Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Blog Tour Review - - The First Kiss of Spring


The First Kiss of Spring
By Emily March
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Reviewed by Janga



Emily March pairs two characters already familiar to her fans in The First Kiss of Spring, the fourteenth book in her beloved Eternity Springs series. The Timberlake family has been an important part of the Eternity Springs community since Ali Timberlake opened her restaurant there and she and Mac experienced the healing of their troubled marriage there back in the third book in the series (Heartache Falls). The family continued to be recurring characters, and readers especially loved watching the youthful romance of the Timberlake’s younger son Chase and Lori Reese. Chase and Lori finally got their HEA in Reunion Pass (book 11). Now it is the turn of the Timberlake’s youngest child and only daughter, Caitlin, and Josh Tarkington, foster brother of Brick Callahan. (Brick and Lili Howe are the protagonists of the thirteenth book, A Stardance Summer.)

Caitlin flies from New York City, where she has spent the last eight years of her life, to Telluride, Colorado, where she will serve as bridesmaid in the destination wedding of a college friend. Being back in Colorado just serves to confirm her decision to exchange her successful career as a textile designer for a new one as the owner and operator of a daycare center in Eternity Springs. It is an idea that has been simmering since her brother Chase’s disappearance in Chizickstan made her aware that she wanted a different life than the one she had in NYC. Caitlin has high expectations of her trip, but meeting Josh Tarkington when they share an unexpectedly adventurous gondola ride is an unexpected bonus.

Josh thinks some time with the beautiful Caitlin Timberlake will be the perfect addition to his vacation. He agrees to be her plus one at the wedding, and they are poised to allow the sizzling chemistry between them to take its natural course when Ali and Mac and Celeste Blessing appear. Mac’s protective-father reaction is the least of the reasons Josh runs scared when he learns of Caitlin’s Eternity Springs connections. But he can’t run far enough to escape thoughts of her. Shortly after his return to Eternity Springs, he learns that Caitlin is not in New York but next door to Tarkington Automotive where she is preparing to open her daycare center.

Josh has given up on lasting happiness, but Caitlin is convinced that he is “the one.” She lays determined siege to his heart, unaware that Joshua Tarkington was born only when a young boy, abused, traumatized, and abandoned, became the foster son of Paul and Cindy Christopher of Oklahoma City. Josh is fighting many demons, and his dark past still has a firm hold on him. The losses he has sustained as an adult have only added to his conviction that he must move through life alone. Can love triumph over such enormous obstacles?

I’ve been a fan of Emily March’s Eternity Springs series since it began, and I think this book is one of the best in this long-running series. I loved seeing more of the Timberlakes, and I found Caitlin and Josh an immensely appealing couple. Some readers may find the move from their romantic comedy beginnings to the intensity of their later story startling; others will see the contrast as adding complexity. Despite its connections to several other Eternity Springs books, The First Kiss of Spring can easily be read as a standalone.

I think March made some smart choices in this book. She has never shied away from difficult issues, but child abuse, addiction, suicide, and other deaths could have proved too much. March uses entries from Josh’s diaries to reveal the horrors of his early life, thus controlling the emotional impact of his past. As heinous as it was, he has survived. Approaching his past more directly almost certainly would have made the book an ill fit in this heartwarming series. In a similar fashion, Caitlin’s close family ties, innate optimism, and confidence that she is in charge of her life could have made the differences between her and Josh too stark, but reminders of the threat to Ali and Mac’s marriage and Chase’s narrow escape and Mac’s current health scare show that, although Caitlin’s life has been less traumatic than Josh’s, she is not immune to heartache. As usual for this series, the mysterious, benevolent Celeste Blessing makes her presence felt.

If you like small-town contemporary romance that combines sweetness and spice, focuses on a central couple but sets their story in the context of family and community, and includes just a suggestion of the paranormal, I highly recommend this book. Not many series could keep me hoping for more through more than a dozen books, but I finished this fourteenth book eager for another visit to Eternity Springs. I’m delighted that the fifteenth book, The Christmas Wishing Tree, will be released October 2.


Are you reading Emily March's Eternity Springs series?
What's your favorite book or couple in the series?


