Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Review: Two Heartwarming Holiday Tales from Harlequin

A Cold Creek Christmas Surprise
By RaeAnne Thayne
Harlequin (Special Edition)
Release Date: 
November 19, 2013

The day after his only sister’s wedding to veterinarian Ben Caldwell, Ridge, the eldest Bowman sibling, is left with the detritus of the wedding and the empty space, literal and figurative, in his life now that Caidy will be living with her new husband and his two children. Ridge knows that he and his eleven-year-old daughter, Destry, will adjust. Perhaps he has depended on Caidy too much all these years since he was left alone with a baby to rear and Caidy stepped in to help. Eating wedding reception leftovers for breakfast certainly makes him realize how much he will miss the pancakes, bacon, and hash browns that Caidy cooked in the mornings. But he has too much work to do to get caught up in reflection. If only the clean-up crew he hired would show up to do their job, he could get started on his job. When the crew of one does arrive, however, the sight of her sparks an attraction that sends Ridge running scared.

First-grade teacher Sarah Whitmore is not happy about her journey to the Bowman ranch, but she has something that belongs to the Bowman family, one of their mother’s paintings, a particularly treasured one It’s not Sarah’s fault that Ridge Bowman jumps to the conclusion that she is employed by the cleaning company Caidy has hired, and he doesn’t really give Sarah an opportunity to explain before he disappears. Still, she didn’t have to start cleaning. If she hadn’t, she would not have tripped on the stairs and ended up with a concussion and a broken arm. Then Ridge would not have insisted that she recuperate at the ranch, and Sarah would never have fallen in love with Ridge, with his daughter, and with ranch life and the whole Bowman family and the Pine Gulch community. Ridge and his world offer everything Sarah has ever wanted, but the secret she is keeping means that she can never really belong in this world. Perhaps she can have Christmas, but only if she hides the truth a little longer.

A Cold Creek Christmas Surprise is book 12 in RaeAnne Thayne’s Cowboys of Cold Creek series that was introduced in April 2006. It also marks the conclusion of the four Bowman siblings’ stories (following Christmas in Cold Creek, A Cold Creek Reunion, and A Cold Creek Noel) and provides the resolution to the mystery of their parents’ murder. Fans of the series will be happy to see Ridge finally get his HEA—even if it does come with complications. For those new to the series, Thayne provides ample details to follow Sarah and Ridge’s story. And these two wounded, great-hearted people deserve happiness. It’s easy to root for them to overcome the one barrier that could keep them apart. This shorter tale lacks the substance of Thayne’s single titles, but it is a sweet, cozy Christmas read nonetheless.

Sugarplum Homecoming
By Linda Goodnight
Harlequin (Love Inspired)
Release Date: 
November 19, 2013

Paige Turner, almost ten, and her eight-year-old brother Nathan know the legend of their hometown Whisper Falls, Arkansas: prayers whispered behind the falls are always answered. They have a really important request of God, so when their widower dad falls asleep on a family picnic, they take the challenging climb to the special spot and ask God to send them a new mom, one with brown hair like their first mom, and preferably by Christmas.

Lana Ross left Whisper Falls, back when the town was still Millersville and before the legend brought a name change and crowds of tourists. An eighteen-year-old party girl the small town expected to come to a bad end, she had dreams of hitting it big as a country singer and headed for Nashville as soon as she could legally leave home. Thirteen years later, she has returned to the house where she and her twin sister Tess grew up, a house haunted by memories darker than the haunted house tales the local kids tell to frighten themselves. The house her mother left to Lana and Tess is one of the reasons Lana has returned. Owning the house gives her a head start on giving nine-year-old Sydney the stable life she needs and deserves.

But memories are long in small towns. Lana knows that God has forgiven her mistakes, but she also knows human creatures are not so merciful. Some people don’t believe in second chances, and Lana has secrets to protect. Davis Turner proves himself a good neighbor, but Lana’s fears, Davis’s pride, and the relentless prejudices of some Whisper Falls residents threaten the new relationship that is developing between the two. Lana and Davis both must discover that God is bigger than all their fears and flaws before they can claim the happiness waiting for them

This is a tender story, the third in Goodnight’s Whisper Fall series, all of which center on the theme of a new life after an old one filled with bad choices. It is a Love Inspired book, so the Christian faith of the characters is central to their experience and to the story. But the story of a woman who turns her life around and the “Mr. Upright and Righteous” who discovers how far short he falls of his own standards is one that will touch hearts of readers regardless of whether they share that faith. The three kids are endearing without being unbearably cute and precocious, and the town is a believable mix of good people, small-minded people, and people who are a contradictory mix of the admirable and the deplorable.

