Friday, July 29, 2016

Review - - Just Kiss Me

Just Kiss Me
By Rachel Gibson
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 26, 2016
 




Vivien Leigh Rochet grew up in Charleston surrounded by the city’s elite, old wealth rooted deeply in South Carolina soil, but she was the perennial outsider. Not only could she not trace her family back to colonial Charleston, but she was the daughter of a bipolar mother who worked as a housekeeper for a prominent family, the Whitley-Schulers. She left to chase California dreams at eighteen and has rarely returned. In fact, it has been three years since her last visit. Although Vivien has achieved phenomenal success as the sexy star of the Raffle dystopia films, she is not returning in triumph but in grief. She has come to Charleston to bury her mother, whose unexpected death at fifty has left Vivien devastated and all too aware that she is now alone.

Henry Whitley-Schuler (or perhaps it is Harrison Whitley-Schuler—the blurb says Harrison; the ARC says Henry) is the elder of Eleanor “Nonnie” Whitley-Schuler’s two sons. He has been the perfect son, meeting his mother’s expectations and following her dictates for most of his life. Things began changing when Henry, a Wall Street marvel, had a stress-induced heart attack at thirty-three. He exchanged New York for Charleston, suits for jeans and tees, and set up shop as a builder of custom furniture and restoration craftsman. But the changes in lifestyle did not include a refusal to continue as his mother’s secret keeper and protector of the family name.

The Whitley-Schulers rally around Vivien for her mother’s funeral, but when Spencer, Henry’s younger brother, gets too chummy with her at the post-funeral reception, Nonnie instructs Henry to distract Vivien. Henry remembers Vivien as a chubby snoop who uncovered some of his most closely guarded secrets, but he definitely is attracted to the grown-up Vivien, who seems to reciprocate with enthusiasm. Distracting her is not an onerous task. However, when great sex turns into making love, Henry realizes he is into this relationship heart over head. Unfortunately, all those secrets are enough to jeopardize any HEA.

Just Kiss Me is the first book from Rachel Gibson in almost two years, and I was elated when I received an ARC. I’m a long-time fan of Gibson’s trademark blend of humor and pathos and her skill at balancing sexy scenes with emotional appeal. It saddens me to report that this book failed to live up to my expectations.

First, there is the confusion about the hero’s name. I’m not a reader who usually complains about errors in ARCs. The publishers make clear that advance readers are reading a copy that has not gone through final edits, and I assume that errors will be addressed before publication. But I found it terribly distracting to wonder each time the hero was named if he were Henry or Harrison. For me, the two names evoke very different images.

I really liked Vivien. I found her to be a fully dimensional, sympathetic character. I thought Henry/Harrison was less likeable, but his being locked into his role as family secret keeper was credible, particularly since it began at such an early age. I adored Spence and hope he gets his own book, and Nonnie was close enough to some former Southern belles I know that I found her believable even in her inconsistencies. But I never bought into Vivien and Henry as forever lovers—a major problem in a romance. There is certainly ample sizzle between them, and they have a shared history. But I found the emotional development of their relationship thin and unsatisfying, consisting of more telling than showing. The ending seemed abrupt with no real resolution to the problem.

So, final verdict: Just Kiss Me is a book with some clear strengths, but it is disappointing in the development of the central relationship. I’ll keep an eye out for Spence’s book, but this one will not be added to my collection of Gibson keepers.

 ~Janga




Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review - - The Angels' Share

The Angels' Share
The Bourbon Kings - Book 2
By J.R. Ward.
Publisher: NAL
Release Date: July 26, 2016




In Charlemont, Kentucky, the Bradford family is the crème de la crème of high society—just like their exclusive brand of bourbon. And their complicated lives and vast estate are run by a discrete staff who inevitably become embroiled in their affairs. This is especially true now, when the apparent suicide of the family patriarch is starting to look more and more like murder… 

No one is above suspicion—especially the eldest Bradford son, Edward. The bad blood between him and his father is known far and wide, and he is aware that he could be named a suspect. As the investigation into the death intensifies, he keeps himself busy at the bottom of a bottle—as well as with his former horse trainer’s daughter. Meanwhile, the family’s financial future lies in the perfectly manicured hands of a business rival, a woman who wants Edward all to herself.

Everything has consequences; everybody has secrets. And few can be trusted. Then, at the very brink of the family’s demise, someone thought lost to them forever returns to the fold. Maxwell Bradford has come home. But is he a savior...or the worst of all the sinners?