One randomly chosen person posting a comment before 11:00 PM, March 2 will receive a print copy of The First Kiss of Spring. (U.S. only) (If person chosen has already won at another stop on the tour, a new name will be selected)





Emily March is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Eternity Springs series. Publishers Weekly calls March a "master of delightful banter," and her heartwarming, emotionally charged stories have been named to Best of the Year lists by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romance Writers of America. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Emily is an avid fan of Aggie sports and her recipe for jalapeño relish has made her a tailgating legend.

Connect with Emily March:
Facebook: Emily March
Pinterest: Emily March

Buy links for First Kiss of Spring:


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

On the Road with Anna Campbell



On the Road with Anna Campbell 
Episode 1



Hello, PJ! Hello, Romance Dishers!

It’s quite a while since I’ve been a regular fixture at the Romance Dish, and I’m delighted to be back here to do a monthly piece on my adventures in Europe between now and the end of May.

I arrived in the U.K. on Sunday 4th February, so I’ve been here just a bit over 3 weeks now. The trip started with a few adventures with immigration. The girl interviewing me found it highly suspicious that I use a pen name and also couldn’t recognize me from my website photo. It’s a long flight from Australia and I certainly wasn’t looking too spruce! When she said, “Is that YOU???!!”, I cracked up and that warmed things up considerably. So after some ado, they allowed me into the country!

I was staying just around the corner from the Ritz Hotel in ritzy Mayfair (couldn’t resist the choice of adjective!). Even better, Lord Garson’s house was just around the corner too – well, at least in my fictional world. I loved walking past Half Moon Street every day!

The Ritz Hotel in Mayfair


For various reasons, I didn’t cover nearly the amount of ground I’d hoped to in my time in London. One was that I was still working on Lord Garson’s Bride. The second was that the U.K. is suffering its worst flu season in years and of course, someone sneezed on me in the tube. So that was me down for the count for quite a bit of the beginning of my trip. You’ve got to take the good with the bad when you travel. But it’s frustrating to be laid low when there’s so much great stuff out there you want to see and do.

There has been a lot of good, I’m pleased to say. I caught up with some wonderful local writers, Fiona Harper, Heidi Rice, Nicola Cornick, and Kate Hardy, as well as a number of other friends. And I had a couple of gorgeous days out. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

First up was a gorgeous spring-like day down in Sussex when I went to Batemans, the Jacobean manor house that was the home of Nobel-winning author Rudyard Kipling. I had serious study envy here! His huge, airy work room was upstairs and looked out across a beautiful valley. It was one of those houses with a really warm feel, as if the family had just stepped out for a moment and might reappear at any moment. Here’s a link to the site: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/batemans

Rudyard Kipling's home, Batemans, in Kent


I had another lovely day down in Norwich (although the temperatures were close to arctic!) where I had the most extravagant afternoon tea at the beautiful Regency Assembly Hall. Norwich is very beautiful with a gorgeous light cathedral in the Norman style. Going back to Lord Garson (as you can tell, he’s looming large in my mind at the moment), I named the heroine’s house in that story after brave nurse Edith Cavell, shot by the Germans in World War I. What a thrill to discover that Edith Cavell’s grave is in the cathedral there. If you’d like to know more about Cavell, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Cavell

Afternoon tea at the Assembly Hall in Norwich


Catching up with wonderful historical fiction author Nicola Cornick is always a highlight when I visit the U.K. This time round, we visited the National Trust property Dyrham Park in the Cotswolds. It was quite a cold, misty day so I hope you like the atmospheric photos I took in the gardens. Dyrham Park was built around 1700 and it’s very elegant and impressive, down in its hidden valley. I always find inspiration in the stories of the families who lived in these big houses – I think DP might make an appearance in a future Anna Campbell story! Here’s a link to the website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dyrham-park

Beautiful Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire

The Gardens at Dyrham Park


Another lovely day out was a trip to Chichester in Sussex which has the most beautiful and interesting cathedral. Again, another Norman building, and very light. I’ve included a picture of the famous Arundel Tomb which was the inspiration for Philip Larkin’s poem of the same name. If you’re a romantic, you’ll love this poem. Here’s a link to the complete text: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47594/an-arundel-tomb

Chichester Cathedral


I’ll finish up with a couple of photos of St George’s in Hanover Square. If any of you are Regency romance mavens, this name will be familiar as it’s where all the fashionable society weddings took place. A couple of my characters have walked up this particular aisle, most recently Amy and Lord Pascal from Pursuing Lord Pascal. I thought you might like seeing what the actual building looks like. Society weddings used to lure huge crowds of onlookers – something that blew my mind was how cramped the streets are there. You wonder how a bride got through the crowds if there were a lot of people!

