Saturday, December 31, 2011

Coming Attractions!

Happy New Year!  We're ringing in 2012 with another busy month at The Romance Dish.  With visiting authors, book reviews, giveaways and more, there's always something fun going on here.  We hope to see you often!

Be sure to stop by when NY Times Bestselling author, Eloisa James blogs with us on Wednesday, January 4th.  Eloisa has a terrific new book out called The Duke is Mine


Kat Martin returns Thursday, January 5th to blog about her Mexican adventure and tell us about Hot Rain, her new romantic suspense book!

Andrea will be here Friday, January 6th with her list of New Releases for January.  You won't want to miss this list.  There are some wonderful books being released this month!

There will be plenty of sizzle when Tawny Weber joins us Monday, January 9th to blog about her new trilogy for Harlequin Blaze.  The second book in the trilogy,  Sex, Lies and Midnight was released December 20th.

For all the latest news in Young Adult fiction and film, join Trish Milburn on Tuesday, January 10th when she stops by with her monthly Teen Menu.

Make your reservations for our "must read" books for February on Thursday, January 12th.

Wondering who Buffie will warm us up with this month?  January's HOT DISH will be unveiled on Sunday, January 15th!

Anna Campbell will be here Tuesday, January 24th with another Second Helping book review. 

We close out the month on Tuesday, January 31st by celebrating her first release day with debut author, Manda Collins.  PJ says How to Dance With a Duke is a debut you don't want to miss.  You won't want to miss Manda's visit with us either!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Guest Review - - Sanctuary Cove

Sanctuary Cove
By Rochelle Alers
Publisher: Grand Central/Forever
Release Date: January 1, 2012

Deborah Robinson retreats to Cavanaugh Island, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, a few weeks after the death of her schoolteacher husband. Louis Robinson was accused of improper behavior with a student and died before his exoneration. Disgusted by condolences from people who were eager to condemn her husband, Deborah plans to sell her house and move with her two teenage children to the house her grandparents left her in Sanctuary Cove, a tiny town on the island. She finds the perfect spot to relocate her bookstore, finding comfort in a combination of people and places beloved from her childhood summers and the promise of a new life.

Dr. Asa Monroe is a snowbird, a tourist paying his first visit to the Carolina low country while he marks time waiting for an assignment from Doctors Without Borders. He gave up a prosperous practice after the deaths of his wife and son in an automobile accident. Asa found himself unable to continue with the life he had known before he lost his family, and he looks forward to work in a developing country giving new purpose to his life.

Deborah and Asa meet on the day she returns to the island to set things in motion for her move. From that first meeting, they are attracted to one another; friendship is added to attraction as they grow to know one another, and eventually they fall in love. But the relationship seems destined to be a temporary one since Deborah has found the place she belongs on Cavanaugh Island and Asa’s calling leads him far away.

Sanctuary Cove launches a new series for Alers, the first African-American author in Grand Central’s Forever line. Perhaps the detailed descriptions and the large cast of characters are a necessary part of the set up of a new series, but I grew weary of them. Since I’m a reader who likes description, I was surprised by my reaction. But when such careful attention is devoted to multiple meals and settings, the pace of a novel slows to a crawl. Given the already thin conflict, the slow pace seemed an even greater problem. I was also distracted by some confusing references and repetitions such as half a dozen forms of “slow” used in the first three or so pages. Since I read an ARC, I hope these flaws will be corrected in the edition released in January.

The community Alers creates is warmly and vividly drawn, and Deborah and Asa are, for the most part, interesting and sympathetic characters. I admit I was bothered by how quickly Deborah moves through her grief. Readers are told that she maintains control for her children’s sakes and sheds her tears in private, but her anger over the injustice her husband suffered seems stronger than her grief. She remembers that at Thanksgiving the family was together and Louis carved the turkey, but by New Year’s her interest in Asa is clear. I know there is no single timeline for recovering from the loss of a loved one, but that seems awfully fast for a woman widowed after eighteen years of marriage to be moving on. The fact that her feelings for Asa are stronger than anything she felt for her husband also bothered me. It’s a common tactic in romance with widowed characters, but it’s one that always bothers me.

The secondary characters are numerous. Some seem to serve little purpose other than to add local color. Others are strong additions to the story. Deborah’s children would have seemed more credible had they been a bit less perfect, but I appreciated the tightly knit family unit. And Deborah’s conversations with her best friends rang true. Since this was my first book by this author, I can’t compare Sanctuary Cove to her other books. I like small-town romances and gentle romances, and I found Cavanaugh Island interesting enough to try the next book in the series. I recommend it to readers who share my tastes with the noted caveats. Readers who prefer more heat and more action in their romances will probably want to skip this one.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today's Special - - Anne Gracie

Janga and I discovered early on in our cyber friendship that we share a similar taste in books so I didn't hesitate when, about six years ago, she strongly encouraged me to try one of her favorite historical romance authors; a writer by the name of Anne Gracie.  The first Gracie book I bought was The Perfect Kiss (fourth in the Merridew Sisters series) and with that one book I was hooked on this exceptionally talented author.  I've since read almost everything she's written (I recently scored Tallie's Knight, a book I've been relentlessly searching for the past six years) and can honestly say she's never disappointed me.  I had the pleasure of meeting Anne in person at the RWA National Conference in 2009.  Just as she had become one of my favorite authors with that first book, it took just one meeting for her to become one of my favorite people.  This irrepressible Aussie exudes warmth, humor and joy - an unbeatable combination.  Please join me in giving Anne a very warm welcome to The Romance Dish! ~PJ

Where do you get your ideas?        
By Anne Gracie

It's a question often asked of authors, and most writers hate it. Not me.  I get ideas for stories all the time - there's no shortage. They come from all kinds of places — a snippet of overheard conversation, an image, a scene in movie or a book where I think, "No, it wouldn't have happened like that," and an idea is sparked.

