Monday, July 31, 2017

Review - - Secrets of the Tulip Sisters

Secrets of the Tulip Sisters
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: July 11, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Kelly Murphy’s stable, ordinary life as a fifth-generation tulip farmer in Tulpen Crossing, Washington, is shaken by the return of two people. First, Griffith Burnett, her high school crush whose careless words broke her heart thirteen years ago, has been back for a year. For the last several months, Griffith is everywhere Kelly turns. He even shows up at her previously all-female book club. When Kelly confronts him about his Johnny-on-the-spot appearances, he is direct and honest. He is looking for a long-term girlfriend, and he thinks Kelly is exactly what he needs although he cautions her that he is not interested in love and marriage. He tried that, failed at it, and has no plans for a repeat.

While Kelly is still reeling from Griffith’s announcement, her younger sister Olivia, who hasn’t returned to Tulpen Crossing since she was sent away to school more than a decade ago, decides to come home for the summer. Growing up, Kelly and Olivia were close, but Kelly was always closer to her father while Olivia was her mother’s daughter. When their mother left town and their parents divorced, Olivia felt like an outsider, a feeling that was magnified when she was taken out of the local high school and sent to a Colorado boarding school. The sisters have rarely seen each other over the years, and they have lost the sisterly bonds that connected them as children. Kelly has a guilty secret, and she is uneasy about Olivia’s sudden appearance.

Olivia is uncertain of her reception. She lacks a sense of belonging to the family. She also has secrets of her own, and she is less than open about all her reasons for coming home. Her high school boyfriend, Griffith’s younger brother Ryan, may have been the catalyst, but he is ultimately less important than all the other forces that drive her. Life in her hometown has more to offer than Olivia expected. Not only are her relationships with her father and sister becoming more intimate and fulfilling, but she also finds a career niche. Then, there is Sven the Viking God, who makes Ryan look like the spoiled, irresponsible jerk he is.

Helen Sperry, Kelly’s best friend and owner of the local diner, is guarding a secret too. She is in love with Jeff Murphy, Kelly and Olivia’s father. She has nurtured feelings for him for years while she played the role of good friend and fellow music lover, but she decides that it is time to make a move. Jeff at first insists that the age difference is too great to be overcome, but he eventually relents. Just when everything is going well for the Murphys as a family and with their love interests, secrets are revealed and the return of another former resident adds to the turmoil. These developments put all the relationships in jeopardy. It will take honesty, understanding, and forgiveness in generous portions to see family ties, friendship, and romances restored.

Susan Mallery’s latest women’s fiction novel is a winner. The three main female characters are likable and sympathetic with enough flaws to make them believable. Olivia’s journey of self-discovery is the most complex and best developed, but Kelly and Helen also learn things about themselves. Both sisterhood and female friendship are integral to the story. However, since this is a Mallery book, it will come as no surprise to readers that the romantic element is strong indeed. The romances of Kelly and Griffith and Helen and Jeff are more interesting and more developed than that of Olivia and Sven. I preferred Griffith and Jeff, but Sven is a fun character. He figures heavily (pun intended) in the promotion for the book. If this is the first of a new series, readers can doubtless expect to see more of Sven and Olivia. (And the puns persist.)

Another thing I really liked about this book is the role of work. Kelly and Jeff are committed to the family tulip farm with its rich history. Griffith is invested financially and emotionally in his micro housing business, both the commercial and the philanthropic divisions. Helen finds owning the Parrot Café unexpectedly rewarding and Olivia’s new career goals are a significant part of her growth. Mallery gives readers enough information about all these jobs to lend credence to the fact that her primary characters are people whose work is important to who they are. I found it immensely satisfying to see work meriting more than an occasional reference.

Susan Mallery is one of the best at giving readers emotionally rich women’s fiction that also satisfies the romance reader’s expectation of a love story (or in this case, three) that is engaging with an upbeat ending. She is at the top of her game in The Secrets of the Tulip Sisters. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, July 28, 2017

RWA 2017 - - Who Needs Sleep?

We're halfway through RWA 2017 and, so far, it's been wonderful. It's also been exhausting but who needs sleep when you're meeting your favorite authors, right? Last night, we celebrated the best of 2016 published books with the RITA awards. It was exciting, nostalgic, and tear inducing. The theme of the ceremony was friendship and, I have to say, I've seen that theme carried out in numerous ways throughout this conference. Click here for a list of last night's winners: RWA WINNERS

Here are a few candid shots from last night:

Toni Blake always looks stunning.

