Friday, September 21, 2018

PJ's Birthday Winners

Thanks to everyone for surrounding me with wonderful 
birthday wishes and fun yesterday. 

The randomly chosen winners of my birthday giveaway are:




Congratulations, ladies! You have each won a Kindle copy of 
Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies
Please send your email address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sandra Kenny

Annette N

Diane D - Florida

You three have each won a package of books 
from my conference stash. 
Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

(U.S. addresses only, please)

Romain & Galen Winner

The randomly chosen winner of 

Scandalous Ever After and No Earls Allowed is:

Cyndi Bennett

Congratulations, Cyndi!

Please send your full name, mailing address, 
and choice of print or Kindle copy to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Today's Special - - Theresa Romain and Shana Galen

I'm delighted to welcome Theresa Romain and Shana Galen, the authors of Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, to the blog today. These two bestselling historical romance authors are among my favorites and I was so excited to learn they were combining their talents to produce this new novella duet set at an exceptionally unconventional academy for exceptional young ladies. I thoroughly enjoyed both stories and have hopes that they will consider revisiting the academy in the future. Please give them a warm welcome!

Hi, everyone! We’re so glad to be visiting The Romance Dish today—happy birthday, PJ! To celebrate PJ’s birthday (*wink*), we’ve got some trivia, excerpts, and giveaway goodies to share about our historical romance novella duo, Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.

A bit about the duo:
Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies appears exclusive and respectable, a place for daughters of the gentry to glean the accomplishments that will win them suitable husbands.

But the academy is not what it seems. It’s more.

Alongside every lesson in French or dancing or mathematics, the students learn the skills they’ll need to survive in a man’s world. They forge; they fight; they change their accents to blend into a world apart. And the staff at the academy find a haven from their pasts…and lose their hearts.

As you might guess, we had a LOT of fun writing this!

Trivia about Theresa Romain’s novella: 
“The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart”
1.     This is a second chance at love story featuring Marianne Redfern, the cook at the exclusive Academy, and Jack Grahame, the first love who broke her heart years ago. These are all-new characters, so it can easily be read as a stand-alone story! But I’m also considering it part of my Romance of the Turf series because of Mrs. Brodie. She's Anne Jones, alias Janet Ahearn-- the villainess (or is she?) of the first two Romance of the Turf novels. She and her school will be a big part of the final book in that series, His Wayward Bride, coming out next spring.
2.     Because Marianne is a cook in London in the 1810s, I needed to be aware of what foods would be available to her. With a story set in April and May, this British seasonality table was a great help: She could use foods in season or, of course, preserve them with salt, sugar, or pickling. (Finally, all those cooking shows I like to watch have paid off!)
3.     Have you heard of the custom of "telling the bees"? It has never been so common in the USA as it historically was in England. The tradition was that bees on one's property needed to be told of big life events--marriages, deaths, births--or they'd get distraught about being excluded and would leave the hives or stop making honey. I’ve always thought this was a charming tradition, and Marianne and Jack make certain to keep the bees informed of major life changes.

Excerpt from “The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart”