But most often stories come to me just as I'm drifting off to sleep, or just as I'm waking in the morning. A scene starts rolling in my head like a movie and depending on my state at the time, I'll either scribble it down into the exercise book I keep beside my bed, or stagger out to the computer and type it up. If it's a scene from my current novel, I'll head for the computer, but if comes out of the blue, I usually use the notebook.

I always write it down, because if I let myself drift off to sleep, I know I'll forget it. I've learned that the hard way, waking in the morning, remembering that I'd thought of a really good scene, but with no memory of what it was, except that it was The Best Idea Evah!

So I have a stack of notebooks filled with scribbled down scenes, fragments of ideas, thoughts, possibilities and questions. Most don't make it to a book, but there are some scenes that are so vivid and real, they stay in my head and nag at me. I keep thinking about them and asking myself questions — who are these people, what's this story about? What led to this? Where do they go from here?

These are the scenes that spark books. Some times it turns out to be the black moment that comes at the end of the book (eg Gallant Waif — my first book, the ballroom scene), and sometimes it's the first meeting of the hero and heroine (Perfect Rake — the scene here is almost identical to the scribbled down dawn version in the notebook. My latest book, BRIDE BY MISTAKE also started in this way, with a scene coming to me out of the blue.

A young officer is riding through the mountains of Spain. He hears a scream, high, desperate and female. Being a hero, he rides to the rescue. A young girl is being attacked. There's a short, brutal fight. My hero wins.

The girl is thirteen and fleeing a forced marriage. She's alone and vulnerable and she's the same age as his little sister.

So what does he do?

Reader, he marries her.  He's not expecting to survive the war, and thinks if he does, he'll get the marriage annulled. He places her in a convent in the care of her aunt, and rides away to war. So it's a convenient marriage story.
It took me a while to work out the rest of the story, what happens next, and eventually I realized this might have been the start of their story, but it wasn't the opening of the book. It was backstory.
The book starts eight years later, and Luke is back from the war, a changed man. He's now Lord Ripton and under pressure to marry and beget an heir. The annulment has been refused and now Luke must journey back to Spain, to the place of his worst memories, and collect the wife he hardly knows and doesn't want. Now it's an inconvenient marriage story. At least, Luke reflects, being convent educated, his wife will be dutiful and obedient.

Reader, she isn't.

For years Isabella, my heroine, lived in the convent, dreaming of Luke — tall, dark and beautiful as an archangel — but by the time the story starts, those dreams have withered on the vine. She's no longer waiting for her prince: she's decided to take control of her own life. Here's a short excerpt:

            "I'm leaving the convent." Bella's announcement was followed by a stunned silence.
            "Is he comi—" Paloma began.
            "Nobody is coming for me, Paloma." Bella glanced at Sister Beatriz, who was still asleep, and said in a lowered voice. "I'm leaving anyway."
            "I don't believe you. What will you do? How will you support yourself? Who will protect you? It's dangerous—"
            "I will support myself, " Bella said. "And I will protect myself. I won't stay here, waiting forever for someone to rescue me. Life isn't a fairy-tale."
            "Isabella Ripton," said a voice from the doorway.
            All the girls jumped guiltily.
            "Isabella," Sister Josefina repeated as she entered the door. She was the youngest and prettiest of the nuns, merry and lively and dedicated to her vocation. "Tidy yourself. Reverend Mother wants you in her office. You have a visitor!"
            "A visitor? Who?" In eight years, Bella had never had a visitor.
            Sister Josefina smiled. "Can't you guess?"
            Mystified, Bella shook her head.
            "An Englishman."
            Bella froze.
            Sister Josefina nodded. "Tall, dark, and as beautiful as an archangel."
            Bella couldn't move a muscle. She couldn't utter a word or marshall a single coherent thought.
            "A very stern, very masculine archangel." Sister Josefina sighed. And a blush rose on her cheeks.

   * * * * *
Bella is brave and passionate and loyal and unpredictable and she leads Luke a right merry dance. She's also exactly what he needs.  I loved writing this book and I hope you enjoy Luke and Bella's romance as much as I did.
Do you enjoy convenient marriage stories as much as I do? What are some of your favorites? Leave a comment and you'll be in the draw for a copy of BRIDE BY MISTAKE.

Thank you so much for having me on the Romance Dish. 

Thanks, Anne! I've loved the Devil Riders series and can't wait to start BRIDE BY MISTAKE!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today's Special - - Cecilia Grant

It's always fun to welcome debut authors and today we have one who's been getting a lot of buzz around the romance world.  After her debut book, A LADY AWAKENED, had been enthusiastically recommended by both Dish regular, Penfield and favorite author, Eloisa James, I knew I had to check it out.  The holder of a degree in English, Cecilia (as she writes on her website) is delighted to be writing stories after waiting tables, composing software Help files and answering the carpool-lane-violators hotline.  After reading A LADY AWAKENED, I'm delighted she's writing stories too! 

