Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Review - - Christmas in Harmony Harbor


Christmas in Harmony Harbor
by Debbie Mason
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Reviewed by PJ
    


It's Evangeline Christmas's favorite time of the year, but instead of wrapping presents and decking the halls, she's worrying about saving her year-round holiday shop from powerful real estate developer Caine Elliot. Although the town has rallied around Evie, her attempts to stop Caine have been in vain. Now she's risking everything on an unusual proposition she hopes the wickedly handsome CEO can't refuse...
How hard can it be to fulfill three wishes from the Angel Tree in Evie's shop? Caine's certain he'll win and the property will be his by Christmas Eve. Yet bringing joy to others also brings back the biggest disappointments in Caine's own holidays past and challenges him to forgive and forget in order to enjoy the present festivities. But just as he dares to dream that Evie could be his Christmas future, a secret from Caine's childhood threatens their merrily-ever-after.




My thoughts:

The final book in a series is always a bit bittersweet, especially a series I've enjoyed as much as I have Debbie Mason's Harmony Harbor. I have taken these characters into my heart with laughter, tears, heartache, and love. Christmas in Harmony Harbor bids Harmony Harbor a fond farewell with a heart-tugging romance filled with humor, danger, a battle of wills, some ghostly interference, satisfying romance, answers we've all been waiting for, an unexpected surprise...or two, and a Grinch hero due a few lessons in the true meaning of Christmas. 

One of the facets of Debbie Mason's writing that I most enjoy is her world building. In this series, she's brought the town of Harmony Harbor and her citizens to life. Her characters are fully dimensional and complex, with realistic flaws and emotional depth. Her heroes and heroines are not always easy, and they're not always nice, but they're real and, in the end, they always succeed in winning my affection. Though, admittedly, some more than others. ;-)

Caine is one of those "difficult" characters and it took a good amount of time for him to win me over but win me he did. As with other characters in this series, Mason has given him a lot of emotional baggage to unravel which, for me, made his eventual redemption all the more satisfying. My heart really hurt for him - after I got over wanting to throw him off a cliff - and by the end I was cheering for his happily-ever-after. Evie, on the other hand, had me in her corner from the beginning. I was confident she was the perfect "Christmas Elf" to bring Caine out of the darkness and help him remember the good that Christmas and family are supposed to represent. 

Christmas in Harmony Harbor is an engaging, heartwarming holiday romance that can be read and enjoyed on its own but readers should be aware that, as the final story in a series with an overarching mystery, there are several plot threads that are wrapped up, questions answered, and characters present (the Gallagher and DiRossi families are big) that could be confusing if you have not read any of the earlier books. As a reader of the entire series, I turned the final page with a tear, a smile, a sigh for lives well lived and a love that endures into eternity, and eager anticipation for whatever Debbie Mason has in store for readers next. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review - - Get a Life, Chloe Brown



GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN: A Novel
by Talia Hibbert
The Brown Sisters - Book 1
Publisher: Avon 
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Reviewed by Hellie
 

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?
  • Enjoy a drunken night out.
  • Ride a motorcycle.
  • Go camping.
  • Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
  • Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
  • And... do something bad.
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.
Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.
But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Hellie’s Heeds:

Go read this book if any of the following applies to you:

1.    As a reader, you are parched for reading material with intersectionality of current issues. For instance, if you want to read more diverse romance that features people of color, other-abled people, and/or heroes whose life goal is to get a life rather than save mankind from an alien invasion--this is such a book.
2.    As a reader, you are parched for heroes who have ginger hair. (I mean, aren’t we all going through some Outlander withdrawal? Don’t we all want a little Prince Harry magic in our lives? Well, this guy is without a title, but he does come with a motorbike, which is preferable, if you think about it.)
3.    If you would like to read for a change about heroines who struggle with an “invisible illness” and this illness is dealt with in a realistic way rather than allowing for a miraculous cure.
4.    If you’d like to read about a really hot artist who paints with his shirt off.
5.    If you like to read books with pets in them, Smudge is flat out adorbs!
6.    If you are frequently impressed with authors who can match characters who have similar obstacles to overcome, but overcome them in different ways without being complete knobs while doing it.
7.    If you like sarcasm…(I might be in more of a minority here...but heroine is sassy and sarcastic.)
8.    If you ever rooted for the heroine who wasn’t the perfect size, the perfect background, the perfect health/race/religion/et al and got all the love from the hero, this is the book. 

The book also comes with the right amount of secondary characters to color the characters lives and alert the readers that there may be more books in the offing. I also want to note that unlike a book or two in my recent reviewing past that were great at the diversity angle but failed to warn me about a less than happily ever after for all the characters, this book does not have this problem. This book, while dealing with real issues, manages to do so in a trigger-free environment. 

