Friday, September 30, 2016

Today's Special - - Lenora Bell

Photo by Alexander Petrenko /

I'm delighted to welcome Lenora Bell back to The Romance Dish. I recently read her new book, If I Only Had a Duke and was utterly charmed by this fast-paced road romance. Lenora is a third generation Alaskan and her hometown still has no traffic lights or fast food, but the public library is going strong. An English teacher with an MFA in Creative Writing, Lenora has traveled the globe using music to bring smiles to classrooms. She currently lives in Switzerland with her carpenter husband and two naughty tiger-striped kitties. Learn more about Lenora and her books at her website

Welcome, Lenora! 

Hello friends! I’m so excited to be back at the Romance Dish with PJ to celebrate my second Regency romance release, If I Only Had a Duke. Because this book was loosely inspired by The Wizard of Oz I knew it had to feature a road trip—but where to? Then I remembered that Ireland is sometimes referred to as the “emerald isle.” Perfect! But who said it and when?

It turns out that Irish physician and poet Dr. William Drennan coined the phrase in 1795 in the poem “When Erin First Rose.” I was in luck because my book is set in 1819, so by then people were already familiar with the “emerald isle” description. Learning these interesting historical tidbits is part of the reason I love reading and writing historical romance.

Many beloved historical romances feature the tried-and-true road
trip trope with hilarious, sexy, and educational results. Here are four fun facts I learned from reading some of my favorite romances:

·     One of the world’s most influential paleontologists was a woman! Mary Anning made many important fossil discoveries in the cliffs of Dorset in the early 1800’s but as a woman she wasn’t eligible to join the Geological Society of London and never received proper credit for her findings during her lifetime.
- A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare

·     Honey can be used as an antibacterial agent to help prevent infection and heal wounds (and if the gentleman applying the honey to said wound is a handsome rogue…so much the better).
- The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean

·     There was a giant stucco elephant in the gardens outside of the Moulin Rouge in Paris in which gentlemen (and daring young ladies on cross continent trips with scoundrels) were entertained by scantily clad dancers.
- Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran

·      The forerunner of the bicycle was called a velocipede and had a huge front wheel that placed the rider so high they were in constant danger of being thrown over the handlebars. The faster you rode, the less danger there was of wobbling (which makes an excellent metaphor for dashing men named Crash to teach sweet, determined ladies to overcome their fears).
- Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan

Have you learned any fun facts from reading historical romance novels?

One randomly chosen person leaving a comment before 11:00 PM, October 1, 2016 will receive: paperback or eBook copies of all three of the following: 

If I Only Had a Duke by Lenora Bell 
A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean
Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare.

If I Only Had a Duke

After three failed seasons and a disastrous jilting, Lady Dorothea Beaumont has had more than enough of her family's scheming. She won't domesticate a duke, entangle an earl, or vie for a viscount. She will quietly exit to her aunt's Irish estate for a life of blissful freedom. Until an arrogant, sinfully handsome duke singles her out for a waltz, making Thea the most popular belle of the season.

The duke ruined her plans and he'll just have to fix them.

Dalton, Duke of Osborne, is far too heartless for debutantes or marriage--he uses dalliances and public spectacle to distract from his real purpose: finding the man who destroyed his family. When his search leads to Ireland, the last thing he needs is the determined, achingly innocent Thea, who arrives in the dead of night demanding he escort her to her aunt. His foolish agreement may prove his undoing. The road to the Emerald Isle is fraught with unforeseen dangers, but the greatest peril of all might just be discovering that he has a heart...and he's losing it to Thea.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review - - Do You Want to Start a Scandal

Do You Want to Start a Scandal
By Tessa Dare
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: September 27, 2016

On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn't her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers' true identity, she'll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville--the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she's ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn't got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman's knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte's safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte's feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who's sworn to never love?

How much do I love this book? Let me count the ways. The many, many, many, many, many ways! First, there's the beginning - one of the funniest I can ever remember reading. Charlotte Highwood, youngest and only unmarried daughter of a mama determined to see her daughters all settled in the best possible circumstances, hasn't the slightest interest in marriage. Charlotte has other plans. Plans with her best friend that don't include a man. Plans that have brought them all to her friend's family estate for a house party where Charlotte's mother has her sights set on Piers Brandon, the Marquess of Granville as a husband for her daughter and Charlotte is determined to block her mother at every turn. 