St. George's Hanover Square


Tune in next month when I’ll be talking about a month in France! 

Thanks so much for taking us along on your travels, Anna. I feel as if I'm right there with you and excited to see what next month brings!

Readers, have you been to England? What was your favorite place to visit there? If you haven't traveled there yet, what would you most like to see if you could?

Do you have any funny travel stories to share?

One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before 11:00 PM (Eastern Time), March 2, will receive a Kindle copy of Anna's new book, Lord Garson's Bride

For more photos and travel tidbits, check out Anna's Facebook page. For more information about her books, be sure to visit her website




By Anna Campbell
A novel-length Dashing Widows Romance
Release Date: February 28, 2018

Lord Garson’s dilemma.

Hugh Rutherford, Lord Garson, loved and lost when his fiancée returned to the husband she’d believed drowned. In the three years since, Garson has come to loathe his notoriety as London’s most famous rejected suitor. It’s high time to find a bride, a level-headed, well-bred lady who will accept a loveless marriage and cause no trouble. Luckily he has just the candidate in mind. 

A marriage of convenience…

When Lady Jane Norris receives an unexpected proposal from her childhood friend Lord Garson, marriage to the handsome baron rescues her from a grim future. At twenty-eight, Jane is on the shelf and under no illusions about her attractions. With her father’s death, she’s lost her home and faces life as an impecunious spinster. While she’s aware Garson will never love again, they have friendship and goodwill to build upon. What can possibly go wrong?

…becomes very inconvenient indeed 

From the first, things don’t go to plan, not least because Garson soon finds himself in thrall to his surprisingly intriguing bride. A union grounded in duty veers toward obsession. And when the Dashing Widows take Jane in hand and transform her into the toast of London, Garson isn’t the only man to notice his wife’s beauty and charm. He’s known Jane all her life, but suddenly she’s a dazzling stranger. This isn’t the uncomplicated, pragmatic match he signed up for. When Jane defies the final taboo and asks for his love, her impossible demand threatens to blast this convenient marriage to oblivion.

Once the dust settles, will Lord Garson still be the man who can only love once?







Monday, February 26, 2018

Review - - Lady Be Reckless


Lady Be Reckless
By Megan Frampton
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Reviewed by Janga
  

Lady Olivia Howlett, one of the twin daughters of the Duke of Marymount, is convinced that she is meant to marry Bennett Raybourn, Lord Carson, heir to the Marquis of Wheatley and the man that her sister Eleanor refused to marry (Lady Be Bad). In fact, Olivia is so convinced that Bennett is the man destined to be her husband that she proposes to him. He rejects her gently, but even that is not enough to deter Olivia. Bennett is attempting to see that Edward Wolcott, a friend since their school days, is accepted into aristocratic circles. Wolcott’s position as the illegitimate son of an immensely wealthy financier makes such acceptance unlikely, but Olivia is confident that she will succeed. She sets out to find young ladies of the ton who will accept the attention of the personable, wealthy Wolcott despite the stigma of his birth. Surely then Bennett will see that she is the perfect match for him, and helping Wolcott is just the kind of good deed in which Olivia delights.

Wolcott is devoted to his father, who acknowledged him, reared him with love and attention, saw that he was educated as a gentleman, and made him his heir. His father is ill, and his greatest wish is to see his son married to a woman whose breeding will win Edward the acceptance that all his father’s money has been unable to achieve. Edward is skeptical that Lady Olivia can find him a bride, but he sets the terms of their deal: if she can find him a bride within thirty days, he will donate one thousand pounds to the charity of her choice. Now if he can only control his attraction to the lovely Olivia.

