Saturday, June 30, 2012

Coming Attractions

It’s hot outside and we start the month off welcoming a hot, rising star in historical romance, author Carrie Lofty! Join us on Monday, July 2nd as Carrie dishes out her latest release in her Christie family series, Starlight. Andrea read it, loved it, and highly recommends it!

Virginia Kantra, New York Times best-selling author of contemporary and paranormal romance, drops by on Thursday, July 5th to talk about her newest book, Carolina Home. This one, which comes out July 3rd, is the first book in her new Dare Island series.

Grab a pen and paper on Friday, July 6th because Andrea brings you her list of New Releases for the month of July!

Are you up to date on everything YA? If not, no worries. Trish Milburn, aka Tricia Mills, will fill us in on all the latest and greatest in the world of Young Adult in her Teen Menu on Tuesday, July 10th.

Make Your Reservations on Thursday, July 12th, as we let you know which books we are looking forward to in August.

New York Times best-selling author Elizabeth Hoyt visits with us on Thursday, July 19th! You won’t want to miss out as she will surely talk about her latest masterpiece, Thief of Shadows, which is the fourth installment in her popular Maiden Lane series. It was released this past Tuesday and PJ and Andrea highly recommend it!

Sexy contemporary author Dee Tenorio dishes with us on Friday, July 20th. The fourth book in her Rancho del Cielo series, TheVirgin’s Revenge, hits shelves on July 3rd!

On Tuesday, April 24th, the glamorous AnnaCampbell brings us her Second Helping of a book that you may have missed the first time around. We are sure it will be a book you won’t want to miss this time!

Historical author Jodi Thomas returns to the Romance Dish on Friday, July 27th. This New York Times best-seller’s sixth book in her Whispering Mountainseries, Wild Texas Rose, releases August 7th!

On Tuesday, July 31st, we welcome back another rising star in historical romance, Manda Collins! How to Romance a Rake, the second book in her Ugly Duckling trilogy, releases the same day (July 31st) and is already garnering wonderful reviews!

In addition to all these terrific guest authors and regular columns, we’ll have a whole lot of great reviews and a few giveaways, too! July is sure to be a hot month here at The Romance Dish!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Today's Special - - Carey Baldwin

I am so thrilled to welcome debut romantic suspense author Carey Baldwin to The Romance Dish.  Talk about your multi-talented, multi-tasking authors!  Carey is a full-time practicing physician, mom, critique partner (to Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan and Leigh LaValle), former clinical psychologist and a brand new newlywed!

Carey, along with Tessa, Courtney and Leigh released an anthology in May that is part of a breast cancer fundraiser.  Be sure to check out Three Weddings and a Murder.  Her single-title debut, First Do No Evil was released June 26. Find more information about Carey at her website (be sure to check out the "fun facts about moi") and connect with her at Facebook and Twitter.

Welcome, Carey!

Love and Coffee Shops

Thank you so much to everyone at the Romance Dish for having me today! This is one of my favorite blogs, and I am delighted to be here.  I have a giveaway coming up, but first I want to talk about love, lightning and those wonderful places called coffee shops.

Let's start with lightning. You never know when it will strike. In one of my favorite movies of all time, MEET JOE BLACK, a father (played by Anthony Hopkins) has a heart to heart with his daughter (played by Claire Forlani) about her unexciting relationship with her boyfriend. He doesn't want her to settle, and he's very persuasive.

Hopkins "To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven't lived a life at all. But you have to try, because if you haven't tried you haven't lived... I want you to get swept away out there. I want you to levitate. I want you to sing with rapture and dance like dervish." 

Forlani "Oh, is that all?" 

Hopkins "Stay open…you never know. Lightning could strike."

And hooray! Lightning does strike just days later when Forlani meets Brad Pitt at a local coffee shop 

Now I've seen that movie about a million times, but I can tell you I never believed lightning could strike me. Those wonderful, bigger than life encounters don't happen to ordinary people. Or do they?  

After my babies (Who are we kidding? These children are big dogs now!) left the nest, I finally started dating again. I'd been divorced a long time, and I was going through the motions of meeting new men with all the same enthusiasm I had formerly reserved for studying for my pathology exams in med school. Until one evening I arrived early for a first meet at…a coffee shop. Starbucks in Barnes & Noble to be specific.

He wasn't there.

