Monday, March 27, 2017

Review - - When a Highlander Loses His Heart

When a Highlander Loses His Heart
By Julie Johnstone
Highlander Vows:Entangled Hearts - Book 4
Release Date: March 27, 2017
Reviewed by PJ

Growing up in a convent wasn't easy for Isobel Campbell but she took solace in the knowledge that her beloved father had delivered her there shortly after her birth to keep her safe from his enemies. She lived for the annual visits from him and her brothers and dreamed of the day when she would leave with them instead of being left behind. That day finally arrived when Isobel turned 18 and her brother arrived to escort her home but what awaited her at her family's castle was not what she had anticipated and challenged everything she had grown up believing to be true. Who was her betrayer, who was trying to protect her, and is it possible that her ultimate happiness and safety could be with those whom she had been taught were her enemy? 

Graham MacLeod is determined to avenge his family for the atrocities committed against his sister and sister-in-law by the Campbells. What better way than to abduct Isobel Campbell, the heiress due to inherit from her grandmother a castle that holds enormous power in the struggle between Scotland's king and those who would steal his throne, and deliver her to the king. Driven by guilt for his part in past events, hatred for his enemies, and love of his family, Graham is not prepared for the reality of Isobel, a woman vastly different from what he expects, nor the feelings she generates in him. Is she as innocent as she appears or as clever and deceitful as the rest of her family? And, when it comes time to hand her over, will Graham fulfill his duty to his king or to his heart?

Julie Johnstone has quickly become one of my favorite authors writing Medieval romance and the MacLeods, one of my favorite families. I wasn't too sure about Graham in the previous books but in When a Highlander Loses His Heart, Johnstone does an outstanding job of slowing peeling away the layers of this proud warrior to reveal the vulnerable and wary heart of a man who believes himself unworthy of love, allowing the reader a better understanding of his actions, past and present. Why and how he reached this conclusion lives at the center of his inability to trust Isobel with his heart and stands between him and true happiness. Isobel is a wonderfully developed character and the perfect match for Graham, if only he realizes it in time. Though she is innocent in some ways, she's also brave, independent, strong-willed, and possesses a heart filled with compassion and understanding. She'll need all of those qualities if she's to bring both the king and Graham around to her way of thinking. 

Once again, Johnstone surrounds our main couple with a rich secondary cast that contributes to the story without detracting from the primary romance. MacLeod heroes and heroines from previous books have key roles, intriguing new characters are introduced, and the villains remain as diabolical as ever. Filled with political intrigue, fast-paced action, life or death battles, a proud, loyal, and loving family, and a heartfelt romance, all set within the vibrantly drawn highlands of 14th century Scotland, this is one more Julie Johnstone book that kept me eagerly turning the pages well past my bedtime. It's earned a place on my keeper shelf where I'm sure it will be revisited again.

For a richer reading experience and a more complete understanding of the MacLeod clan, and Graham in particular, I strongly recommend reading the following three books in order: When a Laird Loves a Lady, Wicked Highland Wishes, and When a Highlander Loses His Heart. I loved them all!

Do you enjoy enemies to lovers stories?

Are you a fan of romances set in Medieval times? Why or why not?

Have you read Julie Johnstone's books?

I'm giving away three Kindle copies of the first book in the series, When a Laird Loves a Lady. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Giveaway ends at 11:00 PM (EST), March 28, 2016.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review - - Unstrung

by Laura Spinella
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: February 21, 2017
Reviewed by Maria Lokken

Olivia Klein is a world class violinist with the Boston Symphony.  She’s married to Rob Van Doren, a man who operates in the world of high finance and risky investments - one of those investments just lost Olivia her family’s home.  Olivia is so distraught at the loss she takes a baseball bat and destroys Rob’s beloved Porsche. Forced to do community service in lieu of jail time, Olivia ends up in the Dorchester section of Boston, helping kids in a school that has more police officers patrolling the halls than teachers, and metal detectors instead of instruments and music stands. 

