Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A SMP Christmas: Part Two - - With This Christmas Ring / The Christmas Cowboy Hero / Hope at Christmas

With This Christmas Ring
By Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press / Swerve
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Merry Parks has a mission. The final request of her friend Charlotte Smithson, dead of childbirth fever, was that Merry deliver Charlotte’s infant daughter into the hands of the child’s father. Friendship and honor demand that Merry honor Charlotte’s request even if doing so requires Merry to visit Wrotham House, the London home of the man she jilted. Merry may have spent the past five years working with her scholar father and out of touch with the London social scene, but she has not forgotten Alex.

Alexander Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, has recently returned to England, summoned home from Paris by his paternal grandmother. But the man who returns is less trusting than the one who left a year earlier. A reunion with the mother he believed had abandoned him for a lover and her second family has given him a different view of her and of his grandmother, who contributed to his mother’s flight. His new relationship with his mother has set Alex thinking about the other woman who abandoned him, wondering about her reasons, and hoping for a second chance with her. But even that hope does not prepare him for Merry to arrive on his doorstep with a baby in her arms and a question concerning the whereabouts of his cousin William on her lips.

The probability of William’s having left London to spend the holiday at the family seat in Kent provides Alex with just the excuse he needs to maintain contact with Merry. He persuades her to bring baby Lottie and her entourage and accompany him to Wrotham Keep. Even the weather cooperates; heavy snow forces Merry to remain in Kent for Christmas, to her secret relief.  Being in the place where they once celebrated their betrothal and where Merry left Alex with a ring and a note that explained nothing makes it easy to remember all they once shared. Fate may have given them the time they need to claim their second chance, but they must overcome formidable opposition to reach their HEA.

Manda Collins excels at the novella form, packing her stories with enough character development and action to maintain reader interest but restricting the focus sufficiently to give the sense of a finished work.  In this case, the reunited lovers trope helps because Merry and Alex have a history on which to build. With This Christmas Ring is a small jewel of a Christmas tale with seasonal themes of forgiveness, restoration, and love, familial and romantic.  I loved it, and if you are a reader who appreciates a historical Christmas novella that has both sweetness and sizzle, I predict you will too. The novella is part of the Lords of Anarchy series, but it can easily be read as a standalone.

The Christmas Cowboy Hero
By Donna Grant
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: October 31, 2017
Reviewed by PJ


Driven by guilt, grief, and a different dream, Clayton East left his family ranch to join the Navy as soon as he was old enough. Years later, only his mother's desperate call brings the former Navy SEAL home to a father in medical distress and a ranch on the verge of bankruptcy thanks to cattle rustlers and an embezzling accountant. Clayton is ready to have the book thrown at the only rustler who was caught but meeting the boy's sister and guardian, Abby Harper, then the sixteen-year-old himself has him taking a different path, accepting Brice's offer to work off his debt at the ranch after school and weekends. His hope is to convince Brice to tell him the identities of the rustlers while at the same time giving him the chance to atone for his part in the thefts. The more time Clayton spends with the Harper family, the more entwined he becomes with all of them. Especially Abby.

Abby would do anything for her brothers, including putting her dreams on hold since their mother abandoned them when she was only eighteen. Since then, Abby has devoted herself to them, doing her best to keep them clothed, fed, loved, and on the right path. When Brice's actions bring them to the East's ranch, Abby is grateful for her brother's second chance but has no idea of the impact it will have on her entire family. She is not prepared for the kindness shown them by Clayton and his parents, the heartfelt welcome into their family Christmas celebrations, nor for the spark between Clayton and herself that threatens to ignite into an inferno. As she and Clayton grow closer, the possibility of a forever love and a loving family for all of them looms on the horizon, but only if they can uncover the identities of the cattle rustlers and catch them before someone gets hurt...or worse. 

Donna Grant brings readers a feel-good story about family, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. I fell in love with these characters and wholeheartedly embraced their journey. The story is well-paced, with plenty of action, a bit of suspense, heartwarming romance, a strong family dynamic, and a well-deserved happy ending. The mystery of the cattle rustlers is solved but there's a significant loose thread pertaining to the embezzlement of the ranch's funds which makes me wonder if this book will be part of a series. If it is, I'll happily return for any future stories.

