Friday, February 24, 2017

Review - - Starting Over on Blackberry Lane

Starting Over on Blackberry Lane
By Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Reviewed by: Janga

Sheila Roberts takes readers back to Icicle Falls for the tenth time in her newest novel. Three friends are confronted with challenges that prove small-town life can be far from idyllic. Cass Wilkes, whom fans of the series will remember as a lead character in Merry Ex-Mas, Book 2 in the series, returns. In the earlier book, Cass had to deal with hosting her ex and his trophy wife for the wedding of their daughter, who wanted her father to give her away. Several years have passed since that time. Daughter Danielle has made Cass a grandmother, and Cass’s other two children are college students. The Gingerbread Haus bakery still keeps Cass busy, but not busy enough to remain unaware of how lonely she has become now that her children are leading their own lives. Of more immediate concern is her house, which is literally falling to bits, or at least bits of dining room ceiling are falling on her heirloom table.

Cass’s friend Stefanie Stahl is also having house problems. Her husband is a master of thinking up ways to improve their house. The problem is his vision exceeds his skill, and although he begins each project with enthusiasm, he soon runs into a something he can’t handle and leaves the project unfinished. Stef’s frustration with her unhandy handyman reaches the no-tolerance point when he tears down a connecting—and load-bearing—wall the day she is hosting a bridal shower for her friend Griffin James.

At the shower, Griffin decides that she no longer wants to be a bride. She dumps her fiancé and starts prepping her house for sale. She has decided to leave Icicle Falls for New York City where her career opportunities as a food photographer will be greater. When she falls off a ladder while painting, it becomes clear that she needs help to get the house ready to show to prospective buyers.

Widower Grant Masters found that his dream life after retirement was not so dreamy after all. In fact, it was boring. He has returned to Icicle Falls to be near his two sons: expectant father Dan, who took over Masters Construction when Grant retired and is married to the former Charley Albach (Merry Ex-Mas), and Brad, a chef in nearby Seattle. Because he wants to work again, Grant starts a one-man, general handyman company that he names Honey Do. When he offers his services for one day at a fund-raising auction, Cass, Stef, and Griffin join forces to win the bid. The intersection of their lives with Grant’s brings changes to all their the lives. Stef’s determination to have Grant complete all her husband’s unfinished projects jeopardizes the things she values most, meeting Brad Masters makes Griffin second-guess her choices, and Cass must decide if a George Clooney lookalike who is inspiring x-rated dreams is worth risking her heart.

I’ve read all ten of Sheila Roberts’s Icicle Falls novels and the two novellas. Overall, I rank the series as a good one, but I have found the books a bit uneven. None is a bad read, but I like some much better than others. Starting Over on Blackberry Lane is one of the best. I like the way Roberts gives her readers bits of her characters’ lives at different stages. Cass was my favorite character--in part because I found her engaging in Merry Ex-Mas and enjoyed seeing her again and in part because I am in favor of seeing over-forty heroines find an HEA. I also liked the other leads. I admired Griffin’s courage in making some tough choices, and I found her profession interesting. I admit I found Stef irritating and self-centered at times, but I also found her movingly human once she realized her error.

The book is as much women’s fiction as it is romance, and I particularly appreciated that the three women have close, supportive friendships even though they are at different places in their lives. I loved seeing more of Charley and Dan, who are among my favorites in this long-running series. And I adored Grant! I think Roberts tapped into the fantasies of many of her readers when she created a hero who excels at superbly taking care of a honey-do list and looks like a former sexiest man alive.

As always, Roberts’s trademark humor made me smile. If you are looking for a feel-good read that is a splendid example of a women’s fiction-romance hybrid on the light-hearted end of that spectrum, I think you will enjoy this book.  I for one am ready for my next trip to Icicle Falls. Another Icicle Falls Christmas book is scheduled for release in late October, and it is on my list.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review - - One More Kiss

One More Kiss
By Samantha Chase
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Reviewed by: Janga


Matt Reed has known major success as lead guitarist for Shaughnessy, the band that Riley Shaughnessy (Shaughnessy Brothers series) headlines. When the band members decide to focus on solo projects, Matt chooses a lead role in a Broadway play. He is a humiliating failure. The play closes three nights after it opens, and Matt is hounded by hostile media representatives who not only question his musical talent but also cast doubt on the legitimate achievements of other members of Shaughnessy. When his childhood friend, Aaron Forrester offers him sanctuary in the luxury home Aaron has built in coastal North Carolina, Matt seizes the opportunity to escape the furor even though doing so takes him back to the hometown to which he never planned to return.