Any fan of light historical romance can predict what happens from this point. Of course, the plan goes agley, and Olivia and Edward fall in love with one another. But the predictability of the destination does not diminish the wit and unexpected twists of the story nor the excellence of some of the secondary characters. Edward’s father is a delightful character, and the relationship between him and his son is one of the novel’s emotional strengths. Olivia’s twin Pearl and their younger sister Ida emerge as more fully defined characters in this book.

Lady Be Reckless is the second book in Frampton’s Duke’s Daughters series. Olivia is the third daughter who refuses to follow her parents’ plans for her. Edward is a wonderful hero—intelligent, sensitive, and insightful enough to see to the heart of Olivia. Some readers may find Olivia’s ebullience appealing and her compulsion to right the wrongs of the world endearing, but others may find her a bit too much. Frampton prefaces her chapters with quotations from Lady Olivia’s Guides: “Lady Olivia’s Particular Guide to Decorum” for the first twelve chapters and switching to “Lady Olivia’s Particular Guide to Being Reckless” in chapter thirteen after Edward’s kisses seriously undermine Olivia’s sense of decorum. In significant ways, this novel tells the story of the education of Lady Olivia Howlett. Olivia moves from penning gems such as “If you believe something is right, you should do it. Even at the risk of being wrong. But you are never wrong” to “I have no idea anymore.” She learns that she does not have all the answers, and she learns to listen to others.

I admit that although I adored Edward, Olivia reminded me strongly of Austen’s Emma, a heroine with whom I am not enamored.  I dislike Emma so much that I petitioned my committee to substitute Persuasion for Emma on the nineteenth-century English fiction section of the reading list for my doctoral comprehensive exams. My problems with Olivia were not enough to spoil my appreciation of the book, but they were enough to rank this second book as less stellar than the first, which was among my top ten last year. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, and if you appreciate humorous romance with generous servings of charm and sizzle, I think you will enjoy it too. The Lady Is Daring, bookworm Ida’s story is next, with a release date of September 25, 2018. I am eager for this one for two reasons: (1) it looks as if Bennett will finally meet his match and (2) Ida sets out to find sister Della, the most scandalous of the duke’s daughters. I can’t wait!





Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review - - One More Promise


One More Promise
By Samantha Chase
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Reviewed by Janga
  

With rehab behind him and a determination to create a different life for himself, Dylan Anders, bass player for the rock band Shaughnessy, is making changes in his life. With the band on hiatus, he is not sure where to start until his manager suggests he take part in a literacy campaign. He is uncertain about sharing his own history with reading problems, but the speaking engagements, commercial shoots, and print ads will fill in empty time and the campaign will assure him of some positive publicity to counteract the negative media coverage surrounding his reasons for entering rehab.

Paige Walters may be a senior account executive at her father’s Los Angeles PR firm, but she is still stuck in the lifelong pattern of coming second to her older sister in her father’s mind. Somehow Ariel always gets credit for Paige’s ideas and hard work, and Paige ends up doing scut work for a campaign of which Ariel is the titular head. But the literacy campaign is Paige’s project. She is passionate about the cause. She conceived the idea, she planned the authors who will be part of the campaign, and she expects to head it. But the pattern holds true. Ariel jettisons the authors, substituting celebrities more likely to generate media interest, and the campaign become hers with Paige once again rushing to do all the work her sister fails to do.

No change to her plans makes Paige unhappier than being assigned to babysit Dylan Anders. The bad-boy rock star does not fit her image for a literacy campaign at all, and her experience with the costs of drunk driving makes it difficult not to judge his past actions harshly.  Still, she cannot deny that the tattooed rocker is sexy enough to fuel her fantasies, and as they spend time together, she finds that she has misjudged him. For his part, Dylan, who expected Paige to be a stereotypical librarian whom he could easily charm, finds himself intrigued by Paige’s honesty, lack of pretensions, and disregard of his fame. Soon the bad boy and the good girl are tumbling heart over head in love, but can Dylan ever truly overcome the reputation he earned during his hard-party years? 

