Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday Review: Autumn in the Vineyard

Autumn in the Vineyard
By Marina Adair
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Frankie Baudouin learned some painful lessons early in her life. Her grandfather just confirmed them when she chose to do something against his wishes and he kicked her out of the family business--and out of his life. But Sorrento Ranch, the most desirable acreage in Napa Valley, is Frankie’s chance to show her grandfather his mistake in letting her go and to fulfill her dream of producing her own boutique wine. The fact that she bought land that the DeLucas, rival vintners and  Baudouin enemies for more than half a century, are eager to own makes her purchase all the sweeter. Frankie is prepared to work hard, but she’s not prepared for Nate DeLuca to complicate her life again. Nate has a history of creating problems for Frankie, but this time she’s determined to win the battle. She has too much at stake to lose her land.

Nate DeLuca is looking forward to putting to use the land the DeLucas just bought fulfill his father’s dream. Nate has fond memories of teen years spent working with his dad trying to find the perfect blend for a dream wine the elder DeLuca called his “opus.” Now he and his brothers have plans to turn the twenty prime acres the family just paid an inflated $7.5 million for into the site of DeLuca’s premiere winery, Opus. Nate is surprised to find Francesca Baudouin on his land and claiming it as hers, but he’s confident that the DeLucas will prevail—at least until he discovers he has been unwittingly paid a platinum price for half the land he thought he was buying, acreage that was divided fifteen years ago. Still, knowing the Baudouin are cash-strapped, he feels certain he can persuade the volatile Frankie to sell.

When the two face off in court, they do so before a judge who is weary of the DeLuca- Baudouin feud, uses the fact that the property division splits the house in half to give Nate and Frankie thirty days to work thing out peacefully together before he takes action. Thirty days with two stubborn antagonists who know they are all wrong for one another but can’t escape the passion that simmers between them makes for an interesting, conflicted, and dangerous time.

Autumn in the Vineyard is the third book in Adair’s St. Helena Vineyard series. Readers familiar with the earlier books will recognize Frankie and Nate and remember the kiss that sent the sizzle-meter soaring in Kissing Under the Mistletoe. Frankie, with her ball-busting boots and motorcycle, is a tough cookie, but one with a soft center. The child of a divorce that left her feeling rejected and cut off from her father’s world, she longs to be loved and accepted for who she is. Nate is a fascinating contradiction—an easy-going charmer who prefers loving to fighting and an obsessive list-maker who has felt the need to exert control even in this limited way since his parents’ deaths.

I usually prefer friends-to-lovers stories to enemies-to-lovers, but I found both Frankie and Nate likeable, engaging characters. I believed in their conflict because it was based less on the feuding families than on their very different experiences and personalities. I especially  appreciated that Adair didn’t smooth out all the rough spots created by their differences with true love. One of the reasons I believe these two will endure is that they have accepted that love doesn’t mean never being irritated by or disappointed in the beloved. My favorite lines belong to Frankie’s wise spinster aunt: “It’s the liking part that’s difficult. Love, once it happens, is always there no matter how angry you get. But like, that takes compromise and honesty and understanding and a lot of hard work.”

Family dynamics are an important part of this story. I enjoyed watching the teasing and easy affection that bind the DeLuca brothers to one another and to the rest of their extended family, and I found Frankie’s more complicated relationship with her brothers and other family members interesting and credible. Part of the appeal is setting, both St, Helena as a particular place and the wine culture generally. Adair is generous with the details, giving the reader a strong sense of place.

There are four DeLuca brothers, and with Frankie and Nate settled, three of them now have their HEA. That leaves Trey, and his story will be available January 21—Be Mine Forever, a Valentine story just in time for Valentine’s Day. I look forward to another trip to St. Helena.

Some of my favorite series have involved families with wineries. In addition to Adair’s books, I love Susan Mallery’s Marcelli family, Christie Ridgway’s Baci sisters, and Kristan Higgins’s Hollands. And, although not a part of a series, I have The Vineyard by Barbara Delinsky and The Villa by Nora Roberts on a keeper shelf. Do you like wineries as settings? What’s your favorite?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Review: Short Takes (More Christmas Books)

A Fool’s Gold Christmas
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: October 29, 2013

A Fool’s Gold Christmas was released as a hardback in September 2012; it is being released as a mass market paperback and in digital format this month. It is the tenth book in the Fool’s Gold series, and it combines the two genres, romance and women’s fiction, in which Mallery has deservedly earned scores of fans.

The story centers on the romance between Evie Stryker, half-sister of Rafe (Summer Days), Shane (Summer Nights), and Clay (All Summer Long) and Dante Jefferson, Rafe’s business partner. Both Evie and Dante are in Fool’s Gold reluctantly: Evie because her brothers, guilty about the emotional distance between Evie and her family, insist on her recovering from an injury where they can see that she receives the care she needs; and Dante because when Rafe fell in love, he insisted on moving his business headquarters to Fool’s Gold. Both carry scars from their pasts. Individually, they are appealing characters, and together they are wonderful! I particularly enjoyed watching their relationship develop from strangers to friends to lovers.

Also important to the story is Evie’s estrangement from her mother. Romance fiction has good mothers and bad mothers in impressive numbers, but this may be the only good mother to three sons who is a very bad mother to her only daughter. May Stryker has her reasons, but my sympathy was all with Evie.

I wrote a full review of this book for the Romance Dish last year. You can access it here. I’ll just add that if you are a Fool’s Gold fan and missed this book last year, you will definitely want to read it this time. If you are just in the mood for a lovely Christmas read with seasonal themes and a sweet and sexy romance, I recommend A Fool’s Gold Christmas.

A Family for Christmas
By Winnie Griggs
Publisher: Harlequin (Love Inspired Historical)
Release Date: October 1, 2013

In 1895, Eve Hendricks, with little enthusiasm, is on her way to a job as a milliner’s assistant when she befriends Leo, a young boy traveling alone. When the train conductor, a man who lacks the milk of human kindness, finds that Leo is a stowaway, he ejects him from the train and leaves him at the train depot in Turnabout, Texas. Eve cannot bear to see Leo left with no one to care for him, so she leaves the train too. A Turnabout resident, Chance Dawson, observes the incident and is filled with admiration for Eve. He offers Eve and Leo refuge in his home, suitably chaperoned by an older friend, Dotty Epps.

