Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review - - Suddenly Engaged

Suddenly Engaged
By Julia London
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Kyra Kokinos was once a hopeful, single twentysomething in New York City with a promising career as an assistant editor for a fitness magazine and an active social life. Unprotected sex with a friend of the groom at her boss’s destination wedding left her pregnant. The guy involved is not returning her phone calls or texts. When she tracks him down at his workplace, he offers her money for an abortion. He has no interest in becoming a father. It might interfere with his wedding plans to his girlfriend of two years. More than six years later, Kyra is a single mother working the day shift as a server in an upscale restaurant in Lake Haven and hoping her tips are enough to pay the incompetent babysitter who is all she can afford. She spends the rest of her time caring for her bright, energetic, six-year-old daughter Ruby, worrying that she is not a good mother, and studying for her real estate license in hopes of making a better life for Ruby.

Dax Bishop is a reclusive curmudgeon who designs and makes custom furniture. He left his job as a paramedic in New Jersey after his ex-wife, who left him after twelve years of marriage for one of his female co-workers, announced her pregnancy. The infertility treatments finally worked. Dax is thrilled that he is about to become a father, but he is not happy that he will be forced to share parenting responsibilities with his ex’s partner. Still, he is determined to be an involved dad. With all this on his mind and his flourishing business, Dax just wants to be left alone with his dog Otto, and he is not pleased with the woman and child who are his new, noisy neighbors. He finds Ruby’s frequent intrusions into his space particularly bothersome.

However, the ebullient Ruby with her non-stop chatter is a match for the grumpiest neighbor and she soon wins Dax’s affection. He has been aware of Kyra’s charms from the beginning, and mother and child are soon part of his life. Dax and Kyra move from tentative friendship to a comfortable relationship as lovers. When Ruby needs surgery to remove a brain tumor, Dax suggests that he and Kyra marry so that Ruby will be covered by his insurance. Kyra loves Dax, but she must decide if she wants a marriage based on the need for Dax to save her and Ruby.

My favorite Julia London books are her contemporaries, and this one has the likable but credibly flawed characters and emotionally satisfying situations that make London a favorite. Kyra’s concerns about paying the bills, relying too often on fast food, and delaying auto maintenance reflect the issues many people face. I found the ordinariness of these character’s lives refreshing. They live in rented cottages, not luxury homes or penthouses. Dax’s problems are not economic, but his hurt pride and his dismay that his life hasn’t turned out the way he planned are rooted in reality. Cheers to London that Dax’s ex and her partner are neither demonized nor valorized.

I really liked the way the relationship between Dax and Kyra developed. They are aware of one another physically, and these feelings intensify. But they also grow to like each other, to enjoy each other’s company, to share each other’s lives. Ruby is a real kid, although a bit precocious. She is sweet and saucy, funny--sometimes unintentionally--excited about her world, and totally endearing, but sometimes she is cross and disobedient and talkative enough to make a parent long for bedtime. Her relationship with Dax is heartwarming and as important to the story as the relationship of Dax and Kyra.

Suddenly Engaged is the third book in the Lake Haven series, but it can easily be read as a standalone. I had not read the earlier books, and I had no difficulty with this one. If you like contemporary romance that evokes laughter, tears, and empathy, you should add this one to your TBR list.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review - - Indigo Lake

Indigo Lake
By Jodi Thomas
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: July 18, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

The Hamilton and Davis families have a history—a century of feuding that has dwindled to little more than dark tales of violent death, lingering ghosts, and ancient curses since the only survivors of the two families are a rootless stranger who has never set foot on Hamilton land and two sisters, struggling to get by, and to care for their Apache-Irish grandmother who keeps the stories of the feud alive.

Blade Hamilton never knew his father, and he is shocked to learn that the man has left him Hamilton Acres, overgrown land that used to be the family ranch, and the ancestral house, which looks like a setting for a horror movie. Blade grew up with a wandering mother who reinvented herself with each successive husband and whose emotional ties to her son were almost nonexistent. All he knew about his father was his name. He has never called any place home, a habit reinforced by his military service and his current job as a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Other than a certain curiosity, he has no feelings about the land he has inherited. His plans are to sell the property, which he guesses is less worth than the vintage motorcycle on which he rode into Crossroads, Texas.

