs her life. Danger lies everywhere, especially in the blue-eyed knight showing far too much interest in her activities. But deep inside, Eva knows the real danger lies not in the weapons crisscrossing Jamie's body, but in the desire he awakens in her body & her heart. 

When a mysterious band of armed mercenaries upends both their plans and abducts their quarry, Jamie and Eva must form an uneasy alliance. As civil war erupts around them, they embark on an epic journey that betrays the truth about their identities and their unexpected loyalties, and unleashes an explosive passion that will seal their fates—and the fate of England—forever. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Today's Special - - Susan Sey

It's my pleasure to welcome Susan Sey back to the Romance Dish today. If you read any of Susan's posts while she was blogging at the Romance Bandits, then you already know she writes with humor and heart. If you've picked up any of her books, you're also familiar with her quirky characters, out of the norm settings, sweet and sexy romance, and touch of suspense. In Picture Me and You, she also proves herself a master of the dysfunctional unit. Only this time, it's not just a family. It's the whole darn town. As this is the first book in a planned trilogy - and I couldn't put it down - I can hardly wait to see what she brings us next! 

Take it away, Susan! 

I’m deeply in love with HAMILTON these days. 

Surely you’ve heard of it? It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s retelling of founding father Alexander Hamilton’s story through a musical mash-up of Broadway and hiphop. Nominated for a record 16 Tonys, it’s infectious, ingenious and educational.  (It isn’t just history, either. At one point, we get into the crucial importance comma placement. Kid you not.) It’s also a master’s class in characterization.

Obviously, Alexander Hamilton is our hero here.  He’s a driven genius, creating everything from the Coast Guard to America’s banking system. He was also an arrogant, social-climbing philanderer, despised by both Thomas Jefferson AND John Adams, who could agree on nothing, it seems, except that Hamilton was a jerk.

Aaron Burr is our villain.  Their lives run along very parallel tracks -- both were brilliant, ambitious, and politically inclined orphans.  But where Burr respects the political machine, plays within its rules and loses, Hamilton breaks every rule, writes his own ticket and wins. He does everything wrong but always manages to win, and by the time these two get down to dueling, you can see exactly why Burr shoots. It breaks your heart, but you get why he does it.  Why you might, too, in his shoes.

By the time Lin-Manuel Miranda is done with us, we know in our bones that Hamilton was no hero and Burr was no villain. They were just two really strong, really different men who were standing in each other’s way and neither one knew how to yield. So who’s the hero? It depends entirely on whose point of view you’re in.

It’s a beautifully written lesson in compassion, yes, but it’s also a lesson to writers everywhere. It’s easy to hate faceless evil-doers, but it’s just as easy to forget them.  You want to write a story that grabs people by the throats, shatters their hearts and leaves them thanking you for the privilege? Write a rich, fully-drawn, well-motivated villain, then a hero who lives up to the challenge.

I’m no Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I try really hard with my villains.  I write dozens of scenes in their points of view, scenes I know I’ll have to cut eventually. But not a word is wasted because each moment I spend inside my villain’s head and heart is time I spend understanding that character, getting to know what drives them, who they are and who they’re desperate to be.  And it only makes my hero that much stronger.

In my new book, PICTURE ME & YOU, the villain does some pretty awful stuff. Borderline unforgivable stuff.  But by the time I’m done with him -- and it’s a trilogy, so be patient -- I’m hoping you’ll understand why.  In fact, I’m hoping you’ll go one better and not only understand but forgive and -- maybe -- fall in love.

So tell me -- who’s the worst villain you ever forgave?  Can you think of a character you initially hated with a grand passion but who eventually turned it around until you loved him?  I desperately love a reformed bad boy, so shout them out!  One lucky commenter will receive a copy of PICTURE ME & YOU, book one of my new Devil’s Kettle trilogy, in either print or for Kindle.  