As the name suggests, Turnabout is a place for new beginnings. All three primary characters have things in their past that cause others to see them as lacking worthiness, but Turnabout is a town of hardworking, neighborly people who are filled with the quality sadly lacking in the train conductor. Chance has already found a home in Turnabout, and he makes it possible for Eve and Leo to do so as well. With a little growth on all their parts, they find a family as well.

This is not a perfect book. The symbolism lacks subtlety, and the prose is sometimes pedestrian. But, framed by two holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and filled with faith, hope, and love and charming characters in a charming town, it is a sweet and heartwarming tale. Readers should be aware that A Family for Christmas is an Inspirational romance, and the characters are people for whom their faith and its disciplines of prayer and service are integral parts of their lives. It is also the third book in a series, but I have not read the earlier books and had no difficulty following the story. 

A Kiss Under the Mistletoe
By Jennifer Basye Sander
Publisher: Harlequin Nonfiction
Release Date: October 29, 2013

This is not a novel but rather a compilation of twenty-six true stories collected by Sander. The stories range from the sweetly romantic to the bittersweet to the heartbreaking, but each has something to share about Christmas and about love. There are all the things we associate with Christmas—Christmas gifts, Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas songs, Christmas ornaments, Christmas stockings, Christmas food, Christmas kisses, and Christmas miracles. There are babies and blind dates and grinches and grace. There are white Christmases and green Christmases and Christmas with surprises like Frisbees and enchiladas.

Some of the stories are of idyllic Christmas moments, and others are of moments that would never inspire a Hallmark movie. Some stories will make you laugh, and others will make you cry. There are first Christmases and last Christmases commemorated in these stories. And the wonder is greater because these are all true stories woven from the memories of real people.

The very first story “Two to Tango” by Love Inspired author Teri Wilson is my favorite. It is a story to delight any romance lover’s heart, and the final story, “Love Never Dies” by Norma Jean Thornton, required nearly a full box of Kleenex to soak up all my tears. From first dates to final goodbyes, all the stages of love and romance are covered in these stories, and they all carry a Christmas seal.

This is not a book for everyone, but if you like your Christmas reading rich in sentiment, rooted in the real, and mindful that the holiday is about the heart and the soul, I can promise you will find stories you’ll love within these pages.

By my count, I have now reviewed seventeen Christmas books this year, and I still have a couple to go. I think it’s clear that I love Christmas stories. How about you? Do you have a long list of favorite Christmas books, or do all these Christmas books elicit only a “Bah! Humbug!”?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Review: Take Me Home for Christmas

Take Me Home for Christmas
By Brenda Novak
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Sophia DeBussi was the meanest girl in Eureka High School fourteen years ago, the one who stole boyfriends, manipulated swains, and looked down on those less powerful and popular. Most of Whiskey Creek held her responsible for the death of a popular athlete in a drunk driving accident, and everyone knew she had broken the heart of Ted Dixon. None of it seemed to touch Sophia. Beautiful, wealthy, and living a life of conspicuous consumption, she seemed to have everything. No one saw the darkness—the physical and emotional abuse from her controlling husband and the drinking that was out of control until she spent thirty days in rehab. No one knew that she felt a secret relief when Skip disappeared while the two of them along with their thirteen-year-old daughter, Alexa, were cruising on Skip’s luxury yacht. But her relief turns to fear when Skip’s body washes up on the Brazilian shore with a hundred thousand dollars in cash strapped to his back, and home in Whiskey Creek the FBI wants him for mail fraud, securities fraud, and other charges. It seems Skip cheated investors, including a significant number of the citizens of Whiskey Creek, out of sixty million dollars. And the feds suspect Sophia may have been involved.

Ted Dixon is a successful novelist who has chosen to settle in Whiskey Creek, the town where he grew up. One of the perks of remaining in his hometown is the opportunity to still enjoy the friendships that have been an important part of his life since grade school. But as much as his friends mean to him and as much as he usually looks forward to their Friday morning coffee at Black Gold, he is not eager to hear all the speculation about the DeBussi scandal, and he is even less eager to have his friends studying him to see how he is reacting to the downfall of the woman who dumped him.

In material terms, Sophia has lost everything. What has not been confiscated by the FBI is heavily mortgaged and in arrears. Sophia doesn’t even have the money to bury her husband. With the life she knew destroyed and with no skills or training to help her survive, she is drowning in depression. Her daughter is the only thing that makes life worth living. Her in-laws have never thought she was good enough for their golden son, and now they view her as an enemy, holding her responsible for Skip’s crimes and threatening to sue for custody of her daughter. Many of the citizens of Whiskey Creek demonize her as the visible scapegoat to punish for their losses. Even those who feel pity for her wonder if she somehow deserves her fate. But to Sophia’s surprise, two former classmates stand by her. Gail DeMarco-O’Neal offers a substantial token of her friendship, and Eve Harmon pushes Sophia to fight back and suggests a job that might work for Sophia.

Once Ted realizes how desperate Sophia’s situation is, he can’t help feeling sorry for her. But he surprises even himself when, after his initial horrified reaction when Eve suggested he do so, he offers Sophia a job as his housekeeper/assistant. Neither he nor Sophia has ever forgotten all they once shared, and now that they are forced into one another’s company, they are both about to discover that the surface never reveals the full story.

Take Me Home for Christmas is the fifth novel in Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek series, and it is another story filled with fascinating, imperfect characters who find the strength to deal with all the problems life throws at them, grow through their difficulties, and emerge as winners. Small-town books are typically seen as comfort reads filled with warmth and coziness, but Novak shows readers that small towns can harbor the narrowness, the hypocrisies, and the outright meanness that human nature everywhere can exhibit. The greatest joy in this book is watching the redemption of Sophia, a woman who accepts the responsibility for her mistakes, becomes a stronger, better person than she ever dreamed she could be, and realizes that she can get by with a little help from her friends, her child, and an old love grown new.

Readers familiar with the series will enjoy seeing Ted finally forced to confront his past and deal with the grudge he has nurtured for fourteen long years. He may be the wronged figure in the old love story, but he is far from perfect. Most of the other characters from the earlier books in the series make appearances sufficient in length to please readers who have grown fond of them and brief enough not to overwhelm readers who are being introduced to Whiskey Creek for the first time. Novak provides the dramatis personae at the beginning just in case a reader should feel lost.

My one complaint about the book is that the ending just seemed too abrupt. For readers like me who love to bask in the glow of the HEA, there is little opportunity to do so. But that’s not a flaw large enough to outweigh the clear strengths of this book. If you like your small-town romance a bit darker and edgier than the norm, I recommend Take Me Home for Christmas. It lacks the sweetness and light of more conventional Christmas books, but the truths it hones fit right in with the season.