I retreated to the ladies' room and after, as I was sneaking past the coffee area, feeling perfectly justified not waiting on a tardy man, I saw him. Tall, blond, built, and waiting for me. I veered into the coffee shop. Cautiously, I allowed him to buy me a bottled water and escort me to a tiny table with wobbly legs. Three and half hours later I walked out of ….the coffee shop, my own legs wobbly. Lightning had struck.

In FIRST DO NO EVIL the heroine, Skylar Novak, is going through the motions of living life until the day she meets a handsome detective outside…a coffee shop, and lightning strikes. Danny and Sky have a bigger than life moment, and that moment changes everything.

If you like, you can read their encounter by going here: and clicking on Excerpt. 

I'll paste the blurbs from FIRST DO NO EVIL and THREE WEDDINGS AND A MURDER below for those who are interested.


Blood Secrets, Book 1 

One killer is in her blood. The other is in her house. 

There’s a killer lurking in Dr. Skylar Novak’s family tree: the gene for breast cancer. That’s why her brilliant brother invented the Bella vaccine. But even if the miracle drug protects her from the cancer that took her mother’s life, it can’t save Sky from the flesh and bone evil stalking her in secret. 

When the killer strikes, detective Daniel Benson finds himself in the wrong place at the right time. The bold detective manages to save Sky’s life…just in time for her to return the favor. Survival leads to seduction, and Danny risks everything—his career, even his life, to keep Sky safe. But will the buried sins they uncover cost him her heart? 

Danny’s strong arms may hold her close, but only Sky can stop the terror that’s coming next…


May 2012 

Including Carey’s story SOLOMON’S WISDOM

Four friends who care have each contributed their own story to bring you this very special anthology. You’ll enjoy three historical romances and one contemporary romantic thriller—four distinct voices united for one cause. All profits from the purchase of the anthology will be donated to the Avon Breast Cancer Walk. Funds will be used to support research to find a cure or prevention for breast cancer and for outreach programs with an emphasis on assisting low-income, elderly and minority individuals. 

Now for the give away. I'm offering a $25 gift card and a digital copy of both FIRST DO NO EVIL and THREE WEDDINGS AND A MURDER to one commenter drawn at random. My question is this: Have you ever had lightning strike? Or do you have a favorite encounter from a book or movie where lightning strikes?

Thanks so much to the Romance Dish for having me, and to everyone who stopped by!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Christina Brooke winner!

The winner of a signed copy of the entire MINISTRY OF MARRIAGE series is:

Connie (comment #5)

Congrats, Connie! Please send your full name and address to theromancedishATgmailDOTcom with "Christina Brooke winner" as the subject and we'll get your info forwarded to Christina. Thanks to everyone who stopped by!

Review -- Starlight

The Christies—Book 2
By Carrie Lofty
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: June 26, 2012

Alexander Christie is a bit disheartened following the reading of his late father’s will. Alex and his three siblings are instructed to manage one of William Christie’s foreign companies to help it to earn a profit at the end of two years. If they succeed, they are awarded one million dollars; if they refuse or fail, they will receive five hundred dollars. The task given to Alex is to go to Glasgow, Scotland, and make Christie’s Textiles profitable. Alex has a hard time wrapping his head around this idea since his life, and that of his infant son’s, is in Philadelphia, where he is a teacher and is due tenure within the year. However, there is no question that he will do it after meeting with his late wife’s malicious father.  

“Did he bequeath you enough to keep your son?” 

It is this question and the evil desire behind it that drives Alex to do anything and everything to protect Edmund. 

He would go to Scotland. He would earn that million-dollar bonus and protect his son. Or die trying. 

Polly Gowan is a weaver at Christie’s Textiles and also the daughter of a union leader. Few people know that Polly has been secretly leading the union ever since her father became too ill to do the job. After an explosion in the mill leaves some damage and one person with an injury, Polly and several other workers are brought in for questioning by the new master, Mr. Christie, and a few of the other mill masters. Polly is instantly intrigued by Alex, but knows her place since they are on opposite sides of the social spectrum—Polly and her family are dirt poor (but happy) and Alex is of the upper crust. Yet despite all the secrets and turmoil, they find that they can be themselves with each other and just let forget their past hardships for at least a little while and heal. This is one of my favorite (of many) scenes in the book: 

“How do you do it, Polly?” 

... “Do what?” 

“Keep your spirits up. For example, at the meeting hall. Had anyone else given the speech you did, I would’ve thought them terribly naïve or even manipulative. But you meant every word, and everyone there knew it. You want the people in your union to fare well.” 

