Monday, June 26, 2017

Review - - On the Plus Side

On the Plus Side
Alison Bliss
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing / Forever
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Hellie

ON THE PLUS SIDE has several things I enjoy in a contemporary romance: a feisty heroine, an alpha hero, funny situations and witty banter. On the plus side (see what I did there?), the heroine, Valerie, is a plus-sized heroine, which aren’t featured too often in romances; the relationship conflict revolves around that Logan (the hero) is the best friend of her brother--and her brother will kill them both if they date (so a sort of “forbidden” friends to lovers trope); and fun and likeable secondary characters.

Valerie Carmichael has been in love with her brother’s best friend, Logan, since she was a teenager. Logan has returned to their hometown and he is once more in her orbit, and this time she is determined to make him notice her. Logan has never had a problem noticing Valerie, though he sincerely wishes he wouldn’t. He would never betray his best friend, and Valerie deserves so much better than Logan.

Logan needs to hastily raise $10,000 to save his mama’s house from foreclosure, and the brisk business at his new bar is likely to raise the money just in time, but Logan finds himself in a bind when his head bartender quits. Valerie volunteers to replace him, but Logan doesn’t want Valerie anywhere around him. Valerie refuses to let the opportunity go, and while Logan is trying to fix one problem, Valerie gets behind the bar to fix his bartender problem. When he returns, and Valerie is whipping up cocktails like a Tom Cruise movie, he realizes he doesn’t have a choice. At least for now.

Meanwhile Valerie talks with her friend Leah about the fact Logan won’t look twice at her--and as the topic progresses (and perhaps tangents), Leah encourages her to create a list of all the sex stuff Valerie would never do. Valerie makes a list, then throws it away. But guess who finds the list? Yes, yes, Logan does. Logan’s #1 rule about Valerie takes a nosedive, as he believes this list is her Sex Wish List and he goes about fulfilling it.

Valerie loves working at the bar--even though she told a “little lie” to make Logan give her the job--but that won’t be a problem will it? Of course it is. And things can’t get worse for Logan, can they? Of course they can.

I’m not sure what “genre” this truly falls under, but it reads a bit like a erotica-lite. Logan thinks and speaks in very rough language, so if you happen to be someone who reaches for their smelling salts when someone expresses a desire to be “balls deep” with his “dick” in you, you might skip this one. If you prefer sex scenes that take place in bedrooms, or basically nowhere public, you may want to skip this one. If you prefer heroes (and characters in general) who don’t throw fists and ask questions later, assume the worse of the heroine when she’s in a compromising position (rather than making sure she’s okay), or blame her entirely why his life has gone to hell? This book may not be for you. I will grant you the sex was hot in this book, but it got to a point where I started skipping because I was tired of reading about them doing it. That doesn’t happen. Also, in the first sex scene when he “forgets” to put on the condom and then apologizes later--and she says, “It’s all fine. I’m on the pill.” Yeah, no, that is not a pass. These just happen to be a few of my personal reader rules.  

Granted, I can say both characters felt believable in their behavior and actions on the whole, but I just didn’t care about their happy ending because I didn’t care about them. I wanted to get him into some anger management classes; and her in some healthy relationship classes. Mostly, I thought, these characters feel very young (far younger than they are portrayed) in their actions and dialogue and it made me feel old reading it. Very, very old. And puritan at times.

Well-developed characters, fast-paced plot, sexual tension and hot scenes, witty and funny scenes--it checks the marks, but for me, wasn’t my cup of tea.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

RWA Does Disney: A Look Back...And Ahead

With Susan Elizabeth Phillips at the Dolphin Resort - 2010

As we gear up for next month's RWA national conference at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Disney World, I thought I'd take a look back at the first Disney conference and ahead to this year's which is only four weeks away. 

The 2010 RWA National Conference was supposed to be held in Nashville, Tennessee. I was excited about exploring a city I'd only driven through before but torrential rains that led to catastrophic flooding had the folks at RWA scrambling to make a last minute change (the conference hotel was under water). They came through like champs and soon readers and authors were heading south to Orlando, Florida and the home of Mickey Mouse and his many friends. 

