Two sisters from Texas find themselves exiled to Alaska...and thrown into the arms of two very different men.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Review - - Once Upon a Cabin
Two sisters from Texas find themselves exiled to Alaska...and thrown into the arms of two very different men.
Monday, November 29, 2021
Review & Giveaway - - After Dark with the Duke
She arrives in the dead of night, a mob out for blood at her heels: Mariana Wylde, the “Harlot of Haywood Street,” an opera diva brought low by a duel fought for her favors. But the ladies of the Grand Palace on the Thames think they can make a silk purse from scandal: They’ll restore her reputation and share in her triumph...provided they can keep her apart from that other guest.
Coldly brilliant, fiercely honorable, General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, is revered, feared, desired...but nobody truly knows him. Until a clash with a fiery, vulnerable beauty who stands for everything he scorns lays him bare. It’s too clear the only cure for consuming desire is conquest, but their only chance at happiness could lead to their destruction.
The legendary duke never dreamed love would be his last battleground. Valkirk would lay down his life for Mariana, but his choice is stark: risk losing her forever, or do the one thing he vowed he never would...surrender.
When I was not quite halfway through this book, I sent the following message to the author.
This book is exceptional. I want to rush through it while at the same time force myself to set a snail's pace so as not to miss any of the beautiful prose. If I took the time to underline every exquisitely-written phrase I doubt I'd ever finish reading the book. I'm at 46%. If the second half is anywhere near as good as the first, this is going to end up being one of my all-time favorite JAL stories.
Upon turning the final page, the first thing I did was release a deep, satisfied, heartfelt sigh. The second thing I did was hug my Kindle. Yes, you read that correctly. I was overflowing with so much emotion, so much love for these characters, for their story, I had to express it somehow! Then, after a sufficient amount of affection, I sat down and wrote the author one more message. Here's what I said.
I am ruined. Totally, completely, utterly ruined. Do you know how many books I have in my read/review queue? How am I supposed to read them now? All I want to do is simmer in the stunningly beautiful, all-encompassing emotion of this book, of these characters. I can't just move on to something else. This is my favorite book this year. It's my favorite book of ALL the books you've written - - and I've read every single one of them. I might as well change the name of my review to "gush fest" because that's exactly what it's going to be. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. But, seriously, RUINED!
In my review, I had planned to write about the snappy banter between Mariana and James, the forced-proximity, enemies-to-lovers evolution, the deeply romantic slow burn as they gradually reveal their vulnerabilities and open their hearts. The Italian lessons that lead to unexpected desire and, more importantly, to the realization that there are deeper layers within each of them waiting for the other to discover. And, to the self-realization that there is more to life for each of them than they had previously considered. But rather than delve into any of the afore-mentioned facets of this book, I recommend that you, my fellow readers, acquire a copy for yourselves, curl up in a comfy chair, and immerse yourselves in this exquisitely-choreographed verbal dance that deserves nothing less than a standing ovation...and a Top Dish rating.
Have you read Julie Anne Long?
Do you have a favorite of her books?
What's the last book you read that pulled you so deeply into the story you couldn't put it down?
One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, November 30 will receive their choice of a Kindle (Amazon US) or print copy of After Dark with the Duke. (If international, winner will receive a print copy from Book Depository)
*Must be 18
*Void where prohibited
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Review & Giveaway - - The Seventh Queen
The Empire of Vishir has lost its ruler, and the fight to save Seravesh from the Roven Empire is looking bleak. Moreover, Askia has been captured by power-hungry Emperor Radovan, who plans on making her his wife simply so he can take her magic as his own, killing her in the process. Aware of his ex-wives’ fates, Askia must find a means of avoiding this doom, not only for the sake of Seravesh, but now for Vishir as well. She must put both nations first and remember Ozura’s advice: you must play the game in order to survive. Askia was born a soldier, but now it’s time to become a spy.
But it’s hard to play a game where the only person who knows the rules wants to kill her.
And time is a factor. The jewel Radovan has put around her neck will pull her power from her in thirty days. Worse, Vishir might not even have that long, as the two heirs to the throne are on the verge of civil war. Without any hope for help from the south, without any access to her magic, alone in a hostile land, Askia is no closer to freeing her people than she was when she fled to Vishir. In the clutches of a madman, the only thing she’s close to is death.