“Where did you get this honeycomb?” Marianne asked.
Jack doffed his hat, looking pleased. “I persuaded a confectioner to open early.”
“I wanted to bring you some, because I was remembering the bees your father used to keep.”
So. He recalled those days too. “Why?”
Now he looked annoyed. “I don’t know, Marianne. Maybe because seeing you reminds me of the way we grew up, helping the beekeeper collect honey and wax, and it was a nice memory, and I wanted to share it with you.”
Yet all of that belonged firmly in the past. The Redfern land now belonged to the Grahames, sold by Marianne’s mother upon being widowed five years before. Jack’s father had been living then, and he’d snapped it up using the Wilcox money that had passed into his hands.
There was no room for Marianne and Jack in that memory anymore, certainly not together.
“That’s not what I’m asking, really.” She bit her lip, wishing for a taste of sweetness. “Why…any of this? You came to London. You brought me strawberries.”
“And honeycomb,” he pointed out.
“I don’t understand why you’re here, Jack. I have a good post, and you have your life in Lincolnshire. If you just wanted to share a memory, why didn’t you send a letter?”
Seeming to think over his answer, he flipped his hat end over end. Fidget, fidget. “Because,” he decided, “I haven’t seen you for eight years, but for all the years before that, I saw you every day.”
The kitchen clock chimed the hour, reminding her of time rushing past. “After eight years without seeing me, it seems as if you could go on in the same way.”
“I probably could have, but I didn’t want to.” His gray eyes were merry. Why did he always look as if things were going his way? “Now that I’m here, maybe I’ll begin to pine for you. Be a devoted suitor and shower you with gifts. Would you be interested?”
The fiend. Did he know that was all she’d once wanted?
Did she know what she wanted from him now?
With one fingertip, she touched the delicate comb—then, in a rush, she folded over the heavy brown paper and set the parcel down on the worktable. “Don’t buy me any more presents.”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s not right.”
He set his hat on the table beside the parcel, then stripped off his gloves. “You don’t like them?”
“I don’t know if I like them or not. It’s too confusing.”
His smile was crooked, not exactly happy. “I don’t mind confusing you, Marianne. That’s a step up from angering you, and isn’t that where we started?”
“I don’t know,” she blurted. “You’re confusing me.”
He poked through the paper and touched the discarded honeycomb with a gentle forefinger. Then he folded the brown paper over it, packing it away. Done, Marianne thought. He’d listen, and he’d stop now.
Instead, he said, “Then I’ll keep right on.” Stepping closer, he cradled her face in his hands—and he kissed her.


Trivia about Shana Galen’s novella: “Counterfeit Scandal”

  1. In my novella, “Counterfeit Scandal,” the heroine Bridget has a talent for counterfeiting currency. She learned from her father, who was a British operative during the American Revolution. In researching counterfeiting during this time, I learned that one method the British employed to win the war as attempting to crash the nascent American economy. By counterfeiting mass amounts of paper money, the British could render legitimate money worthless. As is the case now, money was printed on special paper. The British captured a ship with a large cargo of the special paper and were able to counterfeit large amounts of currency and put it into circulation. In fact, at one point during the war John Adams wrote to his wife to be careful when accepting any paper money.

  1. Bridget has spent time in Fleet Prison for debts. Debtor’s prison was notorious for the poor conditions those imprisoned endured. If prisoners wanted decent food, a bed, or a fire, they had to pay for it. Pretty ironic considering this was a debtor’s prison. Many prisoners died before they could ever repay their debts or finish their time and be set free.

  1. In “Counterfeit Scandal,” Bridget is searching for her son, who she gave up when she went to debtor’s prison. The hero, Caleb, tells her they should ask Joseph Merceron. Joseph Merceron was a real person and a magistrate; he was known as The Boss of Bethnal Green. He was also notoriously corrupt, lining his own pockets and those of his friends at the expense of the poor people he was supposed to be serving.

Here’s a short excerpt from the novella, 
where Bridget tries to see Merceron.

