Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Today's Special - - A Highlander's Christmas Kiss

Title: A Highlander’s Christmas Kiss
Author: Paula Quinn
On Sale: September 27, 2016
Series: Highland Heirs, #5
Publisher: Forever
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99 USD

Christmas may be coming to Linavar, but Temperance Menzie is far from joyful. Grief-stricken over the death of her father at the hands of the Black Riders, she almost didn't see the wounded stranger in the woods. And now she's determined to give this braw, brooding Highlander the help she couldn't give her father. But there's a secret lurking in the depths of his blue-gray eyes. And Temperance won't rest until she uncovers it . . .

A killer for hire. It's the last thing Cailean Grant ever thought he'd become, but being part of the Black Riders was his only way to survive. Now, his guilt grows day by day, along with his desire for the beautiful, brave lass nursing him back to health. As Christmas, the season of miracles, draws near and the truth of his identity threatens to come out, Cailean must risk the only thing he has left to lose – his heart.

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PJ's Thoughts:

Paula Quinn has a talent for creating a sense of time and place that immediately immerses me in her fictional world and characters who I come to love like family. I've followed her outlawed but honorable MacGregors and Grants into a second generation and will happily continue reading about their lives and loves as long as Ms. Quinn continues to write their stories. 

In Temperance and Cailean, Quinn has created one of my favorite MacGregor/Grant couples in an emotional story that will be going straight to my keeper shelf. I highly recommend A Highlander's Christmas Kiss

This book stands well on its own but for maximum reading pleasure, and to better understand Cailean, you may want to first read The Taming of Malcolm Grant

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A Highlander’s Christmas Kiss

She stopped walking and pulled on his hand to stop him as well. “Who am I to you?”
What? What had he said? He realized quickly enough, scowled, and then smiled, giving in to what his heart was telling him. “Ye are—” He paused, not truly sure what to say. He hadn’t wanted to care for her, but he did. He’d let her in, but how could he have denied her entrance? She’d been through much, thanks to him, and yet she still smiled, she still sang, she still had compassion to help him heal.
He began again, reaching for her. He pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her plaid- encased body, shielding her from the wind. “Ye are my candle in the dark.” He stopped again to take her in. He smiled. “I’m better at puttin’ a quill to m’ words than I am at speakin’ them.”
Her wide, beautiful eyes glittered like the snow dusting the braes. He wanted to lose himself there in the expectant hope that lit her gaze.
“You’re doing just fine,” she assured him softly. “Continue, please.”
He shoved aside everything on his mind but her. What was left scared the hell out him. “I canna—”
She waited in silence while he fought his demon for her. Her hope began to fade to disappointment.
It made him smile to think her hope was to be with him and she was waiting to hear him tell her.
“I canna take my gaze from ye, lass. No matter what I’m doin’, m’ eyes find their way back to yer rich dark hair fallin’ over yer flawless jaw, the relaxed curl of your bottom lip that tempts my legs to bring me to wherever ye are. I lay awake at night imaginin’ yer soft inhalations of breath. They fill my heart with something other than mortar and fury. I want to bring ye to me but I’m unworthy of yer dreams. Still, I want to be in them, as ye are in mine.”
“You see?” she said breathlessly. “Just fine.” She closed her eyes and parted her lips when he dipped his head to hers.
He moved his mouth over hers, basking in the intimacy of kissing her, capturing her short, eager breaths. His senses came alive and he used each one of them to fill himself with her. She tasted like passion and innocence. When he slipped his tongue over hers, she opened her arms and coiled them around his neck, covering them both in his plaid. He listened to her heart beating like ancient drums. Or was it his own heart he was hearing? He withdrew a hairbreadth so he could look at her again. The sight of her dreamy-eyed and wanting more nearly drove him mad. He brushed his nose across her temple to her hair, drinking in the scent of her, like the familiar fragrance of peat and pine. “Ye’re bringin’ me back to life, lass.”
He kissed her again, barely holding back the passion raging inside him to be released.