Her choice of community service is the turning point which will affect everything and everyone in her life. As the reader gets deeper into the story they discover Olivia’s life appears to be one thing on the surface, but like a Russian nesting doll there are secrets hidden beneath the layers. Everyone in her life gets some version of the truth, and when her ex-husband comes to town to ask for forgiveness, her life begins to unravel like a knitting ball tossed to the floor by a playful kitten. 

This story is a multi-layered mosaic of how Olivia became Olivia and what moves her.  Ms. Spinella weaves a complex story, chapter by chapter.  In many respects the book plays out much like an episodic series on HBO with each chapter adding another revelation to the overall story arc.

Nothing is as it seems, and everything will be different when you finally reach the end of the book.  Will the reader get a happy ending?  Yes.  Will it be what you expected? I’m not the one to say. I can say I would certainly read another of Ms. Spinella’s books.  She has a terrific wit, and creates dialogue that sets the tone and gives breath to each character. 

I’m always amazed when I read a work of fiction where the author has created a world that comes to life, a living drama before my eyes.  Those are the best kinds of reads.  That’s what this author has accomplished with “Unstrung.” A work of fiction that’s come to life, beautifully and sometimes tragically played out, in a world I couldn’t stop ‘watching’.

In the last six months, what book have you read that kept you up late at night?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review - - Meant for You

Meant for You
By Michelle Major
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Jenny Castelli has come a long way since high school. Her dream of opening her own gardening center has come true, and she is proud to be senior consultant to the design team at Rocky Mountain Landscapes, the company owned by her long-time best friend, Ty Bishop. But not all Jenny’s rough edges have been polished away, and the rough edges dominate during a chance encounter with two of the former mean girls who reigned in the exclusive private school that Jenny attended through the benevolence of Eric Bishop, Ty’s father and her mother’s employer. When the two women, whose behavior shows little change since the high school days that are more than a decade behind them, taunt Jenny about her high school boyfriend and call Jenny’s twelve-year-old son fathered by said boyfriend a “mistake,” Jenny’s temper and ungoverned mouth take over. She hints that her fiancé is more than a match for her ex in wealth and status and declares that he is eager to be a father to her son. Her former classmates leap to the conclusion that the “fiancé” is Owen Dalton, and they are soon spreading the word on social media that Jenny and Owen will attend the class reunion.

Jenny’s description fits Owen Dalton in every detail. He is wealthy and powerful; his microprocessors and mesh networks revolutionized the tech industry. He is also kind and genuine. Once he was crazy about Jenny, but she broke up with him in a particularly brutal fashion two years ago. Jenny must choose between two humiliating choices: she can let her old enemies discover that she was lying, or she can ask the man whose heart she broke to play the role of fiancé for the night of the reunion. No one is more surprised than Jenny when he says yes—with conditions.

Owen intends to say no. He has no intention of playing the fool for Jenny again, but his good memories of Jenny and her son, Cooper, have him agreeing to be her fiancé for one night. However, he demands that she in return play his fiancé for a week when he returns home for his brother’s wedding. All it takes to prove the sparks between these two are still capable of igniting is for them to spend time together. But old wounds that have them believing they are not enough and don’t deserve the happiness they desire make them wary of trusting themselves and each other. Can they learn to follow their hearts?

I read this book after I had read too many novels that were more about overpowering lust and the lead characters engaging in sex in multiple forms and positions than they were about two people falling in love and experiencing emotional intimacy as potent and rewarding as physical intimacy. Meant for You was a breath of fresh air and a reminder of why I love contemporary romance. Jenny and Owen are endearing characters—wounded, flawed, and essentially likable. With their daddy issues and their sense of not measuring up, they are far more alike than either realizes. Theirs is a second-chance-at-love story that follows a history which makes such a chance seem impossible. Add a male makeover thread and an adorable kid who made me laugh to that second chance and the book proved irresistible.

Meant for You is the fourth novel in Michelle Major’s Denver-set series, following Kissing Mr. Right, Recipe for Kisses, and Tell Me Again, but it can easily be read as a standalone. Readers familiar with characters from the other books will doubtless be pleased to see them playing supporting roles in this book, but my ignorance of their stories did not affect my enjoyment of this one. I did, however, like this one so much that I later downloaded the other three.