Tessa Dare: Literacy Autographing 2010

After rapidly selling all copies of her debut book, Goddess of the Hunt at her first Literacy Autographing in 2009, Tessa Dare turned that "sold out" frown upside down with a RITA® nomination in 2010. 

Several RITA nominations, and wins, later, Dare kicks off her fifth series August 22 with the publication of The Duchess Deal and she's once again a RITA finalist, this time for Do You Want to Start a Scandal, one of my favorite books of 2016. (read my Top Dish review)

Eloisa James:Literacy Autographing 2010

Eloisa James sure looks excited and with good reason. Those are two awesome EJ books she's holding! Have you read her newest, Seven Minutes in Heaven? Janga and I chatted about it in our February 2017 Just Between Us feature. Eloisa has a new series beginning this fall with the October 31 release of Wilde in Love, which features one of my all-time favorite covers and step-backs!

Step-back (inside cover) of Wilde in Love

Catching up with the lovely Emily March/Geralyn Dawson at the Harlequin party...which was fabulous! Are you reading Emily's Eternity Springs series? Stop by June 30 when Janga and I chat about the newest Eternity Springs novel, A Stardance Summer in a Just Between Us feature. 

Chatting with one of my favorite authors, Monica McCarty. She's been an autobuy for me since the publication of her debut book. 

I've loved McCarty's highlander heroes but I'm looking forward to meeting her Navy SEALs in her upcoming (present day) Lost Platoon series. It all begins with the September 5 publication of book one: Going Dark

The Avon party was held at the Living Seas Aquarium in Epcot. What a beautiful venue! Enjoying the party are Jeanne Adams, Terri Garey and Sarah MacLean. 

Are you as excited for The Day of the Duchess, the third book in MacLean's Scandal and Scoundrel series as I am? It publishes in two days! 

Here I am with my favorite Brit, Anna Sugden. 

Have you checked out Anna's hockey hunks yet? A Perfect Strategy was released in February. 

You may think Anna Campbell and I spend a lot of time hugging and laughing at conferences. You'd be right! I'll miss her at next month's conference but she's back in Australia after three months jaunting around England, Scotland, and Belgium. Check out her gorgeous photos at her Facebook page.

Don't forget to also check out Anna's newest Dashing Widows novella, Catching Captain Nash. It releases June 30! 

Besides being one of my all-time favorite authors, Lisa Kleypas is also one of the sweetest, most genuine people I have ever met. And gorgeous. The woman is gorgeous.  

Are you reading Lisa's new Ravenels historical romance series? The third book, Devil in Spring released in February and the hero is the son of fan-favorite hero, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent from Kleypas' Wallflowers series. You can read my review here. 

Debbie Mazzuca captured my attention with her debut book, Lord of the Isles, a paranormal historical romance. After meeting her in person, I was even more captivated by the sweet, genuine person she is. 

Now writing as Debbie Mason, she's become one of my go-to authors for heartwarming contemporary romance featuring humor and emotion. Her next book, Primrose Lane releases June 27 and it's another winner in her Harmony Harbor series. 


Anytime I get to see Julie Anne Long in person is a cause for celebration. I adored Long's historical Pennyroyal Green series and am head over heels for her new Hellcat Canyon contemporary romances. She won the RITA last year for the tenth book in her Pennyroyal Green series,
It Started with a Scandal. (Top Dish review) She's a RITA finalist again this year for her first Hellcat Canyon book, Hot in Hellcat Canyon. (Top Dish review)  

Book three in Long's Hellcat Canyon series, Dirty Dancing at Devil's Leap, will be out August 29. I've had it on pre-order since January 11. Yes, I love her writing that much. :) 

Roxanne St. Claire 2010

I'm a long-time fan of Roxanne St. Claire's books. I discovered her during her romantic suspense, Bullet Catchers years then followed her into her Barefoot Bay contemporaries, including her Timeless (Barefoot Bay) spinoff trilogy featuring sexy silver fox heroes, and her romantic suspense Barefoot Bay Undercover quartet where we finally got the long-anticipated story of fan favorite, Gabriel Rossi. One of St. Claire's sexy silver foxes brought her a RITA nomination this year for Barefoot at Midnight. We'll have to wait until Thursday, July 27 to see if she brings home another pretty gold statue. 

