Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Today's Special - - Manda Collins



It's always a pleasure to welcome Manda Collins here at The Romance Dish. Manda has been a friend for many years and over the past few I've been delighted to add published author to that friendship label. Manda writes the kind of books I love to read, filling them with vibrant characters, fast-paced stories and a perfect blend of mystery and romance. She's here today to chat about her new book (out today!) that kicks off an exciting new series about a curricle racing club in regency England. I've read it and it's terrific; in my opinion, her best work yet. I can't wait for her to tell you all about it. Please give Manda a warm welcome! 


Welcome back, Manda!  You have a new series that kicks off today.  Who are the Lords of Anarchy and what will their series be about?

Thank you so much for having me back, PJ! I love visiting The Romance Dish! The Lords of Anarchy are a Regency-era driving club who are notorious as much for the things they do aside from driving as they are for their skills with the reins. The series focuses on stories that have some connection with the club, either peripherally, or on club members themselves. It will vary from book to book.

A GOOD RAKE IS HARD TO FIND (love that title!) is the first book in the series. What should readers expect from this story?

Thank you for the title compliment! I love it too. This story centers around Miss Leonora Craven and Lord Frederick Lisle (whom you might remember from his cameo in his brother Archer’s book, WHY LORDS LOSE THEIR HEARTS), who were betrothed once upon a time, but for reasons broke it off. But when Leonora’s brother—a member of the Lords of Anarchy—is killed during a curricle race, she has to seek out Freddie’s help to find out the real story of what happened. Readers should expect romance, angst, humor and mystery—all rolled into one!

I love second chance romances.  What is it about this trope that inspires you as an author? How did Leonora and Freddy convince you they deserved a second chance?

Obviously it’s a trope I love too. There’s just something inherently fascinating to me about the possibility of a love gone wrong being righted. And to many other authors, too! When I was brainstorming this story, I already knew Freddie from Archer’s book and I wanted to tell his story. But he’d just come back to England after years on the Continent. And as I started to unravel why, it came to me that he had gone away because he’d had his heart broken. Freddie is a pretty strong character so I knew he needed an equally strong heroine. And who better to tame a player like Freddie but a woman who is famous in her own right and an intellectual to boot. I knew these two crazy kids needed to get a second chance and so I started writing their story.

What inspired you to create a series of books centered around the members of a driving club? Were there actual driving clubs of this type in England or is this a product of your imagination?

The current popularity of Motorcycle Club romances (thanks, I think, in no small part to the television show Sons of Anarchy) got me to thinking about how I could adapt that concept for the Regency audience. I knew a bit about The Four Horse Club, aka The Four-in-Hand Club (though this is often referred to as a misnomer), from other Regency stories. They were pretty notorious during the Regency era and the Prince Regent was their most famous member. By the time my story begins, the original FHC had been dissolved then re-created, and they were known for driving coach and fours. So, I decided to create a variation of my own. A club for curricle aficionados. I couldn’t find any proof that any curricle clubs actually existed, but I decided to create one rather than tampering with the actual historical FHC.

I really enjoy the mysteries that you weave through your stories. To which authors do you turn when you want to read a good mystery or mystery/romance?

Thank you so much! A Nancy Drew book was the first chapter book I remember reading, so I’ve been reading mysteries longer than romance. So I enjoy stories that blend together my two favorite genres. I am a huge romantic suspense fan, so Karen Rose and Laura Griffin are essential reading for me. I also enjoy the romantic suspense stories of my blogmates Rachel Grant, Gwen Hernandez, Carey Baldwin and Krista Hall. And for straight up mysteries, I love Karin Slaughter, Jane Casey and Sharon Bolton. There are a lot of fantastic writers of suspense and romantic suspense out there these days.

The Easter Bunny will be making his rounds in a few days which, of course has everyone voicing their opinions on that age-old question: to Peep or not to Peep.  What goodies would you want to find in your Easter basket? Cadbury eggs? Marshmallow filled bunnies? Peeps? Or maybe something else?

