Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review -- The Marine's Secret Daughter


The Marine's Secret Daughter
By Carrie Nichols
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Release Date: January 16, 2018 (Paperback)
Release Date: February 1, 2018 (Digital)
Reviewed by PJ
  



After three tours in Afghanistan, Marine Sergeant Riley Cooper has seen more than his share of death and destruction but the latest attack that killed a man in his command and left Riley wounded in both body and soul has resulted in a mandatory 30 day recovery period stateside. He could have gone anywhere but, for Riley, there was only one choice: Loon Lake, Vermont and the vacation cottage his parents had rented when he was growing up. The tranquil small town is the site of his best memories, happy times spent with Liam McBride and his younger sister, Meggie. The McBrides were his respite from his warring parents, his example of what a loving, supportive family should be. And Meg...she was the shining star of those memories. The last time he was in Loon Lake - six years earlier - they had one perfect night together before he shipped out for his first overseas tour. By the time Meg's letters reached him in Afghanistan, he had seen too much heartache and despair. The Marine Corps was his life and he couldn't sentence her to a life of living each day not knowing if he would live or die so he returned the letters unopened. In his mind, cutting her loose to pursue her teaching career in Boston and a life with someone else was the kindest thing he could do, even if the thought tore him to pieces.

Single mom, Meghan McBride has built a good life for herself and her daughter, Fiona even if it isn't the one she had envisioned. She's back in Loon Lake permanently, has finally finished college, and is ready to begin her teaching career. Then, the man she was certain she would never see again, the man who broke her heart, the man who has no idea he has a daughter, lands on her doorstep with plans to spend the next thirty days in the cottage next door. It doesn't take long for Meg to realize her feelings for Riley never went away but were simply waiting to be reignited, especially as they get to know one another again. Is this their second chance to get things right or will it all turn to dust when Riley finally discovers what she's been keeping from him?

I've already read this book twice and enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first. Nichols uses a few of my favorite romance tropes - secret baby, second-chances, best friend's younger sister - to good effect in this heart-tugging, emotional contemporary romance. Meg and Riley are both complex, fully-dimensional characters with whom I felt an immediate connection. They're good, likeable, honorable people who deserve their happy ending. I loved their chemistry, which sizzles, but, especially, their friendship, the rock-solid foundation of their love. While Fiona doesn't appear until more than halfway through the book, she's both a heart-stealer and a scene-stealer, leaving laughter and happy tears in her wake. Nichols does a beautiful job of capturing the shock, uncertainty, terror (on Riley's part), and deep, unconditional love that unfolds as Riley and Fiona come to know one another. Nothing can bring a tough Marine to his knees like the love of a five-year-old little girl who holds his heart.

After I finished reading this debut book from Carrie Nichols, I discovered that the manuscript was the 2016 Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® award winner for Short Contemporary Romance. It is certainly deserving of the award. I've added Nichols to my authors to watch list and am eager to see what she brings us next. 


Because I enjoy celebrating debut authors and because this story touched my heart, I'm giving away one Kindle copy of The Marine's Secret Daughter to a randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before 11:00 pm, January 28, 2018.

So, tell me...

What are your favorite romance tropes?

Where would you most like to go for rest and relaxation?

Have you ever had a crush on a sibling's best friend?



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Most Anticipated Romances - - First Quarter 2018


Janga:


We’re only weeks into 2018, and it’s already shaping up to be another great year for romance readers. I started my new reading year with Kate Moore’s A Husband Hunter’s Guide to London, a pleasing blend of romance and mystery that features a heroine who has spent a decade living in the Middle East and is unaccustomed to English society. This one has been released already but it was on my most anticipated list. 



Lauren Willig’s The English Wife is also on shelves already. A Gilded Age mystery by a gifted writer—this one has been on my can’t-wait-to-read list since I first learned about it. 