Block number one occurs soon after their arrival when Charlotte runs Piers - a man she's never met - to ground in the library to inform him that she's not the least bit interested in marrying him. You can imagine his reaction. Only you might be surprised. Unfortunately, before she can leave, they're interrupted by an amorous couple seeking to use the library for a sexual tryst. Fortunately, Charlotte and Piers manage to hide from view until the unknown couple leaves the room. Unfortunately, someone overhears the tryst, misunderstands the noises, and, thinking Charlotte and Piers are the guilty couple, repeats the sounds heard (in front of everyone) in one of the funniest scenes I've read in a long time. No spoilers but a fair warning to all readers: don't have anything in your mouth when you reach page 38. In fact, you probably don't want to drink anything during the entire first chapter. It's laugh-out-loud funny - as is much of the book. But don't be misled into thinking this is all humor and no substance. Dare expertly balances humor with emotion to give the reader an all-encompassing journey that will elicit tears, laughter, heartwarming joy, and, if you're like me, probably a hot flash or two. 

The end result of the hilarious first chapter is a "compromised" and betrothed couple, a hero who is more than he seems, a heroine who, unlike her mother, has zero interest in landing a marquess, and a mystery Charlotte is determined to solve. Add in a reluctant attraction that grows with each encounter throughout the book, our adorably charming heroine, a sigh-worthy hero with a wonderfully dry wit who isn't afraid of fighting for the woman he wants, a hilarious "witness" keeping an eye on our couple's activities, a birds and bees lecture that has forever changed the way I view certain fruits, and a deeply sensual, heart-tugging journey to love and you have not only one of Tessa Dare's best books but one of the most enjoyable stories I've read in a very long time. The first time through, I grinned from cover to cover while devouring the book in one sitting. The next two times, I went slower, savoring each word while fully absorbing - and appreciating -Dare's humor, passion, heart-felt romance, and superb storytelling. I adored this couple and their story. Even though I've read the book three times, every time I think of certain scenes or dialog (and I think of them often) all I want to do is open the front cover and start all over again. That, my friends, is the sign of an exceptional book. 

This book ties together two of Dare's series: Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After. If you've read those series, you'll have fun catching up with favorite characters from previous books. However, this book stands quite well on its own without the backstory provided in the earlier books. If you haven't read Tessa Dare yet, Do You Want to Start a Scandal would be an excellent place to begin.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Today's Special - - Jennifer McQuiston

I'm excited to welcome Jennifer McQuiston back to The Romance Dish today to celebrate yesterday's release of her newest book, The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel. It's another terrific story from this talented historical romance author! Jennifer is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who is also a veterinarian as well as an infectious disease researcher with the CDC. This is a woman who clearly knows how to multi-task!  Jennifer recently answered questions for me about her new book as well as her life away from writing. Please give her a warm welcome!

Welcome back, Jennifer! It’s always a pleasure to host you here at the Romance Dish.

Thank you! It is good to talk to you again, PJ! It is always such a pleasure to be on The Romance Dish – I love your site, and always visit for great recommendations!

Your new book brings readers the story of the third Westmore sibling, Geoffrey and Miss Mary Channing, younger sister of one of my favorite McQuiston heroes, Patrick Channing, Earl of Haversham. What should readers expect from The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel?

At its heart, The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is a crusade story set against a backdrop of political
intrigue, so readers should expect a wild ride through London, with some back streets of Edinburgh thrown in!

In this book, the hero, Geoffrey Westmore, is a bona fide scoundrel known for his crazy pranks, while Mary Channing is more of an innocent who daydreams about the characters in her books. From the moment they meet, Mary is convinced he must be a villain, and when he traps her in the library and kisses her senseless, he seems to be living up to that reputation. But when they hear whispers of an assassination plot, suddenly her villain must play the hero—whether he wants to or not.

Readers will see a return of some of my past characters, including Dr. Daniel Merial and Clare (from Diary of an Accidental Wallflower). There are some strong secondary characters – in particular, the stoic butler, Wilson makes a return appearance, and you get to know Eleanor, Mary’s twin sister as well. Alas, Patrick Channing doesn’t make an appearance, although you do catch glimpses of his happy life).

Before coming to London to help her sister, Mary lived her life through the pages of her books. What role did books play in your life while growing up?