Vivienne Forrester is in the mood for celebrating. The remodeling of her brother’s guest house to turn it into her dream home is finally complete, and she will be moving in soon. She has just been named assistant editor of Modern Lifestyle, an online lifestyle magazine, which means a steady income doing work she enjoys. She and Aaron are close and she is looking forward to sharing her good news with him. She is not expecting to find that Aaron has a house guest, and she is dismayed to learn the identity of that guest and that Matt’s visit will not be a brief one. Two years earlier, Vivienne, with a little help from Riley Shaughnessy (This Is Our Song), surprised Matt in his dressing room after a concert. The band’s agent broke up the reunion but not before Matt and Vivienne shared an unforgettable kiss. At least, Vivienne has not forgotten it. When she realizes that Matt has no memory of the kiss, her reaction to him changes from awkward to angry.

Matt is surprised by Vivienne’s hostility, but he pushes past it, first to help her move in and later, after Aaron’s departure for a business trip to London, as the taste tester for the meals Vivienne prepares for her food blog. The more time they spend together, the more potent the attraction between them becomes. But both Matt and Vivienne have family issues that must be resolved before they are ready to make a commitment, and Vivienne has real concerns about fitting into Matt’s rock-star lifestyle. When Aaron returns, his disapproval of their relationship adds another complication.
One More Kiss is the first book in Chase’s Band on the Run series, a spin-off from the Shaughnessy Brothers series. The novel showcases the author’s strength in creating likeable characters with interesting family dynamics. Her ability to craft a story that is sweet and sexy without graphic sex scenes will appeal to readers who prefer their romance light on the spice. The novel can be read as a standalone, but fans of the Shaughnessy Brothers will be pleased to see Riley and Savannah have secondary roles.

I like Chase’s voice and style as well as her characters, and seeing heroes accustomed to success dealing with failure is an interesting take on the rock-star trend. Nevertheless, the conflict in this one seems thin to me. Once the misunderstanding about the kiss is cleared up, only Matt and Vivienne’s reluctance to talk to each other about the things that bother them keeps their romance from progressing smoothly. Their separate family issues promise much, but they are resolved too quickly for my taste. A more minor niggle but one that I found troublesome is that I could not find the name of the North Carolina town that is home to these characters.

Still, the novel is generally satisfying, and readers will root for Matt and Vivienne to get their HEA. Chase gives enough information about Dylan and Julian, the remaining members of Shaughnessy, to leave readers intrigued and primed for their stories. I would also like to see Aaron Forrester earn an HEA, either in his own story or in a secondary romance. However, we may have to wait a bit for those books. First, we have two more Shaughnessy stories to which we can look forward: A Sky Full of Stars (June 6, 2017), the story of Owen, the nerdy astrophysicist brother, and Holiday Spice (October 3, 2017), the story of Darcy, the only girl in Shaughnessy clan. Both books are on my calendar, and I am eager to hear more about the remaining Band on the Run novels.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review - - Wildfire

Wildfire (Fire Series Book #3)
By Anne Stuart
Published by: Montlake
Release Date: February 14, 2017
Reviewed by: Maria Lokken

I remember years ago being one of the first people to see the movie “Silence of the Lambs.” As I stood in line at the West 57th Street movie theater in Manhattan, I realized I didn’t know anything about the movie I was about to see.  But I couldn’t resist a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.  To say I was a little terrified while watching the film would be a major understatement.  The truth is, for most of the movie, I sat in that dark theatre with my hands over my eyes silently humming to myself in an effort to drown out every horrible, word and sound uttered by Hannibal Lecter, sounds I knew would haunt my dreams

Reading Wildfire, was much like watching “Silence of the Lambs.” While these two stories are NOTHING alike, they do have one point in common, both prominently feature sociopaths.  Anne Stuart knows how to turn up the volume on suspense by creating one crazy psycho who does unspeakable things, and as I’ve indicated, I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to things like that. Because reading requires you to keep your eyes open, I was unable to avoid the sections in Wildfire where the sociopath displays his horrors.

