Saturday, July 14, 2018

On the Road...Again








I'll be at the Romance Writers of America National Conference

in Denver, Colorado the week of July 15.

Stay tuned for more reviews, vacation photos, 

a conference wrap-up, and giveaways when I return!

On Thursday evening, July 19

 from 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm (MDT) the

2018 RITA® Awards for

the best books published in 2017

will be live-streamed at

https://www.rwa.org


Grab a drink, cozy up to your favorite device, and join the fun!



Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tour Review, Excerpt & Giveaway - - An Affair With a Spare


An Affair With a Spare
By Shana Galen
The Survivors - Book 3
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Reviewed by PJ


He's turned seduction into an art form...

Rafe Beaumont, fifth son of an earl, uses his irresistible charm with the ladies to glean dangerous war secrets. Now he's putting those skills to the ultimate test: capturing an elusive assassin by seducing his daughter. The problem? She's entirely immune to Rafe's flattery.

Never before has Collette Fortier met a man as attractive as Rafe. But her father's life is at stake, and succumbing to Rafe would be disastrous. But when Rafe turns the tables on her, offering support and friendship instead of a fleeting affair, Collette finds herself tempted in ways she never could have imagined...


Suspense, romance, spies, and hedgehogs. That's right, I said hedgehogs. They all play significant roles in this third book of Shana Galen's popular The Survivors historical romance series that follows the post-war journeys to love of a small group of younger sons who were part of a secret military regiment during the war with France. Rafe, the youngest of eight children of an earl, put his good looks and charm to good use behind enemy lines to ferret out secrets for England. When his former commander asks him to take on a new mission, Rafe is ready to put his skills to work but the woman from whom he must obtain information, inexplicably to Rafe, is the first woman in his entire life who seems immune to both his looks and his charm!

Frenchwoman Collette Fortier has traveled to London under a false name and false pretense. Collette's father, a feared assassin for Napoleon, is being held prisoner by the new regime and she fears for his life. Only if she obtains a set of codes from England's Foreign Office, will her father's captors release him. Collette loves her father and remembers what their peaceful country life was like before he was forced to carry out Napoleon's demands. She will do anything to save him but she can't be distracted by the charming man who seems suddenly interested in her. She can't imagine why he would be anyway. He flusters her. And when Collette gets flustered, embarrassing things happen, such as blurting out everything she knows about the mating habits of hedgehogs. It's hilarious, endearing, and, ultimately, irresistible to Rafe.

As the two dance around one another while each pursuing their own individual mission they begin to move from adversaries into friendship. And when the friendship begins to evolve so do deeper feelings but obstacles abound. Rafe was deeply affected by events in his childhood and believes himself unable to love which hinders him from recognizing what he's feeling. Also, he must succeed in his mission to find Collette's father and bring him to justice and that is the straw that will break whatever hope they have of being together.  Unless they can find another way...

I've really enjoyed this series and An Affair With a Spare is another winner. Galen has created two multi-layered, engaging characters with complex backgrounds and placed them in a situation that seems impossible to resolve. The story flows smoothly with a nice balance of both suspense and romance along with action, humor, and heartfelt emotion. As Rafe's background is unveiled it's easy to see why he's become the man his comrades call "The Seducer." As more of the man beneath that facade emerges, I found myself falling for him just as hard as Collette does. As for Collette, I admired her loyalty to her father and her determination to save him, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I also found her simply charming and couldn't help but smile each time bits of hedgehog mating trivia burst from her mouth. I so wanted these two to find a way to a happy ending. Galen didn't make it easy on them and, I admit, I had no idea how she was going to resolve the issues between them. How she accomplished it was a surprise I didn't see coming (I always enjoy that) but one that I could thoroughly embrace. 

As usual, the secondary characters are vibrantly portrayed and contribute much to the story. We see more of the horribly scarred Jasper, who hides his burns behind a mask, in this book and that's only ramped up my excitement for his story. It will be next in Unmask Me if You Can, due out on November 6.  


 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are you reading this series?

Do you have a favorite book, character, or couple in the series so far?


  
a Rafflecopter giveaway



In this excerpt from An Affair With a Spare
former soldier and charmer Rafe Beaumont and 
spy Collette Fortier remove their figurative masks.