Oh, I was always that girl imagining herself as the character on the page! I have vivid memories of draping a blanket over the side of the bunk bed and pretending it was a covered wagon. This, of course, is the oh-so-normal reaction to reading the Little House on the Prairie series. I also used to imagine that my dark room held a black panther, waiting to pounce on me, and my older sister was almost certainly going to go blind from scarlet fever. I was a voracious reader as a child and young adult, and it takes me back in time to see my own daughters lose themselves in their beloved books.

I enjoy the links you post on social media of obscure historical facts, mostly medical or scientific. What fact(s) have you uncovered that most surprised you?

Thank you! I love bizarre historical facts, and I enjoy sharing the odd bit of information I stumble across. I think one of the most bizarre facts I read about was the strange journey of Napoleon’s penis… in fact, this shriveled artifact makes a brief appearance in my book Diary of an Accidental Wallflower! For those who are curious, here is a link to an excellent blog on it: 

I’m constantly amazed by your ability to effectively manage all the different facets of your life: CDC researcher, NYT bestselling author, mom, wife, and more. How do you balance it all?

Oh, I don’t know that I do any of them particularly well! I just try to hunker down and invest my energy into the most pressing need at any given time. When Ebola was raging in West Africa, that clearly consumed all my time, and I had to leave my family to give it my all. When I am writing I become a bit of a hermit, holed up in the basement of my house and typing in the wee hours of the morning. Right now, I am focusing more on my job at CDC (which gets crazy some days), and I am also enjoying focusing on my family—my youngest just started middle school, and both of my girls have joined the volleyball team, so I am enjoying cheering them on. To me, the most important thing is to not beat yourself up when some things slide. There is no way on earth to stay sane if you expect to do everything perfectly! For example, my house is a rolling bit of cat hair and dust balls. I have decided to let that go.

You’ve mastered many skills in your life. What new skills are waiting for you to give them a try?

I love this question, because learning how to write (romance or otherwise) was a late event in my life. I published my first book when I was 40 years old, and just started typing stories a few years before. I firmly believe we humans should constantly be trying to master new skills – it is part of what makes us unique as a species to be able to learn new things, no matter how old we are. I am trying to learn how to incorporate some better fitness into my life at present (with variable results). I sure would like to be able to master the skill of making myself do situps! I would also like to learn how to properly operate the sewing machine my mom… straight lines (no corners!) are about all I can do. I would love to be able to make a bona fide quilt some day with all the beautiful fabrics I have from Africa.

Your wonderful sense of humor is once again on display in this book. Whose books make you laugh?

Sarah MacLean’s books always make me chortle out loud. She has SUCH a lovely voice for humor. Julia Quinn’s dialogue brings a huge smile to my face, her characters always have the wittiest retorts. I also love funny memoirs: Tina Fey’s Bossypants is one of my favorites.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am taking a bit of a much-needed breather and focusing on cheering for my daughters’ volleyball team. I am reassessing this work-life balance thing and trying to get some out-of-control migraines back under wraps. So, I would say check back in with me in 6 months… by then I should have a better idea of what may lurk in my future!

Thanks for visiting with us today, Jennifer! Would you like to ask our readers a question?

Thank you so much, it was a pleasure. And I would love to ask a question! I am intrigued by your new skills question, so my question to readers is, What new thing would you like to try this year?

I have a print copy of The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel for one randomly chosen person who leaves a comment on today's post. (US only)

The deadline to be entered into the giveaway is 11:00 PM (EST), September 29, 2016.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Today's Special - - A Highlander's Christmas Kiss

Title: A Highlander’s Christmas Kiss
Author: Paula Quinn
On Sale: September 27, 2016
Series: Highland Heirs, #5
Publisher: Forever
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99 USD

Christmas may be coming to Linavar, but Temperance Menzie is far from joyful. Grief-stricken over the death of her father at the hands of the Black Riders, she almost didn't see the wounded stranger in the woods. And now she's determined to give this braw, brooding Highlander the help she couldn't give her father. But there's a secret lurking in the depths of his blue-gray eyes. And Temperance won't rest until she uncovers it . . .

A killer for hire. It's the last thing Cailean Grant ever thought he'd become, but being part of the Black Riders was his only way to survive. Now, his guilt grows day by day, along with his desire for the beautiful, brave lass nursing him back to health. As Christmas, the season of miracles, draws near and the truth of his identity threatens to come out, Cailean must risk the only thing he has left to lose – his heart.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Google Play | Kobo

PJ's Thoughts:

Paula Quinn has a talent for creating a sense of time and place that immediately immerses me in her fictional world and characters who I come to love like family. I've followed her outlawed but honorable MacGregors and Grants into a second generation and will happily continue reading about their lives and loves as long as Ms. Quinn continues to write their stories. 