Dakota Davis delayed her plan to become an architect five years ago when her mother was killed in an automobile accident that left Maria, Dakota’s older sister, blind. Dakota was only twenty, but she grew up in a hurry. With her mother dead, her grandmother inhabiting her own version of reality, and Maria recovering in the hospital, Dakota became head of the family. Now she supports her small family by working as Crossroads' only real estate agent. Her income is supplemented by the sale of Maria’s homemade jellies and jams. At night, she studies architecture and dreams of the houses she longs to build. Between her job, her studies, acting as errand girl for Maria’s growing business, and keeping an eye on her grandmother, Dakota has no time to regret her nonexistent social life. When she first sees Blade, she thinks he is a Hamilton ghost, but it takes only one meeting for him to become fully flesh and blood and a major irritant, albeit one who is too good-looking for his own good—or for hers.

Blade expects to be in town for only two weeks. He is not interested in permanence, and Dakota is not his type anyway--or so he keeps telling himself. Dakota doesn’t have time for the complication that is Blade, and she is still half certain that the only safe Hamilton is a dead one. But she can’t stop thinking about Blade. Then, the push-pull of their relationship takes a turn when Blade is shot after he is deputized by Sheriff Dan Brigman who has a double murder and other suspicious activities to investigate. Can a wandering Hamilton with no home and a hot-tempered Davis solidly rooted in her home have a future together?

Meanwhile, Lauren Brigman has returned to Crossroads still in search of herself and her purpose in life. She publishes an online community newspaper, considers other things she might write, and spends a lot of time thinking about her might-have-been-but-never-was love affair with Lucas Reyes. Lucas, now a successful lawyer, believes he is a danger to Lauren and tries to stay away from her, a task made easier when he insists that Lauren’s father lock him up in the local jail as suspect #1, even though no one really believes honorable Lucas is the murderer. The bad guys are caught, and lots of Crossroads characters prove themselves heroes. But after a dozen years of the on and off (mostly off) of Lauren and Lucas, can this pair finally find happiness together?

Jodi Thomas has long been one of the best storytellers writing romance, and she has the awards to prove it, including a spot in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Her Harmony series is one of my all-time favorites, and I have enjoyed the earlier Ransom Canyon novels. Indigo Lake is the sixth book in that series, and I’m of two minds about it. I loved Blade and Dakota. Thomas is unique among the authors whom I read regularly in her gift for creating off-beat characters who qualify as outsiders. The twists and quirks in these characters and their stories’ underlying affirmation that everyone deserves to love and be loved has kept me reading Thomas for many years. Blade and Dakota are part of this tradition. They are appealing as individuals, and as a couple, they offer satisfied sighs and smiles. Since I have followed the series, I also enjoyed seeing some favorite characters from earlier books play a role in book six. Charley Collins (Lone Heart Pass) is at the top of that list.

If the novel consisted only of Blade and Dakota’s story, I’d rank it a solid four-star read. But there is also Lauren and Lucas’s story. It was a major disappointment. These are characters that readers met in Ransom Canyon, the first book in the series. Across the series, readers have seen them move from high school to college to post-college work. Many have viewed them as a couple meant to be together, but Lucas’s determination to achieve has delayed any significant connection again and again. I’m sure I am not the only reader who was invested in their story and rooting for their HEA. Theirs was the story I wanted to love. Instead I found the story’s development thin, and Lauren distressingly passive. By the end, I was largely indifferent to what happened to them.

