I have a summer shirt that says "Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti." I wear it often because sprinkling (or throwing) kindness is something I've tried to do since I was a young girl. It's a way of life I learned from my beloved grandma. But, while I try to make kindness to others a part of my daily life, I rarely extend that kindness to myself. I'm sure many of you can relate. This summer that changes. It's been a difficult year for all of us. Our plans are on hold, or cancelled, our futures uncertain. You may have a friend or loved one who has battled COVID or be mourning their loss. My heart and prayers are with you if that's the case.
Summer, with the fun and adventure it usually brings, has been turned on its head. Vacations, concerts, book conferences, neighborhood parties, and more have all been cancelled. Am I disappointed? Yes, but I'm okay with that. I'd rather be safe, and keep others safe, by staying home, social distancing, and wearing a mask when I do need to venture out. Plus, more time to read books, yes? Have to look for that silver lining.
I may not be able to visit my family overseas (but we have FaceTime), entertain friends (but ZOOM parties help), or attend the events I had planned for this summer but I can still find ways to brighten my days. Last month, I noticed the fresh cut flower arrangements at the grocery and thought about how much they always make me smile. Then I thought about the fact that I never buy flowers for myself. Why don't I buy flowers for myself? They aren't that expensive and if they make me smile while at the store, think about how much they would make me smile in my home? So, for the past few weeks, I've started giving myself a bouquet of flowers once a week. They lift my spirits and make me feel good about each day ahead. They make me happy and, you know what? I deserve that. And, so do you. In these difficult times, especially, we should all make it a practice to extend kindness to others but don't forget to save some for yourself too.
Do you ever cut fresh flowers from your garden to grace your home? Or bring home a fresh bouquet from the store? Pick up a quart of your favorite ice cream, just because? Turn off the news and dance to tunes that make you hum, or sing along? (For me, it's the Beach Boys. Never fails!) Ditch the list of chores and lose yourself in a romance happily ever after? Tell me how you're being kind to yourself this summer. Three people who comment will receive a package of books from my stash. And maybe, once you've read them, you can extend a kindness to another reader by passing some of them on to new homes and brightening someone else's day. *Must be 18 *U.S. addresses only *Giveaway ends 11:00 PM, July 11
The Marriage Pass by Briana Cole Publisher: Dafina Release Date: February 23, 2021
He’s rich, successful—and has been faithfully married to his longtime girlfriend for nearly one grueling year. Because for Dr. Dorian Graham, too many women is never too much—no matter how loyal his wife, Shantae, has been since their college days. So when she proposes they celebrate their first anniversary by each spending a no-questions-asked, no-consequences night with their greatest temptation, Dorian is shocked, but can’t resist. Especially since Shantae’s wild-card younger sister, Reagan, is gorgeous, uninhibited—and the one who got away . . . It turns out one sizzling night with Reagan isn’t enough. Yet the more Dorian takes, the more she demands—and the more he suddenly has to lose. Soon, with his mind games being used against him and his every move checkmated, Dorian will be forced to go all-in on one last desperate play to win. But winning might just be another way to crash and burn . . .
The Marriage Pass may not be scheduled for release until February, 2021 but that blurb has me hooked! I've marked my 2021 calendar and pre-ordered the book. If you're intrigued, you can pre-order The Marriage Pass today for your Kindle or in Paperback. ~~~~~~~~~~
Briana Cole is known as The Literary Drama Queen because of her passion for both writing and acting. She began writing short stories and poetry at a young age, then went on to use her poems to start a greeting card business in high school. After graduating Cum Laude from Georgia Southern University, she signed with Kensington/Dafina Books and published the critically-acclaimed Unconditional series.
Her acting career is just as notable with numerous theater accolades and starring roles on TV shows, such as Fatal Attraction and The Paradox. Briana is also a mother of three and proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
For more information about Briana Cole and her books, visit her website.
Grace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best...until the man she once loved returns.
Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back…and make her his duchess.
Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she's built, the life she's claimed…and the heart she swore he'd never steal again.
