Monday, July 21, 2014

The Beekeeper's Ball

The Beekeeper’s Ball
By Susan Wiggs
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Isabel Johansen is feeling overwhelmed. She wants the wedding she is planning to be perfect in every detail. Not only is it the wedding of Tess Delaney, the half-sister Isabel has only recently discovered, and Dominic Rossi, a long-time neighbor and family friend (The Apple Orchard), but it is also a prelude to the opening of Isabel’s destination cooking school. Once Isabel dreamed of becoming a celebrated chef at an elite restaurant, but she has exchanged that dream for one rooted in the place that has been her home and her sanctuary for all her life. The discovery of a family treasure has given her the funds to turn Bella Vista, the family hacienda near Archangel, California, into a place where she can teach people to cook, using her recipes made with ingredients grown locally, most on Bella Vista land, and share the beauty of Sonoma country with her students.

Her desire to use Bella Vista products sends her to the beehives. When she finds a hive swarming, she puts on the beekeeper’s protective gear and prepares to capture the hive, hoping that expert help, which she has requested via text, will arrive in time. She thinks her hope has been realized when someone shows up. Unfortunately, the someone is not a bee expert but a stranger, one moreover who is allergic to bee stings. The need to administer an epi-pen and get the stranger to medical help ASAP take precedence over Isabel’s other concerns.

Cormac O'Neill is a man accustomed to danger. He just didn’t expect to encounter it on a peaceful farm. An award-winning investigative journalist who has covered stories in some of the world’s most volatile spots, Mac, sidelined temporarily with a knee injury, has agreed to write the story of Magnus Johansen, Isabel’s Grandfather and a hero of the Danish Resistance. Mac expects to remain at the farm just long enough to gather the information he needs from Magnus, but he falls under the spell of the lovely Isabel, the food she prepares, and e beauty and serenity of Bella Vista.

As Magnus tells Mac the story of the Johansen family in Denmark, of the disappearance of Magnus’s parents, of Magnus’s activities with the resistance during World War II, and of Eva, Isabel’s grandmother, and their immigration to America, Isabel and Tess discover family secrets that have been protected for decades. But even as Magnus reveals these long-held secrets, Isabel and Mac work to keep their secrets buried.

The simmering awareness that exists between Isabel and Mac deepens into a relationship that changes both of them. Mac reawakens Isabel’s sense of adventure and spirit of fun, and Isabel has the nomadic Mac considering what it would be like to see all four seasons in one place. But is even love enough to make possible a happily ever after between a man who never stays and a woman who cannot bear to leave her home.

The second novel in Wiggs’s Bella Vista series offers the same strong sense of place that characterized the first book. The scenes and the scents and the textures of life at Bella Vista give the reader the sense of having visited this idyllic spot. Both Isabel and Mac are likeable characters, and watching them fall in love is a delight. They have enough in common to enable the reader to believe that more than their desire for one another unites them, and yet the difference between Mac, a diplomat’s son who has spent his entire life wandering the globe, and Isabel, whose heart and memories are inextricably entangled with Bella Vista, is great enough to cast doubt on a happy resolution.

Magnus’s story is compelling and poignant on many levels, and it contributes to the richly developed theme of the intrusion of the past on the present. Readers who enjoyed The Apple Orchard will be happy to see more of Tess and Dominic. Some threads are resolved, and others are left tantalizingly unresolved. One particular twist Wiggs tosses in left me beyond eager for the next Bella Vista book.

Sometimes a book that leaves me wondering what now irritates me. Sometimes it fascinates me and makes me impatient for the next book. How do you feel about loose threads and cliffhanger endings?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lady Windermere's Lover

Lady Windermere’s Lover
By Miranda Neville
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Drunk on an excess of spirits, emotional and alcoholic, Damian, Viscount Kendal, lost Beaulieu, a property left to him by his mother on the same day he inherited it, his 21st birthday. Dismayed when he finds out that Robert Townsend, the friend to whom he lost Beaulieu, has already lost it himself, Damian has little choice but to confess his rash behavior and its consequences to his father. During the session with his father, Damian pledges to distance himself from his wild friends and to seriously apply himself to a career in diplomatic service.

