Monday, October 24, 2016

Review - - Christmas Joy

Christmas Joy
By Nancy Naigle
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: October 18, 2016  

Joy Holbrook is a market research executive in charge of “all things Christmas” at a Washington, D. C. company. Ambitious and single-minded, her focus is on her career. She hasn’t even been back to visit her Aunt Ruby, her closest living relative, in two years. That changes when Joy gets a call from her aunt’s best friend with the news that Ruby is in the hospital after a fall and is about to undergo surgery. Joy leaves immediately for Crystal Falls, North Carolina, the small town where Ruby lives and where Joy spent part of her high school years.

Joy associates the town with her mother’s death, and she avoids it and the memories—especially Christmas memories--it evokes as much as possible. However, when it becomes clear that Aunt Ruby has a long rehabilitation period, one that requires her to so stay in a rehabilitative facility. Joy promises that she will remain in Crystal Falls and take on Ruby’s responsibilities until the septuagenarian is able to assume them again. Prepared to feed a variety of farm animals, Joy is unprepared for duties that include caring for eight-year-old Molly part time, preparing for the Crystal Christmas Cookie Crawl, an over-the-top decorating/cookie baking contest that is the town’s most cherished tradition, and accepting help from “Handy Andy.”

Ben Andrews, a hospital accountant with mad handyman skills and a love of all things Christmas, is “Handy Andy,” a nickname Ruby assigns him and that he tolerates only from her. Ben is Joy’s opposite in more ways than his enthusiasm for Christmas. He is part of a tightly knit family, linked to a large circle of friends, and deeply involved in his community. He has helped Ruby win the coveted golden trophy for seven Crystal Christmas Cookie Crawls, but he fears that this year will be the year they lose since Joy is determined to do it all without any help from him.

However, as they spend time together, Ben discovers the vulnerable woman behind Joy’s city girl façade, and Joy discovers that the ties of community, family, and romantic love she has avoided may be just what her heart truly desires.

This is a sweet, small-town Christmas story. It is predictable, but that is not a bad thing in a Christmas novel. Most readers of holiday romances are looking for comfort and sentiment, both of which Naigle provides along with humor and enough holiday trimmings to please the most Christmas-obsessed reader. Joy and Ben are likeable, and the secondary characters from Joy’s assistant to Molly and Aunt Ruby add to the appeal. The conclusion did seem abrupt and truncated to me. I suspect that other romance readers, fond as many of us are of rich HEA scenes and confirming epilogues, may also find the ending disappointing.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Review - - Wicked Highland Wishes

Wicked Highland Wishes
Entangled Hearts - Book 2
By Julie Johnstone
Release Date: October 10, 2016

Desire tempted them. Honor forbade them. Love ensnared them. 

Legendary warrior Lachlan MacLeod has never encountered anything or anyone he could not conquer. But when his younger brother confesses his love for Bridgette MacLean—the only woman Lachlan has ever wanted—Lachlan turns away from the beautiful Scottish lass, vowing to be no more than her friend. Yet his need for Bridgette enslaves him and may well prove to be the one thing he cannot defeat.

Fiercely independent Bridgette longs to be treated as an equal to the men. She always imagined great battles in her future, not great love. Then Lachlan saw her as no one ever had and captured her heart, awakening new cravings inside her without realizing it. But when Lachlan’s younger brother suffers a grave injury while saving her life, she feels unable to deny his plea for her heart. However, it is impossible to give what belongs to another…

Torn between their own desire and their loyalties, Bridgette and Lachlan must find the courage to grasp the passion awaiting them and face the pain their choice will cause. Yet even as they confront their future and love finally seems within their grasp, a fight for the Scottish throne divides the Highland clans and Bridgette becomes a pawn in a political game that threatens to tear her and Lachlan apart forever.

Johnstone’s ability to create a sense of time and place brings an authenticity to her 14th century Scottish setting but it’s her vibrant, multi-faceted characters who bring this story to life and draw the reader into the heart of the action. I was captivated by When a Laird Loves a Lady, the first book in Johnstone’s Entangled Hearts series. By the time I reached the conclusion, I was invested in all of the characters and eagerly anticipating future stories, especially Bridgette and Lachlan's. Wicked Highland Wishes takes Johnstone's writing to a new level and Lachlan and Bridgette’s story straight to my keeper shelf.