New York Times bestselling author Paula Quinn lives in New York with her three beautiful children, three over-protective chihuahuas, and a loud umbrella cockatoo. She loves to read romance and science fiction and has been writing since she was eleven. She loves all things medieval, but it is her love for Scotland that pulls at her heartstrings.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Review - - Snowfall on Haven Point

Snowfall on Haven Point
By RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: September 27, 2016


Andrea Montgomery’s life is just beginning to approach normalcy after a period of grief over the death of her husband, a police officer killed in the line of duty, and after the fear and abuse she suffered at the hand of a rapist/stalker. She is looking forward to making their first Christmas in Haven Point, Idaho, a special one for her two children. When her friend Wyn Bailey (Riverbend Road) asks her to check on Sheriff Marshall Bailey (Wyn’s brother) who has just been released from the hospital, Andie cannot refuse. She will do almost anything for Wyn who literally took a bullet for Andie. Dealing with the grumpy, intimidating sheriff while all the Baileys are out of town is nothing in comparison.

Marshall Bailey is no more enthusiastic about accepting Andie’s help than she is about giving it. The broken leg that is the worst of the injuries he received when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver is the least of his problems. He is convinced that he was intentionally lured to an abandoned site and struck by the vehicle that then raced away. He also has an embezzlement case in his department, and he is facing a major complication in his personal life: a troubled teen who doesn’t yet know that Marshall is his father.

When Andie first shows up at Marshall’s home with food and with kids in tow, Marshall is his worst curmudgeonly self. A man who values his independence and who is accustomed to being in charge, Marshall resents the intrusion and his attitude is clear. But he gradually begins to fall under the spell of the winsome widow and her children. The pace of his acceptance accelerates when a blizzard forces the foursome together for an extended time. The kids are charming their way into his heart, and their mother is raising his temperature and provoking thoughts about commitment that Marshall never expected to experience. However, Andie has reservations and fears of her own. Can she risk her heart for another man whose job means he is in danger?

This is the fifth book in Thayne’s Haven Point series, and it contains the charm and heartwarming appeal that are characteristic of her work. Fans of the series will already be invested in Andie and her children, and new readers will quickly follow suit. It is also easy to fall for the crusty Marshall with his scars, physical and psychological, and his outsize heart. The fact that this is a Christmas book is a plus. Thayne and Christmas romance go together like mistletoe and kisses, and Snowfall on Haven Point has enough Christmas packaged in it to please any reader with a love of holiday romances.

If the Haven Point series so far has not inspired the immense affection I have for Thayne’s Hope’s Crossing books, it nevertheless has proved to be a consistently solid series with a high entertainment quotient. If you like your contemporary romance tender and accompanied by a strong emphasis on family and community, I think you will enjoy this book. It offers further evidence that Thayne continues to be among the very best writing in the small-town romance subgenre.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Review - - Practice Makes Perfect

Practice Makes Perfect
By Sarah Title
Publisher: Kensington / Lyrical Shine
Release Date: August 30, 2016


Pembroke College librarian Helen Lee is an aspiring erotic romance novelist who has been building her rejection file for some time. The latest entry in her “Nope” file doesn’t faze her until she reads the editor’s comments noting that her manuscript shows promise except for the boring sex scenes. The editorial advice? Spice it up. Helen reassures herself that she is no virgin lacking personal experience, even if her time recently has been spent mostly with her aging basset hounds, George and Tammy, and her fantasy life is richly erotic. Perhaps she should apply her skills as a trained researcher to her writing problem.

Helen’s colleague and close friend Henry Beckham, a bow-tie wearing history professor whose current research focuses on a historic local brothel, knows Helen has a problem; he just can’t seem to find out what it is. Then, he finds Helen in the middle of a huge, teary pity party with a disco sound track and discovers her secret.  Henry is the kind of friend who has to help solve a problem once he knows about it. First, he buys Helen a Scientist Barbie and a G. I. Joe to use in simulated sex scenes. When that idea fails spectacularly, Henry offers himself in the cause of sex research: he will be her “sensual guinea pig.”  To Helen’s surprise, Henry proves to be a doctoral level kisser and an inspiring muse who gives Helen exactly what she needs to add spice to her novel. But their hearts don’t recognize all the steam generated is only research. Are they risking their friendship? Is the risk worth taking?

This novella is the third of Sarah Title’s stories set in Willow Springs, Kentucky, following Home Sweet Home and Two Family Home, but it was my introduction to this author. I had no problem reading it as a standalone, and I was charmed by Title’s voice and her humor, which ranged from witty asides (Helen’s thought that she could join Jonathan Franzen on a writers tour for authors who write bad sex scenes) to hysterical broad humor (the Barbie-G. I. Joe scene). I had a highly personal appreciation for Helen’s situation as an academic who loves reading and writing romance, and I adored nerdy Henry who turns out to be an exciting lover.  I can also almost guarantee that George and Tammy will win the hearts of canine-loving readers.

