Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review - - The Playboy Prince and the Nanny

The Playboy Prince and the Nanny
By Donna Alward
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: August 1, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Diego Navarro, second son of the King of Marazur, a small Mediterranean principality, is at an English bar with his best friend from his days as a Cambridge post-graduate when he hears a television blaring the news of the tragedy. A call from his sister, Luciana, soon confirms that the report is accurate. Cecilia Navarro, wife of Diego’s elder brother, Raoul, crown prince of Marazur, and Mariana Cortez, nanny to Raoul and Ceci’s two children, have been killed in an automobile accident. Diego may spend much of his time out of his country engaged in activities that have earned him the title “the Playboy Prince,” but he loves his family. He leaves for Marazur immediately.

Diego is eager to assume more responsibility in Marazur, but his father and brother are locked into the position they assumed twenty-five years ago when Diego and Raoul’s mother died: Diego is to be protected. That protection means limiting his role as a member of the royal family. But it is Diego who remembers that his young niece and nephew, grieving for their mother and their nanny, are in desperate need of a new caregiver. He takes it upon himself to hire a new nanny.

Rosalie Walters is an English nanny with impeccable references. She has worked for wealthy families and even minor nobility, but this is her first position as nanny to royalty. Rose is understandably nervous, and that nervousness increases when she meets Prince Diego. She met him once, and she is aware of his potent charm. But she expects him to be in South America where the latest paparazzi coverage has placed the international playboy. She is flustered to find him in the castle kitchen, teasing the cook and clearly ready to flirt with the new nanny. Rose quickly establishes a loving relationship with six-year-old Emilia and four-year-old Max. Prince Raoul is distant but pleasant, and the staff is kind and ready to help her adjust to her new position. Rose is set to enjoy her new role.

To her surprise, the most frequent visitor to the royal nursery is not the children’s father but their uncle. It is clear that Uncle Diego is a great favorite with the children and that his affection for them is genuine. The problem is that, try as she may, Rose cannot deny how much she enjoys Diego’s company. She insists on addressing him as “Your Highness” and maintaining a proper distance, but Diego refuses to recognize the barriers she puts in place. He finds a friend in the English Rose, one to whom he can talk about his frustration with his playboy identity, one who sees him as a man rather than a title. And the attraction that sparked between them in that kitchen meeting grows with each encounter. Just when it seems that the prince and the nanny may have their fairy tale ending, scandal erupts. Diego is MIA. A broken heart and a ruined reputation may be all Rose has to show for her time in Marazur.

The Playboy Prince and the Nanny is the first of a two-book set from Donna Alward. It is a sweet romance, but I consider it Donna Alward light. I liked Rose and Diego and felt great sympathy for Raoul and the children. However, despite the tragedy that served as inciting incident, the story lacked the emotional depth that made me a fan of Donna Alward’s books. This novel reminded me of the shorter category romances that require some suspension of disbelief, offer an entertaining few hours, but are not particularly memorable a few days later. I don’t intend that statement to be pejorative. Sometimes that is exactly the kind of book a reader needs.

If you like contemporary romance with a fairy tale element, heavy on genuine sweetness but light on substance, you may enjoy this book. I won’t be adding it to my best books of 2017, but I liked it well enough to note that Raoul’s story, The Crown Prince’s Bride, will be released January 9, 2018. And since I had a feeling that sister Luciana’s story had been told, I did some research and found that The Rancher’s Runaway Princess, a 2009 Harlequin Romance, is available for my Kindle. I will be reading that one too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Excerpt and Giveaway - - On the Chase by Katie Ruggle

PJ, here. Hold Your Breath, Katie Ruggle's 2016 romantic suspense debut, launched what quickly became one of my favorite series of last year. This year she returns with new characters, emotional stories, and plenty of action in her new Rocky Mountain K9 Unit series. The second book in the series, On the Chase, will be released September 5th and, as with her earlier books, kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end. If you have not yet discovered Katie Ruggle, I enthusiastically recommend giving her a try.

Note: For maximum enjoyment, I strongly encourage reading the books in both her Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue series and her new Rocky Mountain K9 Unit series in order.  

Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue
On His Watch (prequel novella)
Hold Your Breath
Fan the Flames
Gone Too Deep
In Safe Hands
After the End (series epilogue extended-length novella)

Rocky Mountain K9 Unit
Run to Ground
On the Chase (9/5/17)
Survive the Night (2/6/18)