If you like contemporary romance with characters who captivate, stories that sustain your interest, and an emotional punch strong enough to remind you that a good romance is as much about the hungers of the heart as it is about sexual desires, I recommend that you add this book to your TBR list. I know I will be keeping an eye out for other books from this author.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

RITA Winners

The three U.S. winners of a package of books are:

Annette Naish

Cheryl C


Please send your full name and mailing address to

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

The international winner of a RITA-nominated book from
 (not to exceed $10 US) is:

Bridget C

Please send your full name, mailing address, and choice of book to

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Today's Special - - Spotlight on Rebecca Brooks' Make Me Beg

Today, we're turning our spotlight on Rebecca Brooks, a new author writing sexy, contemporary romance. Rebecca lives in New York City, in an apartment filled with books. She has a PhD in English and is an intrepid explorer; backpacking her way across India and Brazil, traveling by cargo boat down the Amazon, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, exploring ice caves in Peru and more. She likes outdoorsy guys with muscle and heart and independent women ready to try something new.  

Rebecca's Men of Gold Mountain series for Entangled finds outdoorsy guys and strong, independent women tangling the sheets (and buffing the local hangout’s wooden bar) in a remote ski village in Washington’s breathtakingly beautiful Cascade Mountains.

Turns out Rebecca is a strong, independent woman herself who’d rather lace up hiking boots than zip into a cocktail dress. She does enjoy a good bar now and then. Most of the action in her March 20 novel, MAKE ME BEG, takes place in that ski village’s colorful watering hole, The Dipper. And, to celebrate this delightful, sexy book, Rebecca’s running a Name Your Favorite Bar Contest for readers—how much fun is that?! More about the contest below and how you can enter. But first, let’s welcome Rebecca to The Romance Dish!

Rebecca: Thank you so much for having me! I always love talking about books, mountains, and my favorite beers!

So the idea for MAKE ME BEG popped into your mind while you were in a bar? Did you do a lot of (wink-wink) elbow-bending bar research for this story?!

Rebecca:  (Laughing) Truly, I’m not a frequent bar flyer, but I like craft beers, and when I travel, especially in the U.S., I like trying different local brews that I can’t get at home.

Any fun stories related to that?

Rebecca: I’ve wound up with a good number of pint glasses I’ve picked up during my travels. I like that I have memories associated with the glasses. For example, my best friend had her wedding at a small brewery in Seattle, and I have a glass that I got from there when my husband and I went with her to check out the venue beforehand. It’s got a bicycle on it and always makes me smile when I use it. My husband threatens to weed out the collection—how many glasses do two people need? But no way I’m letting that happen! Plus, he collects 45 records, so we’re even.

While we’re on the bar topic, tell us about your Name Your Favorite Bar Contest.

Rebecca:  I wanted to hear readers’ stories about their favorite bars (or similar hangouts) they’ve come across, so I launched this contest, and the winner will receive a $100 VISA gift card. I’m thinking the winner could host a fun night with their friends at their current favorite spot. All readers need to do to enter is post on Facebook or Instagram, in 75 words or less, about their favorite bar, past or present. (For example, one friend I know met her husband in a bar.) The post needs to include this hashtag #makemebegcontest. A photo is not required (except on Instagram, because, well, it’s Instagram), but photos are welcome! I have a team of judges who will pick their favorite five, and I’ll then post those on my website, and readers will vote to pick the winner! Deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. March 31, 2017. So ready, set, post!

Where did you learn to write? Or were you born with the gift?

Rebecca: My mom is an editor, and when I was growing up, she would read all the papers I had to write for school. She was serious with her red pen! I like to say that she taught me to write, in the sense that she taught me how to approach my work with a critical eye. I feel like I’ve always been writing, but having that early understanding of writing as editing and rewriting has always helped me.

Do you do a lot of rewriting when penning a book?

Rebecca: I write a first draft as quickly as possible, and then I have something to work with. But that only works because I’ve trained myself to park in front of the computer and get that first draft out, and then see my work critically enough to be able to edit it thoroughly and not be afraid to cut, rearrange and basically butcher what I have.