If you like romance that keeps you laughing and reminds you that sometimes reading is just fun, I recommend this novella. I have added the two earlier Willow Springs books to my TBR list. (The heroine of the first one is an English professor!) And I’ll be keeping an out for future releases from this author. I have already added her upcoming The Undateable (February 28), which features another librarian heroine, to my 2017 book calendar. I encourage you to give her a try.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review - - At Fairfield Orchard

At Fairfield Orchard
By Emma Cane
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 30, 2016


Emma Cane introduces a new series with At Fairfield Orchard. The six Fairfield siblings join forces to keep the family apple orchard going when their parents retire. The orchard is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia. Although only Rachel has worked in the orchard as an adult, all of them have emotional ties to the land that has been in their family for almost two hundred years. Logan, the eldest and a successful venture capitalist, bought the RV that allowed the Fairfield parents to fulfill their adventurous dreams and invested in the orchard, although his siblings insist his investment is a loan that will be repaid when the orchard becomes more prosperous. The other Fairfield siblings are investing their time and labor in seeing the prosperity become a reality as they try to bring their centuries-old orchard into the twenty-first century.

In this first book, Amy has returned after ten years, leaving behind her a promising career in real estate, a failed relationship, and a load of regrets about the distance that relationship created between her and her family, including her twin brother Tyler, and between her and her long-time friends. Her guilt over staying in the relationship too long and in the isolation she allowed to happen cause her to give up on her interest in history and genealogy to focus on the future of the orchard. At first, she is uneasy with the request of a young history professor to be allowed to conduct research on Fairfield land.

Jonathan Gebhart, a history professor at the University of Virginia, is interested in the orchard because of its link to Thomas Jefferson. Jonathan believes that Jefferson sold the land to the first Fairfield owners and that it was to the orchard Jefferson fled when he was forced to leave Monticello to escape British forces during the American Revolution. If Jonathan can find evidence to support his theory, it will be a major coup for the book he is working on because it will upset the acceptance of Poplar Forest as Jefferson’s destination. Jonathan needs the permission of the Fairfields to research the site. He also finds in Amy’s grandfather, a history buff with an abiding interest in Fairfield family history, an unexpected resource. On the personal level, Jonathan is still smarting over being dumped by his fiancée in favor of his best friend and on the resulting awkwardness for his career, given that they are all on the same faculty.

Jonathan and Amy are attracted to one another immediately, but neither is looking for a romantic relationship. Amy is particularly aware of their differences. Despite her success as a real estate agent, she sees herself as a college dropout and counts her education as one more sacrifice to her ill-advised relationship with her ex. And, of course, Amy’s experience as part of the large, lively Fairfield family is very different from Jonathan’s only child status. Jonathan, whose prodigious intelligence led his parents to expect great things of him, is burdened with the knowledge that they view his academic career with disappointment. Regardless of these differences, however, the two are similar in their values and in their approach to life. Their relationship develops gradually and credibly as their lives entwine with Amy’s family and community.

The first book in a series needs to hook the reader on the world the author is creating as well as make the protagonists’ story compelling. Cane succeeds on both counts. Both the setting and the rural community make this novel a standout among the seemingly endless supply of too-similar small-town romances. The other Fairfields are integrated into Amy’s story in an organic fashion without ever giving the impression that they are card-carrying sequel bait. The American history connection and the Fairfield genealogy add unexpected layers to the story.

I liked these characters. I loved the history professor hero, and while Amy’s big secret became more irritating than fascinating, I found her too to be essentially a sympathetic and interesting character. I especially liked the dimensions that are revealed through her relationship with her twin, her grandparents, and her girlfriends as well as through the romance. The secondary characters are also likeable, and even the Fairfields who get little attention are appealing enough to leave me eager for their stories.