Welcome to The Romance Dish, Cecilia and congratulations on yesterday's publication of your debut novel, A LADY AWAKENED!  Will you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the story of an intimate bargain between two of the unlikeliest partners imaginable. Martha Russell needs to conceive a child, ASAP, in order to pass it off as her late husband’s and prevent a nefarious brother-in-law from inheriting. Her new and idle neighbor, Theo Mirkwood, is more than happy to assist - until he finds out she means it to be all business and no pleasure.

At odds in the bedroom and beyond, they try each other’s patience, foil each other’s intentions, push each other to the brink of calling off the whole agreement... and form an improbable friendship. And then more.   

You created such a wonderful sense of time and place – from the language to the working conditions to the social and political climate - in this book without making it seem like a history lesson.  What type of research did you do to get it so spot-on?

I’m glad it read that way to you, but I always squirm a little when someone praises my historical detail because there are so many historical-romance writers who are better at that part of the job than I am.

I started out with a few general books - Trevelyan’s British History in the Nineteenth Century and Richard Muir’s The English Village were particularly useful - and then for specific issues, like how a roof in early 19th-century Sussex would be thatched, I did a lot of fact-hunting online.

Research can make you tear your hair out sometimes, not least because it results in this enormous iceberg of which you might only utilize the tip. In the roof-thatching example, I learned the names for all the different parts of the roof, as well as what material would have been used (different regions of England thatched with different grasses or reeds), only to wind up writing the pertinent scene from the point of view of a character who wouldn’t have known any of that terminology and wasn’t paying particular attention to what the thatchers were doing anyway.

Maybe one day I’ll write a book with a roof-thatcher hero.

What would you most like your readers to know about Martha and Theo, the heroine and hero of A LADY AWAKENED, before beginning their story?

Martha and Theo are going to fall in love. It’s going to look extremely unlikely for awhile but I swear they eventually will.

There was certainly nothing “typical” about this story, especially in the way Theo and Martha viewed both themselves and one another.  (Which I found very refreshing.)  Martha, in particular, is such a complex woman and not all that likable, especially at first.  (I strongly encourage readers to stick with the story as both her growth and Theo’s are immensely satisfying.)  I imagine this book will generate a vast array of reactions.  What was your inspiration for creating such atypical romance characters?  Should we expect more of the unexpected in your future novels?

I’m never going to be the kind of writer who comes up with a strikingly original plot, so I concentrate on original characters. And the quick-and-easy way to create an original character is to identify some of the most ubiquitous personality traits in the genre, and then write the opposite.

There are a lot of romances in which the hero needs major change and growth (repudiation of his rakish ways, for instance) in order to be worthy of the heroine’s love, but relatively few where she’s presented as not yet worthy of his. Heroines tend to be pretty likeable, and relatable, from the get-go, and the downside of this is that they don’t then get the big dramatic growth arcs that the heroes get.

So one of my goals was to write a heroine who, when we first meet her, is not ready to hold up her end of an adult romantic relationship, and has to struggle with her own growing pains at the same time the hero is struggling with his.

On the hero’s side, the most ubiquitous characteristic I could come up with was competence - romance heroes tend to be at the top of whatever field they’re in, whether it’s spying or leading society or just raking around - and so I wanted to write a man who wasn’t there yet, and who would stumble a bit on his way to getting there.

Should you expect more of the unexpected in future works? Well, you should probably expect more not-immediately-likable characters. As a reader I’m drawn to those, and so I like to write them too.

Speaking of future novels, your next book, A GENTLEMAN UNDONE, will be out in May, 2012.  (Gorgeous cover!)  Anything you can tell us about this one?

A GENTLEMAN UNDONE is the story of Martha’s brother Will. He’s got to come up with some money, quickly, to discharge a debt of honor incurred at Waterloo, but when he ventures into a gaming club he tangles with an ice-in-her-veins cardsharp who might be his ruination... or might be exactly what he needs.

Will is probably my most conventional protagonist so far; tortured and deeply honorable. Heroine Lydia is the more atypical character in this book. I wrote her partly in reaction to Martha, actually: after all those months spent with a prim, mulishly nonresponsive heroine, I wanted to write someone completely different. Lydia lacks scruples and has what you might call a vehement sexuality.

When the writing is finished, what do you most enjoy doing for fun and relaxation?

The writing, it turns out, is never finished. (I didn’t know this before I sold books and signed a contract.) Because I’m not a fast writer, I can’t really afford to take a month off to relax and re-charge: as soon as I hand in one book, I’ve got to be working on the next, whether it’s research, brainstorming, or actual writing.

Fortunately the writing is fun. I can’t say it’s relaxing, but it’s definitely fun.

I imagine your research requires a good bit of reading.  What types of books do you turn to for recreational reading?  Or do you even have time for that?

I read a lot of romance - mostly historical - partly for recreation, and partly to keep up with the market. That doesn’t leave nearly as much time as I’d like for other reading.

The books on top of my non-romance TBR pile right now are Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years and Helen Simonsen’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. And the last nonfiction book I really loved was Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Loss - in this case a stillbirth - is such a tricky subject to write about, but she does it without either pulling punches, or leaving you lying on the floor in a puddle of despair.

New Year’s is just around the corner.  Do you make resolutions?  If so, what are your resolutions for 2012?

Since about 1990 I’ve been resolving every year to stop picking at my cuticles. And now that I’ve gone public with it, 2012 will surely be the year in which I succeed. So thanks for that!

A LADY AWAKENED has been getting a lot of advance buzz.  What’s your favorite quote about this book so far?

I’ve been extremely lucky to have the book be so well received at some of the higher-profile blogs and review publications. There’s been more than one quote that would have buckled my knees if I hadn’t already been sitting down when I read it.