Lachlan and Bridgette’s journey to a happy ending isn’t an easy one. The times in which they lived were often brutal and, as I said earlier, Johnstone brings an undeniable authenticity to her writing. Without venturing into spoiler territory, something happens in this story that left my heart shattered. In the hands of a less skilled writer, I might have thrown the book against the wall and stopped reading at that point. In Johnstone’s hands, what follows the incident strengthens the story, the characters, and a deep, enduring love, and does so in a realistic way. No overnight, magic solutions here. It also strengthened my love and admiration for Lachlan. I hadn't expected him to capture my heart but wow, what a remarkable hero. I can't stop thinking about him or about Bridgette who has more than earned her place in my personal historical romance heroines hall of honor. Thank you, Ms. Johnstone, for creating these characters and giving them a story that will linger in my mind - and my heart - for some time to come. I closed the final page confident that, together, they will have the strength and courage to withstand any obstacle life chooses to place in their path.

As with the first book in the series, now that I have finished reading Wicked Highland Wishes, I am eagerly anticipating future books from Ms. Johnstone. Secondary characters have evolved, new characters have been introduced, and the story potential is limitless. I cannot wait to find out what she has planned for us next!

I highly recommend both When a Laird Loves a Lady and Wicked Highland Wishes. While each book will stand on its own, for maximum enjoyment, I suggest they be read in order.  


Have you read Julie Johnstone yet?

Do you enjoy historical romance set in Medieval times?

Do you swoon for Scottish heroes like I do?

What's the last book that lingered in your mind long after you turned that final page?

One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before 11:00 PM, October 22, 2016 will receive a signed copy of The Dangerous Duke of Dinnisfree that I bought at the recent Historical Romance Retreat. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review and Q&A - - When a Marquess Loves a Woman

When a Marquess Loves a Woman
By Vivienne Lorret
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Release Date: October 4, 2016

When the title of a book sets you to humming and swaying to a ‘60s R&B hit, I’d say you have a winner. That is exactly how I felt when I heard the title of Vivienne Lorret’s When A Marquess Loves A Woman and even more so after I read it. The book is the third of her The Season’s Original series. It follows Lady Julia Granworth, newly widowed and Max, a newly minted Marquess and their wager to declare their personal picks named the Season’s Original.

As we are introduced to them we find that Max and Julia have a long history. Five years earlier, they started out as friends who knew and understood one another as no one else did but one stolen kiss robs them of making a life for themselves despite society’s censure. Even though Max is a first son, he is without title or prospects and Julia is at the mercy of her father’s need for her to make an advantageous match. Even so, Max tries to do the honorable thing but is shunned and Julia is whisked away to wed another.

Following the death of her husband, Julia returns to London a rich widow and would like nothing more than to be independent and return to her childhood home which is up for sale. Max has since gained a title and money and can now have anything he wants. Still stung by her rejection he finds that what he wants is Julia’s townhouse and buys it out from under her nose. She is enraged.

In order to best one another, they decide on that wager but come to a draw when no Original is named. With few weeks left to the season, they decide to make the same wager again but this time the terms have changed. If Julia wins, she gets back her townhouse. If she loses, she must leave London, never to return. They place the names of their Originals in a box for the butler to keep.

Max never reveals who his Original is but Julia chooses a favorite son of the ton, Viscount Ellery. He is all that is charming, handsome and chivalrous.  Julia strives to make his shiny armour glimmer even more in the eyes of the ton. A seemingly easy task given his personality and the manner in which he conducts himself. We do come to find that he has a bit of steel in him. A bit of steel that this reader wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Max and Julia’s efforts to keep their candidates in the limelight force them together more often than not. They rediscover that they know each other quite well and recognize qualities others have overlooked.  Julia is seen as shallow and Max was of no consequence until he became titled.

It’s a delight to see this development. They cannot deny they are attracted to one another. Their banter is delicious. They are tried and true supporters to family and friends and would do anything for them. There are also plenty of unsavory characters who cause strife for the couple including Max’s own half-brother who is as self absorbed and self righteous as they come. He causes quite a stir, as do the dealings of a scam artist that nearly ruins many of the ton and cripples the banks of that time period.

But in the end, love triumphs once again. Max and Julia bring out the best in one another and celebrate their depths. Keep your eye out for gilded cages and their tiny doors that manage to keep us trapped within. It will melt your heart.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It works wonderfully as a stand alone but, if you haven’t read Vivienne Lorret’s books before, you will find yourself reaching for more. I know that I cannot wait to see if more of the secondary characters in this series will get stories of their own. I’m a patient reader and I’ll just keep myself entertained glomming her backlist.


Author Q&A:

Santa: What are you working on now? Book? Proposal? Novella? I'm a hungry gal.