January 23 will see Susan Mallery’s Sisters Like Us, the fourth Mischief Bay book, and Jill Shalvis’s About That Kiss, the fifth Heartbreaker Bay book (Kylie and Joe’s story) released. I eagerly anticipate every Susan Mallery book, and I’m a huge Heartbreaker Bay fan, so both of those are must-reads. 





The last Tuesday of the month boasts so many releases that every romance reader is sure to find something special. At the top of my list are three I’ve already read: Jamie Beck’s All We Knew, the second Cabot book and a marriage-in-trouble book, one of my favorite tropes; Manda Collins’s Wallflower Most Wanted, the third Studies in Scandal book with a vicar hero who totally won my heart; and Laura Lee Guhrke’s The Trouble with True Love, the second Dear Lady Truelove book that gives a neat twist to the titular advice column.  





If you have been following Sharon Sala’s Blessings, Georgia series, The Color of Love may be on your most-anticipated list too. Ruby Dye and her secret admirer, “Peanut” Butterman, finally get their story. That one will be released February 6. I am also eagerly awaiting Debbie Mason’s next Harmony Harbor book, Driftwood Cove, which will download to my Kindle on February 20. 




February 27 is another Super Tuesday for romance readers. I have seven titles from that group on my most anticipated list. The Sins of Lord Lockwood, Meredith Duran; Fatal Chaos, Marie Force; Lady Be Reckless, Megan Frampton; Hello, Stranger, Lisa Kleypas; The First Kiss of Spring, Emily March are the next books in series in which I am already invested. The new books will be #12 in Marie Force’s tales of the adventures of Sam and Nick and #14 in Emily March’s Eternity Springs series. I never miss a book in either. Duran, Kleypas, and Frampton are all on my auto-buy list.


My Once and Future Duke by Caroline Linden starts a new series that sounds promising. Home with You by Shirlee McCoy introduces another of her sweet romance series, but the Bradshaw brothers are residents of Benevolence, Washington, and thus these books are connected to the Sweet books. 


The last day of February will bring a new book in another favorite series, Anna Campbell’s Dashing Widows. I am so looking forward to Lord Garson’s Bride.

I discovered Penny Reid in 2017 and quickly developed an addiction to her Winston Brothers book. I must wait until summer for Dr. Strange Beard, but I like her Knitting in the City series too. Book 6 in that series, Marriage of Inconvenience, releases on March 6. So does Trish Milburn’s thirteenth Blue Falls, Texas book, Twins for the Rancher





March 6 is also the release date for Grace Burrowes’s fourth Windham Brides book, A Rogue of Her Own. I’ve been impatiently waiting for Charlotte and Sherbourne’s story since I turned the final page of No Other Duke Will Do





Late March, the 27th, to be exact, will bring new historicals from Lenora Bell (What A Difference a Duke Makes—a new series that begins with a governess story. I fell in love when I read the blurb!), Sabrina Jeffries (The Secret of Flirting, Sinful Suitors #5. S. J.’s newsletters always leave me counting the days until her next book.), and Eva Leigh (Counting on a Countess, London Underground #2. I count on Eva Leigh’s books to give me something unexpected.) 




I’m an equal opportunity reader, so, of course, I have contemporaries on my March most-anticipated list. At the top are The River House, the eighth book in Carla Neggers’s Swift River Valley series, and Falling Star, the second book in Terri Osburn’s Shooting Stars series. The first is a reunion story, and the second is a redemption tale—my tropes of choice. I can’t wait!




I think that is twenty-five books, and this is just the first quarter of 2018. It looks like another year with lots of additions to my keeper shelves.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PJ:

I agree with Janga! This is shaping up to be a wonderful year for romance. Eleven of the books on Janga's list are also on mine so rather than repeat what she's already said, I'll list them here: Wallflower Most Wanted (Manda Collins), The Trouble With True Love (Laura Lee Guhrke), Driftwood Cove (Debbie Mason), Hello, Stranger (Lisa Kleypas), The First Kiss of Spring (Emily March), Lord Garson's Bride (Anna Campbell), Twins for the Rancher (Trish Milburn), What A Difference a Duke Makes (Lenora Bell), The Secret of Flirting (Sabrina Jeffries), Counting on a Countess (Eva Leigh), and Falling Star (Terri Osburn).