And honestly Red is so damned dreamy, he’s worth reading for him alone, but I assure you, Chloe is a friend you’ll wish you had. Happy reading!



Monday, October 21, 2019

Review - - To Tame a Scandalous Lady








To Tame a Scandalous Lady
by Liana De la Rosa
Once Upon a Scandal - Book 3
Publisher: Entangled:Amara
Release Date: October 21, 2019
Reviewed by PJ
    



In the wake of a fire that decimates his racing stock, Christian Andrews, the Marquess of Amstead, struggles to keep his family's stud farm from slipping into ruin and painstakingly rebuilds the program. When one of his prime stallions is injured, he notices his new assistant trainer has a special way with the horses. As talented as the trainer is, once he realizes he is a she…and a very beautiful, spirited she at that…he should sack her before scandal breaks. But it’s only weeks before the high stakes race he’s counting on to build back his fortune, and Flora should be by his side for the win.
Miserable under the weight of the ton’s expectations, headstrong Lady Flora Campbell laments her privileged life in London. Embracing her dream of working with racehorses, she disguises herself as a lad and slips away to learn as much as she can from England’s premiere expert, Christian Andrews, never thinking of the scandal she courts but the glory to be had.
Although she develops a tendre for the dashing marquess, she can never let on that she’s not only a woman, but the daughter of a duke...

My thoughts: 

I enjoy how De la Rosa gives her characters depth, realistic flaws, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. I like how she challenges societal norms for the time in which she writes. And I love how she draws me into a story and into her characters' hearts and minds. 

Though Flora (a/k/a William) is the daughter of a duke, growing up in Scotland she was allowed to indulge her life's passion training horses and pretty much running her father's estate. But when she arrived in London with her siblings, that all changed and she was forced to give up the work that gives her purpose...that feeds her soul. I understood what drove her to disguise herself and seek employment with the man acknowledged to be the best horse trainer in England and I cheered her on as she did so. But I also appreciated the fact that she is not without flaws. I enjoyed her growth throughout the book and the (sometimes painful) lessons she learns.  

I also liked Christian even though at times I wanted to whack him upside the head. He's an autocratic male who thinks he knows best but he's also desperate to save his family's estate, while at the same time dealing with a fair share of grief and guilt over the events that have led him to this point. I liked the friendship that develops between him and Flora, the sizzling chemistry, and the mutual respect. I enjoyed watching them work together to train Asad. But I also understood the changes to those opinions and actions once William became Flora - even if I didn't much like them. The author has kept him authentic to the time in which he lives while also allowing him the room to evolve and change some of those opinions over the course of the story. I enjoyed his growth and turned the final page confident in his and Flora's happy future. 

De la Rosa has also surrounded our hero and heroine with an intriguing cast of secondary characters, both two and four-legged. I especially enjoyed Mr. Mubarek, the head trainer who came from Egypt with Asad, a canny elderly duchess, and both Christian's and Flora's brothers. I'm hoping we might see more of both Cedric and Niall in future books. As for those four-legged characters... The vast majority of this novel takes place in and around the stables on Christian's estate which adds another interesting layer to the book. I fell in love with Asad and his stable-mates right along with Christian and Flora. They are each lovingly, and realistically, depicted and I enjoyed getting to know each of their unique personalities. 

While this is the third book in a series, it stands well on its own. 

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | KOBO



 

Liana De la Rosa is a historical romance writer whose stories are set in the Georgian and Late Regency periods. As a longtime fan of the romance genre, Liana can remember sneaking Harlequins into her bedroom to read on the sly. After her second child was born, her husband challenged her to write her own book and she’s been writing ever since. Liana is a proud graduate of the University of Arizona and enjoys cheering on her alma mater in all things (BEAR DOWN!). When she’s not writing witty heroes, saucy heroines, and secondary characters screaming for their own stories, she’s a wannabe domestic goddess and fashionista who wrangles a rambunctious brood of small children with her patient husband in Arizona.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | PINTEREST

 

To Tame a Scandalous Lady

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Winner - - Spotlight on Cathy Maxwell






The randomly chosen winner of a package of 

Cathy Maxwell books is:

LSUReader

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review - - When the Marquess Was Mine


WHEN THE MARQUESS WAS MINE
by Caroline Linden
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Reviewed by Hellie
 