The heroine, Sophie Jordan, is an undercover agent for The Committee, her mission is to find and destroy a drug, that if used, would wipe out whole populations.  Financing the drug is billionaire and vicious, psychopathic crazy man Archer MacDonald - her target.  But Sophie’s mission doesn’t go as planned when she falls in love and betrays The Committee by marrying Archer.  Unfortunately, Archer soon discovers she’s an undercover agent and orders her killed. Sophie is shot in the spine and instead of dying becomes paralyzed and for three years is a prisoner on Archer’s island compound subject to his sadistic whims.

The Committee finally preps another operative - enter tough guy hero, Malcom Gunnison. His mission is to get the drug, kill Archer and if necessary kill Sophie too.  After all, she betrayed The Committee by falling in love with Archer.

With the introduction of Malcom comes the internal/external conflict of trust.  It’s clear no one trusts Archer, but can Malcom and Sophie trust each other?

There is no doubt that Anne Stuart can write and can tell a story, but there were some things that just didn’t work for me.  In the end, here’s my analysis of Wildfire:

The antagonist was well crafted.  His every move showed he was pond scum through and through. 

For those readers who like their suspense taught like a violin string, they’ll love this one.  It’s high tension throughout.

If you’re a romance reader who enjoys hot sex scenes, this one gets a 10 out of 10.

Who doesn’t love an ending that is sigh worthy.  Check, this one hits the mark.


There was too much inner voice and dense paragraphs used to move the story along.  That was a disappointment, because toward the end, where dialogue was used, it was strong.  There was wit, humor and urgency in the dialogue and I’d wished I would have seen more of that in the beginning of the book.

The hero and heroine went back and forth with their inner voices on how they felt.  Why they shouldn’t feel a certain way.  What they did or didn’t deserve.  It flips and flops all over the place and was sometimes tedious taking me out of the story.

I believe, if you’re a romance reader you need to be able to suspend belief, after all, that’s half the fun of reading romance.  However, in this book, there were sections that were a bit too unbelievable.

In the end, this wasn’t a book for me.  But I believe if you enjoy romantic suspense, you like your romances steamy, and your heroines tough, then this is a book for you.

What is the one thing in a romance book that will make you say, “Nah, that’s really not believable?”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review - - Every Dark Corner

Every Dark Corner
By Karen Rose
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Reviewed by: Nancy Northcott

In Every Dark Corner, Rose builds a gripping plot around the exploitation of children.  At its heart is a young woman named Mallory who was illegally adopted by a child pornographer.  He turned her into an internet porn star when she was just a child. Even though she’s now an adult, she obeys his every command because his sister and her husband have Mallory’s sister, Macy, in their keeping.  If Mallory causes any kind of problem, Macy will become the next video porn sensation.

A chance encounter at a grocery store puts Mallory on the radar of the Cincinnati police, but they don’t know how to find her.  Kept close and monitored by her captor, Mallory wrestles with a desire to report him to the police and fear of what will happen to Macy if she does.

Meanwhile, an FBI task force is trying to find the partner of a human trafficker they recently arrested (in Alone in the Dark, the prior book in this series).  The clues they have are sparse, so the reader begins to suspect before they do that Mallory’s captor may be the man they seek.

Rose brings back Scarlett Bishop and Marcus and Stone O’Bannion as well as other characters from Alone in the Dark and the book before it, Closer Than You Think, but reading the prior books isn’t necessary to understand who they are.  Rose gives just enough of an introduction to each character to ground the reader without dropping in a chunk of information that would distract from the current story.

The heroine of Every Dark Corner, Special Agent Kate Coppola, a former US Army MP, is tenacious and sympathetic, pursuing the case while struggling with her own demons.  The death of her husband and the suicide of his brother haunt her, but she won’t let them stop her.  Knitting and origami help calm her mind and allow her to focus.  As the story progresses and her trust in the hero, Special Agent Griffin “Decker” Davenport, grows, Kate finds the strength to exorcise her past.

To Decker, the hunt for exploited children is personal.  His sister was a victim he couldn’t save.  So even though he’s recovering from a bullet wound and a week in a medically induced coma, results of the role he played in Alone in the Dark, he insists on being part of this investigation. He also wants to stay close to Kate, to whom he is increasingly attracted.