Bridget reconsidered that statement a quarter hour later when she stepped into the Hog and Hen. The place looked as though the hog and hen in question had run rampant through the public rooms. She’d entered by herself about five minutes after Caleb had gone in. He’d told her he’d stand near the bar, and she spotted him easily. She must have looked as uncertain as she felt, because he gave her a firm nod as though to say, You can do this.
She took a breath, straightened her shoulders, and moved forward. Of course she could do this. She’d dealt with crying, screaming, fighting ten-year-old girls. A corrupt politician was nothing to her.
She made her way to the bar, aware that several pairs of eyes followed her. She was dressed more…completely than most of the women in the place, but she wasn’t here to advertise her charms. Still, her lavender gown and spencer were nothing to make anyone take notice. In an area of Town known for its silk weavers, the cloth of her dress was obviously inferior, as were her battered half boots and her drooping hat. She was nothing to waste time over.
Or so she hoped.
Without looking at Caleb, who was now only a few feet away, she cleared her throat. The barkeep flicked his eyes at her, then went back to polishing a glass. “What can I get you?” he asked flatly.
He sighed heavily. “Do I look like a book to you? I don’t ’ave no information. I ’ave ale and spirits.”
“I need to speak with Joseph Merceron.”
The barkeep set the glass on the counter. “What’s that to me? Do I look like ’is butler?”
“Where is he?”
The barkeep jerked his head to a dark corner of the tavern, and when Bridget squinted, she spotted an open door that led to another room. “Thank you.”
He muttered something under his breath as she walked away. She hoped Caleb followed. She was trembling now, but Satan himself couldn’t have stopped her from going into that room. Perhaps she would find James today. She might even hold him in her arms tonight.
She moved through the doorway and into the back room, and a man stepped in front of her. He was short but muscled, his head completely bald. “Can I help you, missus?”
“I’d like to speak with Mr. Merceron.”
“Do you owe him blunt?”
“Then he’s busy.”
Bridget scowled. “It won’t take long. Just a few questions.”
“Come back tomorrow. Maybe he’ll see you then.”
“I can’t come back tomorrow. I need to speak with him today. Please.”
The man put his hand on her shoulder and, with strength she had no hope of matching, turned her around. “Goodbye, missus.”
She walked out and continued walking. Tears burned in her eyes, but she wouldn’t give anyone the satisfaction of seeing them.


Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies teaches all the usual subjects—plus quite a few unusual ones. We’d love to know, what was your favorite subject in school, or what subject would you like to study at Mrs. Brodie’s Academy?

Today's Giveaways:

To one random commenter on this post, Theresa would like to give away a copy of her historical romance novel Scandalous Ever After and Shana would like to give away a copy of her historical romance novel No Earls Allowed. This giveaway is open internationally, and the winner can choose print or Kindle copies.

PJ, here. Because it's my birthday today, I'm adding more fun with more giveaways! Three randomly chosen people who leave a comment on today's post will each receive a Kindle copy of Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies (open internationally) and three more randomly chosen people who leave a comment will each receive a package of books from my conference stash. (U.S. only)

Shana Galen is the bestselling author of Regency historical romances filled with passion and adventure. A former school teacher, Galen now balances marriage and motherhood with a full-time writing career. Unmask Me If You Can, book four in Galen's popular The Survivors series will be released November 6th. Connect with her online at Facebook and Twitter and visit her website for more information about her books. 

A bestselling author of historical romances, Theresa Romain's accolades include starred reviews from Booklist and a 2016 RITA® final for Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, book three in her The Matchmaker Trilogy. Her most recent full-length book is Lady Rogue (Apr 2018), book three in her The Royal Rewards series. Learn more about her books at her website and connect with her online at Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review - - Tempt the Flames

Tempt the Flames
By Marnee Blake
The Smokejumpers - Book One
Publisher: Lyrical Liaison / Penguin Random House
Release Date: September 11, 2018
Reviewed by PJ

Meg Buchanan is determined to prove she didn't get the trainer job in Redmond, Oregon's rookie smokejumper class because of her family's long history as firefighters - - or out of pity. But if teaching one of her own brothers isn't challenge enough, she's shocked to see Lance Roberts in the new class of recruits. Once her brother's best friend, and her first, unrequited crush, he's also the son of the man responsible for her dad's death. 

Lance is stunned to realize that this confident redhead is the stubborn girl he once dreamed about. There's no way he can fall for her now. He needs to focus all his attention on his training - - and uncover the truth behind the long-ago fire that killed both their fathers. But as the undeniable heat between them threatens to ignite, someone attempts to put an end to Lance's amateur sleuthing - - and his life...