Six years later, Damian, now Earl of Windermere, finally regains Beaulieu, but its owner, a wealthy Birmingham merchant, sets an exorbitant price on the property: marriage to his niece, Cynthia Chorley. Damian, seething with anger and resentment, agrees to pay the price. His feelings intensify when he finds himself with a provincial wife who possesses none of the poise and presence required of the wife of an ambitious man in Foreign Service.

Cynthia is ignorant of her uncle’s machinations. Aware only that she has escaped marriage to a bestial man in her uncle’s employ and is instead marrying a handsome aristocrat with a devastating smile, she dreams of happiness with him. She is soon disillusioned. Damian treats her with a total lack of consideration in bed and out, and two weeks after their wedding, he leaves for a diplomatic mission to Persia.

Cynthia is devastated when she suffers a miscarriage, her pain increased by Damian’s indifference. When she is at her lowest point, she is befriended by Caro Townsend and becomes part of Caro’s artistic set whose unconventional behavior and disregard for proper appearances scandalizes London society. Cynthia acquires a wardrobe that enhances her beauty, takes French lessons, polishes her social skills, and generally tries to become the kind of woman Damian wants as his wife. She also acquires a close friend in the person of Julian Fortescue, recently and unexpectedly Duke of Denford. Cynthia enjoys Denford’s company, but she is confused by the mix of “attraction and repulsion, fear and longing” that he stirs in her. She is also convinced that he is a better man than he believes himself to be.

Damian returns to London after a year in Persia, summoned home by the foreign office. He is dimly aware that he has treated Cynthia badly but still hopeful of salvaging a reasonably amicable relationship with his wife. Believing his wife at Beaulieu, he is surprised to learn she is in residence in the Windermere London residence. Later when, during a theater visit with his mentor’s wife (a former lover of Damian’s), he sees a blonde beauty in the company of the current Duke of Denford , Damian’s former best friend and the man he holds responsible for the event that changed his life, he fails to recognize the beauty is the Countess of Windermere.

Cynthia does recognize Damian. In fact, she returned to London because she had received news of his return to England. Convinced that his theater companion is his mistress, she determines to show him how little she cares. Damian, after observing a late night embrace between Cynthia and Denford, is equally convinced that his wife and his enemy are lovers. Even though Damian and Cynthia have both reached erroneous conclusions and even though they both long for a real marriage, their suspicions and their lack of knowledge about each other makes building a life together seem impossible. And at every turn Denford is there further complicating their lives.

No summary does justice to a Miranda Neville novel. Much of the joy of reading this author’s books rests on the intricacy of her character building, the intelligence of her writing, and her subtle flashes of humor. She has shown in other novels that she has the skill to take an unsympathetic character and reveal the motivations and vulnerabilities behind behavior the reader wants to condemn in such a way that the reader ends up sympathetically engaged with the character. She does exactly this with Damian. He really does treat Cynthia abominably, and his behavior initially seems inexcusable. It’s hard to forget thoughts like this one: “Some might call the new Countess of Windermere an English rose. More like a wild flower, in his opinion. Or a weed.” But as the losses he suffered are revealed and as the reader recognizes that his own shame and the influence of his father and his mentor have transformed an ardent, artistic boy into a man who has buried his emotions and his ideals, the reader longs to see that which has been buried resurrected and Damian reborn as his mother’s son. It also helps that Damian acknowledges and regrets his treatment of Cynthia early on, and that his regrets deepen as his love for Cynthia grows.

Cynthia is appealing from the beginning. She is a woman of intelligence, integrity, and the kind of courage and optimism it takes to get up and keep going when life delivers a knockout punch. She is also genuinely kind, a quality often underrated in fiction as in life. I really liked that the charity work with which she becomes involved is not just general benevolence but something in which Cynthia has a personal stake, and I thought her means of financing the charity showed her spirit and her sense of humor.

