Friday, July 21, 2017

Spotlight on 2017 RITA Finalists - - Historical Romance: Long

On Thursday, July 27th, the Romance Writers of America® will announce the 2017 recipients of their prestigious RITA®. The award, given in recognition of excellence in romance publishing, is named for RWA's first president, Rita Clay Estrada and the annual award ceremony, held this year at the Walt Disney World® Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, is a highlight of RWA's national conference. I'll be there and will be taking lots of photos to share with all of you after the conference. If you want to follow along with the announcements of the winners on the 27th, you can do so on these RWA social media platforms:

RWA will also be once again streaming the ceremony live for everyone who can't be in Orlando. Go to at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern), Thursday, July 27th to watch.  

For more information about the RITA® award, click here.  For a full list of this year's RITA® finalists, click here.

Today, we're spotlighting the four books that are finalists in the Historical Romance:Long category. 

Historical Romance: Long

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase
Avon Books
May Chen, Editor

Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can't see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax's nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.

Though he's unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford's never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn't part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her . . .

It's an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton's most adored heiress and London's most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?

Loretta Chase has worked in academe, retail, and the visual arts, as well as on the street—as a meter maid—and in video, as a scriptwriter. She might have developed an excitingly checkered career had her spouse not nagged her into writing fiction. Her bestselling historical romances, set in the Regency and Romantic eras of the early nineteenth century, have won a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America's RITA®.

Where to Buy:

Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Michele Bidelspach, Editor

Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that's where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . . 

Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney's game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who's been robbing London's rich and powerful. He's no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won't rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . . 

Anna Harrington fell in love with historical romances--and all those dashing Regency heroes--while living in London, where she studied literature and theatre. She loves to travel, fly airplanes, and hike, and when she isn't busy writing her next novel, she loves fussing over her roses in her garden. Visit her website at or follow her at @aharrington2875.

Where to Buy:

by Laura Lee Guhrke
Avon Books
Erika Tsang, Editor

After spending his youth as one of the wildest rakes in the ton, Lord Denys Somerton has devoted the past six years to putting his past behind him. He is determined to fulfill his duties, find a suitable wife, and start a family, but that plan changes when Lola Valentine—the red-haired temptress from his past—returns to London, sparking the same irresistible desires that almost ruined his life once before.

Lola is a woman with no romantic illusions. She knew love would never be enough for a British lord and an American girl from the wrong side of the tracks. For Denys’s sake, she walked away from him and the glittering life he offered. But when an unexpected inheritance brings her back to London, Lola discovers the passion between them is as hot as ever. Can they vanquish it, or will it burn out of control again and destroy them both?

Laura Lee Guhrke spent seven years in advertising, had a successful catering business, and managed a construction company before she decided writing novels was more fun. A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Laura has penned more than twenty historical romances. Her books have received many award nominations, and she is the recipient of romance fiction's highest honor: the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. She lives in the Northwest with her husband (or, as she calls him, her very own romance hero), along with two diva cats and a Golden Retriever happy to be their slave.

Where to Buy:

by Sabrina York
St. Martin's Press
Monique Patterson, Editor

Andrew Lochlannach is famous for his conquests, on and off the battlefield. When a fellow warrior challenges him to a kissing contest, he wastes no time in planting his lips on ninety-nine lovely lasses-an impressive feat of seduction that gets him banished to the hinterlands. Still, Andrew has no regrets about his exploits-especially his embrace with the most beguiling woman he's ever met...

With flaming red hair and a temper to match, Susana is not some innocent farmgirl who gives herself over easily to a man, even one as ruggedly handsome as Andrew. The wicked Scot may have won a kiss from the headstrong beauty in a moment of mutual desire, but Susana refuses to be just another one of his conquests. Andrew must convince the fiery lass that even though he is not playing a game, losing her is not an option...

Her Royal Hotness, Sabrina York, is the New York Times and USA 

Today Bestselling author of steamy, humorous romance. Her titles range from sweet & snarky to scorching romance-historical, contemporary & paranormal. Visit her webpage at to check out her books, excerpts and contests.