Vivienne: I'm currently working on a proposal for a potential new series set in late-Regency London. Working on it and getting to know an entirely new cast of characters is a lot of fun!

Santa: When you sit down to start on a project, do you sketch it all out or go where the muse takes you?

Vivienne: It's a little of both, actually. I construct the bones of the story beforehand (setting, conflict, and characters), and add the brain and the heart (back-stories and ultimate goals). After that, filling in the sinew and tissue (aka: how the characters move through each scene) is somewhat of a mystery.

For me, part of the fun of writing is surprising myself. I want to be shocked, to have my head spin, to fall in love, to laugh out loud, and even to cry (with only my empty house to witness my mania, of course). ;)

Santa: You have a few series under your belt. Do you see any characters from one series hopping over to another one or the next series you may be doing?

Vivienne: Just between you and me, I enjoy slipping in a guest appearance or two from one

series to the next. In WHEN A MARQUESS LOVES A WOMAN, I casually mentioned the Marquess of Knightswold (Bane, from Winning Miss Wakefield).

I wouldn't be surprised if another character happened to pop up in the next series, too.

Santa: Who is your favorite character or do you fall in love with each as you write them?

Vivienne: While I'm writing, I fall in love with each of my characters, wanting to give them the happily-ever-after they deserve. It was the same with the Season's Original Series. However, I did find myself distracted on more than one occasion by Max and Juliet. I couldn't wait to write their story!

Santa: Back to question number one...

There is a delightful character in your Season's Original series who has been with us from the very beginning and who, I think, deserves their own HEA. Viscount Ellery has been ever the gentleman but we saw some fire in him in When a Marquess Loves a Woman. I suspected as much. And what of the scandalized Gemma? She deserves a HEA. Not so sure about Bram. A bit of a prig to put it mildly. What are your plans for these characters?

Vivienne: Poor Ellery! He's a handsome, courteous, boy-next-door type who can't seem to get the girl.

First, there was Lilah (The Debutante is Mine). According to the Duke of Vale's Marriage Formula, they were a perfect match, but her heart chose Jack, instead. Briefly, he met Adeline (This Earl is on Fire), but her heart was already taken by Liam. Then there was Juliet (When a Marquess Loves a Woman). She saw all of his wonderful qualities, and even shared common interests, but Max's kiss had already ruined her for all other men.

I think it's time for Ellery to get the girl, don't you?

Coincidentally, Gemma Desmond needs a husband. Desperately. The only problem is, her father’s crimes have tarnished her reputation and she fears that no honorable man will have her. At least, until she meets Ellery and begins to hope that love might very well conquer all.

But things aren’t that simple for Gemma—especially not when the waspish Miss Leeds and Miss Ashbury are determined to keep her from Ellery. Oh yes, they’re at it again! Using all the venom in their collective stingers, they set about to destroy the only chance Gemma has for happily-ever-after. 

Will Gemma ever escape the crimes of her father? Will Ellery come to her rescue? Will love prevail in the end? Will Miss Ashbury and Miss Leeds finally get their just desserts?

Hmm… There’s no telling how the story will end. I mean, I could tell you… but that would spoil the anticipation. ; )

Santa: Thanks for answering my questions. Would you like to ask our readers anything?

Vivienne: Sure! I’d love to know if there are any characters (from any of the series) you wish had their own stories.
Thank you for having me here today! I’ve had a wonderful time!
If you’re interested in what’s coming next, please sign up for my newsletter at
Have an amazing day!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

You Had Me at Christmas Winners

The two winners of an ebook copy of 

You Had Me at Christmas are:



Hellie Sinclair


Please send your email address and choice of epub or mobi format to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

PJ's Birthday Winners

The four winners of a signed historical romance 

from my Birthday / HRR Retreat post are:


Pamela Devereux


Diane D - Florida


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

PJ's Twelve Days of Kindness Winner

The randomly chosen winner of a $10 Amazon gift card is:



Please send your email address to me at:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Review - - The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel
By Jennifer McQuiston
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: September 27, 2016


Ms. McQuiston turns the “cute meet” on its ear with this opener: heroine, Mary Channing catches roguish Geoffrey West urinating in the bushes of her sister’s townhouse. The London-shy soon-to-be-out-and-about introvert soon brushes up against him again, this time at a dinner party featuring Mr. Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary had retreated to the hostess’ library; and West, spying the winsome stranger in blue, followed her, thinking to introduce himself to who he thinks is a widow. Upon realizing his mistake, he goes to leave; however, the door opens and he whisks them both behind a curtain so they aren’t compromised. They overhear a plot to kill Queen Victoria—and just as they come out behind the curtains (after the would-be assassins leave), the door opens again and catches them both, compromised and Mary ruined.