I kicked off my 2018 reading with the January 2 release, Every Dog Has His Day, the third book in Jenn McKinlay's humorous and heartwarming Bluff Point contemporary romance series (read my review here). This one's on my Best of 2018 watch list.






When the Stars Come Out by Laura Trentham is the next book in her humorous, heartwarming, and deeply emotional Cottonbloom series. It's another heartstealer in what has become one of my favorite small-town contemporary romance series. 





Staying in the contemporary category, I can't say enough about Roxanne St. Claire's new family-centric Dogfather series. The fourth full-length book in the series, Bad to the Bone comes out January 26 and it's a keeper. Keep the tissues handy for this one. It has all the feels. It's also on my Best of 2018 watch list.







Take one widowed doctor and father in the Old West who "buried his heart along with his wife," one mail-order bride who "greets her intended with a bullet instead of a kiss," put them in the gifted hands of Beverly Jenkins and you'll understand why her January 30 novel, Tempest is on my must-read list. 





You won't want to miss Lorraine Heath's January 30 release, Beyond Scandal and Desire. This emotional tale of love and revenge kicks off her Sins for All Seasons series which tells the stories of a group of bastards in Victorian England, and showcases why Heath's stories have been beloved by readers for 25 years. 






My most anticipated February books bring a mix of romantic suspense, historical, and contemporary romance. First up is Rodeo Sheriff, the fourth book in Mary Sullivan's emotional and heartwarming Rodeo, Montana series. I've been invested in this small town and the group of friends at its core since reading the first book in the series. 






I've been hooked on Katie Ruggle's writing since reading her debut in 2016. On February 6, Ruggle takes readers back to the Colorado mountains for Survive the Night, the third book in her gripping Rocky Mountain K9 Unit series. This one features K9 officer Otto Gunnersen, a big, sexy man of few words, animal lover, and natural protector. If you're running for your life - like the heroine - Otto is the man you want by your side.






I discovered Kelly Bowen when I picked up a copy of her 2017 RITA award winning novel, A Duke to Remember in 2016. She begins her new The Devils of Dover (I love that title!) series on February 20 with the release of A Duke in the Night (That cover! Oh, my!)  I can't wait! 






If you like suspense, action, deep emotion, and love set in rugged Montana, you can't go wrong with Jennifer Ryan. Her books always keep me reading late into the night and I'm confident Montana Heat: True to You will keep the streak alive when it comes out on February 27. 









I've fallen hard for Kimberly Kincaid's Cross brothers and am enthusiastically anticipating brooding, oldest brother Owen's story in Crossing Promises, a contemporary romance that will be out March 5.







March 6 brings the second book in Shana Galen's The Survivors series. I adored the first book, Third Son's a Charm and am eager to see what Galen has in mind for Major Neil Wraxall, bastard son of a marquess, sent to assist Lady Juliana, daughter of an earl, proprietor of an orphanage and in the sights of London's worst slumlord in No Earls Allowed



What books are you most anticipating this first quarter of 2018?



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review - - Renegade Cowboy


Renegade Cowboy
By Sara Richardson
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: December 19, 2017 
Reviewed by Hellie





If you like Colorado...and cowboys...and riveting, fully-developed characters in the vein of Maisey Yates, then this is your series. Right now, it's my series. I'm brand-spanking new to the Sara Richardson club, but halfway through this book, I ordered the first two books in this series and pre-ordered the fourth, which isn't even out until this summer. I want to read a story about every one of the characters I met; and falling in love with Levi Cortez, the book's hero, was like falling off  a log. He. Is. DARLING. The heroine, Cassidy Greer, is the type of heroine I'd want to be BFFs with, with the kind of problems and strength of overcoming them that I could relate to. I cannot wait to read the rest of the Colorado series - and especially cannot wait to see who Matteo Torres falls for. But that will clearly be another book. 