One More Promise is the second book in Samantha Chase's Band on the Run series, a spinoff of her Shaughnessy Brothers books. I'm not a huge fan of rock star-hero books, but I enjoyed the Shaughnessy Brothers books, including This Is Our Song, with Riley Shaughnessy, the band's lead singer as hero. I was less enthusiastic about the first book in the spinoff (One More Kiss), but liked it enough to want to read this one. I found Dylan an interesting character, although not always a likable one, but I wanted to see his history explored more fully. Family connections are generally a strength of Chase's books, but that was not the case here. I never really understood Dylan's relationship with his parents, and I disliked Paige's father and sister. And I grew impatient with Paige's slowness to stand up to them.  

Readers who are fonder of rock-star characters than I am may enjoy this one more than I did. I didn’t hate it, but I doubt that I will ever reread it. Rereadability is the quality that separates the good books from the just-okay ones for me. One More Moment, Julian’s story, releases in September. I’m a series addict and so have added it to my list, but I have a feeling that Until There Was Us (May 1, 2018), a new addition to the Montgomery Brothers series, is closer to the books that put Chase on my list of checkout-the-new-book authors.



Saturday, February 24, 2018

Review - - Spring Forward


Spring Forward
By Catherine Anderson
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: January 2, 2018
Reviewed by Janga


More than six years ago Tanner Richards headed his own accounting firm and enjoyed a six-figure annual income, but his wife’s death in an automobile accident left him with a determination to live in the moment and a need to spend time with his two young children, then three and five. He sold his business and moved his family to Crystal Falls, Oregon, so that his mother could help with the children, and he took a job as a deliveryman for Courier Express so that he would have more time with Tori and Michael, now eight and eleven. For the past three years, he has enjoyed a plum assignment on a rural route that allows him to be home by the time his kids are out of school. He has developed a genuine fondness for some of his regulars, particularly Tuck Malloy, an octogenarian, rough-edged former rancher. When Tuck, who has landed in an assisted living facility after a fall that left him with broken bones and required hip-replacement surgery, calls and asks him to smuggle in contraband beer and chewing tobacco, Tanner knows it is unwise but can’t deny the old man his pleasures.

Crystal Malloy is struggling to keep her upscale beauty salon functioning at optimum level and to care for her grandfather and Rip, the Australian cattle dog who is her grandfather’s boon companion. Tuck is the one person who has always been there for her, and she is determined not to fail him. She is doing all she can to prepare for the time when he has recovered enough to move into her home, but in the meantime the level of help he requires means an assisted-living apartment is the best place for him. Crystal panics when the rigid, mean-spirited administrator threatens to evict Tuck because of his beer and tobacco.   She allows herself to be blackmailed into filing an official complaint against the deliveryman who brought the contraband.

Tanner and Crystal meet when he is demoted to a Mystic Creek route. An apology and the withdrawal of Crystal’s complaint prevent any antagonism between them. There is no reason they cannot act on their immediate attraction. They share a commitment to Tuck, basic values, and an unpretentious approach to life, but both are wary of long-term commitments, Tanner because of his kids and Crystal because of the trauma in her past that has left her terrified of love. Meanwhile, Tuck has found a romantic interest of his own and the confident, take-charge Essie has shown him that life in assisted living can be more rewarding than he thought possible. These relationships play out against a background of warm community, the complications of family, and pets with personality to give readers a rewarding, feel-good read.


Anderson’s fourth Mystic Creek book is a strong addition to the series. There’s a lot going on in this book, and the pace may seem slow in the opening chapters. But the characters are endearing enough to make these concerns small ones. All the adult characters bear scars, but Crystal’s problems are complex and deep-rooted. They are not rendered simplistically. Nor, despite the suggestion of an HEA, are they resolved with a single, miraculous counseling session. Anderson makes it easy for readers to become invested in the lives of her characters and to root for their happiness. I think the lingerie-stealing burglar could have been omitted with no loss, and I thought the “spring forward” theme was rather overdone at the end. Nevertheless, overall, I found this an engaging read. It can easily be read as a standalone. I recommend it for fans of contemporary romance with more sweetness than sizzle and lots of family and community contexts.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Harlequin Highlights


I've been catching up on some new Harlequin category books by a few of my favorite authors this month. Here are my thoughts on the first two.  