But my absolute favorite comes from the first reader who reviewed it on Goodreads - she said, “I felt like this book had been written for me.” I know what that feels like, as a reader, so to have accomplished it for someone else is just gratifying beyond words. 

Thank you, Cecilia!  Do you have a question for our readers?

Thanks for having me. I’d love to know if there are other fans of difficult, even off-putting characters out there. Anyone think the scheming, cigarette-puffing Thomas and O’Brien were the most interesting residents of Downton Abbey? Anyone secretly hoping to see Victoria Grayson smack down Emily Thorne? Tell me which unlikeable characters you can’t help but love!

One randomly selected person leaving a comment on today's blog will receive a copy of A LADY AWAKENED.  (U.S. and Canadian addresses only)


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dish Replay - - In Grandma's Kitchen

It's my turn to blog today but between crazy hours at my retail job and being out of town for a few days...well, the words just wouldn't come.  So instead of a new blog, I thought I'd share one of my favorites from the first year we opened the cyber doors here at The Romance Dish.  Walk with me down memory lane as I share thoughts from my grandma's kitchen.


Some of my earliest memories are of being perched on a stool at my grandma's kitchen counter, hanging onto her every word as she taught me how to wield a rolling pin, create flaky melt-in-your-mouth biscuits or golden brown, perfectly baked cookies. Much of what I know about baking was learned at my grandma's side but baking wasn't the only thing I learned in her kitchen. Sprinkled so lightly among the various techniques that I was hardly aware of them, were gentle lessons that have guided my life over the past 50+ years. From that wise and kind woman I learned to find joy in creating something with my own hands and mind, to take pride in my accomplishments but not be boastful about them, to share willingly and joyfully with others, to have compassion for those lacking the skills or resources with which I was blessed, to treat others with the same kindness and respect that I wish to receive from them and to honor those who have gone before me by sharing my love, my time, my knowledge and a few gentle life lessons with the young people in my life.
Grandma has been with the angels for many years now but, to this day, I can still feel her gentle hand on my shoulder, guiding me in the right direction. A few years ago I was visiting with some cousins that I hadn't seen in almost 30 years. One of them said to me, "You're so much like Grandma it's almost like having her with us again." I can think of no greater compliment.

1 cup solid Crisco shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
dash of salt

Cream shortening. Add 1-1/2 cups sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs and flavorings; beat well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into creamed mixture. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls 2-3 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets. Dip a fork into flour then lightly press on each cookie to flatten. Sprinkle cookie with remaining sugar. Bake at 375° F. for 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

YIELD: 9 dozen

** For a festive appearance, sprinkle cookies with colored sugar before baking.
PS:  It's the lemon extract that makes these cookies special!

Are you a baker?  Who was your teacher? Did they sprinkle lessons of how to make cookies, cakes and pies with life lessons too?  Are you passing the lessons on to the younger folks in your life?


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

The ladies of The Romance Dish are spending Christmas with their families and friends, but would like to wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pigeon Pie!

by Anna Campbell

Sheesh, I need a new title generator! This one scrapes the bottom of the (bird) barrel!

It's Christmas Eve. What better time to talk about murder and mayhem in the wilderness? Nothing like a bit of blood on the holly!

One of the things I love about social media is that it's a great way to discover new writers you had no idea existed. On one of my Romance Dish reviews this year, lovely Cara Elliott visited to comment and mentioned that she loved Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries (hence the rather corny, pun intended, title for this review).

The books sounded interesting so I bought the first one and I've been hooked ever since. I'm eking out the last few of the series right now, having just finished number ten, HUNTING SEASON. I've got eleven and twelve sitting on the Christmas TBR pile and I'm itching to get to them. Then there's five more to go. Don't you love it when you discover a great new author and she's got a backlist up to the wazoo?

Anna Pigeon is a ranger/law enforcement officer in various national parks in the U.S. She's a fascinating character - a middle-aged widow with sharp intelligence and humor and tenacity, and a stubborn courage that stands her in good stead through her various perils. She's also tetchy, opinionated and a little too fond of the vino. She has her own sense of justice which isn't necessarily the justice enshrined in the law.

While the books aren't really romances, it's interesting watching the prickly Anna develop close relationships through each story. When the series starts with TRACK OF THE CAT (1993), Anna's still the walking wounded after losing her beloved husband years earlier to a hit and run accident in New York City.

She seeks refuge in the wilderness and eventually decides to make her career in the national parks. One of the joys of the series is watching Anna come to terms with her devastating grief and establish a rewarding and purposeful life in beautiful, isolated parts of America.

Through the earlier books, there are a couple of abortive romances, the most serious with the man who eventually marries her sister Molly, Frederick the Fed (subsidiary characters are a huge part of the fun). Then in book eight, DEEP SOUTH, Anna falls in love with the charismatic and intriguing sheriff Paul Davidson. It's interesting watching that relationship develop through the succeeding books.

Apart from Anna herself, the principal joy of this series is the exquisite writing about the national parks where Anna works. Nevada Barr knows whereof she speaks. She has worked as a park ranger herself, often in the locations she describes so lovingly in her books.

TRACK OF THE CAT, the first book, is set in the Guadeloupe Mountains in Texas. You can almost taste the dry, fragrant air of the deserts and there are beautiful scenes with the local wildlife, including the magnificent cougars whose poaching forms the basis for the plot.