Hope at Christmas
By Nancy Naigle
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press / Griffin
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Still reeling from her husband’s infidelity and their pending divorce, Sydney Ragsdale and her daughter RayAnne move from Atlanta to Hopewell, NC, where Sydney has inherited her grandparents’ house. RayAnne is ten, but hurt and anger over the changes in her life have given her a head start on a stormy adolescence. Volunteering at the Book Bea, a book store that still possesses the magic it held when Sydney visited it as a child, fosters needed mother-daughter bonding. It also restores Sydney’s self-confidence, helps her and RayAnne become part of the community, and instills the Christmas spirit in them.

Single father Kevin MacAlea, history teacher and baseball coach at the local high school, has an abundance of the Christmas spirit. He has found joy in being the local Santa for thirteen years. If only his twelve-year-old son, Seth, who associates the holiday with the mother who left him and his father on Christmas Eve, could share in his joy. Even amid decorations galore, Santa’s Village, and a caroling tradition that includes hot chocolate, disappointments and misunderstandings abound. But if these four people believe in themselves and each other, they may find that Hopewell holds all their hearts desire for a season--and forever.

Nancy Naigle returns readers to the charming small town where last year’s Christmas Joy was set for another sweet holiday romance. If you like your Christmas reading treats steamy and heavy on the spice, you will want to give this one a miss. But if your preference is for heartwarming with a dash of seasonal schmaltz or if Hallmark’s Christmas movies are one of your feel-good delights, you will likely enjoy this one as much as I did.

Have you read any Christmas themed romances yet?

Are there any in particular you're looking forward to?

Do you have any titles to recommend?

A SMP Christmas: Part One - - Deck the Halls / A Season of You / Christmas at Two Love Lane

We're only a little over two months out from Christmas but we're already getting into the holiday spirit here at The Romance Dish thanks to several holiday-themed romances. Today, Janga and I are sharing our thoughts on four new books and two novellas from St. Martin's Press. The first three reviews are below. Be sure to check back this afternoon for the rest! 

Deck the Halls
By Donna Alward
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press / Swerve
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Donna Alward takes readers back to Darling, Vermont, for a Christmas novella featuring George Reilly, a formerly homeless veteran, and a woman from his past. Since he was first befriended by Aiden Gallagher and Laurel Stone (Somebody Like You), George’s life has gradually been transformed. When Laurel first offered him work at the Ladybug Garden Center, his responsibilities were light, but George has taken on more and more responsibilities until he is now Laurel’s trusted assistant set to assume even more duties as Laurel’s pregnancy progresses. He has VA assistance and a small apartment and has made a place for himself in Darling. He is even thinking of celebrating Christmas for the first time in thirteen years. Then Amy Merck shows up at the garden center, asking George to resurrect the past he has struggled to forget.

Fifteen years after the death of her twin brother, Ian, in Iraq, Amy and her parents are still searching for closure. George and Ian met right out of basic training, and the younger Ian became George’s best friend and the little brother he’d never had. Ian took George home to meet his family, and George basked in the warm welcome Ian’s parents gave him and delighted in careless flirting with Ian’s pretty sister. But when Ian died in Iraq, George felt responsible. He couldn’t face the Mercks. He hasn’t seen any of them in fifteen years. His own life fell apart, and it is only in the past six months that George has stopped drifting and found a home. He is terrified by where Amy’s questions can take him, but he cannot ignore her.

Amy has tracked George down, rented a house in Darling for two weeks, and made the seven-hour drive from her home in Brooklyn to find the answers she needs. George may no longer be recognizable as the young soldier she once crushed on, but he is the only one who can tell her about her brother’s last days and how he died. Amy will not give up on finding what she and her family need to put Ian to rest at last. And her heart won’t let her give up on George.

George and Amy are two wounded creatures who need each other, but before they can build a future together, George must forgive himself and accept that his guilt is self-inflicted. The hearts of the Merck family have always been open to Ian’s friend.

Alward’s novella will warm the hearts and activate the tear ducts of readers looking for a contemporary Christmas read with a big emotional punch. Fans of the Darling series will be particularly pleased to see George, whom they have followed from homeless man to productive citizen, get his own story. My only complaint is that the complexity of this story deserved a full novel. I liked the novella, but I was left wanting more.


Christmas at Two Love Lane
By Kieran Kramer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by PJ

Kieran Kramer takes readers to Charleston, South Carolina in this first book of her new Two Love Lane contemporary romance series which centers around the lives and loves of three matchmaking best friends and business partners. 