The Angels' Share, second in Ward's The Bourbon Kings series picks up where last year's first book, The Bourbon Kings ended. The Bradford family struggles to come to terms with their dire financial situation. The suicide that has them all reeling - though not mourning - might not be a suicide after all. Siblings Lane, Gin, and Edward all react differently to the news of what their father has done and how it impacts each of them while fourth sibling, Maxwell continues to be MIA. New characters are introduced into the mix and their actions will add more layers of complexity to the already fraught situation. A beloved member of the Bradford household staff faces a dire health prognosis while the Bradford matriarch's actions leave me wondering if her health is really as delicate as we are led to believe. Lane and Lizzie continue to strengthen their relationship in the face of daunting obstacles and I continue to cheer them on. Bradford daughter, Gin makes a decision that could put her life at risk and, surprisingly, shows glimpses of humanity that may eventually bring me around to her side. Believe me, Gin takes "flawed" to new heights. Missing son, Maxwell returns in this book but doesn't have enough page time for me to form an opinion yet though hints are dropped that indicate he will most likely be just as complex as the rest of the family. I'm sure we'll be learning more about him in the next book. Eldest son, Edward continues to be the character who intrigues me the most. My heart breaks for what he has been through and though the end of The Angels' Share leads readers to believe something about Edward, I'm of a different opinion. I'm already looking forward to the next book to find out if my suspicions are correct.

Two things you should know before investing your time in this series:

1) This is an ongoing family saga. While romantic relationships ebb and flow, the books in this series are not what I would term as traditional romance. There are love stories and, hopefully, there will be multiple happy endings over the course of the series but you should be aware that each book does not focus on a different primary couple with a definite happy ending for that couple.

2) If you enjoy well-crafted, sweeping sagas with a large cast of multi-layered characters, complex relationships, an ongoing mystery, and plenty of lust, betrayal, deceit, and, yes, love, then I suggest you give this series a try.

I have always enjoyed family sagas and both The Bourbon Kings and The Angels' Share sit firmly on my "recommended read" list. Ward has done an outstanding job of bringing the Bradfords and those around them to life. I love the flawed, realistic characters, the dysfunctional family dynamics, the struggle to save the family business from certain ruin and rebuild both their fortunes and tarnished social status, the cross-class romance, the murder mystery, and the suspicions hanging over all of their heads.

With The Bourbon Kings and The Angels' Share, Ward has tapped into the guilty pleasure that TV series Dynasty and Dallas brought me in the 80's and I am fully on board with this new series. It's a deliciously addictive saga that has sucked me in and refuses to let go.

