Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway - - A Lady's Code of Misconduct


A Lady’s Code of Misconduct
By Meredith Duran
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Reviewed by: Janga




For six years, orphan Jane Mason has endured immuration in the country while her paternal uncle and guardian embezzled from her inheritance and controlled her every move. She has watched as he played his corrupt political games and planned to marry her to his son, who is as loathsome as his father, albeit less powerful. Her only hope lies in somehow finding a husband before she is forced to marry her cousin. Her father’s will gives her control of her fortune upon her marriage and therein lies her chance for freedom. When her uncle discovers and successfully thwarts her first effort, Jane strikes an uneasy bargain with Crispin Burke, a political associate of her uncle, one who is his equal in ruthlessness and even more powerful. She will spy on her uncle for Crispin, and he will provide her with marriage papers signed by an avaricious archbishop that will stand up under any examination so long as her “husband” makes no objections.

The mysterious and ferociously ambitious Crispin is determined to become prime minister of England. He has crafted a plan that will bring down the current government and set the scene for his ascendancy, but before his plan reaches fruition, Crispin is brutally assaulted. He is not expected to survive the attack. Jane seizes the opportunity and claims Crispin as her husband. Her expectation is that he will die, she will have control of her fortune and she will be free to use her money in improving the lot of the poor and downtrodden. Things do not go as Jane expected, beginning with Crispin’s survival.

When Crispin regains consciousness, he has lost his memory of the immediate past five years. He has no memory of the attack upon him, of his political machinations, or of his bargain with Jane. Jane is terrified that his memory will return and he will expose her lie. Her fear is soon complicated by her growing feelings for the kinder, gentler Crispin who emerges as he recovers. For his part, Crispin is discovering that the young woman of whom he has no memory is exactly what he needs, an intelligent, accomplished political wife who balances his harshness. Can love flourish when a lie is its foundation?

In this fifth book in her Rules for the Reckless series, Meredith Duran takes some common tropes in historical romance—fake marriage, amnesia, and the redeemed hero among them—gives them a fresh twist, adds Victorian political intrigue and a touch of suspense, and gifts her readers with a novel that is as close to perfect as any historical romance in my memory. The characters are compelling. Subverted power employed by intelligent women who are denied legitimate power has long been a theme identified in literary fiction, but I have seldom seen it employed more deftly than in Duran’s talented hands in this book. Jane has depth, complexity, and believability as a woman of her time. The redemption of Crispin Burke is not a simplistic uncovering of a man’s better self. He begins as an embittered, single-minded man who sees power as revenge and validation and who has few reservations about what he is willing to do to achieve his goals. Even with the amnesia, his transformation is neither saccharine nor magical. Something of the essential Crispin remains. The villains are selfish, greedy, small-minded, and lacking in compassion and human decency. In other words, they are believable because readers know their contemporary counterparts.

Some writers are gifted storytellers, some are brilliant wordsmiths, and some few are both. Duran falls in the last group. A Lady’s Code of Misconduct engaged my mind and touched my heart—my criteria for a best book. The conflict (internal and external) demanded my attention from beginning to end, and I found the pacing superb. Duran’s prose is one of her strengths. It is lucid always and lyrical often, and the dialogue in this one is impeccable. The love scenes are sensual enough to please those who demand a high sizzle factor, but they are never mere titillation.

I have been a Duran fan since I read her first book, Duke of Shadows, upon PJ’s recommendation. All of her books are on my keeper shelves. I rank this new book with her very best. If you are a historical romance reader looking for a novel that will captivate with its craft and complexity, command your investment in substantive, unforgettable characters, and delight with its flawless prose, A Lady’s Code of Misconduct may be just the book you have been longing to read. I give it my highest recommendation. If I could add a few stars to the five above to emphasize how much I loved this book, I would do so.


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As noted in her bio below, Meredith Duran enjoys collecting old etiquette manuals, guidebooks to nineteenth-century London, and travelogues by intrepid Victorian women. 

Readers, what do you enjoy collecting? One randomly chosen person leaving a comment will receive a Reckless Reward: autographed copies of Fool Me Twice, Lady Be Good, and Luck Be A Lady. (U.S. only) Deadline to enter giveaway is 11:59 PM (PST) today.