RITA Finalists Laura Lee Guhrke and Julie Anne Long

The always stunning Heather McGovern, Elizabeth Michels, & Sally Kilpatrick

The very talented Victoria Vane who MADE that dress!

Beverly Jenkins, the very deserving recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award

With 2017 RITA Winner Virginia Kantra

With 2017 RITA Winner Laura Lee Guhrke

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Live from RWA!

Welcome to Orlando, Florida and the 2017 Romance Writers of America's national conference. This year's conference is at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Thanks to the amazing Shannon who checked us into the hotel, I'm in a lovely 17th floor room with a gorgeous view. Tonight, I watched three different fireworks displays from our room window!

The author sightings started almost immediately upon arriving. Cathy Maxwell stopped by while we were checking in to the hotel to tell me to be sure to get the Cathy Maxwell Room Key. Avon sponsored our room keys this year and each one has a quote from one of their authors. Too cool! 

Here's a few author sightings from Day One: Virginia Kantra, one of my favorite people and an immensely talented author. Check out her recent Dare Island contemporary romance series.

Terri Osburn, another talented contemporary romance author and a long-time friend. She has a new series beginning in September!

Sharon Sala and Cindy Dees. Two of the nicest ladies around! 

With Laura Lee Guhrke. She's up for a RITA! 

Sarah Morgan and RaeAnne Thayne, two Dish favorites and the nicest women! 

With Janna MacGregor. I highly recommend her historical romance debut, The Bad Luck Bride.

I have more from Day One to share but have to run to a workshop right now. Check back later or stop by my Facebook page for more photos!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review - - Suddenly Engaged

Suddenly Engaged
By Julia London
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Kyra Kokinos was once a hopeful, single twentysomething in New York City with a promising career as an assistant editor for a fitness magazine and an active social life. Unprotected sex with a friend of the groom at her boss’s destination wedding left her pregnant. The guy involved is not returning her phone calls or texts. When she tracks him down at his workplace, he offers her money for an abortion. He has no interest in becoming a father. It might interfere with his wedding plans to his girlfriend of two years. More than six years later, Kyra is a single mother working the day shift as a server in an upscale restaurant in Lake Haven and hoping her tips are enough to pay the incompetent babysitter who is all she can afford. She spends the rest of her time caring for her bright, energetic, six-year-old daughter Ruby, worrying that she is not a good mother, and studying for her real estate license in hopes of making a better life for Ruby.

Dax Bishop is a reclusive curmudgeon who designs and makes custom furniture. He left his job as a paramedic in New Jersey after his ex-wife, who left him after twelve years of marriage for one of his female co-workers, announced her pregnancy. The infertility treatments finally worked. Dax is thrilled that he is about to become a father, but he is not happy that he will be forced to share parenting responsibilities with his ex’s partner. Still, he is determined to be an involved dad. With all this on his mind and his flourishing business, Dax just wants to be left alone with his dog Otto, and he is not pleased with the woman and child who are his new, noisy neighbors. He finds Ruby’s frequent intrusions into his space particularly bothersome.

However, the ebullient Ruby with her non-stop chatter is a match for the grumpiest neighbor and she soon wins Dax’s affection. He has been aware of Kyra’s charms from the beginning, and mother and child are soon part of his life. Dax and Kyra move from tentative friendship to a comfortable relationship as lovers. When Ruby needs surgery to remove a brain tumor, Dax suggests that he and Kyra marry so that Ruby will be covered by his insurance. Kyra loves Dax, but she must decide if she wants a marriage based on the need for Dax to save her and Ruby.

My favorite Julia London books are her contemporaries, and this one has the likable but credibly flawed characters and emotionally satisfying situations that make London a favorite. Kyra’s concerns about paying the bills, relying too often on fast food, and delaying auto maintenance reflect the issues many people face. I found the ordinariness of these character’s lives refreshing. They live in rented cottages, not luxury homes or penthouses. Dax’s problems are not economic, but his hurt pride and his dismay that his life hasn’t turned out the way he planned are rooted in reality. Cheers to London that Dax’s ex and her partner are neither demonized nor valorized.

I really liked the way the relationship between Dax and Kyra developed. They are aware of one another physically, and these feelings intensify. But they also grow to like each other, to enjoy each other’s company, to share each other’s lives. Ruby is a real kid, although a bit precocious. She is sweet and saucy, funny--sometimes unintentionally--excited about her world, and totally endearing, but sometimes she is cross and disobedient and talkative enough to make a parent long for bedtime. Her relationship with Dax is heartwarming and as important to the story as the relationship of Dax and Kyra.