Rumored to be descended from Cupid himself, Charleston native Macy Frost takes her matchmaking profession very seriously even if she has serious trust issues and has never been in love herself. Sexy northerner, Deacon Banks has no interest in finding his true love but could use a few good dates while he's in town visiting his aunt over the holidays. His aunt raised him after the death of Deacon's parents and the only thing she wants for Christmas is for Deacon to settle down with someone who will make him happy, preferably someone well-connected in Charleston society. If Deacon gives the appearance of trying to find his "one," he figures it will buy him time with his aunt. Macy reluctantly agrees to find dates for him but only if he will agree to also give her a chance to find his true love match. Things go awry when Deacon begins to think the only good match for him is his matchmaker, Macy.

Kramer has created a sweet, humorous, leisurely story about two people resistant to love who just can't seem to stay away from one another. There's plenty of push and pull along the way, especially as the dynamic between Macy and Deacon begins to change. I enjoyed Deacon's relationship with his aunt, a character who adds a lot of spice, sass, and heart to the story. I also liked George, his aunt's cook/houseman who is quite the accomplished scene-stealer. Unfortunately, I had difficulty engaging with Macy and Deacon. I liked them but eventually became frustrated with their lack of forward progress. Part of the reason may be due to the length and pace of the story. It's very slow with a lot of two steps forward - three steps back which is not my favorite type of set-up. I probably would have enjoyed their story much more as a novella. But, if you like that pace, give this one a try. It has a lot to recommend it even if it didn't quite work for me. 

One thing I loved about this book was the setting. The author's love of Charleston comes through clearly, evoking the sights, smells, and sounds of this lovely, historic city on the South Carolina coast. It made me want to pack the car and drive down for a visit! 

A Season of You
By Emma Douglas
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Mina Harper, the youngest child of rock legend Gray Harper, married her high school sweetheart when she was eighteen, shortly after the death of her father. Two years later, her husband, on his way home after a friend’s birthday party at the Salt Devil Distillery, was killed by a drunk driver.  Mina has spent the past three years as a semi-recluse, working her shifts with Cloud Bay’s search and rescue team and maintaining contact with her family, but spending most of her time in her cottage painting. Her yellow Lab Stewie is her closest companion. Mina has no interest in opening her life to someone else whom death might steal from her.

Will Fraser fell in love with Mina Harper when he first saw her. Knowing it was hopeless because she was happily married didn’t change his feelings. Neither does knowing that the last man a woman whose husband’s death was alcohol-related is likely to be interested in is the co-owner of a whiskey distillery. But when Will rescues Mina, she thanks him an invitation to the Harper Thanksgiving feast. Soon mistletoe and Will are giving Mina ideas. But while Mina is all for an affair that may make Christmas bearable, Will is thinking about forever.

Douglas’s second Cloud Bay book is set against the Christmas activities of this island community. Mina’s feelings about the holiday are significant to the story, and the conclusion is practically wrapped in a Christmas package and arrayed with stars. This sweet, slow-paced romance also has its share of sizzle, a combination sure to please readers who like a contemporary story with a real Christmas feel, a well-developed romance, and interesting family dynamics.

Have you read any Christmas themed romances yet?

Are there any in particular you're looking forward to?

Do you have any titles to recommend?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway - - Duke of Desire

Duke of Desire
By Elizabeth Hoyt
Maiden Lane Series - Book 12
Publisher: Grand Central
Release Date: October 17, 2017
Reviewed by PJ

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping.  Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos.  When one of the masked-and-nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them.  Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans.  But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life—and bed.  Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael's past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters.  Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons? 

Duke of Desire is the twelfth and final full-length book in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series and, in my opinion, one of her best. As fans of this series would expect, this is not a light and fluffy tale. Raphael is one of Hoyt's most tortured heroes and one of my favorites. His backstory is complex, compelling, and heartbreaking. When he and Iris meet, he is a broken man with nothing to give, save his name and his protection. He is filled with rage, shame, and a cold determination to bring an end to the debauched evil of the Lords of Chaos once and for all.  

It will take a very strong woman, with equal determination, to break through the shell of ice that has hardened around Raphael's heart and soul in the past nineteen years. A woman of goodness and light, with the intelligence, the sensitivity, the tenacity, and the heart to not give up in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Fortunately, Hoyt has created just such a woman in the character of Iris. Consider Raphael's thoughts on the night they marry:

"She was...different from other women in some way he still was unable to understand. She was more pure, more bright, more golden. She called to him on an animal level. Her song had seeped into his veins, his lungs, and his liver until he could no longer divide her from his marrow."  