In A SUPERIOR DEATH, Anna is on a summer placement on Lake Superior. Brrr! That water sounds cold, even in the middle of a hot day! Some extremely creepy and atmospheric descriptions of diving in the lake as Anna sets out to solve a murder in the company of Frederick Stanton (aka Frederick the Fed).

In ILL WIND, Anna takes up a permanent position at the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, site of the mysterious and fascinating Anastazi ruins. When murder disturbs old ghosts, Anna begins an investigation that will take her into danger and adventure.

FIRESTORM is one of my favorites in the series. Wildfires devastate the Rockies and Anna finds herself trapped behind the blaze with a small band of firefighters. But not all the deaths can be put down to the natural disaster and she realizes one of the survivors is a murderer. The suspense in this one will keep you up way into the night (sure did with me!).

ENDANGERED SPECIES has a really unusual setting, a place I didn't even know existed. At the height of summer, Anna is seconded to Cumberland Island National Seashore off the coast of Georgia. Wow, what a fascinating place - crumbling holiday mansions of the rich and famous, lush vegetation, lovely beaches and, of course, murder!

I then took a short break from the series (I'd basically gobbled those first five up like chocolate and I became fonder and fonder of Anna with every new story). Nothing to do with the books, more to do with my cave phobia. I had a panic attack once in the Jenolan Caves outside Sydney and the idea of being trapped in the bowels of the earth with a murderer (the premise of BLIND DESCENT) really creeped me out.

Eventually I manned up and read this one. Again, brilliant suspense and Nevada Barr makes you feel every cold, clammy, dark, creepy inch of the unexplored cave that forms part of the Carslbad Caverns system in New Mexico. Still didn't make me want to take up spielunking!

There are seventeen books in the series. I look foward to reading them all (especially if they all take place above ground!). I highly recommend these stories - I find them absolutely addictive.

So have you read the Anna Pigeon mysteries? Who is the most intrepid heroine you can think of? And do you find caves creepy too?

This is my last review for the year. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Holiday Season and all the best for 2012. Thank you to the wonderful Dishes who invite me to play every month and to everyone who swung by to keep the conversation buzzing along here. Looking forward to talking great books with you again next year! In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Review - - Trouble at the Wedding

Trouble at the Wedding
By Laura Lee Guhrke
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: December 27, 2011

Annabelle Wheaton is no empty-headed heiress searching for love. All the millions she inherited from her miner father have not been enough to win her acceptance in the stratified society of New York at the turn of the twentieth century. The elite will always view her as vulgar nouveau riche with a taint more indelible than her Mississippi accent. Experience has taught her that love leads to disillusionment and heartbreak, and she has no illusions about her engagement to the Earl of Rumsford. She views their upcoming marriage as a bargain from which they will both profit. He will gain a much needed infusion of capital to maintain his home and estate, and she will gain an aristocratic connection powerful enough to give her the status she wants and to protect her younger sister from the humiliations Annabelle has suffered.

Christian Du Quesne knows fortune hunters. He was one once, but his marriage ended so disastrously that he’s determined not to marry for wealth again, even though he has inherited a mountain of debt along with the title upon the death of the Duke of Scarborough, his older brother. But when Annabelle’s uncle, convinced that marriage to Rumsford will make Annabelle miserable and dissipate her fortune, offers Christian a substantial amount to stop the wedding, he accepts.

Christian boards the ship on which the Wheaton-Rumsford wedding party is traveling to England, knowing that the time frame he has to accomplish his task is a narrow one—a mere four days. He knows Rumsford and aristocratic English society. He understands what marriage to Rumsford will do to Annabelle’s pride and independence. He knows how unrealistic are her expectations of what her life as the Duchess of Rumsford will be. He is caught by surprise, however, by the effect the American heiress has on him. Falling for her was not part of his plan.

Christian disturbs Annabelle in ways she’s not willing to analyze. She tries to ignore him, but his pointed comments about marriage into the aristocracy generally and to Rumsford particularly cause her to question her choice. However, it will take more than second thoughts to make this bride bolt. Just how far is Christian prepared to go to cause trouble at the wedding?

This is the third book in Guhrke’s Abandoned at the Altar series, following Wedding of the Season (December 2010) and Scandal of the Year (January 2011). This time she adds an American element to the Edwardian series. Set a few years later than the heyday of the “dollar princesses,” American heiresses from families whose wealth was recently acquired and who were frequently snubbed by the likes of Mrs. Astor and the Four Hundred, Trouble at the Wedding follows the pattern of that period when the eager daughters and ready money of American trade barons were saving the historic homes of land-rich, cash-poor British aristocrats.

Guhrke’s story is reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel, The Buccaneers, but with less moral complexity and an unambiguous ending that will satisfy romance readers. 

Guhrke not only evokes a colorful period, she also creates characters that readers will care about. Annabelle has intelligence and independence. I loved the scene early in the novel where she shows her financial advisors how well she understands the money she has and the power it gives her. Her vulnerabilities are less evident because she guards them so well, but they increase her appeal. Christian is a better man than he credits himself for being, and he is remarkably clear-eyed about the aristocracy. His efforts to dissuade Annabelle from marrying Rumsford reminded me of how miserable the lives of some of the real heiresses who married for titles were.

I was hoping the third book would be Paul’s story, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t. Still, Trouble at the Wedding is a strong addition to the series. The Edwardian setting is a fascinating backdrop for this passionate tale about two people who think falling in love is not for them. If you’re interested in a novel with strong historical connections to both sides of the Atlantic about characters who will capture your interest and your sympathy, I recommend this book.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

The Dishes all celebrate Christmas so you'll see a lot of posts on our site this time of year that are centered around that holiday: songs we sing, food we prepare, gifts we exchange, etc.  Our readers, however, come from various religions and parts of the world and celebrate a variety of religious and non-religious winter holidays.  