The perfect wife…
All Addison Davis has ever wanted is a family of her own and a place to call home.  So when the art world’s favorite bad boy paints her as a masterpiece, puts a ring on her finger and tucks her away in the gorgeous little lakeside hometown he made famous, she finally has everything she ever wanted.   Everything except love.
The loyal brother…
Fire chief Jackson Davis knows his brother isn’t in love with the big-eyed waif he married.  Diego might be enchanted with his angelic little muse now but he’s never loved anything more than his addictions.  When those addictions leave Addy a painfully young widow, Jax can only watch while her precious heart shatters.
The secrets they keep…
But Addy inherited more from her late husband than a family, a hometown and the masterpiece she inspired.  She inherited his secrets, too, but secrets don’t keep in Devil’s Kettle.  When all is revealed, what bursts into flame between her and Jax is hot enough to burn down the whole town, forcing Addy to choose — will she protect the life she loves, or risk it all for the man who loves her?
Welcome to Devil’s Kettle.
Learn more about Susan and her books at her website

Connect with her online at Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jo Beverley - - Farewell to a Romance Icon

Jo Beverley

This evening, the Word Wenches announced today's death of beloved historical romance author, Jo Beverley. As her Word Wenches sister, Mary Jo Putney wrote: 

Jo had quietly been through a very dangerous bout with cancer about five years ago, and had come through with flying colors.  The cancer was discovered to have returned some weeks ago, and it moved very quickly.  We all hoped for another miracle, but it was not to be.  Jo died very peacefully in a lovely care home in Yorkshire that used to be a convent, with her husband and her pal Charlie,  the Cabbage Patch Kid, by her side.  

Jo Beverley, Cara Elliott, Joanna Bourne
I've been reading Jo Beverley's books for more than 20 years. Her Company of Rogues and Mallorens are among my all-time favorite romance series but, truth be told, I enjoyed every story that ever bloomed from her creative imagination. She's one of romance fiction's superstars with five RITA awards and a place in the prestigious Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. 

Anne Gracie, Jo Beverley, Cara Elliott

Jo Beverley was not only a brilliant writer, she was also a lovely, gracious lady who was unfailingly kind to her readers. I had the pleasure of meeting her at RWA conferences over the years. She always greeted me with a smile, ready to sign a book, pose for a photo or just chat a bit.  

Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, PJ

Jo's Word Wenches blogging sisters have shared their memories of her today in a special tribute. Click here to read them and also leave a comment sharing thoughts of your own, if you wish.

Do you have a favorite Jo Beverley book or series?  A favorite memory of one of her characters or of the author herself? 

Today's Special - - Joanna Shupe

Photo by Kathryn Huang Photography

It's my pleasure to welcome Joanna Shupe to the Romance Dish today. I'm so excited about her new The Knickerbocker Club series, set in New York City during the Gilded Age, one of my favorite American historical periods. You can read Janga's reviews of TYCOON (a novella) and MAGNATE (first book in the series) here

Joanna Shupe has always loved history, a fact that is clearly evident in her writing. She was the 2013 winner of RWA's Golden Heart® for Best Historical, her first Regency historical, The Courtesan Duchess was nominated as Best First Historical by RT Book Reviews, and The Lady Hellion was named one of the Washington Post's top five romance novels. Joanna can be found online at: Facebook  Twitter.

The Gilded Age vs. The Regency

Thanks for hosting me on The Romance Dish today! I’m excited to be here today to discuss the Gilded Age, which serves as the setting for my new historical romance, MAGNATE.

In Romancelandia, we know all about the Regency. It’s the beloved time in British history of Jane Austen, Byron, and the Prince Regent. Just say the word and we imagine balls, dukes, fancy gowns, and strict social conventions that heroines love to skirt.

Most romance readers are less familiar with the American Gilded Age, a pocket of extreme wealth
and industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century. You might recognize Boss Tweed, Tammany Hall and trust busting from school, which are, in concept, about as interesting as a root canal. But stay with me, because I’m about to blow your mind (I hope).

All that stuff you love about the Regency era? The Gilded Age has it, too. Let’s break it down…


In the Regency, English ladies wore elegant gowns with empire waists and long flowing skirts. The Gilded Age had gowns, too, and wealthy American women had oodles of money to spend on the very best, which usually meant dresses designed by the House of Worth, the originators of haute couture as we know it today.