 “How’s your head?”
His smile dimmed just slightly before returning to full wattage. “Still where it’s supposed to be. I might have lost a few brain cells, but there were plenty to spare.”
Grace rolled her eyes. Of course he would joke about almost dying. Forget that she hadn’t been able to sleep or think about anything else for the past five days since Jules told her about the explosion. She didn’t know why she cared, why she worried about him, why the idea of him almost dying made her heart hurt. It wasn’t like they were friends. Every time they saw each other, they argued. Even now, seeing Hugh all happy and smirky and healthy-looking, she felt her worry turn to annoyance. “Have you found out who planted the bomb yet?”
“Can’t talk about an ongoing investigation,” he said lightly. “You know what we can talk about, though?”
“What?” she asked warily. He was just a few steps away, and she realized that she’d been moving closer without even realizing it. Stupid feet. Don’t they know he’s an ass?
Hugh gestured at her soaked coveralls. “This incredibly fashion-forward look you have going here.”
Her finger hovered close to the trigger. So maybe he’d lose a little skin if she gave him a quick spray. Really, it was what he deserved. With a great effort of will, she kept the washer down at her side.
“You like it?” Posing with her free hand on her hip, she gave him her best sultry-model face. If she had to be stuck wearing wet coveralls and too-large rubber boots, then she was going to own the look.
He chuckled, although his gaze heated as he took her in. “Oh yeah. It’s kennel chic.”
“Right.” Dropping the pose, she frowned at him, trying to figure out why he was looking at her like he wanted to eat her. There was nothing appealing about her at the moment. She’d known this even before she glanced down again, confirming the horrid state of her appearance. “I miss wearing pretty things.”
Immediately, his gaze sharpened. “Pretty things? Like what you used to wear to work? What did you do before in…Bangor?”
That slight pause reminded her that he was a cop—a cop who thought she was a liar. Tipping her head, she gave him a flirty look. “You want to know something?”
“Yeah. What?” He moved a half step closer, his inquisitive expression shifting to something a little…hungrier.
She smiled and leaned toward him. His gaze dropped to her lips. “I’m beginning to understand why someone would want to blow you up.”
To her surprise, he laughed. It made him even more stupidly attractive than usual, and Grace found herself unable to look away. “I’m told that a lot.”
Thrown off guard, she scrambled for a witty retort. “Maybe you should, you know, work on that.”
“Work on fixing my personality?” He leaned against the wall, and Grace gave a silent sigh. It looked as if he was settling in for a chat. As much as she welcomed an interruption from kennel cleaning, Hugh wasn’t her first pick. Whenever he was around, she felt strange, unsettled, almost jittery. He’d pop into her head at odd times, and just the thought of him sent a rush of adrenaline through her veins. It was…uncomfortable.
She realized that he was watching her with a tiny, knowing smile, and she tried to remember what they’d been talking about. “Whatever.” Grace figured that would cover most potential topics. “Why are you here?”
“Otto’s working with his latest project.”
“That explains why he’s here. Why are you here?”
He smirked. The man was impossible to offend. “I was bored, so I tagged along. It’s a good thing, too. We haven’t talked much lately. I was going to stop by to watch Tattered Hearts with you again, but Theo gave me a little lecture about the importance of keeping my lockpicks in my pants.”
“What a shame,” she said flatly, proud of herself for not giving in and smiling. It was hard to resist Hugh’s easy charm. “Well, this was a nice chat. We’ll have to do it again sometime…or not.”
His grin grew, and it became harder to keep her deadpan expression in place. “Oh, our visit isn’t over. Otto won’t be done for a while yet. So tell me, Not-Grace, how long did you live in Bangor?”
“Almost two years.”
“And before that?”
“Austin, Texas.”
“For how long?”
“Eight months.”
“Before that?”
“Maine or Oregon?”
“Do you ever tell the truth?”
“Why do you think I’m lying?”
He smiled at her—a long, slow, easy, predatory baring of his teeth. “I can tell when someone’s lying. It’s my superpower.”
Grace shivered and immediately hoped he hadn’t noticed. By his expression, however, he’d seen it. He looked like a smug housecat, ready to pounce on a trapped mouse. “It’s none of your business. So I’ve moved around a lot. That’s not a crime. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Then why are you lying?”
“I told you.” To her annoyance, she couldn’t hold his gaze. Turning her head, she stared at one of the kennels. “I’m not lying. Go away. I have to get back to work.”
She started spraying down the kennels again. The entire time, she felt his gaze on the back of her neck, as hot as sunburn on her skin. It made her crazy that he could bring out such a reaction in her, when she was just a suspect to him. Every time Hugh was nearby, her skin buzzed and her blood flowed faster, and when he left, she felt let down and lonely. He was a cop, and an annoying one at that. Why did she allow him to affect her like this? When she reached the end of the row, she couldn’t take it anymore. Turning, she huffed, “Would you please just…”
He was gone.
She glanced around, but she was alone. Moving over to the door, she looked out and saw Hugh limping slightly as he made his way to the squad car.
It was her turn to watch him. Crazily enough, she felt slightly deflated now that he’d left. Shaking off her idiotic thoughts, she firmed her jaw and turned back to the kennels. Forget Hugh, she told herself firmly. There’s poo to clean.
Even so, she couldn’t resist a final glance out the open door.


While recovering from an on-the-job injury, Hugh surprisingly becomes hooked on an afternoon soap opera, Tattered Hearts. What's your guilty TV watching pleasure?

Have you read any of Katie Ruggle's books yet? Do you have a favorite book or character?