A more minor concern was my confusion about Dakota’s history. The family land and the Davis feud with the Hamiltons came through her mother’s line. Dakota and Maria use their mother’s maiden name. I’m not sure why. It is unclear what happened to the girls’ father. At one point, Dakota’s thoughts reveal that he is dead: “Her father died young, trying to farm rocky, uneven terrain.” Later she says to her grandmother, “My father is not dead. At least not that I know of. He just left us the month after I was born, remember?”  I read the book twice and did a dedicated search of the words “father” and “Davis” and was unable to find answers to my questions. I should add that I read an ARC, and it is possible that contradictions were resolved in the final copy. As I said, this is not a major point, but such details can drive me batty. :)

Overall, this is not the best book in the series, but Blade and Dakota make it worth reading nonetheless. If you have read the earlier books, the positive will outweigh the negatives. You should add the book to your list. If you are new to the series, start with Ransom Canyon. Maria Davis, an interesting, endearing character, will be the heroine of a novella, A Christmas Affair (October 1), and I’ll definitely be reading that one. Thomas begins a new series in the spring. I look forward to that as well.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spotlight on 2017 RITA Finalists - - Historical Romance: Long

On Thursday, July 27th, the Romance Writers of America® will announce the 2017 recipients of their prestigious RITA®. The award, given in recognition of excellence in romance publishing, is named for RWA's first president, Rita Clay Estrada and the annual award ceremony, held this year at the Walt Disney World® Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, is a highlight of RWA's national conference. I'll be there and will be taking lots of photos to share with all of you after the conference. If you want to follow along with the announcements of the winners on the 27th, you can do so on these RWA social media platforms: 


RWA will also be once again streaming the ceremony live for everyone who can't be in Orlando. Go to www.rwa.org at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern), Thursday, July 27th to watch.  

For more information about the RITA® award, click here.  For a full list of this year's RITA® finalists, click here.

Today, we're spotlighting the four books that are finalists in the Historical Romance:Long category. 

Historical Romance: Long

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase
Avon Books
May Chen, Editor

Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can't see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax's nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.

Though he's unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford's never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn't part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her . . .

It's an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton's most adored heiress and London's most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?

Loretta Chase has worked in academe, retail, and the visual arts, as well as on the street—as a meter maid—and in video, as a scriptwriter. She might have developed an excitingly checkered career had her spouse not nagged her into writing fiction. Her bestselling historical romances, set in the Regency and Romantic eras of the early nineteenth century, have won a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America's RITA®.

Where to Buy:

Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Michele Bidelspach, Editor

Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that's where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . . 

Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney's game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who's been robbing London's rich and powerful. He's no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won't rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . . 

Anna Harrington fell in love with historical romances--and all those dashing Regency heroes--while living in London, where she studied literature and theatre. She loves to travel, fly airplanes, and hike, and when she isn't busy writing her next novel, she loves fussing over her roses in her garden. Visit her website at www.AnnaHarringtonBooks.com or follow her at @aharrington2875.

Where to Buy:

by Laura Lee Guhrke
Avon Books
Erika Tsang, Editor

After spending his youth as one of the wildest rakes in the ton, Lord Denys Somerton has devoted the past six years to putting his past behind him. He is determined to fulfill his duties, find a suitable wife, and start a family, but that plan changes when Lola Valentine—the red-haired temptress from his past—returns to London, sparking the same irresistible desires that almost ruined his life once before.

Lola is a woman with no romantic illusions. She knew love would never be enough for a British lord and an American girl from the wrong side of the tracks. For Denys’s sake, she walked away from him and the glittering life he offered. But when an unexpected inheritance brings her back to London, Lola discovers the passion between them is as hot as ever. Can they vanquish it, or will it burn out of control again and destroy them both?

Laura Lee Guhrke spent seven years in advertising, had a successful catering business, and managed a construction company before she decided writing novels was more fun. A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Laura has penned more than twenty historical romances. Her books have received many award nominations, and she is the recipient of romance fiction's highest honor: the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. She lives in the Northwest with her husband (or, as she calls him, her very own romance hero), along with two diva cats and a Golden Retriever happy to be their slave.

Where to Buy:

by Sabrina York
St. Martin's Press
Monique Patterson, Editor

Andrew Lochlannach is famous for his conquests, on and off the battlefield. When a fellow warrior challenges him to a kissing contest, he wastes no time in planting his lips on ninety-nine lovely lasses-an impressive feat of seduction that gets him banished to the hinterlands. Still, Andrew has no regrets about his exploits-especially his embrace with the most beguiling woman he's ever met...