Just search “House of Worth Gowns” on Pinterest. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.


The Gilded Age had fancy balls, as well as debutantes. And yes, the balls were just as exclusive as the Regency soirees. You might have heard the term “The Four Hundred,” which originated because Mrs. Astor’s ballroom only held four hundred people. Needless to say, this quickly established a list of who’s who in New York society.

With so much money on hand for the Gilded Age’s elite, the balls were extravagant. Want 10,000 butterflies shipped in from Brazil? What about swans floating in a real pond as a centerpiece? Or party favors of gold pencil cases, jewelry, or cash? All of these actually happened.

High Society

In Regency romance, we adore our dukes. And little wonder: the British aristocracy is an exclusive club not many could join. The high society of New York, however, operated in much the same way. No matter how wealthy you were, if your roots couldn’t be traced all the way back to the Dutch settlers of Manhattan, you were too gauche for this crowd.

This was why many of the nouveau riche in America married their daughters off to English noblemen; they couldn’t buy acceptance in society, so they hoped to gain it through a British title.

There are more similarities—from stately mansions and scandals, to class struggles and social upheaval—but one major difference between the two eras are the industrial advances.

The Technology

The Gilded Age had more modern toys, including railroads, the telegraph, and telephones. Even the automobile comes in at the tail end. Thankfully, there were still carriages and horses for those quick romantic rides across town. Have you watched The Age of Innocence, when Daniel Day-Lewis seduces Michelle Pfeiffer in the carriage? Gilded Age hotness!

If you like historical romance, I hope you will give the Gilded Age a try. It’s a fascinating era, and my very favorite.

What’s your favorite historical movie? Comment below with your answer for the chance to win a signed paperback copy of MAGNATE!


New York City’s Gilded Age shimmers with unimaginable wealth and glittering power. The men of the Knickerbocker Club know this more than anyone else. But for one millionaire, the business of love is not what he expected…

Born in the slums of Five Points, Emmett Cavanaugh climbed his way to the top of a booming steel empire and now holds court in an opulent Fifth Avenue mansion. His rise in stations, however, has done little to elevate his taste in women. He loathes the city’s “high society” types, but a rebellious and beautiful blue-blood just might change all that.

Elizabeth Sloane’s mind is filled with more than the latest parlor room gossip. Lizzie can play the Stock Exchange as deftly as New York’s most accomplished brokers—but she needs a man to put her skills to use. Emmett reluctantly agrees when the stunning socialite asks him to back her trades and split the profits. But love and business make strange bedfellows, and as their fragile partnership begins to crack, they’ll discover a passion more frenzied than the trading room floor…

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review - - TYCOON and MAGNATE

By Joanna Schupe
Publisher: Zebra
Release Date: February 23, 2016

Joanna Shupe introduced her Knickerbocker Club series set in New York City during the Gilded Age with the novella Tycoon, the story of Clara Dobson, a shop girl, and Theodore Harper, president of one of the nation’s largest banks. Clara witnesses a crime and is on the run from the perpetrators. With no money and only the clothes she is wearing, she is headed home to Missouri. Ted is in Grand Central Station about to board his private car for business meetings on the train with a St. Louis brewer. When Clara spots her pursuers, she randomly attaches herself to Ted, unaware of who he is. Ted can’t decide if Clara is crazy, involved in a scam, or actually in danger, but he agrees to let her share his car. She, in turn, agrees to help distract the wife of the brewer while the men discuss business. Clara’s presence proves an unexpected boon.

Over the next few days, Clara and Ted come to know each other better. The attraction that sparked with that first kiss between strangers grows exponentially. But trust grows more slowly, and Clara remains in danger. Can love really conquer all?

If I were evaluating this as a standalone, I would award it 3.5 stars. I love the characters, and the premise, but the novella format allows for development for both that is too thin for my taste. However, as a teaser for a new series, this novella is highly effective. It certainly captured my attention and left me eager to read the first novel in the series. For this reason, I gave Tycoon five stars.