I have found the art connection that runs through this series interesting. Neville does not settle for mere allusions to art. She makes it a real and meaningful part of the lives of her characters. Some of my favorite scenes in this novel were those where Cynthia and Damian drew one another and shared their drawings. It was an original and appropriate way to reveal their growing intimacy. Art was the initial connection between Damian and Denford as well, and it plays a role in their tense resumption of social exchanges.

The black-clad, Heyer-inspired Denford comes close to stealing the book at times, and I’m certain mine is not the only heart he stole. His story, The Duke of Dark Desires, a December 31 release, will complete the Wild Quartet. It’s on my most eagerly anticipated list.

For me, the abandoned bride who transforms herself and amazes her neglectful groom with her newly revealed grace and beauty can be a riveting story or a hackneyed hash. Obviously, I found Lady Windermere’s Lover in the riveting category. Other favorite treatments of this trope include Mary Balogh’s The First Snowdrop (1986) and Eloisa James’s Duchess in Love (2002), which tweaks the trope. Do you like the transformed bride trope? What are your favorite novels that make use of it?

Friday, July 18, 2014

No River Too Wide

No River Too Wide
By Emilie Richards
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Janine Stoddard has spent twenty-five years as the wife of an abusive husband, but there is still enough spirit left in her to seize the opportunity to escape when she is offered help by Moving On, an underground highway for abused women. One night when her husband is away, she puts her carefully conceived plan into effect, leaving her luxurious Topeka, Kansas, prison in flames. Janine has refused contact with her daughter because she feared her husband would somehow discover Harmony’s location, but she longs to see her daughter and the nine-month-old granddaughter she has never met before she settles somewhere to begin a new life. Thus, she heads for Asheville, North Carolina, for what she plans to be a brief stop before moving on to New Hampshire where she hopes to be safe.

Harmony has checked the Topeka Capiatal-Journal every few weeks since her mother told her never to call home again more than a year ago, expecting to see a headline reporting her mother’s death. She’s heartbroken but not surprised when she thinks her mother has perished in the fire, but surprised is an understatement of her feelings when her mother shows up on the farm outside Asheville where Harmony works as a Jill-of-all-trades and lives in a garage apartment. Harmony’s friend Taylor Martin sees offering Jan a home as a way of repaying Harmony for all that Harmony did for Taylor’s mother. With Taylor living twenty miles away on the other side of Asheville, Jan will be away from Harmony but close enough for the Jan to see her daughter and granddaughter occasionally. When Taylor tells Jan that her being with Taylor’s eleven-year-old daughter when Taylor has to be away on school nights will be a help, Jan agrees to stay.

Richards deftly weaves together the stories of these three women and adds the mystery of Rex’s Stoddard’s disappearance to complicate things. Despite the insurance fraud thread and a romance between the cautious Taylor and Adam Pryor, a new man in town with secrets of his own, No River Too Wide is a story about growth and forgiveness, including self-forgiveness, which may be more difficult than forgiving others.

Emilie Richards is one of the writers whose books I began reading in the 1980s and have followed her from category fiction to single-title contemporary romance to mystery to women’s fiction and enjoyed each phase of the journey. No River Too Wide, the third book in her Goddesses Anonymous series, has the emotionally rich contexts and layered characters that have kept me reading this author for nearly three decades. Whether she is writing about troubled marriages, complex family dynamics, the tendrils of the past that cling to human lives, or any one of a dozen or more social issues that touch the lives of her characters--and her readers--Emilie Richards is one of the best writers in popular fiction.

Books about battered women have become common in recent years, but few show as full a portrait of a woman abused over decades as Richards offers in this book. Alternately heart-rending and inspiring, No River Too Wide reveals a woman almost destroyed by physical and psychological abuse who has the courage to accept help, one who gradually forgives herself, regains her self-respect, and acquires a new appreciation of the freedom to make choices and to grow into an independent woman.