Novak will return readers to Whiskey Creek in March 2014 when she releases Come Home to Me, a reunion story featuring former bad-girl Presley Christensen, sister of Cheyenne Christensen Amos (When Snow Falls), and the baddest of those wild Amos brothers. Because When Snow Falls is my favorite in the series, I’m especially looking forward to Whiskey Creek #6.

I consider myself a true series addict, but even so in every series I love, there is a book or two that touches me in a special way and becomes a favorite among favorites. Do you have a special favorite story within your favorite series? Is it the one you consider objectively the best, or is it a more personal choice?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Review: Once a Rake

Once a Rake
By Eileen Dreyer
Publisher: Grand Central Forever
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Circumstances make it appear that Earl Hawes, heir to the Marquess of Kendall, better known as Colonel Ian Ferguson, who had once saved the life of the Duke of Wellington, has experienced a change of loyalties and attempted to assassinate England’s most revered contemporary hero. Branded a traitor, Ian is on the run. Wounded and feverish, he is painfully making his way to the group of men he literally trusts with his life, Drake’s Rakes, confident that they will help him save Wellington from the true assassins and save Ian’s life and reputation as well. Taking shelter where he can and surviving off the land, Ian is fully aware of his danger and of the importance of the evidence he carries, evidence that can prove the truth of his story.

Lady Sarah Clarke’s (née Sarah Tregallan’s) life has been a struggle to survive physically and emotionally. The bastard daughter of a duke, saved by her father’s wife and adopted by a vicar and his wife who viewed her as a stained product of sin, Sarah thought of herself as nameless and homeless. The closest she came to finding real family was with her closest friends at the Last Chance Academy—Fiona Ferguson, Pippin Knight, and Lizzie Ripton, her unacknowledged half-sister. Sarah left Last Chance when her half-brother, the new Duke of Dorchester, arranged her marriage to Boswell Clark, a baron in need of her dowry in exchange for the closest to respectability Sarah is likely to achieve.

When her husband used the last of her dowry to buy his commission in the army, Sarah was left to keep Fairbourne, the Clarke estate, running and to provide for his family, who resent her and think themselves superior to her. Despite the hard work, Sarah has found a kind of contentment at Fairbourne, and, with the help of the stud fees of Willoughby, a 600-pound pig, she manages to keep herself and her household from outright poverty. But the war is over, and there has been no word from Boswell. His heir, a greedy man without an iota of integrity, is eager to claim the estate. Her mother-in-law feels entitled to indulge herself in the expensive paints she needs to pursue her painting, and her sister-in-law is miserable over being forced to leave school due to the family’s lack of funds. As if all these problems were not enough, Sarah finds the most wanted man in Britain hiding in one of her outbuildings.

Sarah can’t bring herself to refuse food and first aid to a wounded man, but she knows that helping him places all she is desperately trying to save in jeopardy. When she learns that he is the brother of her friends Fiona and Mairead Ferguson and a hero of her schooldays, the situation becomes more complicated. Ian is reluctant to involve Sarah, but the stakes are higher than personal safety. And he realizes he needs her help to reach his goal. Soon they are both up to their necks in adventure and danger, but the greatest risk may be the hearts they are giving away and a love that reason says can never be.

Eileen Dreyer is dividing her Drake’s Rakes series into trilogies. Once a Rake introduces the second trilogy, the Last Chance Academy series, which was introduced by a novella, It Begins with a Kiss (July 2012). Readers who have followed the series will recognize Ian Ferguson and his plight. I confess to a weakness for red-haired heroes. I was already fascinated by Ian, and I have been looking forward to his story. It does not disappoint. Ian has all the necessary qualities for a romance hero—intelligence, honor, strength, a sense of humor, a capacity for tenderness, and sufficient biography and personality to make him an individual rather than a type with a name.  

 Sarah broke my heart from the beginning with her blend of quiet strength and aching vulnerability. She is one of the loneliest characters I have encountered. Early in the book, Dreyer describes her: “She had spent her entire life seeking inclusion. Envying her four friends that they were wanted for no other reason than their existence. A feeling Sarah couldn’t comprehend. emotionally” Once she is separated from her school friends, her closest tie is to a pig. But despite the  emotional deprivation she has known, Sarah is a woman of grace and generosity. She treats those who see her as inferior because of her birth with kindness and understanding, and yet she is human enough to admit her longing to exact revenge. Plus, how can anyone resist a heroine who dreams of Oxford and names a pig Willoughby? Sarah and Ian not only have incredible chemistry but they also share their status as outsiders who know what it is to fight for survival.

Readers who prefer romances that focus on the hero and heroine and keep them together for most of the story will appreciate Once a Rake. And yet Dreyer accomplishes this and still creates substantial contexts with a host of characters whom she sketches in sufficient detail to give them all—from the absent Bromwell to the substantially present pig--individual reality. The assassin Minette Ferrar frightens me beyond description and her heinous behavior lingers in my mind far too long for comfort.

I’m a reader who generally prefers quiet books with the focus on relationships, but I have discovered a few authors who write what I term “romantic adventure” whose books unfailingly engage me fully. They create characters in whom I believe wholly and plots that keep my heart in my throat. Mary Jo Putney is the historical romance author who has best exemplified these qualities for me for decades, and Eileen Dreyer’s skills rival those of MJP.  I am also intrigued by the way Dreyer is creating a heroine-centric series on the foundation of a male-bonded society.

If you are already a Drake’s Rakes fan, you will be pleased to know that tendrils of the overarching plot of treason continue to entangle even as other tendrils are severed and the romance is as satisfying as it was in the first trilogy. If you have never read Eileen Dreyer’s historical romances, Once a Rake is a great starting point. Or if you want a brief sample of her style first, the digital edition of the prequel novella, It Begins with a Kiss, is available for $.99. I’ve been recommending this writer since I first read her Kathleen Korbel categories years ago. I’m delighted that I can recommend her historicals with as much enthusiasm.