If you like your romance quiet and sweet with a touch of spice, I recommend this book. Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with the Virginia setting and the Fairfield family and turn the last page asking yourself “What’s next?” I’ve already added Spiced Apple Winter (December 27), twin Tyler’s story, to my book calendar. I also hope the cover for the second book is a match for the cover of At Fairfield Orchard. Gorgeous!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review - - No Mistress of Mine

No Mistress of Mine
By Laura Lee Guhrke
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 30, 2016

Denys, Lord Somerton, only son of Earl Conyers, was a wild young man. His wildness culminated in the summer of his twenty-fourth year when during a visit to his friends Nicolas, the Marquess of Trubridge (When the Marquess Met His Match) and Jack, the Earl of Featherstone (Catch a Falling Heiress), Denys met Lola Valentine, a beautiful, red-haired, American cabaret dancer who had taken Paris by storm. Denys was besotted at first sight and determined to win the independent beauty. His patience, his charm, and above all his tenderness, a quality in short supply in Lola’s life, prove irresistible, and he and Lola become lovers. In an attempt to draw Lola to England, Denys secretly backs a production of Ibsen’s Quicksands, mortgaging his estate to do so, in order to give her a chance to realize her dream of becoming a respected actress. With no training, Lola overacts. The critics annihilate her, calling her performance “awkward, graceless, and infinitely pathetic,” and the play closes immediately. Faced with the reality of her life as a kept woman and with the knowledge that his relationship with her is alienating Denys from his family, Lola accepts an offer from Henry Latham, American impresario and Earl Conyers partner in the Imperial, a London theater. She allows Denys to believe she has betrayed him.

Six years later, Denys has changed significantly. He has become sober and respectable, an ideal son. He proves so proficient in business that his father has turned the management of all the family’s affairs over to him. Among these is the Imperial, which Denys has transformed from a disreputable music hall into one of London’s premier theaters, celebrated for its productions of Shakespeare. Denys is even considering a marriage to a proper young lady of whom his family wholeheartedly approves.  Then his father receives a letter from New York with news that reawakens Denys’s memories of that time with Lola.

It still made Denys grimace when he thought of the money he’d spent, the fights he’d engaged in, the friends he’d almost lost, and the fool he’d made of himself over a bit of skirt who in the end had proved as faithless as the wind. Looking back, he knew there was only one explanation. He had been mad.
He was now sane.

The six years have brought changes to Lola as well. Gossip on both sides of the Atlantic may have proclaimed her Latham’s mistress, but in reality the impresario has been her friend, mentor, and father figure. With his help, Lola Valentine has become an acclaimed star in musical revue. Latham has also fulfilled his promise to see that she receives training as an actress. At Latham’s death, he leaves Lola his half interest in the Imperial, enough money to claim an active partnership, and a posthumous challenge to pursue her dreams.

Lola’s return to England threatens Denys’s peaceful, productive life. The last thing he wants is a partnership with the woman who nearly destroyed him. But when she refuses to sell her interest and legal means of denying her an active role in the theater prove futile, the two reach a degree of accord and begin to work together. However, the powerful chemistry between them undercuts their plan for a strictly professional relationship. All the reasons they were a mismatch earlier still exist. Can they overcome the barriers of class and a painful past to claim a second chance at love?

No Mistress of Mine is the fourth installment in Guhrke's An American Heiress in London series, and I think it is the strongest book in the series. Both the lead characters are interesting and complicated, and their back stories add depth with no touch of info dump. The sensuality level is high, and Guhrke earns accolades for making the love scenes essential to character development rather than mere titillation. Fans of historical romance will enjoy the deftness with which the author weaves together popular tropes including second chance, cross-class romance, and the American heroine. I particularly like the twist she gave the last trope. Lola is an American heiress but not in the generally accepted sense. I usually find characters who sacrifice the relationship to “save” the beloved irritating, but it works in Lola’s case because her motivation is plausible and persuasive.

She’d hurt him, she knew that. She’d taken any affection he felt for her and shredded it. But there’d been no other way to make him see that a girl like her, a girl born beside the cattle yards and slaughterhouses of Kansas City, who’d spent her childhood amid the smells of manure, blood and rotgut whiskey, who’d started stripping down to her naughties in front of men before she was sixteen, could never make a man like him happy.

I also applaud the conclusion that provides the requisite HEA without ignoring the real problems of a cross-class relationship.