“It didn’t matter if she was frightened by everyday things that others took for granted. It didn’t matter if she felt alone in the world, something Rex had repeatedly warned her would happen if she ever tried to leave him. It didn’t matter that she no longer knew what a woman like her could actually achieve. Perhaps it didn’t even matter that she had failed at the things she had most hoped to accomplish and was still seeking forgiveness. . . .”

Although Harmony was a lesser target of her father’s abuse than was her mother and, with her mother’s help, she escaped as soon as she graduated from high school, she bears her own scars. She loves her mother, but she also blames her for not leaving sooner. She is also suspicious of lives that seem too perfect from the outside, having experienced the horror that could be concealed behind the happy family image.

Taylor learned some painful lessons through her estrangement and reconciliation with her mother (One Mountain Away). She explains to her daughter Maddie:

“Here’s what you need to learn from everything that happened with Mom and me. We loved each other but we let our differences get in the way. I held a grudge for years, almost to the end of her life, and I was wrong to do that. Very wrong.”

But Taylor’s learning is incomplete; she still finds it difficult to forgive when people fall short of her expectations.

One of the joys of reading this book is seeing the growth that takes place in many characters from the three women who are primary to baby Lottie’s father. For readers who like a romance line even in their women’s fiction, there is Taylor’s relationship with Adam, a man who wants to do the right thing but finds it difficult to reconcile his professional responsibilities with the dictates of his conscience. I also liked Harmony’s reentry to the world of dating and her admission that Mr. Perfect may also be Mr. Not Right for me.

I’m sure it is clear by now that I loved No River Too Wide. It’s another Richards keeper for me, and I highly recommend it. I do feel I should add one caveat: this book can be read as a standalone, but readers who have not read One Mountain Away may feel as if Harmony and Taylor’s stories are incomplete. Reading the two books makes for a richer, more meaningful reading experience. The second book, Somewhere Between Luck and Trust, is also excellent, but it is more loosely connected.

Do you have a keeper shelf? What’s your most recent addition to it?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

An Apology for My Absence and A Review of Vixen in Velvet

My apologies for my lengthy absence from this blog. The causes include snafus with the blog, a freelance project that threatened my sanity, and some health issues. But the freedom from bi-weekly posts has persuaded me that the time has come to end Just Janga. Since I am woefully behind on reviews, I will be posting almost daily through the end of this month, but July 31 will be my final day to post here. I’ll have more to say about my decision in that final post. Meanwhile, I hope you will forgive my silence and join me for a final flurry of reviews over the next two weeks.

Vixen in Velvet
By Loretta Chase
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Leonie Noirot is the youngest of the three sisters who own Maison Noirot, a dressmaking establishment known not only for its fabulous fashions but also for the fact that two of its owners have married into the aristocracy. Marcelline, the creative genius whose designs are breathtaking, is the wife of the Duke of Clevedon (Silk Is for Seduction) and Sophy, whose acting and writing talents are used to assure Maison Noirot of the very best publicity, is the wife of the Earl of Longmore (Scandal Wears Satin). With Marcelline suffering from morning sickness and Sophy traveling on her wedding trip, Leonie, the sister with a head for business and a remarkable facility with numbers, is in charge. Having learned that Viscount Swanton, London’s newest literary sensation whose poetry and person have the young ladies of the ton sighing and swooning, will be attending the British Institution’s Annual Summer Exhibition, Leonie decided the exhibition was the perfect spot to appear in a Noirot creation that might draw the attention of the young ladies or their chaperones and thus increase the shop’s clientele. Her fascination with one painting in the exhibit, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, caught her by surprise. So too did the effects of her meeting with the owner of the painting.

Simon Blair, Marquess of Lisburne, has recently returned to England after a half dozen years on the Continent following the death of his father. The trip to England was supposed to be a brief one, but Swanton’s fame and angelic looks have made him the target of excessive attention. Although they are only cousins, Lisburne feels an elder brother’s responsibility for the younger man. Once he meets Leonie Noirot, Swanton is not the only reason Lisburne chooses to linger in England.