By Joanna Schupe
Publisher: Zebra
Release date: April 26, 2016


Elizabeth Sloane belongs to elite New York society, old money with connections to the original Dutch settlers and low tolerance for the nouveau riche who were increasing in numbers and in personal wealth in the late nineteenth century. The queen bee of Old New York was Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, creator of the famed “Four Hundred,” a list of socially acceptable upper-class families. Known as Knickerbockers (a term sarcastically coined by author Washington Irving) by outsiders, old New York limited the power of its women to the social scene. It is this rigidly defined role that Elizabeth resists. She wants a life that consists of more than parties, opera, and gossip. An interest in stock trading fostered early in her life through time spent with her father has increased with her awareness that she is intelligent and particularly skilled in picking the right stocks. Growing concerns about the family business headed by her brother William heighten her interest in opening her own brokerage firm and adding to the family coffers. Her brother refuses to entertain the thought of his sister in business. Knowing that she needs to be publicly connected with a man powerful in the business community, Elizabeth approaches Emmett Cavanaugh, hoping that a man who belongs to the city’s new wealth will be less conservative than her brother. Elizabeth erroneously believes that her brother and Cavanaugh are friends because they, along with Theodore Harper (The Tycoon) and Calvin Cabot, owner of three large newspapers, belong to a four-member secret group who use their power and money for purposes that require their joint efforts.

Cavanaugh rose from brutal poverty and an early childhood spent in the squalor of the infamous Five Points. Ruthless and driven, from the age of twelve, he devoted himself to ensuring that he and his three siblings escaped the hunger and violence of life in America’s first urban ghetto.  He started working in a steel mill, and he ended up owning it and much more. Cavanaugh is first amused and then intrigued by Elizabeth. He consents not to her initial proposal but to a wager with her shares in her family’s company as her stake. He is conscious, as is Elizabeth, of the strong attraction that sizzles between them, but each thinks the social gulf between them cannot be bridged.

The scandal that began with their first dinner meeting intensifies with their business association. The result is a forced marriage and two unhappy partners. The conflicts between these two strong characters are real, and misunderstandings abound. But even Mother Nature appears to know that Elizabeth and Emmett belong together and helps them reach their HEA. (I do love a snowstorm in a romance.)

I have long wished for the return of the non-Western American historical romance, and I am delighted to see more in this subgenre being offered in recent months. I find the Gilded Age a fascinating period. I even briefly considered making Edith Wharton the focus of my dissertation. You can then imagine how pleased I was to learn that Schupe was setting a series in 1880s New York City. My expectations were high, and Schupe met them beautifully. She does a wonderful job of world building, from her descriptions of the opulent homes of the wealthy to the backroom meetings of the powerful who are not overly particular about using ethical means to achieve their goals. Lest some reader complain that Elizabeth’s triumph is unrealistic, Schupe provides an author’s note that briefly recounts her real life model.

Elizabeth and Emmett are complex, layered characters who held my interest from the first pages. I found her likeable and sympathetic. Although Emmett is not always likeable, he is always compelling, and, given what readers know of him, he remains true to his character. My one reservation is that I would like to have seen his character explored a bit more fully.  The secondary characters add depth to the story. I especially loved Emmett’s family, and I eagerly await Baron, the third novel in the series, which will feature William Sloane, Elizabeth’s brother, and a fake medium.

If you are a fan of cross-class romances or the forced marriage trope, if you are captivated by Gilded Age tales, or if you like historical romance that combines the tried and true with the fresh and new, I highly recommend Magnate. I liked it so well that I have pre-ordered Baron (October 25, 2016). It has a political element! I can’t wait!


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review -- Burned By a Kiss

Burned by a Kiss
The Star Canyon Series - Book One
By Tina Leonard
Publisher: Diversion Books
Release Date: May 3, 2016

Former Navy SEAL Santana Dark never quite forgot that graduation kiss with shy, nerdy Emma Glass. Now he's home, ready to help his siblings work the family ranch following their father's mysterious death and wondering if there's still a spark between him and Emma. It doesn't take long to discover that there is but before they can explore it, a meeting with his father's lawyer delivers devastating news that leaves the Dark siblings reeling...and homeless. How can Santana explore any type of a relationship with Emma when he no longer has anything to offer her?