“Naturally. Others might have different motives, but I’m not so complicated.” 

“Oh, I don’t believe that.” He touched her cheek, where loose curls tickled and teased. Her skin was cold. He edged closer on the blanket, and their bodies traded heat. 

“I love my people,” she said at last. “I’m very proud of them. This isn’t an easy life. Maybe that’s why I have such pride and ambition for them, often more than they do for themselves.” 

“But how have you managed to survive here? It’s dirty and poor and violent. Yet, you keep smiling. How?” 

She grew quiet, making Alex wonder if he’d stepped on some invisible boundary. But she was still Polly, and that meant taking him by surprise. “You want to know the secret?” 

“Is there one?” 

“Of course. Otherwise I’d have gone mad a long time ago.” ... “You make shields. A half dozen or so. You stake them all around, all overlapped to keep out the pain and disappointment. But you leave a tiny crack, right in the front. That’s for letting the happiness in.” 

Polly agrees to help Alex find out who orchestrated the explosion, but she is a smart, practical girl who holds no illusions that she and Alex will have a future together beyond that. But the more time they spend in each other’s company, the harder it is for Polly to cling to that thought. And Alex is not immune either. 

She was a creature he’d never thought to imagine. A woman unlike any he’d ever known. Rough-hewn and cheeky, resilient and stubborn. Her boldness called to him. 

That boldness tempted him toward thoughts he had no business thinking. Hard thoughts. Charged with sex and expectation. His nighttime fantasies made real. Primal and powerful, his hands shook with his effort to maintain some reserve. 

He wanted her, yes. But nothing about her could be trusted. Those kisses... All in service of the union? 

When more chaos arises, the results of which may change their lives forever, Alex and Polly must decide what is most important.  

Starlight is an absolute treasure from the multi-talented Carrie Lofty! In it, she crafts a beautiful tale of two people who aren’t of the same class, but are of a similar mind. Alex and Polly’s attraction to one another is clear and completely real. Their very first meeting in Alex’s office is fraught with tension, but there is an underlining allure there as well. That attraction evolves into some extremely sexy hot love scenes! As mentioned, Alex and Polly are in opposing positions—one having to side with the other masters to keep peace, while the other stands up for her people and their livelihood. I found myself rooting for both to prevail in their individual cause. 

I love this series about the illustrious Christie family and am blown away by Lofty’s talent to breathe life into unusual settings. The first book (Flawless) was set in South Africa and while this one is located in a familiar country, I haven’t read any Scottish romances that take place within the austere milling industry. I was completely fascinated. And while reading it, I was reminded of one of my favorite mini-series, North and South, featuring the handsome Richard Armitage. After reading the sneak peek of the next book, Diva, I am anxious for it and its Australia setting! Ms. Lofty continues to shine in historical romance and I have no doubt she will for many years to come!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Today's Special - - Christina Brooke

Christina Brooke is with us today!  (Hi Christina!  *Waving*)  Christina is one of our favorite Aussies and the author of a unique and delightful historical romance series called the Ministry of Marriage.  The third book is the series, A Duchess to Remember, released yesterday and it's another winner.  Fans of the series will be delighted to know Christina has signed a contract for three more books in the series so get ready for the Westruther men!

Christina is a former lawyer who is also a busy mom and in the midst of a long-term house renovation.  She holds the distinction of being the first Australian to win the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart award.  She's also been an RITA finalist twice, with books written as Christine Wells and as Christina Brooke.  Heiress in Love, the first book in her Ministry of Marriage series is a finalist for the RITA this year.  And, if all that isn't enough, she's also a regular blogger at Romance Bandits! Take it away, Christina!

Hello everyone! I'm delighted to be back dishing with the lovely ladies at the Romance Dish.

So many readers of the first two books in my Ministry of Marriage series, HEIRESS IN LOVE, and MAD ABOUT THE EARL, have been begging for Cecily's story. I'm so happy to announce that Cecily's book, A DUCHESS TO REMEMBER, is out this week. I hope you all have as much fun with this couple as I did!

Today I'm going to dish a little about smart heroines. Or should I say smart-mouthed heroines? *G* Lady Cecily Westruther is certainly both clever and witty, but in A DUCHESS TO REMEMBER she is perhaps just a little too clever for her own good.

You see, Cecily has her life very nicely mapped out. A fiancé who not only happens to be a duke, but a very mild-mannered, compliant duke, who can be guaranteed to let her to live her life precisely as she likes. He also has two sons by a previous marriage, so she doesn't have to suffer the marriage bed with a man she doesn't find in the least attractive.