“Will you bring me here again?” she asked.
“Not if you object. I don’t enjoy standing about in cold gardens in the middle of the night, but it won’t be the worst hardship I’ve had to endure.”
She glanced about his flat, her eyes lingering on paintings and a few of the pieces he’d collected—vases, lamps, and other accoutrement. “It’s dangerous coming here,” she said.
“Because you think I will try to take you to bed?”
“Because I think you won’t.”
Rafe stared at her. Women did this sometimes. As well as he understood them, at times, they still managed to say something that flummoxed him. “I’m at sea here,” he finally admitted. “We are friends, nothing more.”
“Correct.”
“And when I proposed something more, you were not interested.”
“I was interested. I simply did not think becoming your lover a good idea.”
“And now it is?”
“Oh, definitely not.”
He gave her a long look. “My ship is sinking.”
“That’s why you’re dangerous. Because you make me want what I cannot have.”
“Oh, you can have me,” he said, rather too quickly. “What I mean is—”
She laughed. “I thought you didn’t want me anymore.”
Where the devil had she acquired that notion? She was the only woman he did want. “How could I not want you? That has never changed. If you want to change your position on the matter…”
“No. I meant only to say you tempt me. Coming here tempts me.”
“Good. I like to know I’m not the only one tempted.”
She rose, and he did the same. She linked her fingers, looking nervously about.
“What would we do were we hedgehogs, Miss Fortier?”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t—”
“Would you approach me? Would I approach you?”
“The, uh, boar pursues the sow, attempting to mount her.”
“I see. And what does the sow do?”
“She will persistently reject his advances. A high percentage of observed hedgehog courtships do not result in cop-cop—”
“Copulation?”
She nodded.
“I do wonder what tempts a hedgehog.” Before she could answer, he moved closer and placed a finger lightly over her lips. “That was a rhetorical question.”
“I wonder what tempts you,” she said shyly. “Do I tempt you now?”
Washed in the golden firelight, she was lovelier than words. And Rafe knew a lot of words to describe women. With her glossy hair piled on her head and her cheeks tinged pink by the wine and the firelight, she looked young but regal. He dared not allow his gaze to dip lower than her chin. “Immeasurably,” he murmured.
She stepped closer, and he took her hand. It felt warm and soft in his, and he lifted it to his lips and kissed her knuckles. Then, turning it over, he placed a lingering kiss on her palm. Her dark eyes turned even darker when his mouth skated up her flesh to brush against the skin at the inside of her wrist. She must have dabbed scent here because, above the clean smell of her skin, he also detected the fragrance of juniper.
His mouth explored her sensitive flesh until he found her pulse, which fluttered rapidly. She might have pulled her hand away at any time. He held it with the lightest touch, but when he slid his lips higher to the tender skin at the inside of her elbow, she trembled. Rafe’s gaze never left hers when he flicked his tongue out and tasted her flesh.
She inhaled sharply. “You are very good at this, aren’t you?” she whispered.
“If my imaginings count, I’ve had extensive experience touching you.”
“Did you ever imagine kissing my lips?”
He grinned. “Once. Or twice.”
Her free hand wrapped around his neck, sliding into his hair. He straightened and she pulled him close.
When he released her hand to wrap his arms around her, she twined her arms about his neck and looked up at him. Rafe had never wanted to kiss a woman so badly. And he’d never feared doing so before. The last time he’d tried to kiss her, she had pushed him away. What if he kissed her now and frightened her? What if the kiss ruined the friendship, and she wouldn’t see him any longer? Draven would kill him, but even worse, Rafe would lose Collette.
“Kiss me,” she said when he hesitated.
“Are you certain this is a good idea? I don’t generally kiss my friends.”
“Surely you can make an exception for me.”
“Surely.” He bent closer, then pulled back again. “But should I? This might change everything, and I do value our friendship.”
“As do I.” She pressed closer to him, and the air caught in his lungs when her breasts pushed against his chest.
“Then we stay friends,” he said, voice choked.
“Friends who have shared a kiss.”
“Yes.” He brushed his lips over hers, then jerked back again. “That’s actually a new category of friendship for me. Should we discuss its parameters before we go on?”
She sighed, sounding suspiciously frustrated. “No. Just kiss me, Rafe.” But she didn’t wait for him to comply. Instead, she rose on tiptoe and took his mouth with hers. Her lips were soft and gentle but insistent. He couldn’t have refrained from kissing her back if he’d wanted. Kissing her was as necessary in that moment as breathing. And when her mouth became more insistent, he met her demands, kissing her deeper, holding her tighter, teasing her with his mouth until he felt her tremble. He trembled as well. He’d never reacted this way to kissing a woman before. He’d always enjoyed kissing women—some more than others—but he’d never
been so moved, never felt as though he needed a woman like he needed Collette.
“I think this is enough for now,” he said, pulling back.
She blinked up at him, her brown eyes almost black. “Really?”
He ran his thumb across the satin of her cheek, marveling at the silky flesh. “I think it’s for the best.”
“And I thought it best if we continue.”