Kaylee is on the run from someone who wants to kill her. What would be your location of choice if you had to "disappear?" 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

By Katie Ruggle
Rocky Mountain K9 Unit - Book 2
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Injured in the line of duty,
His orders are simple:
Stay alive.
But when a frightened woman bursts into his life, Hugh and his K9 companion have no choice but to risk everything to keep her safe.
The sole witness to a horrific crime, Kaylee Ramay flees to the Colorado Rockies to start a new life. There she becomes Grace, a dog kennel employee desperately trying to avoid attention-especially from dangerously attractive K9 Officer Hugh Murdoch.
Because Hugh is tall, dark...and nothing but trouble.
Hugh is anxious to get back in the field after an act of heroism left him warming the bench.
Until then, he and his K9 partner Lexi spend their hours teasing the town's mysterious newcomer. But when their simmering attraction is nearly cut short by a sniper's bullet, Hugh's mystery woman must come clean about the secrets she keeps...
Or both of them will pay the price.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Winners - - Maddy's Phoenix

The randomly chosen winners of a digital copy of

Maddy's Phoenix by Patricia Yager Delagrange are:





Please send your email address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winners - - Delores Fossen's Branded as Trouble

The randomly chosen winners of the two copies of 

Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen are:

(publisher copy)


Eileen A-W
(signed copy)


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Louisa Cornell Winners

The randomly chosen winners of a Kindle copy of

Lost in Love by Louisa Cornell are:

Annette Naish




Please send your email address to me at

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Review - - You Say It First

You Say It First
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: August 22, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Pallas Saunders grew up trying to please her mother. She expected to earn a degree in finance and work in the bank founded by her great-great grandfather because she knew that would please her mother. But when Pallas took a job at Disneyland for the joy of it during her third semester in college, she made C in geology, bringing her GPA below the level required by her mother. Her mother cut off all financial support, and Pallas was forced to find a job. She found work at Weddings in a Box, a business that provides the themed trappings for couples who have chosen Happily, Inc, a famous wedding-destination town in the southern California desert, for their special day. For eight years, Pallas worked at Weddings in a Box while working toward completing her degree. Gerald, the owner, became a mentor and a father figure for Pallas. Upon his death several months ago, Pallas inherited the business.

Nick Mitchell, one of the five Mitchell brothers of Fool’s Gold and a renowned artist, followed his brothers, Mathias and Ronan, to Happily, Inc. It seemed a good place to kill a few months while he waits for confirmation that he has been commissioned to create a piece of art for a Dubai hotel, a two-year project. When Nick shows up to interview for a temporary, part-time carpenter job at Weddings in a Box, he finds himself drafted as a Roman soldier in a wedding. Shortly thereafter, he discovers two beautifully carved wooden panels in need of restoration. As an artist whose primary medium is wood, Nick is determined to be the one to restore the panels. Pallas is uncomfortable at the thought of the famous Nick Mitchell working for her at a salary barely above minimum wage, but she yields to Nick’s pleas that he be allowed to preserve the panels.

Both Pallas and Nick have a troubled history with a parent. Pallas is caught in a life-long cycle of trying and failing to please her mother in order to earn her love. She even considers her mother’s demand that she sell Wedding in a Box and accept a position at the bank because she has always accepted her mother’ dictum that she was destined to follow in her footsteps.  Nick’s father is a gifted glass artist, but he is an egomaniacal, self-indulgent man, an unfaithful husband, and a jealous father who ignores some of his sons and tries to dominate others. Both his father’s egocentric passion for art and his mother’s self-abnegating passion for her husband have made Nick wary of commitment. Neither he nor Pallas is looking for a relationship, but attraction leads to flirtation and flirtation leads to physical and emotional intimacy. Can Nick overcome his fears, or will he break Pallas’s heart and his own?

You Say It First introduces Susan Mallery’s Happily, Inc series, and all signs point to a series that should prove as popular as the author’s Fool’s Gold series. It helps, of course, that the Mitchell brothers are already familiar to Mallery’s readers. Not only are Del Mitchell’s story (Thrill Me, 2015) and Aidan Mitchell’s story (Best of My Love, 2016) part of the earlier series, but the revelation of the big family secret concerning the “twins” Mathias and Ronan also occurs in that series. The spin-off factor will delight many readers.
But this novel has more going for it than its spin-off status. Pallas and Nick are engaging characters in their own right. Readers will empathize with their struggles toward greater maturity and self-awareness as they conquer the barriers to their HEA. I particularly appreciated the transformation of Weddings in a Box to Weddings Out of the Box and rooted for Pallas’s move out of her own boxed-in life and her declaration of independence from her mother. And I loved Nick as artist hero!
A large cast of secondary characters adds to the novel’s appeal. Pallas’s resourceful grandfather, the creator of Happily, Inc, is a special delight. Her colorful “girlfriend squad”—Carol Violet, Natalie, Silver, and Wynn—are a terrific support system for Pallas in her private life and in her business, and they are interesting. Mallery hints at the stories of each of these women. Mathias and Ronan Mitchell, wounded and gifted, are clearly meant to be heroes, and Pallas’s twin brother, Cade, her cousin Drew, and a thriller writer who lives in the area also have potential.
If you enjoyed Mallery’s Fool’s Gold books, I think you will fall in love with Happily, Inc. If you are new to Mallery, you will find that she is one of the best in the genre at creating a vibrant community inhabited by likeable, relatable characters. Her Fool’s Gold series ran for six years and included more than twenty novels plus five novellas and a short story. After reading this introductory novel, I won’t be surprised to see Happily, Inc repeat that success. If you share my series addiction, I suggest you grab your copy of You Say It First ASAP.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review - - Before I Knew

Before I Knew
By Jamie Beck
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: August 22, 2017
Reviewed by Janga


Colby Cabot and her brother Hunter grew up with the Morgan brothers, Alec and Joe, as friends and neighbors in Lake Sandy, Oregon. When Colby married Mark Baxter, she was pleased that Mark and Joe quickly became friends as well. But when a foolish dare by Mark leads Joe to jump off a cliff above Punch Bowl Falls with tragic consequences, the Morgans blame Mark for Joe’s death. A short time later, a guilt-plagued Mark, who rejects treatment for his bipolarism, jumps to his death from the ninth-floor balcony of the couple’s apartment. Colby, who witnessed her husband’s death, suffers from PTSD as well as grief and guilt over the failure of her five-year marriage.