However, what Cecily wants and what Cecily needs are two different things. So luckily, she has me to play God and throw a rock in her all-too-smooth path. When the brilliant, enigmatic, powerful Duke of Ashburn comes into her life, he challenges every one of her preconceived ideas about the kind of husband she needs.

Their first meeting occurs when Cecily breaks into Ashburn's house, searching for an incriminating letter that would ruin her and jeopardize her betrothal. But even when she's caught, Cecily is not abashed. She says:

“… you, my lord duke, suffer from the eternal ennui of the pampered aristocrat. You're intelligent enough to perceive that I am no common housebreaker. I, in fact, am a novelty.”

“You, in fact, are a criminal,” he said.

“But you are curious about me,” she murmured, staring up at him with those big, pansy brown eyes. “Admit it.”

Ashburn's taste must run to the criminal element, for he quickly decides he must have this woman as his duchess. He sets out in hot pursuit of her, disregarding her betrothal entirely.

Despite her best intentions to resist, Ashburn gets under her skin.

Cecily plastered a society smile on her face and spoke between her teeth. “Not only are you mistaken, you are impertinent. This conversation is highly improper.”

“Not half as improper as I'd like it to be,” he said. “But I promised to behave myself in public, didn't I?”

“It's a good thing for you we are in public or I'd punch you in the nose,” she said, smiling relentlessly.

But despite her readiness with a witty riposte, Cecily is totally unsettled by Ashburn. She might be clever about some things but Lady Cecily Westruther is an utter dunce when it comes to love…

So who is your favourite smart heroine from romance and why? Please comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the entire MINISTRY OF MARRIAGE series!

Find more information about Christina at her website and connect with her on Facebook,  Twitter and Goodreads.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Today's Special - - J.L. Saint

We're happy to welcome J.L. Saint back to The Romance Dish!  J.L, who also writes under the names of Jennifer St. Giles and Jennifer Saints (and is known to the Dishes as Jenni), is currently working on a terrific military romantic suspense series.  The second book in the series, Tactical Deception was released in March.

Jenni is one busy lady.  In addition to her writing, she's also a surgical nurse, mom, vice-president of a charitable organization that helps women's and children's causes and, if that isn't enough, she also writes screenplays!  To find out more about Jenni and her books, visit her website and catch up with her at Facebook and Twitter.

Welcome, Jenni!

What drives your day?

Through many of the difficulties that I have recently navigated, there are certain truths which stand out in my mind.  One of them is that every person, no matter how young or old, needs to have, a motto.  A few simple words they put into their mind at the start of the day that fuels and directs them through the challenges they face.  Mine center around what I’ve come to understand as the true measure of success.  It is not financial gain, though for a writer to be able to prosper greatly from their work is a beautiful thing that I hope to one day enjoy.  To me the true measure of success is touching the lives and hearts of others.  So my motto that drives me every day, my motto that drives every story I write, my motto that defines the direction of my future can be found in these six words.  Dream, Believe, Create, Inspire, Love, Heal.  Dream:  In dreaming of all of things possible a person fills their heart with hope. Believe:  In believing all things are possible a person becomes a dynamic force of forward moving energy. Create:  In creating a person taps into the wellspring of one’s heart and shares something that no one else on this earth can share because each person is an individual. Inspire:  When you dream, believe and create, you inspire others around you. Love: Inspiring others is the best way to love another person. Heal.  Love is the great healer in life.

I write romance because to me romance is dreaming, believing, creating, inspiring, loving, and healing.

What drives your day and your life?  Please share so that someone else might be inspired, feel loved, and healed. 

Now that I have been all serious, I am going to go crazy on you.  I’ve often said that writers don’t develop split personalities, they acquire pseudonyms.  I have three.  Jennifer St. Giles, JL Saint, and Jennifer Saints.  They all sort of came into existence in order to fit the genre I wrote from historical gothic to military thriller to sexy contemporary romance.

Today, I hope I don’t make your head spin, but I am going to be all three of my personalities because I have something great happening in each of the genres I am currently writing in.  (We won’t mention the fact that I have several stories on my computer just waiting to be finished that don’t fit in the three categories above.  When I get them done I will have to close my eyes and play eeny-miney-moe to pick which one I will publish the book under because I promised I would not take on another name.