Sarah MacLean wraps up her Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy with an unapologetically feminist, romantically swoon-worthy, triumphant masterpiece featuring unforgettable characters, one of my all-time favorite hero redemptions, a strong and powerful heroine who is also one of my all-time favorites, and a second-chance journey to love that is sheer perfection.
After reading the first two books in MacLean's Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy, I was still so conflicted about Ewan. On the one hand, I felt sure there had to be a good reason for what he had done to Grace before she, Devil, and Whit fled their father's home as children. On the other hand, I couldn't imagine how in the world Grace would ever forgive him after that, and following his actions as an adult during the first two books of the trilogy. She does, of course she does, but wow, does she ever make him work for it. Grace and Ewan put me through an emotional wringer, kept me reading half the night, and left me brimming with joy, and wiping away tears, at the end. Their journey is one of the best grovel and forgiveness stories I've ever read.
Daring and the Duke is my favorite of all the books I've read so far this year. I can’t wait to read it again...and again...and again. This is not a book that should be read as a standalone. To fully appreciate how Grace and Ewan got to this point, what needs to happen for forgiveness to occur, and how they are able to move forward together, I strongly recommend reading the three Bareknuckle Bastards books in order. They are Wicked and the Wallflower, Brazen and the Beast (read PJ's Top Dish review), and Daring and the Duke.
Have you read the Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy? Do you have a favorite BB story/couple?
Who is your favorite romance villain turned hero?
One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, July 10, will receive a signed copy of Daring and the Duke.
The Best Man Plan by Jaci Burton Boots & Bouquets - Book 1 Publisher: Berkley Release Date: July 7, 2020 Reviewed by PJ
Three days before Erin Bellini's wedding, her fiancé breaks up with her--in an email! Hurt and embarrassed, she decides to have a fling with veterinarian Jason Callum, who's both the best man and the hottest guy she knows. But Jason wants a lot more than just a one-night stand with the woman he's cared about for years. So he's taking things slow. And hot. And showing Erin what real love can look like.
Suddenly Erin finds herself spending a lot more time with Jason than she intended. Feelings she never planned on having again are wrapping around her heart, refusing to let go. Erin isn't sure she can trust her instincts, though. After all, she made a terrible choice with her ex-fiancé. But Jason intends to convince her that he's the best man for her, and that what they have together is a real love that will last forever. PJ's Thoughts: If that adorable cover hadn't convinced me to give this book a try, the blurb would have. Best friends to lovers is one of my favorite romance tropes but Burton takes it a step further in this first book of her new Boots & Bouquets contemporary romance series. Not only do we have best friends to lovers, we also have a jilted bride, and a bit of a love triangle. With the three main characters (jilted bride, jilting groom, and best man) all being best friends since childhood, it has the potential for a whole lot of emotion, chaos, and hurt feelings. Burton manages to avoid expected pitfalls, keeping things realistic while also creating a fun, sexy, and heartwarming romance that, in the end, secures a happy ending for two of the friends, without permanently alienating the third. And even making me forgive, and hope for a happy ending, for a character that I spent most of the book actively disliking.
I adored Jason and was in his corner from the beginning. I loved his staunch support of Erin and his determination to not take advantage of her. He's such a good guy, a good friend, a great puppy dad, and sexy as all get out. And he cooks! My feelings for Erin evolved along with her character. I appreciated the time she was given to work through her emotions concerning both Jason and Owen. I liked her and while I didn't always agree with her actions, I understood them. I loved Erin and Jason together, enjoying both the sweet and the sexy times as their friendship slowly transitioned to new territory. By the end of the book, I was fully confident in the love between them that had been tested and emerged strong and sure.
I love the Bellini's Italian-Irish family dynamic and am looking forward to getting to know all of them better, especially Erin's sisters. I have hopes for a match between one of the sisters and a certain Irishman and am curious to see if my thoughts about the other sister also pan out.
I'm not sure when book two will be released but after finishing this one I did some searching and discovered a novella, The Matchmaker's Mistletoe Mission, that introduces this series with the story of Clay and Alice, two of my favorite secondary characters from The Best Man Plan. I've already downloaded it and am ready to dive in while I wait for the next Red Moss Vineyard couple to take center stage.