I fell in love with Marnee Blake's writing while reading her debut trilogy. While New Adult is not my usual cup of tea, Blake's suspense-filled, action-packed, NA paranormal series kept me on the edge of my seat, eagerly turning pages until I finished each riveting story. When she announced her new series - contemporary, romantic suspense stories set within a community of smokejumpers in the Pacific Northwest - I didn't even have to think before jumping onboard. I am happy to report that this first book, Tempt the Flames, is a satisfying page-turner that has me eagerly anticipating the books to come. 

Ten years ago, one fateful mistake resulted in the deaths of both Meg's and Lance's fathers, best friends and fellow smokejumpers. The accident was blamed on Lance's father and, in an instant, life was changed for both families. Sympathy and compassion were heaped upon the Buchanans by the residents of their small town while Lance and his mother were treated with suspicion and animosity. They eventually left Redmond, moving to California and Lance, burdened with guilt and anguish over his father's actions, cut ties with his best friend, Hunter Buchanan and the girl he had always secretly liked but could never have, Hunter's younger sister, Meg. 

Over the past ten years, Lance has made a name for himself in California firefighting and now he's returned to Redmond to fulfill his dream of becoming a smokejumper. But small town memories are long and so are those within the smokejumping community. Will he be given a fair chance? Will people judge him on his own merits or will he forever be tainted by his father's actions? And how far will they go to stop him if they discover why he's really there?

Contrary to what Lance believes, his family wasn't the only one adversely affected by the events of that tragic day ten years earlier. Blake does a great job of showing the fractures and dysfunction that have grown within Meg's family as well. Everyone who was impacted by that day still struggles with it's fallout, including Meg and Lance. Will their deepening relationship bring the forgiveness and healing they, and their broken families, desperately need or be the final straw that rips them apart forever?

Tempt the Flames pulled me into Blake's high-risk world of smokejumping and into the minds, hearts, hopes, and fears of her characters. I'm intrigued by several of these characters and can't wait to find out which of them will be putting his heart on the line next. 

If you enjoy contemporary romantic suspense with plenty of emotion, sizzle, action, and a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing through most of the book, I encourage you to give Tempt the Flames by Marnee Blake a try.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Coming Attractions

Hi Everybody! I'm home, survived Florence with no damage, and am beginning to get back into the swing of things. Thank you again for all of your kind thoughts and prayers over the past two months. I can't begin to tell you how very much it has meant to me. My heart has taken a beating and it will take awhile for me to get back to my normal, happy, optimistic self but I will get there eventually. Here's what's happening at the blog for the rest of September. 

Thursday, September 20, Theresa Romain and Shana Galen will join us to celebrate their newly released historical romance novella duet, Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. Stop by this Thursday to learn more about the secret classes, second-chance romances, fun, and adventure to be found at Mrs. Brodie's unconventional academy. Theresa and Shana are both offering giveaways (open internationally) and since Thursday is also my birthday, don't be surprised if there are a few unexpected giveaways from me as well!

Christmas makes an early appearance on Tuesday, September 25 with Emily March's The Christmas Wishing Tree blog tour. Stop by to read what I have to say about this newest installment in March's popular and heartwarming Eternity Springs series and for a chance to win a copy of the book. 

I'm working on more reviews so keep an eye out for those over the next few weeks. I'm also working on clearing out my office - getting ready for potential flooding opened my eyes to just how much "stuff" resides there - so watch for some epic book giveaways as well. 

What have you been reading?

Were you impacted by Hurricane Florence? Everything okay at your house?

What new book releases are you most anticipating?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Taking Time Off...and Recommended Reads

Hi Everyone,

The blog is going to be quiet for a couple weeks. I had to make an emergency trip out of state a week ago. One of my brothers is dying and I'm with him and other members of my family. I'm the oldest in my family and he's next in line - 5 years younger. We've always been incredibly close, share a love of music, theater, and football, and I can't begin to wrap my mind - or my heart - around the fact that he will soon be gone. 