As Jennifer St. Giles, the re-released trade paperback of Darkest Dreams (sequel to Midnight Secrets) will hit the shelves on July 3.  The third book in the Killdaren trilogy, Silken Shadows, will be re-released in e-book form on July 10th.  The covers are amazing!

As Jennifer Saints, I will be releasing the third book in the Weldon Brothers Series, Hard Irish around the first or second week in July. 

Hard hat in hand, Jared Weldon goes undercover.  But the answers he finds at McKenna Construction.  Leaves him drowning in passion and hard up against a killer.

( Ahem, I had promised myself and my readers that I would have it done by June 30th, but alas I must not be as young as I once was.  Life has intruded, and my ability to write all night and work all day is gone.  But I want the story right so, please be patient as I get Jared Weldon and Rocky McKenna hot and steamy on the page).

Lastly, as JL Saint, I hope it is okay to share some exciting news. Romantic suspense author, Cindy Gerard and thriller author, Andrew Peterson gave me quotes for the cover of Tactical Deception, the second book of my Silent Warrior Series.

"TACTICAL DECEPTION is razor sharp, smart, and smokin' hot!  I loved it!" -- Cindy Gerard, New York Times Best-selling author

"J.L. Saint's Silent Warrior series is teeming with breathtaking emotion and explosive action. Thoroughly entertaining!" -- Andrew Peterson, author of Forced to Kill

A shout out to both of these great and gracious authors. 

So all of you out there reading this blog today, find the motto of your heart, but until then, remember to dream, believe, create, inspire, love, and heal.  Then you will have truly succeeded in life.

Jennifer St. Giles aka JL Saint aka Jennifer Saints.


Thanks, Jenni! So, dear readers, what drives your day and your life? Please share!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review - - Can't Buy Me Love

Can't Buy Me Love
By Molly O’Keefe
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: June 26, 2012

Tara Jean Sweet is a woman with a past, a troubled past that she’s been trying to outrun for four years. But a new name is not enough to let her escape her past. Not even the payoff wealthy Lyle Baker promises if she plays the role of his sexy, gold-digging fiancé convincingly enough to bring his estranged children back to his Crooked Creek Ranch is enough. The plan works, but there is no deathbed reconciliation scene. His children shed no tears when Lyle Baker dies. The old man may have left Tara forty percent of Baker Leather, but with his son as CEO, staying at Crooked Creek may be more dangerous than the demon voice in Tara’s head or the blue-eyed threat from her past because Luc Baker makes her want to be better than the trailer-trash, con artist Tara knows she is.

Luc Baker has spent twenty years in the National Hockey League. His career has given him wealth greater than that of the father he hates, fame as the league’s celebrated Ice Man, and scar tissue on his frontal lobe that could make retirement mandatory. At thirty-seven, Luc is terrified by the idea of life without hockey. The career that was supposed to prove to Lyle Baker the stuff his son was made of has become the definition of who Luc is. Without hockey, he fears he is nothing. When Luc returns to Crooked Creek, he does so only for his sister, and he returns filled with anger, bitterly resentful that coming back makes him feel like the scared kid he once was, and spoiling for a fight. Tara Jean Sweet is the perfect target for his animosity. Too bad he can’t stop wondering how she’d feel in his arms.

Can’t Buy Me Love sounds like a cute, clever contemporary romance.  The deceptiveness of that impression seems appropriate since deceptive appearances is one of the novel’s motifs. The title seems to be amusing pop culture word play, but it is far more. Tara seems to be engaged to Lyle Baker, but she isn’t. Luc thinks she’s a shallow slut out for all she can get, but she isn’t. Tara thinks he’s a spoiled celebrity who can’t be bothered with his aging father, but he isn’t. There is humor in the book, but there is no froth. Tara and Luc are characters shaped by their abusive pasts that have left them damaged in ways that adulthood and success have not healed. Strong chemistry and captive hearts cannot make them whole and healthy enough to accept themselves as people of value who deserve to be loved. The damage is not limited to the principal characters. Luc’s sister Victoria is filled with self-hatred and unable to define herself apart from a man. Eli Turnbull, the ranch foreman, is consumed with bitterness that the land that belonged to his family for generations is now Baker land.

Near the end of the novel, Victoria voices a truth all the characters must learn: “We’re more than our mistakes. . . . More than our pasts. We can be more than the things we let define us.” Once Tara and Luc accept this truth, they can accept their flawed selves and open their hearts to receive the love that is waiting for them. These sentences are thematic not only for Can’t Buy Me Love but also for Molly O’Keefe’s work generally. It is a theme that was present, if less directly articulated, in The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill, the first O’Keefe book I read, a theme I found throughout the backlist I then glommed, and one that resonates in her newest work of category fiction, Unexpected Family.  