When Leonie begins the work of transforming the graceless, overbearing, physically unattractive Lady Gladys Fairfax into a woman who can attract the beau of her choice, Lisburne is convinced she is setting herself up for disaster. He believes Lady Gladys is the sow’s ear that no effort or skill will make over into silk, and Leonie’s efforts will make her ridiculous. But Leonie is confident that she can show Lady Gladys the way to social success. So the two agree on a wager. If Lady Gladys has at least six followers and one non-mercenary offer of marriage within a matter of weeks, Lisburne will pass the ownership of his Botticelli to Leonie. If Lady Gladys remains a social failure, Leonie will give Lisburne two weeks of her undivided attention.

As the two spend more and more time in one another’s company, of course they fall in love. This is a romance. One of the things that makes this story more than a charming, if predictable, wealthy lord-meets-unsuitable-heroine tale is watching the initial chemistry between Leonie and Lisburne deepen into liking and understanding of one another. Along the way, they each also come to know himself/herself more fully.
Sometimes everything in a book just works for a reader in a way that is difficult to explain. Such was my experience with Vixen in Velvet

I loved the characters. Leonie really believes she is all logic and business, but her feelings for Lisburne show her how incomplete that image of her is. The vulnerability the reader see when Leonie’s memories of the Paris riots, the dangers the Noirots escaped, and all they lost, her very real gifts for the work she does, and her commitment to the sisters’ charity all prove that she is more that an amusing lightweight. In a similar fashion, Lisburne may appear to be a practiced and not overly intelligent charmer, but in reality he is devoted to his family, sensitive to beauty, and possessed of a social conscience and a sense of humor as well as being handsome and wealthy.

I also loved the subplot centered around Lady Gladys. It serves to illustrate Leonie’s compassion and insight as well as reveal the sensitive, longing creature that Lady Gladys is beneath her porcupine exterior. And Brava to Loretta Chase for making Lady Gladys’s makeover less magical transformation and more education in how to make the most of her assets. One of my favorite lines in the novel was Leonie’s pronouncement: “I've dressed her … The rest she's done for herself.”

Other things I love included a description of Leonie’s fascination with the Botticelli that should strike a chord with any reader who has even been enthralled by a painting, a poem, or a piece of music, one of the best first kiss scenes, and Leonie’s poetry recitation. As much as I enjoyed these scenes, my favorite is the one when Lisburne visits the Milliners’ Society for the Education of Indigent Females. Leonie shows him the crafts the girls have created to sell, and Lisburne is visibly moved.

“It would seem that your friend's poetry has infected you with excessive tenderness,” she said.

“That may be so, madame, yet I wonder how any man could withstand this.” He waved his hand at the contents of the display case. “Look at them. Little hearts and flowers and curlicues and lilies of the valley and lace.  Made by girls who've known mainly deprivation and squalor and violence.” 

She considered the pincushions and watch guards and mittens and handkerchiefs. “They don't have Botticelli paintings to look at,” she said. “If they want beauty in their lives, they have to make it.”

“Madame,” he said, “is it necessary to break my heart completely?”

If you are looking for a romance with a tightly woven plot, heavy on action, you may want to skip Vixen in Velvet. But if you want a character-driven romance with delightful dialogue and real conversations and sparkling humor that is sometimes wonderfully subtle written by a virtuoso in the genre, I highly recommend this book.

Which is more important to you as a reader, characters or plot?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Home to Stay

Home to Stay
By Terri Osburn
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: May 1, 2014

Willow Parsons thought Anchor Island would be just another out-of-the-way spot that would offer a temporary refuge in her journey to outrun her past. She never expected it to feel like home. But with the Dempseys treating her more like family than like just the assistant manager of their bar and grill and Beth Chandler and Sid Navarro teaching her just how great it is to have best friends, Will is beginning to feel as if she belongs in this place. She is even wondering if she dares to stay. Only Randy Navarro makes her uneasy. At first, it was that his size made her uncomfortably aware of things she would rather forget, but she’s has slowly come around to accept that Randy is indeed the gentle giant his sister proclaims him and poses no threat to Will’s physical wellbeing. Now it’s the effect he has on her brain, her libido, and maybe even her heart that has Will reminding herself of all the reasons she can’t afford the complications that a romantic relationship would bring.