As I have with past tragedies in my life, I've been escaping into romance novels as I sit at his bedside. The love and hope in the stories we all enjoy bring me a measure of comfort as I deal with the sadness of losing someone I love. I've tried to write full-length reviews to share these books with you but I'm just not able to focus my mind enough to do that right now. Instead, I'm listing five of the books below with a few of my thoughts. I hope you'll check them out. They are all wonderful! 

Thank you for your understanding.


The Governess Game
By Tessa Dare
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 28, 2018

He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson
The accidental governess
After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart . . . without risking her own.
The infamous rake
Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling . . . and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

I admit that I'm a huge fan of Tessa Dare's writing. I've read every book she's written and most of them have places on my keeper shelf. Yet, even among that exalted "keeper" company, for me, The Governess Game shines as one of her best. I loved the chemistry between Chase and Alexandra, the witty banter, the sensuality, and the heartfelt emotion. I adored the two orphaned girls for whom Chase is responsible and appreciated the fact that they are not wallpaper but fully developed, essential characters with key roles in the evolution of Chase and Alexandra individually as well as them as a couple. Dare's trademark humor also shines in this book with many laugh-out-loud scenes. If you're looking for a feel-good romance with plenty of humor, sizzle, and heartfelt emotion, you can't go wrong with The Governess Game


When a Duke Loves a Woman
By Lorraine Heath
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 21, 2018

Gillie Trewlove knows what a stranger’s kindness can mean, having been abandoned on a doorstep as a baby and raised by the woman who found her there. So, when suddenly faced with a soul in need at her door—or the alleyway by her tavern—Gillie doesn’t hesitate. But he’s no infant. He’s a grievously injured, distractingly handsome gentleman who doesn’t belong in Whitechapel, much less recuperating in Gillie’s bed . . .
Being left at the altar is humiliating; being rescued from thugs by a woman—albeit a brave and beautiful one—is the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance to the Duke of Thornley’s extraordinarily bad day. After nursing him back from the brink, Gillie agrees to help him comb London’s darker corners for his wayward bride. But every moment together is edged with desire and has Thorne rethinking his choice of wife. Yet Gillie knows the aristocracy would never accept a duchess born in sin. Thorne, however, is determined to prove to her that no obstacle is insurmountable when a duke loves a woman.

This is the second book in a series that is quickly becoming one of my favorites by Lorraine Heath. Heath's writing is emotional and romantic, with superbly crafted characters, and stories touched with occasional humor and a whole lot of heart. I thoroughly enjoyed Gillie and Thorne and am already looking forward to the next story in this series.


Tempted by Love: A Montana Heat Novel
By Jennifer Ryan
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 21, 2018

Alina Cooke—little sister of his two best friends—is the last woman DEA agent Jay Bennett should be waking up next to on the day of her brother’s wedding. But their powerful attraction ignited a powder keg of desire, and their once simple friendship has just become impossibly complicated.
Alina’s always been steady, focused, and lived on the safe side of life. Jay is totally devoted to his dangerous job. She knows a future with him will be filled with worry that one day he won’t come home. She’s done it with her brothers. She’s not sure she can face that uncertainty with the man she loves. Yet being in his arms is a bad idea they keep repeating, again and again.
When Alina is run off the road, Jay fears his job has made her a target. But the threat in Alina’s life is closer than they think. As the enemy gets more ruthless, Alina proves she’s no easy target and Jay will do anything to bring them down. Because surviving and being together is the only thing that matters.

If you enjoy romantic suspense with a western flair, you'll want to give Jennifer Ryan a try. I discovered her a couple years ago and have been happily gobbling up her books ever since. In Tempted by Love, Ryan brings us one of my favorite tropes: little sister falling for her brother's best friend. In the case of Alina and Jay, he's the best friend and co-worker of two of her brothers. Double the trouble if they find out, right? Though this is the third book in the series, it can easily be read as a standalone. However, I'll warn you that once you meet Alina's brothers in this novel, you'll probably be downloading their stories too!