While I loved the hero and heroine of Once a Rake, the most vividly memorable character may be the villainess. Who is your candidate for the most believably scary villain/villainess in romance fiction?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bonus Review: Carly's Rule

Carly’s Rule
By Vickie King
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Release Date: 
September 16, 2013

Carly Braddock returned to her hometown of Corrigan, West Virginia, after a two-year relationship with a hotel magnate ended. The biggest heartbreak was not losing the hotelier but rather his four-year-old son to whom Carly had become a mother and the child’s pain over losing the only mother he had known. The experience left her determined to avoid single fathers in the future. It also left her newly focused on making a success of her bakery and café, Sugar Plums. She is proud of what she has achieved her first year in business for herself and enjoying time spent with her large, loving family and her best friend Roxie and her kids. Her biggest worry is coming up with the perfect sugar cookie recipe. That changes one day when she sees Luke Donovan sitting in Sugar Plums.

Luke Donovan, a wood preservationist, is back in town to do some restoration work for the Corrigan Historical Society. While he’s there, he is living in the old Thaxton house, which belongs to his old friend Brian Thaxton and making repairs to it. The house is not all Luke needs to repair. He hopes that a summer with lots of one-on-one time will restore his relationship with his twelve-year-old daughter Brooke to the closeness they had always enjoyed before she entered her current rebellious stage. Luke has never forgotten the summer he spent in Corrigan fourteen years earlier, a summer when Carly Braddock and the love they shared consumed his every thought until Luke’s life was shattered and he left town without a word to Carly. They haven’t spoken since.

Luke feels guilty about Carly, and he wants a chance to explain what happened to the boy he once was to her. But Carly responds coolly to his overtures. Luke’s abandonment with no explanation was a defining experience in her life. He has no idea of Carly’s suffering. She may need closure to the chapter in her life that ended with only questions, but she has no intention of allowing herself to be vulnerable to Luke Donovan again.  Intentions are an inadequate defense against the dictates of the heart, and before long, Carly and Luke are caught up in a mix of old memories and new passion. Can they find the courage to share their secrets, to forgive past mistakes, and to claim a new life together?

Carly’s Rule marks the debut of Vickie King; it is the first book in her Braddocks series. It is a sweet reunion story with a likeable hero and heroine, both of whom have persuasive reasons for being wary of relationships. Their own truncated history is just part of their wariness. Any reader who can recall the pain of that first heartbreak can understand the power it exercises over these characters.

While the focus of the novel is clearly on Carly and Luke, King offers readers rich contexts for the central love story. Carly’s lively family, individually and collectively, add color and substance to the story. Luke’s daughter is a clearly defined personality, a combination of child and young woman that makes her a believable twelve-going-on-thirteen. Carly’s long friendship with Roxie also rings true in the ways these women show they know, understand, and protect each other. Even though Luke’s friend Brian is not actually present in the story, I liked the fact that the sustained relationship and their involvement in one another’s life revealed another dimension of Luke’s character.

The Braddocks promises to be an appealing addition to the seemingly inexhaustible number of small-town romances. Next up is the story of Carly’s brother Dusty, a private investigator. King provides just enough information about the tragedy in his life to make readers want to know more. I’m also hopeful that the hint of something developing between Roxie and another Braddock brother, Sheriff Logan, will be more than a tease. I look forward to return visits to Corrigan. If you like small-town stories sweet and evocative as Carly’s sugar cookies and with just a pinch of spice in the story, I recommend you check out Carly’s Rule.

One of the things I liked best about this story is that it takes place in West Virginia, not a typical romance location. But there is a Texas connection. Why do you think so many small-town romances are set in Texas and the Great Northwest? What’s your favorite Texas-set romance?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday Review: When the Marquess Met His Match

When the Marquess Met His Match
By Laura Lee Guhrke
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Once Miss Belinda Hamilton of Cleveland, Ohio, was one of the daughters of nouveau riche American millionaires snubbed by New York Knickerbocker society who married an English aristocrat and found social acceptance across the Atlantic.  But Belinda learned firsthand that such unions came with no guarantee of an HEA. At seventeen, she fell madly in love with the handsome, charming Charles, Earl of Featherstone whom she married six weeks after they met. By the time his dissolute lifestyle led to his death of heart failure five years into their marriage, Belinda’s illusions about romantic love had been shattered.

Her husband’s spendthrift ways and her father’s Wall Street speculation left the former heiress a widow of modest means, but her place in English society is secure. That status allows her to supplement her income by serving as a marriage broker. Five years into her widowhood, Belinda has established a reputation as the matchmaker best suited to help wealthy young American women avoid her mistake and find an aristocratic husband who will bring them not only social status but also a happy marriage based on “a solid foundation of sincere affection, shared interests, and like minds.”

The last person Nicholas Stirling, Marquess of Trubridge, rake extraordinaire, expects to have need of is a matchmaker, but when, shortly after Nicholas turns thirty, his estranged father, the Duke of Landsdowne, cuts off the trust fund from Nicholas’s mother, the young marquess feels that marriage to a wealthy bride is his best option. Nicholas refuses to submit to the dictates of the domineering father to whom he has not spoken in eight years and marry the proper wife the duke has chosen for his heir. Since the well-known marriage broker Lady Featherstone is the sister-in-law of his good friend Jack, Nicholas decides to approach her for help, confident that she will steer him toward some likely candidates to become Marchioness of Trubridge.

Nicholas represents all that Belinda detests most, a man with a history of a life devoted to wine, women, and gaming who is marrying only for money to support his decadent lifestyle. Under no circumstances will she be instrumental in leading another young woman into the kind of disastrous marriage that Belinda knew with Featherstone. Not content simply to refuse to help Trubridge, Belinda announces that she will use her considerable influence to thwart his plans. Nicholas, angry that she has judged him by reputation without knowing any of the circumstances, accepts the challenge. The battle begins. Neither is prepared for the attraction that sparks between them and grows with every encounter. The stakes are higher than either expected, and their hearts are on the line. But both Belinda and Nicholas must grow and change before they can claim the kind of happiness they had come to believe was only the illusory dreams of innocents.

When the Marquess Met His Match is the first book in Laura Lee Guhrke’s An American Heiress in London series set in the late 19th century. Belinda and Nicholas are intelligent, articulate people, and their dialogue is delightful. I especially enjoyed the scenes where Nicholas meets the “perfect matches” Belinda has set up based on his criteria for a wife, but the best scene occurs when Nicholas turns the tables on her and demonstrates why she meets the most important criteria.

Belinda is slow to let down her defenses, but her resistance allows time for the relationship to develop convincingly, and her forthrightness with Nicholas serves as a catalyst for the changes he must make to earn not only Belinda’s respect, but his own. I have a weakness for leonine heroes (Maybe it’s the Leo influence), and from the beginning Nicholas is described as a lordly lion in looks and attitude. I found him an immensely appealing character. And I loved the ending which brought not only the defeat of the villain and the inauguration of the HEA but also the avoidance of what easily could have become a Big Misunderstanding of dismaying proportions.