In Temperance and Cailean, Quinn has created one of my favorite MacGregor/Grant couples in an emotional story that will be going straight to my keeper shelf. I highly recommend A Highlander's Christmas Kiss

This book stands well on its own but for maximum reading pleasure, and to better understand Cailean, you may want to first read The Taming of Malcolm Grant

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A Highlander’s Christmas Kiss

She stopped walking and pulled on his hand to stop him as well. “Who am I to you?”
What? What had he said? He realized quickly enough, scowled, and then smiled, giving in to what his heart was telling him. “Ye are—” He paused, not truly sure what to say. He hadn’t wanted to care for her, but he did. He’d let her in, but how could he have denied her entrance? She’d been through much, thanks to him, and yet she still smiled, she still sang, she still had compassion to help him heal.
He began again, reaching for her. He pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her plaid- encased body, shielding her from the wind. “Ye are my candle in the dark.” He stopped again to take her in. He smiled. “I’m better at puttin’ a quill to m’ words than I am at speakin’ them.”
Her wide, beautiful eyes glittered like the snow dusting the braes. He wanted to lose himself there in the expectant hope that lit her gaze.
“You’re doing just fine,” she assured him softly. “Continue, please.”
He shoved aside everything on his mind but her. What was left scared the hell out him. “I canna—”
She waited in silence while he fought his demon for her. Her hope began to fade to disappointment.
It made him smile to think her hope was to be with him and she was waiting to hear him tell her.
“I canna take my gaze from ye, lass. No matter what I’m doin’, m’ eyes find their way back to yer rich dark hair fallin’ over yer flawless jaw, the relaxed curl of your bottom lip that tempts my legs to bring me to wherever ye are. I lay awake at night imaginin’ yer soft inhalations of breath. They fill my heart with something other than mortar and fury. I want to bring ye to me but I’m unworthy of yer dreams. Still, I want to be in them, as ye are in mine.”
“You see?” she said breathlessly. “Just fine.” She closed her eyes and parted her lips when he dipped his head to hers.
He moved his mouth over hers, basking in the intimacy of kissing her, capturing her short, eager breaths. His senses came alive and he used each one of them to fill himself with her. She tasted like passion and innocence. When he slipped his tongue over hers, she opened her arms and coiled them around his neck, covering them both in his plaid. He listened to her heart beating like ancient drums. Or was it his own heart he was hearing? He withdrew a hairbreadth so he could look at her again. The sight of her dreamy-eyed and wanting more nearly drove him mad. He brushed his nose across her temple to her hair, drinking in the scent of her, like the familiar fragrance of peat and pine. “Ye’re bringin’ me back to life, lass.”
He kissed her again, barely holding back the passion raging inside him to be released.

New York Times bestselling author Paula Quinn lives in New York with her three beautiful children, three over-protective chihuahuas, and a loud umbrella cockatoo. She loves to read romance and science fiction and has been writing since she was eleven. She loves all things medieval, but it is her love for Scotland that pulls at her heartstrings.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Review - - Snowfall on Haven Point

Snowfall on Haven Point
By RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: September 27, 2016


Andrea Montgomery’s life is just beginning to approach normalcy after a period of grief over the death of her husband, a police officer killed in the line of duty, and after the fear and abuse she suffered at the hand of a rapist/stalker. She is looking forward to making their first Christmas in Haven Point, Idaho, a special one for her two children. When her friend Wyn Bailey (Riverbend Road) asks her to check on Sheriff Marshall Bailey (Wyn’s brother) who has just been released from the hospital, Andie cannot refuse. She will do almost anything for Wyn who literally took a bullet for Andie. Dealing with the grumpy, intimidating sheriff while all the Baileys are out of town is nothing in comparison.

Marshall Bailey is no more enthusiastic about accepting Andie’s help than she is about giving it. The broken leg that is the worst of the injuries he received when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver is the least of his problems. He is convinced that he was intentionally lured to an abandoned site and struck by the vehicle that then raced away. He also has an embezzlement case in his department, and he is facing a major complication in his personal life: a troubled teen who doesn’t yet know that Marshall is his father.