As the FBI task force closes in, the man they’re chasing starts snipping what he considers to be loose ends. Deaths mount up, and the task force searches for links.  But will they find enough before time runs out for Mallory and the next group of children being trained for exploitation?

One of the pleasures of this series is seeing characters who play supporting roles in one book, as Decker and Kate did in Alone in the Dark, move to the fore.  Another is getting to see how characters who were prominent in earlier books, like Scarlett Bishop, Marcus and Stone O’Bannion, and Diesel Kennedy from Alone in the Dark and Deacon Novak and Faith Corcoran from Closer Than You Think, are doing now.

The story moves at a good pace, switching perspectives from the task force to their quarry to Mallory, without becoming confusing.  While this book deals with gritty subject matter, Rose handles it with care and taste and doesn’t shy away from showing the toll it takes on some of the task force members.

Highly recommended.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review - - MOGUL

By Joanna Shupe
Publisher: Kensington/Zebra
Release Date: January 31, 2017

Calvin Cabot is a reporter for the New York Bugle when he meets Lillian Davis, daughter of a wealthy mine owner. Two months later, Calvin and Lily, passionately in love, elope. Three weeks into their honeymoon, Lily’s father tracks them down and bullies and blackmails Calvin into abandoning Lily, who refuses to believe that Calvin will not return for her. When denial becomes impossible, she agrees to her father’s insistence that the marriage be annulled. Four years bring significant changes. Lily, still harboring resentment against the man who was briefly her husband, has become president of the Davies Mining Company after her father’s death. Calvin, owner and publisher of three newspapers, has become a powerful and somewhat mysterious figure with a reputation for ruthlessness. Neither has remarried, although Lily is on the verge of a betrothal to a man from her own class.

When Lily receives a threatening letter, it becomes imperative that she find her younger brother, Tom, who is inexplicably missing. She is forced to seek help from Calvin. When her letters to him are ignored and he avoids her visits to his office, she hires Pinkerton agents to locate and kidnap him. Despite these strong-arm tactics, Calvin is not interested in helping Lily. It is not until he discovers that Tom has earned the enmity of Wah Lee, a Chinese mob boss whose dangerous reach Calvin knows well, that the newspaperman reluctantly agrees to Lily’s request (demand).  What follows is part action-adventure in which the dangers are real and the risks high on multiple levels and part second-chance-at-love tale in which the chemistry between Calvin and Lily proves to be as explosive as it was when they were young lovers with their illusions intact.

Mogul is the third novel in Shupe’s Knickerbocker Club series (after Baron and Magnate), and it has the most exciting plot of the series. I confess that I was hooked on this story from the first sentence: “She never expected to find her former husband in an opium den.” A kidnapping and flying bullets before the end of the second chapter ensured that interest continued. Lily is a strong heroine who refuses to be relegated professionally or personally into the narrow role convention defined as a woman’s place. I have a long-standing weakness for self-made heroes and Shupe gives her readers a captivating example of that trope in Calvin. His stubbornness equals Lily’s, but he respects who she is in her own right. Secondary characters, including Tom and his love interest and Calvin’s closest friend, Hugo, an African American, and his Chinese wife, add interest and provide greater diversity than one usually encounters in historical romance.

Shupe brings to life not only the glitz, glamour, and powerful self-made men of Gilded Age New York but also gender issues of the period and lesser known and heinous bits of American history surrounding the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 and the violence, isolation and discrimination associated with it. Fans of the series will be pleased to see Calvin’s story, but the book also works well as a standalone. If you like a fast-paced story and highly sensual romance, this book is for you. Tycoon, the novella that introduced the series, is included as a bonus read in the ARC, and I assume it will also be included with the book for purchase. Lighter in tone than Mogul, it is also an entertaining read. I loved it.

I find the Gilded Age immensely interesting, teaching Edith Wharton and Henry James provided some of my favorite moments in the classroom, and I expressed the hope years ago that someone would set a romance novel in this period. I continue to be excited about the stories in this period that Shupe is giving readers. Magnate is my favorite, but all the novels and the novella have been engaging reads. I give Mogul my enthusiastic recommendation.