With flaming red hair and a temper to match, Susana is not some innocent farmgirl who gives herself over easily to a man, even one as ruggedly handsome as Andrew. The wicked Scot may have won a kiss from the headstrong beauty in a moment of mutual desire, but Susana refuses to be just another one of his conquests. Andrew must convince the fiery lass that even though he is not playing a game, losing her is not an option...

Her Royal Hotness, Sabrina York, is the New York Times and USA 

Today Bestselling author of steamy, humorous romance. Her titles range from sweet & snarky to scorching romance-historical, contemporary & paranormal. Visit her webpage at www.sabrinayork.com to check out her books, excerpts and contests.

Where to Buy:

Click bit.ly/RITA17BlogTour to visit the other stops on the tour. 

Have you read any of the books in this category? 
Do you have a favorite?
Will you be in Orlando for the RWA Conference or watching the live stream?

One person leaving a comment before 11:00 PM, July 22, 2017 will receive a package of historical novels from my conference stash.  (U.S. only)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review - - The Light in Summer

The Light in Summer
By Mary McNear
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Single mother Billy Harper and her son Luke, eight at the time, moved to Butternut Lake, Minnesota, five years ago and found life good in the small town. Billy enjoyed her job as librarian and Luke made a couple of friends from whom he became inseparable. But things have changed in the past year. Billy’s father’s death has been difficult for her, but the loss of his grandfather, the only father figure in his life, has transformed Luke from a good kid and a lovable companion into a surly teen who avoids conversations with his mom, hangs out with a different set of friends, and gets suspended from school. Billy is worried. Even rereading her beloved Jane Austen novels provides little solace from her concerns.

Billy was still a teen herself when she gave birth to Luke. She accompanied her dad on a trip to an Alaskan fishing lodge where she met Wesley Fitzgerald, a good-looking fishing guide only a few years older than Billy herself. What began as flirtation and a spontaneous invitation to a party ended with eighteen-year-old Billy no longer a virgin. A month later, Billy realizes she is pregnant. Wesley has moved on, and Billy is left to bring up her son, with a great deal of help from her parents in the early years. When Luke was younger, his questions about his father could be answered with the minimal information Billy had, but thanks to a private investigator hired by her father, Billy knows more about her son’s father now. And Luke, filled with angst and anger about his fatherless state, will no longer be satisfied with the old answers to his questions.

Cal Cooper is at a turning point in his life. He has filed for divorce from his wife of five years after he discovered a deception he could not forgive. Differences about the kind of buildings to design have also led him to dissolve his partnership in the Seattle architectural firm he helped found. Cal hopes that a summer in Butternut Lake where he spent his childhood summers will give him the time and space to find a new direction for his life. He rediscovers the passion for building homes that led him into architecture, and he meets Billy Harper.

Neither Billy nor Cal is looking for a romantic relationship to further complicate their already complicated lives, but they keep running into each other. The combination of comfort and chemistry they share is rare, and they are both smart enough to know that. But the entry of Wesley into Luke’s life leaves Billy anxious, and Cal must make some decisions about his professional life before he and Billy decide where their relationship is headed.

The Light in Summer is the fifth book in McNear’s heartwarming Butternut Lake series. Like the other books in the series, it is a quiet book with likable characters and credible conflicts, one of my favorite types. The story illustrates the choices-have-consequences theme on multiple levels. Billy learned that lesson young when she chose to lie to Wesley about her experience and her protection from pregnancy and it is reinforced when she delays telling Luke about his father.  Cal recognizes that his complacency played a role in the failure of his marriage. Luke not only must deal with suspension and loss of privileges because of his bad choices, but he also learns from the more serious consequences his troubled friends face.