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Rebecca: When I was in the first grade, and we had to write stories every week. We’d get a stapled-together booklet to write in/draw on, so it felt like making a book. I was hooked. I’ve really only ever wanted to be a writer, so then I was stuck with two questions. What was I going to do to support myself financially while writing, and what kind of writing did I want to do?

We hear you’re a hiker extraordinaire. Do you go to all the places you write about in your books?

Rebecca: I love when books feel rooted in a sense of place, like they have to take place where and when they do and wouldn’t be the same book if written any other way. The setting connects to so many senses. It also shapes what the characters do and experience and what conflicts or complications arise. I rely on my own experiences to convey the overall feel of a place as well as specific details that make it come alive.

So tell us about your setting research for MAKE ME BEG. 

Rebecca: MAKE ME BEG and the Men of Gold Mountain series overall is set in the north Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I went there specifically to check it out as a place to set a series. I wanted to create a small ski town at the center of the books and use Mt. Baker as my model. The world of Gold Mountain is made up, but I couldn’t have done it without drawing on the hiking trip I took to explore the area.

You were born in Boston. Did you grow up there? How did this early life experience affect who you are today?

Rebecca: I was born just outside Boston and grew up there; my parents still live in the same house we moved to when I was two. As an adult I can appreciate what an idyllic place it is to live—tree-lined streets; very walkable; close to the city as well as mountains, beaches, lakes and farmland; a good school system, and lots of amenities. But, like a lot of kids, I just wanted to travel, see the world as soon as I could strike out on my own.

A birdie told us you took a gap year after high school.

Rebecca: And I traveled to India, with a few clothes in a backpack and not a whole lot of plans. I went hiking, taught an art class, learned stone carving, worked as a research assistant, and spent a lot of time writing. I think it took getting out of the area where I grew up to give me the perspective and courage to push back against expectations and think about what I really wanted—for example, to leave academia to become a romance novelist instead!

Wow! You were brave!

Rebecca: Well, that wasn’t my first experience away from home. When I was fifteen my dad and I went to Nepal and hiked the Himalayas in the Mt. Everest region. It blew my mind to see a part of the world that was so different—and so unbelievably beautiful. And to go on a trip like that with my dad felt really special.

Any other special trips with your dad?

Rebecca:  So many! When I was in college we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and we usually give our hiking boots a good work-out a few times a year. Earlier this year, my mom, dad and I went to the Galapagos Islands, which was truly a once in a lifetime experience. 

Do you always go abroad for your hiking trips?

Rebecca: There’s always so much to explore, but having
spent so much of my childhood hiking in New England, those are the places that feel most like “home” and the most beautiful to me. My husband and I love to take day trips to hike in the Hudson Valley. We also like to take a long weekend or even a week or two to drive up to the Catskills, the Adirondacks, western Massachusetts or Vermont and rent a little place to be our home base while we go off and take day hikes.  For the past few years my dad and I have also been hiking in the southwest in the spring, the perfect time of year to beat the summer heat—and crowds! We’re talking about adding in a hiking trip in Georgia, Tennessee, or North Carolina after the RT Booklovers’ Convention in Atlanta in May. My dad is semi-retired, so anytime I say I want to go somewhere, he’s ready to pack!

Do your lead characters do a lot of hiking in MAKE ME BEG?

Rebecca: Actually, no. They both work long hours in The Dipper, where Mack Ellinsworth is the bartender, and Connor is the ripped and rugged cook who loves to give Mack a hard time. All the regulars see through their sniping and know they’ve had the hots for each other for years but have never crossed the line. That all changes when the bar’s owner decides the place needs a makeover to help boost the business. Mack and Connor compete for the right to remake The Dipper in their dream image. The only home Mack has ever known was a bar whose owner took her in as a teenager and saved her from the streets. So she likes the bar much like it is, a casual local hangout. But Connor? Trained as a restaurant chef, he wants to convert The Dipper into a first class dining destination. They spend a lot of time together trying to reconcile their visions—and the fiery hot heat simmering between them. Let’s just say after reading MAKE ME BEG, you might not ever look at one of those hard, wooden bars in quite the same way. J

Sounds like fun, Rebecca! Thanks for dishing with us today.