I think have two more holiday reviews to write for this year. What is your favorite Christmas book of 2013?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday Review: No Place for a Dame

No Place for a Dame
By Connie Brockway
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: 
December 1, 2013

Giles Dalton, the Marquis of Strand, has returned to Killylea, his home in Cornwall, with a prospective bride and father-in-law in tow. He has no illusions about the integrity of either, but he has accepted the marriage, thinking that at least it will provide the necessary heir. He finds himself wondering what his sophisticated, mercenary bride-to-be will think of his father’s protégée, Avery Quinn, for whom Giles has inherited responsibility.  Giles knows Avery is a genius, but even so he is unprepared for her plan to rid him and Killylea of his unworthy fiancée. When Avery makes her appearance in disguise, the fiancée, who is repulsed by anyone who lacks the appearance of normality, can’t quit Giles and Killylea fast enough.

Avery Quinn is the daughter of the former gamekeeper at Killylea. Educated according to her phenomenal intelligence and far beyond her station, as payment for her father’s saving the life of the old marquess, Avery has become a woman without a neat label that boxes her into an easy classification. The class into which she was born mandates an unbridgeable social gap between her and the world to which Giles belongs. Her knowledge and interests create a gap perhaps even greater between her and the world of her birth. Giles accepts his father’s command that he look after Avery, but Avery yearns to be independent. She has a plan that will fulfill one of her dreams as a scientist and provide her with the means to continue her research independent of support from Giles. The only catch is that the annual Hipparchus medal and attendant monetary award granted by the Royal Astrological society is given to the man who makes “the most significant contribution to astronomical study in the preceding year.”

Avery believes that the favor she has done Giles in ridding him of his unsuitable bride deserves a favor in return. The favor she asks is that he support her masquerade as a man so that she can gain membership into the astrological society. She is confident that once she is a member and able to submit her research concerning her discovery of a new comet that her work will earn the award on its own merits.

Giles has his doubts that the curvaceous Avery will be able to persuade anyone that she is a male, but he agrees to her daring scheme. He has his own reasons for being in London since his friend Jack Seward and Jack’s wife Anne have disappeared. Giles fears for their safety and is prepared to use all the contacts he developed during his years as an agent for a covert government organization to discover what happened to them. He tries with varying degrees of success to juggle keeping an eye on Avery with his search for the Sewards, but Avery can’t seem to abide by his rules for the unobtrusive, plump, pigeon-shaped Mr. Avery Quinn, boy genius. Giles has trouble following his own rules concerning the exasperating, brilliant, all too tempting Avery, who is busily uncovering Giles’s secrets and laying claim to his elusive heart.

I’ve been waiting for Giles’s story since I first read All Through the Night (Jack and Anne’s story) in 1997. (I read Promise Me Heaven, the book in which Giles is introduced, later.) No Place for a Dame was worth the sixteen-year wait. Even as a long-time Brockway fan, I was amazed by her ability to make this an audacious romp, a chick-in-pants tale that is original and captivating enough to rank with Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders as among the very best such stories, while at the same time allowing Giles to retain something of the dark edge he needed to stay true to his character.

I love No Place for a Dame! I love the relationship between Giles and Avery. The conversations between them are a delight. They challenge each other in a way that makes for wonderful dialogue, and it is clear to the reader that this couple enjoys the time they spend together. They make each other laugh, they share interests, and they grow in their understanding of one another. The reader can easily see them growing old together, still finding one another interesting and exciting after decades together.

One of my favorite scenes is the runaway curricle. Not only is it a marvelously funny scene, but it also serves a purpose beyond amusing the reader. Brockway uses it to reveal important things about Avery and Giles and to show how their relationship is changing. That’s great writing, my friends.  But that is what I expect from a Connie Brockway book. From the opening page to the practically perfect epilogue, I knew I was reading vintage Brockway—smart, emotionally satisfying, and addictive. By the time I finished, I knew I wanted to read this book again—and soon.

You don’t have to have been waiting sixteen years for Giles’s story to love this book. I think you will find that it is a gem to cherish whether it is your first encounter with Giles Dalton, the Marquis of Strand, or even your first book by Connie Brockway. I highly recommend that you grab a copy of No Place for a Dame ASAP. And I know some of you are going to be so hooked that you want to read Promise Me Heaven and All Through the Night as well. Lucky for you, Montlake recently reissued them both.

And if you are interested in more Connie Brockway recommendations, I have a list.