That was a rather appealing idea as well. Who the devil cared about restraint and all the rest of that rot? She was in his arms and he wanted her and she wanted him…and if he took her, he might just ruin everything. Because he was not who she thought he was.





Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Traveling the World with PJ - Sweden Part One


Kungstradgarden



Travel is one of the great joys of my life. Exploring new countries, learning their history and culture, meeting their citizens...shopping their stores...and, of course, capturing it all with my ever-present camera. It would be hard to overstate just how much happiness it brings me. This year, my destination was Sweden, a country I'd never visited and didn't know much about but I was eager to learn. I was especially eager to visit Sweden as it's now the home of my niece and her family. I was there for three weeks last month and each moment was filled with the most wonderful experiences. Here are a few highlights from my first week.


City Hall



Opened in 1923, City Hall is without doubt the most iconic symbol of the city of Stockholm. It's tower can be seen from a vast distance and its nearly eight million bricks are a stunning contrast to the beautiful blue waters of Lake Mälaren. 

The Gold Room
The inside of the building is just as impressive, including the city council chambers, the opulent Gold Room, and the Blue Room (which isn't actually blue) where the Nobel Prize ceremony and reception is held. 

Council chambers


And a couple closeups of the ceiling:



The ceiling panels are painted with actual scenes of local areas to symbolize the openness of the government. The design of the ceiling signifies that decisions made in chambers flow up and out of the building to all residents of Stockholm. 



Stockholm is made up of a series of islands, mostly connected by bridges. 



Though they certainly have their fair share of vehicle traffic, they've also designed their city for the ease of pedestrians. Everywhere, you'll find sidewalks, benches, footbridges, bicycle lanes, and beautiful views. 

Welcome to Stockholm!

Swedes love to be outdoors! They walk, run, bike, engage in watersports; they're a very active society. They are also a very family-centric society with plenty of parks and other areas for family fun. Also, in Sweden, each parent receives individual maternity leave after the birth of a child so you see lots of dads pushing strollers throughout the city, biking with a child in a seat behind them, doing the grocery shopping, dropping children off at preschool, etc. Both moms and dads seem to be very active and hands-on in the raising of children. Swedes also love their dogs. You see them everywhere: in stores, at cafes, on the buses. They seem to be very well-trained. At least, I never saw one misbehave and I saw a lot of dogs. If you're unable - or unwilling - to walk the city, they have a clean, safe, and efficient public transportation system including buses, trams, and the metro that will easily transport you to your desired destination. 

Canals, walkways, and bike paths wind through the city.

If you have a child in a stroller, you ride the bus free and the bus has an open area designed for strollers with pull-down seats for the pusher. More on the metro stations later because they are an amazingly delightful surprise! 

Walking path along Lake Malaren


Gamla Stan, which dates back to the 13th century, is Stockholm's old town. Honestly,  I could have spent my entire visit exploring its winding alleyways and historic buildings. Today, it's filled with shops, cafes, and the like but it only takes a few turns to steer you away from commercialism and into a quiet corner where you can easily imagine you've stepped back into the 1600s. 

Walking ancient streets with my grandniece.

Gamla Stan is also the home of the Nobel Museum as well as the Royal Palace, the primary home of Sweden's royal family. I didn't see any of the royals though I did see their motorcade one day (a ton of security to drive them two blocks for an official event) and we caught the military band that accompanies the daily changing of the guard a few times. 