Rebecca: It’s been fun! All of you Romance Dishers, don’t forget to enter my Name Your Favorite Bar Contest by March 31

To read an excerpt of Mack and Connor’s hot story, visit, and visit my Facebook page for my latest hiking and writing adventures!

Readers, do you enjoy hiking? Exploring? Taking long walks?

Where in the world would you most like to adventure?

Do you have a favorite local hangout (bar, restaurant, etc) where everyone gathers? 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

RITA -- And the Finalists are...

It's an exciting day in the world of romance. Today, Romance Writers of America® (RWA) will announce the finalists for the Rita® and Golden Heart® awards, honoring the best published books and unpublished manuscripts of 2016. A winner in each category will be chosen from the finalists and will be announced Thursday, July 27 at the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida. 

We'll be following the announcements here and at The Romance Dish Facebook page and chatting about the 2016 books that were our favorites. I'll fill in the finalists for each of the categories below as they are announced but I'm sure we all have our own thoughts about what books published in 2016 should final. 

Tell me about the books you'd like to see honored this year.

Which category is your favorite?

Share your thoughts about the finalists as they are announced. Which titles would you like to see win? 

Three randomly chosen people who leave a comment will receive a package of books. 
(US only)

One randomly chosen international reader leaving a comment will receive their choice of one RITA® nominated book from (value not to exceed $10)

Please include US or INT with your comments! 


Contemporary Romance: Long
Novels that are set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are 84,000 or more words.

MAKE ME SIN by J.T. Geissinger
PANSIES by Alexis Hall
TENDER IS THE NIGHT by Barbara Freethy

Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length
Novels that are set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are between 56,000 and 84,000 words in length.

BACK IN THE SADDLE by Karen Templeton
BAREFOOT AT MIDNIGHT by Roxanne St. Claire
CAROLINA DREAMING by Virginia Kantra
FAST CONNECTION by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
LONE HEART PASS by Jodi Thomas
OFF THE HOOK by Laura Drewry
WANDERLUST by Roni Loren

Contemporary Romance: Short
Novels that are set from 1950 to present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are between 40,000 and 56,000 words in length.

APB:BABY by Julie Miller
BREAKING GOOD by Madeline Ash
FAR FROM HOME by Lorelei Brown
HIS STOLEN BRIDE by Barbara Dunlop
A MALIBU KIND OF ROMANCE by Synithia Williams
SEARCHING FOR DISASTER by by Jennifer Probst
TWO DOCTORS & A BABY by Brenda Harlen

Erotic Romance
Novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.)

THE MASTER by Tara Sue Me
OFF THE CLOCK by Roni Loren
RAVENOUS by M.S. Force

Historical Romance: Long
Novels that are set prior to 1950 and that are longer than 89,000 words.

NO MISTRESS OF MINE by Laura Lee Guhrke

Historical Romance: Short
Novels that are set prior to 1950 and that are between 40,000 and 89,000 words.

DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt
LEFT AT THE ALTAR by Margaret Brownley
THE STUDY OF SEDUCTION by Sabrina Jeffries

Paranormal Romance
Novels in which fantasy worlds or paranormal or science fiction elements are an integral part of the plot.

THE BEAST by J.R. Ward
GHOST GIFTS by Laura Spinella
THE PAGES OF THE MIND by Jeffe Kennedy

Romance Novella
Novellas that focus primarily on the romantic relationship.

HER EVERY WISH by Courtney Milan
LET IT SNOW by Jeanette Grey
"Let us Dream" by Alyssa Cole in DAUGHTERS OF A NATION
SEARCHING FOR MINE by Jennifer Probst
TYCOON by Joanna Shupe
WILD IN RIO by Lyssa Kay Adams

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements
Novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs are an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture.

KEEPER OF THE STARS by Robin Lee Hatcher
MY HOPE NEXT DOOR by Tammy L. Gray
TRUST MY HEART by Carol J. Post

Romantic Suspense
Novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

ATONE by Beth Yarnall
FIELD OF GRAVES by J. T. Ellison
Mr. and Mrs. Smith by HelenKay Dimon
REPRESSED by Elisabeth Naughton

Young Adult Romance
Novels in which young adult life is an integral part of the plot.