After serving eighteen months in prison for a crime he didn't commit, Dalton Cardwell is looking for a fresh start. What better place than Whitcomb Four Star Ranch? He doesn't regret the decisions of his past--he'd choose the same roads again. But now all Dalton wants is to keep his head down and focus on the horses--and on Raney Whitcomb.
Raney is outraged when she learns her mother hired an ex-con. Raney has worked hard for the ranch, sacrificing her personal life for the dream of building on her family's legacy. But as Dalton breaks down every misconception and even wins the good opinion of her sisters, Raney is forced to rethink her stance--and finally free herself to explore the heart-pounding tension that simmers between them.
I'm a huge fan of Kaki Warner's historical western romances so I was intrigued when I heard she was transitioning to contemporary. Rough Creek is her first contemporary romance and launches her Brides of Rough Creek series. It has the same small-town, western flavor, and character-driven story, with well-placed humor and emotion, plus a slow-burn romance, that made her historical novels so appealing.
As with many books that launch a new series, there are several characters who are introduced in this one, but not so many that I found it confusing or distracting. My favorite was Dalton. I adored this man. He's sweet, kind, caring, funny, honorable, and sexy as hell. Raney was more of an acquired taste. She's a complex character, as is typical of many of Warner's characters, with baggage that's made her wary of trusting. Not that I blamed her; she had good reason for feeling that way. I enjoyed the flirty banter between her and Dalton and the time Warner gave them to get to know one another but I grew frustrated with her judgmental attitude. Dalton showed her in every possible way that she could trust him yet she held him at bay, flip flopping for months, almost as if she was looking for reasons to not trust him. In the end, I was happy with their relationship because Dalton was happy, and I really do think Raney finally realized what she had been doing and was ready to drop her barriers and trust in love. I'm hopeful, though, that we'll see more of them in future books in the series, as an open, functioning couple, with a deepening bond, and less judgment, and more trust, on Raney's part.
Family, horses, and ranch life play a big part in this book with interesting glimpses into cutting horses, their training, and competitions. The Whitcomb sisters and their mother, owners of the ranch (but not all living there), are complex women living very different lives. I'm curious to find out what's ahead for each of them. I'm certain Coralee, the sisters' widowed 60-year-old mother, a real spitfire, will be helping each of them along to a happily ever after. I wonder if the sisters will do the same for their mama?
I'm not sure how many books are planned for the series or which characters have one in their future but, with Warner's name on the cover, I'll be back for them all.
Are you a fan of western romance? Any recommendations?
Have you read any of Kaki Warner's historical romances?
Have you ever attended - or competed in - a rodeo or cutting horse competition?
A Good Duke is Hard to Find by Christina Britton Isle of Synne - Book 1 Publisher: Forever Release Date: June 30, 2020 Reviewed by PJ
After her third fiancé leaves her at the altar, Lenora Hartley is beginning to think she's cursed. One thing's for certain: she needs to escape London and her father's tyrannical attempts to find her yet another suitor. The Isle of Synne, an isolated and idyllic retreat off Britain's northern coast, is blessedly far from society's gossip, but it also carries haunting reminders of her first fiancé. Letting go of the past to find happiness seems impossible -- until Lenora is thrown in the path of a gruff, mysterious blue-eyed man who makes her pulse race.
Next in line for a dukedom he doesn't want to inherit, Peter Ashford is only on the isle to exact revenge on the man who is responsible for his mother's death. Once he's completed the task, he'll return to America where his life can finally be his own. Yet when he meets the beautiful and kind Miss Hartley, he can't help but be drawn to her. Can Peter put aside his plans for vengeance for the woman who has come to mean everything to him?
This was my first book by Christina Britton. It won't be my last. I really enjoyed her voice, her characters, her fresh and original story, and her fictional Isle of Synne. I want to go there, hang out with Lady Tesh, buy one of Lenora's paintings, meet the rest of Britton's fascinating cast, and drop Lenora's father off a very high cliff into very deep water. That man deserves every bad thing that could ever happen to him.