In RENEGADE COWBOY, Cassidy Greer has a plan - and her plan does not include good looking cowboys like Levi Cortez, regardless if he's offering a long or short affair, her choice. She needs to make sure her mother will be fine as Cassidy goes to Denver for a residency as a pediatric nurse. It's all she's wanted; she's been waiting six years to do this - and she does not have time to be seduced by Levi, even if he is the hottest thing since ghost peppers.

Unfortunately, her mother may ruin her plans, with or without the interference of Levi. When Cassidy's brother Cash died six years ago, her mother never got over it. Her mother lost her son, her husband, and now is slowly losing her mind as she drinks to forget. Cassidy can't leave her alcoholic mother alone; and there is no one else to take care of her. As much as she wants the residency, she fears she'll never be able to leave Topaz Falls.

Of course, her mother, Lulu, doesn't want Cassidy to give up her dreams because of her drinking problem; and Lulu struggles to overcome her alcoholism, but fails repeatedly. Cassidy is supported by her best friends, Jessa and Naomi, as well as their husbands Lance and Lucas, Levi's older brothers, but she doesn't want to lean on them or Levi too heavily. Loss is a funny, difficult think, and asking for help isn't something Cassidy does well. Still, Levi perseveres and eventually it all works out in a happily ever after.

Some critics (and cynics) may point out that Levi is too good to be true, and yes, but isn't that why we read romance novels? And when you find the person you love with all your heart, don't you too pull out all the stops to show it? Maybe it's not entirely fictional. And the critics and cynics may also point out that Lulu's alcoholism and the issues that entails cannot be fixed as easily as a romance may resolve, but again, Richardson did deal with the treatment in a way in which Lulu didn't just give up cold turkey and never touch it again - which would have been more unrealistic. The story ends on more of a happily ever after for now - and Richardson's core story seems to be about living and loving in the present because the future is never promised. To me, that felt more real than the average romance. And, as I said in the beginning, I can't wait to read the others in this series. This was a total Top Dish for me. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

On Second Thought - - Snow Angel




Snow Angel
By Mary Balogh
Publisher: Class Ebook Editions, Ltd.
Release Date: January 2, 2018
(Originally published June 4, 1991 by Signet)
Reviewed by Janga


In this novel, one of Balogh’s many “weather books,” Rosamund Hunter, an impulsive widow, quarrels with her brother with whom she is traveling and demands to be let down to make her own way. Caught in a snow storm, she has just realized the danger of her predicament when Justin Halliday, the Earl of Wetherby (Balogh must have chuckled when she chose the name), rescues her and offers her shelter. Justin is on his way to a friend’s hunting box: “The thing was he had planned it all out to be a last fling of freedom—one last grand orgy of uninhibited sex and pleasure. And the weather has cooperated beautifully with those plans.” But instead of being accompanied by his mistress, who has taken to her bed with a cold, his companion is a virtuous widow.

The first third of the book consists of Rosamund and Justin caught in a fantasy world of winter beauty and isolation. They play in the snow like children, engaging in snowball fights, holding a snowman contest, and making snow angels. The attraction between them builds, and they become lovers. There is no seduction here. Justin tells Rosamund that he is on the brink of a betrothal and that he expects to be a faithful husband. Rosamund, who truly loved her much older husband, has no expectations of remarrying. They agree to an affair that will end with no regrets when the roads are passable once again. They part with no intentions of ever meeting again.

Weeks later, Rosamund is one of the guests at the house party being held in celebration of her niece Annabelle’s betrothal, marking the formal recognition of the match that has been arranged for her. Her betrothed is the Earl of Wetherby. Justin and Rosamund are honorable people who try to resist the attraction that draws them to each other, but inevitably they surrender to temptation. Is an HEA possible after their dishonorable behavior?