AFFECTIVE NEEDS by Rebecca Taylor
THE DISTANCE FROM A to Z by Natalie Blitt
THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Best First Book
A novel entered in another contest category. To be eligible, the author (or authors in the case of a writing team) shall not have had any other novel or novella previously commercially available in any format.

ALTERATIONS by Stephanie Scott
CLOSE TO YOU by Kara Isaac

Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance
Mainstream Fiction novels in which themes or elements other than the romance are integral to the story even though a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic resolution to the romance are still present. This category is intended for romances that do not fit neatly into any other category due to their mainstream fiction nature but where the central romance could not be removed without damaging the storyline.

THE MOON IN THE PALACE by Weina Dai Randel
THE COLOR OF A PROMISE by Julianne MacLean
NOW THAT IT'S YOU by Tawna Fenske


Contemporary Romance
Manuscripts that are set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are greater than 65,000 words.

Always Sunny by Kimberly MacCarron
Far-Fetched Love by Priscilla Cook
Framed by Susan J. Bickford
Mounting the Marquis by Kelli Newby
No Man Left Behind by Penelope Leas
Sometimes You Need a Sexy Scot by Melonie Johnson
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria 
Tempting Fate by Jeri Black
Things I'll Never Say by Christina Hovland
This Child Is Mine by Jo Anne Banker

Contemporary Romance: Short
Manuscripts that are set from 1950 to the present that are less than 65,000 words in length.
Job Opening: Billionaire's Wife by Susannah Erwin
A Love Wide Open by JoAnn Sky
Princess of Meridian by Catherine Stuart
What Would Ginger Do? by Kimberly MacCarron

Historical Romance
Manuscripts that are set prior to 1950.

Confess, Your Grace by Scarlett Peckham
The Governess's Glance by Jennifer Henderson
How to Train Your Baron by Diana Lloyd
Lord Lion and the Lady Publisher by Laurel Kerr
The Lost Chord by Suzanne M. Turner
The Price of Desire by Emily Sullivan
Unmasked by Elizabeth Rue
With Love in Sight by Christina Britton

Paranormal Romance
Manuscripts in which fantasy worlds or paranormal or science fiction elements are an integral part of the plot.

Beryl Blue, Time Cop by Janet Halpin
Bless Your Heart and Other Southern Curses by Heather Leonard
Constant Craving by Kari W. Cole
Fire's Rising by Grace Adams
The Mer Chronicles: Love's Diplomatic Act by Kate Ramirez
Soul Affinity by A. Y. Chao

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements
Novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs are an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture.

Fair Haven by Laura Conner Kestner

Romantic Suspense
Manuscripts in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

The Fire Beckons by Lynette Labelle
The Guide by Sarah Morgenthaler
Seductive Strokes by Patty Hoffman
Semper Fi by Meta Carroll
Shot Down by Tracy Brody
Vengeance by Diana Belchase

Young Adult Romance
Manuscripts in which young adult life is an integral part of the plot.  

All the Feels by Kimberly MacCarron
Listen by Jennifer Camiccia
Mouthful by C R Grissom
Swimming through Fog by Nicole Hohmann 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review - - Hometown Cowboy

Hometown Cowboy
By Sara Richardson
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Reviewed by Maria Lokken

If you’ve been dumped one time too many, you would probably be a bit apprehensive about jumping into another relationship. For Jessa May Love that means, no more men. Ever. Romance is off the table. But when ladies’ man Lance Cortez, the tall, dark and handsome bull-riding champion needs her help – well then, she’s got a problem.

Jessa runs the animal shelter in Topaz Falls, but the shelter is in need of money to continue its good works, and Lance needs help with his father Luis who is getting on in years. Jessa moves onto the ranch to help with Luis and that puts her within arms distance of Lance as he prepares for the World Rodeo Championship. And you guessed it – these two are destined to be in and out of love faster than a bull can throw his rider.

Jessa’s one desire in life is “to love someone wholly and truly, and to have them love her back.” That’s a tall order, especially for a cowboy who’s not sure he even knows how to love. Each comes to the on again, off again, hot steamy relationship with enough baggage to throw a wheel off a cart, and that dynamic is what makes Hometown Cowboy an interesting read.