There are many beautifully written passages in this book. Hoyt breathes life into these complex characters, creating a harrowing story with danger around every corner, a heart-wrenching emotional journey that affected me at a visceral level, and a hard-won triumph of love over evil that filled me with hope and joy. This is a story that is going to stay with me for a long time. 


Have you been reading Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series?

Do you have a favorite book or couple from the series?

DUKE OF DESIRE- Short Excerpt

Desperately she flung herself at the opposite seat and tugged it up. Thrust her hand in.
A pistol.
She cocked it, desperately praying that it was loaded.
She turned and aimed it at the door to the carriage just as the door swung open.
The Wolf loomed in the doorway—still nude—a lantern in one hand. She saw the eyes behind the mask flick to the pistol she held between her bound hands. He turned his head and said something in an incomprehensible language to someone outside.
Iris felt her breath sawing in and out of her chest.
He climbed into the carriage and closed the door, completely ignoring her and the pistol pointed at him. The Wolf hung the lantern on a hook and sat on the seat across from her.
Finally he glanced at her. “Put that down.”
His voice was calm. Quiet.
With just a hint of menace.
She backed into the opposite corner, as far away from him as possible, holding the pistol up. Level with his chest. Her heart was pounding so hard it nearly deafened her. “No.”
The carriage jolted into motion, making her stumble before she caught herself.
“T-tell them to stop the carriage,” she said, stuttering with terror despite her resolve. “Let me go now.”
“So that they can rape you to death out there?” He tilted his head to indicate the Lords. “No.”
“At the next village, then.”
“I think not.”
He reached for her and she knew she had no choice.
She shot him.
The blast blew him into the seat and threw her hands up and back, the pistol narrowly missing her nose.
Iris scrambled to her feet. The bullet was gone, but she could still use the pistol as a bludgeon.
The Wolf was sprawled across the seat, blood streaming from a gaping hole in his right shoulder. His mask had been knocked askew on his face.
She reached forward and snatched it off.
And then gasped.
The face that was revealed had once been as beautiful as an angel’s but was now horribly mutilated. A livid red scar ran from just below his hairline on the right side of his face, bisecting the eyebrow, somehow missing the eye itself but gouging a furrow into the lean cheek and catching the edge of his upper lip, making it twist. The scar ended in a missing divot of flesh in the line of the man’s severe jaw. He had inky black hair and, though they were closed now, Iris knew he had emotionless crystal-gray eyes.
She knew because she recognized him.
He was Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, and when she’d danced with him—once—three months ago at a ball, she’d thought he’d looked like Hades.
God of the underworld.
God of the dead.
She had no reason to change her opinion now.
Then he gasped, those frozen crystal eyes opened, and he glared at her. “You idiot woman. I’m trying to save you.”


Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing "mesmerizing." She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

On Second Thought - - Snowdrift and Other Stories

Snowdrift and Other Stories
By Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: October 3, 2017
(originally published October 20, 2016, William Heinemann)
Reviewed by Janga 


Snowdrift and Other Stories includes the eleven short stories collected in Pistols for Two, the only collection of Georgette Heyer’s short stories published before this one, and three short stories uncovered by Heyer biographer Jennifer Kloester that were published in the 1930s: “Runaway Match” and “Incident on Bath Road,” published in 1936 in Woman’s Journal, and “Pursuit,” published in 1939 in The Queen’s Book of the Red Cross, a fundraiser collection.  By the time these stories were published, Heyer had already written all of her Georgian novels except Faro’s Daughter (1941), and Regency Buck (1935), the first of her twenty-four Regency-set romances that established a subgenre that remains the most popular form of historical romance these many decades later, albeit markedly different in some ways.

Part of the fun of reading these stories is Heyer’s characteristic wit and banter and the skill with which she creates a world now grown familiar to historical romance readers. Road trips, for example, have long been a popular trope in Romancelandia, and they abound in these stories. The opening story “Snowdrift,” for example, features Sir Julian Arden, a noted whip who aborts his effort to win a bet to rescue Miss Sophia Trent from a coach mishap caused by the snow and get her to her destination (Bath, where her miserly grandfather resides). Miss Trent is an innocent whose lack of artifice wins the hero’s heart. She has no idea who Beau Arden is, and he, who has grown “so bored that nothing kept his interest alive for more than a fleeting moment,” finds her honesty refreshing. She tells him that driving from London through the snow in his curricle is “nonsensical,” something none of the simpering misses or ambitious mamas chasing Arden would have dared do.