Geoffrey West has a dubious reputation at best and a notorious rake of all scoundrels at worst. It’s been rumored he’s slept with a corpse after all (which he confirms later when she asks). He’s very much the little boy who cries wolf, the ultimate prankster. In fact, you may recall his antics from McQuiston’s previous novel featuring his sister, Lucy. (He sent her a letter with poison ivy.) He loves pranks, the more juvenile the better. He doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, and certainly not the fact he was given the Victoria Cross for his heroism in Crimea. His commitment to being a ne’er-do-well has successfully covered any seriousness he might possess.

Therefore, isn’t it ironic—or more likely, EXPECTED—when no one believes him when he does try to go to the Home Office and explain about a death threat on the queen? In fact, it’s clearly a big whopper to cover the fact he’s compromised a quiet, nice girl like Mary and doesn’t want to “pay the piper” so to speak. Never mind that Mary doesn’t want to marry him. He’s wild, frequently drunk, and seems to be the world’s biggest fribble. And he doesn’t seem remotely concerned about what is clearly a death threat on the queen.

When Mary gets a death threat for her search for the assassins, West persuades her to marry him so he can protect her properly. Together they continue to look for the killers, though West does his best to make sure her work on this project is minimal at best. In the nick of time, disaster is averted; however, the discovery of the villains is a punch in the gut for all.

Mary and West’s banter throughout the book is charming and funny. I felt they had real chemistry; and they brought out the best in each other. However, Mary’s penchant for danger made her a little frustrating (if you get annoyed by TSTL behavior, you may find this frustrating); and West can come across as more a wild frat boy than a man who is dealing with PTSD from his time in Crimea. The pacing is quick and the dialogue is strong—and meeting Queen Victoria is the cherry on this sundae.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Today's Special - - Sheila Roberts' Three Christmas Wishes and Christmas Central

Having met Sheila Roberts on several occasions, I can assure you that she is just as caring, funny, and genuine as the heartwarming novels she writes. A happily married mother of three, Sheila lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s been writing since 1989, but former careers include owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. Sheila's books are best sellers and often appear as Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Her novel "Angel Lane" was named one of Amazon's top ten romances in 2009. Her novel "On Strike for Christmas" was a Lifetime Network movie and her novel "The Nine Lives of Christmas" was made into a movie for the Hallmark channel. When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate. Readers can discover more about Sheila and her books at her website and connect with her online at Facebook and Twitter

Sheila Roberts—an Elf Who Works Year-Round

While many of us moan when we see Christmas decorations and wrapping paper crowding the store shelves before we’ve trick-or-treated or done the turkey deed, Sheila Roberts says, bring it on, the earlier the better! In fact, the prolific author of the fun October 18 novel, THREE CHRISTMAS WISHES, begins her Christmas shopping in January and gets great joy out of planning ahead so she isn’t so stressed over the holidays.

Her number one tip for making Christmas fun for friends and
family can be found in her website section she’s calling Sheila Roberts' Christmas Central. Check it out for creative shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, party ideas and ways to make the holidays more fun and meaningful for the little ones.)  Here’s what she says about that planning ahead business:

Before the holidays are in full swing, as early as right now, schedule a “lists” night. Make a list of all the things you need and want to do for the holidays and schedule ahead.

A tip: break big tasks into smaller ones, giving yourself little things to do over several nights. Mark off some “silent nights”—times when you won’t make any plans. Reserve those nights for staying home and regrouping as a family, maybe watching a Christmas movie together. Let those times also be ones of rest for you, with a bubble bath on the agenda or an evening by the fire or curled up in your favorite reading spot with a book. Stepping out of the hectic race for a few moments will help you keep your strength up for the long haul, and the best way to make sure you get some time off is to schedule it in ahead of time. Then, stay strong and master the art of saying no.

Ironically, in Sheila’s THREE CHRISTMAS WISHES it isn’t advance planning that makes one outing particularly fun and memorable for three friends. On a lark, the three women, all wanting in the romance department, visit a mall Santa and share their most ardent wish. And, boy, does Santa deliver but in ways they would never have imagined! Later they learn they’re the only ones who can recall seeing this particular Santa in the mall—or anywhere. They’re beginning to wonder if he could possibly be . . . the real St. Nick!

We thought it would be fun to ask Sheila a few questions about her Christmases, past and present:

     Did a holiday mishap or disaster ever create a treasured, fun memory for you and your family?