This is a story of love lost and lessons learned and about the journey both Jessa and Lance go through to get to a place where love is what matters. The author creates a wonderful cast of secondary characters who help Jessa and Lance find their way to each other. For Jessa, it is the women from her book club. Each one is different from the next, but when her romance goes off the rails they are united in their support.

Lance has his father and two brothers, Levi and Lucas. And… well, what can I say, each one is tall, handsome and sexy - and that’s in addition to being brothers Lance can confide in and count on.

Every character in this book has a history, and that makes for good conflict that eventually gets resolved into a happily-ever-after. The journey on this one was fun.

My one major quibble with this story was the author’s description of the hero’s father. Luis Cortez, is a 67-year-old bull riding champion. While his glory days are long gone, he’s a well-known figure in the community. The author describes him as an old man. And while he has a situation, that I won’t give away, I’d like to point out that in the year 2017, 67-years-old is NOT OLD. A large majority of people are living well into their 90’s, and 100’s and many are still vital. Let’s face it, they invented Viagra for a reason. You’re not dead at 67. Whenever I read a book that describes people in their 50’s and 60’s as old, it throws me out of the story a bit, because in my opinion, 60 is the new 40.

In any event, I believe you’ll enjoy this contemporary romance, the women are smart, the men rugged, and there’s plenty of sigh worthy moments. This is the first in the Rocky Mountain Riders series. Each one will feature a different brother, and Lucas’ story is next.

What’s your cut off age for a hero and heroine in a romance?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review - - What it Takes: A Kowalski Family Reunion

What It Takes: A Kowalski Family Reunion
By Shannon Stacey
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Reviewed by: Janga

Laney Caswell is newly divorced after ten years of a marriage in which she gradually lost more and more of the person she was and turned into an eager-to-please wifey. She left her Rhode Island home to take a job for the summer at the Northern Star Lodge & Campground in Whitford, Maine, as an assistant to Rosie Miller, the matriarch who manages the place and the Maine Kowalskis. Laney’s plan is to enjoy her new job and spend her private time watching movies her ex disliked, reading books she never had time to read, and rediscovering the spirited, independent woman she used to be. Laney hasn’t given up on the idea of a forever love and marriage and children, but she needs time to become her own person again before she thinks about inviting a man into her life.

Ben Rivers grew up in Whitford, best friends with Sean Kowalski (Yours to Keep, Book 3, 2011). Approaching burnout after years as an urban paramedic, he eagerly accepts when Josh Kowalski (All He Ever Dreamed, Book 6, 2013) and Josh’s brother-in-law and Whitford chief of police Drew Miller (Love a Little Sideways, Book 7, 2013) offer him the newly created position of the small town’s paramedic. At thirty-eight, Ben is not only ready to return home; he is also ready to settle down with a wife and start a family so that he can find the kind of happiness he sees in the lives of all his Kowalski buds.

The attraction between Laney and Ben is immediate and it is deeper that just physical attraction. Laney is certainly not immune to Ben’s obvious appeal, but she is even more impressed with his willingness to accept her need for independence. Still, Laney is wary. When the extended Kowalski family decides to hold the annual Kowalski family camping trip at the Northern Star during two weeks in July, Lacey and Ben are thrown even more into one another’s company as the gregarious Kowalskis insist they both join in all their activities. But what kind of relationship is possible between a man looking for serious commitment and a woman afraid that loving a man means losing herself?

What It Takes is the tenth entry in Stacey’s popular Kowalski series. It has the strengths of the earlier books in the series in its likeable characters, credible contemporary situations, and appealing family dynamics. Laney is a sympathetic character and many readers will be able to relate to her determination not to fall into the trap of making her life all about pleasing other people a second time. Ben is an appealing, sexy hero with a tender beta heart. He not only falls for Laney; he also likes her and understands her.