Yet she’d trade her life for a chance to save Seravesh. The problem: she may not have that choice.
Greta Kelly’s The Seventh Queen is the second of two connected books. The publisher generously sent along the prior book, The Frozen Crown, for context. I read The Seventh Queen first, however, so I could see whether it’s a good jumping-on point for those who haven’t yet read the first book. I’m happy to report that it is.
I think one reason the second book stands alone so well is that it takes place in a different setting, with mostly different supporting characters, from the first book. As the Askia learns about this place, her situation, and the people and ghosts around her, the reader learns without having to deal with an information dump.
Unfortunately, the book description on vendor sites, which is included above, is not a good introduction to the second book because it doesn’t explain the phrases it uses until the end. Quickly, before we dive into the book itself—Askia is the young, new Queen of Seravesh, she has a stake in the kingdom of Vishir because she was married to the Emperor of Vishir, who was murdered at the wedding, and the six-times-married-and-widowed Emperor Radovan of the Roven Empire, who ordered the murder, has been rampaging across the land with the help of magic he has stolen from his prior wives. He plans to make Askia the seventh and use the magic he steals from her to crush the other kingdoms’ resistance.
The Seventh Queen opens as Askia awakens in Radovan’s castle after being kidnapped. While the stone on her necklace, which she can’t remove, stifles her use of her magic, it doesn’t squelch her innate ability. She’s a death witch and so can see the ghosts of Radovan’s prior queens and two other spirits who followed her to Roven. Having been where she is, the prior queens sympathize with her. They offer comfort and then assistance as she tries to plan an escape. If she’s going to break out, she needs to hurry because the stone on her necklace will absorb absorb all her magic within thirty days. Once it does, Radovan will kill her. Amulets, necklaces, and other restraints that stifle magic are nothing new in fantasy, but the Aellium stone that siphons Askia’s power adds a fresh twist.
So the story opens with a ticking clock. Part of the thirty days have elapsed while Askia lay unconscious after her kidnapping. As she becomes oriented, she must figure out how to deal with Radovan. She despises him but dares not anger him lest he lock her up and foreclose any chance of escape. She also can’t lie to him because he absorbed truth-sensing abilities from one of his prior victims.
Her efforts to learn enough about the castle to find a weakness, a way out, don’t always go smoothly. The ghosts who are helping her have their own agendas, and not everyone in Radovan’s court is as they initially seem to be. Slowly, she learns how and where to apply pressure—all without Radovan finding out—so she can gather information. Her efforts pay off in an expected way.
Meanwhile, Askia’s loyal guard are searching for her. We’re well into The Seventh Queen when we first meet them, but Kelly provides enough information to orient new readers without slowing the pace of the story. One of those guardsmen, a fire mage, is particularly important going forward.
The plot includes believable progress and setbacks as Askia tries to find a way out of her predicament. Yet nothing is simple, and there are intriguing twists, especially at the end. Askia is determined and smart but not infalliable or immune to discouragement. She’s easy to root for.
The ghostly queens of Roven are nicely differentiated. Each has her own worries about what Radovan will do while some also worry about those they left behind. They’re not always on the same page as Askia about what needs to happen. This makes them believable, while their efforts to help make them sympathetic.
Radovan clearly is a horrible person, but he also has insecurities and layers. He’s the prime example of a villain who sees himself as the hero of his story.
There’s also a romantic subplot. This being a fantasy, however, the romance isn’t a prominent part of the book. The romantic scenes are done well, but as the relationship comes together, it, too, is not as simple as it first seemed.
The story moves at a solid pace without rushing. The final confrontation is tense, action-filled, and, again, twisty. The ending was satisfying but not entirely what a romance reader might want. There’s clearly more story to come on all fronts.
As for quibbles, I did get a little tired of Askia reminding herself she was a queen or making herself be a queen. I got that after the first time. While I liked the way she contrasted the woman circumstances forced her to become with the woman she’d been before the kidnapping, I could have done with a bit less repetition of that. There was one secret that seemed to be just a bit too convenient for my taste. These are quibbles, though, not big problems.