Today, we're wishing our Jewish friends a very Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah).  The eight day Jewish Festival of Lights began at sundown yesterday and continues for eight days.  

A more recent (non-religious) holiday that began in 1966, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American heritage, pride, community, family, and culture that begins December 26th and continues for seven days.  

In Japan (where my niece lives), Japanese New Year is the highlight families look forward to this time of year.  Celebrated on January 1st, this has been one of their most important annual festivals for centuries.

Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Japanese New Year or another holiday; whether we live in the United States or Indonesia, at this time of year, we all have family traditions and holiday histories that are special to us.  Today, let's bring the world together.  Please tell us about the holidays you observe and the traditions you hold dear.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To Card or Not to Card

Christmas cards have always been one of the special memories that I associate with this time of the year.  It's not always easy to take time from our busy lives throughout the year to keep in touch with friends and family who live far from us.  Oh, we have good intentions and may manage one or two notes but, eventually, the realities of our busy lives intrude and our good intentions slip away.  Suddenly, six months have gone by without a "hello" or "how have you been?"  But then Christmas arrives and, with it, all those lovely cards that bring us up to date on what's been happening in everyone's lives since the previous December.  I remember the excitement of opening each card and the fun of "catching up."  I remember stringing the cards above the fireplace mantle; the lovely display of joy and friendship that they made.  At least, that's how it used to be.

When I was young, my mom would spend hours penning personal notes in each Christmas card she mailed; a practice I have tried to make my own (though some years are less successful than others).  I look forward to sharing highlights of my year with people I don't speak with on a regular basis.  But...have you noticed how that's begun to change?  With the popularity of facebook, twitter, email, blogs and other social venues, instant updates have become de rigeur and that special quality of the Christmas card has begun to dim.  We no longer have to wait an entire year for that Christmas photo to see how the kids have grown, or the bright smiles of those who no longer wear braces.  We only have to click on the photo tab of our friends' facebook walls for instant access. Will Christmas cards soon become one of those "dated" traditions we tell our children about that happened "back in the day?"

Do you send out Christmas cards?  Do you write personal notes in them?  What about the cards you receive?  Do you display them or have a special container for them?  Do you keep them or toss them when the season is over?  

Another tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside, at least among those who mail me cards, is the famous (infamous?) Christmas letter.  You know the one.  The one, two or sometimes three page letter that details every activity, award, trip and other highlight of a family's year?  It's been a couple years since I received one and, contrary to the ridicule these letters receive from comedians world-wide, I miss them.  Sure, not everyone is interested in the fact that Johnny won the Pine Box Derby or Susie got a medal in track but I enjoyed these little tidbits - and I enjoyed reading about them while curled up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and your letter in the other. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love my computer.  I rejoice in the friendships I've made through the internet and the technology that allows me to "talk" to friends on the other side of the world in an instant.  But, in certain situations, I'm very much a traditionalist.  I want the joy of finding an envelope from a treasured friend in my mailbox.  I want the anticipation of opening the envelope and discovering a beautiful card with a personal note from that friend penned in their own distinctive handwriting, as neat or sloppy as it may be.  I want the celebration of love and friendship that is signified by that extra attention. 

What about you?  Do you think traditional Christmas cards have a limited shelf life?  Are we approaching the end of that life?  What's your opinion of the stereotypical Christmas letter?  Have you ever sent one?


Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest Review - - Hidden Summit

Hidden Summit

By Robyn Carr

Publisher: Mira

Release Date: December 27, 2011

Danson Conner has spent his whole life in Sacramento, California, except for a couple of years in military service. He runs the hardware store that he and his sister inherited from their father. He still carries scars from a one-year marriage that ended in divorce when he discovered his wife was chronically, promiscuously unfaithful, but he’s close to his widowed sister and her two young sons. They fill his need for family, and he enjoys his work. He’s reasonably content with the life he’s created. But one night he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. He sees a murder and calls the police, letting them know that he can identify the killer. His reward for being a good citizen is having his store burned to the ground and his life and the lives of his sister and nephews endangered. Now he has a new identity; Danson Conner has become Conner Danson. His sister and her boys are sent to safety in one location, and Conner ends up in Virgin River, thanks to a request ADA Ray Maxwell of the Sacramento Office of the District Attorney makes of an old friend and former colleague, Brie Valenzuela. It’s a place to hide until he testifies in the homicide case.

Virgin River has another new arrival as well. Leslie Petruso has spent ten years working for Haggerty Construction in Grant’s Pass. But she needs to get away from her cheating ex who is determined he and Leslie remain good friends. He’s an influential developer, and Leslie finds it impossible to escape contact with him and his newly pregnant wife. When she tells her boss she’s leaving town, he suggests she take the job of office manager with Paul Haggerty’s branch of the family firm in Virgin River.

Neither Conner nor Leslie is interested in a relationship. Both have good reasons for avoiding commitment. But the chemistry between them is strong, and Virgin River is weaving its usual spell of warmth and hospitality. Keeping things light proves to be a difficult task, and soon Conner and Leslie are falling for each other and wondering if their future may lie in Virgin River and with each other. But problems from their pasts must be resolved first.