Stranded with Her Greek Tycoon
By Kandy Shepherd
Publisher: Harlequin Romance
Release Date: February 1, 2018
Reviewed by PJ





Hayley and Cristos were probably too young when, after a whirlwind courtship, they married against both of their families' wishes but they were deeply in love and determined to be together. Two and a half years into the marriage, a crisis tore them apart and, with the help of her family, Hayley disappeared from his life without a word. Two and a half years after that, while Cristos is attending a family celebration on a Greek island, she reappears just as abruptly...with divorce papers in hand. Desire and deeper feelings still simmer between them but Hayley has buried the past and has no desire to face the emotions that are sure to arise from revisiting it with Cristos. She's made a new life far away to which she plans to return as soon as she gets Cristos' signature on the papers. Will a freak storm give Cristos the time he needs to convince her to give them a second chance? 

Shepherd brings a lot of emotion to this second-chance love story, touching on sensitive topics such as depression, self-worth, and cross-cultural marriage. She makes her characters work for their happy ending in a satisfying romance that is sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heart-wrenching, and carries enough humor, sexual tension, and uncertainty to keep me engaged from beginning to end.


Note: If you like your covers to match your characters, check out the UK cover for this book. It's exactly how I pictured Cristos! 

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


Rodeo Sheriff
by Mary Sullivan
Publisher: Harlequin Western
Release Date: February 1, 2018
Reviewed by PJ





Sheriff Cole Payette has had a crush on bar owner Honey Armstrong since arriving in Rodeo, Montana several years ago but has never acted on it. In fact, he barely talks to the beautiful, free-spirited woman. But when he suddenly leaves town then returns, grief-stricken, with two grieving young children in tow, it's to Honey that he turns for help. After the death of her deputy fiance, Honey has vowed to never become involved with another lawman but the more time she spends with Cole and his young niece and nephew, the more that vow is tested. Both Cole and Honey have their reasons for avoiding relationships but when two of Cole's reasons, his estranged parents, show up in town with unreasonable demands, working together may be their only hope of protecting his niece and nephew. Will it also be what opens their eyes to the joy to be found in a life together? 

I've thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in Sullivan's Rodeo, Montana series and have become invested in the lives of these characters and the future of their small town. Her characters are fully developed and relatable, leaving me with the sense of having made new friends with each story I read. Children have had key roles in many of these books, including Rodeo Sheriff, and Sullivan has a particularly deft hand in creating these young characters who bring an endearing, sometimes humorous - but always realistic - quality to the pages.  The sense of community, depth of emotion, and complexity that she brings to these characters and their stories has made Rodeo Sheriff another addition to my keeper shelf and Mary Sullivan one of my auto-buy authors. 


Do you read Harlequin category romances? Do you have a favorite line?  I'm so disappointed that the Harlequin Western line has been cancelled. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all of my favorite Western authors will find a new home for their wonderful stories. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review - - The Sea King


Review ~ The Sea King
By C. L. Wilson
Publisher: Avon Books
Release Date: October 31, 2017
Reviewed by Nancy



In The Sea King, C.L. Wilson returns to Mystral, the intriguing world she created in The Winter King. Her worldbuilding continues to be rich and textured, offering different cultures and settings with depth and resonance.  In The Winter King, the hero’s culture was based on Nordic traditions. The Sea King offers the beauty of tropical Calberna and its matriarchal culture as a counterpoint.

The heroine of The Sea King, Gabriella Coruscate, is one of four sisters known as the Seasons of Summerlea.  All of them have power over the weather and are highly sought after as brides. Nicknamed Summer, she shows the world a gentle, even meek countenance while struggling to control the magic inside her.  She has not only weather magic but something much more volatile.

Only her late mother knew how powerful and dangerous Summer’s magic was, especially when she experienced extremes of emotion.  Summer and her mother worked on meditation and other techniques to calm her and control the power when it threatened to erupt.

Because of that need for calm, Summer believes she can never fall in love.  If she loses control of her emotions, she could kill those most dear to her.  She knows that her duty as a princess of Summerlea is to marry to the benefit of her homeland, but she is determined to marry someone for whom she could feel no more than mild liking.