Where to Buy:

Click to visit the other stops on the tour. 

Have you read any of the books in this category? 
Do you have a favorite?
Will you be in Orlando for the RWA Conference or watching the live stream?

One person leaving a comment before 11:00 PM, July 22, 2017 will receive a package of historical novels from my conference stash.  (U.S. only)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review - - The Light in Summer

The Light in Summer
By Mary McNear
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Single mother Billy Harper and her son Luke, eight at the time, moved to Butternut Lake, Minnesota, five years ago and found life good in the small town. Billy enjoyed her job as librarian and Luke made a couple of friends from whom he became inseparable. But things have changed in the past year. Billy’s father’s death has been difficult for her, but the loss of his grandfather, the only father figure in his life, has transformed Luke from a good kid and a lovable companion into a surly teen who avoids conversations with his mom, hangs out with a different set of friends, and gets suspended from school. Billy is worried. Even rereading her beloved Jane Austen novels provides little solace from her concerns.

Billy was still a teen herself when she gave birth to Luke. She accompanied her dad on a trip to an Alaskan fishing lodge where she met Wesley Fitzgerald, a good-looking fishing guide only a few years older than Billy herself. What began as flirtation and a spontaneous invitation to a party ended with eighteen-year-old Billy no longer a virgin. A month later, Billy realizes she is pregnant. Wesley has moved on, and Billy is left to bring up her son, with a great deal of help from her parents in the early years. When Luke was younger, his questions about his father could be answered with the minimal information Billy had, but thanks to a private investigator hired by her father, Billy knows more about her son’s father now. And Luke, filled with angst and anger about his fatherless state, will no longer be satisfied with the old answers to his questions.

Cal Cooper is at a turning point in his life. He has filed for divorce from his wife of five years after he discovered a deception he could not forgive. Differences about the kind of buildings to design have also led him to dissolve his partnership in the Seattle architectural firm he helped found. Cal hopes that a summer in Butternut Lake where he spent his childhood summers will give him the time and space to find a new direction for his life. He rediscovers the passion for building homes that led him into architecture, and he meets Billy Harper.

Neither Billy nor Cal is looking for a romantic relationship to further complicate their already complicated lives, but they keep running into each other. The combination of comfort and chemistry they share is rare, and they are both smart enough to know that. But the entry of Wesley into Luke’s life leaves Billy anxious, and Cal must make some decisions about his professional life before he and Billy decide where their relationship is headed.

The Light in Summer is the fifth book in McNear’s heartwarming Butternut Lake series. Like the other books in the series, it is a quiet book with likable characters and credible conflicts, one of my favorite types. The story illustrates the choices-have-consequences theme on multiple levels. Billy learned that lesson young when she chose to lie to Wesley about her experience and her protection from pregnancy and it is reinforced when she delays telling Luke about his father.  Cal recognizes that his complacency played a role in the failure of his marriage. Luke not only must deal with suspension and loss of privileges because of his bad choices, but he also learns from the more serious consequences his troubled friends face.

Fans of the series will enjoy the appearance of characters from earlier books. Cal is the brother of Allie Cooper Beckett Ford whose story, Up at Butternut Lake, began the series, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpses of Allie, Walker, Wyatt, and Brooke. I also thought it was a great touch that Billy and Cal meet at the wedding of Daisy and Will. Despite all these connections, The Light in Summer can be read as a standalone. If you like the small-town series of Robyn Carr, RaeAnne Thayne, or Sherryl Woods, I predict you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Review - - Serenity Harbor

Serenity Harbor
By RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Katrina Bailey has returned to Haven Point, Idaho, for the wedding of her sister Wyn and Cade Emmett (Riverbend Road), but she is not the party girl who left her job as an elementary school teacher to accompany a boyfriend to South America. Her experiences teaching English and volunteering at an orphanage in Colombia were transformative. She plans to return to Colombia in a month to complete her adoption of Gabriella, a special-needs child whom Kat met at the orphanage. Gabi, not quite four, won Kat’s heart with her sweetness and fragility, and Kat’s focus now is on keeping her promise to return for Gabi. When a new acquaintance, Bowie Callahan, offers her a job as temporary nanny to his young brother who has been diagnosed with autism, Kat barely hesitates before turning him down. She thinks her time should be devoted to her family.