Meredith Duran is the author of ten previous novels, including The Duke of Shadows (winner of the Gather.com First Chapters Romance Writing Competition); Wicked Becomes You (included on the Woman’s World List of Best Beach Reads for Summer 2010), and the USA TODAY bestseller and RITA Award Winner Fool Me Twice. She blames Anne Boleyn for sparking her lifelong obsession with British history, and for convincing her that princely love is no prize if it doesn’t come with a happily-ever-after. She enjoys collecting old etiquette manuals, guidebooks to nineteenth-century London, and travelogues by intrepid Victorian women. Visit her at MeredithDuran.com, on Twitter @meredithduran and FacebookAuthorMeredithDuran.




More Opportunities to Win! 
The twenty starred blogs (*) below will give away one set (Reckless Reward!) of three autographed copies in the Rules for the Reckless series: Fool Me TwiceLady Be Good, and Luck Be A Lady. You can enter on all participating sites, but you can only win once. To celebrate the fifth in the series, there will be five Reckless Reward giveaways per day beginning publication day, Tuesday, February 28th – Friday, March 3rd. U.S. only.

 Blog Tour:

Bookaholics Romance Book Club INTERVIEW WITH MEREDITH DURAN and  GIVEAWAY

Sunday, February 26th

Monday, February 27th

Tuesday, February 28th
Toot’s Book Reviews – Feature

Wednesday, March 1st

Thursday, March 2nd
Dirty Girl Romance - Spotlight
Bookhounds – Q&A

Friday, March 3rd
Night Owl Reviews – Author Guest Post

Saturday, March 4th

Sunday, March 5th

Monday, March 6th
Reading Frenzy – Spotlight
Bookish - Giveaway

Tuesday, March 7th
Bookworm2bookworm – Spotlight, Excerpt, and Review
Celtic Lady’s Reviews – Spotlight

Wednesday, March 8th

Monday, February 27, 2017

Review - - Montana Mornings

Montana Mornings
By Kim Law
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Reviewed by: Janga
  


Gabe Wilde grew up the son of a narcissistic mother, and he married a woman cut to the same pattern. After fighting for years to save his marriage, he has filed for divorce, and he and his seven-year-old daughter, Jenna, have returned to Birch Bay, Montana, where Gabe has accepted a job as high school science teacher and football coach. Gabe is cautiously optimistic about his new life, but his concerns about his daughter are deep. The effect of her parents’ divorce on Jenna are profound. She is no longer the sweet, loving child she once was. Although flashes of that child emerge often enough to keep Gabe’s hope alive, Jenna is often rude and obnoxious. Only with Haley Denton, Jenna’s best friend and step-daughter of Dani Wilde Denton (Montana Cherries) is Jenna like her old self. It is for this reason that Gabe pulls strings to have Jenna placed in the same class as Haley, a class taught by a substitute teacher, Erica Bird.

Erica divorced her cheating husband two years ago, after his girlfriend announced her pregnancy at a football game, but since he was her high school sweetheart, the son of a prominent family, and a local golden boy, she has found it difficult to move on. When she found herself more entangled that she ever wanted to be, she resigned her tenured position at the elementary school where she had won two teacher-of-the-year awards and accepted the temporary job in Birch Bay. Erica knew that she might see Gabe, but she wasn’t expecting him to be the parent of one of her students.

Gabe and Erica have a history. They dated in college, breaking up their senior year after Gabe met Michelle, the woman who became his wife. Erica returned to her hometown and married J.C. Bird, the guy she dated in high school. Now Erica and Gabe are both free, and it is soon clear that they are still attracted to one another. They are also mature enough now to appreciate qualities in each other that they valued less as college students. But neither has completely cut the tendrils of the past, and Jenna’s needs must be considered. Stolen meetings are one thing, but building a life together is quite different. Are Gabe and Erica truly ready to commit to one another?