Overall, The Seventh Queen had engaging protagonists, an original, solid, and twisty plot, an action-packed climax, and an intriguing romance subplot. Highly Recommended.
Are you a fan of fantasy fiction? Are there authors or books in this genre that you would recommend?
One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, November 30 will receive a hardback copy of The Frozen Crown.
*Must be 18
*Void where prohibited
Friday, November 26, 2021
Review - - Finding Paradise
Accomplished Los Angeles lawyer Marnie Anton has always been sensible, but when her friend Mia Westberg asks for help with a ridiculous matchmaking project, she can't say no. The idea of transporting city girls into the small town of Paradise, Alaska, is so crazy it just might...work? Against her best judgment, she tags along. Having grown up in a family of intimidating men, Marnie developed a preference for the urbane lawyers and clients in her life in LA. But when she meets a mountain of a buff Alaskan man with an intriguing snake tattoo, intimidated is definitely not the first thing she feels.
Conrad "Cobra" Stanford was skeptical of the matchmaking event from the start. Big-city women weren't adventurous, they were judgmental. They'd take one look at him and scorn his lifestyle, just like his first love did. Cobra planned to give the women a wide berth, but one of them won't be ignored. Marnie's everything that's wrong and everything that's right for him all at the same time. Just when he thinks he's got her pegged, she blindsides him with a startling past, falling into his arms and igniting his protective instincts and so much more....
Thursday, November 25, 2021
To all of my fellow Americans celebrating Thanksgiving today, I wish you a safe and happy holiday. Whether you're gathering with family, friends, or enjoying a quiet respite with a good book, may your day be filled with blessings and gratitude.
My thanks today include each and every one of you who choose to hang out with me here in this little corner of the internet. You brighten my days with your comments and are the reason I continue to have so much fun doing this twelve years into my blogging adventure. Thank you!
What are your plans today? Are there already delicious aromas wafting from your kitchen?
I'm joining dear friends (more like family) for the holiday. My cranberry salad is already chilling in the fridge. Up next, is a gluten-free apple pie. While doing that, I'll be watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (an annual tradition) then heading to my friends' house for an afternoon of fun, food, football, and love. Plenty to be thankful for in my life today.
One person who comments on today's post before 11:00 PM, November 27 will receive a package of books from my stash.
*Must be 18
*Void where prohibited
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Review - - The Christmas Bookshop
Laid off from her department store job, Carmen has perilously little cash and few options. The prospect of spending Christmas with her perfect sister Sofia, in Sofia’s perfect house with her perfect children and her perfectly ordered yuppie life does not appeal.
Frankly, Sofia doesn’t exactly want her prickly sister Carmen there either. But Sofia has yet another baby on the way, a mother desperate to see her daughters get along, and a client who needs help revitalizing his shabby old bookshop. So Carmen moves in and takes the job.
Thrown rather suddenly into the inner workings of Mr. McCredie’s ancient bookshop on the picturesque streets of historic Edinburgh, Carmen is intrigued despite herself. The store is dusty and disorganized but undeniably charming. Can she breathe some new life into it in time for Christmas shopping? What will happen when a famous and charismatic author takes a sudden interest in the bookshop—and Carmen? And will the Christmas spirit be enough to help heal her fractured family?
What a lovely, humorous, and heartwarming story. I was thoroughly immersed in Colgan's vividly-portrayed characters, her enchanting descriptions of Edinburgh with its historic architecture, lively festivals, and quiet beauty, and the trials and tribulations of the Hogan sisters. I have to admit, I wasn't overly fond of either Carmen or Sofia at the start of the book. Colgan digs deep into each character as she guides them on their journey through animosity and jealousy into genuine friendship. There's plenty of growth for each of them along the way and it wasn't long before I was invested in both of them and cheering them on.
The characters in this book - both primary and secondary - are so fully developed and vibrantly depicted. I'm firmly convinced they are all real people and I want to spend time with them. Well...some of them. Definitely Mr. McCredie. He's such an endearing man. I loved seeing him blossom under Carmen's influence while also enjoying the impact he had on her. Sofia's children are a large part of the story, especially as it pertains to Carmen's evolution. Each of them is unique, fully crafted, and pertinent to the story, but it was little Phoebe, in particular, who captured my heart. Her scenes with Carmen were some of my favorites in the book.