The hero, Dilys Merimydion, is the son of Calberna’s queen and a skilled commander at sea. When he arrives to court one of the Seasons, they don’t know that his royal mother’s advisors, believing Summer to be too meek and less powerful then her sisters, want him to choose either Spring or Autumn. Dilys intends to comply, but sparks fly between him and Summer from the moment they meet, and he becomes determined to win her.

Dilys’s courtship is romantic and touching, yet Summer’s reasons for resisting him remain compelling. Her fears are very real because her powers have gotten out of hand in the past, with tragic results. When they break free again, Dilys and his Calbernans are drawn to that eruption of magic.  Dilys uses his water magic to dangerous extremes, risking his own life to save Summer.  His Calbernan comrades, recognizing her power as an ancient one lost to their kind, resolve to protect her.

Dilys carries his own guilt in the losses of his childhood betrothed and men under his command. His grief for him makes him doubly determined to protect Gabriella, whether or not he can win her.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Calberna wants Dilys to return with a foreign bride. A traitor lurks in the Calbernan court. As though that were bad enough, a pirate known as the Shark is attacking Calbernan shipping everywhere he can. And a mysterious buyer wants the Seasons of Summerlea.

The multiple threats provide plot twists and spur action. The descriptions of Dilys’s water magic are superb, and his powers are extensively developed without slowing the pace of the story.

When cornered, Gabriella draws on her family magic and on her internal power. It doesn’t always work, and that’s another plot twist. When it does work, however, the results are spectacular and are also vividly described.

The Queendom of Calberna is not merely mentioned as a matriarchy.  It has a range of customs that fit this status, some with particular words to describe them. There is a Calbernan lexicon, which is sometimes problematic, as many of the words are multisyllabic and not in letter patterns familiar to English speakers. This makes some of the longer ones difficult to pronounce mentally. For readers who don’t feel the need to conquer the pronunciation, however, and are content to recognize the word and move on, this won’t be a problem.

When the story moves to Calberna, the surroundings are efficiently and beautifully described, as well as being very different from Summerlea or the Winter King’s realm of the Crag. This is clearly a culture devoted to the sea.

Fans of Khamsin and Wynter from The Winter King will enjoy the peeks at them here as a married couple.  These bits are woven in a way that helps move the current plot forward.

There is one note that won’t bother some readers but is worth mentioning because it may trouble others. At one point, Gabriella is subjected to a repeated intimate assaults by a villain. It’s not rape, and it’s not belabored. It’s a brief segment, mostly summarized, though there are some explicit details.  Readers will need to decide for themselves how they feel about this part of the story.

I suggest that readers who would rather not see this very brief section skim past it. When Dilys and Gabriella are reunited, his goal is to help her through the aftermath, and the tenderness and devotion he displays, along with her courage in facing her memories, are heart-warming. Into that, Wilson mixes the effects of the experience on Gabriella’s magic. It’s extremely well done.

Dilys and Gabriella are a romantic couple, and their struggles and concern for others give them depth.  The story moves at a good pace overall, and the plot is never predictable.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review - - The Sins of Lord Lockwood


The Sins of Lord Lockwood
By Meredith Duran
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Reviewed by Janga




Liam Devaliant, fifth Earl of Lockwood, is a man with a mission: to see justice served and exact punishment on the man responsible for Lockwood’s abduction, imprisonment and torture. With the help of his friends Julian, Duke of Auburn (The Duke of Shadows), and Crispin Burke, MP (A Lady’s Code of Misconduct), he will achieve his goal, but his plan requires careful attention. He believes that he will have time later to consider his wife whom he has not seen since their wedding night almost four years earlier. He is confident that she won’t know he is back in England for at least a month.

When her husband disappeared on their wedding night, Anna Winterslow Wallace Devaliant, Countess of Forth and Countess of Lockwood, concluded that he had left her. Because being left has been a pattern in her life, Anna accepts that Liam is just another person she loved who abandoned her.  She retreats to her home on the Isle of Rawsey, but when she learns indirectly that her husband has returned, she goes to London, filled with anger over his abandonment, her weakness in loving him, and his failure to inform her of his return. To make matters worse, he has been in London for eight months, although she learned that fact only when she read it in a newspaper. What she finds in London adds more fuel to her anger.