While I've loved all of her books, for me, it's St. Claire's current Dogfather series, centered around a large, boisterous, loving, Irish-American family in North Carolina and the dogs they rescue and train, that has wrapped up my reader's heart with a great big bow. And, for St. Claire, a dog lover and animal rescue proponent herself, these stories and the fact that she's donating a portion of book sales to a no-kill rescue organization in her home state show what a warm, loving, and huge heart this woman has. Start with Sit...Stay...Beg, then move on to New Leash on Life and the soon to be released, Bad to the Bone

Kristan Higgins 2010

Kristan Higgins was a recent discovery for me when I first met her in 2010. I adored her book, Too Good to Be True which was a RITA finalist that year. Kristan won the RITA and kept her promise to celebrate (fully clothed) in the center lobby pool at the Dolphin (see photo of fountain at top of this post), much to the delight of all who witnessed the event. Except, perhaps, the hotel staff? (grin) 

In the years since, I've come to know Kristan better and am happy to report that in addition to being an incredibly talented author, she's also one of the kindest, strongest, funniest, and most genuine women I've had the honor of meeting. Her next book, Now That You Mention It, will be out in December of this year.  

If you're in the Orlando area, you too can meet some of your favorite authors this summer. RWA will sponsor the "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing on Saturday, July 29 from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. ET.  Admission is free and all proceeds of book sales will benefit literacy organizations. As recently reported, in 2016, RWA reached $1 Million dollars in donations to benefit literacy organizations. For a complete list of the authors who will be signing, click here

Have you ever visited Disney World? What was your favorite attraction?

Are you a hugger? You've probably guessed from the photos that I am so be prepared if we ever meet in person. ;-)

Will you be attending next month's RWA conference or the Literacy Autographing? If so, I'd love the opportunity to meet you! 

What author(s) would you most like to meet and what would you ask them?  

I have a package of books and swag looking for a home. One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before 11:00 p.m. ET, June 26 will win! (U.S. only)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review - - A Sky Full of Stars

A Sky Full of Stars
By Samantha Chase
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Owen Shaughnessy is a brilliant astrophysicist, but his social skills are still those of the awkward, nerdy outsider that he has been all his life. Even among his exuberant family, he never quite fits in, although they are devoted to him. He and his twin, rock star Riley, are especially close. With all his brothers finding love and settling into marital bliss, Owen is newly aware that he needs more than a string of degrees and challenging research. When his mentor, Dr. Howard Shields, introduces Owen to his niece, Brooke Matthews, and suggests that she is just the person to serve as an assistant on an upcoming project, Owen is overwhelmed by her beauty and her art.

Brooke, a former beauty pageant winner and former “mean girl,” is trying to establish herself as an artist. She grew up pretty and popular but essentially shallow. She has matured through some tough lessons and is determined, despite her parents’ objections, to become more than wife to a husband with the right credentials and appropriate bank account. She is excited by her uncle’s suggestion that working as Owen’s assistant on the meteor-shower project in Red Rock, Nevada, would allow Brooke to paint the desert sky and satisfy her parents’ concerns about the dangers of a solo trip. But Brooke also wonders if she, with no degree and little practical experience, can really help the brainy Owen.

Owen and Brooke are attracted to one another from their first meeting. She sees him as more than an amazing intellect. She finds his shyness endearing, and she values his decency and kindness. Owen sees her as more than a beautiful woman. He is drawn to her sweetness and to her passion for her painting. But their differences create insecurities. Brooke questions whether Owen can care for someone who is intellectually inferior to him, and Owen doubts that the poised and beautiful Brooke can be attracted to an awkward, nerd who is more apt to cite obscure facts than to converse smoothly. With time and some help from Uncle Howard who has their best interests at heart, they find their way to one another and their HEA.

