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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Harlequin Round-Up Number 2

by Anna Campbell

Firstly, apologies! Last month I promised that this October I was going to delve into the dark, foggy and bat-ridden world of Victoria Holt's gothics.

Unfortunately for my book reviewing plans, I've been head down finishing the second book in the Sons of Sin series and have only snatched rare reading time. Vicky and her dark, dangerous heroes will have to wait until November! I hope she's not so piqued at the delay that she sends the sinister housekeeper to shove me off the battlements!

So I'm doing another Harlequin roundup this month. I hope you don't mind. One of the lovely things about a category romance is that when time is short, you can still get your romance fix. Add to that a down day when I had a miserable head cold and I felt like some comfort reading, and voila, I've got some great Harlequin discoveries to share with you.

Two of these books are fairly recent and should be readily available. The other two are available in digital format or from online sellers. 

First up was a real discovery for me - you're all probably miles ahead of me here. I'd heard really good things about Fiona Harper and I knew she'd been up for at least one RITA Award, generally a great indicator of quality. But I'd never actually read one of her books. On the day I suffered with my snuffed up nose, I had a twofer that I'd picked up at one of the Australian conferences. I read the first book which was by an author I knew and liked, then out of curiosity started the second book in the volume, INVITATION TO THE BOSS'S BALL (January 2012). Well, that was better cold medicine than a packet of aspirin! I was smiling on page one and I was beaming by the end and everything in between was enchanting.

As you've probably gathered, this is a Cinderella story. Alice is the kind of girl who tends to be one of the guys rather than a glamour puss. But when she helps a friend who's selling vintage fashion and enters the ambit of sexy tycoon Cameron Hunter, she gets a chance to play the princess, even if only for one night. But what happens after the ball is over? This one's a real charmer and I highly recommend it, even if sweet romances aren't usually your thing. It's funny, it's wise and it's touching - and the vintage fashion is great fun.

The next one was also from my cold-ridden day and it's by an Aussie author - love to recommend a local. CHRISTMAS AT CANDLEBARK FARM by Michelle Douglas is another charmer, although it deals with more difficult subject matter than INVITATION TO THE BOSS'S BALL.

Gutsy, generous Keira Keely lodges temporarily with outwardly grumpy widower Luke Hillier while she sorts out an unexpected inheritance. Keira is pregnant after IVF treatment that she sought when she discovered that medical issues could prevent her having children if she delays too long. Luke is struggling to cope with his estranged wife's death. The fallout includes hostility and blame from his in-laws and the other residents of Gunnedah, not to mention his teenage son's grief and anger.

On the surface, sunny Keira and brooding Luke share nothing but a strong and unwelcome sexual attraction. But as Christmas approaches, Candlebark Farm witnesses a miracle - joy, hope, love and reconciliation after tragedy. There's smiles in this one but tears too. Beautifully done. And the country Aussie setting is marvelous.

Last month, I talked about another new discovery for me, Ellen Hartman, who writes for SuperRomance. In September, OUT OF BOUNDS, the sequel to her wonderful THE LONG SHOT hit the shelves. It's got the same mixture of humor and deep emotion and heartwarming resolution that made THE LONG SHOT so memorable.

Wes Fallon, the hero's brother from the first book, has to give up his basketball career after an injury. While he's deciding what he wants to do with the rest of his life, he accepts a job with Deacon's foundation to set up a facility for disadvantaged kids in upmarket Kirkland, New York State.

When he meets strong, competitive, mouthy Posy Jones, he's instantly bowled over. But Posy has secrets, including the big, fat, nasty one that her mother has stolen a huge donation to the charity and left Posy to clean up the mess.

One of the real delights of this book (and the earlier one) is the strong heroine. Posy is the kind of woman I love to see in romance - she's difficult and ambitious and not inclined to play second fiddle to anyone. Add to that a really delicious hero and a demon dog and you've got a yummy mixture! Highly recommended.

Lastly, I can't miss out on recommending a Harlequin Presents from one of my favorite authors, Sarah Morgan, who won the RITA for best category romance this year for her sublime DOUKAKIS'S APPRENTICE.

Sarah's DEFYING THE PRINCE (August 2012) is such fun. It's got a similar sparkle to Doukakis - I found myself laughing out loud several times in this book, for example when our awkward heroine is stuck for conversation at a state dinner and regales a sheikh with the information that camels have sphere-shaped haemoglobin.

Izzy Jackson is a national laughing stock since she appeared on a tacky reality TV show called Singing Star. When she makes a fool of herself at the party to celebrate her sister's engagement to the Crown Prince of Santina, autocratic Prince Matteo, second in line to the throne, whisks her away to his isolated estate where she can do no more damage.