Bowie is the new research and development director for Caine Tech. A self-made man who has battled his way from his beginnings as the son of a teenage mother addicted to alcohol, drugs, and men to his current wealth and respected position, Bowie has only recently learned of the existence of Milo, a half-brother more than twenty-five years younger. He could have turned down guardianship, but he chose to accept responsibility for the brother whose life so far has mirrored Bowie’s childhood. However, with the best intentions, he is at a loss when it comes to dealing with six-year-old Milo. He has hired a nanny who is an expert at caring for autistic children, but he is desperate to find a caregiver for Milo until she arrives in three weeks. When Katrina Bailey demonstrates an intuitive understanding of Milo and prevents a grocery-store meltdown, she seems perfect for the job. Bowie is willing to pay her an exorbitant salary to take the three-week position.

When Gabi’s adoption requires more money, Katrina accepts Bowie’s offer. She soon finds herself falling for her young charge and his older brother, “a man who smelled like sin and kissed like salvation.” But Kat is always conscious that Gabi is depending on her, and regardless of her feelings, she cannot allow Bowie and Milo to distract her. Kat’s presence has changed the lives of both Callahan brothers and Bowie is worried about how empty their lives will be without her. With conflicting needs, can Kat and Bowie find their way to an HEA?

Serenity Harbor is the sixth book in Thayne’s Haven Point series, and it has her trademark qualities of heartwarming small-town community and ordinary, imperfect characters whose stories reveal their extraordinariness. On the surface, Kat with her Haven Point roots and loving family seems to have nothing in common with Bowie and his troubled childhood, but they both have known the sting of being “different” and the resulting uncertainty that causes them to question their own worth. When their mutual devotion to Milo is added, the two are perfectly paired. Bowie is a wonderful hero, scarred but valiant and with a generous heart. Kat is a bit too single-minded and unwilling to compromise, but she is overall a likable heroine. And Milo steals the reader’s heart as effortlessly as he steals Kat’s.

Although the book can be read as a standalone, fans of the series will enjoy seeing many familiar characters and will doubtless take special delight in being a guest at Wyn and Cade’s wedding. I give Thayne top marks for her consistency. Her name on a book lets me know that I am going to find characters about whom I care, a story in which I can believe, and a setting that feels like home. I found all these things once again in this book. If you are a fan of sweet, small-town contemporary romance, you should be reading RaeAnne Thayne.

Review - - Blue Hollow Falls

Blue Hollow Falls
By Donna Kauffman
Publisher: Kensington/Zebra
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Freed from two decades of playing the parental role for her free-spirited mother, Sunny Goodwin, a horticulturist for the U. S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D. C., is celebrating her freedom despite her very real grief for her mother. Sunny was brought up by her mother who after Sunny’s birth left the Virginia commune where she had lived for nearly twenty years to rear her daughter in a row house in Old Alexandria deeded to her by Doyle Bartholomew Hartwell. Eight months after her mother’s death, Sunny discovers that Hartwell was her father and that he has left her part ownership in an old silk mill located in Blue Hollow Falls, a Virginia mountain town that is a world away from Sunny’s urban life. Her inheritance also includes Bailey Sutton, a ten-year-old half-sister who is an old soul; Addison Pearl “Addie” Whitaker, a stepmother who insists Sunny is family; and Sawyer Hartwell, a handsome veteran who Sunny suspects may be her half-brother.

Sunny never plans for Blue Hollow Falls and the people there to become a significant part of her life. She does feel a connection to Bailey, but the feelings Sawyer evokes are not at all fraternal. Sunny is eager to return to her own world, but Addie has claimed Sunny as part of her makeshift family, and Sunny finds the pull of family hard to resist. Blue Hollow Falls and its residents offer Sunny peace and a sense of belonging that she needs, and Sawyer’s plans for the old silk mill offer their own fascination. When Sawyer proves to be her father’s adopted son and no blood relation, the pull grows even stronger. Can she reconcile her two worlds, or will she be forced to choose one and reject the other?