For a variety of reasons, Liam is not pleased that Anna is in London and planning to stay in their house. He knows that the young man Anna married is dead, and he has no plans to tell her what happened to him. He cannot bear the thought of her pity nor the memories her presence evokes. There is also the problem of Lockwood’s fellow survivors, men who have no family, no resources, and no place to go except the home he has given them. Anna, ignorant of the true circumstances, sees them only as incompetent staff who need to be replaced.

The first words Anna and Lockwood exchange after their long separation are revealing.

He says, “You should not be here.”

She responds, “And you should be in hell. . . . Alas, few of us end up where we belong.”

Anna refuses to leave until she achieves her goal. As Countess of Forth, she holds a Scottish title that descends through her, and she wants an heir. Anna feeds her anger with reminders of Lockwood’s desertion, and he plays the role of the dissolute aristocrat, hiding his broken self from Anna. When he does tell bits of his story, he does so in a manner that convinces Anna he is lying. Although they share rare moments of passion and of connection beyond the physical, for the most part, they hold to their entrenched positions. But when Anna sees the brutal reality of Lockwood’s experience, she becomes his defender and champion, as determined as he to see the man behind his torment punished. But are the demons that haunt Lockwood too powerful to allow him to give and receive love?

The Sins of Lord Lockwood is the sixth book in Duran’s Rules for the Reckless series. It is the darkest and the strongest novel in an extraordinary series. Duran uses flashback chapters to show Anna and Lockwood’s meeting and marriage. The contrast between these younger, more innocent characters and the wounded survivors they have become is stark, making the wrongs done to them more heinous. Anna is independent, assertive, and frank. She demonstrates impressive strength while remaining a woman of her time and circumstances. Her love for Rawsey and its people is real, but, as she comes to realize, Rawsey has also served as refuge where she could hide from her pain. Anna and Liam are both damaged people, but his physical and psychic wounds are deeper and more pervasive than hers. Liam has survived hell and has been irrevocably changed by it. The loyalty he inspires in Julian and in his fellow prison camp survivors is a testament to his courage and honor, but he is a man who faces life without joy or hope. Anna’s presence forces him to realize that once his need for revenge is satisfied, his life will be without purpose. The battle he and Anna fight together to move him from mere physical survival to a rebirth as a full, functioning self is fiercer than his struggle with his enemy.

There are so many exceptional things about this novel that no one review could list them all. I loved the gender reversal with Anna as the one demanding an heir. I loved the way Duran handles the love scenes. They could serve as textbook studies on how to write a highly sensual scene that also reveals character, exposes vulnerabilities, and moves the story to the next level. And each one is distinct and exactly right for that moment in the story. I love than even in a book that is almost unbearably dark, there are flashes of light and laughter. And, as always, Duran’s prose is lucid and powerful. Perhaps to a greater degree than any author I know, her prose beautifully demonstrates the effect of simplicity and conciseness.  Note the preponderance of single-syllable words in Anna’s response to Liam’s shame over his scarred body and emotional punch of “triumphant” in contrast.

“You tried to hide them? Why, you should walk naked in the street to boast of what you survived.  Other men would learn then what it means to be a man – to survive all that, and to come home triumphant.”

And then she claims him: “You are mine and I am keeping you.” Not a wasted syllable. That’s good writing!

It is difficult for me to separate this book from The Duke of Shadows where Anna and Liam’s story begins and to which parts of this book run parallel. I think The Sins of Lord Lockwood can be read as a standalone, but I think the reading will be a richer experience for those who have read The Duke of Shadows, Duran’s debut novel.

If romance with angst is your preference, you do not want to miss this book. I confess that I had to take a break a few times when reading it became too difficult for me. I often choose the light-hearted over the darker romances, but I never miss a Meredith Duran book. This one required me to re-order my favorites by her, and it is a sure bet for my Best of 2018 list. If you like historical romance with complex characters, a compelling plot, and a total impact that leaves you questioning the claim that there are no perfect books, I highly recommend The Sins of Lord Lockwood.