I definitely have a soft spot for Peeps! I prefer chocolate, of course, but Peeps will do in a pinch. And I like Cadbury eggs, but I try to eat them in moderation. Since I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, I’ve actually had to search out alternatives to the usual candy treats. My favorite discovery is stevia sweetened chocolates from Chocorite. It’s actual chocolate, it just uses stevia instead of sugar. With one carb and few calories, it’s guilt-free and hits my chocolate spot!

I saw a segment on TV recently about it never being too late to learn a new skill. Leonora, the heroine of A GOOD RAKE IS HARD TO FIND is a successful poetess while one of her best friends, Hermione is a skilled carriage driver. What new skill would you like to learn?

Oh gosh! That’s a tough one. Something I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is that I might like to learn how to draw or paint. My great-grandmother, grandmother and sister are all visual artists and I’d love to be able to follow in their footsteps.

Will you be attending any conferences or book signings where readers will have an opportunity to meet you this year? 

I’m planning to attend the Romance Writers of America in New York City this summer. I had to get waitlisted for the Literacy for Life signing, but I will definitely be at the St. Martin’s Press signing. And it’s always possible that I’ll attend some other smaller conferences this year. I tend to play those by ear.




What's next?

I just turned in edits for the second Lords of Anarchy book, GOOD EARL GONE BAD, which is the story of Leonora’s friend, Lady Hermione Upperton and the Earl of Mainwaring. I’m hoping readers will like this opposites-attract story as much as I enjoyed writing it!


I'm really excited about this one!








Thanks so much for visiting with us, Manda.  Would you like to ask our readers a question today?

Thanks again for having me here, PJ! And I’d love to know what your readers think about reunited lovers stories! I’ll give a copy of A GOOD RAKE IS HARD TO FIND to one lucky commenter!


Find more information about Manda Collins and her books at her website.  To connect with her online, visit her on Facebook.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Coming Attractions





April! In my corner of the world, it's the month of flowers, showers and, hopefully, warm temperatures. After a long, cold winter I'm more than ready to relax on the patio while soaking up warm sunshine and a great new book. And with the days growing longer that means more time for doing both with each day that dawns. For our friends down under, the days are growing shorter and the temperatures, cooler. Not to worry though. Snuggle up with a warm beverage and your favorite cozy blanket while you lose yourself in any of the many fabulous romances on the horizon. It's a win-win for all! 




Andrea kicks things off with her New Releases on Friday, April 3. Mark your calendars. There are some fantastic books out this month and you won't want to miss a one! 






Long-time Dish friend, Maggie Robinson returns Tuesday, April 7. Maggie has an upcoming anthology of newly published novellas and short stories ready for your reading pleasure. (I've read three so far and they're delicious!) Be sure to check out Just One Taste. 










Thursday, April 16 brings military romance author Heather Ashby back for a visit. Heather's new book, Unforgettable, co-authored with Major Christopher Bergeron, USMC (retired) brings us the story of a woman who joins the Marines to escape her childhood and the Navy pilot who loves her. Sign me up!  












Lindsay McKenna joins us Monday, April 27 as part of her Running Fire blog tour. I've been a fan of McKenna's military romances for years and am excited to share her new book with all of our Dish readers. 












We're happy to welcome Maria Geraci back on Tuesday, April 28. Maria kicks off a brand new series with the April release of That Thing You Do. Don't you love that cover? I do! 













Have you been missing Anna Campbell as much as we have? Not to worry! She'll be back for a Dish visit on Wednesday, April 29 to celebrate the release of the fourth book in her wonderful Sons of Sin series, A Scoundrel by Moonlight. We're very excited, for both the visit and the book! 







What are you looking forward to in April?




Saturday, March 28, 2015

PJ's Rita/GH Blog Winners






The three winners of a package of books are:

regencygirl01

cheryl c

Trish J

The international winner is:

Mary Preston


Congratulations to you all!