When I saw Mary Balogh’s announcement on Facebook that Snow Angel had been released in digital format, I immediately went to Amazon and downloaded it. Then, ignoring all the other books I needed to read, reviews I needed to write, and an overflowing laundry basket, I curled up in my favorite chair with a comfy throw and a cup of peppermint tea and began rereading. I didn’t stir until I finished it with the kind of sigh that only rereading a much-loved book can evoke.

Balogh is simply one of the best in the historical romance genre at creating characters who fully engage her readers and placing the characters in believable situations that test them, shape them, and reveal who they are and are not. I have no idea how many times I have read this book, but I’ve read it often enough that my paperback copy, more than a quarter century old now, has a tattered cover, loose pages, and a tea stain or two. I am happy to have a copy on my ereader. I know I will reread it again. It is not one of Balogh’s most popular books, but I think it has that special quality that defines her books and makes them keepers. If you have never read Snow Angel, I highly recommend it. If you have read it, I think you will find it just as rewarding as a reread.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winner - - About a Dog







The winner of a print copy of
About a Dog by Jenn McKinlay is:

Katie Chapman

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Review - - The Art of Running in Heels


The Art of Running in Heels
By Rachel Gibson
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: December 26, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
 


This book opens with characters beloved by fans of Rachel Gibson’s Chinooks Hockey Team series—John and Georgie Kowalsky (Simply Irresistible, 1998). The couple is watching Gettin’ Hitched, a reality TV show that is an exaggerated version of The Bachelor. They don’t expect to see their oldest daughter Lexie as one of the contestants. They are even more surprised to see where her appearance leads.

It seemed like a good idea to Lexie at the time. Her plan was to appear on the reality show to get some free publicity for her doggie couture business, Yum Yum’s Closet (Really!), and the plan worked. Business is growing. So is Lexie’s panic at the idea of marrying a man she doesn’t love on national television. When her best friend offers to help her escape fifteen minutes before the wedding is scheduled to begin, Lexie agrees. She becomes a runaway bride, one that people throughout the country are looking for everywhere--except in Sandspit, British Columbia, Canada, the scheduled stop for the chartered floatplane that Lexie boards, thanks to another old friend who owns the plane.


Sean Knox has chartered a floatplane to Sandspit because it is the quickest way to get in and out of the small town where his mother lives. It is strictly a duty visit. After growing up the victim of his mother’s hypochondria until his uncle rescued him, he is inured to her announcements that her death is imminent. He certainly never expects the “emergency” passenger who keeps his plane waiting to be his coach’s daughter in a poufy wedding-dress and five-inch stilettos. It is surprising that she doesn’t recognize him as the newest trade on her father’s hockey team, but he is not about to tell her who he is.

Since Sean is the only person Lexie knows (sort of) in Sandspit, she nags him into having lunch with her and letting her visit his mother. Sean and Lexie don’t like each other much, but they do have undeniable chemistry. It is hardly a surprise that they agree on a one-night stand. Despite their belief that one night will be the end, no reader will be surprised that the tabloids are tipped off that the Getting Hitched no-show bride is arriving in Seattle. The world, or at least that significant part of it that follows Gettin’ Hitched, sees Lexie as a heartbreaker; her business is tanking from all the negative response. Just when it seems that she may salvage her reputation and her company, a tabloid photo of her with an unidentifiable Sean surfaces, and the hunt is on to discover the mystery man. Lexie’s not happy when she realizes Sean’s deception, but she hopes a fake “Lexie and Sean, the perfect couple” presentation will solve her image problems. But the complications are just beginning.

I love Simply Irresistible, and the younger Lexie Kowalsky is one of the reasons I do. I was super excited when I learned that The Art of Running in High Heels was her story. I’m sad to report that I liked her better as a kid than I did as an adult. The grown-up Lexie is still too much the wild child, too opportunistic, and too careless of others’ feelings to be a heroine for whom I could root without reservations. I particularly disliked her lies to her parents.