Randy Navarro, owner of Anchor Adventures, which provides watersports instruction and equipment to tourists, and Island Fitness, Anchor’s only gym, is an adrenalin junkie, a super-size knight with a protective streak to fit, a big brother who changed his life to take care of his kid sister, and an all-around good guy. He’s straight-talking, tender-hearted, patient, and tenacious, and he uses all of those qualities to persuade Will that she is safe with him, safe enough to take down her walls and open her heart.

Just when an HEA for these two who really deserve one is within their grasp, an ambitious reporter exposes Will’s identity, and Will reverts to a familiar pattern of behavior—she runs, leaving behind Anchor Island, the friends she cherishes, and Randy. Can Will learn that some things are worth taking a stand and fighting for? Can Randy forgive that she left him with only a note?

I loved Anchor Island from my first glimpse of it, and I have only become fonder of it with each book in the series. The setting has a warmth and a realness that only the best small-town series attain, and the characters are people with whom I enjoy spending my time. Home to Stay is my favorite. Will is a phenomenal heroine who demonstrates that love can heal even the deepest wounds and give the wounded warrior the strength to fight and win the necessary battles. But Randy is the reason this book is my favorite. He is true to type and yet distinctly individual—and a testament to Osburn’s talent. Only a third of the way into 2014, and I’ve read an unusual number of books with extraordinary beta heroes. Randy tops my list. In fact, I rank him right up there with Quinn Hunter (Till the Stars Fall, Kathleen Gilles Seidel), Blue Reynard (In the Midnight Rain, Ruth Wind) “Preacher” Middleton (Shelter Mountain, Robyn Carr), and Cam Early (Red’s Red Hot Honky-Tonk Bar, Pamela Morsi) as my five favorite contemporary beta heroes.

If you like contemporary romance that blends a generous serving of sweetness with just the right amount of spice and wraps it in genuineness and likeability, you will love Home to Stay. And although readers can’t stay on Anchor Island, they can return at least one more time. I just hope Randy Navarro is around when I make that return trip.

Let’s talk betas. Do you like beta heroes? If so, what contemporary heroes are on your list of favorites? If not, I’d love to introduce you to some that I bet can change your mind.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days

How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days
By Laura Lee Guhrke
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: April 29, 2014

Five years ago, near the end of an unsuccessful season in London, American heiress Edie Jewell was dreading her return to New York. Edie was unsurprised that not even her father’s millions were enough to win her acceptance in New York Knickerbocker society where the nouveau riche label had destroyed the hopes of wealthy young women with far more beauty and grace than Edie possesses, but the whispers that followed her every move after the nightmare in Saratoga left her reputation in tatters. The rattling tongues and her fear of encountering the man responsible for her ruin made New York intolerable for Edie, but her father’s hope that his wealth will be sufficient to overcome the deficiencies of  his tall, ginger-haired, freckled older daughter has proved vain. Even the wiles of Lady Featherstone, the renowned matchmaker for American heiresses in London, have failed. But just when it seems that Edie must steel herself to return to New York, she meets the Duke of Margrave, who accepts Edie’s astonishing proposal: she will pay the heavy debts he has inherited and fund his expedition to Africa, and he will give her the protection of his name and her freedom, insuring the latter by never returning to England.

Stuart, Duke of Margrave kept his promise to his wife for five years. But when an attack by a lioness leaves him a few breaths away from death, Stuart knows he must break his word and return home—to England and to Edie.  His wife’s dismay at his return makes his dream of a real marriage seem impossible, but Stuart, an optimist by nature, persuades Edie to strike a new deal. He has ten days to persuade Edie that she can have a whole and happy life as his wife. If he fails, he will disappear and leave Edie to live her life without the duke.