Fans of the series will enjoy the appearance of characters from earlier books. Cal is the brother of Allie Cooper Beckett Ford whose story, Up at Butternut Lake, began the series, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpses of Allie, Walker, Wyatt, and Brooke. I also thought it was a great touch that Billy and Cal meet at the wedding of Daisy and Will. Despite all these connections, The Light in Summer can be read as a standalone. If you like the small-town series of Robyn Carr, RaeAnne Thayne, or Sherryl Woods, I predict you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Review - - Serenity Harbor

Serenity Harbor
By RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Katrina Bailey has returned to Haven Point, Idaho, for the wedding of her sister Wyn and Cade Emmett (Riverbend Road), but she is not the party girl who left her job as an elementary school teacher to accompany a boyfriend to South America. Her experiences teaching English and volunteering at an orphanage in Colombia were transformative. She plans to return to Colombia in a month to complete her adoption of Gabriella, a special-needs child whom Kat met at the orphanage. Gabi, not quite four, won Kat’s heart with her sweetness and fragility, and Kat’s focus now is on keeping her promise to return for Gabi. When a new acquaintance, Bowie Callahan, offers her a job as temporary nanny to his young brother who has been diagnosed with autism, Kat barely hesitates before turning him down. She thinks her time should be devoted to her family.

Bowie is the new research and development director for Caine Tech. A self-made man who has battled his way from his beginnings as the son of a teenage mother addicted to alcohol, drugs, and men to his current wealth and respected position, Bowie has only recently learned of the existence of Milo, a half-brother more than twenty-five years younger. He could have turned down guardianship, but he chose to accept responsibility for the brother whose life so far has mirrored Bowie’s childhood. However, with the best intentions, he is at a loss when it comes to dealing with six-year-old Milo. He has hired a nanny who is an expert at caring for autistic children, but he is desperate to find a caregiver for Milo until she arrives in three weeks. When Katrina Bailey demonstrates an intuitive understanding of Milo and prevents a grocery-store meltdown, she seems perfect for the job. Bowie is willing to pay her an exorbitant salary to take the three-week position.

When Gabi’s adoption requires more money, Katrina accepts Bowie’s offer. She soon finds herself falling for her young charge and his older brother, “a man who smelled like sin and kissed like salvation.” But Kat is always conscious that Gabi is depending on her, and regardless of her feelings, she cannot allow Bowie and Milo to distract her. Kat’s presence has changed the lives of both Callahan brothers and Bowie is worried about how empty their lives will be without her. With conflicting needs, can Kat and Bowie find their way to an HEA?

Serenity Harbor is the sixth book in Thayne’s Haven Point series, and it has her trademark qualities of heartwarming small-town community and ordinary, imperfect characters whose stories reveal their extraordinariness. On the surface, Kat with her Haven Point roots and loving family seems to have nothing in common with Bowie and his troubled childhood, but they both have known the sting of being “different” and the resulting uncertainty that causes them to question their own worth. When their mutual devotion to Milo is added, the two are perfectly paired. Bowie is a wonderful hero, scarred but valiant and with a generous heart. Kat is a bit too single-minded and unwilling to compromise, but she is overall a likable heroine. And Milo steals the reader’s heart as effortlessly as he steals Kat’s.

Although the book can be read as a standalone, fans of the series will enjoy seeing many familiar characters and will doubtless take special delight in being a guest at Wyn and Cade’s wedding. I give Thayne top marks for her consistency. Her name on a book lets me know that I am going to find characters about whom I care, a story in which I can believe, and a setting that feels like home. I found all these things once again in this book. If you are a fan of sweet, small-town contemporary romance, you should be reading RaeAnne Thayne.

Review - - Blue Hollow Falls

Blue Hollow Falls
By Donna Kauffman
Publisher: Kensington/Zebra
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Freed from two decades of playing the parental role for her free-spirited mother, Sunny Goodwin, a horticulturist for the U. S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D. C., is celebrating her freedom despite her very real grief for her mother. Sunny was brought up by her mother who after Sunny’s birth left the Virginia commune where she had lived for nearly twenty years to rear her daughter in a row house in Old Alexandria deeded to her by Doyle Bartholomew Hartwell. Eight months after her mother’s death, Sunny discovers that Hartwell was her father and that he has left her part ownership in an old silk mill located in Blue Hollow Falls, a Virginia mountain town that is a world away from Sunny’s urban life. Her inheritance also includes Bailey Sutton, a ten-year-old half-sister who is an old soul; Addison Pearl “Addie” Whitaker, a stepmother who insists Sunny is family; and Sawyer Hartwell, a handsome veteran who Sunny suspects may be her half-brother.