Please send your full name and mailing address to us at:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com




Friday, March 27, 2015

Review - - It Started with a Scandal

It Started with a Scandal
By Julie Anne Long
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 31, 2015


Philippe Lavay, Prince of the House of Bourbon, barely escaped with his life when he was attacked by a gang of six cutthroats determined to end his work for the English Crown. He has come to Pennyroyal Green, home of his close friends the Earl of Ardmay and his countess, the former Violet Redmond (I Kissed an Earl), to recover from his wounds and to consider options for his future. Since his uncertain temper encourages brief tenures for the servants he hires, he is in dire need of a housekeeper to restore order to his chaotic household and not incidentally to make Lavay’s recuperation somewhat more bearable.

Enter Elise Fountain. Elise, the unmarried mother of a six-year-old son, lost both her home and her livelihood when the vindictiveness of a student’s sister forced Miss Endicott of Miss Endicott’s School for Girls to fire Elise, albeit reluctantly. Favors were called in and Redmond influence secured Elise an interview for the position of Lavay’s housekeeper. She refuses to be intimidated—at least visibly--by her own lack of experience or by the surly nobleman with a reputation for throwing objects at his housekeepers. When Lavay questions her about her qualifications, she responds,

“I’ve taught classrooms full of unruly children possessed of a variety of natures, and I know how to make them listen and learn and like it. I understand the concerns and politics of household staff and am prepared to address and manage them. I have experienced a number of, shall we say, economic conditions, and can adjust to any of them. I am scrupulously organized. All in all I have a very good brain. And I am afraid of nothing.”

Of course she does have fears, and one of them is the fear of not securing the position she needs desperately.

Despite her calm fa├žade, Lavay recognizes her desperation. He also recognizes her breeding and her pride. He offers her the housekeeper’s job on a two-week trial. In the weeks that follow, Elise transforms Lavay’s home and his life. Untrimmed candles, inadequate fires, and layers of dust have been the norm as lazy servants neglected their responsibilities and waited for the temporary tenant to leave. Elise organizes the servants, challenges them, appeals to their pride and soon has them working diligently, except for the fierce, thieving cook whom Elise fires but not before rescuing the treasures the cook has stolen from Lavay. He cannot ignore the newly industrious servants, the clean and shining house, or the plentiful apple tarts that are Elise’s specialty. Neither can he ignore Elise. In fact, his awareness of her increases with every contact, and he cannot resist ringing the bell that ensures their contacts are frequent. Elise is no less aware of him. “"Why make me a woman, why make him a man, why make him charming, why make it such a pleasure to touch him, why must it feel as though I'm touching flame, why must I be tempted like this?” she questions.

This unlikely pair is surprisingly similar. Both have lost their homes and family members, and both are unalterably committed to protecting their surviving family. But the gap between a French aristocrat and his housekeeper is huge, and class difference is not the only obstacle between them. Lavay has devoted his life to restoring the property his family lost in the French Revolution so that his grandfather and his younger sister can live the life to which their birth entitles them, and he must act quickly to secure the family estate before it is sold to the highest bidder. Such action requires an immediate and sizeable infusion of funds. Since his injuries make returning to the dangerous work that almost killed him a foolish risk, he is left with the option of marriage to an old friend who is willing to exchange her family’s wealth for his family’s status. Elise, having been abandoned by her son’s father and disowned by her parents, is wary of relationships and ever conscious of her responsibility to avoid anything that would make her son’s life more difficult. Passion and love, powerful as they are, cannot erase these barriers.

I admit to being a Julie Anne Long fan from her debut book on and to waiting impatiently for the next Pennyroyal Green book since I read the first one in the series. But It Started with a Scandal exceeded even my high expectations. It is an extraordinary book. Lavay in this book, wounded in body and spirit, is a more complex and substantive character than a reader encountering him as a handsome charmer with a dangerous edge in I Kissed an Earl would have guessed. Elise is the kind of strong heroine I most admire, one whose strength stems from her growth, her tenacity, and her ability to prevail against the odds. Long has a gift for capturing her reader’s interest in a few words that offer a compelling invitation to discover more about the characters, and she uses that gift to its full potential in this book.  Lavay is “not so much rough-hewn as sleek and hard as a rock polished over and over by wave after wave of time and experience.” Elise’s life as housekeeper and mother is “stitched together by an intricate network of barters and favors of time and skill and knowledge, of baked goods and canned goods, unused bolts of cloth and hand-me-downs, and herbs and cheeses and books and advice and tutoring.” If Lavay and Elise are fascinating as individuals, they are even more so as a couple. This book could serve as a textbook for aspiring romance writers who need to study how to maintain sexual tension. The pages almost smoke although consummation scenes are few.