Entrance to Gamla Stan

Stockholm is a very clean and colorful city. Flowers are everywhere and it's evident art is much appreciated. 





The island of Djurgården (which means the royal game park) in Stockholm is home to a variety of museums, including the Abba Museum, the Nordic Museum, The Vasa Museum, Skansen (an open-air museum) and an amusement park. It's also home to beautiful parks, tree-lined walking trails, and Michelin star restaurants. I could have spent all day strolling through the park below. That's one of the towers of the Nordic Museum in the background.




And here's the same museum from another view.



One of the highlights of my first week in Sweden was a trip to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a Swedish warship built in the 1600s. At the time, it was the largest warship in the world and it's a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it was a doomed masterpiece due to its architecture being too top-heavy. The ship foundered and sank in the Baltic Sea, less than a mile from shore, on its maiden voyage August 10, 1628. 

Vasa photo taken from halfway between hull and top deck.


Many of the ship's bronze cannons were salvaged in the 17th century but after that the ship seemed to be forgotten until it was re-discovered in the 1950s. Incredibly, after 333 years under water, the mostly intact ship was brought to the surface in 1961 and restored. 

Looking down onto the top deck.


It sits in a cradle at the Vasa Museum and, I have to say, standing next to it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. If you ever travel to Stockholm, this is an experience you do not want to miss.

The carvings on the ship are incredible.


That ship had some big anchors!



I couldn't wrap up my first week in Sweden without a look at food. Of course, staying with my niece, I already knew I'd be treated to delicious meals. She's a wonderful cook and baker and has had a year in Stockholm to experiment with local cuisine. 


Swedish Pancakes with fresh strawberries to welcome me.

Add to that the fact that her husband (who is Japanese) is a whiz in the kitchen when it comes to Asian cuisine and...well, let's just say I wasn't worried about going hungry. 


A taste of Japan with Salmon Sashimi

I fell in love with a little cafe on a quiet street in Gamla Stan that has a surprisingly diverse selection of gluten-free pastries. Here's my niece with our breakfast selections: lemon cake and carrot cake. They were delicious!





Being gluten intolerant, eating at restaurants in foreign countries can be a concern but I was delighted to discover a variety of dishes available to me at numerous restaurants in Sweden, like the traditional Swedish Meatballs (called köttbullar) and potato puree we had at a lovely Michelin star restaurant on Djurgården. This dish is served with pickled cucumbers and lingonberry sauce (shown in the photo below). And, yes, I ate the whole thing! *grin*




My gluten-free breads plus the pickled cucumbers and lingonberry sauce. So good!




And here's a photo of the outdoor seating entrance at the restaurant. I liked it so much we went twice!



It's a good thing we did so much walking because it would not be an understatement to say that I ate my way through Sweden. Here's the beef carpaccio and caprese salad we shared for lunch one day at an Italian restaurant on Gamla Stan. The population of Stockholm is very diverse and that diversity is mirrored in the many wonderful dining options available throughout the city. 







Baby geese were in abundance all over the city. Here's a mama, papa, and babies who were wandering the grounds near the Vasa Museum. 



That's it for part one of my Swedish adventure. What's on your travel schedule for this summer? 

One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment will receive a book from my conference stash plus a souvenir from Sweden. (U.S. only)



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Winner - - Wicked and the Wallflower







The randomly chosen winner of a print copy of

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

from the July Coming Attractions post is:

Di

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com



Monday, July 9, 2018

Review - - Bluestone & Vine



Bluestone & Vine
By Donna Kauffman
Publisher: Kensington / Zebra
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Reviewed by Janga


 

Seth Brogan loves his youngest sister Moira, but he is not pleased when she calls him to let him know about a house swap she has arranged. Moira will be living in house in an Irish village that belongs to the sister of Katie MacMillan, a college roommate, and the sister, who needs a quiet, peaceful place to retreat, will be living in Seth’s home. Seth has enough to do caring for Dexter, his music-loving llama, and his vineyard and winery, Bluestone & Vine. He is already making plans to find Katie’s sister another place to live when she lands on his land and in his life, courtesy of a borrowed snowmobile.