 ~PJ


Excerpt from THE ANGELS’ SHARE by J. R. Ward

Toyota trucks were not supposed to go seventy-five miles an hour. Especially when they were ten years old.
At least the driver was wide awake, even though it was four a.m.
Lizzie King had a death grip on the steering wheel, and her foot on the accelerator was actually catching floor as she headed for a rise in the highway.
She had woken up in her bed at her farmhouse alone. Ordinarily, that would have been the status quo, but not anymore, not now that Lane was back in her life. The wealthy playboy and the estate’s gardener had finally gotten their act together, love bonding two unlikelies closer and stronger than the molecules of a diamond.
And she was going to stand by him, no matter what the future held.
After all, it was so much easier to give up extraordinary wealth when you had never known it, never aspired to it—and especially when you had seen behind its glittering curtain to the sad, desolate desert on the far side of the glamour and prestige.
God, the stress Lane was under.
And so out of bed she had gotten. Down the creaking stairs she had gone. And all around her little house’s first floor she had wandered.
When Lizzie had looked outside, she’d discovered his car was missing, the Porsche he drove and parked beside the maple by her front porch nowhere to be seen. And as she had wondered why he had left without telling her, she had begun to worry.
Just a matter of nights since his father had killed himself, only a matter of days since William Baldwine’s body had been found on the far side of the Falls of the Ohio. And ever since then Lane’s face had had a faraway look, his mind churning always with the missing money, the divorce papers he had served on the rapacious Chantal, the status of the household bills, the precarious situation at the Bradford Bourbon Company, his brother Edward’s terrible physical condition, Miss Aurora’s illness.
But he hadn’t said a thing about any of it. His insomnia had been the only sign of the pressure, and that was what scared her. Lane always made an effort to be composed around her, asking her about her work in Easterly’s gardens, rubbing her bad shoulder, making her dinner, usually badly, but who cared. Ever since they had gotten the air cleared between them and had fully recommitted to their relationship, he had all but moved into her farmhouse—and as much as she loved having him with her, she had been waiting for the implosion to occur.
It would almost have been easier if he had been ranting and raving.
And now she feared that time had come—and some sixth sense made her terrified about where he had gone. Easterly, the Bradford Family Estate, was the first place she thought of. Or maybe the Old Site, where his family’s bourbon was still made and stored. Or perhaps Miss Aurora’s Baptist church?
Yes, Lizzie had tried him on his phone. And when the thing had rung on the table on his side of the bed, she hadn’t waited any longer after that. Clothes on. Keys in hand. Out to the truck.
No one else was on I-64 as she headed for the bridge to get across the river, and she kept the gas on even as she crested the hill and hit the decline to the river’s edge on the Indiana side. In response, her old truck picked up even more speed along with a death rattle that shook the wheel and the seat, but the damn Toyota was going to hold it together because she needed it to.
“Lane . . . where are you?”
God, all the times she had asked him how he was and he’d said, “Fine.” All those opportunities to talk that he hadn’t taken her up on. All the glances she’d shot him when he hadn’t been looking her way, all the time her monitoring for signs of cracking or strain. And yet there had been little to no emotion after that one moment they’d had together in the garden, that private, sacred moment when she had sought him out under the blooms of the fruit trees and told him that she’d gotten it wrong about him, that she had misjudged him, that she was prepared to make a pledge to him with the only thing she had: the deed to her farmhouse—which was exactly the kind of asset that could be sold to help pay for the lawyers’ fees as he fought to save his family.
Lane had held her, and told her he loved her—and refused her gift, explaining he was going to fix everything himself, that he was going to somehow find the stolen money, pay back the enormous debt, right the company, resurrect his family’s fortunes.
And she had believed him.
She still did.
But ever since then? He had been both as warm and closed off as a space heater, physically present and completely disengaged at the same time.
Lizzie did not blame him in the slightest.
It was strangely terrifying, however.
Off in the distance, across the river, Charlemont’s business district glowed and twinkled, a false, earthbound galaxy that was a lovely lie, and the bridge that connected the two shores was still lit up in spring green and bright pink for Derby, a preppy rainbow to that promised land. The good news was that there was no traffic, so as soon as Lizzie was on the other side, she could take the River Road exit off the highway, shoot north to Easterly’s hill, and see if his car was parked in front of the mansion.
Then she didn’t know what she was going to do.
The newly constructed bridge had three lanes going in both directions, the concrete median separating east from west tall and broad for safety purposes. There were rows of white lights down the middle, and everything was shiny, not just from the illumination, but a lack of exposure to the elements. Construction had only finished in March, and the first lines of traffic had made the crossing in early April, cutting rush-hour delays down—
Up ahead, parked in what was actually the “slow” lane, was a vehicle that her brain recognized before her eyes properly focused on it.
Lane’s Porsche. It was Lane’s—
Lizzie nailed the brake pedal harder than she’d been pounding the accelerator, and the truck made the transition from full-force forward to full-on stop with the grace of a sofa falling out a second-story window: Everything shuddered and shook, on the verge of structural disintegration, and worse, there was barely any change in velocity, as if her Toyota had worked too hard to gain the speed and wasn’t going to let the momentum go without a fight—
There was a figure on the edge of the bridge. On the very farthest edge of the bridge. On the lip of the bridge over the deadly drop.
“Lane,” she screamed. “Lane!”
Her truck went into a spin, pirouetting such that she had to wrench her head around to keep him in her sights. And she jumped out before the Toyota came to a full stop, leaving the gearshift in neutral, the engine running, the door open in her wake.
“Lane! No! Lane!
Lizzie pounded across the pavement and surmounted barriers that seemed flimsy, too flimsy, given the distance down to the river.
Lane jerked his head around—
And lost one hold of the rail behind him.
As his grip slipped, shock registered on his face, a flash of surprise . . . that was immediately replaced by horror.
When he fell off into nothing but air.
Lizzie’s mouth could not open wide enough to release her scream.