In the game of love…
Georgiana Lucas despises the arrogant and cruel Marquess of Westmorland even before learning that he’s won the deed to her friend Kitty’s home in a card game. Still, Georgiana assures Kitty the marquess wouldn’t possibly come all the way to Derbyshire to throw them out—until he shows up, bloody and unconscious. Fearing that Kitty would rather see him die, Georgiana blurts out that he’s her fiancé. She’ll nurse the hateful man back to health and make him vow to leave and never return. The man who wakes up, though, is nothing like the heartless rogue Georgiana thought she knew…
You have to risk it all
He wakes up with no memory of being assaulted—or of who he is. The bewitching beauty tending him so devotedly calls him Rob and claims she’s his fiancée even as she avoids his touch. Though he can’t remember how he won her hand, he’s now determined to win her heart. But as his memory returns and the truth is revealed, Rob must decide if the game is up—or if he’ll take a chance on a love that defies all odds.

Hellie’s Heeds

The wonderful romantic tropes of Reformed Rake and Florence Nightingale collide for a delicious mashup that also uses some classic plot devices like: Pride & Prejudice, amnesia, and a bit of a spy thriller to make for a cozy, delightful, Regency set romance. 

Our weary rake, Rob, doesn’t know where he is or how he got there, but the beautiful young woman who is calling him her fiance and who has stayed by his side as he’s recovered from the beating he doesn’t remember makes him wish he did remember her. Except Georgiana isn’t actually engaged to Rob--she only said he was her fiance because if the hostess she is staying with realizes who Rob really is, she would leave him on the front steps to die. 

Rob’s reputation as a rake and hell-raiser precedes him as he comes to the countryside to return a property deed to the lady of the house, a property deed her husband lost in a hand of poker and has immediately written to the family he was cheated out of. No good deed goes unpunished. Georgiana interrupts a criminal thrashing during a morning ride and insists on the groom taking back the fallen traveler, but she is immediately aghast that the victim is none other than the man coming to throw everyone out of the house! She can’t explain even to herself why she lied, but even more concerning, when Rob awakes, it seems he is not Evil personified after all. Can she trust a man who doesn’t even know who he is?

Hoping Rob doesn’t suddenly recover his memory and either a) kick everyone out of the home like she fears or b) suddenly go, “Wait, I’m the Marquess--we’re not engaged” and ruin her reputation, Georgiana does a very merry dance during Rob’s recovery. 

Come to find out, there is more to Rob than his title--and he’s a bit of a spy himself, doing his bit for king and country--yet it’s Georgiana who more than holds up her end of the show, making me wish there were more stories with her in which they work together to right wrongs and battle for justice, because Georgiana can certainly think on her feet...and even win the day when needed. 

Caroline Linden is frequently a very solid read for me in the Regency set romances--and this one is no exception. Happy reading!


Friday, October 18, 2019

Review - - Wild Ride


Wild Ride
by Breezie Bennett
South Florida Riders - Book 1
Publisher: Palm Island Publishing
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Reviewed by PJ
    




A smoking hot wide receiver with a tattered reputation. A feisty tomboy with dreams of being a sports agent. Can he build his brand with a fake fiancée? Can she snag the promotion she desperately wants? Sure. If he can keep it in his pants and she can resist taking the ride of her life. Fall in love with Leo and Frankie as their romance slides from fake to forever.






My thoughts:

Debut author Breezie Bennett hits the ground running with this fast-paced, steamy, contemporary romcom set within the world of professional football. I'm a self-admitted football junkie who loves romance which makes Frankie's and Leo's story my own personal catnip. I was immediately pulled into their lives and those of their friends and associates within Bennett's (fictional) South Florida Riders professional football team. Bennett's deep well of football knowledge is clear and lends authenticity to the story while her well-developed, multi-layered characters keep things lively.

I've always been a pushover for a sexy, bad-boy jock and Leo certainly fits that bill. At first, he's all flash but I like how Bennett slowly allows the reader - and Frankie - to discover the layers within. I also like how he evolves over the course of the story without losing the essence of who he is. I enjoyed Frankie a lot. She's a woman who knows what she wants in her career and is willing to go after it but she also has layers. And baggage. I love that she owns her sexuality and enjoys the physical expression of it (there's some serious sizzle going on here) but I appreciate her vulnerability when it comes to relationships. She has good reason to be cautious. Frankie's also a life-long tomboy who's never really tapped into her "girly" side. There's plenty of humor and a bit of self-awakening during her fake engagement transition. The first-person point of view, alternating between Frankie and Leo by chapter, took me a bit to adjust to but once I was into the flow, I really enjoyed being in each of their heads - and getting to know them - as the story progressed.