Can’t Buy Me Love is a single-title debut worth celebrating. Molly O’Keefe tells a great story that evokes laughter and tears, and she does something more. She reminds her readers of a truth we all need to learn. I highly recommend this book.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Life's Rich Tapestry

by Anna Campbell

I'm venturing on Trish Milburn territory today. Trish does wonderful reviews here on the 10th of every month in Teen Menu, telling us about the latest and greatest in young adult fiction.

A good friend recommended WARPED by Maurissa Guibord. Wow, I'm so glad she did. And it seems I'm not alone in my admiration for this new author - WARPED is up for two RITA awards this year as best young adult romance and best first book of 2011. Pretty darn impressive.

And the book is pretty darn impressive. I just couldn't put it down. Which is a pity as I was visiting said friend at the time and she was sort of hoping to get a bit of conversation from her guest and not just, "Leave me alone, I'm reading!!!! Oh, and, yes, you can make me another cup of tea. And were any of those Ferrero Rochers left?" I wonder if she'll ever ask me back to visit!

Tessa Brody is a teen trying to come to terms with her artist mother's death in a car accident and her father's grief. When her father, a wonderful shambolic character, who owns a used book store in Maine, buys a job lot at an auction, an old tapestry of a unicorn included in the box draws Tessa in a way she can't explain. Little does she know (don't you love books where it's little that the heroine knows?) that this chance occurrence will lure her into danger and adventure and a quest to restore the balance of the world. Not to mention into the arms of gorgeous 16th-century earl's son, William de Chaucy, who is one of the more charming heroes I've read in a while.

In his own time, Will is a bit of a misfit, destined to go into the church or the army but too curious about his world to fit easily into either career. When he visits the 21st century, Will is enchanted by everything he sees. Shades of the lovely hero of A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR by Jude Deveraux if any of you have read that classic.

It's hard to describe this book without giving too much away. One of the great pleasures of reading it is the surprising directions it takes. There's Norse Mythology, reincarnation, time travel, some beautifully done historical scenes, paranormal elements, a really complex and interesting baddie, a "save the world by tomorrow or you'll REALLY regret it" plot, deep emotional resonance with some moving scenes of reconciliation. It's funny too - Tessa's date with the high school hottie will have you snickering like a loon. Well, I snickered like a loon, you'll probably snicker like a sane person!

The romance is touching and sweet and packs a surprising emotional wallop. Tessa is a great heroine - brave, resourceful, wry, self-aware and daring. You'll have gathered Will is a darling and a real knight in shining armor too. The characters around Tessa are beautifully realized from her father who's gradually and painfully trying to make his way back to life after his wife's death to Tessa's madcap bohemian friend Opal.

This is a wonderful, clever, fun read. As beautifully wrought as a medieval tapestry! Highly recommended even if you don't usually veer toward YA.

So do you read YA? Any recommendations? Are you a time travel fan? I love them but I don't see so many around now. Pity! Have you read any of the other RITA finalists this year? Any thoughts?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Donna MacMeans Winner

The winners of a copy of THE CASANOVA CODE from Donna MacMeans are




Congratulations, ladies!  Please send your full name and mailing address 
(with Casanova winner in the subject line) to us at
 theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com 
to claim your book.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cruise With Me, Baby!

My sweet family and me!
As many of you know, my husband, kids, and I went to Washington DC for our summer vacation last year. It was (as quoted by my kids), “the best vacation ever!” We had the very best time and thought no other vacation would ever rival it. Well, what a difference a year makes! 

Last October, my grandfather approached my husband and me and asked if we would like to go on a cruise with the family. Since we’ve never been on a cruise before, we were a bit excited at the prospect. (As for the rest of my family, this is nothing new—my grandfather has treated my parents, sisters, aunt, and cousin to a cruise almost every year for the past 11 or 12 years, so they are experienced cruisers. My grandfather, who is 92, tells everyone that he is helping my mom and aunt spend their inheritance. *g*) My husband had to make sure that he would be able to take a vacation during the time they were planning on going (Memorial Day weekend), so we didn’t mention it to the kids until we knew for sure. Plus, we wanted my grandfather to be the one to tell them. J When my husband got the okay, my grandafther told the kids and they were ecstatic and wanted to go right then. LOL! It was a long wait for them, but it was so worth it!