According to reports, Shupe has contracted for three more novels in the Knickerbocker Club series. I applaud this news and eagerly await the next release.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Today's Special - - Sheila Roberts' Recipe Contest

Enter Sheila Roberts’ 
Recipe Contest

              With the blog name, “The Romance Dish,” Sheila Roberts figures there must be some mighty fine cooks among all you Dishers out there. And mighty fine cooks have scrumptious recipes. Sheila invites you to share one of those (or two or three or four) in her fun Sheila Roberts STARTING OVER ON BLACKBERRY LANE Recipe Contest. The grand prize winner’s reward: a complete set of Rachael Ray pots and pans worth about $150 (and a signed copy of her new book!).

              Sheila thought up this fun contest to promote that book, her light-hearted February 28 Icicle Falls novel, which is filled with fabulous foods, a chef, a baker, a cook-off, a food photographer and a resident Icicle who’s publishing a cookbook of her late mom’s yummy recipes. Being a foodie herself, Sheila just can’t resist writing about food. Or sampling it. And she’s eager to sample your recipes.

              To enter, simply go to and share your recipe. Be sure to say The Romance Dish sent you so the site can also win something—a complete signed set of Sheila’s Icicle Falls series. If we win the set, we’ll think up something creative to do with it here on The Romance Dish. The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 10.

              Something fun about Sheila’s recipe contest: after her panel of judges picks five finalist recipes, you readers will vote to select the grand prizewinner! BTW, there are two recipe categories, main dish and desserts, and recipes must be original. That is, not previously published in a cookbook or otherwise copyrighted. You know, the kind your momma taught you, or you combined this with that and came up with a dish your family and friends beg you to make.


Three friends, all in desperate need of a guy who knows his way around a toolbox, decide to pool their resources so they can be the highest bidders for a repair package donated by new handyman-about-town Grant Masters at Icicle Falls’ Raise the Roof bake-off fundraiser. Not only is Grant one heck of a good guy with a hammer, he is also oh-so-easy on the eyes. Well, the three friends win that auction, and being the gentleman that he is, the Honey Do man decides, what the heck? He’ll help out all three ladies with their home repair projects. Which creates some fun moments and sends hearts a-pounding. To find out where Grant eventually parks his toolbox, of course, you’ve got to read the book, which is available right now for pre-order. 

You can reach Sheila on and on Facebook.

   Have you discovered Sheila Roberts' humorous and heartwarming Icicle Falls books yet?         

Do you have a recipe to enter into the contest? 

Wouldn't you love that gorgeous set of pans? I would! I love that color!    

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review - - The Scoundrel's Honor

The Scoundrel's Honor
By Christi Caldwell
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: February 14, 2017

The Scoundrel’s Honor by Christi Caldwell was a solid five out of five stars for me. It tells the story or Penelope Tidemore and Ryker Black. On the surface, you would never imagine these two people crossing paths but cross they do and unconventional doesn’t even begin to describe their romance.

Penelope is the last great hope of her family for a scandal free season, courtship and marriage. That’s not to say the Tidemores are an evil lot or that they throw themselves into the midst of the Ton with any intent of finding themselves in compromising after compromising situations no less than three just seems to happen. Penelope or Penny is the sensible one. She has molded herself into a young lady who knows how to comport herself in any ball, musicale or picnic the Ton holds. She’d show them.

Ryker Black would rather be caught dead then deal with any of that. He’s too busy for that anyway. The bastard son of a duke he has little time and no patience for simpering lords and ladies. His own father and faithless mother threw him into the streets of St. Giles where he survived by his wits and wiles. It was there that he honed his skills as a survivor and leader of his own mismatched family. A sister he rescued from that hell and a band of three others who were as brothers to him. The only time he tolerates lords are when they are gambling, drinking or whoring at his gambling den the Hell & Sin.

His first foray into polite society collides with Penelope’s when they both attend his sister, now the Duchess of Somerset’s ball. An innocent collision that sets in motion what becomes a great romance. Duty bound, they wed. Duty bound, she moves from the safe haven of her home and family to Ryker’s home and headquarters at The Hell and Sin. It is a huge adjustment for both. Penelope is headstrong and brokes no quarter. Ryker is equally stubborn but his is borne from a life hardened by experiences no man, let alone a child should have to endure. Those same forces follow him into adulthood and as much as he protects his own,which now includes Penelope, he must protect himself against everything and everyone.