Bennett's dialogue is fast-paced and sassy - and also salty.  There are more than a few f-bombs however they always feel organic to the characters, never gratuitous. This is an author writing what she knows: twenty-something characters who are realistic and relatable.  The sex is steamy and Bennett had me (happily) reaching for a fan more than once during those scenes - but she also made me laugh with her well-timed humor and touched my heart with the satisfying emotions that gradually develop between Leo and Frankie. In the end, she gave me a Wild Ride I was happy to take. 

Breezie Bennett is a fresh, new voice in contemporary sports romance. I enjoyed Wild Ride and am all in for more football, heart-tugging romance, snappy banter, and smoking hot chemistry in future South Florida Riders stories. 


~~~~~~~~~~~

Do you enjoy sports-themed romances?

Were you a tomboy or more of a girly girl? 

If you are a football fan (like me), who are your favorite teams?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Coastal Magic Author Spotlight & Giveaway - - Cathy Maxwell








PJ & Cathy - Buns & Roses 2017
Welcome to my third Coastal Magic Convention spotlight! Today, I'm happy to welcome historical romance author Cathy Maxwell to the Dish. I met Cathy in person almost 12 years ago, at a reader-author weekend event in Columbia, South Carolina. It was the first time I had ventured out of my comfort zone to attend such an event and I was nervous, not having any idea what to expect. How lucky was I that Cathy Maxwell was sitting at the event registration desk when I walked into the hotel. Her smile lit up the room and within minutes (honestly, probably seconds), she had me laughing and feeling like we had been friends forever. If there's a better representative for the fun to be had at a reader-author event, I have yet to meet them. Come join us at the Coastal Magic Convention in Daytona Beach. Is there a better place to be in February than on a Florida beach?

Cathy's zest for life shines through in the many roles she has filled in her career. Beginning as a news broadcaster, she decided she'd rather make news than report it. That led her to the U.S. Navy, specifically Naval Intelligence, as well as time at the Pentagon. After her military career ended, Cathy pursued writing and now has 40+ published novels and novellas to her credit. Many of her books have been on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and nominated for various awards. She has also been honored by the Washington Romance Writers organization with the Kathleen Gilles Seidel "Legend" award for her service to this RWA chapter.

Cathy's next book, His Secret Mistress is scheduled to be released February 25, 2020, launching her new Logical Man's Guide to Dangerous Women series. 

At the Logical Men's Society - an exclusive bachelor's club - brandy flows like water, bawdy stories abound, and a gentleman tempted to marry is always persuaded to reconsider...  

I love the sound of this new series! His Secret Mistress is currently available for pre-order.

You can discover more information about Cathy and her books at her website and engage with her online at Facebook and Twitter

 Welcome back, Cathy! 




Venturing Out into Romancelandia
By roving cub reporter Cathy Maxwell


I don’t even know where to begin with this blog. I’ve been wrestling with it for over a month. PJ suggested I give you all info on what I learned from all my travel this summer—New Orleans, Paris, Berlin, San Diego, Kansas City . . .  Well, actually, she was thinking of my yakking about Europe, but why limit the subject? I have a great life and it is one you can have as well, because I traveled with romance readers.


PJ & Cathy

So, part of what I want to say is what I learned through my travels about what we are reading in romance and another part is to encourage you to join in the fun. There are conferences all over the country, all over the world.  I even travel alone, because once I arrive at the conference, I’m among readers who will soon be new friends. 

Where to start? Let’s just dive in. This is a hodge podge.  Sorry, not sorry:

#


With German authors in the Green Room

Romance readers are discerning readers, no matter where you go.  Whether I’m in New Orleans or Berlin, readers want bold emotion, great conflict, and strong writing.  I was interested in the number of European readers who are happy to read in English. They want the full emotion of the words and believe they can only receive it reading in the writer’s language.


Kerrelyn Sparks and I had a great workshop on what makes for a great hero.

They may be right. I had the opportunity to talk to several translators They were wonderful fans of romance and shared that the hardest part of their jobs was not translating words but conveying the emotions the writer meant.  The job called for a complete understanding of social mores in both countries, a thorough grasp of romance tropes, and healthy respect for the genre.

I suggested that US readers would be interested in books by German and French authors. That idea was challenged.  They wondered if US readers would want to read a book about a farm girl in Germany.  To be honest, most of the books presented by the German authors were about German girls going to New York City and, yes, I would want to read that book.  Wouldn’t you? Certainly, I have enjoyed the romantic comedies written about young women in London or the fun chick lit (is that term still viable?) set in Ireland. I like reading about different cultures.