What follows is a story of sweet seduction that offers a rare blend of serious problems, light-hearted pursuit, and genuine communication. In another reversal from the expected, Edie is the one with the power. Stuart, in his quest to win the favor of his lady, does sometimes manipulate her into situations that push the boundaries of her comfort zone, but she always has a choice. It is a measure of Stuart’s understanding that he recognizes, even before he learns the details of Edie’s trauma, that having the power of choice is essential for her.

How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days is the second book in Guhrke’s American Heiress in London series. I liked the first book, When the Marquess Met His Match, and I thought this one was even better. Edie is an intelligent woman who is using her intellect and her considerable strength to survive a devastating experience, one that leaves contemporary women, with far more resources than a woman in the late 19th century had, battling anxiety and depression. Stuart is a heart-stealer hero with more than his share of charm, tenderness, and two undervalued qualities—patience and honesty.

I’ve been a Guhrke fan for years, but this one is special even as a book from a favorite author. I did have a quibble with the title, which suggests lighter fare than the book delivers. But that’s a minor point and certainly not enough to prevent my giving this book my highest recommendation and counting it among my top five Guhrke novels.

I really enjoy the American in England trope when it is done well. Guhrke’s Trouble at the Wedding is another excellent example of the trope, as are two of Lisa Kleypas’s Wallflower books. Do you like the trope? What’s your favorite romance with an American heroine in England?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Falling for Owen

Falling for Owen
By Jennifer Ryan
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Release Date: April 15, 2014

Owen is the older of the former Wild McBride brothers. He was the first to refuse to be controlled any longer by his past and to turn his life around. Once he had his law degree in hand, he returned to his hometown to practice and to help Rain Evans bring up his nieces (The Return of Brody McBride). Owen is happy that his brother and Rain are reunited, but their delight in one another makes him conscious of his own loneliness. Unattached but looking, Owen has his eye on Claire Walsh, new in town and the owner of a combination coffee shop and bookshop that is a favorite spot of Owen’s adored nieces. But Claire seems unaware of him.

Claire has noticed Owen. He’s the kind of man that a sane, heterosexual woman would find impossible to ignore, but Claire is cautious on two counts. First, a bad marriage to a good-looking charmer who was a chronic philanderer has left her wary of men in general and handsome hunks in particular. Second, every time Claire sees Owen, he is with two gorgeous little girls whom Claire concludes must belong to him. She also concludes there is a woman in the picture, and that makes him off limits for Claire.

Claire and Owen are thrown together when the abusive, drunken ex of one of Owen’s clients jumps to an erroneous conclusion and attacks Claire, leaving her concussed and bleeding and her home with a shattered glass door. Owen is there immediately, determined to see that Claire receives the care she needs and that the damage to her house is repaired ASAP. Claire finds him hard to resist, but trusting does not come easily for her. Owen has no doubts that Claire is the one he has been looking for, but he worries that a relationship may be dangerous for Claire.

Wounded heroes are abundant in romance fiction, but I am sometimes skeptical of how quickly and simplistically recovery from childhood traumas and other psychological damage occurs. I really like the fact that both Owen and Brody are aware that vestiges of their darkness remains and that they both have moments when their belief that they can fully overcome their past is shaken. I also love that Claire is smart enough to accept help when she needs it and to understand that enjoying a little tender, loving care after suffering a hard hit (literally in her case) doesn’t compromise a woman’s independence. Finally, I love that Rain and Owen still have a special connection and that the reader sees not only Rain and Brody’s HEA in progress but also the developing closeness between the brothers. I liked the first book in the series, but I also had some problems with it. I thought this one was a better book. I marked it a keeper, and I’m looking forward to Dylan’s Redemption, the story of a McBride cousin, scheduled for release in August.

Do you sometimes find that a series that you began with mixed feelings gets better with successive books? Have you ever almost cut a series off with the first book, only to be happy you did not after reading the second one?