Sunny never plans for Blue Hollow Falls and the people there to become a significant part of her life. She does feel a connection to Bailey, but the feelings Sawyer evokes are not at all fraternal. Sunny is eager to return to her own world, but Addie has claimed Sunny as part of her makeshift family, and Sunny finds the pull of family hard to resist. Blue Hollow Falls and its residents offer Sunny peace and a sense of belonging that she needs, and Sawyer’s plans for the old silk mill offer their own fascination. When Sawyer proves to be her father’s adopted son and no blood relation, the pull grows even stronger. Can she reconcile her two worlds, or will she be forced to choose one and reject the other?

Kauffman excels at creating a powerful sense of place through geographical and historical details of Blue Hollow Falls. Sunny and Sawyer are likable characters who deserve happiness and readers will find it easy to root for their HEA. I especially appreciated that Sunny’s work as a horticulturist and Sawyer’s vision for transforming the old mill are essential parts of the story rather than mere throwaway references to their jobs. Earth mother Addie and young Bailey are also well-developed characters who add to the story’s emotional appeal. Seth Brogan, Sawyer’s war buddy and fellow Blue Hollow citizen, is a charming flirt with hidden layers, and he clearly merits his own story, as does the mysterious Will McCall.

Blue Hollow Falls is a promising introduction to this series. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to more stories set in this Virginia town. If you like contemporary romance rooted in community and connection in the vein of RaeAnne Thayne and Sherryl Woods, I recommend that you add this book to your TBR stack. The charms of the Blue Ridge Mountains claim the heart of another heroine in the next in the series, a Christmas novella, The Inn at Blue Hollow Falls, an October 31 release that I have added to my must-read list.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review - - Chasing Down a Dream

Chasing Down a Dream
By Beverly Jenkins
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: July 4, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

For the eighth time, Beverly Jenkins takes her readers to Henry Adams, Kansas, the historic African American town that Bernadine Brown bought on Ebay in Bring on the Blessings, the first book in the series. The Julys, one of the town’s leading families, once again play a prominent role in the story. Matriarch Tamar wonders if newcomers are giving her due respect, collects speeding tickets to her dismay, and welcomes into her home a dying cousin for whom she has had few kind feelings. Tamar’s son Malachi, dealing with blows to his image of himself in his private life and in the running of the Dog and Cow diner, makes some bad choices and reverts to old patterns. Meanwhile, Malachi’s partner in the diner, Rocky Dancer is preparing for her wedding with eagerness and fear and planning changes for the diner.

Other citizens of Henry Adams, some familiar and some new, move in and out of the story, but the central thread involves Gemma Dahl, a grocery store cashier, who is rearing her twelve-year-old grandson, Wyatt, after his mother’s death in Afghanistan. Dahl, a white woman whose teenage pregnancy after an affair with a married man has made her a scarlet woman in the eyes of her hometown--even decades later, has settled in Henry Adams, with Bernadine Brown’s approval, for freedom from the slurs and for the educational benefits the school system offers Wyatt. When Lucas and Jasmine Herman, orphans who land in Henry Adams after a tornado-related accident in which their uncle and new guardian is killed, need sanctuary, Gemma opens her home and her heart. Bernadine and others are supportive of Gemma fostering the two children, who quickly bond with Gemma and come to feel at home in Henry Adams, but the social worker assigned to the case is adamant that Lucas and Jaz not be placed with a white foster parent. Much of the novel focuses on Gemma’s trials and victories and the fate of the two children.

The multitude of plot threads that make up this book may be confusing to new readers, but once they realize that the town of Henry Adams rather than a single focal character is the heart of Chasing Down a Dream and all the other books in the series, all will become clear and they will likely fall under the spell Jenkins weaves in this winning series. Fans of the series will delight in catching up with favorite characters. Tamar July is as wise and endearing as ever. Rocky and Jack’s wedding is a highlight, as is Bernadine’s smackdown of one of Jack’s racist relatives. The children are growing, as is the town.