Posted by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © J.R. Ward, 2016.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

RITA Giveaway Winner






The randomly chosen winner of a package of books from my

RITA post is:

MsAwesome

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review - - The Secrets She Kept

The Secrets She Kept
By Brenda Novak
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: July 26, 2016





Five years ago Keith Lazarow, then an emotionally fragile addict with a suicide attempt in his past, left the family home, Coldiron House, and his controlling, abusive mother and settled in Los Angeles where he forged a sane, stable life for himself. He even discovered a gift for making money, parlaying a million-dollar poker win into a hefty personal fortune that freed him from the financial dependence that had kept him tied to his mother. When a phone call with the news of Josephine Lazarow’s death summons him home to Fairham Island, a small island off the coast of South Carolina, Keith must confront not only the consequences of his own bad choices but also more Lazarow family secrets. Keith and his sisters, Maisey and Roxanne, wonder if his sobriety will stand the test when the barrier of more than two thousand miles no longer protects him from the tensions and the memories of home.

The authorities rule Josephine’s death a suicide, but Keith cannot accept that the prideful matriarch would have taken her own life. The circumstances surrounding her death (naked, in a tub, an empty bottle of sleeping pills beside her) seem particularly out of character. The local investigator is unhappy with the pressure Keith brings to examine evidence more closely with a view to homicide. Keith’s beliefs are vindicated, but the search for Josephine’s murderer opens possibilities that could prove devastating.

As the investigation continues, more secrets are uncovered that could shatter the lives of the three Lazarow siblings. Meanwhile, Keith is working to restore his relationship with Nancy Dellinger, the manager of a flower shop owned by his mother and a former lover whose trust Keith betrayed. Nancy is determined not to fall for Keith again, convinced that doing so will only bring more heartbreak.

Novak continues to develop the secrets theme she introduced in the first Fairham Island book, The Secret Sister, in this second installment in the series. Like the first book, this one blends elements of conventional mystery, the gothic, and romance to create a suspenseful story that satisfies on all levels. Keith is an intriguing character, and Novak redeems him in a convincing manner. He may not have slain all his demons, but he has them under hard-won control. He is aware of the damage he caused to others in his past and does all he can to repair them.

Except for one thread in the mystery, this would have been a five-star read for me. To avoid spoilers. I’ll just say that there was one betrayal I found unforgivable that the characters forgave. It was a high ick factor for me, and I had a problem getting beyond it enough to fully appreciate the ending. Other readers may find the thread less troublesome.

Overall, Novak proves once again that she has a deft hand with characterization and plot regardless of the subgenre. If you like your romantic suspense closer to mystery than to thriller as I do, I suggest you add this title to your TBR list. It works as a standalone, but it is a richer read for those who have read The Secret Sister.

~Janga

Monday, July 25, 2016

Blog Tour Review - - The Daredevil Snared


The Daredevil Snared
The Adventurers Quartet - Book 3
By Stephanie Laurens
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: June 28, 2016







Although he captains his own ship, as the youngest of four sons, Caleb Frobisher is still considered the reckless baby of the family by his older brothers and, as such, has been excluded from the more dangerous assignments taken on by his family in support of the Crown. Caleb is determined to prove that he has the skill and maturity to handle any mission on the table. The third leg of the government's covert plan to shut down an illegal diamond mine in Africa and rescue the kidnapped men, women, and children who have been forced into slave labor there should suit his purposes perfectly.

Traveling from England to Africa, Katherine Fortescue has settled into her new role as governess for a Freetown family when she disappears. Kidnapped by mercenaries and taken deep into the jungle, Katherine is held prisoner along with other men, women, and children who are forced to work a secret diamond mine. Katherine's role, along with cleaning and sorting diamonds, is to oversee the children of the camp and keep them in line. Outwardly, she appears to have accepted her captivity but underneath that calm exterior flows a deep determination to find a way out...for all of them. When the mercenary in charge agrees to allow Katherine to accompany a young boy outside the camp to gather nuts she encounters Caleb and members of his crew who have been secretly observing the camp.

Caleb's orders are to locate the mine then return to England where the fourth segment of the Crown's plan - a rescue - will be put into effect. Katherine and her fellow prisoners are determined to stay alive long enough to see that plan happen. Unfortunately, the sadistic mercenary running the camp is determined to see both of their plans derailed.