Kauffman excels at creating a powerful sense of place through geographical and historical details of Blue Hollow Falls. Sunny and Sawyer are likable characters who deserve happiness and readers will find it easy to root for their HEA. I especially appreciated that Sunny’s work as a horticulturist and Sawyer’s vision for transforming the old mill are essential parts of the story rather than mere throwaway references to their jobs. Earth mother Addie and young Bailey are also well-developed characters who add to the story’s emotional appeal. Seth Brogan, Sawyer’s war buddy and fellow Blue Hollow citizen, is a charming flirt with hidden layers, and he clearly merits his own story, as does the mysterious Will McCall.

Blue Hollow Falls is a promising introduction to this series. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to more stories set in this Virginia town. If you like contemporary romance rooted in community and connection in the vein of RaeAnne Thayne and Sherryl Woods, I recommend that you add this book to your TBR stack. The charms of the Blue Ridge Mountains claim the heart of another heroine in the next in the series, a Christmas novella, The Inn at Blue Hollow Falls, an October 31 release that I have added to my must-read list.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review - - Chasing Down a Dream

Chasing Down a Dream
By Beverly Jenkins
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: July 4, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

For the eighth time, Beverly Jenkins takes her readers to Henry Adams, Kansas, the historic African American town that Bernadine Brown bought on Ebay in Bring on the Blessings, the first book in the series. The Julys, one of the town’s leading families, once again play a prominent role in the story. Matriarch Tamar wonders if newcomers are giving her due respect, collects speeding tickets to her dismay, and welcomes into her home a dying cousin for whom she has had few kind feelings. Tamar’s son Malachi, dealing with blows to his image of himself in his private life and in the running of the Dog and Cow diner, makes some bad choices and reverts to old patterns. Meanwhile, Malachi’s partner in the diner, Rocky Dancer is preparing for her wedding with eagerness and fear and planning changes for the diner.

Other citizens of Henry Adams, some familiar and some new, move in and out of the story, but the central thread involves Gemma Dahl, a grocery store cashier, who is rearing her twelve-year-old grandson, Wyatt, after his mother’s death in Afghanistan. Dahl, a white woman whose teenage pregnancy after an affair with a married man has made her a scarlet woman in the eyes of her hometown--even decades later, has settled in Henry Adams, with Bernadine Brown’s approval, for freedom from the slurs and for the educational benefits the school system offers Wyatt. When Lucas and Jasmine Herman, orphans who land in Henry Adams after a tornado-related accident in which their uncle and new guardian is killed, need sanctuary, Gemma opens her home and her heart. Bernadine and others are supportive of Gemma fostering the two children, who quickly bond with Gemma and come to feel at home in Henry Adams, but the social worker assigned to the case is adamant that Lucas and Jaz not be placed with a white foster parent. Much of the novel focuses on Gemma’s trials and victories and the fate of the two children.

The multitude of plot threads that make up this book may be confusing to new readers, but once they realize that the town of Henry Adams rather than a single focal character is the heart of Chasing Down a Dream and all the other books in the series, all will become clear and they will likely fall under the spell Jenkins weaves in this winning series. Fans of the series will delight in catching up with favorite characters. Tamar July is as wise and endearing as ever. Rocky and Jack’s wedding is a highlight, as is Bernadine’s smackdown of one of Jack’s racist relatives. The children are growing, as is the town.

This eighth novel may not be the best in the series, but it is an engaging story nonetheless. And every visit to Henry Adams is a joy. It is a place where the evils of real life may intrude but where power is used benevolently, justice triumphs eventually, penitents are forgiven, and love thy neighbor is not a truism but a way of life in all its New Testament amplitude. I never miss a Blessings book. If you enjoy feel-good reads with a large cast of characters and some lovely romance threads, I recommend this book.