For fans of the Kowalskis, a big part of the appeal of this book is the promise of a Kowalski reunion. I’m sure that I won’t be the only reader whose wish to see more of favorite couples (in my case, Keri and Joe from Exclusively Yours, Book 1; Kevin and Beth from Undeniably Yours, Book 2; and Max and Tori from Fighting for Max) will be frustrated. Nevertheless, Stacey skillfully pulls the reunion off. All the couples from the previous nine novels—even those who are not Kowalskis--make appearances, along with assorted children and secondary characters. Moreover, their cameos generally seem natural and unforced. It is logical that the characters whose daily lives are part of Northern Star—Josh and Katie and Rosie and Andy—have a larger presence. It also makes sense that Sean as Ben’s best friend would have a more prominent role. Ben and Sean have a reunion within the reunion, and a little bump in Sean and Emma’s HEA serves as a secondary thread.

If you are a fan of the Kowalskis, you will not want to miss this book. It is a delightful read for those who know and love these characters. If you have never read Shannon Stacey but like small-town contemporary romance with rich contexts and lots of family interaction, I think you too will enjoy this book. But be warned, reading it may just leave you adding the other nine books to your TBR list. I’m planning a reread of the full series.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review - - Someone to Love

Someone to Love
By Donna Alward
Darling, VT - Book 2
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

A few years ago, Willow Dunaway returned to her hometown, Darling, Vermont, and opened The Purple Pig, a café that specializes in healthy delicious dishes made from local organic, and fair trade ingredients. The serene Willow, practitioner of yoga and meditation, whose appearance suggests she is a nouveau hippie, is quite different from the up-tight, high-achiever Willow was in high school. Because her best friend, Laurel Stone, recently married Aiden Gallagher (Somebody Like You), Willow is drawn into the circle of the exuberant Gallagher family. She and Hannah Gallagher become close friends, and Willow is warmly welcomed by the entire clan--except for the eldest son Ethan. Willow and Ethan shared an awkward moment at Laurel and Aiden’s wedding when she caught the bridal bouquet and he caught the garter. Unlike the rest of his family, Ethan seems cold and judgmental.

Ethan Gallagher, a widower with two young sons, Connor and Ronan, was not always a grump, but he is still grieving the loss of his wife Lisa eighteen months earlier. He is also burdened by his responsibilities as the boys’ sole parent and by the guilt he feels that his 24/7 shifts as a firefighter necessitate his depending on his family to help care for his sons. The somber Ethan writes Willow off as an idiosyncratic lightweight, but his sons fall for her free-spirited charm.

As Willow and Ethan are thrown into each other’s company, they are forced to acknowledge the chemistry between them, but neither is looking for a relationship. Ethan, still holding on tightly to his past with Lisa, has not yet come to terms with his loss, and Willow has a dark past that includes an indifferent mother, an eating disorder, depression, and a failed romance. Her focus is on maintaining the peace she has found through her new lifestyle. But as their initial impressions of each other are corrected, the attraction moves beyond the merely physical. Ethan is drawn to Willow’s whimsicality, generosity, and love for his sons, and she finds his sense of responsibility and surprising sense of humor immensely appealing.  But unexpected consequences jeopardize their developing relationship. Broken hearts appear more likely than an HEA.

Alward’s second Darling, VT novel is even better than the first. Willow and Ethan are both wounded characters who win readers’ hearts, although Willow’s wounds are more deeply hidden than are Ethan’s. The anguish and loss these two have suffered is real rather than a growing pain sometimes exaggerated to trauma as is sometimes the case in contemporary romance. Connor and Ronan are adorable, but they are also believable kids who can be rambunctious, competitive, and whiny when tired. They are more than generic cute kids. They are sweet and vulnerable and sadly in need of a mother figure, a role Willow falls into easily, and there is never any doubt that Willow’s relationship with Ethan includes Connor and Ronan as well.

Fans of the first book will be pleased to see more of Laurel and Aiden. The Gallagher family is fast becoming one of my favorites. I enjoyed them all. Kudos to Alward for dealing with birth control with a rare degree of realism and in a way that adds to the story’s strength rather than detracting from the romance.

If you like your romance with a delightful small-town setting, a cast of likeable characters, and an unusual blend of grittiness and heartwarming appeal. I highly recommend Someone to Love. You will also want to put the third book, Somebody’s Baby, an April 4 release, on your list.