Secondary characters are also vividly drawn. Young Jack is an engaging mix of energy, imagination, curiosity, vulnerability, and love. Some of my favorite scenes are those between him and his “Giant” as he claims his own place in Lavay’s heart. Seamus Duggan, whom some readers will remember as the heroine’s brother in A Notorious Countess Confesses, is an Irish rogue with a good heart and a touch of melancholy. And Everseas and Redmonds make brief appearances and are alluded to in scattered references that range from Jack’s affection for “The Ballad of Colin Eversea” to an act by Lavay that sets up The Legend of Lyon Redmond, the eleventh book that will be released September 29, 2015.

I give It Started with a Scandal my highest recommendation. It is one of the best books in one of the best series in historical romance fiction. If you enjoy historical romance with characters who jump off the page and into your mind and heart and story lines that demand your investment, you owe it to yourself to read this book. I plan to reread it just as soon as I add it to my short list of the Best of 2015.

~Janga

Thursday, March 26, 2015

And The Finalists Are...

For romance authors and those of us who love reading their books, today is the day!  Today, Romance Writers of America® (RWA) will announce the finalists for the best books and best unpublished manuscripts of 2014. Authors hover anxiously over their phones while readers excitedly surf websites and social media to discover which books make the finals...and which don't.  We'll be following the announcements here at TRD and dishing about our favorite books published last year.  And, because today is all about favorite romance books, we'll be giving away some books too.  We hope you'll stop by frequently throughout the day!

We'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 2014 should be in those slots. 


Tell us about your favorite books published in 2014 and which of them you'd like to see listed below. 

Tell us about the books you think will be listed below. 

Share your thoughts about the books that are announced today as finalists.  Which ones do you think are favorites to win? 

The more comments you leave, the more chances you have to win!  

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

One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment will receive a book of our choice from bookdepository.com. (International)



 


RITA® FINALISTS

Category descriptions are from the RWA RITA® guidelines.

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.

Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry
Starting With June by Emilie Rose
Carolina Man by Virginia Kantra
Reforming the Playboy by Inara Scott
Love with a Perfect Cowboy by Lori Wilde
Her Cowboy Hero by Tanya Michaels
Worth the Fall by Catie Quinn
Once a Family by Tara Taylor Quinn
Her Temporary Hero by Jennifer Apodaca
One in a Million by Jill Shalvis



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


Enemies With Benefits by Louisa George
Her Unforgettable Royal Lover by Merline Lovelace
The Bachelor Doctor's Bride by Caro Carson
A Texas Rescue Christmas by Caro Carson
What the Greek Can't Resist by Maya Blake
Yours Forever by Farrah Rochon
Bad Girl by Julie Miller
Blueprint for a Kiss by Nancy Warren
The Headmaster by Tiffany Reisz
A Bride for the Blacksheep Brother by Emily McKay





CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: LONG

Baby, It's You by Jane Graves
The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan
Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan
The Vixen and the Vet by Kate Regnery
Somebody Like You by Beth Vogt
Slow Tango with a Prince by Nicole Burnham
The Place I Belong by Nancy Herkness
The Sweetest September by Liz Talley
It's in His Kiss by Jill Shalvis 
To Scotland With Love by Patience Griffin





EROTIC ROMANCE
Novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the 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.).