Review - - Lost and Found Sisters

Lost and Found Sisters
By Jill Shalvis
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Quinn Wellers is proud of having risen to the rank of sous chef at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant by the age of twenty-nine, but otherwise her life seems to have been leached of color since the death of her sister Beth in a single-car automobile accident two years ago. Quinn moves through her days in a routine that requires no risk and little thought. That changes one day when a Harry Potter lookalike in her favorite coffeeshop turns out to be a lawyer who delivers the news that Quinn is adopted and that her birth mother has left her an inheritance in Wildstone, California. Quinn is stunned by the information and reluctant to believe it.

Her parents’ confirmation of the lawyer’s claims leaves her angry with her parents for keeping the truth from her and uncertain about how the revelation affects her identity and her relationships, including her sense of connection to Beth, who was not her biological sister. Quinn leaves for Wildstone, still so distraught that she has a panic attack upon arrival. There she discovers that her inheritance includes half interest in a house and a decidedly untrendy café and potential guardianship of a fifteen-year-old sister, Tilly, who is filled with anger and grief over the loss of her mother and convinced that Quinn is just one more person who will leave her.

Quinn’s life is in Los Angeles—her parents, her friends, and her career. Small-town Wildstone is the antithesis of all she has ever known. Nevertheless, she decides to remain in Wildstone temporarily because “she’d already lost one sister to tragedy. She didn’t want to lose another to cowardice.”  She discovers the appeal of the town’s quirky characters who hope she will reopen her mother’s café, the hunky Mick Hennessey whose own life is in San Francisco but whose ties to Wildstone cannot be denied, and Quinn’s personal ghost—her sister Beth who assures Quinn that their bond of sisterhood is forever, even as she campaigns for Quinn’s presence in Wildstone. Quinn must decide not only where she will live but also who she is, what direction her life will take, and how to build a relationship with the smart, secretive, needy Tilly.

Lost and Found Sisters is Jill Shalvis’s first venture into women’s fiction, and fans of her contemporary romance fiction will be pleased that it contains this popular author’s usual snark, humor, and skillfully drawn characters who demand the reader’s emotional investment. However, the heroine’s journey rather than romance is the center of this novel. Quinn’s sense of self is threatened not only by learning that she is adopted but also by feeling that she was thrown away by her birth mother. She must come to terms with her adoptive parents’ deception and her biological parents’ choices, and also with Beth’s loss and Tilly’s presence. Mick has some family issues of his own, but, despite the plans of an ex-girlfriend who would like to eradicate the ex in their relationship, he is ideal hero material, capable of killing monster bugs and exposing corruption in local government, of helping with Tilly and ending Quinn’s loneliness in and out of bed.

Although I loved the characters in this book, it fell short of five stars for me because there is so much going on that the story’s tapestry seemed tangled at times. In addition to the primary plot, Shalvis weaves in threads concerning Quinn’s former boyfriend/current friend, Mick’s best friend’s substance abuse and love life, and Tilly’s first love, an abused teen. Although all these story lines make for rich potential for other books in the series (This one is billed as Wildstone #1), they blur the focus on the central story.

Regardless, I finished the book with an understanding of Quinn, confidence in her future with Tilly and Mick, and an eagerness to read more of Shalvis’s Wildstone-set women’s fiction. If you are a Shalvis fan, you will want to add this one to your collection. If you are a fan of small-town contemporary romance, I recommend it with the caveat that you remember it is more a hybrid of two genres than strictly women’s fiction or romance.

Review - - Secrets in Summer

Secrets in Summer
By Nancy Thayer
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: May 16, 2017

Darcy Cotterill is content with her life. She loves her Nantucket Island house, which she inherited from her paternal grandmother, and her job as assistant director of the children’s library of the Nantucket Atheneum. Her social life is busy and satisfying. She has a best friend in Jordan Morris and a place in Jordan and her husband Lyle’s circle of young married couples and singles. For the past several months, one of that group, Nash Forrester, has pleasantly filled Darcy’s thoughts and many of her nights. She even looks forward to the changes the influx of summer visitors will bring to the island. But Darcy has no idea of the changes one summer will bring to her life.