The problem is the damage has already been done. These two are victim to a sizzling attraction that neither can deny, much as they'd like to. Matteo thinks Izzy is a self-serving airhead. She thinks he's a pompous, spoiled snob. Both of them have a lot to learn about the person under the mask. The dialogue between these two absolutely zings as Izzy provokes Matteo into becoming human and Matteo slowly turns into Izzy's strongest supporter. Lovely all round and wow, does the sexual tension blaze in this one. Grab it while it's hot!

When I had my cold, I was reaching desperately for comfort reads (and tissues), hence the double appearance of Harlequin Sweet Romances in this column. Do you have any comfort reads? Do you reach for an old favorite? A specific line? A specific genre? Let's talk about the kind of romance that gives you that nice warm feeling when the world is a bit bumpy.

41 comments:

  1. I think that's it. A sweet Romance will always do the trick.

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    1. Mary, I think you're right - I didn't want something hot and heavy. I just wanted something to make me smile and both the sweet romances listed here did just that. Fiona Harper was a real discovery for me!

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    2. I agree, Mary. Give me something that makes me smile and feel all warm and fuzzy. :)

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  2. A sweet Romance always makes things seem better, and better yet if they are also Holiday books! Lately I've been reaching on a Christmas Holiday books :)

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    1. Savannah, this time of year, the heartwarming stuff tends to hit the shelves, doesn't it? I just love it. Actually there's a great Christmas historical anthology from a few years ago that's well worth getting, if you can find it - it's called The Heart of Christmas and all the stories are great.

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    2. I've started my Christmas reading too, Savannah. Lovely books that always put me in a good mood.

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    3. Adding The Heart of Christmas to my list. Thanks, Anna!

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    4. PJ, haven't you read The Heart of Christmas? There's a corker of a novella by Courtney Milan that was up for a novella. The other two stories are lovely too.

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  3. A sweet and not too complcated romance always does it for me on sick days, Anna. I'm not good with too much conflict and too many misunderstandings when my brain is all fogged up from a cold. I go to favorite re-reads from authors like Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas and you, of course!

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    1. Ah, Flora, your message is music to my ears (thankfully today not stuffed up!). Thank you, what a lovely pair you've matched me with. Sometimes I want a rip-roaring read, but not when I'm sick and miserable. I was so lucky that I had these lovely books waiting for me!

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  4. Am so pleased you enjoyed Candlebark, Anna! *she says with a chuffed grin*

    I love Fiona's books too. One I'd seriously recommend you get your hands on is English Lord, Ordinary Lady. It's one of my all-time favourites. I just love everything about that book. Loved, loved, loved Sarah Morgan's Doukakis's Apprentice too. Have a few SM's on my tbr pile, including Defying the Prince, so I'm in for a treat there.

    Ah, yes. When in need of a comfort read, I find a sweet romance fits the bill perfectly. So does Jenny Crusie. Something that will either make me chuckle or make me sigh happily, or both. :-)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! Looking forward to reading your book!

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    2. PJ, I laughed and cried and cheered - pretty good for something only 180 pages long!

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  5. Michelle, as you know, I adored Candlebark - I told you so many times! Thanks for the Fiona H recommendation. I love that I've got a great new author with a backlist to explore. I adore Sarah Morgan's books - she writes great characters and I always find myself laughing aloud in her books. Her humour is fantastic. Thanks for swinging by - glad you liked the review!

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  6. Anna, I've only read 'Christmas at Candlebark Farm' of these four (a tremendous read) but Fiona's and Sarah's were already on my list. Now I've had to expand that again.

    When I need comfort I grab a romance. Often a Presents, sometimes a historical or a sweet. As long as it's well written and takes me away to a wonderful world I can enjoy...

    Thaks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Annie! So glad you're another fan of Candlebark. And you should enjoy the other three too - I already know you're a Sarah Morgan fan. One of the things I like about a category when I'm sick is that I can read it in a couple of hours and get to my happy ending all the more quickly!

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    2. Hi Annie! *waving*

      With all the recommendations, Candlebark just keeps moving higher and higher on my must read list. :)

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  7. Hi Anna! Thanks for another terrific column. I do love my Harlequins and I can always count on you to bring some to the table that I haven't yet read.

    My all-time favorite comfort read is Julie Garwood's SAVING GRACE. It makes me smile, makes me laugh, brings a few tears and always, always leaves me with a warm, happy feeling when I turn the final page. Guaranteed to pull me from a funk or make me feel better when nasty germs have got me down.

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    1. PJ, I haven't read Saving Grace. I must grab it. I think my ultimate comfort read is A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS by Eva Ibbotson. It's just perfect - it leaves me with that feeling you describe, it doesn't matter how disgruntled I am when I start it. Highly recommended if you haven't read it - Jeanne Bandita loves it too.