The Daredevil Snared is a much slower-paced novel than the one that precedes it though no less necessary. Think of it as more of a chess match than a sword fight. There are several new characters introduced and, in some ways, it feels like the introduction to a new series rather than the third installment. However, it does move the overall series arc forward and more information is revealed surrounding the mystery of those who are behind the kidnappings and the mine. In Caleb and Katherine, as well as their fellow prisoners, Laurens has created characters that intrigued me and for whom I came to care as I began to know them. And while the action is not as fast-paced nor the tension as "in your face" as the previous book in the series, the more subtle evil of their captor and the certainty of what awaits when there are no more diamonds to mine brings a chilling effect to this third story in The Adventurers Quartet.

The books in this series do not stand well on their own. Each book builds upon the previous one and I strongly recommend reading them in order.

~PJ

Are you reading The Adventurers Quartet?

Do you enjoy historical romances set outside Great Britain?

Do you like trilogies or quartets with an overarching mystery that isn't solved until the end of the series?



a Rafflecopter giveaway




Purchase Links

Connect with Stephanie

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Happy Birthday!





Happy Birthday, Janga!

Wishing you laughter, love, warm hugs,

and lots of wonderful books!

May the next year bring you

blessings, fun adventures, 

and all the joy your heart can hold.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sale Spotlight - - FLASH FIRE by Dana Marton



NY Times bestselling author Dana Marton is excited to announce that FLASH FIRE (A Navy SEAL Romance), the 2016 RITA Winner for Romantic Suspense, will be on sale for just $0.99 for one week from 7/25/16 - 7/31/16. FLASH FIRE was one of my favorite romantic suspense novels of 2015. Here's what I had to say about the book when it was released last November:

Dana Marton is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. I know when I pick up one of her books that I'm about to be treated to a compelling, fast-paced story that will keep my heart in my throat and my nerves on edge. Clara Roberts, the heroine of FLASH FIRE is a character I cheered for from beginning to end. A buttoned-up former accountant now working to retrieve American citizens lost, kidnapped, or imprisoned abroad, her world is turned upside down with a single phone call that sends her into the Mexican jungle with ruthless former SEAL, Light Walker. ::Sigh:: What can I say about Walker. He's a tortured soul, bent on revenge, and not about to let anyone get in his way, least of all Clara. With determination as solid as his rock-hard body, it's difficult to believe there's even a kernel of softness remaining within him but, slowly, without trying, our heroine burrows her way into his heart and soul. Will it be enough to save him from his course of destruction? 

Buckle up and get ready for another wild ride from Dana Marton's FLASH FIRE. I highly recommend it!   
~PJ

     

FLASHFIRE (A Navy SEAL Romance) Blurb:

Former SEAL turned lawless mercenary Light Walker just wants to be left alone to avenge his brother's death. He wants nothing to do with Clara Roberts, a by-the-book investigator on a secret mission, who is trying to talk (cough) badger (cough) him into helping her recover an American teenager who'd disappeared abroad. Clara Roberts isn't crazy about the uneasy partnership either. How can tequila-swilling Walker be her best option? And, dear Lord, the things that come out of that man's mouth! 
Soon the sparks they generate--and the trouble they stir up--threaten to set the jungle ablaze. But as attraction grows into love, looming danger turns into all-out war. Clara and Walker must hold on to each other and race against time to survive. Fast-paced, heart pounding, laugh-out-loud funny. Get ready for a wild adventure!

Purchase Links:
Kindle UK:  http://amzn.to/1Phwmlt


A VERY STYLISH RAFFLE

Enter to win these fabulous British phone booth bookends, a Kate Spade pencil bag with goodies inside, and a signed copy of FLASH FIRE. Click on the graphic below to enter. GOOD LUCK!!!
Raffle ends on August 1st, 2016.

 




Friday, July 22, 2016

The RITA Goes to....


Last Saturday night, Romance Writers of America wrapped up their national conference with the announcement of the 2016 RITA® and Golden Heart® award winners. For those of us who weren't able to travel to San Diego, RWA provided a live stream of the event. Granted, it was a bit late for us East Coast readers (11:00 pm starting time) but, determined to stay awake while my travel companions slept, I curled up in a chair in my dark hotel room in Virginia, popped in my ear buds and (mostly) silently cheered for my favorites for the next couple hours. I may have squealed when Julie Anne Long's name was called and I admit to stunned silence with tears streaming down my face when she mentioned Janga and me in her acceptance speech. Never in a million years would I have ever expected to be acknowledged in someone's RITA® acceptance! Listed below are the winners of this year's RITA®.