I really loved this book. It is the second in Christi Caldwell’s Sinful Bride series. The story is compelling and endearing. The grand gesture at the end: pure romance happily ever after. Penelope and Ryker have quite a bit going against them as neither were prepared for the emotional impact their attraction would have on them. I would say they were not prepared for the viciousness of their enemies, be they harpies of the ton or cold blooded, soulless enemies of the club itself. What also makes this such a great read for me are the secondary characters in the book. Penelope’s sisters, brother and mother are stellar. Equally so are Ryker’s family, the brothers who banded together as children to survive the streets and his blood sister who he rescued from the streets and who found her happily ever after with a duke no less.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Second Thought - - When He Was Wicked

When He Was Wicked (with Second Epilogue)
By Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: February 28, 2017
(originally published by Avon in 2004)

Michael Stirling is known as the Merry Rake by those who see only his light-hearted persona and the long list of women whom he has charmed without once falling in love. What observers do not understand is that Michael Stirling is a man consumed by guilt because the only time he fell in love was at his first sight of Francesca Bridgerton, thirty-six hours before she became the bride of his first cousin, John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin. For two years, John and Francesca have been blissfully happy as man and wife, and Michael, who looks upon John as a brother, has remained hopelessly and guiltily in love with his cousin’s wife.

Francesca, more reserved than her Bridgerton siblings, had felt from her first meeting with John that he was her perfect complement. Two years of marriage have strengthened that feeling. Francesca is also excessively fond of Michael, whom she views as her closest friend next to John. She values his loyalty to John, and he makes her laugh. She would love to see him settled and happily married and has even entertained the idea of a match between him and her sister Eloise. She has no inkling of Michael’s real feelings for her.

Everything changes one evening when John, plagued by a headache, lies down to take a nap. He never awakens. Francesca is devastated. So is Michael, but his guilt is even heavier than when John was alive. He cannot be the friend Francesca needs, and he flees to India, leaving his cousin’s twenty-two-year-old widow to deal with her grief and manage the Kilmartin estate.

Four years bring changes to both Francesca and Michael. Although Francesca still grieves for John, she has adapted to widowhood. She enjoys the responsibilities of being the Countess of Kilmartin, and both her family and John’s provide love and companionship. But her nieces and nephews remind her of what she wants most—a child. So, she puts off her half-mourning and leaves Scotland early for London where she plans to find a husband. Michael is grateful for the balance and maturity his years in India have brought him, but he is weary of the life there and ready at last to assume the responsibilities of the earldom.

Despite the changes, Michael is still in love with Francesca, and she is still oblivious to his feelings. Francesca felt abandoned by Michael’s leaving when she needed him most, but she is eager to see him restored to the position of close friend and confidante. However, it soon becomes clear to her that her feelings for Michael have also changed. She no longer sees him as merely a friend; she is newly aware of him as a man. And if the idea of a sensible remarriage induces guilt over losing her identity as John’s wife, seeing her relationship with Michael as anything other than familial and platonic is terrifying.

As for Michael, the torment of being a friend to Francesca, wife of his cousin, is mild compared to the guilt and regret that nearly overwhelms him now and to the knowledge that he cannot act on his feelings but must stand by and watch her marry another man.

It shouldn’t have surprised him. And yet it did. Every time he thought he knew everything about her, had unwillingly memorized every last detail, something inside her flickered and changed, and he felt himself falling anew.

He would never escape her, this woman. He would never escape her, and he would never have her. Even with John gone, it was impossible, quite simply wrong. There was too much there. Too much had happened, and he would never be able to shake the feeling that he had somehow stolen her.

Or worse, that he had wished for this. That he had wanted John gone and out of the way, wanted the title and Francesca and everything else.

With the tension between them at such a fever pitch, it is inevitable that it shatter. And it does in a scene that has Francesca running away to Scotland. Michael, with the blessing of Colin Bridgerton, who offers him the excuse of his own very recent engagement as reason to pay a visit to the place both Michael and John considered home, follows her to Scotland. But Michael and Francesca must come to terms with their feelings about John separately before they can claim their own HEA.