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  8. Hi, Anna! I hope you're feeling better after your cold. They can really knock you for a loop, can't they? Wish I had been there to make you a pot of tea and have a good old chat! :-)

    I love all of the yummy Harlequin romance novels. They all look fabulous. I'm really taken with the plot of Kiera in "Christmas at Chadlebark Farm." It sounds like a must read for sure.

    I literally "cut my teeth" on Victoria Holt gothic novels. They make me sigh and I do tend to go back and re-read some of them when I'm in the mood for gothic. Looking forward to your upcoming post on them. In the meantime, you must take care of your OWN novels. We readers can wait.

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    1. Connie, Victoria Holt's novels really have stood the test of time, haven't they? She was my introduction to romance at the tender age of 13 and I still enjoy re-visiting those books all these years later!

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    2. Connie, someone to make me tea and go 'there, there' would have been very welcome! I was feeling VERY sorry for myself. I was on deadline too so while I ended up staying in bed for this one day, I really could have done with a bit more recovery time and just didn't take it which means the cold hung around far too long. Oh, try Candlebark Farm - and it's got a Christmas theme, just perfect for this time of year. I'm about halfway through On the Night of the Seventh Moon now so I'm definitely doing VH next month. I'll let you know when it's up (I'm always here talking about something that readers might have missed or a classic on the 24th of each month). Thanks for saying you're looking forward to the next one - handed Richard's story in last week!

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    3. PJ, it's been really interesting going back to VH. I haven't read since I was about 15!

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  10. Anna, thank you for recommending Harlequin romance as an alternative medicine for the ailments of the season. Between chores and kids, time is really becoming an issue lately, so I am seriously considering this publishing line for my romance fix. Normally I find warmth and comfort in any romance novel/movie with a strong fairy tale spin. Any Lila DiPasqua, Loretta Chase, Lisa Kleypas' book will do the trick, really. There is also a cute sweet, fairy tale movie that I watch every once in a while and works like a charm: Penelope starring James McAvoy (Scottish babe <3 ) and Christina Ricci...a very heartwarming fantasy!

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    1. Mina, I highly recommend Harlequins but especially at this busy time of year. There are some very talented writers out there and, with Harlequin's different lines, a style of story that fits every reader's taste.

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    2. Mina, seriously, grab a few Harlequins. It's a nice quick fix and some of the stories are fantastic! Any of these are great or I recommend Annie West or Sarah Mayberry or India Grey or Liz Fielding or a host of other fantastic writers. If you're looking for really feel good romance, you really can't go past Liz Fielding and she writes like an angel. Love your list of go-tos by the way! I haven't seen Penelope but I did a post on movies (you know, you were there, you champion!) and a few people mentioned it. It's definitely on the TBW (to be watched!) pile.

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    3. PJ and Anna, thank you for being my compass in the enchanting world of HQ romance. I took notice of every name you suggested...Gosh, I love this blog!

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    4. Hey, Mina, so glad we're steering you toward some great books. Love it when that happens!

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  11. I just donloaded Christmas at Candlebark Farm to my Kindle. I love Christmas stories. I started reading 2012 Christmas releases in August. I bought new Christmas ornaments when I was shopping this morning. I'm ready to start singing "Rocking Round the Christmas Tree" now. LOL

    I love Ellen Hartman's books. She went on my autobuy list with Plan B: Boyfriend. I just wish she wrote faster, especially since her backlist is rather small.

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    1. Janga, Ellen's backlist isn't available in paperback either which is rather frustrating for someone like me who is yet to take the e-reader plunge. Hopefully Harlequin will reissue. Laughing at you getting the Christmas bug already! I'm still trying to cope with the fact that it's nearly the end of October - where has this year gone?

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  12. Romances always makes me feel good, especially ones with second chance storylines. I love those!

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    1. Na, second chance storylines always make me smile too. I must say I'm a sucker for the fairytale themed stories like Fiona Harper's Boss's one above. Thanks for swinging by!

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  13. Anna's back! I always love reading your monthly blogs. In this one, OUT OF BOUNDS sounds like one I would love. I'm off to check it out! Thanks, Anna!

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    1. Andrea, with Out of Bounds, try and see if you can get THE LONG SHOT first. You don't have to read them one after the other but I think it's nicer if you do. Both are excellent (Janga agrees with me, LOL!) so you won't be sorry! Thanks so much for swinging by!

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  14. Thanks, everyone, for swinging by to share your comfort reads. Victoria Holt next month on the 24th November. See you then!

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  15. I enjoy historical romances the best. They have plenty of adventure, strong heroes, and feisty women.

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    1. Cathry, there's something special about a great historical, isn't there? A lot of my keepers are historicals and I go back to them when I need a comfort read.

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