The first indication that this summer will be different comes with the recognition that the family renting the house behind Darcy’s is not unknown to her. Her former husband, Boston real estate mogul Boyz Szweda, his wife Autumn (the woman with whom Boyz had an affair while he was married to Darcy), and Autumn’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Willow, are Darcy’s summer neighbors.  Darcy’s typical relationship with her summer neighbors is usually friendly but distant, but she soon finds herself involved not only with Willow, who is facing the temptations of a teen with too little parental supervision, but also with her summer neighbors on either side: Mimi Rush, an elderly woman with an indomitable spirit who reminds Darcy of her grandmother, and Susan Brueckner, the overwhelmed mother of three energetic young sons. The four create a circle of friendship that bridges the differences of age, experiences, and lifestyles. The power of these friendships pushes Darcy's off-season life into the background.   

Darcy’s relationship with Nash is more turbulent. Darcy longs for more of a commitment than Nash seems willing to offer, but at the same time she cannot deny the attraction she feels for Mimi’s grandson, handsome, interested, and available. Only when Nash seems lost to her does she realize how much he means, but even a second chance does not resolve all their conflicts. Will Darcy have to choose between the man she loves and the house that has been her sanctuary for most of her life?

Secrets in Summer is a women’s fiction novel that provides an entertaining look at one season in Nantucket. Thayer creates a strong sense of this particular place, and the unusual company of female friends offers the book’s best moments. Nash is an interesting character, but romance readers may be disappointed in the slightness of the romantic thread. I also suspect that, despite the general sweetness of Darcy and Nash’s relationship, many romance readers will be put off by the commonness of infidelity in marriages ranging from that of Darcy’s parents to her own to those of her summer neighbors. Perhaps the story targets an audience more sophisticated than I am.

If you are a fan of popular “beach reads,” you may find a few hours in this summer world worth your investment of time and dollars.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review - - The Wicked Heir

The Wicked Heir
By Elizabeth Michels
The Spare Heirs - Book 3
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: July 4 2017
Reviewed by PJ

When the love of Lady Isabelle Fairlyn's life is betrothed to her twin sister, Isabelle vows to find a suitable replacement before the end of the season. He must be a talented dancer, have a keen fashion sense, and be perfectly dashing in every way.
Fallon St. James is the farthest thing from perfectly anything. As head of the secretive Spare Heirs Society, he must stick to the shadows...even as Isabelle's friendship pulls him reluctantly into the light. But when Isabelle gets involved with the one man who could destroy Spares, Fallon must decide between protecting his life's work—or risking everything to save the woman whose warm smile leaves him breathless.

I continue to be impressed by the richness and depth of the stories within Elizabeth Michels' Spare Heirs Society, historical romance series. In The Wicked Heir, Michels turns her sights on Fallon St. James, the mysterious leader of the Spare Heirs, and Lady Isabelle Fairlyn, who readers may recall as a secondary character from previous books. At the start, the two seem an unlikely match. He is a tightly controlled man who eats, sleeps, and breathes the business of the Spare Heirs while Isabelle dances her way through life in a cloud of fairy dust, or so it seems. I fell for Fallon in a heartbeat - Isabelle took a little more getting used to - but, together, they captured my heart as all of Michels' couples have done.

Ms. Michels is adept at weaving emotional complexity and suspense through her books while also bringing readers a deeply romantic tale, lightened by strategic splashes of humor. It's a fine balance and one she carries off with panache. Balance is a good theme for this particular book as that is something that seems to be lacking in Fallon's and Isabelle's lives, particularly Fallon. I love how Isabelle, with her sunny, positive outlook on life, gradually introduces touches of light into the dark corners of his life. The scene where he's introduced to the food his cook prefers to prepare is a particular favorite. Fallon is an honorable man, loyal to his friends and determined to protect those unable to protect themselves, such as Isabelle after she's attacked by an enemy, but he has an iron-grip control on himself, a reluctance to ask others for help, and many more layers than I had guessed. With each layer unveiled, he wound his way more tightly around my heart. 