Through the Fire
Rocky Mountain K9 Unit - Book 4
By Katie Ruggle
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: August 28, 2018

Kit Jernigan despairs of ever fitting in with her new tight-knit K9 unit—they've been through too much to welcome a stranger. So when a killer strikes, it's a fight to convince her fellow officers to trust her long enough to catch the woman she knows is responsible.
She can't do it on her own. What she needs most is a partner: local fire spotter Wesley March.
Wes knows in his heart that Kit is right, and he's willing to leave his lonely tower to help her prove it. But the more time they spend together, the hotter the fire smolders...and the more danger they're in. A member of the K9 unit's inner circle is determined to have her revenge—no matter who gets burned in the process.
This time, it's personal.

Over the past two years, Katie Ruggle has become one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. In Through the Fire, she brings readers another intense, suspenseful, and emotional story set high in the Rockies and once again, she had me glued to the pages from beginning to end. Each of her series has four books with a mystery beginning in book one and concluding in book four. For that reason, I strongly encourage readers to read the books in order. For this series, those books are: Run to Ground, On the Chase, Survive the Night, and Through the Fire


The Laird's Willful Lass
The Likely Lairds - Book 1
By Anna Campbell
Release Date: July 31, 2018

An untamed man as immovable as a Highland mountain…

Fergus Mackinnon, autocratic Laird of Achnasheen, likes to be in charge. When he was little more than a lad, he became master of his Scottish estate, and he’s learned to rely on his unfailing judgment. So has everyone else in his corner of the world. He sees no reason for his bride—when he finds her—to be any different. 

A headstrong woman from the warm and passionate south…

Marina Lucchetti knows all about fighting her way through a wall of masculine arrogance. In her native Florence, she’s become a successful artist, no easy feat for a woman. Now a commission to paint a series of Highland scenes promises to spread her fame far and wide. When a carriage accident strands her at Achnasheen for a few weeks, it’s a mixed blessing. The magnificent landscape offers everything her artistic soul could desire. If only she can resist the impulse to smash her easel across the laird’s obstinate head. 

When two fiery souls come together, a conflagration flares. 

Marina is Fergus’s worst nightmare—a woman who defies a man’s guidance. Fergus challenges everything Marina believes about a woman’s right to choose her path. No two people could be less suited. But when irresistible passion enters the equation, good sense soon jumps into the loch. 

This book marks Anna Campbell's return to full-length novels and though I've thoroughly enjoyed her novellas of the past few years, it was wonderful to immerse myself in one of her longer tales again. In this book, she takes us to beautiful Scotland and introduces us to two characters - a traditional, autocratic Scots hero and an artistic, independent Italian heroine - for whom marriage is not a goal. As you can imagine, plenty of friction and banter - not to mention sizzling chemistry - ensues. Traveling the road to love along with these two was pure pleasure. Campbell's descriptions of the Scottish countryside reflect her love of this country and created a stunning portrait as vivid and vibrant as the paintings her heroine creates with her brush. 

What are you reading that you would recommend?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review - - The Duke Buys a Bride

The Duke Buys a Bride
By Sophie Jordan
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 24, 2018
Reviewed by Santa

The Duke Buys A Bride by Sophie Jordan is a 5 out of 5 winner for me. I have to admit, as horrid as it sounds, I love me a bride sale. It is as awful as it sounds. A husband could ‘get rid of a spouse’ by auctioning her off. It was seen as the sensible thing to do as divorce was not an option within any class unless you were titled and could afford both the cost and stigma of it.

In The Duke Buys A Bride we find Marcus, Duke of Autenberry, a runaway duke of sorts. Marcus woke from a coma only to find himself comatose on the floor of a barn, taken prisoner for disorderly conduct. After paying his debt to society he tries to make his way to his estate in the Northern most part of Scotland, to the Black Isle.