When Andie first shows up at Marshall’s home with food and with kids in tow, Marshall is his worst curmudgeonly self. A man who values his independence and who is accustomed to being in charge, Marshall resents the intrusion and his attitude is clear. But he gradually begins to fall under the spell of the winsome widow and her children. The pace of his acceptance accelerates when a blizzard forces the foursome together for an extended time. The kids are charming their way into his heart, and their mother is raising his temperature and provoking thoughts about commitment that Marshall never expected to experience. However, Andie has reservations and fears of her own. Can she risk her heart for another man whose job means he is in danger?

This is the fifth book in Thayne’s Haven Point series, and it contains the charm and heartwarming appeal that are characteristic of her work. Fans of the series will already be invested in Andie and her children, and new readers will quickly follow suit. It is also easy to fall for the crusty Marshall with his scars, physical and psychological, and his outsize heart. The fact that this is a Christmas book is a plus. Thayne and Christmas romance go together like mistletoe and kisses, and Snowfall on Haven Point has enough Christmas packaged in it to please any reader with a love of holiday romances.

If the Haven Point series so far has not inspired the immense affection I have for Thayne’s Hope’s Crossing books, it nevertheless has proved to be a consistently solid series with a high entertainment quotient. If you like your contemporary romance tender and accompanied by a strong emphasis on family and community, I think you will enjoy this book. It offers further evidence that Thayne continues to be among the very best writing in the small-town romance subgenre.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Review - - Practice Makes Perfect

Practice Makes Perfect
By Sarah Title
Publisher: Kensington / Lyrical Shine
Release Date: August 30, 2016


Pembroke College librarian Helen Lee is an aspiring erotic romance novelist who has been building her rejection file for some time. The latest entry in her “Nope” file doesn’t faze her until she reads the editor’s comments noting that her manuscript shows promise except for the boring sex scenes. The editorial advice? Spice it up. Helen reassures herself that she is no virgin lacking personal experience, even if her time recently has been spent mostly with her aging basset hounds, George and Tammy, and her fantasy life is richly erotic. Perhaps she should apply her skills as a trained researcher to her writing problem.

Helen’s colleague and close friend Henry Beckham, a bow-tie wearing history professor whose current research focuses on a historic local brothel, knows Helen has a problem; he just can’t seem to find out what it is. Then, he finds Helen in the middle of a huge, teary pity party with a disco sound track and discovers her secret.  Henry is the kind of friend who has to help solve a problem once he knows about it. First, he buys Helen a Scientist Barbie and a G. I. Joe to use in simulated sex scenes. When that idea fails spectacularly, Henry offers himself in the cause of sex research: he will be her “sensual guinea pig.”  To Helen’s surprise, Henry proves to be a doctoral level kisser and an inspiring muse who gives Helen exactly what she needs to add spice to her novel. But their hearts don’t recognize all the steam generated is only research. Are they risking their friendship? Is the risk worth taking?

This novella is the third of Sarah Title’s stories set in Willow Springs, Kentucky, following Home Sweet Home and Two Family Home, but it was my introduction to this author. I had no problem reading it as a standalone, and I was charmed by Title’s voice and her humor, which ranged from witty asides (Helen’s thought that she could join Jonathan Franzen on a writers tour for authors who write bad sex scenes) to hysterical broad humor (the Barbie-G. I. Joe scene). I had a highly personal appreciation for Helen’s situation as an academic who loves reading and writing romance, and I adored nerdy Henry who turns out to be an exciting lover.  I can also almost guarantee that George and Tammy will win the hearts of canine-loving readers.

If you like romance that keeps you laughing and reminds you that sometimes reading is just fun, I recommend this novella. I have added the two earlier Willow Springs books to my TBR list. (The heroine of the first one is an English professor!) And I’ll be keeping an out for future releases from this author. I have already added her upcoming The Undateable (February 28), which features another librarian heroine, to my 2017 book calendar. I encourage you to give her a try.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review - - At Fairfield Orchard

At Fairfield Orchard
By Emma Cane
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 30, 2016


Emma Cane introduces a new series with At Fairfield Orchard. The six Fairfield siblings join forces to keep the family apple orchard going when their parents retire. The orchard is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia. Although only Rachel has worked in the orchard as an adult, all of them have emotional ties to the land that has been in their family for almost two hundred years. Logan, the eldest and a successful venture capitalist, bought the RV that allowed the Fairfield parents to fulfill their adventurous dreams and invested in the orchard, although his siblings insist his investment is a loan that will be repaid when the orchard becomes more prosperous. The other Fairfield siblings are investing their time and labor in seeing the prosperity become a reality as they try to bring their centuries-old orchard into the twenty-first century.