Veterinarian Emma Glass worried and wondered about her best friend's brother during his years abroad. She'd always had a crush on him and that unexpected graduation kiss gave her plenty to think about during the years he was gone from Star Canyon, New Mexico. Emma has a good life taking care of the animals of Star Canyon but it sure would be nice to have someone to share the lonely nights. Now that Santana's back, it's clear there's plenty of sizzle between them and she's more than ready to explore it. Feelings between them grow but between the tortured nightmares of his time in Afghanistan and everything he thought he knew about his family shattered, does he have anything left to give sweet Emma beyond fun between the sheets?

I always enjoy a Tina Leonard story and Burned by a Kiss is no exception, with its western setting, family dynamics, and touch of magic. I like the Dark family and am looking forward to getting to know them better in future books. There's also the mystery of their father's death that, apparently, will play out over the course of the series. Burned by a Kiss is the first book in the series and a lot of time is devoted to world building and setting foundations for the main characters of the series. While it's important to the overall story arc for the series, there were times when I felt the main romance of this book was sacrificed in favor of "setting the stage" for the series. I really liked Santana and Emma and wanted more time with just the two of them. But that complaint aside, I'm intrigued by all of the main characters as well as the mystery and am looking forward to more visits to Star Canyon.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Review - - My One and Only

My One and Only
Ardent Springs - Book 3
By Terri Osburn
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: May 18, 2016


Terri Osburn does not create simple, non-dimensional characters. They are multi-layered, complicated, and flawed, making them infinitely more interesting. Take Haleigh, the heroine of My One and Only. Here is a woman who has regrets, who carries guilt and shame. A respected doctor, she has the outward appearance of a successful woman who has her life in order but, inside? Inside, she's one hot mess - a recovering alcoholic battling issues of self-esteem, and enough parental baggage to sink a boat. Returning home to Ardent Springs six months ago after the failure of her third engagement, she's working as an OBGYN at the local hospital, renting a room from her best friend, and trying to establish a healthy relationship with her impossible-to-please mother, an almost impossible task. There's no time in her life for a man, especially not her best friend's twin brother and all-around good guy, Cooper Ridgeway who most certainly deserves someone much better than Haleigh.

Cooper Ridgeway feels like he's spent his whole life loving Haleigh Rae Mitchner but he's never felt worthy of her. His mean, drunk of a father did a number on Cooper's self-esteem that far outlasted the man's life. Even though Coop runs a successful business, he can't imagine what an educated, confident, doctor would ever see in a small-town mechanic so he keeps his distance. When a pregnant teen searching for her biological father brings Cooper and Haleigh together, Haleigh begins to view him as more than her friend's brother and when things begin to sizzle, Coop sees an opportunity to finally go after the woman he's always wanted. But when complications arise and truths begin to surface, will it bring them together or tear them apart?

There were times in this book when I was angry with Haleigh's behavior, when I wanted her to stand up for herself and for Cooper. But when you've spent most of your life being told you're not good enough by the person who should love you the most, it plays with your mind, your heart, your very soul. It creates patterns of behavior and belief that are not overcome quickly or easily, at least not in real life. Kudos to Osburn for keeping it real with this character and not taking the easy path. It may make it harder for some readers to like Haleigh but, for me, it makes this a more interesting, realistic, and, ultimately, satisfying story.

Then there's Cooper. Oh, my. Terri Osburn writes some terrific book boyfriends and Cooper, for my taste, is the best of the bunch. Much of the time I wasn't sure if I wanted to hug him, jump him, or give him a stern talking to but from the first page to the last, I never wavered in my adoration of this character as I cheered him on in his quest for a happy ending with his one and only. I do hope we'll be seeing more of him in future books. A community of secondary characters rounds out the cast, including the main couples from the first two books, whose relationships are progressing, and new characters who I'm hoping will figure prominently as the series moves forward.