When He Was Wicked is the sixth book in Julia Quinn’s beloved Bridgerton series. With John’s death at twenty-eight playing such a significant part, it is hardly surprising that it is the darkest of the eight-book series. More surprising, since the big kiss scene that changes the direction of the book occurs more than half way into the story, it is also one of the author’s most sensual books. When I first read it, even though I exceeded the two-hanky warning while reading it, I ranked it below the first four books in the series on my list of Quinn favorites. It seemed to me that it started a new piece of music rather than offering a new movement in the Bridgerton symphony. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Then, several years before The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (2013), a compilation of all eight Bridgerton second epilogues plus the bonus story of Violet, the Bridgerton matriarch, was released, I read the second epilogue for When He Was Wicked. It became one of my favorite epilogues ever and one of my Julia Quinn favorites, and When He was Wicked  jumped to a place only slightly below The Duke and I and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton among my best loved and most reread Julia Quinn books. Even though I own print and digital copies of the novel and of the epilogue collection, I am excited about the new release that has the novel and the second epilogue together. Next time I need reminding that heartbreak can lead to an unexpected HEA and that even HEAs may include a few bumps along the way, I will have the full story together.

If you have never read Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, I highly recommend them, particularly for readers who delight in Regency romps that are more than mere froth. And if you think Julia Quinn has written only Regency romps, I suggest you read When He Was Wicked. I recommend it with great enthusiasm, with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review - - Breathless

By Beverly Jenkins
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: January 31, 2017

First, a confession: I’m an ignorant twit. I avoided Beverly Jenkins’ historicals before because in my head I couldn’t imagine a HEA for a black couple prior to, oh, 1965. This is due to, I’m sure, partly to my education where we studied the Civil War and Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Act, but as anyone knows in today’s political climate, our education system leaves much to be desired on what is actually true. Yes, we did have a Civil War; and yes, we’re still a racist society. However as there is truth in that everyone has a hard time in life, it is also true we all experience happiness. There is always hope; there is always love; there is always change toward our better selves and a better society.

That said, I received an ARC of Breathless and was completely intrigued by the premise. The heroine, Portia Carmichael is a hotel manager in Arizona Territory, thriving in a world where she has stability and respect (which she did not have as a child), when a family friend, Kent Randolph comes back into her life. Kent Randolph is a drifter, but now has drifted back home and upon spying the beautiful Portia, who he always called Duchess, believes his drifting days are over, if only he can convince her to stake some roots with him. Portia’s dark childhood still haunts her and she does not want to marry and put her control at the whim of any man, not even a man as tempting and kind as Kent.

And Kent is tempting. He’s a tall drink of water, all things sexy and a little flirty, but also very gentlemanly and respectful, and a little dangerous. I was willing to run off with Kent far faster than Portia was willing to, but Kent is a patient guy. He doesn’t rush her and it’s clear he respects her and wants to forge a relationship that will last. Portia is a heroine to root for--she can’t cook but she can help roof a house, do bookkeeping, and patiently serve the most vile and obnoxious customer in a diplomatic way. She’s smart, passionate, and loving--and it’s easy to see why Kent is determined to win her. She is an equal partner in every way.

Portia’s Uncle Rhine owns the hotel where he partners with a local ranch for a “dude ranch excursion” for guests who come from the city and want to experience the West. The owner of the dude ranch passes away and Rhine purchases the ranch so he can continue the operation. Kent is assigned to run the ranch and he moves there to begin renovations that have been put off due to the previous owner’s age. Meanwhile, some guests from San Francisco come for the dude ranch experience, and Portia, who already has a couple young men in town who are vying for her attention, also has to deal with a matchmaking mama and her son.

There’s some excitement--which I don’t want to expound on because I don’t want to give too much away; however, I love how Ms. Jenkins’ handled the various characters and their interactions with each other. You will definitely be rooting for Portia when she puts these people in their place. There’s societal politics and snobbishness as well as racial and historical issues that were shared in an interesting and informative manner, which added to the depth of the characters who were navigating in a world set with those issue restrictions. 

I loved the sibling relationship. Regan is the younger sister, but also the wild one, and when Portia, who has avoided men altogether all this time, finally decides she would like a little one-on-one time with Kent, she first goes to her Aunt Eddy, who while conservative, answers her questions and sends her to talk to Regan, who had asked for the talk some years before. Regan is very informative and playful, but at the same time, being matter-of-fact and honest, there is also caution and how to protect yourself when you’re an unmarried woman who wants to have sex. (I never want to hear another excuse from a contemporary novel about the awkwardness of working in contraception into their scenes. Ms. Jenkins did it beautifully and totally didn’t have to.)