Guhrke has a gift for creating fully realized characters with rich interior lives and placing them in situations that satisfy the expectations of romance readers. She does it again with this novel. If you have enjoyed Guhrke’s Bachelor Girl or Abandoned at the Altar series, you will find this one to your taste. The American connection gives it a slightly different feel, which should add to the interest for some readers.

The hero and heroine of the next book in the series are introduced in the first book, the Duke and Duchess of Margrave, She is the former Edith Ann Jewell, and their marriage with husband and wife living on separate continents represents Belinda’s “most colossal failure” as a matchmaker. How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days will be released April 29, 2014. I can’t wait to read it. I recommend you read When the Marquess Met His Match soon so that you can join me in eagerly anticipating Book 2.

I love Regency-set historicals, but I am happy to see more romance novels with Victorian and Edwardian settings and even later. Are you strictly a Regency reader? Do you prefer variety? Or are you indifferent to historical period so long as you like the story?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Review: In Love with a Wicked Man

In Love with a Wicked Man
By Liz Carlyle
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Ned Quartermaine, a man whose own notoriety exceeds that of the gambling establishment he owns, is visiting Somerset to check out an estate he has claimed from a customer in lieu of the man’s substantial gambling debts. Quartermaine has a specific purpose in mind for the property if it proves suitable, but before he can carry out his inspection, a riding accident renders him unconscious. When he regains consciousness, he not only has forgotten his purpose; he doesn’t even remember his name.

Kate, Lady d'Allenay, a baroness in her own right, is the mainstay of her family. Upon the deaths of her improvident father and brother, in the absence of a direct male heir, she became the one responsible for the family estate. It is important to her that she feels her grandfather would be proud of the steps she is taking to redress the damages inflicted by the poor stewardship of her father and brother. Although her younger sister has a male guardian, the day-to-day supervision of that stubborn, impetuous beauty also rests on Kate, as does meeting the expenses of their volatile mother. All of these concerns are weighing upon Kate when she inadvertently causes a riding accident that leaves her with a new responsibility: an injured man who doesn’t know who he is.

Kate has the stranger taken to Bellecombe Castle where she can oversee his care. Since the initials NED engraved on his personal effects provide the only clue to his identity, Kate calls him Edward. In the absence of conventions that would limit their time together in ordinary situations, the two become friends. Before long, both are aware that feelings stronger than friendship are drawing them together, but Edward’s amnesia is an effective barrier to a more serious relationship. While they struggle with temptation, the twists and tangles of the past are drawing closer to complicate and endanger the present and all its promise.

One of the things that keep me reading romance fiction is the joy of seeing a skilled author take even the most overworked plots and tropes and produce something that is different and captivating. Liz Carlyle does exactly that in this story. Amnesia can be an intrusively obvious device, but Carlyle makes it work here. She gives her readers a real sense of the panic that hits Edward when he realizes he has lost his memory, a panic magnified by his particular nature and experience which make control essential to him and by the sense of something important that taunts him just beyond the edges of memory. She balances this with the unexpected peace and feeling of home that he finds at Bellecombe with Kate.

The bad boy-good girl pairing is surely one of the oldest tropes in romance fiction, but Carlyle makes it fresh because Edward and Kate are never merely types. They are always fully and particularly themselves with unique histories and personalities. I adored Kate, a woman of intelligence, humor, and grace who knows her strengths and has confidence in her competency, yet is aware of her vulnerabilities. And she is not anachronistic! She truly is a strong heroine, in the best sense of that carelessly tossed about description. And while she is ever aware of her responsibilities to her heritage and to her family, she is never a martyr immolating herself on the altar of duty.

Carlyle also excels in weaving new stories into her fictional world. She sometimes does this with clear connections and sometimes with subtle subtext. Carlyle fans familiar with her recent Fraternitas Aureae Crucis series will recognize Ned Quartermaine as the owner of the Quartermaine Club, the gambling salon located across the street from the St. James Society. I always enjoy visiting the world Liz Carlyle creates for her readers.  In Love with a Wicked Man was a special treat since it is less fraught than Carlyle’s books often are. If you are a fan of historical romance that is true to the period and peopled with characters who will engage your interest and affection, I highly recommend this book.

I cherish historical romance authors whose world building skills rival those of authors in other genres. Liz Carlyle and Jo Beverley top my list of such authors. What romance authors demonstrate world-building skills that you especially appreciate?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bonus Review: The Sum of All Kisses

The Sum of All Kisses
By Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, whose mother was a Smythe-Smith, is unhappy at the thought of two upcoming weddings, neither of which is her own. First, she will serve as maid of honor for her cousin Honoria when the latter marries the Earl of Chatteris (Just Like Heaven) at Fensmore, the Chatteris estate in Cambridgeshire.  Two weeks later, she will be among those attending the wedding of Honoria’s brother, Daniel Smythe-Smith, Earl of Winstead, and Anne Wynter, former governess to Sarah’s younger sisters (A Night Like This). It’s not that Sarah isn’t happy for her cousins, but after three seasons, she expected to be married. Not only is marriage what a young woman of her class is trained for; but it is also the only way Sarah can escape participating in the dreadful Smythe-Smith musicales. She’s already pled illness as an excuse once and is doubtful that it will work again.

Lord Hugh Prentice may be the only wedding guest as reluctant to be present as Sarah. Hugh was never a bon vivant, and since the drunken duel with Daniel Smythe-Smith that left Hugh lame and Daniel an exile until recently, Hugh has become even more of a loner. Only Daniel’s insistence that Hugh’s presence at both weddings is necessary to persuade society that the duel is old news and Daniel and Hugh are friends has brought Hugh to Fensmore. The situation worsens from Hugh’s point of view when the illness of one Smythe-Smith cousin and the lack of social graces of another prompts Honoria to ask Hugh to sit at the head table as partner to Lady Sarah Pleinsworth.

Hugh and Sarah have a decided preference for avoiding one another’s company. He finds her overly dramatic, and he is aware that she dislikes him. Sarah holds Hugh responsible for the scandal resulting from the duel and for Daniel’s exile, both of which negatively affected all Smythe-Smiths and, in Sarah’s opinion, was responsible for her lack of marriage prospects. Still, neither of them is willing to do anything to detract from Honoria’s happiness, and so they agree to spend time in one another’s company. They may begin horrified at the thought of time together, but conversations, shared laughter, and a growing awareness of the other’s physical attractions soon has animosity turning to love. Unfortunately for the path of true love, Hugh is convinced that his lameness makes him less than the man Sarah deserves and his toxic relationship with his mad father creates further complications. But Sarah proves more resourceful than anyone expected.