Two years later, Colby has moved through the worst of her grief, but she has been changed by the experience. She has abandoned her career in law and is set to open A CertainTea, her dream restaurant that will offer casual elegance and a place for families to relax or celebrate. The restaurant is funded by her father’s tea company. When the chef Colby hired backs off at the last minute, her brother, representing the Cabot Tea Company, hires Alec Morgan as the chef’s replacement. Colby is not pleased. She fears that her friendship with Alec has been irreparably damaged by Joe’s death and that his presence will bring back all that she is trying to leave behind.

Alec is having his own struggles, both personal and professional. He is consumed by guilt over the role he believes he played in his brother’s death and in Mark’s death. His relationship with his father had always been a fraught one. His father, a macho cop, views Alec’s career choice as unfit for a real man, and Alec’s success failed to change his view. Since Joe’s death, the connection between Alec and his father has deteriorated even further.  Alec’s problems affected his job performance, and the year after his brother’s death, his celebrated restaurant closed. His reputation as an award-winning chef took a big hit. Alec sees his position at A CertainTea as a chance to redeem his reputation, and he is determined to succeed, for his own satisfaction and to prove his father wrong.

Alec has long had feelings for Colby, but he keeps them buried. He is convinced that she would never be able to forgive him if she knew the secret he has harbored for two years. Colby misses Alec’s friendship, but she is convinced that he shares his father’s views and holds her guilty by association for Joe’s death. Working together forces them into each other’s company, but their relationship is further complicated by their different visions for A CertainTea. Can these two move past their disagreements, guilt, secrets, and family tangles to reach the HEA they deserve?

Before I Knew is the first book in the Cabot series. It is also the first book I have read by Jamie Beck. It will not be the last. Beck’s complex characters and perfectly paced, layered plot made this an excellent read. Colby and Alec are likeable characters, credibly flawed and dealing with wounds inflicted by people they love. These are characters in whom I believe and for whom I root without reservation. Their story is one of the best contemporary friends-to-lovers stories I’ve read.

Beck deftly weaves together the romance thread and the family complications, giving her readers a seamless and engaging story. This one will evoke sighs and perhaps some tears. I definitely recommend it. Readers see just enough of Colby’s brother Hunter and their younger half-sister, Gentry, to be primed for more books in this series. I’m already looking forward to All We Knew, available January 30, 2018.  It is a marriage-in-trouble story, one of my favorite tropes.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review - - The Perfect Recipe for Love and Friendship

The Perfect Recipe for Love and Friendship
By Shirley Jump
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: July 11, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Bridget O’Bannon Masterson’s marriage was the beginning of her three-year estrangement from her mother and sisters, but when Bridget’s husband, Jim, is struck by a drunk driver as he steps from a taxi, her mother and two of her sisters are there to help Bridget through the shock and grief and to insist she resume her life when Bridget wants to “crawl into bed and shut the blinds and drink until [she] forget[s] what day it is.” Bridget had just begun to realize how short the reality of her marriage fell from the marriage she wanted when Jim was killed. Now in the weeks and months after his death, she begins to discover the secrets he harbored, including a lapsed life insurance policy and an overdrawn checking account. Returning to work at Charmed by Dessert, the family bakery, is no longer merely her mother’s plan to push Bridget back into normal life; it has become a necessity for Bridget to pay the bills.

As Bridget rediscovers the joy she once found in baking, she also rediscovers the warmth and closeness she once shared with her sisters. Nora, the rule-follower among the O’Bannon sisters, is the only one who has remained at the bakery. It is she with whom Bridget first restores the relationship, discovering a new appreciation for Nora’s gift as a cake decorator and an understanding that Nora’s life is less perfect than it has seemed. Margaret “Magpie” the youngest of the O’Bannons, is a freelance journalist who travels around the globe, moving in and out of her family’s lives between assignments. She has a knack for showing up or contacting Bridget with a phone call or a text to offer a bit of advice, pose a question, or give a verbal nudge just when Bridget most needs it.

Abby, the sister to whom Bridget was closest growing up, is also the one from whom Bridget has been most deeply estranged. On Bridget’s wedding day, Abby warned that Jim was not the man Bridget thought he was, revealed a secret to Bridget and imposed a vow of silence on her, and had a shouting, cake-throwing argument with their mother that ruined the wedding reception. Bridget has hardly spoken to Abby since, but, realizing the hole Abby’s absence has left in her life, she takes the first step toward reconciliation. However, as Bridget’s relationship with her sisters grows warmer, her relationship with her mother grows more tense. Bridget finds it more and more difficult to tolerate her mother’s need to control her adult daughters and to understand her mother’s refusal to forgive Abby and welcome her back into the family. When her mother’s estranged sister shows up for a visit with Bridget, more family secrets are uncovered. Will love of family prove strong enough for these women to forgive and move beyond the revelations that threaten to tear them apart?