If you enjoy small-town, contemporary romance with a rich depth of emotion, realistically flawed characters, humor, sizzle and a whole lot of heart, look no further than Terri Osburn's Ardent Springs series. My One and Only can easily be read as a stand-alone but for a more complete understanding of the characters, both primary and secondary, I recommend reading the books in order: His First and Last, Our Now and Forever, and My One and Only.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review - - The Duke of Sin

Duke of Sin
By Elizabeth Hoyt
Publisher: Grand Central
Release Date: May 31, 2016


Six Reasons to Sin with the DUKE OF SIN

1.)   Val is frightfully gorgeous, deliciously immoral, and delightfully broken—does he have a heart? Does he have a soul even? Who knows? For those of us who love a good fixer-upper, Val has great bones and glorious potential, but clearly just needs some “rehab” work. Massive, massive rehab work.

2.)   Villains are the new heroes. First there was the Earl of Mayne. Then there was the Duke of Villiers and the Viscount St. Vincent. And then Elizabeth Hoyt laughed and said, “Oh, honey, if you want to meet a villain….” And the Duke of Montgomery was born. I admit it. Elizabeth Hoyt terrifies me a little. How does this woman sleep at night? There were things that made me go, “My god, who thinks of stuff like this” and my next immediate thought was, “Elizabeth Hoyt—that lovely sweet looking woman—thinks of this stuff.”

3.)   None of that “social barrier” baloney for Val. No, no, when it comes time to entertain the thought of marrying his housekeeper, it’s not the fact she’s only a housekeeper that’s the problem. Plus he’s a duke and can do whatever the hell he wants. Then again, considering reason #2, that would have been gilding the lily where “issues keeping the couple apart” was concerned. (Where does Elizabeth Hoyt get this stuff?)

4.)   Even the worst, filthiest, most sinful sinner has a moral code. I grant you, you have to dig deep most of the time to see Val’s, but rest assured, it’s there. As he proclaims, he might be the villain of this piece, but when it counts, he’s there. I had my doubts. I was halfway through the book going, “How is Elizabeth Hoyt going to make us love this man? I want to strangle him!”—and she does it. She’s magic like that.

5.)   Every bit of dialogue Val speaks sounds exactly like Tom Hiddleston—so if you have heard Tom Hiddleston speak (and Tom Hiddleston can even make complex mathematical equations sound extremely sexy), you’ll understand why you’ll put up with a little bit of bad behavior—blackmailing, kidnapping, excessive debauchery—to be with him. I also freely admit that knowing Tom Hiddleston was her inspiration for Val is a huge reason I kept going when I thought, “There is no way she’s going to pull a HEA out of this. No. Way.”

6.)   The Duke of Montgomery has a flair for the dramatic. And I do mean dramatic. Whether he’s making a point to his housekeeper about how he’s a villain and not a hero or saving the heroine from being a bacchanal sacrifice at a Lords of Chaos ceremony or even announcing he’s been tupping his housekeeper to the said housekeeper’s brother, well, he certainly knows how to put on a good show and deal with the subsequent fallout. Val is like a fictional character mix of Lestat from An Interview with a Vampire and the diabolical, chaotic mischief and self-destruction of Loki—as I said, dramatic.

I would rate this book a 4 ½ for me—maybe a 5 (though I find myself comparing this story to Sweetest Scoundrel—and I did love Asa better)—I love all the Maiden Lane series and will read them and re-read them. Lord Caire…the Ghosts of St. Giles…Smiling Mickey…and all the heroes of the series are just swooningly, heart-throbbingly delicious. Val is no exception—he is swooningly, heart-throbbingly delicious, but he scares me a bit, even when tamed. There is no doubt that though Val has been “saved” by the love of the right woman who understands him and reminds him of his good self, beneath he’s still very much a wild animal not to be trifled with.

And the darkness that creates such a villain and makes him leap from the page comes from the kind of darkness that cannot be forgotten or wished away. I’ve always admired and respected Hoyt’s dark complexity of her settings, from where we met Lord Caire and that whole horrible gin enterprise and all the dark, seedy underbelly of London during this period, but the Lords of Chaos and the history that created Val make Lord Caire look like a Care Bear in comparison.