Hidden Summit is the seventeenth book in Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. Perhaps unevenness is inevitable in such a long-running series. The town has lost none of its charm, and for fans of the series revisiting familiar places and old friends is a large part of the pleasure offered by new books. In addition to Brie’s role in Conner’s finding sanctuary in Virgin River and the Haggerty connection, Conner rents a cabin  from Luke Riordan and becomes Art’s fishing buddy,  and both he and Leslie make their way to Jack’s Bar where they meet the group Brie terms “the regulars and good friends.”

But however much a reader may enjoy these details, the hero and heroine and their relationship determines the reader’s response to a romance novel. Carr has created some of the most memorable, lovable couples in contemporary romance in this series, but I was never engaged fully engaged by this pair. What happened to Conner was dreadful. I felt sympathy for him, but too often I wanted to reiterate what Brie says to him in their first conversation. She asks him to try to “be pleasant” and then adds, “I don’t need my brother and my close friends wondering why the hell I’d find you a place to live and a job because you’re such an ass.” To be fair, he does indeed become more pleasant and becomes a part of the community, but there were too many moments when he verged on self-pity. I found his sister, whose life has been disrupted in much the same way, a much more appealing character.

Granted that Leslie’s life is not endangered and she is in Virgin River by her choice, I nevertheless found her more likeable because she is prepared to move on with her life. After Conner kisses her the first time, she makes a choice: “And that fast she decided—she was going to enjoy her life rather than subject herself to some kind of torture of denial to avoid ever being hurt again.”  I also applaud the fact that Leslie learns to like herself and her life before she begins to want something permanent with Conner.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been liking myself a lot more. I like my little rented house, all the new flowers, my yoga classes, my job in the construction trailer. The crews respect me and do things my way, my boss already needs me. I have a kind of boyfriend . . . who lets me call the shots. I’m getting to know myself, Conner. It’s okay that you don’t feel like marrying me because I don’t feel like marrying anyone. I feel so good being on my own.”

Hidden Summit is not a bad book, but it suffers in comparison to stronger books in the series, books with heroes and heroines that engaged my attention and my affection with no reservations. I’m still a Virgin River fan, still a Robyn Carr fan. I’ll be reading an e-galley of  Redwood Bend (February 28, 2012) this week, and Sunrise Point (April 24, 2012) is a starred book on my TBB calendar. If you too are a Virgin River fan, you will want to read this book. You may find yourself more attuned to the hero than I did. If you haven’t read any of the Virgin River books and like small-town settings, I highly recommend the series, even though my recommendation for this particular book is a qualified one.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stock Up Saturday Reviews

Wrangled and Tangled
Book 3, Blackstop Cowboys Series

by Lorelei James
Publisher: NAL Trade
Release Date: November 1, 2011

Wrangled and Tangled is two love stories in one novel. While in most cases it is difficult to have two couples be the star of one book, Ms. James does a fantastic job of keeping the reader interested in both couples.

Janie Fitzbugh and Abe Lawson married at an early age. Instead of growing together, the two grew apart. Janie’s hopes for her marriage were not the reality of their day to day life, so she packed up her stuff and left Muddy Gap, Wyoming. Eight years later, Janie has returned to the rural town to work in the new resort. When Abe and Janie see each other again, the sparks begin to fly and before long those warm, tender feelings resurface. Abe’s love for Janie never diminished over the years of her absence and now that Janie is back in town, Abe is hoping to convince her they need to be a lifetime couple only this time Abe is going to be tell her exactly what he wants … especially in the bedroom.

Renner Jackson has opened his own ranch and resort in Muddy Gap. As a part of his deal with an investor, Renner has agreed to have an onsite representative of the investor though Renner never thought it would be the rich investor’s daughter. Tierney Pratt has had it with her all-business father. After dear daddy passed Tierney over for a huge promotion, she took an on-site representative job to get away from Chicago and her father. But when rough and tough Renner goes head to head with accountant pencil pusher Tierney, their first meeting is not good. But as we all know, there is a fine line between love and hate and these two dance across that line quite well. I think the passion between these two is smokin’ hot. There is one scene with a desk, a chair, and an unwanted guest that will surprise you … in a good way.

If you are looking for a few hours of escape and would like to spend it with some sexy Montana cowboys, then this book is just for you!

~ Buffie


Kiss of Frost
Mythos Academy, Book 2
By Jennifer Estep
Publisher: K-Teen (Kensington)

Release Date: December 1, 2011

At Mythos Academy, teen warriors in the making train to take up their roles protecting humankind. With her snarky, self-deprecating voice and strange gift of psychometry – the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it – Gwen Frost is an outsider both to the students of the Academy and the rest of the world. But now that she’s taking private tutoring with the Academy’s most notorious young Spartan, and has Nike’s own sword to protect her, she’s ready to make her mark…

Kiss of Frost picks up shortly after where Touch of Frost (Book 1) left off. (Read my review here if you need a little backstory). Gwen still feels incredibly out of place at Mythos Academy, amongst the pampered, rich teen warriors. She's just that "Gypsy girl" without any super cool strength and speed like the Spartans, Amazons, Valkyries, and Vikings that populate Mythos Academy. Talk about feeling awkward! Add to that the fact that she's crushing on Logan Quinn, the dark and sexy Spartan who's is training her in combat skills, and that she's the target of every Reaper of Chaos---Gwen has more angst and stress than your average teen.