I love how Ms. Jenkins made the story sensual and sexy, her characters not at all prudish, but also made them behave as would be likely in the setting they were. It gives me hope for romance novels--especially modern historicals--that allow for love scenes to happen naturally to the characters and time period.

I can’t wait to read Regan’s story--she is going to be much less conventional than her sister. Now, I need to go and write this title on my list of 2017 Favorites. It’s going on the list!


Monday, February 13, 2017

Review - - Someone to Hold

Someone to Hold
By Mary Balogh
Publisher: Jove
Release Date: February 7, 2017

With the revelation of her father’s bigamous marriage to her mother, Camille Westover lost her identity as Lady Camille Westcott, her status in society as the eldest daughter of an earl, and her well-ordered world. She also lost her fiancé who had no intention of allying himself with the bastard daughter of a disgraced aristocrat; she even lost the comfort of her mother who left Camille and her younger sister Abigail with their maternal grandmother in Bath when she retreated to her brother’s country vicarage. Several months later, Camille has arrived at a hard-won acceptance of who she is not, but she has yet to determine who she is. In her search for answers to unanswerable questions, she is drawn to the orphanage where her half-sister, the Duchess of Netherby , née Lady Anastasia Westcott, spent most of her life as Anna Snow, first as one of the orphans and later as a teacher. What begins as a visit to the orphanage ends with Camille being granted a two-week trial as a teacher in the orphanage school, the very job Anna once filled.

Joel Cunningham’s life has also changed. He has left his days as a struggling artist behind him and is enjoying considerable success as a painter of portraits. A larger income has allowed him to move into a more commodious set of rooms and to be more selective about the commissions he accepts. However, he refuses to give up the two days a week that he volunteers to teach art at the orphanage school. He views his time with these students as a mission as much about fostering their imagination and power to dream as about art. Even in the absence of Anna Snow, his friend during the years they were growing up together in the orphanage and later the woman he loved, he remains committed to the orphans. He is not pleased to learn that Camille has taken the teaching position. Despite interactions with the children that suggest she is less rigid and humorless than he thought, Joel cannot excuse her arrogance or her unkindness to his dear Anna.

Although Camille and Joel clash at first, in part because each clings to misperceptions of the other, closer acquaintance reveals their errors and stirs an attraction that grows as they spend more time together. But baggage from their separate pasts must be dealt with before these two can claim their deserved HEA.

Someone to Hold is the second book in Mary Balogh’s Westcott series, and this beloved author proves once again that even after more than three decades and more than eighty novels, she remains a gifted teller of tales whose characters are engaging and memorable. I admit that I have a particular affection for redeemed heroines, and that doubtless is one reason I found this book a most rewarding read. Camille appeared to be arrogant and superior in Someone to Love, but in this book, Balogh uncovers layers that reveal the eldest of the three delegitimatized Westcotts as a flawed woman but nevertheless one with strength, integrity, and a capacity for growth. Even her coldness toward the sunny, open-hearted Anna becomes easier to forgive when Camille acknowledges to herself that her response to Anna is irrational and emotional and that Anna has behaved graciously.

Joel too is revealed as a more complex character in this novel than he appeared to be in the first. The story of his past that is unraveled might have seemed a too easy parallel to Anna’s story had Balogh not prepared her readers by having the orphanage in which Anna and Joel were brought up one where the children are supported by anonymous benefactors. Joel’s tangled family relationships also give him and Camille something in common as they both deal with challenges to who they thought they were and to their concepts of what makes a family.

Readers who enjoyed the first book will be pleased to see various members of the Westcott family appear in this one, and the orphans are even more appealing and play a more significant role in the story. I liked the first book, but I think the second is even better. I highly recommend it. Although Someone to Hold may be read as a standalone, readers will have a more satisfying reading experience and a better understanding of Balogh’s world-building if they read Someone to Love as well.

If you have never read Balogh, you owe it to yourself to read one of the classic writers of Regency-set historical romance. If you are a Balogh reader, you will find yourself hooked on yet another Balogh family, immersed in the new book and eager for the next. That next book will be Someone to Wed (November, 2017), the story of Alexander Westcott, the new Earl of Riverdale, and his need for a wealthy bride. I look forward to the admirable Alexander’s story; however, the one I am most excited about is the story of forty-year-old Viola Kingsley, the woman who thought she was the Countess of Riverdale only to discover that her three adult children are illegitimate. I think we will have to wait until 2018 for her story.