Shirley Jump’s latest offering is a moving women’s fiction tale of the tenderness and turmoil that characterize sisterhood and the mother-daughter bond in one family. These characters are fully human with deep flaws and resilient strengths. Bridget is the central character, and she is highly relatable as she comes to terms with the gap between fairy tale dreams and the life women live. The gap she must face may be wider than the norm, but the experience is a common one. Jump’s portrayal of women’s relationships overall feels true, but I found the religious issue of particular interest since it is one that is rarely touched upon with such fairness and authenticity. Colleen O’Bannon, the mother of four daughters, is perhaps the most complex and the most interesting character. Widowed as a young woman with her children all under ten, she survives by holding her secrets close, maintaining a stoic façade, and demanding much of her daughters. A devout Catholic who has been sustained by her faith, she is angry and troubled when her daughters make choices that violate the teachings of the Church.

Fans of Jump’s romance novels should be aware that this book is clearly women’s fiction. Although there is a budding romance for Bridget and even the suggestion of one for Colleen, the focus is on Bridget’s journey and on the relationships between sisters and mothers and daughters. If you like women’s fiction that offers an honest and sympathetic look at the lives of a group of ordinary women in one family, I think you will enjoy this one. I did. It is the first in a series. The second O’Bannon Sisters book, The Secret Ingredient for a Happy Marriage, will be released in the spring.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Review - - Here Comes the Bride

Here Comes the Bride
By Hope Ramsay
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Reviewed by Hellie

I do love a jilted bride story. I’m not sure why--I’ve never gotten close enough to the altar to be be jilted--but I think it has to do with my fear of rejection and being jilted at the altar is the ultimate rejection. Anyway, it’s like what a secret baby trope is for other readers: kryptonite.

After ten years together, Laurie Wilson is finally marrying her first love, Brandon Kopp, except instead of saying I do, the groom says “I don’t.” Unfortunately he decides to say this in front of the guests and the minister rather than coming forth with his cold feet in a less public setting. Brandon flees; and the best man, the unflappable Andrew Lyndon, Brandon’s best friend and a lawyer at Laurie’s father’s firm, whisks Laurie away and takes care of her in the aftermath. Andrew does such a good job in fact that Laurie’s father has another job for him: get Laurie and Brandon back together. How? By making Brandon jealous by showing Laurie having a great time with other men. (Incidentally this was Brandon’s suggestion to her when he announced he couldn’t marry her--that she should date other people. A lot of other people.)

Laurie, lying in the wreckage of her new single life, is now realizing how much she was giving up to be with Brandon. Not the dating other men part. No one actually likes dating--it’s brutal out there--but the fact she passed up a job that would have been great for her and her career to be with him. She bought a house she didn’t really want because he insisted on it--and the mortgage is in her name. The relocation to this small town of Shenandoah Falls is also a step down. Oh, and Brandon also went on their honeymoon without her--which she had paid for. Of course, in this stage of grief, she’s not sure she wouldn’t take Brandon back if he came to his senses, but on paper, she’s beginning to see he might have done her a favor.

Andrew Lyndon has a bad habit of doing a job so well, he keeps getting tasked with it. Such is the case with being so efficient at helping Laurie out of her humiliating position, now her father wants Andrew to find appropriate men for Laurie to date--and to make sure Brandon sees it. Andrew is one of two lawyers at the firm that is vying for a partnership within the company. Therefore when his boss, Laurie’s father, says do something, he has to do it, regardless how distasteful, ethically questionable, or awkward in regards to his social relationships, he finds the task.

Eventually Andrew convinces Laurie to her father’s scheme; and soon Laurie is going out on dates (really bad ones)--but more importantly, Brandon sees this going on and he is jealous. After all, he didn’t actually think Laurie would go through with it. Then Brandon decides she’s only dating to make him jealous and that’s never going to work. But he keeps tabs nonetheless; and he’s certainly upset every time she’s out with someone new, having a good time.

The story is an interesting blend of complications you may have always wondered. Who gets the friends when you and a significant other break up? When you meet their friends out in public, are you allowed to talk to them or are you supposed to act like you didn’t see each other to prevent awkwardness? What do you do about the sister-in-law that never was who you were looking forward to being sisters with--and now you can’t be friends because her allegiance belongs to her idiot brother? The girlfriend relationships are forged almost immediately--and just as strong as if they were forged at birth.