This eighth novel may not be the best in the series, but it is an engaging story nonetheless. And every visit to Henry Adams is a joy. It is a place where the evils of real life may intrude but where power is used benevolently, justice triumphs eventually, penitents are forgiven, and love thy neighbor is not a truism but a way of life in all its New Testament amplitude. I never miss a Blessings book. If you enjoy feel-good reads with a large cast of characters and some lovely romance threads, I recommend this book.

Review - - Lost and Found Sisters

Lost and Found Sisters
By Jill Shalvis
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Quinn Wellers is proud of having risen to the rank of sous chef at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant by the age of twenty-nine, but otherwise her life seems to have been leached of color since the death of her sister Beth in a single-car automobile accident two years ago. Quinn moves through her days in a routine that requires no risk and little thought. That changes one day when a Harry Potter lookalike in her favorite coffeeshop turns out to be a lawyer who delivers the news that Quinn is adopted and that her birth mother has left her an inheritance in Wildstone, California. Quinn is stunned by the information and reluctant to believe it.

Her parents’ confirmation of the lawyer’s claims leaves her angry with her parents for keeping the truth from her and uncertain about how the revelation affects her identity and her relationships, including her sense of connection to Beth, who was not her biological sister. Quinn leaves for Wildstone, still so distraught that she has a panic attack upon arrival. There she discovers that her inheritance includes half interest in a house and a decidedly untrendy café and potential guardianship of a fifteen-year-old sister, Tilly, who is filled with anger and grief over the loss of her mother and convinced that Quinn is just one more person who will leave her.

Quinn’s life is in Los Angeles—her parents, her friends, and her career. Small-town Wildstone is the antithesis of all she has ever known. Nevertheless, she decides to remain in Wildstone temporarily because “she’d already lost one sister to tragedy. She didn’t want to lose another to cowardice.”  She discovers the appeal of the town’s quirky characters who hope she will reopen her mother’s café, the hunky Mick Hennessey whose own life is in San Francisco but whose ties to Wildstone cannot be denied, and Quinn’s personal ghost—her sister Beth who assures Quinn that their bond of sisterhood is forever, even as she campaigns for Quinn’s presence in Wildstone. Quinn must decide not only where she will live but also who she is, what direction her life will take, and how to build a relationship with the smart, secretive, needy Tilly.

Lost and Found Sisters is Jill Shalvis’s first venture into women’s fiction, and fans of her contemporary romance fiction will be pleased that it contains this popular author’s usual snark, humor, and skillfully drawn characters who demand the reader’s emotional investment. However, the heroine’s journey rather than romance is the center of this novel. Quinn’s sense of self is threatened not only by learning that she is adopted but also by feeling that she was thrown away by her birth mother. She must come to terms with her adoptive parents’ deception and her biological parents’ choices, and also with Beth’s loss and Tilly’s presence. Mick has some family issues of his own, but, despite the plans of an ex-girlfriend who would like to eradicate the ex in their relationship, he is ideal hero material, capable of killing monster bugs and exposing corruption in local government, of helping with Tilly and ending Quinn’s loneliness in and out of bed.

Although I loved the characters in this book, it fell short of five stars for me because there is so much going on that the story’s tapestry seemed tangled at times. In addition to the primary plot, Shalvis weaves in threads concerning Quinn’s former boyfriend/current friend, Mick’s best friend’s substance abuse and love life, and Tilly’s first love, an abused teen. Although all these story lines make for rich potential for other books in the series (This one is billed as Wildstone #1), they blur the focus on the central story.

Regardless, I finished the book with an understanding of Quinn, confidence in her future with Tilly and Mick, and an eagerness to read more of Shalvis’s Wildstone-set women’s fiction. If you are a Shalvis fan, you will want to add this one to your collection. If you are a fan of small-town contemporary romance, I recommend it with the caveat that you remember it is more a hybrid of two genres than strictly women’s fiction or romance.