Enemies to lovers is not a trope that I am particularly fond of, but Quinn makes it work well here. Sarah and Hugh do spend a lot of time together, and in addition to the banter at which Quinn excels, the emotional intensity between the two of them develops gradually. Their falling in love is based on more than wit and lust. Neither of these protagonists has the charm that often makes Quinn’s characters memorable, but they have their own strengths. Hugh had a truly horrific childhood, and I had no problem accepting his eccentricities given his abilities and his history, both of which set him apart from his peers. I warmed up to Sarah slowly, but by the second half of the book, I found her endearing. And I’m always in favor of a warrior heroine who saves the day.

I would like to have seen Hugh’s brother play a more visible role in the story since he clearly is important to Hugh, and the final few chapters are unquestionably melodramatic, a technique that will likely dismay some readers and delight others. But the epilogue is perfect in a Smythe-Smith book.

Overall, I’d rank The Sum of All Kisses as less satisfying than the first two books in the series. But this is Julia Quinn, and I’m a reader who has read every Julia Quinn book and has never read one that failed to give me enough Quinntessential moments to make me glad I read it. So—not Quinn’s best, but I still recommend it for JQ fans or for other historical romance fans who will enjoy Quinn’s humor with a touch of angst and a generous serving of sensationalism.

Let’s talk autobuy authors. Julia Quinn is on my list and has been since her pre-Bridgerton days. While I certainly like some of her books better than others, I can’t imagine not reading one. Once an author is on my autobuy list, it takes several major missteps for me to remove her/him. Do you have autobuy authors? What makes you delete an author from your list?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday Review: The Perfect Match

The Perfect Match
By Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

Honor Holland, the organized, responsible, got-everything-together middle Holland sister didn’t know it at the time, but her thirty-fifth birthday marked a turning point in her life. First, during her annual exam, her gyn, Dr. Jeremy Lyon, her sister’s gay ex, cautioned her that the optimal age for pregnancy was past, her eggs were aging, and if she wanted children, she needed to consider her options. Honor knows exactly whom she wants to father her children. She and Brogan Cain have been close friends since the fourth grade, Honor has been in love with him since their senior prom, and they have been friends with intermittent benefits since they were freshmen in college. Now he’s a photographer for Sports Illustrated with a glamorous job and high profile friends, but he’s still a nice guy who calls Manningsport home and hangs out with Honor. But when Honor’s attempt at seduction turns into disaster, and her proposal prompts Brogan to call her his best friend and liken her to “an old baseball glove,” she is forced to realize there’s not much hope of her dreams coming true. Six weeks later, the little hope that remains is crushed when Brogan and Honor’s best friend Dana, announce their engagement. The very ring that Honor had picked out as the one Brogan would give her shone triumphantly on Dana’s left hand.  Honor clearly needs a life makeover.

Mechanical engineering professor Tom Barlow needs a green card. Without one, he is going to have to leave the United States and return to England. While that might be the best thing for his career, since his job at tiny Wickham College is on the lower rungs of the academic prestige ladder, it would mean leaving Charlie, the teenage son of Tom’s fiancée Melissa, who was killed in an accident two years ago. Tom has no official claim on Charlie, but he has loved the boy since he was a grinning ten-year-old who loved fishing trips and building model airplanes with Tom. Since his mother’s death, Charlie seems to have turned into a brooding adolescent who hates the world in general and Tom in particular. But Charlie’s attitude doesn’t lessen Tom’s affection or his sense of responsibility for the teen whose maternal grandparents merely tolerate him and whose father is a peripatetic presence in his life. Tom’s aunt reminds him that marriage will solve his green card problem.

Honor and Tom have a rocky start with a blind state, but a spark struck at their second meeting ignites one snowy evening when Tom helps Honor out of an awkward situation. Soon the two are planning a marriage of convenience. Honor moves in with Tom to see if their compatibility extends beyond the bedroom and to create a convincing image for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But love is anything but convenient for Tom who has been badly burned during his engagement, and when Honor fall in love with him, he is terrified. When spring comes, Honor is planning a wedding, but it’s not hers. Will she and Tom ever find the HEA they deserve?

This is the second book in Higgins’s Blue Heron series, and while this one doesn’t quite reach the so-amazing-I-want-to-reread-it-immediately level of The Best Man, it is still a terrific book with all of Higgins’s trademark humor, believable contemporary relationships, family interactions, and puppy love. Honor is an endearing heroine, supremely confident of herself professionally but vulnerable and insecure when it comes to romance. Because she has been in love with Brogan for half her life and has never really considered what her life would be without him, her lack of confidence is credible. I loved the makeover scene, especially when the males join the ladies.

Tom may be my favorite Higgins hero ever. He’s a professor, he has a British accent, he loves his unofficial stepson, and he has a killer sense of humor. All these things make him irresistible from my point of view, which is fortunate since that makes it easier to forgive him when he acts like a jerk later. He redeems himself beautifully, and, without moving into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that I cheered Higgins for the timing of his reversal. I would have been so disappointed if she had gone for the cliché.

I am not a member of the Anti-epilogue League. My cynicism quotient is too low. I’m a fan of aww moments, sweet but not saccharine, that leave me with a smile and a tear and all the loose ends tied up in a bright, celebratory bow. So Higgins’s epilogue rates an A+ from me. The plus is because Charlie got a happy ending too.

I fell in love with the Holland family in the first book, and it was lovely to see Faith and Levi exchanging quips and hot looks, Pru still looking for ways to keep the spice in her long marriage, and Goggy and Pops bickering with undiminished energy. I loved the secondary romance, and brother Jack looks more interesting in this one. Colleen O'Rourke’s story is next in Waiting for You, a reunion romance scheduled for release on March 25. But I hope to see more of Jack, and there’s Colleen’s twin and co-tavern owner Connor too. Pru’s kids are both interesting characters too, and then there is Levi’s old friend Jessica. I’ll be happy to see this series continue through several more books.

If you are a Higgins fan, I promise The Perfect Match will be one of your favorites. If you have never read Kristan Higgins, you are missing one of the best authors writing contemporary romance. The Perfect Match can be read as a standalone, and I definitely recommend it. Honestly, my grin won’t be too smug when I hear you are glomming her backlist.