It was a compelling story with very likable characters, with the notable exception of Brandon, obviously. Who I don’t mind saying does not win Laurie back because she clearly deserves so much better. But the story of how Laurie got her groove back, set some healthy boundaries, and has her own little montage of Sisters Doing It For Themselves as she becomes a heroine to root for--that’s worth reading. I look forward to finding the first book in this series (A Small Town Bride) and the others in this series. I especially want to see the story with Courtney--now her story is going to be a reckoning.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review - - Until You Loved Me

Until You Loved Me
By Brenda Novak
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Ellie Fisher is an intelligent woman with an important job, but in the aftermath of finding her fiancé in bed with his best friend since college, she ends up in bed with a stranger. She thinks it was a one-night stand and the best sex of her life, but that one night will change her life forever. Ellie, a bookworm since childhood, holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from Yale and is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Banting Diabetes Center in Miami, a premier site for diabetes research. Her ex and his lover also work there. Ellie’s social experience lags far behind her intellectual accomplishments. She has been with only two men, one of them was her fiancé, and both long-term relationships. She is not the type to frequent nightclubs, but she is reeling with the realization than the man whom she expected to marry and with whom she expected to rear a family was only using her as a cover to hide his sexual orientation from his conservative, religious family. When her best friend urges her to join her for a night at Envy, a ritzy South Beach bar, with the intent of meeting someone, Ellie agrees. However, Ellie is just about ready to leave when she meets a big, incredibly handsome man who is clearly interested in her. She has no idea that he is a superstar athlete; she only knows he makes her feel like a different woman, someone very different from the pathetic, deceived fiancée who is the focus of gossip at her workplace.

Hudson King was found abandoned under a hedge in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood and named for two intersecting streets in the area. He grew up in foster homes, most of which cared little about the unwanted boy. Getting sent to the New Horizons Boys Ranch in Silver Springs, California, as a young teen proved his salvation. It was there his talent for football was developed, a talent that led him to UCLA and the Heisman Trophy and to his current position as starting quarterback for the LA Devils. He has fame, fortune, and a few good friends, but he does not trust easily. He is particularly wary of women because so many have been more interested in his wealth and star status than in him. He finds Ellie’s failure to recognize him refreshing, but his interest in her is cut short when she disappears before he awakens the morning after their night together without leaving a note or a phone number.

Seven weeks after Ellie’s night with the hunk she knows only as Hudson, she discovers that she is pregnant. She is preparing for life as a single mother when during a Super Bowl party, a familiar face appears on the television screen. Since Ellie now knows who Hudson is, she feels morally bound to tell him that she is pregnant.  She is nervous, but she is unprepared for the anger, suspicion, and accusations that her news provokes. She wants nothing to do with this man who seems so different from the man she met in that club. But once Hudson believes the child is his, he is determined not to expose a child he fathered to the abandonment that shaped him. He pressures Ellie to move to his home in Silver Springs so that he can be actively involved from doctor’s visits through delivery, the first months of the child’s life, and beyond. Ellie eventually agrees, but she has reservations about her decision and about Hudson. Hudson still doesn’t fully trust Ellie either. With the combination of distrust and a chemistry neither can deny, the future promises complications that make an HEA seem remote.

One of the things that has kept me reading Brenda Novak over many years is her ability to take the tritest conventions of romance and give them twists that make them seem fresh and intriguing. Both the pairing of brain and brawn and the unplanned pregnancy are common tropes in romance fiction, but Ellie and Hudson emerge not as types but as distinctive individuals with specific histories that account for the baggage they carry. Ellie is the more sympathetic character, but she is also less damaged than Hudson. Their story is engaging with unexpected turns. And the added thread of Hudson’s quest to discover his origin adds its own twist.

Novak is also a writer who takes risks. Here she risks showing the hero behaving like an out-of-control alpha jerk in a key scene. Readers will draw their own conclusions about whether he redeems himself. I had some doubts initially, but after his reaction to the nursery, I began to believe that he would prove his violent response (not directed toward another person) in the hotel an aberration. His feelings for his unborn child, his mentoring of boys at New Horizons, and ultimately his love for Ellie weigh more heavily in defining him. Hudson is not the only one who behaves like a jerk. Ellie’s ex does as well. His jerkiness is a matter of character and is unrelated to his being gay. He uses Ellie, and his self-absorption afterwards compounds his error. But he too has finer moments.

Until You Loved Me is the third book in in the Silver Springs series, but it is only loosely related to the first two books. The New Horizons Boys Ranch and its founder serve as the primary connection. This book can be read easily as a standalone. If you like your romance novels with a high degree of emotional intensity and a realistic world where flaws are the norm, I suggest you add it to your TBR.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review - - Map of the Heart

Map of the Heart
By Susan Wiggs
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: August 22, 2017
Reviewed by Janga


Camille Adams lost more than her husband when he was killed in a climbing accident five years ago. Before Jace’s death, Camille had been adventurous and daring. She and Jace had traveled, eager to try the next risky sport, to test their powers, and to meet each new challenge. But after his death, Camille became cautious and fearful of risks for herself and for those she loved. She is overprotective of her fourteen-year-old daughter, Julie, doing her best to protect Julie by eliminating risks from her life. Once a gifted and enthusiastic photographer, Camille stopped taking photographs and becomes known for her work with found film, winning fame for salvaged images of a shy First Lady, a species of penguins now extinct, and a murder in progress. Unwilling to let go of her idealized memories of Jace, she has moved through her years of widowhood controlled by her grief and fear, a shadow of the woman she used to be.