Oh, yes. One of the crazy memories was when the kids were small. We were leaving my brother’s on Christmas Eve and discovered our car was stuck in second gear. Twenty-five miles of back roads. A horse and buggy could have beaten us. We got home in the wee hours. It was the only Christmas our kids ever slept in.

     Among your treasured Christmas decorations, what are the most meaningful for you? Which ones give you special joy when you unwrap them each year?

I have a couple. One is a cute Santa face made from Styrofoam that my mother made back in the ‘50s. I bring that out every year and love it. I also have a framed poster from my all-time favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” that my big brother gave me. That always gets hung in a special place.

 What is the favorite gift you’ve ever given?

Actually, that favorite gift is coming up this year. I inherited a darling little granddaughter when my son married, and this year she’s getting the china tea set that was mine as a child. We’ll be visiting them right after Christmas, and I’m hoping she and I can have a tea party.

      Readers are always fascinated by how authors’ minds work. For you, one question could obviously relate to how prolific you are with Christmas stories. Each year you write a Christmas story, and two have become made-for-TV movies. Do ideas for these stories pop into your mind during or after the holidays?

No. They pop into my mind when it’s time to come up with a new Christmas story. J

Are there any special meals or foods you serve during the holidays, besides the cookies in your recipe section on Sheila Roberts’ Christmas Central?

Eggnog lattes are my specialty, along with a fabulous biscotti recipe I concocted years ago for my novel “On Strike for Christmas.” Anyone ready for a coffee break? (Note that you’ll find three great Christmas cookie recipes on my Christmas Central website page!)

     Having shared many fun Christmases with your family, what advice would you give to young parents today as they set out to make Christmas special for their families?

Now is the time to make those memories. Take a drive one night and look at Christmas lights, bake cookies together, go caroling around the neighborhood. Let some of the chores and obligations slide—they’ll get done eventually—and focus on that time together. In the end, that’s the best Christmas present you’ll ever get.

Thank you, Sheila! I love your year-round Christmas spirit!

Readers, what traditions have you implemented to make Christmas special for you, your friends, or your family? 

Three Christmas Wishes
By Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: October 18, 2016

When three friends visit a shopping-mall Santa on a lark, the jolly old elf is full of mysterious predictions about the thing they're all wishing for: the perfect man. Or at least men who are perfect for them
Riley Erickson's fiancé turned out to be a dud, dumping her for her bridesmaid three weeks before the wedding. But Santa says that she's soon going to meet her ideal man in a memorable way. 
And he predicts that a new man is about to come into Jo's life. What on earth does that mean? She's pregnant and already has her hands full with the perfectly stubborn husband she's got. 
Noel has given up completely on ever finding her perfect match. But apparently Noel is going to get a good man to go with that house she's trying desperately to buy. 
These friends are about to discover that Christmas wishes can come true, because in spite of romantic setbacks and derailed dreams, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review - - You Had Me at Christmas

You Had Me at Christmas
By Karina Bliss, Stephanie Doyle, Laura Florand,
Jennifer Lohmann, and Molly O’Keefe
Publisher: Self-Published
Release Date: October 17, 2016

Anthologies of Christmas novellas have become common since the marriage of romance fiction and digital media, but there is nothing common about this anthology. It is an extraordinary collection by five talented authors of contemporary romance.

It gets off to a strong start with Karina Bliss’s “Play,” following Rise, the first novel in her Rock Solid series. Jared and Kayla Walker are high school sweethearts who married young. Kayla believes in Jared’s talent and encourages his dreams. When Jared won a spot in Zander Freedman’s resurrection of the band that made him famous with a new group of musicians, the resulting fame and all that accompanied it put a strain on the Walkers’ marriage. Having Kayla and the children join the tour was an attempt to relieve the tensions, but it backfired, putting their marriage in real jeopardy.

After the scandal surrounding Zander’s lip syncing in an appearance and the scare about the star’s throat, no one is sure what is going to happen to the band. Jared is home, making a desperate effort to repair the damage to his relationship with Kayla. She is no less committed to the relationship, but her confidence in herself and in Jared’s love for her have been undermined by her experiences on the tour. Her doubts about their future as a couple cannot be easily addressed. Christmas is approaching with all the attendant pressures of excited kids and family gatherings, and Kayla and Jared find it difficult to find time for the two of them. Can they find their way back to each other despite the difficulties?