This is the very best kind of opposites-attract story. The differences in Owen and Brooke challenge them to grow and enlarge their worlds. He teaches her about the wonders of science, and makes him believe in magic. Underneath the differences, their values and their dreams are remarkably similar. It is easy to believe that these two belong together. The Shaughnessy family and Howard Shields are also appealing characters who add emotional depth to the story.

This is the fifth book in Chase’s Shaughnessy Brothers series, and it is the one I have anticipated most eagerly. It was even better than I hoped. Brooke is a sympathetic heroine, and Owen is a heart-stealer, particularly for readers who love a good nerdy hero. Each brother’s memories of their mother and her understanding of who they were as individuals has played a significant part in his book and in the revelation of the hero’s character. Owen’s memories may be the most poignant and tender. Another connection between him and Brooke is the loss they have experienced and its lasting effects. I found this book satisfying on multiple levels.

If you appreciate contemporary romance that is genuinely sweet with a character-driven story enriched with family ties, I highly recommend this book. I think it is the best of a strong series. The series concludes with the release of sister Darcy’s book, Holiday Spice, on October 3. I can’t wait to read it.

Winner - - Maggie Robinson

The randomly chosen winner of a digital copy of

Schooling the Viscount by Maggie Robinson and

a package of goodies is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Friday, June 23, 2017

Winner - - Silver Silence

The randomly chosen winner of a hardcover copy of

Silver Silence by Nalini Singh is:


Please send your full name and mailing address 
(U.S. addresses only) to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Review - - The Swallow's Nest

The Swallow’s Nest
By Emilie Richards
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

A year after Lilia Swallow’s husband, Graham Randolph, was diagnosed with lymphoma, she is exhausted by the twelve-month battle, thrilled to have him home and returning to health, but almost afraid to trust that he is in remission. Lilia is a home decorating blogger who named her successful blog The Swallow’s Nest after the house in San Jose, California, which Lilia inherited from an aunt and which she and her husband have renovated and in which they now live. She shared the difficulties of the past year with her blog readers and she is also sharing details about the celebration she and Graham are hosting. Their friends and business associates, all the people who care about Graham, have gathered at Lilia and Graham’s home to celebrate after a frightening, bleak year. Graham’s parents are notably missing, but since they are largely absent from his life, no one is surprised. When the voluptuous Marina Tate, a business acquaintance of Graham, arrives unexpectedly, Lilia thinks only that he must have invited her. Then Marina shoves a baby into Lilia’s arms and introduces him as Toby Randolph, the three-month-old son of Lilia’s husband.

Devastated by Graham’s betrayal, Lilia retreats to Kauai and her large, loving extended Hawaiian family. But she is forced to return to San Jose because the Swallow’s Nest, both the home and the blog, require her presence. She falls in love with Toby and soon feels as if she is his mother. It takes longer for her to forgive Graham, but eventually the three of them become a happy family. A few months later, another devastating blow leaves Lilia fighting two other women for her son: Marina, Toby’s birth mother who regrets abandoning her baby, and Ellen, Toby’s paternal grandmother, who sees in him a way to make up for her failures as Graham’s mother.

I expect an Emilie Richards book to give me characters who demand my emotional investment in their story, a plot that offers something different from the usual, and themes that challenge me to think deep thoughts. The Swallow’s Nest is vintage Richards in this respect. Although some characters are more sympathetic than others, except perhaps for Graham’s father (who has dollar signs in place of a heart), there are no villains in this story, just flawed human beings who make bad choices, sometimes with far reaching effects.

The concept of family runs through the novel, both in terms of what makes a family and in terms of how family shapes the person one becomes. Romance readers should be aware that this book is women’s fiction. Lilia, Marina, and Ellen each have a romance thread, but the heart of the book is who they are as women and as mothers and what is best for the child each woman loves within her capacity to do so.