BEST FIRST BOOK

Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn

Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided...by your future self. 

It's Callie's seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she's eagerly awaiting her vision -- a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they're meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist. 

Or in Callie's case, a criminal. 

In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in prison. The only person who can help is her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn't spoken to in five years. 

Logan breaks her free, but can she trust him? He's almost the same boy she remembers, but now he's a whole lot hotter. And he's got his own past to deal with. Callie's falling for him, fast, but she soon learns he has secrets of his own. Secrets that mean they can never be together.

Now, Callie's on the run not only from the government, but also from her fate. If she wants any hope of a future with Logan, she must find a way to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all -- herself.

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: LONG

Brokedown Cowboy by Maisey Yates


There are lines best friends shouldn't cross, but in Copper Ridge, Oregon, the temptation might be too much… 
If practice makes perfect, Connor Garrett should be world champion of being alone. Since losing his wife he's concentrated exclusively on his family's ranch. Until Felicity Foster needs a place to stay and Connor invites her to move in temporarily. That's what friends do. What friends don't do? Start fantasizing about each other in their underwear. Or out of it… 
Since high school, Liss has kept her raging crush in check. But helping Connor rebuild his life only reinforces how much she longs to be a part of it. One explosive encounter, and she'll discover that getting what you always wanted can feel better than you ever dreamed…
There are lines best friends shouldn't cross, but in Copper Ridge, Oregon, the temptation might be too much… 


CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: MID-LENGTH

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

They don't play for the same team. Or do they?  
 
Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley's biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he'll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever. 


Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions-- can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend...and a big one to learn about himself. 


CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: SHORT

The Nanny Plan by Sarah M. Anderson

This billionaire bachelor has a baby challenge… 
Being a father to his orphaned infant niece is out of this tech billionaire's comfort zone. Lucky for Nate Longmire, Trish Hunter is a natural at motherhood, and she's agreed to be his temporary nanny. But long glances, slow kisses and not-so-innocent touches are strictly off-limits… 
Trish's goal is to help Nate in exchange for a big donation to her charity for Lakota kids. Falling for her bachelor boss—and his adorable baby girl—is not part of the plan. But when the month is up, will she be able to walk away?









EROTIC ROMANCE

For Real: A Spires Story by Alexis Hall

Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission. 

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being. 

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love. 

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have — no matter how right it feels — can’t last. It can’t mean anything. 


It can’t be real. 


HISTORICAL ROMANCE: LONG

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

In each of her Chicago World's Fair books, Deeanne Gist has created a sense of time and place that draws me into the world of her characters as if I'm traveling their journey with them. Her research is impeccable and it shows in the details sprinkled throughout. The characters are true to their time and I appreciate the intimate glimpses into their daily lives that show us how people actually lived in 1893 New York City. Another by-product of all that research. The secondary characters run the gamut from Flossie's parents to her co-workers at Tiffany's to angry, male strikers to her fellow boarders. Gist's method of revealing details about each of the boarders is clever and gives us insight into each of them without having to employ an "info dump." I found it delightful and wished Flossie had a question for me. Real people and fictional characters are interwoven seamlessly in this book, with the fictional characters being so well developed and realistic that, at times, I forgot which was which. Not mere window dressing, many of the secondary characters contribute significantly to the story and move the plot forward.

While we can't travel through time to visit the 1893 World's Fair, we can do the next best thing and experience it through the wonderful pages of Tiffany Girl as well as the two previous books in this series, It Happened at the Fair and Fair Play (stand-alone books). I highly recommend them all.



HISTORICAL ROMANCE: SHORT

It Started With a Scandal by Julie Anne Long

I admit to being a Julie Anne Long fan from her debut book on and to waiting impatiently for the next Pennyroyal Green book since I read the first one in the series. But It Started with a Scandal exceeded even my high expectations. It is an extraordinary book. Lavay in this book, wounded in body and spirit, is a more complex and substantive character than a reader encountering him as a handsome charmer with a dangerous edge in I Kissed an Earl would have guessed. Elise is the kind of strong heroine I most admire, one whose strength stems from her growth, her tenacity, and her ability to prevail against the odds. Long has a gift for capturing her reader’s interest in a few words that offer a compelling invitation to discover more about the characters, and she uses that gift to its full potential in this book.  Lavay is “not so much rough-hewn as sleek and hard as a rock polished over and over by wave after wave of time and experience.” Elise’s life as housekeeper and mother is “stitched together by an intricate network of barters and favors of time and skill and knowledge, of baked goods and canned goods, unused bolts of cloth and hand-me-downs, and herbs and cheeses and books and advice and tutoring.” If Lavay and Elise are fascinating as individuals, they are even more so as a couple. This book could serve as a textbook for aspiring romance writers who need to study how to maintain sexual tension. The pages almost smoke although consummation scenes are few.