Karina Bliss is brilliant at creating characters who hook me head and heart, and her prose is always superb. These qualities have made her one of my auto-buy authors. Rise was my top contemporary romance of 2015, even though I was initially skeptical about Zander Freedman as a hero. I have been eager for more of Jared and Kayla’s story since I turned the last page of that book. I was a bit disappointed that it was a novella, but Bliss, who first gained attention as a category author, knows how to pack a lot of story in fewer pages. “Play” was all I hoped it would be.

It is obvious that Jared and Kayla are deeply in love with one another and want to salvage their marriage, but their problems are significant. There is nothing trite about the obstacles they face. Jared is no self-destructive rocker seeking absolution for his betrayals, but fame has changed him and the way he lives his life. Bliss wisely avoids the simplistic and makes the marriage in trouble a problem that requires both partners to grow in understanding of self and one another if their reunion story is to have an HEA. The story has humor (including a very funny sex scene) and poignance, appealing kids and marital passion, and the real feel of a family preparing for Christmas. I loved it! “Play” alone is worth purchasing the anthology.

It is not necessary to have read Rise to enjoy this novella, but having read the earlier book will enhance the reading of the novella. The second novel in the series, Fall (the story of Zander’s PA Dimity Graham and Rage drummer Seth Curran), is scheduled for release in next month. I can’t wait.


Stephanie Doyle’s “One Naughty Little Christmas” is the second story. Alone on Christmas night and counting the hours to December 26 when life will once again be filled with the demands of work, Kate McCullen passes the lonely hours with a little wine and consideration of a new app her assistant had downloaded to her phone: “a dating app specifically for people over forty. A more serious, more mature group of single people looking to find each other.”  Tentatively, Kate opens the app and, after a few misses, sees a picture of a man that intrigues her. The two connect—cyberly, emotionally, and, in a move out of character for both of them, sexually. Kate never expected that her lonely Christmas evening would end with Internet sex.

Moving the relationship from the virtual world to the real one is more complicated. Regardless of their instant connection via the dating app, Kate and John are very different, and they have their share of baggage. Both have known loss, and both know that the real is riskier, scarier than a fantasy. Can they overcome their fears and give the love they have unexpectedly found a chance?

I love the developing trend of older heroines and heroes, so I was predisposed to like this one. I found Kate, a woman who had devoted two decades to building a successful career and is now questioning if it is enough, a particularly sympathetic heroine. The cross-class romance is one of my favorite tropes, and this was an interesting take on that one. For readers who like highly sensual romances, this one has some sizzling scenes. My one complaint is the title. To me, it suggests a rom-com rather than the considerably more substantive story Doyle gives her readers.


Jennifer Lohmann is up third with "Twelve Kisses Until Christmas." Selina Lumina's dreams of leaving her small Idaho town to pursue a career in the art world have turned to desperation with the increasingly insistent drunken attentions of her abusive stepfather. With little money left from her waitressing job at the local diner after paying for one college course per semester and many of the bills at her mother and stepfather's home and no emotional support coming from her mother, Selina sees no way out of her dilemma. Her future looks bleak...until the morning a stranger walks into the diner and offers her the chance of a lifetime.

Recently selling the app he created with his good friend for millions of dollars, twenty-five year old technology whiz kid, Marc Murcowski is determined to enjoy his new-found wealth, driving around the country, exploring out the way places and every ski run he can find. Except, it's not fulfilling him like he'd anticipated. He's bored, lonely, and can't stop thinking about the sold app that he's confident he can still make better. The only bright spot in his currently dreary life is the cute but weary - and wary - waitress in the small Idaho diner where he's stopped to eat. An impulsive decision leads him to offer her a ride to Salt Lake City where she can pursue her dreams if she'll agree to explore the out of the way tourist attractions with him along the way. The offer is strictly platonic but as they slowly come to know one another on the trip will it stay that way? And once they reach Salt Lake City, will they be willing to say good-bye or will they have found new dreams to explore together?

Selina and Marc are both young but no less complex for their ages and experience or lack thereof. Selina, in particular, is wise beyond her years, no doubt due to having to mature quickly because of her family situation.  Marc, while the elder and more successful of the two, has more maturing to do, a fact that Selina recognizes even if Marc doesn't. At least, not at first. Lohmann does a good job of keeping the characters and their journey true to their age and experience, especially with the ending which I found very satisfying. This was my first story by Jennifer Lohmann. I enjoyed her writing and plan to seek out more.


I discovered Laura Florand earlier this year and she has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary authors. "Snow-Kissed," the fourth novella in this anthology, brilliantly showcases why all contemporary romance readers should have Ms. Florand on their reading list. This novella was previously published September 1, 2013 as the first story in Florand's Snow Queen duo.