Julie is troubled by more than the restrictions her mother imposes. The target of a mean girl’s bullying, she has grown isolated from her former friends. School is a torturous experience for her, and her grades have dropped. Finding solace in food she has gained weight and is convinced she is fat and freakish. She is an adolescent in crisis. Camille is slow to recognize Julie’s problems and can do little to help once she does become aware of them.

The catalyst for change in Camille’s and Julie’s lives arrives in a trunk sent to Camille’s father from his native France. Photographs of her father as a child and of the mother who died when he was an infant reawaken old memories and raise questions about Henri Palomar before he became Henry Palmer. Henry decides to return to Bellerive and the farm he inherited for the first time since he emigrated to America at eighteen. Diagnosed with cancer two years ago, Henry is in remission, but the likelihood of a recurrence has given him a strong sense of his own mortality. He is determined to spend the summer in Provence, and he wants Camille and Julie to go with him. When Julie’s problems at school escalate, a summer in France sounds like the best idea for her, and Camille, already concerned at the idea of her father traveling alone, reluctantly agrees.

The summer leads Henry to truths about his past, provides Julie with the acceptance and friendship she needs, and allows Camille to reconnect with Malcolm Finnemore, an American expert on tracing the provenance of lost soldiers and a visiting history professor at Aix-Marseille University in Aix-en-Provence. Not only does Finn possess the skills Camille needs to help her uncover her father’s past, but he is also the first man to remind her of all that she is missing by refusing to move on with her life. Woven into this mix of romance and family stories is the story of Lisette Galli Palomar, Henry Palmer’s mother, and her life during the Nazi occupation of Bellerive.

Susan Wiggs has proven her talent for seamlessly linking stories of a family’s past and present in her Bella Vista Chronicles (The Apple Orchard and The Beekeeper’s Ball). She does so once again in Map of the Heart.  Lisette’s story adds poignancy to a novel saturated with loss and recovery. All of the primary characters are dealing with loss on some level. Henry never knew his parents, and he has avoided connections to his past for more than half a century. Camille and Julie have lost their husband and father and their real selves. Julie has lost the smart, funny girl she used to be in the alienation and self-hatred that are byproducts of bullying. Camille has lost the sense of adventure and joy in living that were essential parts of who she was before she became paralyzed by fear. Finn’s preoccupation with recovering the remains of lost soldiers is intimately linked to the disappearance of his own father, a combat strategist and communications specialist who was declared MIA before Finn’s birth. But the book is also about healing and restoration and the power of love—romantic and familial.

I’ve been a Susan Wiggs fans since the days when she was a writer of historical romance, and some of my Wiggs keepers date from that period. But I think her recent books that are essentially women’s fiction with elements of historical fiction, romance, and mystery are among her finest work. I loved Map of the Heart. Wiggs made Bethany Bay, Delaware, and Sauveterre, the Palomar farm in Provence, real to me. Not only Henry, Julie, Camille and Finn but also other characters in both the twentieth and twenty-first century sections of the novel come alive in these pages. I was invested in all their stories from beginning to end, and I turned the final page satisfied emotionally and intellectually. If you like novels that show the past impinging on the present, that deliver a big, multilevel emotional punch, and that conclude with happy resolutions for three generations, I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review, Q&A, & Giveaway - - Maddy's Phoenix

Maddy's Phoenix
By Patricia Yager Delagrange
Publisher: Ravenswood Publishing
Release Date: August 3, 2017
Reviewed by PJ

Maddy has not had an easy life. Abused by her mother as a child, abandoned by her as a young teen, then abandoned by the boy who impregnated her, Maddy found herself scorned by her fellow students, even after she miscarried the baby. Still, she dedicated herself to her studies and excelled in school while waitressing at the local cafe only to fall for another wrong guy who disappeared as soon as she told him she was pregnant. But Maddy is determined to make a good life for the baby she carries. She's saving her tips, determined to leave her small hometown and go to college to become a nurse. Then tragedy strikes. But, on the heels of tragedy, comes what seems to be a miraculous event. She finds an abandoned baby and Maddy does something wrong...for all the right reasons. 

With Cheryl, an older co-worker who has been like a mother to her, the three leave for the big city. Maddy earns a scholarship to study nursing, the baby thrives, and Maddy finally meets a man who treats her with kindness and respect. All of her dreams are coming true...until they aren't...and Maddy must face the actions of her past if there is to be any hope of happiness in her future.

Maddy's Phoenix is a poignant tale that engaged my interest and my emotions. Though there is a romantic element - and happy ending - in this book, there is no doubt that it is Maddy's story. Delagrange takes her from her lowest point and patiently guides her through the evolution that follows, exploring a multitude of relationships. There's Maddy's relationship with baby Judith, her budding romance with Bryce, her familial relationship with Cheryl, Cheryl's own relationship with her estranged daughter, Maddy's fractured relationship with the mother who abused and abandoned her, and, finally, Maddy's relationship with herself. The treatment she was subjected to in her childhood and teens has had a deep impact on her psyche, robbing her of her self-esteem and leaving her feeling unworthy. At times, she seems impossibly young but, by the end of the book, her growth and internal strength is evident. 