I give It Started with a Scandal my highest recommendation. It is one of the best books in one of the best series in historical romance fiction. If you enjoy historical romance with characters who jump off the page and into your mind and heart and story lines that demand your investment, you owe it to yourself to read this book. I plan to reread it just as soon as I add it to my short list of the Best of 2015.



INSPIRATIONAL ROMANCE

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marlow, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned. 

When Marlow accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marlow is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.


PARANORMAL ROMANCE

Must Love Chainmail by Angela Quarles

Trapped in the wrong time, she needs a knight in shining armor, but this damsel in distress might be the real savior.

A damsel in distress...

With a day planner attached to her hip, the last thing Katy Tolson wants is a romance that threatens her well-ordered life. She's set to marry the safe--but bland--guy, but something's not quite...right. A careless wish thrusts her through time into medieval Wales and into the arms of...

A knight in somewhat shining armor...

Sir Robert Beucol, half-Norman and half-Welsh, lives with the shame of his father's treason and vows to reclaim his family's holdings and thereby his honor. To prove himself to his king, he must be more Norman than a full-blooded Norman. What better way to show loyalty than to fight his mother's people? He has no desire to be sidetracked by the mysterious wench with pink toenails, peculiar habits, and passion smoldering behind her cool, collected exterior.

A rebellion that challenges both...

The Welsh uprising fits perfectly into Robert's plans. Katy's on the other hand? That's a no. As they embark on a perilous journey through the heart of Wales, each passionate encounter pulls them closer together, but farther from their goals. When everything they value is at stake, can they save each other and their love?




ROMANCE NOVELLA

Nice Girls Don't Ride by Roni Loren

Natalie Bourne thinks she has the perfect night planned for her twenty-first birthday. But when her car breaks down and her boyfriend bails on her, she's left stranded in an auto shop dealing with a way too cocky, way too hot mechanic, who seems to be intent on pushing every button she has.


Monroe Hawkins knows he shouldn't be messing with a girl from the uppity private college. Especially when he can tell she sees him as the help. But he's having trouble resisting the redhead with the smart mouth and the killer legs. So when Natalie's night goes from bad to worse, there's no way he's letting her spend her birthday alone. He makes her a deal--he'll take her home but not until the sun comes up.

Ten hours, one motorcycle, and the city of Austin at their fingertips...things are about to take a major detour. And soon, there may be no U-turn in sight.




ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Flash Fire by Dana Marton

Dana Marton is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. I know when I pick up one of her books that I'm about to be treated to a compelling, fast-paced story that will keep my heart in my throat and my nerves on edge. Clara Roberts, the heroine of FLASH FIRE is a character I cheered for from beginning to end. A buttoned-up former accountant now working to retrieve American citizens lost, kidnapped, or imprisoned abroad, her world is turned upside down with a single phone call that sends her into the Mexican jungle with ruthless former SEAL, Light Walker. ::Sigh:: What can I say about Walker. He's a tortured soul, bent on revenge, and not about to let anyone get in his way, least of all Clara. With determination as solid as his rock-hard body, it's difficult to believe there's even a kernel of softness remaining within him but, slowly, without trying, our heroine burrows her way into his heart and soul. Will it be enough to save him from his course of destruction? 

Buckle up and get ready for another wild ride from Dana Marton's FLASH FIRE. I highly recommend it!   





YOUNG ADULT ROMANCE

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she's spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci's footsteps, she's ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital's Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.
Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco's most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is-and tries to uncover what he's hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix's own family's closet tear them apart?





And that's a wrap!


Did you watch the live stream of this year's ceremony? 

Did your favorites win?

Will you be giving any of the winning books a try? 
(several are currently available at a discounted price)

I have a package of books for one person who leaves a comment before 11:00 PM, July 23, 2016. (U.S. only)