In this first book, Amy has returned after ten years, leaving behind her a promising career in real estate, a failed relationship, and a load of regrets about the distance that relationship created between her and her family, including her twin brother Tyler, and between her and her long-time friends. Her guilt over staying in the relationship too long and in the isolation she allowed to happen cause her to give up on her interest in history and genealogy to focus on the future of the orchard. At first, she is uneasy with the request of a young history professor to be allowed to conduct research on Fairfield land.

Jonathan Gebhart, a history professor at the University of Virginia, is interested in the orchard because of its link to Thomas Jefferson. Jonathan believes that Jefferson sold the land to the first Fairfield owners and that it was to the orchard Jefferson fled when he was forced to leave Monticello to escape British forces during the American Revolution. If Jonathan can find evidence to support his theory, it will be a major coup for the book he is working on because it will upset the acceptance of Poplar Forest as Jefferson’s destination. Jonathan needs the permission of the Fairfields to research the site. He also finds in Amy’s grandfather, a history buff with an abiding interest in Fairfield family history, an unexpected resource. On the personal level, Jonathan is still smarting over being dumped by his fiancĂ©e in favor of his best friend and on the resulting awkwardness for his career, given that they are all on the same faculty.

Jonathan and Amy are attracted to one another immediately, but neither is looking for a romantic relationship. Amy is particularly aware of their differences. Despite her success as a real estate agent, she sees herself as a college dropout and counts her education as one more sacrifice to her ill-advised relationship with her ex. And, of course, Amy’s experience as part of the large, lively Fairfield family is very different from Jonathan’s only child status. Jonathan, whose prodigious intelligence led his parents to expect great things of him, is burdened with the knowledge that they view his academic career with disappointment. Regardless of these differences, however, the two are similar in their values and in their approach to life. Their relationship develops gradually and credibly as their lives entwine with Amy’s family and community.

The first book in a series needs to hook the reader on the world the author is creating as well as make the protagonists’ story compelling. Cane succeeds on both counts. Both the setting and the rural community make this novel a standout among the seemingly endless supply of too-similar small-town romances. The other Fairfields are integrated into Amy’s story in an organic fashion without ever giving the impression that they are card-carrying sequel bait. The American history connection and the Fairfield genealogy add unexpected layers to the story.

I liked these characters. I loved the history professor hero, and while Amy’s big secret became more irritating than fascinating, I found her too to be essentially a sympathetic and interesting character. I especially liked the dimensions that are revealed through her relationship with her twin, her grandparents, and her girlfriends as well as through the romance. The secondary characters are also likeable, and even the Fairfields who get little attention are appealing enough to leave me eager for their stories.

If you like your romance quiet and sweet with a touch of spice, I recommend this book. Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with the Virginia setting and the Fairfield family and turn the last page asking yourself “What’s next?” I’ve already added Spiced Apple Winter (December 27), twin Tyler’s story, to my book calendar. I also hope the cover for the second book is a match for the cover of At Fairfield Orchard. Gorgeous!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review - - No Mistress of Mine

No Mistress of Mine
By Laura Lee Guhrke
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: August 30, 2016

Denys, Lord Somerton, only son of Earl Conyers, was a wild young man. His wildness culminated in the summer of his twenty-fourth year when during a visit to his friends Nicolas, the Marquess of Trubridge (When the Marquess Met His Match) and Jack, the Earl of Featherstone (Catch a Falling Heiress), Denys met Lola Valentine, a beautiful, red-haired, American cabaret dancer who had taken Paris by storm. Denys was besotted at first sight and determined to win the independent beauty. His patience, his charm, and above all his tenderness, a quality in short supply in Lola’s life, prove irresistible, and he and Lola become lovers. In an attempt to draw Lola to England, Denys secretly backs a production of Ibsen’s Quicksands, mortgaging his estate to do so, in order to give her a chance to realize her dream of becoming a respected actress. With no training, Lola overacts. The critics annihilate her, calling her performance “awkward, graceless, and infinitely pathetic,” and the play closes immediately. Faced with the reality of her life as a kept woman and with the knowledge that his relationship with her is alienating Denys from his family, Lola accepts an offer from Henry Latham, American impresario and Earl Conyers partner in the Imperial, a London theater. She allows Denys to believe she has betrayed him.