#



Lunch out with Lorraine Heath and Kerrelyn Sparks

When I was in New Orleans at Booklovers Con, my table at the signing was located down from Karen Marie Moning and close to Charlaine Harris. 


Book Lovers Con


Rumor has it that paranormal is on the wane but that didn’t appear true from where I was sitting.  The lines were long for both writers.  Plus, my wonderful friend Kerrelyn Sparks sold out.  Lickety split.
#


Elizabeth Hoyt

Speaking of Booklovers, they will be in Nashville next March www.bookloverscon.com.  I hear you protesting.  You would love to travel to a conference and have a grand time like you see from all the social media posts on the romance sites. However, you don’t have anyone to travel with.  

It is work to find a traveling partner. I agree with you—which is why I enjoy traveling to conferences because I can go alone. I hop on a plane, go to the hotel, and start making friends by turning to the person next to me and asking, “What are you reading?”



Charis Michaels photobombs Cathy and a French reader





If you are an introvert, use strategy. My advice is to join some of the social media boards like The Romance Dish or Old School Romance Book Club or Contemporary Romance Book Lovers. Truly, there are dozens of fan sites for these books we love to read.  










Start interacting online, let people know you are going to a particular conference and want to know about any meet ups planned.  It really is that simple and they are fun.  How do you think I met PJ? Or Gannon? Or so many others.  Half of the battle is just showing up. Photo below: with the fabulous Bridget Costedoat whom many of us know from romances pages on FB.  


Cathy & Bridget



Other great conferences include The Historical Romance Retreat  www.HistoricalRomanceRetreat.com  Dress for tea, for the ball, for chatting up your friends.  This is an intimate event with loads of fun activities and is usually held at the beautiful Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. Another conference with the same flavor will be Romancing the Gold Coast www.RomancingtheGoldCoast.com  in Glen Cove, NY.

Two fan favorites to consider are Lori Foster’s Reader Author Get Together www.ReaderAuthorGetTogether.com in Cincinnati, OH and Coastal Magic www.coastalmagic.com in Daytona Beach, FL. I believe Lori’s event leans more toward contemporary. Coastal Magic started off promoting paranormal romance but includes all subgenres now. I will be at the one in 2020.  After all, it is Florida in February. Let me know you are coming at www.facebook.com/maxwellcathy and I’ll be your friend.

Also, let me put in a plug for Mid-Continental Public Library’s Romance GenreCon www.mymcpl.org/events/romance It is romance celebration of author panels, fun games, events, and writing classes and everything is free. Yes, free.  It is also located in one of my fave cities on this earth, Kansas City. Please, check it out.

This is just a small list of romance travel opportunities. You can find more at www.romancerefined.com  A list of romance events is listed under “Resources.” The list also includes one day book signings in fun places. I prefer events where I can mingle but if you just want to meet your fave author, go.  Some of these are also held in exotic, fun locations which brings me to overseas conferences . . .

#

I’ve been to reader conferences in Australia, Paris, and Berlin.  In Paris and Berlin, there were enough workshops in English to keep me happy. I also enjoyed the locations. They were in spots the locals go. Photo below: Panel of Australian Annie West and French authors Marianna and Carine Pitocchi at Festival du Roman Féminin in Paris. 




In Paris, the Festival du Roman Féminin www.facebook.com/FestivalDuRomanFeminin was right off Paris’s Chinatown district or Quartier Asiatique. Need I say the food was phenomenal? The location was also a short Metro ride to the all the tourist sights, but I felt I was a part of the city.


East Berlin

              The Love Letter Convention www.loveletterconvention.com  was held in East Berlin this year which gave me a bit of a charge.  It was also close to some dynamite shopping.  Besides sightseeing, I also took in a show - something I like to do whenever I travel. 


Everyone was excited about Cathy's panel!

            
  The Australian Romance Readers Association www.australianromancereaders.com.au will be holding one day luncheons and book signings in five different cities over a two week period. Two keynote authors will be traveling to all five cities. Next year it will be Susan Donovan and Darynda Jones. That will be a fun adventure. Those two are a good time.

              Australia itself is magic. There is no language barrier and the Aussies are welcoming. Plus, there are a host of fabulous romance writers such as Anna Campbell, Anne Gracie, and Stephanie Laurens for you to meet.

In all cities, the authors, organizers, and attendees could not have been more generous or inclusive. Trust me, I have blundered about and people have been kindness itself when I realize I’ve charged too forward. I also come upon close groups of friends who hadn’t known each other until they attended a conference. Now, they look forward to seeing each other at events.  Just like in the States.
#

              So, are you feeling the itch to do some conference traveling? Trust me, whether it is over glasses of wine or sitting on a beach, talking books is fun with friends.

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, October 18, will receive a package of four Cathy Maxwell books. (U.S. addresses only)