Wanted by J. Kenner
Purely Professional by Elia Winters
Call Me Saffron by Talia Surova
Bonds of Denial by Lynda Aicher
The Saint by Tiffany Reisz

HISTORICAL ROMANCE: LONG
Novels that are set prior to 1950 and that are longer than 89,000 words

A Place Called Harmony by Jodi Thomas
Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes
Worth: Lord of Reckoning by Grace Burrowes
Where the Horses Run by Kaki Warner
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran


HISTORICAL ROMANCE: SHORT
Novels that are set prior to 1950 and that are between 40,000 and 89,000 words.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee
The Bells of Times Square by Amy Lane
The Cowboy's Reluctant Bride by Debra Cowan
In Bed with a Rogue by Samantha Grace 



INSPIRATIONAL ROMANCE
Novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system) are an integral part of the plot.

The Widow's Suitor by Rose Ross Zediker
Deceived by Irene Hannon
Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie
Huckleberry Summer by Jennifer Beckstrand
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin



PARANORMAL ROMANCE
Novels in which the future, a fantasy world, or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot.

Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster
The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter
Evernight by Kristen Callihan
My Lady, My Lord by Katharine Ashe
Be Careful What You Kiss For by Jane Lynne Daniels
Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
Burn for Me by Cynthia Eden
Mind Sweeper by AE Jones



ROMANCE NOVELLA
Novellas that focus primarily on the romantic relationship.

"A Yorkshire Christmas" by Kate Hewitt in ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid
Kiss and Tell by Grace Burrowes
"A Love Letter to the Editor" by Robin Lee Hatcher in Four Weddings & a Kiss
"Will You Be My Wi-Fi?" by Caroline Linden in At the Billionaire's Wedding
Ten Rules to Sex Up a Blind Date by Heidi Rice
"A Game of Brides" by Megan Crane in Love Me True
His Road Home by Anna Richland
The Last Wicked Scoundrel by Lorraine Heath
Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna



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

Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb
You're Not Safe by Mary Burton
Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane
Midnight Action by Elle Kennedy
Honor Reclaimed by Tonya Burrows
Forged in Ash by Trish McCallan
Grave Danger by Katy Lee
Lock and Load by Kimberley Troutte




YOUNG ADULT ROMANCE
Novels in which young adult life is an integral part of the plot.

Boys Like You by Juliana Stone
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Run to You by Clara Kensie
Some Boys by Patty Blount


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 published in any format.

The Smuggler Wore Silk by Alyssa Alexander
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Purely Professional by Elia Winters
Mind Sweeper by AE Jones
Run to You by Clara Kensie
To Scotland With Love by Patience Griffin

The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans
Fake by Beck Nicholas
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin








GOLDEN HEART® FINALISTS

EROTIC ROMANCE

"Sorting out the Kinks" by Elle Mason
"Indulge My Fantasy" by Caroline Bradley
"A Deal for Love" by Michele  Arris


HISTORICAL ROMANCE

"The Reunion" by Sara Leyton
"A Proper Scandal" by Laurie Benson
"Sawyer's Rose" by Kim Turner
"A Question of Loyalty" by Ellen Lindseth
"A Dangerous Chemistry" by Marnee Blake
"A Convenient Engagement" by Kimberly Bell
"Never Dare a Wicked Earl" by Renee Ann Miller
"Rescuing Mr. Gracey" by E K Barnes


PARANORMAL ROMANCE

"Better Dead" by Pamela Kopfler
"Undercover Enchanter" by Melanie McCarthy
"Howlin Hearts" by Kristal Hollis
"The Magical Librarian of Tulsa, Oklahoma" by Nancy Coiner
"Demons Don't" by Jeanne Oates Estridge
"Magic City" by Heather Leonard
"Mapping Fate" by Kimberly MacCarron
"Coyote Walks" by Maria Powers
"Stone Hunter" by Tara Sheets


ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

"Deception Island" by Bronwyn McEvoy
"Murder, Curlers, and Cream" by Arlene McFarlane
"Scandal" by Jessica Darago
"A Shot Worth Taking" by Tracy Poole
"Every Unworthy Thing" by Sharon Wray
"Hope Craves an Execution" by Sharon Wray


CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

"Call Me Mrs. Whitlock" by Kimberly Buckner
"Chasing Crazy" by Kelly Siskind "Port Fairlight Summer" by Jen Gilroy
"Puppy Love" by Kelly Farmer
"Mace, Men and Margaritas" by Jennifer Brodie
"The House of D'Innocenzi" by Susan J. Bickford
"His Perfect Partner" by Priscilla Kissinger
"Good Girl's Guide to Talking Dirty" by Alice Faris
"Homecoming" by Jo Anne Banker
"Caught on Film" by Arianna James


SHORT CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

"At Her Service" by Mia Sosa
"A Night at the Rosemont" by Mary Oldham
"Winning Her Over" by Alexa Rowan
"Waiting for Meggie" by Debra Moser
"Welcome Home, Katie Gallagher" by Seana Kelly


YOUNG ADULT ROMANCE

"Our Souls to Keep" by Stephanie Winkelhake
"When I Wake" by Stephanie Winkelhake
"Mind Traveler" by Diana Munoz Stewart
"The Culloden Immortals"  by TL Sumner
"The Jade Quest" by Mary Sullivan
"Sharing Hunter" by Julie Glover







Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Flirting with Fire Winner







The randomly chosen winner of a copy of

Flirting with Fire by Kate Meader is:

Debbie Oxier

Congratulations, Debbie!

Please send your full name and mailing address to us at:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Review - - Flirting with Fire

Flirting with Fire
By Kate Meader
Hot in Chicago - Book 1
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: March 24, 2015





California girl, Kinsey Taylor has "temporary" written all over her. After uprooting her life and moving to Chicago to marry her boyfriend of ten years, she finds herself dumped three weeks before the wedding. She's living in a corporate apartment, working in the mayor's PR department and has no interest in jumping into a new relationship anytime soon. But then she's assigned to fix the PR nightmare caused when a bar fight between firefighter Luke Almeida and a police officer hits YouTube and goes viral. She's not expecting to be attracted to a gorgeous man who she surmises has anger management issues. She's especially not expecting to like him, understand his reasons for slugging the cop or discover that he's so much more than what she first anticipated.

For Luke Almeida, family is everything. The protection of his Dempsey foster siblings is his first priority which is why he now finds himself at the mercy of the mayor's PR guru. Kinsey Taylor is a take-no-prisoners PR hot shot who turns his life upside down with calendar shoots that make him the laughing stock of the fire department and community events that force him to play nice with the cop who betrayed him and started the whole mess. He goes along with her plans in order to save his job and keep his firefighting family together but gradually his reasons for working with her turn personal. Desire flares, he starts to like her, respect her and, amazingly, thoughts of forever start whispering in his mind...and heart. But he's been burned before and so has she. They may be burning up the sheets but will either of them have the courage to lay their hearts on the line?

Kate Meader captured my interest with the hot, sexy cover of Flirting with Fire then reeled me in with her fast-paced story, sizzling chemistry and wonderfully complex characters. The Dempsey fosters are related not by blood but by heart and choice and, many times, those bonds are the strongest. In this first book we're also introduced to siblings, Wyatt (the quiet, introspective one) Alexandra "Alex" (the woman fighting for her place in a man's profession) and Gage (young, golden and openly gay) and given glimpses into their lives, personalities and future stories.  The fourth living sibling, Beck makes an appearance near the end of the book. Beck's story is told in Meader's novella, "Rekindle the Flame," part of the Baby, It's Cold Outside anthology released in October 2014.

Along with the heat and heart, there's also a fair amount of humor in this book. I love a story that touches all of my emotions and characters who carve out their own special place in my reader's heart. The Dempseys are well on their way to doing just that. I'm looking forward to Alex's story, Playing with Fire, scheduled for release September 29, 2015 and can't wait to find out if my suspicions about Wyatt's heroine turn out to be true.