Although characters from books earlier in the series appear, this book can easily be read as a standalone. If you like historical romance with ample heat and a strong appeal to head and heart, I think you will enjoy this one as much as I did.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Review - - Dressed to Kiss

Dressed to Kiss
By Madeline Hunter, Caroline Linden,
Megan Frampton, Myretta Robens
Release Date: September 12, 2016

Madame Follette’s is a dressmaking shop located on Vine Street in London. The shop has seen better days, but the current manager, Felicity Dawkins, daughter of the shop’s founder, is determined to see that status change. All of London’s elite are preparing for the coronation of King George IV, an occasion that offers an opportunity to prove that Madame Follette’s dresses are superior to those produced by the city’s best dressmakers. Felicity is ably assisted in her efforts by two designers/dressmakers, Selina Fontaine and Delyth Owen. Felicity’s brother, Henry, serves as bookkeeper for the shop. Each of the novellas in this anthology centers around one of these four characters.

“The Duke’s Dressmaker” by Madeline Hunter opens the collection. Selina Fontaine found a sanctuary as well as employment in the dressmakers owned by Sophie-Louise Follette Dawkins. Selina arrived in London, a gently bred girl who fled her village when a young aristocrat whose charm disguised his lack of integrity left her with broken promises and a stained reputation. Selina is wiser that she was when she left her village four years ago, and her instinct tells her to avoid her newest client, the young bride of Lord Giles Woodville, the man Selina had expected to marry. But loyalty persuades her that designing a wardrobe, including a coronation gown, for the lady is an opportunity for Madame Follette’s cannot afford to miss. However, Selina fears for the shop and for her livelihood when Randall, the Duke of Barrowmore, accompanies his sister-in-law to a fitting and recognizes Selina. The mistrust is mutual, but the attraction between Selina and the duke proves more powerful. As closer acquaintance corrects their false impressions of one another, their hearts rule their heads. The road to an HEA is a proverbially rough one, but the conclusion to the tale is satisfyingly romantic. The novella may suffer in comparison to Hunter’s more complex novels, but her deft hand with characterization remains sure.

Myretta Robens’s “The Colors of Love” focuses on the second dressmaker, Delyth Owen, who ran away from home to join the theater as a costume designer. Her shift to Madame Follette’s and a clientele different from a company of actors has not lessened Delyth’s love of color in unusual combinations. One of her creations draws the attention of Simon Merrithew, the pseudonymous author of a popular fashion column who thinks Delyth is maliciously making a mockery of her client. But Delyth’s joy in her work and her zest for life soon have Simon bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. The pairing of a rational, controlled hero and an unconventional, joyous heroine is an established convention in historical romance, one I particularly enjoy. Robens handles it with a skill that will delight readers who will find themselves rooting wholeheartedly for these appealing characters.  Extra kudos to the author for making the reader see the colors Delyth uses with such boldness. She has Simon capture the spectacular quality of Delyth’s prize creation, a four-color display: “Attention must be given to Lady M, whom one might be forgiven for supposing had somehow missed the entrance to Astley’s and ended up at Almack’s. Lady M not only glittered, she shone, she flashed, she radiated.”

“No Accounting for Love” by Megan Frampton features Henry Dawkins, a large, socially awkward young man, more at ease with the figures in his account books than with the figures of a dance. Henry is pursued by Lady Euphemia, a spoiled young beauty who is accustomed to getting what she wants. It seems that she wants Henry who has already rejected her once, but Henry, who is unmoved by the charms of the debutante, finds Miss Katherine Grant, the young lady’s companion, irresistible. Circumstances have forced Katherine to be practical. She may be the daughter of a viscount, but she is poor. She counts herself fortunate to have secured an acceptable position for a lady of her class that also provides for her needs and, given Lady Euphemia’s younger sisters, offers the promise of long employment. The same rules that limit her means of supporting herself also dictate that Henry is an unacceptable match for her, but the rules and Henry’s responsibilities which make marriage impractical prove inadequate barriers as these two unlikely people tumble into love. This was my favorite of the quartet. Frampton’s humor, sometimes sharp and sometimes subtle, kept me smiling throughout the reading, and I adored Katherine and Henry, separately and together. The fact that Lady Euphemia is more than an overindulged chit is a wonderful touch. My only complaint—and it is actually a testament to my engagement with the characters--is that I wanted a more detailed development of how these characters reached their HEA.
The anthology concludes with “A Fashionable Affair” by Caroline Linden. As if Felicity Dawkins didn’t have enough trouble trying to restore Madame Follette’s to the glory it once knew, she must also contend with the Earl of Carmarthen who has already purchased all the other shops on Vine Street with plans to tear down all the worn buildings and build new, modernized shops in their stead. Felicity’s mother has steadfastly refused to sell, and at first Felicity refuses as well. However, once she realizes the inevitability of Carmarthen’s revitalization project, she agrees—but only if her conditions are met. Her primary concern is relocating the shop at a site that will ensure Madame Follette’s attracts the prestigious clients Felicity has been courting, and she and Carmarthen are in each other’s company frequently as they check out locations. The attraction that has simmered since their first meeting intensifies, but is an HEA possible for a woman in trade and an earl? Linden gives readers not a fairy tale in which lovers from different worlds ignore their differences but a satisfying romance in which the lovers recognize their different experience and perspectives and willingly take the risks. But, as with Frampton’s story, the ending came too soon. I wanted more of Felicity and Carmarthen’s story.
The greatest strength of this anthology is that each of the stories succeeds on its own but the four work even better together. They are connected not only by setting, characters, and the plot line concerning Madame Follette’s but also thematically. Each of the stories is a cross-class romance on some level. Each romance also considers in some way the difference between appearance and reality and the need to move beyond the surface that serves as the base for society’s judgments. The words of Henry Dawkins in Frampton’s “No Accounting for Love” would be apt had they been spoken by any of the major characters: “But with her, he felt as though he were truly and entirely valued, for his outside, yes, but also for his inside.” If you think you don’t like anthologies, you may be surprised by how much you like this one. I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review - - Love, Lies and Spies