Six years later, Denys has changed significantly. He has become sober and respectable, an ideal son. He proves so proficient in business that his father has turned the management of all the family’s affairs over to him. Among these is the Imperial, which Denys has transformed from a disreputable music hall into one of London’s premier theaters, celebrated for its productions of Shakespeare. Denys is even considering a marriage to a proper young lady of whom his family wholeheartedly approves.  Then his father receives a letter from New York with news that reawakens Denys’s memories of that time with Lola.

It still made Denys grimace when he thought of the money he’d spent, the fights he’d engaged in, the friends he’d almost lost, and the fool he’d made of himself over a bit of skirt who in the end had proved as faithless as the wind. Looking back, he knew there was only one explanation. He had been mad.
He was now sane.

The six years have brought changes to Lola as well. Gossip on both sides of the Atlantic may have proclaimed her Latham’s mistress, but in reality the impresario has been her friend, mentor, and father figure. With his help, Lola Valentine has become an acclaimed star in musical revue. Latham has also fulfilled his promise to see that she receives training as an actress. At Latham’s death, he leaves Lola his half interest in the Imperial, enough money to claim an active partnership, and a posthumous challenge to pursue her dreams.

Lola’s return to England threatens Denys’s peaceful, productive life. The last thing he wants is a partnership with the woman who nearly destroyed him. But when she refuses to sell her interest and legal means of denying her an active role in the theater prove futile, the two reach a degree of accord and begin to work together. However, the powerful chemistry between them undercuts their plan for a strictly professional relationship. All the reasons they were a mismatch earlier still exist. Can they overcome the barriers of class and a painful past to claim a second chance at love?

No Mistress of Mine is the fourth installment in Guhrke's An American Heiress in London series, and I think it is the strongest book in the series. Both the lead characters are interesting and complicated, and their back stories add depth with no touch of info dump. The sensuality level is high, and Guhrke earns accolades for making the love scenes essential to character development rather than mere titillation. Fans of historical romance will enjoy the deftness with which the author weaves together popular tropes including second chance, cross-class romance, and the American heroine. I particularly like the twist she gave the last trope. Lola is an American heiress but not in the generally accepted sense. I usually find characters who sacrifice the relationship to “save” the beloved irritating, but it works in Lola’s case because her motivation is plausible and persuasive.

She’d hurt him, she knew that. She’d taken any affection he felt for her and shredded it. But there’d been no other way to make him see that a girl like her, a girl born beside the cattle yards and slaughterhouses of Kansas City, who’d spent her childhood amid the smells of manure, blood and rotgut whiskey, who’d started stripping down to her naughties in front of men before she was sixteen, could never make a man like him happy.

I also applaud the conclusion that provides the requisite HEA without ignoring the real problems of a cross-class relationship.

Although characters from books earlier in the series appear, this book can easily be read as a standalone. If you like historical romance with ample heat and a strong appeal to head and heart, I think you will enjoy this one as much as I did.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Review - - Dressed to Kiss

Dressed to Kiss
By Madeline Hunter, Caroline Linden,
Megan Frampton, Myretta Robens
Release Date: September 12, 2016

Madame Follette’s is a dressmaking shop located on Vine Street in London. The shop has seen better days, but the current manager, Felicity Dawkins, daughter of the shop’s founder, is determined to see that status change. All of London’s elite are preparing for the coronation of King George IV, an occasion that offers an opportunity to prove that Madame Follette’s dresses are superior to those produced by the city’s best dressmakers. Felicity is ably assisted in her efforts by two designers/dressmakers, Selina Fontaine and Delyth Owen. Felicity’s brother, Henry, serves as bookkeeper for the shop. Each of the novellas in this anthology centers around one of these four characters.

“The Duke’s Dressmaker” by Madeline Hunter opens the collection. Selina Fontaine found a sanctuary as well as employment in the dressmakers owned by Sophie-Louise Follette Dawkins. Selina arrived in London, a gently bred girl who fled her village when a young aristocrat whose charm disguised his lack of integrity left her with broken promises and a stained reputation. Selina is wiser that she was when she left her village four years ago, and her instinct tells her to avoid her newest client, the young bride of Lord Giles Woodville, the man Selina had expected to marry. But loyalty persuades her that designing a wardrobe, including a coronation gown, for the lady is an opportunity for Madame Follette’s cannot afford to miss. However, Selina fears for the shop and for her livelihood when Randall, the Duke of Barrowmore, accompanies his sister-in-law to a fitting and recognizes Selina. The mistrust is mutual, but the attraction between Selina and the duke proves more powerful. As closer acquaintance corrects their false impressions of one another, their hearts rule their heads. The road to an HEA is a proverbially rough one, but the conclusion to the tale is satisfyingly romantic. The novella may suffer in comparison to Hunter’s more complex novels, but her deft hand with characterization remains sure.