Alyse Bell was married to Mr. Beard for seven years, keeping his house and raising his children when she was no more than a child herself. It was a chaste marriage which ran its course when a neighboring widow caught his eye. The way to dissolve the marriage was to auction her off on market day at an old, unused custom of a bride sale.

That’s what Marcus comes upon as he tries to leave the village and it enrages him to see a young lady leered and jeered at by the very people of her own village. He outbids everyone and gets a bill of sale and, unbeknownst to him, a wife. He is even more outraged and remains incredulous that it is even a true marriage but this is Scotland.

Alyse has no one to go to and no place to call home and so agrees to follow Marcus to his estate and become his housekeeper. Their journey is not an easy one. They have much to learn about one another and themselves. I enjoyed their journey and their love story! This is a great addition to Sophie Jordan’s The Rogue Files but equally brilliant on its own.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Review - - Shelter in Place

Shelter in Place
By Nora Roberts
Publisher: St. Martins
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Reviewed by Nancy Northcott

Shelter in Place, a standalone novel, follows a format unusual for Nora Roberts’ works in that it spans a period of 14 years.  The book opens with a horrible event, a mass shooting at a mall. Teenager Simone Knox is at a movie in the mall theater with friends. Through a combination of circumstances, she survives the shooting. So does Reed Quartermaine, a college student working as a waiter at a mall restaurant.

Simone and Reed are the primary characters in the novel, but each of them has friends and/or family members who were at the mall on the fateful night. Roberts deftly examines the psychological aftereffects on others who survived the event and on those who love them. While Reed and Simone are the story’s romantic leads, they don’t actually meet until well into the book. Along the way, each finds a calling and a way to deal with the events of that fateful night. The effects of the experience on their relationships with those around them also influence the story.

Simone is closest to her grandmother, artist CiCi Lennon, who’s “a little bit psychic.” She also has a friend and family members who are fellow survivors.  The family dynamics don’t go smoothly, in part because of Simone’s and her sister’s differing reactions to the event as well as their different lifestyles and tastes.

Reed also has a family, but his relationship with one of the police officers who responded to the 911 calls during the shooting plays a more prominent role in the story. She becomes a mentor to him and helps him find his path in life.

Gradually, Simone’s and Reed’s paths bring them together.  The roads they travel and the factors that influence them along the way are skillfully developed, and it seems better to be somewhat vague about the particulars here than to risk spoiling them. Roberts doesn’t take us through every month of the 14 years the story covers but looks in on the characters at couple of different points during that period.

As Reed and Simone build their lives, they’re unaware that someone isn’t happy that they and so many others survived.  Patricia Hobart, sister of one of the three shooters at the mall, sets out to finish the job she sees as bungled by her brother and his friends.  Reed begins to suspect that someone is targeting survivors, but not everyone in law enforcement is prepared to support this theory.  He has to fight for it, and that fight is part of what leads his path across Simone’s.

The last part of the book takes place on an island off the Maine coast that’s accessible only by boat.  It has some echoes of two of Roberts’ prior books, Northern Lights and The Search.  Considering the number of books she has written, it’s not surprising that there would be occasional similarities.  These aspects of the story are similar but definitely not the same. The situations are structured differently.
This story is emotionally wrenching at times, and Simone and Reed are both engaging, sympathetic characters.  (Reed gets extra points for the rescue of a stray mutt.) Those around them are largely sympathetic, but not always.  The conflict between Simone and her sister, for example, is persistent and not easily resolved. Not until that resolution does her sister reveal motives that are understandable. Roberts handles the characters’ emotional issues skillfully and without going for pat solutions anywhere.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review - - Iron and Magic

Iron and Magic
By Ilona Andrews
Publisher: NYLA Publishing
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Reviewed by Nancy Northcott

Readers of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series know Hugh D’Ambray as the warlord for her powerful and devious father, Roland. In that role, Hugh hasn’t exactly been a good guy. When Iron and Magic opens, however, he’s a wreck of his former self, cast out by Roland for failing to bring Kate under her father’s power. Without Roland, he has no purpose, and we learn why.