I read, on average, more than thirty books a month and review 40-50 percent of those. Most books I remember in general terms—a sense of characters and an overview of plot; fewer leave me with these plus vivid fragments—favorite lines, particular scenes, an apt image or two. Rare books haunt me, pushing themselves to the forefront of my mind even as I read other, very different books. The Swallow’s Nest belongs in that last group. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Today's Special - - Maggie Robinson

It's always a pleasure to welcome Maggie Robinson to The Romance Dish because that usually means she has a new book out and that makes this reader very happy. Maggie's new book, Seducing Mr. Sykes is the second book in her Cotswold Confidential historical romance series. It's the perfect summer read with likable characters, plenty of humor, feel-good emotion, and an ending that will have you smiling while counting the weeks until your next visit to Robinson's fictional celebrity rehab village of Puddling-on-the-Wold. For more information about Seducing Mr. Sykes, be sure to read Janga's 5-star review.

Welcome back, Maggie!

Thanks so much for having me visit today! It wouldn’t be a proper book release week without a stop at the Romance Dish!

I live in Maine, where the sun first hits the United States. Where winter seems to last thirteen or fourteen months, and summer is gone in the blink of an eye. So when the first inch of green shoots up under the melting piles of snow, I am ecstatic.

Gardening has become my go-to when I want to de-stress or think
or just mindlessly enjoy nature’s beauty, not that I can get down on my knees and get up easily anymore, LOL. In the seven years we’ve owned our house, I’ve spent way too much money putting in delicious bulbs for the squirrels and chipmunks. My climbing roses hate where they are and refuse to climb or bloom. Some plants have thrived, some have spread like wet gremlins, and some have curled up and died. It’s been a learning experience, but when I sit in a folding chair and water (no sprinkler because that’s cheating), it’s the highlight of my day.

A garden plays a pivotal part in Seducing Mr. Sykes, where the characters use it for the very reasons I do. Of course, my modest perennial garden is nothing like the acres of garden rooms that my hero Tristan Sykes maintains—he has green fingers, whereas I have only half a green thumb at most.

The fictional Sykes estate garden was inspired by a real-life place, Painswick Rococo Gardens in Painswick, England. I went to it a couple of times when we rented a cottage in the town for a month a few years ago. Established in the 1740s, it’s been receiving recorded visitors since 1757. It’s difficult to think of my house standing for centuries and its garden attracting anything but deer and rodents, but the Rococo Gardens are going strong. It’s famous for its exquisite garden follies and its snowdrops, the first harbingers of spring. I could wander around there forever and never get bored. (

The Sykes garden is where Tristan and heroine Sadie (AKA Lady Sarah Marchmain, a duke’s daughter) realize they’re in love, after a very rocky beginning with a forced marriage. Seducing Mr. Sykes is a marriage of in-convenience story, one of my favorite tropes. I like to think that, like plants, people can grow together, their roots intertwining in unexpected harmony.

Are you a gardener? Do you have a favorite flower? I think I’m a peony person, but sunflowers, lilacs, hydrangeas, foxgloves, and pansies are also very welcome at Casa Robinson.

One commenter will receive a download of the first book in the Cotswold Confidential series, Schooling the Viscount, and an extra package of goodies!

Seducing Mr. Sykes
By Maggie Robinson
Cotswold Confidential - Book 2
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Release Date: June 20, 2017

In Maggie Robinson's sparkling new series, the quaint village in Gloucestershire is where the wayward sons and daughters of Great Britain's finest families come for some R&R-and good old-fashioned "rehab." But sometimes they find much more . . .

No one at Puddling-on-the-Wold ever expected to see Sarah Marchmain enter through its doors. But after the legendary Lady's eleventh-hour rejection of the man she was slated to marry, she was sent here to restore her reputation . . . and change her mind. It amused Sadie that her father, a duke, would use the last of his funds to lock her up in this fancy facility-she couldn't be happier to be away from her loathsome family and have some time to herself. The last thing she needs is more romantic distraction . . .
As a local baronet's son, Tristan Sykes is all too familiar with the spoiled, socialite residents of the Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation-no matter how real their problems may be. But all that changes when he encounters Sadie, a brave and brazen beauty who wants nothing more than to escape the life that's been prescribed for her. If only Tristan could find a way to convince the Puddling powers-that-be that Sadie is unfit for release, he'd have a chance to explore the intense attraction that simmers between them-and prove himself fit to make her his bride . . .