The whole school is headed up in the mountains for Winter Carnival, a weekend of skiing, fun, frolic, and serious partying. Gwen really doesn't want to go, but her best friend (and Valkyrie), Daphne convinces her to go. Maybe a few days away from Mythos is a good idea. Surely the Reapers won't bother to follow her. Not only is someone still trying to kill Gwen, but there's also a killer Fenrir wolf all too eager to make her his afternoon snack. Even the very hunky new boy, Preston, that she meets can't make her forget all that. Looks like it's time to put her new fighting skills to the test. But will Gwen emerge the victor or die trying?

Jennifer Estep has created a world full of myth, action, a little romance, a lot of raging hormones. Gwen Frost is someone most of can relate to. Who hasn't felt a little awkward at some point during their teen years? But she knows who she is: smart, tough, loyal, and sweetly vulnerable. The Mythos Academy series is great young adult reading, but I'd recommend it for about 14 and up for some of the content. It is best to read the series in order, beginning with Touch of Frost---Jennifer also has a prequel, First Frost---so you can experience Gwen's time at Mythos Academy from day one. Dark Frost, book three in the series, is scheduled for release in June 2012. Young adult books aren't just for the young; I'd recommend them for the rest of us grown ups, too.

~ Gannon

Friday, December 16, 2011

We Have Winners!

The winner of a copy of CHRISTMAS IN COLD CREEK by RaeAnne Thayne is


Congratulations, Monica!  Please send your full name and mailing address to us at theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com with "RaeAnne Winner" in the subject.


The winner of a signed Advance Readers Copy of 
THE PLEASURE OF YOUR KISS by Teresa Medeiros is


Congratulations!  Please send your full name and mailing address to us at theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com with "Medeiros Winner" in the subject.


The winner of a copy of UNDER THE MILLIONAIRE'S MISTLETOE, an anthology by 
Sandra Hyatt and Maureen Child is


Congratulations, Jane!  Please send your full name and mailing address with "Hyatt Anthology" in the subject to theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com.


The ten winners of a copy of LESSONS IN SEDUCTION by Sandra Hyatt are











Congratulations, ladies!  Please send your full name and mailing address to us at with "1000th Winner" in the subject. 

Last Call

This is the last call for one of the winners of a copy of 
INSIDE by Brenda Novak
courtesy of debut author Joan Swan.  


Please send your mailing information to us at theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com no later than Sunday, December 18th to claim your prize.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hot Dish

Tis the season for thinking of others and giving to those you care about.

And since I care for all of you, I have decided to give you the gift of .... HOLIDAY HUNKS!!

Hope you enjoy!!

Oh, by the way, the line to sit on Santa's lap (or laps - hehehehe) starts right behind me :-)

~ Buffie

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Today's Special - - Teresa Medeiros

It's always a delight when Teresa Medeiros joins us here at The Romance  Dish.  Not only is she one of my favorite people but she's also a fantastic author who can be counted on to make me laugh, make me sigh and always make me happy I picked up one of her books.  Please join me in welcoming Teresa as she talks about one of my favorite topics:  romance kisses!

As a romance reader, nothing makes me shiver with delight or sigh with longing more than a well-written kiss scene, especially if it's the first kiss our hero and heroine share on the page. Here's an exclusive ROMANCE DISH sneak peek at the very first kiss Ashton Burke and Clarinda Cardew share in my upcoming historical THE PLEASURE OF YOUR KISS after being torn apart nine years before:

As if to prove his point, Ash brushed his lips over hers in a feather-light caress, sending her already shaky senses reeling. It was as if their lips had never been parted. As if time had stopped and all the moments between their last kiss and this one had only been grains of glittering sand suspended in some frozen hourglass.
          Clarinda had no defenses against such shattering tenderness. As he deepened the kiss, sweeping his tongue through her mouth in a velvety caress, she was forced to curl a hand around the broad expanse of his nape and tangle her fingers in the wet silk of his hair just to keep from sliding back into the water. If she went under this time, she didn't think there would be any saving herself.

Ashton and Clarinda's reunion takes place in a sultan's harem, which allows ample opportunities for kissing (and other delights ;)). Describing the charms of a kiss in words is never easy and I'm always inspired by those unforgettable screen kisses that still make me swoon with pleasure. 

There's the kiss between Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin in THE BIG EASY after he calls her "cher" and promises that her luck in the bedroom is about to change. There's the jaw-drooping smooch Spike slaps on Buffy at the end of "Once More with Feeling", the musical episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (complete with soul-stirring crescendo of romantic music). There's Madeline Stowe and Daniel Day Lewis finally succumbing to passion in LAST OF THE MOHICANS while the world around them is consumed by the fires of battle.

          But my all-time favorite (which is ever so appropriate for this holiday season) is the kiss George Bailey plants on Mary Hatch in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. That single kiss is one of the hottest love scenes in cinematic history. There are no rumpled bedsheets. There are no naked, straining bodies. There is simply George and Mary sharing a phone in her mother's living room. An overtly hostile George is torn between his dream of escaping his hometown while there's still time and his desperate desire for young Mary. I don't have to tell you which one wins and in that moment when he drops the phone and grabs Mary, the chemistry between them is so sizzling it may very well melt your heart and your Blu-Ray player.

          As I celebrate the pleasures of kissing and the release of THE PLEASURE OF YOUR KISS on December 27th, I'd love to hear about YOUR favorite movie or TV kiss! One lucky commenter today will win an autographed Advanced Reading Copy of THE PLEASURE OF YOUR KISS!

Teresa won't be available to respond to comments until sometime this afternoon.  She's busy this morning bringing home the newest member of the Medeiros family. Welcome home, Pickles!  Isn't he a cutie?