I know when I pick up a Kristan Higgins book that I am going to experience some character-driven, laugh-out-loud moments that leave me chuckling as I recall them for days afterward. Who tops your list for genuinely funny contemporary romance?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Falling into New Books: September-December

I have been so caught up with Christmas books that I forgot I never posted the final list of books I’ll be reading in 2013, or have read, as is the case for many on the first half of the list. Remember my usual qualification: this is not a comprehensive list of romances being published. You can find a month-by-month list of all new releases in romance fiction at The Romance Dish, Heroes & Heartbreakers, and All about Romance. My list, which I post three times during the year, is strictly personal. It includes books by autobuy authors, additions to series I’m reading, and books by new authors I want to try because a friend has recommended them or because they look interesting. Most of the books on the list are romances, but there are also a few mysteries, women’s fiction novels, and general fiction novels. I have linked the books I have already reviewed to my reviews here, at The Romance Dish, or at Heroes & Heartbreakers.


September 3

Gabriel (Lonely Lords #5), Grace Burrowes
Blue by You (enovella), Rachel Gibson
The Sweetheart Bargain (Sweetheart Sisters #1), Shirley Jump
When Adam Came to Town (HSR), Kate Kelly
Flirting with Fortune (Sealed with a Kiss #3), Erin Knightley
Delectable (Big Sky Pie #1), Adrianne Lee
Love in Plain Sight (DiLeo Family #2 HSR), Jeanie London
Her Favorite Rival (HSR), Sarah Mayberry
Having the Cowboy’s Baby (Blue Falls, Texas #2, HAR), Trish Milburn
It Takes Two to Tangle (Matchmaker Trilogy #1), Theresa Romain
A Perfect Distraction, Anna Sugden

September 10

The Untamed Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures 5.5, enovella) Jennifer Ashley
The Wrong Girl (Jane Ryland #2), Hank Phillippi Ryan

September 17

The Burning Sky (Elemental Trilogy, #1, YA), Sherry Thomas

September 21

Texas Danger (Texas Heroes: The Marshalls #3), Jean Brashear

September 24

Size 12 Is the New Black (Heather Wells #5), Meg Cabot
Run to You (Lovett, Texas #4), Rachel Gibson
The Counterfeit Mistress (Fairbourne Quartet #3), Madeline Hunter
Christmas on 4th Street (Fool’s Gold #14), Susan Mallery
The Trouble with Christmas, Debbie Mason
Summer Is for Lovers (Scotland series #2), Jennifer McQuiston
Always on My Mind (Lucky Harbor #8), Jill Shalvis
Butterfly Cove (Summer Island #3), Christina Skye
A Seaside Christmas (Chesapeake Shores #10), Sherryl Woods


October 1

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6), Jennifer Ashley
Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage (Secret Brides #3), Valerie Bowman
Promise Me Tomorrow (Lord Strand #1; first reissue in fifteen years), Connie Brockway
Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait (The Duke’s Daughters #5, Windham Family #8), Grace Burrowes
Big Sky Christmas (Coffee Creek #4, HAR), C. J. Carmichael
The Lady in Red (Mad Passions #2), Maire Claremont
A Lady’s Secret Weapon (Nexus #3), Tracy Devlyn
For the First Time (HSR), Stephanie Doyle
One Hot Scot (Scandalous Highlander .5, enovella), Suzanne Enoch
A Family for Christmas (Texas Grooms #3, LIH), Winnie Griggs
Ghost Gone Wild (Bailey Ruth #4), Carolyn Hart
His for Christmas (House of Trent 1.5, enovella), Jennifer Haymore
Plaid Tidings (Spirit of the Highlands #1), Mia Marlowe
Not Another Wedding (HSR), Jennifer McKenzie
In the Heart of the Highlander (Ladies Unlaced #2), Maggie Robinson
Season for Scandal (Seasons #3), Theresa Romain
The Christmas He Loved Her (Bad Boys of Crystal Lake #2), Juliana Stone
His Brown-Eyed Girl (HSR), Liz Talley

October 8

The Scandal Before Christmas (Reckless Brides 3.5), Elizabeth Essex
Starry Night, Debbie Macomber

October 14

What Not to Bare, Megan Frampton

October 15

Behind the Shattered Glass (Lady Emily #8), Tasha Alexander
Christmas Bliss (Southern #4), Mary Kay Andrews
Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #6), Elizabeth Hoyt
Through the Smoke, Brenda Novak
Christmas at the Beach (enovella), Wendy Wax

October 22

Duck the Halls (Meg Langslow #16), Donna Andrews
Up to the Challenge (Anchor Island #2), Terri Osburn
A Sprinkling of Christmas Magic (HH anthology), Elizabeth Rolls, Bronwyn Scott, Margaret McPhee

October 29

Autumn in the Vineyard (St. Helena Vineyard #3), Marina Adair
It Happened Under the Mistletoe (Secret Brides 3.5, enovella), Valerie Bowman
In Love with a Wicked Man, Liz Carlyle
One Night with the Laird (Scottish Brides #2), Nicola Cornick
Once a Rake (Drake’s Rake #4), Eileen Dreyer
When the Marquess Met His Match (An American Heiress in London #1), Laura Leee Guhrke
The Once and Future Duchess (Royal Entourage #4), Sophia Nash
Take Me Home For Christmas (Whiskey Creek #5), Brenda Novak
Wild Child, Molly O’Keefe
The Sum of All Kisses (Smythe-Smith #3), Julia Quinn
Barefoot by the Sea (Barefoot Bay #4), Roxanne St. Claire
Christmas in Snowflake Canyon (Hope’s Crossing #6), RaeAnne Thayne
Candlelight Christmas (Lakeshore Chronicles #10), Susan Wiggs


November 1

Midsummer Night (Lady Julia Gray enovella), Deanna Raybourn
A Cowboy in Her Stocking (Blue Falls, Texas #2.5, enovella), Trish Milburn

November 4

Rogue Spy (Spymaster #5), Joanna Bourne
One Perfect Christmas (enovella), Stefanie Sloane