We left the day after school let out and drove down to Tampa. Our cruise ship, the Carnival Legend, didn’t leave until the next day, Sunday, but we didn’t want to rush. Waiting to board the ship took a little long (especially with two kids who were so bored), but went pretty smoothly. We were warned by our fellow experienced cruisers that the embarkation process was the worst part of the cruise, and it really wasn’t that bad at all.  

When we finally got on the ship we were in awe. The first thing we noticed was how massive it is...and that isn’t the half of it. You don’t fully realize just how big it is and how much it holds until you’ve walked around and seen everything. Wow. Needless to say, we were thoroughly impressed. By the end of that first night, we knew our way around that ship and my kids already adored the Lido Deck. J 

My kids loved the slide!
Monday was an “at sea” day, so we lounged by one of the pools and basically just relaxed all day long (we turned our phones off when we left Tampa and you would not believe how relaxing that simple action was). Oh, and we ate—there is so much food all the time! That evening was the Captain’s Dinner and was the first of two formal nights. Dinners on a cruise ship are amazing. You can order whatever you want and as many as you want. Three appetizers? Sure! Two entrées? Absolutely! Two desserts? You bet! They had two menus—one with the same items everyday and also a rotating menu. They served lobster, shrimp, prime rib, filet mignon, chateaubriand…for dessert, they had warm chocolate melting cake (TO DIE FOR!), baked Alaska, tiramisu, cheesecake...oh my goodness, everything was delicious.  

Tuesday we docked at Cozumel, Mexico. We hadn’t booked an excursion there, so we walked around, shopped, and took a bunch of pictures. All in all, Cozumel wasn’t my favorite place, but it was a neat place to visit. 

Altun Ha
Wednesday we arrived in Belize. The Legend dropped anchor about five miles away and passengers had to take a 15 minute tender ride to the shore. My husband, kids, sister, and I booked an excursion to Altun Ha while in Belize. Altun Ha means “rockstone water” and is an ancient Mayan ruins site. We had a terrific tour guide and learned a lot. We really enjoyed the experience. 

Thursday we docked in Mahogany Bay, Roatán. Roatán is an island off the coast of Honduras and is the largest of Honduras’s Bay Islands. It is a beautiful place! We spent a few hours on Mahogany Beach to let the kids play because it was my daughter’s first time at the beach. They had a ball! Afterward, we did some more shopping and finally made our way back to the ship to prepare for another formal evening. 

Cayman Turtle Farm
On Friday, we arrived in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Wow, what an amazing place! My husband, kids, sister, father, grandfather, and I booked an excursion that showcased the “Best of Cayman Island tour”. We were in an air-conditioned van/bus and had a great tour guide. He took us on a tour of George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Turtle Farm (which my daughter had been dying to see!), Hell (yes, there is a city named Hell, so we’ve been to Hell and back-lol), and the Tortuga Rum Company (sadly, Jack Sparrow was nowhere to be found). We had an awesome time! 

Saturday was our last day and another “at sea” day. By this time, we were getting sad because we knew our trip was almost over. Once again, we hung out by the pool and ate. We said good-bye to our amazing tea of waiters and steward. They were great! The disembarkation process the next morning was incredibly smooth and we were back in our van headed home in no time. I ended up taking over 650 pictures with my camera, buying a bunch that we had taken by the ship’s photographers, and we all had a ball looking through them all and reminiscing. The kids now say that this cruise is right up there with Washington DC as “the best vacation ever!” I couldn’t have said it better myself. J We have caught the cruise bug and are counting the days until we can do it again!

Warm Chocolate Melting Cake!!!
My family’s bottom line:  

Favorite port? Grand Cayman and Roatán

Favorite part of the ship? Lido Deck and the Sun Deck

Favorite dinner entrée? Chateaubriand, lobster, and shrimp

Favorite dessert? Unanimously, Warm Chocolate Melting Cake!

Favorite thing to do on the ship (besides eating)? Water slide, pool, relax on the Sun Deck

Favorite food from the Lido deck? Swirls (frozen yogurt/ice cream cones), pizza, and the Dessert Bar

Sunset on our last night

So, dear readers, have you ever been on a cruise? If so, where did you go? Where was your favorite port? What was your favorite part of the ship? If you haven’t been on a cruise (and you really should!), where would you like to go if you had the chance to take one? Cruise with me, baby, and let's dish!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review - - The King's Concubine

The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers
By Anne O’Brien
Publisher: NAL Trade
Release Date: June 5, 2012

Little is known of the historical Alice Perrers other than that she became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa of Hainault in 1364 and later mistress of the Queen’s husband, Edward III, who was so besotted with Alice that he gave her land and jewels, including some belonging to his late queen.