Kai had once been a woman full of joy who was head over heels in love with her husband. She taught him how to smile, how to have fun. He was her world, as she was his, and then it all fell apart. Overcome with grief, unable to function any longer in her everyday life or find forgiveness, for either of them, Kai turned her back on Kurt and their marriage and escaped to his mother's cabin in the mountains. It had been 18 months since she walked out on their marriage and her soul was still as cold as the snow falling outside the cabin window when Kurt arrived at the cabin. She wasn't ready to see him; wasn't sure if she would ever be ready, knowing how she had ruined the love they once had.

Kurt had never stopped loving Kai during the long months they were apart. He knew he hadn't been there for her in the way she needed when her world fell apart but he didn't know what else he could have done. She retreated into her grief and guilt to a place he couldn't reach, didn't fully understand. When they are snowed in at the cabin, Kurt knows it could be his last chance to break through the wall she's erected around her heart, heal the rift in their marriage, and rediscover the joy they once shared.

In "Snow-Kissed," Laura Florand has created an exquisitely written, heart-wrenching tale of love, loss, grief, hope, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. It's one of the best, if not the best, second-chance love stories I've ever read. I was held spellbound by the imagery, the language, the fragility of these characters, the deep anger and feelings of helplessness, the tenuous hope as they cautiously reach out to one another, the gentle care and sensuous desire. The intimacy and emotional depth of this story is incredible. I didn't so much read it as I absorbed it at a gut level. It was as if I knew these characters, knew their pain, their anguish, and ached with them. In my opinion, "Snow-Kissed" is as close to perfection as a story can get. It has my highest recommendation.

A couple words of caution...
You probably don't want to read this novella on a crowded airplane (yes, I did and it wasn't pretty) and I strongly encourage you to have a full pack of tissues handy before you begin. There's a reason "Snow-Kissed" was voted Biggest Tearjerker of the Year in the annual AAR reader poll.


Molly O’Keefe’s “Christmas Eve: A Love Story” concludes the collection. This is a reissue; the novella was briefly available in Sweet Talk, the limited edition collection released in May 2015 by Brenda Novak's Online Auction for Diabetes Research.

Trina Crawford and Dean McKenzie grew up on neighboring spreads in Dusk Falls, Wyoming. Best friends, they spent every Christmas Eve at the annual Christmas party thrown by Dean’s wealthy parents. Part of the tradition was the playing of Christmas carols by Trina on piano and Dean on guitar. That tradition, along with the Crawfords presence at the party, ended when Roy Crawford and Eugene McKenzie clashed over the ownership of a piece of land at the boundary of their properties, but even feuding fathers could not stop Trina and Dean’s friendship. Dean was there on the Christmas Eve when Trina’s mother left Dusk Falls forever, leaving Trina with her silent, drunken father. Dean understood Trina’s determination to escape Dusk Falls and her father. He too had plans to leave the town and the father he could never please.

The ties of friendship stretched but never broke as Trina left for college and law school and Dean studied land management in Laramie. If they each dreamed that there was more than friendship between them, the time never seemed right to speak of those dreams—not until as adults they found themselves back in Dusk Falls. But their idyll and their friendship were shattered by a double betrayal. It will take a Christmas Eve miracle of forgiveness to bring true reunion and an HEA.

Molly O’Keefe’s newest novels have been erotic romance, not a subgenre I read, so I loved this reread of a story that is a combination of sweetness and substance and characters so real I wanted to give them a hug. Friends-to-lovers and reunion stories are my favorite tropes, and this novella is a bit of both. I don’t rank this one quite as highly as O’Keefe’s Rita-winning Christmas novella “The Christmas Eve Promise” (2009), one of my perennial Christmas rereads, but it is a wonderful story and a sigh-worthy end to this excellent anthology.


Have you read any of the authors in this anthology?

Do you enjoy Christmas themed romances? Do you like them light and comedic or deeply emotional?

Two randomly chosen people leaving a comment on today's post will receive an e-book copy of You Had Me at Christmas. (winner's choice of epub or mobi format)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

On Second Thought - - Breath of Magic

Breath of Magic
By Teresa Medeiros
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: January 5, 2011
(Originally published by Bantam.
February 1, 1996)

If you like your romances with a seasonal touch, it’s the time of year to read romance fiction that features witches and ghosts and things that go bump in the night. I’m not much of a paranormal reader, but I do have a few favorites that might be termed paranormal light. Breath of Magic ranks high in that group. I reread it not just at Halloween but also at other times when I need a romance that makes me laugh.