Suddenly Engaged is the third book in the Lake Haven series, but it can easily be read as a standalone. I had not read the earlier books, and I had no difficulty with this one. If you like contemporary romance that evokes laughter, tears, and empathy, you should add this one to your TBR list.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review - - Indigo Lake

Indigo Lake
By Jodi Thomas
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: July 18, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

The Hamilton and Davis families have a history—a century of feuding that has dwindled to little more than dark tales of violent death, lingering ghosts, and ancient curses since the only survivors of the two families are a rootless stranger who has never set foot on Hamilton land and two sisters, struggling to get by, and to care for their Apache-Irish grandmother who keeps the stories of the feud alive.

Blade Hamilton never knew his father, and he is shocked to learn that the man has left him Hamilton Acres, overgrown land that used to be the family ranch, and the ancestral house, which looks like a setting for a horror movie. Blade grew up with a wandering mother who reinvented herself with each successive husband and whose emotional ties to her son were almost nonexistent. All he knew about his father was his name. He has never called any place home, a habit reinforced by his military service and his current job as a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Other than a certain curiosity, he has no feelings about the land he has inherited. His plans are to sell the property, which he guesses is less worth than the vintage motorcycle on which he rode into Crossroads, Texas.

Dakota Davis delayed her plan to become an architect five years ago when her mother was killed in an automobile accident that left Maria, Dakota’s older sister, blind. Dakota was only twenty, but she grew up in a hurry. With her mother dead, her grandmother inhabiting her own version of reality, and Maria recovering in the hospital, Dakota became head of the family. Now she supports her small family by working as Crossroads' only real estate agent. Her income is supplemented by the sale of Maria’s homemade jellies and jams. At night, she studies architecture and dreams of the houses she longs to build. Between her job, her studies, acting as errand girl for Maria’s growing business, and keeping an eye on her grandmother, Dakota has no time to regret her nonexistent social life. When she first sees Blade, she thinks he is a Hamilton ghost, but it takes only one meeting for him to become fully flesh and blood and a major irritant, albeit one who is too good-looking for his own good—or for hers.

Blade expects to be in town for only two weeks. He is not interested in permanence, and Dakota is not his type anyway--or so he keeps telling himself. Dakota doesn’t have time for the complication that is Blade, and she is still half certain that the only safe Hamilton is a dead one. But she can’t stop thinking about Blade. Then, the push-pull of their relationship takes a turn when Blade is shot after he is deputized by Sheriff Dan Brigman who has a double murder and other suspicious activities to investigate. Can a wandering Hamilton with no home and a hot-tempered Davis solidly rooted in her home have a future together?

Meanwhile, Lauren Brigman has returned to Crossroads still in search of herself and her purpose in life. She publishes an online community newspaper, considers other things she might write, and spends a lot of time thinking about her might-have-been-but-never-was love affair with Lucas Reyes. Lucas, now a successful lawyer, believes he is a danger to Lauren and tries to stay away from her, a task made easier when he insists that Lauren’s father lock him up in the local jail as suspect #1, even though no one really believes honorable Lucas is the murderer. The bad guys are caught, and lots of Crossroads characters prove themselves heroes. But after a dozen years of the on and off (mostly off) of Lauren and Lucas, can this pair finally find happiness together?

Jodi Thomas has long been one of the best storytellers writing romance, and she has the awards to prove it, including a spot in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Her Harmony series is one of my all-time favorites, and I have enjoyed the earlier Ransom Canyon novels. Indigo Lake is the sixth book in that series, and I’m of two minds about it. I loved Blade and Dakota. Thomas is unique among the authors whom I read regularly in her gift for creating off-beat characters who qualify as outsiders. The twists and quirks in these characters and their stories’ underlying affirmation that everyone deserves to love and be loved has kept me reading Thomas for many years. Blade and Dakota are part of this tradition. They are appealing as individuals, and as a couple, they offer satisfied sighs and smiles. Since I have followed the series, I also enjoyed seeing some favorite characters from earlier books play a role in book six. Charley Collins (Lone Heart Pass) is at the top of that list.