All the things one loves about Hoyt’s romances are there, in spades, but I do feel this book is her darkest yet. Wonderful, but dark.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review - - Temptations of a Wallflower

Temptations of a Wallflower
By Eva Leigh
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: April 26, 2016

Lady Sarah Frampton is not a social success, despite her status as daughter of the Duke of Wakefield. In fact, after five seasons, her tendency to observe rather than participate in society’s rituals has earned her the sobriquet the “Watching Wallflower.” In Sarah’s case, appearances are quite deceptive. Not only does Sarah enjoy an active interior life, but she is also the anonymous author of erotic novels that have proved satisfyingly successful. Of course, her authorship is a closely guarded secret because revealing that she is the “Lady of Dubious Quality” would provoke a scandal that would ruin her and damage her family.

Jeremy Cleland (shades of Fanny Hill!), the third son of the Earl of Hutton, is a vicar in a Devonshire village. Although he followed his dictatorial father’s plans by entering the church, he finds the role of vicar a good fit for him in some ways. However, the limitations of the life have increasingly weighed upon him recently. A lover of harmony by nature and dependent upon his father’s purse to supplement the small stipend of a village vicar, he does not hesitate when his father summons him to London. The earl, who views himself as a guardian of public morals, has an assignment for his vicar son: to discover the identity of the Lady of Dubious Quality, reveal her as the immoral creature she is, and destroy her scandalous writing career. Jeremy, secretly part of the lady’s readership himself, is reluctant to take on the task, but his reservations are no match for his father’s crusading spirit.

When Sarah and Jeremy meet, the attraction between them, physical and emotional, is immediate and powerful. They each instinctively recognize a kindred spirit in the other. For the first time, Sarah encounters a man who awakens in her the intense desire she has heretofore found only in her fictional characters. But even aside from the fact that Jeremy is committed to exposing Sarah’s secret identity, the gulf between a village vicar and a duke’s daughter is enormous. Nevertheless, when Sarah concludes that marriage offers her best means of protecting her secret, Jeremy is the only man she considers. But with the secret of Sarah’s writing identity between them, can they find enduring happiness together?

Temptations of a Wallflower is the third book in Leigh’s Wicked Quills of London series, and like the earlier books (Forever Your Earl and Scandal Takes the Stage), it is a gem of a book that blends feminist themes, engaging characters, and sensual romance that succeeds on multiple levels. Sarah and Jeremy are interesting protagonists whose complexity is far greater than their surface personalities suggest. It doesn’t hurt that I have a decided weakness for stories featuring vicars and wallflowers. To have both in a single novel is joyous indeed. I have grown increasingly weary of heroes and heroines whose libidos control them from their first glimpse of each other, but Sarah and Jeremy restored my faith in instant romance. I also loved that although they are inexperienced (Sarah is a virgin; Jeremy is not far removed from that state), they are not ignorant. On a delightful note, Jeremy gets some useful instruction from a book that he has no idea his wife wrote. Another plus is that both heroine and hero grow during the course of the novel, and their love is central to their growth. It frees them to become more fully themselves.
This novel is also metafiction that offers some wonderful insights into what it means for writing to be a vocation. Sarah is clear about who she is and on the role writing plays in her life. “I wanted everything. To write, and to love you. My books aren't foolish to me. Writing is who I am. I can't not write. If I did, I'd cease to exist.” Writers in any genre should relate to her description of finding her own voice.

 “My early writing efforts strived hard to be significant... I loved to write but hadn't done it well. Not until I penned my own erotic novel. And then I found myself. My voice, at last. Here it was, all this time, but I'd needed to find the right subject.”

I highly recommend this book. If, like me, you have found yourself skimming or even skipping sections or even full chapters of romance novels in which love scenes/sex scenes appear to have no purpose other than to increase the heat level, you will rejoice in reading a book with a high sensuality level in which such scenes are not extraneous but rather integral to who the characters are and to the journeys they make. I have added this one to my Best of 2016 list, and I look forward with great anticipation to seeing what Eva Leigh has next for her readers.