I found both main characters to be sympathetic and likable though, admittedly, it took me longer to warm up to Peter while I was in Lenora's corner immediately, cheering her on to a happy ending and hoping she'd find a way to thoroughly rout her horrible father. I liked her, admired her, and my heart ached for her anguish over the secrets she felt compelled to keep. Peter is a very angry man, holding on to the devastation and despair of losing his mother at a young age and his fury with those who refused to help her. Forgiveness will not be easy but I found that to be more realistic considering his age when the events that shaped his life occurred and the thirteen years he's had to nurture his grudge. Britton gives us glimpses of his potential through his deep love for his late mother, his close friendship with his best friend, Quincy, and his actions toward Lady Tesh and Lenora.
The romance between Lenora and Peter is a slow burn as both characters have personal issues to resolve before they can move forward together. I was willing to wait for the payoff though readers should be aware that these issues lend themselves to a slower paced story and more than a little frustration with the hero before he finally sees the light. Not to worry. He gets his happy ending but Lenora, rightfully, makes him work for it (I really do love her character). That, of course, makes it all the sweeter.
Book two in this series, Someday My Duke Will Come (12 January, 2021), features a fake engagement between Peter's cousin, Lady Clara and his best friend, Quincy Nesbitt. Both characters feature prominently in A Good Duke is Hard to Find and the glimmer of sparks between them has me eagerly anticipating their story.
Every fortune-hunting female in London is after the newly titled Earl of Kendall, but he’s intent on finding a wife whose heart is true. So, while drunkenly jesting with his friends in a pub one night, he has an idea—what if the ladies of the ton didn’t know he was a wealthy earl? All he has to do is pose as a servant at his friend’s summer country house party and make sure the guest list is full of beautiful, eligible debutantes. What could possibly go wrong?
May the best footman win.
Miss Frances Wharton is far more interested in fighting for the rights of the poor than in marriage, but her mother insists she attend a summer house party—and find herself a husband. Frances would rather wed a goat than the pompous man her mother has in mind, so in order to dissuade the would-be suitor, she vows to behave like a shrew. The only person she can be herself with is the kind, handsome footman she runs into at every turn. Their connection is undeniable, and the divide between them is no match for the passion they feel. But what will happen when Frances learns that the footman she adores is actually the earl she despises? In a game where everything is false, can they convince each other that their love is true?
What a fun story! First of all, I love the set-up of Lucas, the new Earl of Kendall hiding in plain sight disguised as a footman. It creates plenty of potential for humorous situations and misunderstandings, especially once Lucas makes the acquaintance of Frances, our marriage-averse, politically minded heroine. I thoroughly enjoyed their sparkling conversations, deepening attraction, and growing concern over the situation they find themselves in. For Frances, there's the fact that she would never be allowed to engage in a public relationship with a footman but she just can't seem to stay away from the most fascinating - and unusual - footman she's ever met. And poor Lucas, an actual Earl, just keeps digging himself deeper into the pit of deception with his masquerade that began with the best of intentions.
It gets even worse when Frances reveals her determination to convince the men of her acquaintance to oppose a bill in Parliament that Lucas promised his late brother, the former Earl, he would see passed. It's going to take compassion, understanding, and some significant, eye-opening growth on Lucas's part if these two have any chance of a happy ending. Fortunately for us, this is a romance and Valerie Bowman is all about the happy endings!
This story is filled with charm, laughter, and heart. I had so much fun reading it and am already looking forward to the next two books in the series. Since Lucas and his two friends go "undercover" at the same house party, readers meet all three men in book one, getting to know Rhys and Bell - and their potential heroines - a bit before their books are released July 28 and August 25. I've already pre-ordered both.