November 5

Adventures in Parenthood (HSR), Dawn Atkins
Better Than Gold (The Legend of Bailey’s Cove #1, HSR), Mary Brady
Gareth (Lonely Lords #6), Grace Burrowes
Morgan and Archer (Windham enovella), Grace Burrowes
A Small Town Thanksgiving (Forever, Texas #7, HAR), Marie Ferrarella
Bringing Maddie Home (Mysteries of Angel Butte #1), Janice Kay Johnson
Moonlight Kiss (Cricket Creek #5), LuAnn McLane
Miracle Road (Eternity Springs #7), Emily March
The Moment of Truth (Shelter Valley #13, HSR), Tara Taylor Quinn
The Christmas Wedding Quilt (anthology), Emilie Richards, Janice Kay Johnson, Sarah Mayberry
Dark Witch (Cousins O'Dwyer #1), Nora Roberts
Christmas on Main Street (anthology), JoAnn Ross, Susan Donovan, LuAnn McLane, Alexis Morgan
Rumor Has It (Animal Magnetism #4), Jill Shalvis
Through the Evil Days (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyle #8), Julia Spencer-Fleming
Promise Me Texas (Whispering Mountain #7), Jodi Thomas
The Luckiest Lady in London (London Trilogy #1), Sherry Thomas
The Trouble with Princesses (Princess Brides #3), Tracey Anne Warren

November 12
Have You Any Rogues?  (Rhymes with Love 3.5, enovella), Elizabeth Boyle

November 15

The Pickle Queen (Crossroads Café: The MacBrides #2, enovella), Deborah Smith

November 18

Twice the Temptation (Temptresses #1, enovel), Beverly Kendall

November 19

Recovery (Gold Family, enovella), Michael Baron
A Slight Change of Plan, Dee Ernst
Sugarplum Homecoming (Whisper Falls, LI), Linda Goodnight
The Rogue’s Proposal (House of Trent #2), Jennifer Haymore
Last Chance Knit & Stitch (Last Chance #6), Hope Ramsay
A Cold Creek Christmas Surprise (Cold Creek #12), RaeAnne Thayne

November 26

The Devil Wears Kilts (Scandalous Highlanders #1), Suzanne Enoch
Lost in a Royal Kiss (Royal Renegades .5, enovella), Vanessa Kelly
A Change of Heart (Perfect, Indiana #3), Barbara Longley
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (Rules for Scoundrels #3), Sarah MacLean
Sin of a Wicked Princess (Sinners #3), Anna Randol
The Supreme Macaroni Company (Valentine #3), Adriana Trigiani


December 1

No Place for a Dame (Lord Strand #3), Connie Brockway

December 3

Caught Up in You (Shady Grove #3, HSR), Beth Andrews
Kisses She Wrote (enovella), Katharine Ashe
Andrew (Lonely Lords #7), Grace Burrowes
The Cowboy’s Christmas Surprise (Forever, Texas #8, HAR), Marie Ferrarella
Gentlemen Prefer Mischief (Mischief #2), Emily Greenwood)
A Valley Ridge Christmas (Valley Ridge #4, HSR), Holly Jacobs
Delicious (Big Sky Pie #2), Adrianne Lee
Second Chance Christmas (Colorado Cades #1, HAR), Tanya Michaels
The Wife Campaign (Master Matchmakers #2, LIH), Regina Scott
A Christmas to Remember (e-anthology), Jill Shalvis, Kristen Ashley, Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, Marilyn Pappano
Saving Grace, Lee Smith

December 31

If Wishes Were Earls (Rhymes with Love #3), Elizabeth Boyle
The Greatest Lover ever (Ministry of Marriage #5), Christina Brooke
The Wicked Widow Meets Her Match (Regency Rogues #7), Stefanie Sloane
Sweetest Mistake (Sweet, Texas #2), Candis Terry
Somebody to Love (Cupid, Texas #3), Lori Wilde

What books top your wish list for the last quarter of 2013?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday Review: Not Another Wedding

Not Another Wedding
By Jennifer McKenzie
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: October 1, 2013

Poppy Sullivan made a rare choice to leave her partner in charge of an event their Vancouver events planning company was responsible for in order to head to her hometown, Naramata, BC, ostensibly to attend the wedding of one of oldest friends. In reality, Poppy hopes to stop the wedding. She’s no anti-Cupid. Even though her own love life is nonexistent at the moment, her parents were high school sweethearts who settled into a happy marriage in the town where they grew up, a pattern her sister and brother-in-law repeated. But Jamie Cartwright has known his bride only two months, and Poppy doesn’t believe a relationship of such short duration is a sound base for a happy marriage. She hopes that if she can just talk to Jamie alone, she can persuade him to stop and think before he jumps into matrimony.

Beck Lefebvre allowed himself to be guilted into serving as his cousin Jamie’s best man, but he’s not happy about it. Not only does he find it difficult to take time away from the family business just as negotiations for the company’s sixth hotel are ongoing, but Beck is skeptical about love, marriage, and happily-ever-afters. His attitude is hardly surprising given the example of his much-married parents, who, to Beck’s dismay, seem to be headed toward their third attempt at being married to each other. Making matters more complicated is his mother’s plan to match him with the younger sister of the bride. The only bright spot in Beck’s situation is his auburn-haired high school girlfriend whom he hasn’t seen in a dozen years.

Poppy can’t believe Beck is flirting with her. She wants nothing to do with this man, a prime example of the one who never called. He apologizes nicely, but a mere apology is not enough to make her forgive the man who disappeared without a word the day after he became her first lover—not even if he is even hotter now than he was then. But when Poppy finds it impossible to catch Jamie alone for a serious conversation, Beck proposes a deal she can’t turn down: he will see that she gets time with Jamie if Poppy will be Beck’s date for the wedding events and save him from his mother’s matchmaking. Soon Beck and Poppy are falling heart over head. Sometimes life offers a second chance at love when you least expect it.

Not Another Wedding combines humor, family dynamics, and some sizzling chemistry into this story about a hero and heroine who are not looking for love when it finds them. I have a soft spot for reunion stories, and this one was a bit different. Poppy and Beck are credible as young, contemporary professionals. Their families provide context and contrast as well with Poppy’s happily married parents with stable lives rooted in Naramata, and Beck’s parents with their varied, troubles past. All of these details make the story more interesting.

I did find Poppy’s determination to interfere in her friend Jamie’s life difficult to understand. But perhaps this is a generational difference since it is a plot point I have observed in a number of contemporary romances over the past year or two. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a quick, fun, easy read, this one is worth checking out.

Would you try to stop a friend’s wedding if you thought the friend was making a mistake?

Note: I responded to Jane’s comment yesterday with an acknowledgement that I remember reading a Superromance with a Canadian setting. Not Another Wedding is actually the second of Jennifer McKenzie books I’ve read, both set in Canada.  That Weekend (January 2013) is the other.