Love, Lies and Spies
By Cindy Anstey
Young Adult
Publisher: SwoonReads
Release Date: April 19, 2016

If you long for the Regency romance that was long on banter and a comedy-of-manners and short on the bedroom frolics, if you wish for a modern day Jane Austen with a splash of James Bond, then do I have the book for you.

LOVE, LIES, and SPIES is a young adult novel by Cindy Anstey, which I found by happy accident on a shelf at work (I work near a group of literacy professors; they always have young adult novels around), and was immediately sucked into the opening scene in which our intrepid heroine, Julianna Telford, scientific researcher of lady insects and soon to be published author (if she gets her way), is hanging most disastrously off the side of a cliff.

To which she says, “Oh my, this is embarrassing.” I think we can agree that’s a gross understatement.

And when she hears voices overhead, does she scream for help or thank the heavens for such speedy rescue? No. She asks—when they approach—if they are gentlemen. When they answer in the affirmative, she declines their offer of help and asks instead for their assistance in securing appropriate help, like a farmer, because if she’s found in the company of a strange gentleman, she’ll be sent home in shame. No publishing. The horrors.

Spencer Northam (don’t you love the name?) is looking for a spy. What he’s not looking for is a woman who seems to be in the thick of every sort of trouble, keeps secrets, and associates with questionable people; however, he can’t seem to help himself and he can’t seem to help hoping Julianna is not the spy he’s looking for.

Capers and hilarity ensue; and there’s a kidnapping…but in the end, Spencer gets his spy and Julianna gets her man. The writing is classic, packed with banter, complete with many lines that felt like the author was someone who loved and studied Austen’s way with phrasing—and maybe even a few of her more deplorable (and most love-to-hate) characters.  I definitely want to find what else this author is writing. 


Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Second Thought - - The Mad Earl's Bride

The Mad Earl’s Bride
By Loretta Chase
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Release Date: June 4, 2013
(Originally published in Three Weddings and a Kiss, Avon, 1995)

Novellas have proliferated since romance fiction entered the Digital Age. Not only are hundreds of new novellas available, often linked to popular series, but many beloved older novellas, once available only in anthologies, have been reissued as single titles. I practically danced with delight when one of my top five favorite novellas, The Mad Earl’s Bride, became available in digital format. I first read this novella more than twenty years ago when it was published as part of the anthology Three Weddings and a Kiss. Avon reissued it in 2010 in a different anthology, Three Times a Bride, before making it available as a single title three years later. Both anthologies and the single novella are available for ereaders.

Dorian Camoys, Earl of Rawnsley, has been a rebel and a rake hell bent on controlling his life, but at twenty-seven, he becomes convinced that his death from the brain disease that drove his mother into madness before it destroyed her is imminent. Terrified of ending his days restrained like a wild animal, he retreats to his home in Dartmoor. Debilitating headaches and hallucinations are already plaguing Dorian, and he fully expects madness and death to follow. Concerned about the Camoys line ending if Dorian dies without an heir, the duc d’Abonville, a distant relative of Dorian’s, suggests a marriage between Dorian and Gwendolyn Adams, a granddaughter of Genevieve, dowager Viscountess Pembury, the duc’s fiancée.