Marriage… To the highest bidder Lady Lydia Barton cannot seem to avoid Owen Wolfe since he’s returned after being wrongly transported for stealing her family’s jewels! But Lydia has more pressing problems, like her impending arranged marriage. Until Owen makes her father a counteroffer for her hand. Is Owen purely after her society connections, or dare Lydia hope that the charming stable boy she once loved is still within her ruthless, wealthy new husband?
I love a good enemies to lovers story. When the enemies were once young lovers, then separated with each believing they'd been betrayed by the other, and brought back together years later for a second chance? Well, that's even better!
One of the things I most enjoy about Virginia Heath's writing is her ability to develop characters. Once again, she fills this book with well-rounded characters who leap from the pages and elicit emotion, both good and bad. I warmed to Owen quickly, probably because it's immediately apparent that he was the wronged party in the events of the past but also because he's just a really good guy. Lydia was another story. But that's okay. It gave her good opportunity for growth as Heath slowly guided these two in their journey of discovery and, by the end, I was firmly in her corner.
I liked that Heath gave Owen and Lydia time to gradually come to know one another as adults, while rediscovering the qualities they had admired when younger, and opening their eyes to what could be in the future...if they're willing to face the truth, and risk their hearts. I grew impatient with Lydia several times but as the truth of her family, and her life, was unveiled I began to understand her actions better - she was dealt one horrific hand when it comes to families - and I cheered at the way she dispensed justice in the end.
I adored Owen's business partner and his family. What a wonderful group of secondary characters who bring comic relief and offer pivotal advice to both Owen and Lydia. I can't imagine this book without them.
Once again, Virginia Heath has written a character-driven, historical romance with plenty of conflict, humor, heart, and a sigh-worthy happy ending, that kept me eagerly turning pages from start to finish.
It's hard to believe but this crazy year is already half over. My travel plans have all been cancelled and I'm pretty much living my life as a hermit these days but, at least, there have been some amazing books to keep me company while I isolate. And, the rest of the summer looks to be filled with more great titles. Here's what's on the schedule for July here at The Romance Dish.
Wednesday, July 1 kicks off the month with a tour review of Virginia Heath's The Scoundrel's Bartered Bride. This Harlequin Historical romance is a cross-class tale of redemption and second chances.
Thursday, July 2 brings a review of The Footman and I by Valerie Bowman. This historical romance launches Bowman's new The Footman's Club series.
Stop by Friday, July 3 to read my review of Christina Britton's newest historical romance, A Good Duke is Hard to Find. This book launches Britton's Isle of Synne series.
On Monday, July 6, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Rough Creek by Kaki Warner. This book marks Warner's transition to contemporary western romance and launches her Brides of Rough Creek Texas series.
Tuesday, July 7 brings a review of Daring and the Duke, the stunning third and final book in Sarah MacLean's Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy.
The charming The Best Man Plan launches Jaci Burton's Boots and Bouquets contemporary romance series and is the subject of my Wednesday, July 8 review.
Stop by Thursday, July 9 for the cover reveal of The Marriage Pass by Briana Cole. This African American women's fiction thriller is scheduled to be released February 23, 2021.
Tuesday, July 14, drop by for my review of Just Make Believe and a Q&A with its author, Maggie Robinson. I'm excited to read this third installment in Robinson's madcap, 1920's, murder-mystery series.
Friday, July 17, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Paris is Always a Good Idea. This contemporary women's fiction novel by Jenn McKinlay is scheduled for a July 21 release.
Stop by to read my review of Sunshine on Silver Lake on Monday, July 20. This heartwarming fifth book in Annie Rains' Sweetwater Springs series will be released July 21.
Thursday, July 23brings an excerpt ofDuke Looks Like a Groomsmanby Valerie Bowman. This is the second book in Bowman's new The Footmen's Club, historical romance series about three titled gentlemen posing as servants and finding love in the process.
On Monday, July 27, I'll be sharing an excerpt of The Ultimate Betrayal. This third novel in Kat Martin's Maximum Security, romantic suspense series will be released on July 28.
That's what's on the schedule here at The Romance Dish this month. What are you looking forward to in July?
Four randomly chosen people who comment before 11:00 PM, July 3 will each receive a package of books.