Pippa MacMillan is a renowned fiddle-playing folk singer, a super star in the United Kingdom, although lesser known in the United States. Her vocal cords ruptured during a performance, and recovery from the surgery to repair them is taking longer than anyone expected. The media buzzards are circling, speculating that Pippa’s career is over. Pippa longs to escape from their scrutiny. The fact that she has not sung since her surgery is a closely guarded secret. Even more disturbing to Pippa is that the inner music she has heard all her life has also gone silent. Tiny Blue Hollow Falls, Virginia, seems an ideal place to get away from her troubles.

Despite Seth’s reservations about his uninvited guest, he and Pippa connect almost immediately. They are kindred spirits who share an explosive chemistry as well. The only problem is that Pippa will be returning to Ireland in two months and Seth’s life is his land in Blue Hollow Falls. The community opens its heart to Pippa whom they recognize as one of their own. From octogenarian farmer Mabry Jenkins to thirteen-year-old Jake McCall, his ten-year-old best friend Bailey Sutton, and Dexter the llama, the citizens of Blue Hollow Falls adopt Pippa. Only Seth, the man who helps her recover her music and who wins her heart completely, focuses on an obstacle rather than searching for a compromise and stubbornly refuses to admit his feelings.

This is a series that just keeps getting better. Blue Hollow Falls is an interesting, artsy community that has the feel of home to many who relocate there. This third story in the series (following Blue Hollow Falls and The Inn at Blue Hollow Falls, a novella) is a quiet story that captures the reader with its sweetness and its likable, sympathetic characters. Pippa is a delight with her gifts and her openness, and Seth is a great-hearted beta hero who cares for his family, his friends, and every animal or person who needs his attention. The supporting characters are just as appealing. Readers who loved the first novel will be pleased to see more of the lovable Addison Pearl Whitaker and her youngest adoptee, the old-soul Bailey. Sawyer, Seth’s best friend, and his love, Sunny are also a part of the tale, and readers fascinated by the reclusive Wilson McCall in the first book will learn more of his story and that of his son Jacob. Mabry, the old farmer with his wisdom and his romantic streak, is a heart-stealer and a scene-stealer.

Kauffman makes this place and these people so warm and real that I was ready to return to Blue Hollow Falls as soon as I turned the final page. I can’t wait for Lavender Blue, Wilson’s story, which will be released January 29, 2019. If you are a fan of small-town romance with characters who will win your heart and a setting you wish were real, I suggest you rush to add Bluestone & Vine to your TBR list.



Friday, July 6, 2018

Review - - How to Forget a Duke




How to Forget a Duke  
By Vivienne Lorret
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Reviewed by: Santa




I read Vivienne Lorret’s How to Forget A Duke in a day. It was that good. It is most certainly a five star book.

This is the first book of Vivienne Lorret’s newest series centering around The Bourne Matrimonial Agency, the Bourne sisters, their endearing uncle and a rather secretive Duke. The Bourne Matrimonial Agency acts as matchmakers to the ton. We learn early on that the Duke of Rydstrom and his secrets are no match for Jacinda Bourne the middle and meddlesome sister. He knew she was trouble when he found her in his library in the early morning hours dressed as a servant of all things! He thwarts her but Jacinda is not one to go quietly. She hatches a plan to go to his country seat to discover what else she can find about him. This one’s a firecracker!

Off she goes and Rydstrom hot on her trail which unfortunately leads to the cliffs of his estate where he finds her washed upon the shores with a nasty gash on her head. Now he's stuck with her convalescing in his home. The upshot, such as it is, is that she has amnesia. He’s ready to pack her on her way once the gash heals, back to the bosom of her family whom she doesn’t recall. She doesn’t recall anything for that matter. A storm and the logic of the local doctor keeps her where she is because the shock of going home and being confronted with her family could be very damaging to her.

Rydstrom tries his best to secret away his secrets and hopes Jacinda’s injuries with keep her discovering them in check. What he doesn’t count on is her inherent curiosity which drives her to discover who she is, who Rydstrom really is and just what is going on in his home. His structured, carefully controlled world is turned upside down.

Once again, Vivienne has drawn me into the lives and love between two seemingly incompatible people. I ached for them to open themselves to each other and to be the balm they both need. Vivienne Lorret does just that in this book. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series. I hope that everyone at the Bourne Matrimonial Agency, both clients and owners, find their happily ever afters, as well.