Many readers will recognize the duc and the legendary Genevieve as secondary characters in Chase’s beloved Lord of Scoundrels. (Bertie Trent also has a significant role in the novella.) Gwen is clearly cut from the same pattern as the heroine of LOS, sharing Jessica’s strength, unconventional ways, and healthy lust for her hero. No beauty, Gwen is a pragmatic, independent woman with a knowledge of medicine that makes her the equal of many trained doctors. She dreams of building a hospital to treat those who can’t afford medical care. She sees in a marriage to Dorian a way to acquire the wealth and influence to realize her dream. She is honest with Dorian about her purpose:

“I do need the money, to build a hospital,” she said. “I have definite ideas about how it should be constructed as well as the principles according to which it must be run. In order to achieve my goals—without negotiation or compromise—I require not only substantial funds, but influence. As Countess of Rawnsley, I should have both. As your widow, I should be able to act independently. Since you are the last of the males of your family, I should have to answer to no one.”

Dorian is initially reluctant, but after a year of self-imposed celibacy, he sees the appeal of marriage to the red-haired witch who evokes both desire and curiosity. Dorian and Gwen get much more from their marriage than they expected, and the reader gets the joy of seeing a passionate, loving relationship develop between two captivating characters. Wonderful dialogue and a fascinating look at early 19th-century medical practices are bonuses, and the gifted Chase moves her readers to laughter and to tears.

No matter how many times I read this novella, it is always fresh. The only thing better than rereading The Mad Earl’s Bride is rereading it as part of a marathon Chase reading that includes Lord of Scoundrels and The Last Hellion.


Katie Ruggle Search & Rescue Winner

The randomly chosen winner of the set of 

Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue books by Katie Ruggle is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to me no later than September 16th.

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review - - Daughters of the Bride

Daughters of the Bride
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: July 12, 2016


As a young woman, Maggie Watson was widowed and left almost destitute with three daughters to support. Earning a living left too little time for mothering, and the result is lingering tension in Maggie’s relationship with her three adult daughters, particularly her youngest Courtney. Nevertheless, all three daughters are committed to seeing that their mother has the wedding of her dreams as she marries for the second time after more than two decades as a widow.

The greatest burden of coping with Maggie’s bridezilla tendencies and pink infatuation falls on Courtney whose relationship with her mother is already fraught. Maggie has always underestimated Courtney, and Courtney responds by keeping secrets from her family. They think that she is a maid at the hotel owned by her mother’s friend, with no ambition to do anything else with her life. They have no idea that her work at the hotel involves far more than a maid’s duties or that she is only two semesters away from a degree in hotel management. Her reserve extends to her personal life as well. Her steamy relationship with her boss’s grandson, a successful music producer, is also a closely guarded secret.

Sienna, the middle daughter, is totally committed to her job as a donation coordinator for a women’s shelter, but she has a difficult time committing to a relationship. With two broken engagements in her past, she becomes engaged for the third time despite doubts that she and her fiancé have what it takes for a lifetime together. Meanwhile, Rachel, the oldest daughter, can’t get over her ex-husband whom she divorced just shy of their tenth anniversary. A talented hair stylist, she loves her job, and she is devoted to her eleven-year-old son. But she is blind to her passive-aggressive ways and fearful of trusting her ex’s attempts to reconcile.

As the wedding draws closer, tensions increase between Courtney and her mother and among the sisters. The Watsons must resolve the problems of the past before they can move toward the future as a united family or move toward their individual HEAs.

Susan Mallery returns to Los Lobos, setting of Someone Like You (2004) and Falling for Gracie (2005) for this women’s fiction story with strong romantic elements. She does her usual excellent job of capturing the emotional mix of women’s relationships with one another. The women of Daughters of the Bride are all flawed, and reader sympathy may run thin at times. I found Sienna particularly difficult to like for much of the novel. However, the problems, both those within the family and those in the romantic relationships, have an appealing authenticity within the context established. The wedding planning provides some light-hearted moments as well as some tense one. I suspect that I will not be the only long-time Mallery reader who smiled to see Gracie Landon Whitefield as one of the wedding details. Overall, the book is a solid read.

If you like women’s fiction that focuses on sister relationships but with plenty of romance as well, I think you will enjoy this one.