Kloester notes in her foreword to the collection that the seeds of some of Heyer’s novels can be found in these short stories. For the Heyer aficionado, recognizing the “seeds” and connecting them to the novels is also part of the fun of this collection. However, one does not have to have read Heyer’s thirty plus romance novels to recognize the plots and character types that she introduced. She created the prototypes, and other writers borrowed, imitated, and modified them. In “Snowdrift,” the hero’s athletic prowess (“a crack shot and a nonpareil amongst whips” and “his famous right,” with which he fells a dastard), his clothes (“a coat of superfine . . . from the hands of a master,” his buckskins of “impeccable cut,” and the “intricate style” of his cravat), and his reception once the miser knows who he is will call to mind too many heroes of historical romance to count. The heroine’s background (a profligate father dead at an early age, a kind, virtuous, penurious vicar as stepfather, and a houseful of hopeful half-siblings) and even the miserly grandfather with his unexpected change in status may recall other books.

“Pistols for Two,” the title story in the older Heyer collection hardly qualifies as a romance in the usual sense. The heroine never actually appears in the story. Instead the primary characters are a pair of foolish young men hardly out of boyhood, lifelong friends who fall in love with the same young lady, formerly a reluctantly tolerated playmate. A misunderstanding leads Tom to challenge Jack, and the two of them, all injured pride and embarrassing fear, seem set to meet each other in a duel neither wants. The hero is “the London gentleman” who saves their pride while preventing the duel. It is sure to leave the reader with a smile and satisfied with just a hint of romance.

Each reader will have her favorites. I gave the book five stars, but I did not love all the stories equally. Among the stories from Pistols for Two, my favorite is “Hazard,” in which a dissolute brother stakes his sister in a dice game. Carlington, a drunken, reckless marquis, wins Helen Moreland, and she willingly leaves her brother. The heroine is pragmatic and controlled, at least on the surface, and accepts his news that the public announcement of his betrothal to another is taking place even as they speak. When Miss Fanny Wyse, Carlington’s fiancĂ©e appears at the inn where Carlington and Helen have sheltered, the story becomes farce. Heyer readers will recognize the similarity of characters such as Letty Grayson in The Masqueraders (1928) and Eustacie de Vaubon in The Talisman Ring (1936) to Miss Wyse’s age (nineteen), looks (“soulful brown eyes and a riot of dark curls”), and temperament (impetuous with a broad romantic streak and a taste for drama). I loved the twist of the elopement trope, the contrast between the hero and heroine, who are more alike than they appear, and the humor. And I love thinking of favorites by other authors like Jo Beverley who wrote stories that bear a faint imprint of this one.

I also rate “A Clandestine Affair” and “A Husband for Fanny” highly.  The former features a pair of lovers—the youthful, spirited Miss Lucy Tresilian and the handsome and sweet-natured, Arthur Rosely and Lucy’s aunt, Elinor Tresilian, “on the shady side of thirty” and Lord Iver, Arthur’s cousin, former guardian, and current trustee. Lord Iver opposes the match between Lucy and Arthur because he wants no link to the family of the woman who jilted him twelve years ago. When Elinor and Iver pursue their young relatives, whom they believe to be eloping, the story becomes a reunited-lovers tale. Elements of this story surface later in Bath Tangle (1955) and Black Sheep (1966). The interest of the “husband” in “A Husband for Fanny” in eighteen-year-old Fanny is strictly paternal, despite her mother’s fond hope. It is the lovely widow herself who has him thinking about matrimony. If you have read many traditional Regencies, you have encountered that plot.

 “Pursuit,” the first of the reclaimed stories is another tale of an older pair in pursuit of youthful, eloping lovers, the hero’s ward and the governess heroine’s charge. I confess that I was so enchanted by the opening sentence, a marvel of grammatical construction and which, with a name change, could have introduced quite a number of my keepers, that I was won over instantly.
The curricle, which was built on sporting lines, was drawn by a team of four magnificent greys, and the ribbons were being handled by one of the most noted whips of his day: a member of the Four Horse Club, of the Bensington, the winner of above a dozen races – in short, by the Earl of Shane, as anyone but the most complete country bumpkin, catching only the most fleeting glimpse of his handsome profile, with its bar of black brow, and masterful, aquiline nose, would have known immediately.