Isabelle may seem immature at times and lost in her self-imposed fairytale outlook on life but as the story slowly unfolds, I could see her insistence on a rainbows and unicorns existence for the coping mechanism it was and I appreciated her evolution as she began to accept the realities of life around her. She needed to grow up to be an equal partner in her relationship with Fallon, which she does, and I'm delighted she was able to do so without losing that goodness and positivity that are such essential parts of her. 

Michels once again surrounds the main couple with a vibrant secondary cast, including a truly nasty villain who is chillingly written. Heroes and heroines from previous books in this series, and the one past, pop in and out of the story on occasion, adding spice to the soup without detracting from the main dish. Two secondary characters who have vital roles in The Wicked Heir are Isabelle's twin, Lady Victoria Fairlyn (Isabelle's opposite in most every way) and Fallon's best friend, and fellow Spare Heir, Lord Hardaway. Those two are like a powder keg waiting for a lit match. I can't wait to see what Michels has in store for them!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review - - Murder on Black Swan Lane

Murder on Black Swan Lane
By Andrea Penrose
A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Andrea Penrose (aka Cara Elliott and Andrea Pickens) introduces a new Regency-set mystery series with this novel. The chilling prologue allows the reader to witness a murder in St. Stephen’s Church on Black Swan Lane in London. The victim, “his face burned by a noxious chemical, his throat cut from ear to ear,” is Rev. Josiah Holworthy. Because the animosity between Holworthy and the Earl of Wrexford, an aristocrat careless of his reputation but exceedingly careful in his scientific work, has been made public through scathing exchanges in the Morning Gazette, Wrexford is the prime suspect. Placing little faith in Bow Street and an investigator who appears determined to see the earl charged with the murder, Wrexford sets out to find the guilty party. His first task is to discover the identity of A. J. Quill, a satirical cartoonist whose latest sketches reveal a detailed knowledge of the crime scene.

Charlotte Sloane took over the role of A. J. Quill upon the death of the original Quill, her husband Anthony, over eight months ago. More gifted than her husband and utilizing a network of street urchins as sources, Charlotte has seen the reputation of Quill soar. All of London eagerly consumes her cartoons. Charlotte is making enough money for her needs and to provide food, clothing, and education for two of the urchins, a pair of cheeky brothers known as Raven and Hawk. The brothers and an old friend, who also feeds her material, are the only ones who know that Charlotte Sloane and A. J. Quill are one and the same until Wrexford’s aggressive search oiled by money leads him to Charlotte’s home where he belatedly realizes that A. J. Quill is a woman.

Wrexford uses a combination of persuasive words and outright bribery to convince Charlotte to trust him enough to team with him to solve the murder. The mystery becomes more dangerous and sinuous as the duo uncovers threads twisting back into the history of alchemy and reaching into England’s social system and the Regency’s fascination with science. The relationship between Wrexford and Charlotte is equally complex, developing in increments from wary partners to friends, with the suggestion that the platonic has the potential to turn romantic.

I am a fan of historical mysteries, and I would rank this one among the best. I loved the premise of a female cartoonist and an unconventional aristocrat as protagonists from the get-go, and Charlotte and Wrexford exceeded my expectations. They are both complex characters who sustain interest even without the mystery. Irresistibly engaging as individual characters, they are even more intriguing as partners in detection. The novel also offers an abundance of fascinating secondary characters: Tyler, Wrexford’s remarkably efficient valet/lab assistant; Christopher “Kit” Sheffield, Wrexford’s close friend since their schooldays; Basil Henning, an acerbic “medical man” with a soft heart; and the irrepressible Raven and Hawk, who win—and sometimes break—the reader’s heart. I found the use of Kit, the younger son of an earl, especially interesting in his role as a foil for both Wrexford and the chief villain. Penrose wisely wraps the central mystery up with no loose threads while leaving the mystery surrounding Charlotte herself largely unresolved, thus leaving her reader satisfied with this story and eager for the next.

This novel is not a romance, but it is an intelligent, literate story such as readers of Cara Elliott and Andrea Pickens expect. Charlotte’s marriage and her relationship with Wrexford should appeal to romance readers who are not adamantly confined to books with HEA endings. If you like historical mysteries, Regency settings, or just smart, lucid fiction, I highly recommend this book.