As for romance, there's a fair sprinkling of that as well along with a bit of an emotional triangle (nothing beyond kisses and only after her decision was made). Though I knew which direction I wanted Carmen to go, the author kept me wondering until close to the end. Her ultimate decision though was what I was hoping for and I was happily satisfied with the choice.
If you're looking for a heartwarming tale, set in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a focus on family, self-discovery, and a friendship that just might turn into the love of your life, all wrapped up in a big Christmas bow, pick up a copy of The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan. It has my enthusiastic and heartfelt recommendation.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Tour Review - - Keep Me Warm at Christmas
Maybe this Christmas can thaw his frozen heart—and heal hers.
Hollywood starlet Tia Beckett knows one moment can change your life. Her career had been on the fast track before a near-fatal accident left her with a debilitating facial scar. Certain her A-lister dreams are over, she agrees to house-sit at her producer’s secluded estate in Silver Springs. It’s the escape from the limelight Tia’s been craving, until she discovers she’s not the only houseguest for the holidays. And her handsome new roomie is impossible to ignore.
Artist Seth Turner has good reason to keep his distance. Losing his wife after only a few years of marriage has left a deep scar, even if he is still happy to spend a semester teaching art classes at the New Horizons Boys Ranch for troubled teens. Despite nursing her own wounds, Tia finds her curiosity piqued by enigmatic Seth, whom she recognizes as something of a kindred soul. Maybe spending Christmas together could be another game changer for both of them—this time, for good.
New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak has written over 60 novels. An eight-time Rita nominee, she's won The National Reader's Choice, The Bookseller's Best and other awards. She runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity that has raised more than $2.5 million for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). She considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.
Winner - - Peppermint Bark
The randomly chosen winner of a Kindle copy of
Peppermint Bark by Roxanne St. Claire is:
Please send your email address to:
theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com
Monday, November 22, 2021
Tour Review - - The Christmas Wedding Guest
The Somerville sisters believe in love, but they’ve lost faith it will happen for them. Reggie hasn’t been home since the end of the world’s shortest engagement. When her parents decide to renew their vows, she buffs up her twinkle to help with the Christmas wedding. Unexpectedly, Toby, her first love, is back too, and the spark between them shines as brightly as ever. In the spirit of the season, will they let go of past hurts and greet the New Year together?
Done waiting for the one, Dena is pregnant and on her own—on purpose. But then a gorgeous, sad-eyed songwriter checks in to a room at her inn. Micah, unable to write since he lost his wife, finds inspiration in Dena’s determination to be a mom. One snowflake-speckled kiss and he’s a goner. But Dena is afraid to believe that a rock star could fall for a cookie-cutter small-town girl like her.
As the Christmas wedding draws closer, these two sisters just might unwrap the most treasured gift of all—love.
Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.
Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She's passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as mom.
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Review - - Christmas at Sugar Sand Inn
Welcome to Christmas at the Sugar Sand Inn! Michelle and her friends have replaced the welcome sign on the front gate with one that reads “Closed for the Holidays.” The four women deserve a little break after spending the summer working non-stop to convert the house Michelle inherited from her birth mother into an inn. The past three months they’ve definitely been thrilled—and maybe a little overwhelmed—by the influx of guests who have alternately charmed and confounded them. Now with a wedding in the works, it’s no wonder the four friends need some time to kick back, help themselves to a glass of the inn’s signature cocktail and enjoy the warm winter breezes that blow off the Gulf.
Of course, no holiday would be complete without a few problems. A tight housing market makes it difficult for Erin and her fiancé to find a house to rent. Meanwhile Michelle, Reggie and Nina prepare a very special surprise for the newlyweds. Unexpected arrivals complicate matters, and soon every room of the “closed” inn is filled to overflowing. Despite the problems, laughter rings throughout the halls, and good smells drift from the kitchen where Chef Nina and her team whip up holiday treats and one very special wedding cake.
Join Nina, Michelle, Reggie and Erin as they enjoy the new lives they’ve built in Sugar Sand Beach, where fresh opportunities for life, love and happiness are as limitless as the blue Florida skies.