Myretta Robens’s “The Colors of Love” focuses on the second dressmaker, Delyth Owen, who ran away from home to join the theater as a costume designer. Her shift to Madame Follette’s and a clientele different from a company of actors has not lessened Delyth’s love of color in unusual combinations. One of her creations draws the attention of Simon Merrithew, the pseudonymous author of a popular fashion column who thinks Delyth is maliciously making a mockery of her client. But Delyth’s joy in her work and her zest for life soon have Simon bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. The pairing of a rational, controlled hero and an unconventional, joyous heroine is an established convention in historical romance, one I particularly enjoy. Robens handles it with a skill that will delight readers who will find themselves rooting wholeheartedly for these appealing characters.  Extra kudos to the author for making the reader see the colors Delyth uses with such boldness. She has Simon capture the spectacular quality of Delyth’s prize creation, a four-color display: “Attention must be given to Lady M, whom one might be forgiven for supposing had somehow missed the entrance to Astley’s and ended up at Almack’s. Lady M not only glittered, she shone, she flashed, she radiated.”

“No Accounting for Love” by Megan Frampton features Henry Dawkins, a large, socially awkward young man, more at ease with the figures in his account books than with the figures of a dance. Henry is pursued by Lady Euphemia, a spoiled young beauty who is accustomed to getting what she wants. It seems that she wants Henry who has already rejected her once, but Henry, who is unmoved by the charms of the debutante, finds Miss Katherine Grant, the young lady’s companion, irresistible. Circumstances have forced Katherine to be practical. She may be the daughter of a viscount, but she is poor. She counts herself fortunate to have secured an acceptable position for a lady of her class that also provides for her needs and, given Lady Euphemia’s younger sisters, offers the promise of long employment. The same rules that limit her means of supporting herself also dictate that Henry is an unacceptable match for her, but the rules and Henry’s responsibilities which make marriage impractical prove inadequate barriers as these two unlikely people tumble into love. This was my favorite of the quartet. Frampton’s humor, sometimes sharp and sometimes subtle, kept me smiling throughout the reading, and I adored Katherine and Henry, separately and together. The fact that Lady Euphemia is more than an overindulged chit is a wonderful touch. My only complaint—and it is actually a testament to my engagement with the characters--is that I wanted a more detailed development of how these characters reached their HEA.
The anthology concludes with “A Fashionable Affair” by Caroline Linden. As if Felicity Dawkins didn’t have enough trouble trying to restore Madame Follette’s to the glory it once knew, she must also contend with the Earl of Carmarthen who has already purchased all the other shops on Vine Street with plans to tear down all the worn buildings and build new, modernized shops in their stead. Felicity’s mother has steadfastly refused to sell, and at first Felicity refuses as well. However, once she realizes the inevitability of Carmarthen’s revitalization project, she agrees—but only if her conditions are met. Her primary concern is relocating the shop at a site that will ensure Madame Follette’s attracts the prestigious clients Felicity has been courting, and she and Carmarthen are in each other’s company frequently as they check out locations. The attraction that has simmered since their first meeting intensifies, but is an HEA possible for a woman in trade and an earl? Linden gives readers not a fairy tale in which lovers from different worlds ignore their differences but a satisfying romance in which the lovers recognize their different experience and perspectives and willingly take the risks. But, as with Frampton’s story, the ending came too soon. I wanted more of Felicity and Carmarthen’s story.
The greatest strength of this anthology is that each of the stories succeeds on its own but the four work even better together. They are connected not only by setting, characters, and the plot line concerning Madame Follette’s but also thematically. Each of the stories is a cross-class romance on some level. Each romance also considers in some way the difference between appearance and reality and the need to move beyond the surface that serves as the base for society’s judgments. The words of Henry Dawkins in Frampton’s “No Accounting for Love” would be apt had they been spoken by any of the major characters: “But with her, he felt as though he were truly and entirely valued, for his outside, yes, but also for his inside.” If you think you don’t like anthologies, you may be surprised by how much you like this one. I highly recommend it.