I enjoyed Maddy's Phoenix and was in Maddy's corner the entire way. I also liked Bryce and the role he played in Maddy's evolution. I adored Cheryl, the woman who devoted herself to Maddy and Judith, even as she battled her own demons and guilt over her daughter's estrangement. I did, however, have a couple issues with the book that brought my rating down. The beginning of the relationship between Bryce and Maddy hit a hot button for me and though I found their HEA believable and satisfying, and turned the final page confident of their happy future, I still couldn't quite forget how their relationship began. Also, the resolution of Maddy's relationship with her mother seemed a bit too easy considering their history. Those issues notwithstanding, the characterizations are strong, the author's storytelling is engaging, and the ending, satisfying. I'll be reading this author again.


In the Q&A below, Ms. Delagrange talks about her earliest memory. What's your earliest memory? What's your earliest book memory?

Two people who leave a comment before 11:00 PM, August 18, 2017 will receive a digital copy of Maddy's Phoenix

With her dog, Annabella

Patricia Yager Delagrange grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, the daughter of a homemaker and fireman. The author of four women’s fiction novels, including the just-released MADDY’S PHOENIX, Patricia was among the first 400 women to attend what had been an all-male college. The mother of two (almost) grown children, she now writes full-time, except when she’s playing with her pups or riding her Friesian horse, Maximus.

Q&A with Patricia Yager Delagrange

Patricia, did you always want to be an author?

Patricia:  I’m a latecomer to the author ranks. I had planned on becoming a psychiatrist. However, during a college internship at Napa Mental Hospital my sophomore year, I was cured of that interest while working with abused teens. I’ll never forget learning how one of my favorite patients had been put into a frying pan when she was a baby. I am an empath, and I became physically ill working with these poor young people. I couldn’t separate myself from their pain, couldn’t compartmentalize it enough to help them. Sometimes you’re just not made for things you think you want to do!

This business of being an empath explains your ability to connect with your characters who have undergone the worst kinds of tragedies one could experience—the death of a baby at birth the death of a spouse and an adoption gone wrong. And in MADDY’S PHOENIX, a young woman who has had two miscarriages late term, then discovers an abandoned baby left to die in a dumpster.

Patricia:  Yes, I’m always thinking, “How would I feel if that happened to me?”

So you switched from psychiatry to—?

Patricia:  Spanish. I spent my junior year in Madrid, living in a Spanish dorm and taught by Spanish-speaking professors. I spent my senior year at U.C. Santa Barbara, where I graduated with a B.A. in Spanish. Ultimately, I earned my Master’s Degree in College Student Services Administration from Oregon State University and got a job as a Financial Aid Counselor at U.C. San Francisco.

Which is why you able to write the character of college professor Bryce in MADDY’S PHOENIX so convincingly.

Patricia: Well, I hope I did. I worked in academia. And MADDY’S PHOENIX is women’s fiction, but she does find romance in her life. After all, romance is a part of everyone’s life at one time or another!

Were you always an avid reader?

Patricia:  My mom read to me when I was a child and enrolled me in the Book of the Month Club. I recall the first book I received—a story about the ocean and fish, with a blue-green picture on the front. I thought it was the coolest thing ever that I owned a book and would own a new book every single month. That’s when I started reading books. I never stopped. I don’t ever NOT have a book by my side. I go to bed every night reading a book, or I can’t sleep.

In MADDY’S PHOENIX, Cheryl is an older woman who waitresses with Maddy at the little truck stop in Monte Rio, California. She’s much like a mentor to Maddy. Have you had an older woman, like Cheryl, who has mentored you?

Patricia:  My mother. I was very, very close to her. I adored her. She taught me what it is to be loved even when you’re not perfect. We’d talk on the phone all the time. Then I became her caretaker when she was going through chemo and radiation for ovarian cancer, a battle she fought for ten years. Even when she got Alzheimer’s, she never forgot who I was. She’d listen to all my stories, time after time, with as much enthusiasm as she had the first time.

What’s something readers would be surprised to learn about you?

Patricia:  I am an elephant maniac. I even have a new tattoo on my right forearm of a mommy elephant with her baby that my daughter and I recently got at the same time.

How did you meet your husband?

Patricia: I’m the third of six sisters. My sister who is 10 years younger than I am had a girlfriend who was getting married, and my sister invited me to the wedding—to set me up with a guy she knew would be there. Well, when I got there, I was drawn to the brother of the guy she wanted me to meet instead. After a couple of hours, I said to myself, “He’s the man I’m going to marry.” We’ve been together ever since.

A couple of fun questions now. Earliest memory?

Patricia: Sliding down the pole at the firehouse with my father.

First pet?

Patricia:  A duckling. But when it grew into a full-fledged duck, we had to take it to a lake and set it free. Sad moment!

Favorite family heirloom?

Patricia: A baby blanket that was my mother’s. It hangs over the chair that was my mother-in-law’s when she rocked her five kids.

What book are you working on now?

Patricia: I just finished the draft of a story about four sisters and a family fractured by divorce until their mom dies after a long battle with cancer. I’m calling it MENDING FENCES.

And how would you like readers to contact you?

Patricia: My Facebook page is a good place—and I’d love for readers to sign up to receive my monthly newsletter so I can share fun stuff with them—like the latest news about my pups and my honey of a horse! They can do that on