This is the third novel in Law’s excellent series, The Wildes of Birch Bay. It is one of the more realistic portrayals of divorce that I have encountered in romance fiction. For one thing, although Gabe and Erica’s situations are different, both demonstrate that divorce is not always the clean severing of a relationship that some novels suggest. For another, Jenna’s insecurities and her acting out show how divorce can affect children. Law is particularly effective at showing a young child’s mixed emotions about the absent parent and blame assigned to the custodial parents. Gabe and Erica are likeable, sympathetic characters, but it is Jenna even when she is at her brattiest, who will break the reader’s heart.

The secondary characters are also deftly drawn. Gabe’s family proves that he can depend on them when he needs them, whether it is providing an assist with child care or taking an active role in his battle with his malicious, conscienceless ex. I really appreciated that the Wildes have necessary roles to play and add to the novel’s emotional power rather than merely reminding readers that this book is part of a series. And I loved Bree, Erica’s free-spirited, forthright sister. Some readers may be bothered by the lack of redeeming qualities in the two exes. I’m not a fan of one-note villains, but I have seen enough of narcissists (Gabe’s ex) and over-indulged, eternal frat boys (Erica’s ex) in real life to find Michelle and J.C. credible.

Montana Morning can be read as standalone, but it will offer a more nuanced, more complex understanding of Gabe and Jenna for those who have read Montana Cherries and Montana Rescue. The first is an exceptional story, and the other two are strong books that you will be glad you read. I recommend all three books, and I hope I’ll have the chance to recommend Cord Wilde’s book. He is a most intriguing character.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review - - Perfect for You

Perfect for You
By Candis Terry
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Reviewed by: Janga
    
 




When Declan Kincade’s executive assistant Brooke Hastings, offers to accompany him on a trip to his family’s vineyard in Vancouver, it seems the ideal solution to Declan’s need to be in two places at once. Brooke’s presence will allow him to be in Vancouver to do his part in keeping Sunshine Creek Vineyard operating in the black while Dec and his siblings deal with family issues and, at the same time, enable him to keep the wealthy clients of his LA financial investment and wealth management firm happy. But from the moment Brooke persuades him that instead of a quick flight from LA to Vancouver, they should turn Declan’s trip home into a road trip in a red convertible, Declan’s world begins to change. He has been having trouble maintaining a proper professional distance from Brooke since his twin brother’s careless comment about Brooke’s hotness, and the intimacy of the fifteen-hour automobile trip erodes his barriers between the personal and the professional.

Brooke has been dreaming about Declan for years and she seizes the opportunity of the road trip to push against his rule-bound ways. From her choice of clothing to bucket lists to unplanned stopovers in romantic settings, she challenges Declan’s habitual control. When the two arrive at the family vineyard, she has the encouragement of her boss’s rowdy brothers and imaginative teenage sister in shaking up Declan’s orderly world and forcing him to deal with feelings that move him well beyond his comfort zone. But when Brooke refuses to accept less from Declan than she deserves, he has to choose between the successful but circumscribed world he has created and the risk of a love that offers happiness he never thought could be his.

Terry’s second book in her Sunshine Creek Vineyard series (following A Better Man) takes one of my favorite storylines, the uptight, stuffy hero whose world is transformed by a determined heroine with a freer spirit and an optimistic outlook, and gives readers another winning tale. Declan has reasons for his reserve and limited focus, but he is strung so tightly that the tension is almost tangible. He needs Brooke even if he is slow to realize it. There is never any doubt that Brooke loves him and hopes for an HEA, but she is no spineless wonder who is willing to sacrifice all she is for love. I was thrilled with the way she deals with her disappointment.

The Kincade siblings, including Jordan and his fiancĂ©e Lucy from book one, add interest and appeal to the story without distracting from the central couple. More of the family secret is revealed, but there is enough left to hook readers on the continuing mystery. Despite these connections, Perfect for You can easily be read as a standalone. I loved Terry’s Sweet, Texas books and wasn’t certain this series could match it. Based on the first two books, I think the chances that it will are excellent. If you like contemporary romance that offers appealing characters and a mix of the lighthearted and the angsty, the sweet and the sexy, I recommend Perfect for You.  I’m adding the next book in the series, Tangled Up in Tinsel (September 26) to my TBR list. It is Parker Kincade’s story. A Christmas book with a chef hero—I am sold already.



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:

PROS:
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.

CONS:

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?”