And then there is the governess heroine:

The earl’s companion was a governess, a lady, moreover, who would very soon attain her thirtieth year, and who was seated bolt-upright beside him, dressed in a sober round gown of French cambric under a green pelisse, and a bonnet of moss-straw tied over her smooth, brown ringlets. . . . Her eyes, which were a fine grey, and generally held a good deal of humour, stared stonily at the road ahead, and her mouth (too generous for beauty) was firmly compressed.

Only two pages in and I’m already in love with these characters and looking forward to watching them bristle and banter as they fall in love with each other. The story may be new to me, but I know it well because Heyer’s influence is pervasive in the genre.

Snowdrift and Other Stories invites the reader into an ordered world where laughter and love rule and where villains are defeated, even though few of them are truly evil. I find that immensely appealing in 2017. If you have read Pistols for Two, I think you will find the charm of the stories undiluted in a reread. If you have never read Heyer, these stories serve as a great introduction to one of the founders of popular historical romance. I highly recommend it. Now I’m off to reread more Heyer, starting with my favorite, Frederica.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review - - Chasing Christmas Eve

Chasing Christmas Eve
By Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: September 26, 2017 
Reviewed by Janga

Colbie Albright is escaping from her life—from her mother and twin brothers who depend upon her for financial and emotional support, from a looming deadline and a severe case of writer’s block, and from the other complications her success as CE Crown, number one bestselling author of a YA action-adventure, dystopian series, has brought. After five years without a break, she needs to get away. When a late-season hurricane makes her dream of exchanging December in New York for Aruba or some other South Seas destination impossible, she impetuously boards a flight for San Francisco. A recommendation from a cab driver takes her to the Cow Hollow district and a certain legendary fountain. An encounter with a large, exuberant dog lands her in the fountain.

After trusting the wrong person, Spencer Baldwin finds himself on a list of San Francisco’s ten most eligible bachelors. The resulting media storm infringes on his privacy and is interfering with the uninterrupted time he needs to complete his latest project, getting medicines to people in inaccessible areas via drones. Taking a break to retrieve the phone he tossed in the fountain, he is drafted for dog walking duty by his friend, pet shop owner Willa Davis, (The Trouble with Mistletoe). When the dog knocks a tourist into the fountain, Spence goes to her aid. Guilt over her minor injuries comes second to an immediate fascination with her curvy body and her sense of humor that refuses to be dowsed even by her fountain experience. In fact, he is so attracted that he offers Colbie the use of an apartment in his Pacific Pier Building, against the advice of the building’s general manager and another “Friend of Spence,” the bossy Elle Wheaton (Accidentally on Purpose).

The more Spence and Colbie get to know one another, the greater their attraction to one another grows. They agree to an affair with an expiration date, Christmas Eve, the day Colbie has promised to be back in New York. But their relationship involves more than desire. They like each other, they talk to each other, and they are good together. The blocks they each have experienced in their professional lives yield to new creativity and productivity. However, they are keeping secrets from each other, and neither is willing to risk making the first move toward the forever they both want. When Colbie leaves, they both stand to lose.

When Jill Shalvis is at her best, nobody does funny, relatable characters with hidden vulnerabilities and stories that balance heart and heat better. Her Heartbreaker Bay books, albeit with some unevenness, have showcased her gifts. Readers have embraced the motley misfits who have become found family and eagerly awaited each new story. This fourth novel gets my vote for the best of series. I love geeky heroes, and my affection for writer heroines goes back to childhood when Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Betsy Ray, writers all, were as familiar and beloved as my real-life best friends. But Spence and Colbie have more going for them than the fact that theirs is a tale of a geek and a writer. They are likable, intelligent characters, a bit battered by life but loyal to those they love, passionate about their work, and possessing a keen sense of humor. Spence’s tribe all have parts to play in this story, and fans of the series will enjoy seeing favorite characters in their secondary roles. Colbie’s twenty-something brothers appear only briefly, but their appearance is long enough for them to give readers an aww moment. Finally, this is a Christmas book. It is not just a book set during the season but a book about giving in its most meaningful sense. The ending left me with a lovely holiday buzz.

If you are a Shalvis fan, I probably don’t need to remind you to add this one to your TBR shelf. If you are a fan of contemporary romance and haven’t read Shalvis, Chasing Christmas Eve is a great place to start. My recommendation for this one comes wrapped in sighs and smiles, with a tag that says, “Definitely open before Christmas.” And you can plan to start 2018 with Shalvis too. Joe and Kylie’s story, About That Kiss, releases January 23.