For him, though, there are even worse things than being cast aside.  Roland’s necromancers, the controllers of his vampire forces, are killing the Iron Dogs, the military unit Hugh formed and led.  The Dogs refused to follow Roland blindly, and he can’t ignore that. They, too, have been cast out and marked for destruction. Four of them come to Hugh to ask him to pull himself together and lead them again.

For the Iron Dogs, Hugh does what he couldn’t do for his own sake alone. He pulls himself out of the gutter.  He and his four centurions gather the other Dogs, who’ve lost about a fourth of their number, and forge them into a fighting unit again.

That doesn’t solve their problems, though.  Without Roland’s support, they have no source of income and no base, and the leader of his vampire forces is still out to destroy them.

No one wants to do business with them since they often broke agreements on Roland’s orders. Then the centurions discover a settlement in need of protection because Roland wants their land. The settlers have ample food and resources and, perhaps best of all, a castle as a base.  The settlers are led by Elara Harper, a magically gifted woman known as the White Warlock.  Their group has difficulty finding allies because of something about her magic and because of betrayals of allies and other mysterious events in their past.

Joining forces seems like an obvious move, but no one else will believe either side plans to stick to the alliance because of their past failure to honor alliances.  Unless outsiders consider the two groups solidly merged, both will still appear vulnerable. The solution the centurions and Elara’s people devise is a time-honored one, a marriage of convenience between Hugh and Elara.

When the two meet, they take an instant dislike to each other.  Both have long been the alphas of their groups, and neither wants to yield control. At bottom, though, each realizes they need each other. They eventually hammer out an agreement and start working together.  Hugh believes Roland’s forces will try to take the castle sooner or later, and he immediately begins to bolster the defenses. He also proves surprisingly helpful to Elara in negotiating the sales of the herbal remedies that support the settlement.

Meanwhile, a mysterious force is killing people in surrounding villages and taking the bodies.  Hugh and Elara figure out that this is a new breed of enemy but can’t determine why they’re attacking. Facing these and other crises helps forge their two groups into one community and deepens the growing bond between Hugh and Elara.

The attraction between the pair develops slowly and under cover of bickering.  When outsiders appear, the two pretend to be deeply in love to sell their alliance.  Being seen as a unit opens doors for them, and each time they work together develops the trust and honest communication between them.  Neither wants to admit to that trust, though, or to believe in it.

They also have to face repercussions from Hugh’s past actions, especially in regard to the Pack, the shapeshifters of Atlanta in the Kate Daniels series. His reaction to the dark legacy he hadn’t truly faced is emotionally wrenching. Elara’s concern for him, and then her trust that he will protect her people, gradually work their way through his emotional barriers, as his dedication to protecting her settlement erodes hers. When they finally come together, however, neither wants the other to know how much that night means.

This story is set in the world of the Kate Daniels series. The tie-ins to that series are used effectively and serve story purposes other than showcasing familiar characters. There’s also lots of action/adventure and enough explanation of the world to keep new readers from feeling lost.

The exploration of Hugh’s relationship with Kate, which he’d never really thought much about, adds depth to his character.  Elara’s insights about that relationship also develop her character and Hugh’s unacknowledged trust in her. When the final battle comes, Hugh faces a test that has been building throughout the story, and Elara risks everything for his sake. The speech she gives before she does so reveals keen insight into his soul and is emotionally touching. It all leads to a satisfying ending even though there are unanswered story questions that promise more to come.

Iron and Magic is a perfect blend of fantasy adventure and paranormal/fantasy romance. It successfully treads the line between building the hero and heroine’s relationship and leaving room for it to grow in subsequent books.  This is a great launch for a new series.