~PJ

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review - - Last One Home


Last One Home
By Debbie Macomber
Publisher: Ballantine
Release Date: March 10, 2015


Cassie Carter grew up in a middle-class home with parents who loved one another and their three daughters and with an older and younger sister with whom she shared close ties despite sibling rivalry fueled by Cassie’s status as her father’s favorite. But at eighteen, with college on a four-year scholarship the next step in her life, a pregnant Cassie ran away to marry a man her father had forbidden her to see. Her husband insisted his job opportunities were better in Florida, about as far from her family’s home in Spokane, Washington as one could get. Instead of the happily-ever-after life of which she had dreamed, Cassie found herself trapped in a nightmare. Estranged from her family and isolated from her new community, she was left with no support system when her husband became physically abusive. Her daughter Amiee was seven when Cassie realized that her very life was at stake. Escaping with Amiee through the window of a locked bedroom, she found sanctuary in a shelter for women.

After testifying against her husband and seeing him sentenced to prison, Cassie began to build a new life for herself and her child. Rejected by her family who knew nothing of all she had endured, she depended upon food stamps and government housing while she earned a certificate in cosmetology. Five years later, she has created a home for her and Amiee in a modest apartment in Seattle where Cassie works as a hairstylist and volunteers as a victim advocate at a local shelter. She still struggles to make ends meet, but she dreams of going to college and getting a degree in social work.

Cassie’s life takes a turn for the better when she is approved for a Habitat for Humanity home and her older sister Karen contacts her. Although Karen is far from effusive when the sisters talk, Cassie is overjoyed with even a tenuous connection. Except for news of her parents’ deaths, Cassie has had almost no contact with her family since she left home more than a dozen years ago. Missing them has been a constant ache, and the possibility of providing her daughter not only with a new home but also the family Amiee hungers for seems to Cassie almost too good to be true.

Reestablishing a relationship with her sisters is not easy. Old resentments and guilt linger. Cassie, who thinks her sisters have near perfect lives, has told them nothing about the reasons for her split from her husband, but they too are struggling with problems. Karen, happily married with two children, discovers that her husband has lost his job but is too ashamed to tell her, and Nichole, mother of a toddler, finds out that her husband is following the example of his chronically unfaithful father. Cassie is also forced to admit that her first impression of Steve Brody, a successful contractor who is her supervisor as she puts in her sweat equity for the Habitat for Humanity program, is wrong. Rather than the judgmental jerk he seems to be initially, he is a still grieving widower who proves himself a friend when Cassie needs one. Steve is interested in becoming more than Cassie’s friend, but even though the attraction is strong and Amiee approves of the match, Cassie’s past has left her fearful and determined to protect her independence.

Last One Home is a rare standalone from Debbie Macomber whose popular series have made her a perennial on bestseller lists, but Ms. Macomber’s fans will find this story just as rewarding as her more usual fare. Cassie is a compelling character, and although the abused wife as heroine is a staple in romance and women’s fiction, Cassie’s lack of family and friends as well as her socio-economic status make her an exception.

She stayed because she didn’t feel it was an option to leave. She had no job, no money, no friends, no connections. She was completely dependent on Duke, and for more than her and Amiee’s physical well-being. Emotionally she was tied to Duke, but those ties were like barbed-wire fencing, ties that brought her nothing but pain. Still, she hadn’t been able to find the courage to leave, not until it became a life-or-death situation.

Her hard work, her love for her daughter, and her refusal to be defeated by her own bad choices in the past make Cassie an easy character to admire.  Although her relationship with Steve gives the novel a strong romantic thread, Cassie’s struggle to give her daughter a safe and happy life and the renewal of sisterly bonds lie at the center of this story.  Amiee with her eagerness to know more about her aunts and cousins, her enthusiasm for KFC, and her chatter about her BFF is an endearing and believable character, and the confining and defining family roles of childhood that complicate the reunion of Cassie and her sisters as much as their years of separation also has the ring of truth.

If you are a Macomber fan, you will be happy with this book. Readers who like women’s fiction stories that focus on the triumph of a female protagonist over obstacles that would have defeated a lesser spirit will enjoy Cassie’s story. Last One Home is likely to add another title to Debbie’s Macomber’s long list of beloved books.

~Janga