If the novel consisted only of Blade and Dakota’s story, I’d rank it a solid four-star read. But there is also Lauren and Lucas’s story. It was a major disappointment. These are characters that readers met in Ransom Canyon, the first book in the series. Across the series, readers have seen them move from high school to college to post-college work. Many have viewed them as a couple meant to be together, but Lucas’s determination to achieve has delayed any significant connection again and again. I’m sure I am not the only reader who was invested in their story and rooting for their HEA. Theirs was the story I wanted to love. Instead I found the story’s development thin, and Lauren distressingly passive. By the end, I was largely indifferent to what happened to them.

A more minor concern was my confusion about Dakota’s history. The family land and the Davis feud with the Hamiltons came through her mother’s line. Dakota and Maria use their mother’s maiden name. I’m not sure why. It is unclear what happened to the girls’ father. At one point, Dakota’s thoughts reveal that he is dead: “Her father died young, trying to farm rocky, uneven terrain.” Later she says to her grandmother, “My father is not dead. At least not that I know of. He just left us the month after I was born, remember?”  I read the book twice and did a dedicated search of the words “father” and “Davis” and was unable to find answers to my questions. I should add that I read an ARC, and it is possible that contradictions were resolved in the final copy. As I said, this is not a major point, but such details can drive me batty. :)

Overall, this is not the best book in the series, but Blade and Dakota make it worth reading nonetheless. If you have read the earlier books, the positive will outweigh the negatives. You should add the book to your list. If you are new to the series, start with Ransom Canyon. Maria Davis, an interesting, endearing character, will be the heroine of a novella, A Christmas Affair (October 1), and I’ll definitely be reading that one. Thomas begins a new series in the spring. I look forward to that as well.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spotlight on 2017 RITA Finalists - - Historical Romance: Long

On Thursday, July 27th, the Romance Writers of America® will announce the 2017 recipients of their prestigious RITA®. The award, given in recognition of excellence in romance publishing, is named for RWA's first president, Rita Clay Estrada and the annual award ceremony, held this year at the Walt Disney World® Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, is a highlight of RWA's national conference. I'll be there and will be taking lots of photos to share with all of you after the conference. If you want to follow along with the announcements of the winners on the 27th, you can do so on these RWA social media platforms:

RWA will also be once again streaming the ceremony live for everyone who can't be in Orlando. Go to at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern), Thursday, July 27th to watch.  

For more information about the RITA® award, click here.  For a full list of this year's RITA® finalists, click here.

Today, we're spotlighting the four books that are finalists in the Historical Romance:Long category. 

Historical Romance: Long

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase
Avon Books
May Chen, Editor

Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can't see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax's nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.

Though he's unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford's never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn't part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her . . .

It's an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton's most adored heiress and London's most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?

Loretta Chase has worked in academe, retail, and the visual arts, as well as on the street—as a meter maid—and in video, as a scriptwriter. She might have developed an excitingly checkered career had her spouse not nagged her into writing fiction. Her bestselling historical romances, set in the Regency and Romantic eras of the early nineteenth century, have won a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America's RITA®.

Where to Buy:

Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Michele Bidelspach, Editor

Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that's where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . . 

Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney's game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who's been robbing London's rich and powerful. He's no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won't rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . . 

Anna Harrington fell in love with historical romances--and all those dashing Regency heroes--while living in London, where she studied literature and theatre. She loves to travel, fly airplanes, and hike, and when she isn't busy writing her next novel, she loves fussing over her roses in her garden. Visit her website at or follow her at @aharrington2875.

Where to Buy:

by Laura Lee Guhrke
Avon Books
Erika Tsang, Editor

After spending his youth as one of the wildest rakes in the ton, Lord Denys Somerton has devoted the past six years to putting his past behind him. He is determined to fulfill his duties, find a suitable wife, and start a family, but that plan changes when Lola Valentine—the red-haired temptress from his past—returns to London, sparking the same irresistible desires that almost ruined his life once before.

Lola is a woman with no romantic illusions. She knew love would never be enough for a British lord and an American girl from the wrong side of the tracks. For Denys’s sake, she walked away from him and the glittering life he offered. But when an unexpected inheritance brings her back to London, Lola discovers the passion between them is as hot as ever. Can they vanquish it, or will it burn out of control again and destroy them both?

Laura Lee Guhrke spent seven years in advertising, had a successful catering business, and managed a construction company before she decided writing novels was more fun. A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Laura has penned more than twenty historical romances. Her books have received many award nominations, and she is the recipient of romance fiction's highest honor: the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. She lives in the Northwest with her husband (or, as she calls him, her very own romance hero), along with two diva cats and a Golden Retriever happy to be their slave.