Arian Whitewood was sent by her ailing grandmother to live with her mother and stepfather in colonial Massachusetts. Arian’s mother died before Arian arrived, and her stepfather, who sincerely loved his wife and promised to care for her daughter, has struggled vainly for a decade to turn his white witch stepdaughter into a proper Puritan. Arian tries to cooperate with his efforts, but her supernatural abilities cannot be contained. When her stepfather asks for help from a minister, the result is a witch trial that concludes with Arian undergoing the water ordeal. Fearing that she is about to die, Arian casts a spell that goes awry, sending her, her emerald amulet, and her broomstick from Gloucester in 1689 to New York City in 1996.

Eccentric tycoon Tristan Lennox has cynically promised one million dollars to anyone who can prove the existence of magic outside the parameters of science. When a broomstick-riding Arian, dodging helicopters, lands in the courtyard of Lenox Tower where the magic contest is being conducted, Tristan is convinced she is a fraud. Feeling the need to keep an eye on her, he houses her in his penthouse apartment while his team of experts examines Arian’s broom to determine how it flew. Tristan, jaded and distrustful of almost everyone, is suspicious of Arian, angry with the chaos that she creates, and reluctantly intrigued by her. Arian is learning to use her own gifts and adjusting to life in a world that seems to her to be filled with unimaginable wonders and fearsome dragons. Tristan eventually learns to trust Arian and his feelings for her, but the two must survive many dangers before they can claim their HEA.

To enjoy this novel fully, you must be willing to suspend disbelief and accept this story as you would a fairy tale. If you can do this, you will be charmed by the effervescent Arian and gradually won over by the wounded loner Tristan. I adored them both. The secondary characters are also deftly drawn. The villains are appropriately heinous, Sven, Tristan’s bodyguard, and Michael Copperfield, Tristan’s Native American best friend and legal adviser, are scene-stealers. There is adventure and mystery in the plot, but it is the humor that makes the book special for me. Arian’s encounters with twentieth century plumbing and her first shopping trip to Bloomingdale’s are laugh-out-loud funny. They are among my favorite funny scenes ever even though I generally prefer more cerebral humor.

If you are looking for a bewitching romance to read for Halloween, I highly recommend Breath of Magic.  The sequel, Touch of Enchantment in which Arian and Tristan’s genius daughter travels to the 13th century, is almost as good. Another delightful bit-of-witchery romance is Jill Barnett’s Bewitching, with one of the best epilogues in romance fiction. Why not make one of them—or all of them—part of your Halloween celebration?


Do you have a favorite witchy or ghostly romance? 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review - - The Lullaby Sky

The Lullaby Sky
By Carolyn Brown
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: September 13, 2016

It has taken her seven years, but Hannah Ellis has finally escaped an abusive marriage, forfeiting any rights to her husband’s considerable wealth in exchange for an uncontested divorce, custody of her daughter, and sole ownership of her house, her land, and her car. She also receives the authority to resume her maiden name and to give that name to her child. Henceforth, Hannah and Sophie Ellis will be Hannah and Sophie O’Malley.

Hannah has an extensive support system that includes two octogenarians, her great-aunt Birdie and Birdie’s friend Rosie, and a tight circle of life-long friends. They celebrate Hannah’s freedom, help her rid her home of the tangible evidence of her ex and his control of her life, and ensure that Sophie is surrounded by adults who love her. When Hannah decides to help other abused women, they help her turn her home in Crossings, Texas, into a safe house for women from Patchwork House, the local women’s shelter. Helping these other women helps Hannah to grow stronger and more confident, but she is heartbroken that Liz, one of her closest friends and principal of the school where Hannah works as a teacher’s aide, is still in denial about her own role as an abused wife.

Travis Wilson, another of Hannah’s friends and Miss Rosie’s grandson, is always there when Hannah needs him as a mover of furniture, as a guard for the safe house, or in any other capacity. He is willing to wait patiently until Hannah is ready to think about the future, a future he hopes to share with her and with Sophie to whom he is also devoted. Because the focus of the story is on Hannah’s recovery and her second chance at life, hope and optimism prevail despite the serious issue.

I found Hannah, Travis, and all of the secondary characters likeable but lacking in credibility. I need more depth and complexity than these characters offered to become invested in the story. The airplane Marty forgot that provides Hannah with a windfall, the reappearance of Marty’s new wife, the cuteness of Sophie, who seems minimally affected by her father’s behavior—all of these required more suspension of disbelief than I was able to summon. Carolyn Brown has a large, loyal following, and I feel certain that those readers and others who like their romance heavy on the sweetness and light will appreciate this novel more than I did.