Review - - Seducing Mr. Sykes

Seducing Mr. Sykes
By Maggie Robinson
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Reviewed by Janga


Lady Sarah Marchman, only child of the Duke of Islesford, has been fighting her father’s attempts to marry her off to one of his debtors since she turned seventeen. Lady Sarah, known as Sadie to her few intimates, will inherit her late mother’s fortune when she turns twenty-five or upon her marriage. She is determined to hold out until her fortune is hers rather than yield to her father’s efforts to use her marriage to add money to his empty coffers. With her fortune, her lineage, and her beauty, Lady Sarah has an abundance of suitors. Her battles to remain unmarried have sometimes been literal; she has blackened a few eyes in the process. More often, she has used her wits to make herself a scandal. As a last resort, her father has used the last of his funds to send her to Puddling-on-the-Wold, a Gloucestershire village where generations of Britain’s wealthy families have sent their non-conforming relatives to be “restored” to more conventional behavior.

Sadie is an expert at breaking the rules the Puddling-on-the-Wold Foundation has laid down for their visitors. Her antics, which include theft of items ranging from pants to pastries, have drawn comparisons to another duke’s daughter, Lady Maribel de Winter, who terrorized her hosts eight decades ago.  Sadie has already exceeded the usual twenty-eight-day stay, but she is not eager to leave, fearing that her father’s threat to have her declared insane and institutionalize her may be more than an empty threat. She must walk a fine line to convince her hosts that she remains unrestored, but not hopelessly mad.

Tristan Sykes is an architect by profession and a member of Puddling-on-the-Wold’s first family. His grandfather, Sir Colin Sykes, married the infamous Lady Maribel, who remained a law unto herself. After a tempestuous marriage that ended in a scandalous divorce shortly before his wife’s death, Tristan wants a life free of chaos, shattered boundaries, and troublesome women. He thought he had found that ordered life in the space he created for himself on his father’s property and filling in for his absent father as head of the board of governors for the village enterprise. He refuses to allow one headstrong woman to violate his peace, regardless of the unwelcome desire the tall, voluptuous, flame-haired beauty stirs in him.

Tristan’s resolution is put to the test when the cottage where Sadie is housed catches fire, and the board of governors pressures him to move her into his father’s house. Now the exasperating woman is in his face every time he turns around, and she appears to delight in wearing trousers that make her long legs impossible for him to ignore or undergarments that reveal far too much of her other assets for his peace of mind. When Sadie’s father shows up during one of these encounters, irate at finding his daughter in a compromising situation and threatening the village’s reputation as a safe rehabilitation site, Tristan does the honorable thing and proposes marriage. However, when two people, neither of whom wants to be married but neither of whom can ignore the chemistry between them, are forced to marry, the journey to an HEA is filled with adjustments, misunderstandings, problems--and for the reader, delightful fun.

Seducing Mr. Sykes is the second book in Maggie Robinson’s Cotswold Confidential series, and it is even better than the first book, Schooling the Viscount. Sadie’s behavior may seem a bit over the top in the beginning, but the reader soon comes to understand that she is a smart, great-hearted woman driven to desperate measures by her particular circumstances and a culture in which a family-sanctioned marriage was the expectation of women of her class. She made me laugh, and she won my heart. Tristan comes across as a classic controlling prig until the reader learns his history and understands that his need for order and control are credibly rooted in his experience. I loved seeing this hero’s pomposity punctured by an audacious, unconventional heroine who lost her heart while winning his. Although this novel unquestionably has the qualities of a romp, it also has substance in its revelations about women’s roles and marriage and, less obviously, in determinations of insanity. The reader may laugh at Sadie’s ploys, but the threat she faces is real and scary.

I give high marks to Maggie Robinson for a book that made me laugh, sigh at some sweet and spicy scenes, and consider some grim historical realities. If you enjoy historical romance that has a light-heartedness without being lightweight, I highly recommend Seducing Mr. Sykes. And when you have finished this rewarding read, mark November 21 on your book calendars. That’s the release date of the third Cotswold Confidential book, Redeeming Lord Ryder, in which the lovers are both Puddling-on-the-Wold “guests.” It is a highly anticipated, starred item on my list.