Where to Buy:

by Sabrina York
St. Martin's Press
Monique Patterson, Editor

Andrew Lochlannach is famous for his conquests, on and off the battlefield. When a fellow warrior challenges him to a kissing contest, he wastes no time in planting his lips on ninety-nine lovely lasses-an impressive feat of seduction that gets him banished to the hinterlands. Still, Andrew has no regrets about his exploits-especially his embrace with the most beguiling woman he's ever met...

With flaming red hair and a temper to match, Susana is not some innocent farmgirl who gives herself over easily to a man, even one as ruggedly handsome as Andrew. The wicked Scot may have won a kiss from the headstrong beauty in a moment of mutual desire, but Susana refuses to be just another one of his conquests. Andrew must convince the fiery lass that even though he is not playing a game, losing her is not an option...

Her Royal Hotness, Sabrina York, is the New York Times and USA 

Today Bestselling author of steamy, humorous romance. Her titles range from sweet & snarky to scorching romance-historical, contemporary & paranormal. Visit her webpage at to check out her books, excerpts and contests.

Where to Buy:

Click to visit the other stops on the tour. 

Have you read any of the books in this category? 
Do you have a favorite?
Will you be in Orlando for the RWA Conference or watching the live stream?

One person leaving a comment before 11:00 PM, July 22, 2017 will receive a package of historical novels from my conference stash.  (U.S. only)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review - - The Light in Summer

The Light in Summer
By Mary McNear
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Single mother Billy Harper and her son Luke, eight at the time, moved to Butternut Lake, Minnesota, five years ago and found life good in the small town. Billy enjoyed her job as librarian and Luke made a couple of friends from whom he became inseparable. But things have changed in the past year. Billy’s father’s death has been difficult for her, but the loss of his grandfather, the only father figure in his life, has transformed Luke from a good kid and a lovable companion into a surly teen who avoids conversations with his mom, hangs out with a different set of friends, and gets suspended from school. Billy is worried. Even rereading her beloved Jane Austen novels provides little solace from her concerns.

Billy was still a teen herself when she gave birth to Luke. She accompanied her dad on a trip to an Alaskan fishing lodge where she met Wesley Fitzgerald, a good-looking fishing guide only a few years older than Billy herself. What began as flirtation and a spontaneous invitation to a party ended with eighteen-year-old Billy no longer a virgin. A month later, Billy realizes she is pregnant. Wesley has moved on, and Billy is left to bring up her son, with a great deal of help from her parents in the early years. When Luke was younger, his questions about his father could be answered with the minimal information Billy had, but thanks to a private investigator hired by her father, Billy knows more about her son’s father now. And Luke, filled with angst and anger about his fatherless state, will no longer be satisfied with the old answers to his questions.

Cal Cooper is at a turning point in his life. He has filed for divorce from his wife of five years after he discovered a deception he could not forgive. Differences about the kind of buildings to design have also led him to dissolve his partnership in the Seattle architectural firm he helped found. Cal hopes that a summer in Butternut Lake where he spent his childhood summers will give him the time and space to find a new direction for his life. He rediscovers the passion for building homes that led him into architecture, and he meets Billy Harper.

Neither Billy nor Cal is looking for a romantic relationship to further complicate their already complicated lives, but they keep running into each other. The combination of comfort and chemistry they share is rare, and they are both smart enough to know that. But the entry of Wesley into Luke’s life leaves Billy anxious, and Cal must make some decisions about his professional life before he and Billy decide where their relationship is headed.

The Light in Summer is the fifth book in McNear’s heartwarming Butternut Lake series. Like the other books in the series, it is a quiet book with likable characters and credible conflicts, one of my favorite types. The story illustrates the choices-have-consequences theme on multiple levels. Billy learned that lesson young when she chose to lie to Wesley about her experience and her protection from pregnancy and it is reinforced when she delays telling Luke about his father.  Cal recognizes that his complacency played a role in the failure of his marriage. Luke not only must deal with suspension and loss of privileges because of his bad choices, but he also learns from the more serious consequences his troubled friends face.

Fans of the series will enjoy the appearance of characters from earlier books. Cal is the brother of Allie Cooper Beckett Ford whose story, Up at Butternut Lake, began the series, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpses of Allie, Walker, Wyatt, and Brooke. I also thought it was a great touch that Billy and Cal meet at the wedding of Daisy and Will. Despite all these connections, The Light in Summer can be read as a standalone. If you like the small-town series of Robyn Carr, RaeAnne Thayne, or Sherryl Woods, I predict you will enjoy this book as much as I did.