Benedictine monk and chronicler Thomas Walsingham described her as “a shameless, impudent harlot” who, despite her lack of beauty, with the aid of “blind Fortune” and her seductive voice rose to heights inappropriate to one of her “low birth.” Historians agree that the misogynistic Walsingham’s account is likely biased, but Perrers, whose ambition and political scheming may have served as a pattern for other royal mistresses, is generally portrayed as scheming and acquisitive. At the very least, Perrers used her native abilities shrewdly to overcome the restrictions imposed by birth and gender and became a powerful figure in 14th-century England. Anne O’Brien takes the limited facts of Perrers’ life and creates a largely sympathetic portrait of a woman who rose from poverty and powerlessness to a position of wealth and influence, only to have everything she had worked for threatened by her enemies. 

Beginning with Alice as a child of unknown origins growing up among the nuns of Barking Abbey and continuing through her unconsummated marriage at fifteen to the much older Janyn Perrers, a moneylender, and her return to the convent after her husband dies during an outbreak of the plague, O’Brien presents Alice as physically unattractive but gifted with intelligence, persistence, and a willingness to seize her opportunities. When Queen Philippa visits the convent, Alice captures her attention, and later the Queen sends for Alice and makes her one of her ladies-in-waiting, a <i>domicella</i>, a lady attendant upon the queen but not of high birth. With the Queen’s protection, the young Alice becomes a pet of the other ladies-in-waiting. That changes quickly when Alice takes on a role in the King’s life.

Although the marriage of Philippa and Edward was arranged, it became a love match, and O’Brien shows the devotion of the pair who have been married for thirty years by the time Alice enters the court. The Queen suffers from dropsy (edema) and a shoulder injury and is in constant pain. When sexual congress becomes too painful for her to endure, she plans for Alice to become the mistress of her still virile husband, preferring low-born, loyal Alice in that position to the humiliation she would experience if Edward took a high-born mistress.

Although the Queen continues to champion domicella and her relationship with the king grows beyond mere physical intimacy, Alice becomes a scandalous figure, loathed by the court as the betrayer of a beloved queen. Aware that a time will come when she is no longer under the King’s protection, Alice uses all her resources to insure her own security and the well-being of her children. But her enemies are many and powerful after Edward’s death, and loss of property, exile, and the threat of death will trouble Alice until she finds another champion and husband in Sir William Windsor.

Stories that give voice to the women silenced by history are my favorite kind of historical fiction. I was particularly interested in Alice Perrers since she was likely a patron of Chaucer. Some have speculated that the two were lovers. I’d love to read a novel about that relationship, but O’Brien rightly focuses on the relationships that defined Alice Perrers. This is no sanitized version. O’Brien’s Alice is a woman of large ambition who does not hesitate to use all that she has to see that she is never again the deprived, defenseless creature she once was. But readers see and sympathize with the child whose barren life fostered ambitions most would have deemed foolish. This Alice is a complex creature, loyal to the Queen who saved her and to the King who loved her. She protects Edward’s image even as age destroys the man whose splendor once seemed godlike to her. She is sometimes wracked with guilt and doubt. One particularly poignant moment occurs after Windsor proposes marriage and Alice tells him she cannot leave the aging king:

It should have been a comfort to have two men who believed that I had even an inch of a better nature, but it was not. When the whole world railed against me, sometimes it was difficult not to believe the defamation. Perhaps I did not deserve happiness. Not when the length and breadth of my sins were tallied up.

Some of the best scene are the war of words that takes place between Alice and Isabella, daughter of Philippa and Edward, and between Alice and Joan of Kent, who became the daughter-in-law of the royal couple. It is Joan, truly a royal bitch, who gives young Alice the advice that guides her throughout her life: “It is important for a woman to have the duplicity to make good use of whatever gifts she might have, however valueless they might seem.”

The King’s Concubine is a fascinating tale of a fascinating period in English history. I recommend it for fans of historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy the novels of Elizabeth Chadwick, Philippa Gregory, and Susan Holloway Scott. O’Brien has promised a book on John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford next. I’m looking forward to that one.