I didn’t like Sean much for the first part of the book, but he improves once the fake relationship begins. He is essentially a good guy with some baggage that has left him with unresolved issues. Considering that he is forced to lie to the man who is not only the father of his fake fiancĂ©e but also his coach—and one who is just beginning to view him more favorably—Sean earns points for his behavior. He and Lexie are opposites in some basic ways, and I remained skeptical that all those differences could be resolved happily. Sean’s epiphany came too quickly and with too little evidence that his reserve had been breached to make a believer of me.

Maybe I was expecting too much from this book. Maybe I have aged out of the audience for romance with a wild and crazy element. Regardless, although this is not a bad book, it just didn’t leave me with a desire to reread it and to read more Gibson the way that the first-generation Chinooks books did. My favorite parts of the novel were the scenes with John and Georgie.

If you read and enjoyed the earlier Chinook books, particularly Simply Irresistible, I recommend that you read this book. You may find it a worthier successor than I did. If you haven’t read Gibson but like hockey-star heroes or impetuous heroines with obvious flaws, this one may lead you to a massive glom. I’m not sorry I read The Art of Running in Heels, but I won’t be adding it to my Rachel Gibson keepers.






Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review - - Now That You Mention It


Now That You Mention It
By Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Harlequin / HQN
Release Date: December 26, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
 




Nora Stuart grew up on Scupper Island, a small, isolated community off the coast of Maine. When her father left, her mother became busier and more distant, and her younger sister changed into a person Nora no longer knew. Awkward and overweight, Nora found adolescence a nightmare of loneliness and otherness made more painful by the taunts of Luke Fletcher, the island’s golden boy and Nora’s chief rival for the coveted Tufts scholarship. The scholarship, which provided generously for the recipient beyond the usual perks of tuition and board is Nora’s way off the island and into a normal life. Her win is not popular with the natives, but Nora leaves the island immediately. For fifteen years, she has been busy creating a new, fulfilling life. She is now a gastroenterologist on staff at a Boston hospital. Her life may not be perfect, but it is far removed in every way from her past. Then Nora is struck by a van, and everything changes.

Nora ends up in the ER of her own hospital. She is convinced that she is dying, but instead of angelic voices she hears her significant other, an ER physician, letting an attending nurse know that he deems Nora not so significant after all and is interested in whatever the nurse has to offer. Emotionally vulnerable for a variety of reasons, Nora’s best choice for recovery seems to be to return to the island, and so she does, along with Boomer the Bernese Mountain Dog whose custody she must now share with her ex.

On Scupper Island, Nora finds her mother, who adores her pet bird and offers “hug therapy”—for a price—to those in need but whose mothering is minimal at best; her niece Poe in the throes of adolescent angst and rebellion, complete with Goth costuming and an attitude that almost hides her pain over her mother’s imprisonment and her own displacement; and Audrey, a sweet-natured teen who reminds Nora of herself but whose pain is as real as Poe’s. There are also old friends eager to renew connections and old enemies who have forgiven nothing. Nora will forge new relationships, uncover unexpected truths about herself and others, and find that life as a Mainer may just offer more benefits than she ever expected, especially since it includes her own personal beta hero with a sense of humor, a sense of honor, and a sense of who he is and where he belongs.

Kristan Higgins has done it again! She has written a book that made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think—this time about all the truths people hide from one another. The romantic element is strong and satisfying, but this book is a women’s fiction novel. It is Nora’s story, and the reader shares her journey in all its complexity, confusion, readjustment, and reconnection. I loved Nora, who is as smart and real and contradictory and as huge a mix of strengths and flaws and uncharted bits as the most interesting women I know. The secondary characters, by and large, are also interesting, appealing characters. I did think the “villains” were rather one-dimensional, but that is a small complaint about a book that has keeper written on every page.

Higgins’s next book, Good Luck with That (August 7, 2018) sounds like a standalone.  I expect it to be another winner, but I hope Higgins will return to Scupper Island at some point. I sense some untold stories there that I would love to read. In the meantime, reading Now That You Mention It is a wonderful way to end 2017 or begin 2018. I give it my most enthusiastic recommendation.