Sometime a highly anticipated book fails to meet expectations; sometimes they exceed them. What’s the last book you read that left you thinking that the book was even better than your highest expectations?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Review: Lost in a Royal Kiss

Lost in a Royal Kiss
By Vanessa Kelly
Publisher: Zebra
Release Date: 
November 26, 2013

Linnet St. Clare may look like an angel, but there is nothing angelic about her temper or her determination. She has had to be strong. When her father’s death meant her mother’s accepting a position as sub-governess in the royal household, Linnet assumed responsibility for her younger brother and sister. Linnet’s mother may be gently pushing her towards marriage, but Linnet herself has accepted that she is destined for spinsterhood because she can’t leave her siblings. So fierce has she become in her role as caretaker and protector that she frightens off prospective suitors. What Linnet doesn’t yet know is that one man refuses to be frightened off. Indeed, he has decided Linnet is exactly whom he wants as his wife.

As King George’s liaison to the Home Office, Sir Anthony Tait is a powerful man at Court. He is a man accustomed to seeing his plans reach fruition, and no plan is more important to him than making Linnet his wife. Linnet’s independence and competence that make others look askance just make Sir Anthony all the more certain she is the one for him. If gaining her hand requires subterfuge, he is persuaded that his and Linnet’s happiness will be worth the unusual exercise of his skills.

Linnet is comfortable taking charge, but when Dominic Hunter, the orphaned son of a butcher who has been reared with the royal princes due to the queen’s misguided efforts at a social experiment, attacks Prince Ernest, Linnet knows she must have help to protect young Dominic from the consequences of his folly. She turns to Sir Anthony for help because she trusts his integrity and compassion, she knows he will understand Dominic’s isolation, and she believes he has the power to act.

As Linnet and Sir Anthony work together to solve the problems of Dominic and others, they must balance the call on their consciences with the need for pragmatism and avoiding offense to the royal family. Can they find the time to respond to the call of their own hearts in the midst of their maneuvering for the good of others?

Lost in a Royal Kiss is a prequel to Vanessa Kelly’s new series The Renegade Royals. Set in 1786, a quarter century before the Regency, it introduces fourteen-year-old Dominic Hunter and the events that shaped him into the man readers will encounter in the first two books of the series. It also gives readers a delightful Georgian love story. Linnet is an endearing heroine—strong without becoming a modern miss in costume, caring, and stubborn with a willingness to sacrifice for what she considers the right thing. Anthony is a man at ease with his power but uncorrupted by it. He understands himself, and he understands Linnet. One of the things I liked best about the story is that both Linnet and Anthony understand the other better than anyone realizes.
Because the two are so tied to court life, readers get an unusually close look at the privileges and precariousness of those who are part of court circles. It is a different setting and one I really enjoyed.

A good prequel should give the reader an engaging story on its own merits and whet the reader’s appetite for the larger story. Lost in a Royal Kiss succeeds on both counts. I give the novella high marks, and I eagerly await the Regency-set historicals Secrets of a Royal Bodyguard (January 7, 2014) and Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom (April 1, 2014).

I’ve been a fan of Georgian romances since I read Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. I have since read and loved Georgians by Patricia Veryan, Jo Beverley, Eloisa James, and Elizabeth Hoyt among others. What’s your favorite Georgian romance?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Review: No Good Duke Goes Unpunished

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished
By Sarah MacLean
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: 
November 26, 2013

William Harrow, Marquess of Chapin and heir to the dukedom of Lamont, awoke one morning with no memory of how he had come to be in a room not his own nor any explanation of how he came to be covered in blood, the blood of the young woman who was about to become his father’s fourth bride, the youngest and the richest of them all. There is no trace of that young woman, Mara Lowe. There is no a formal trial, and there is no legal conviction. Nevertheless, the eighteen-year-old marquess is tried by a jury of his peers in the court of public opinion and found guilty of murder. His sentence is the loss of the world he has known and everything that defined him. He finds salvation of sorts when he joins forces with three other young aristocrats in similar circumstances and becomes a partner in the Fallen Angel, the gaming hell the four establish and other nefarious exploits. The genial, cheerful Marquess of Chapin becomes Temple, a man famed as the bare-fisted fighter who accepts all challengers and defeats them every one. The men who lose fortunes in the Fallen Angel can regain them if they can best temple. No one can.

For twelve years, Temple had fought, first in dark alleys, filled with darker characters for survival, and then in lower clubs, for money and power and influence.

            All the things he had been promised.

            All the things he’d been born to.

            All the things he had lost in one unremembered night.

Then one night a woman appears out of the darkness. Her name is Mara Lowe, and she has come to offer Temple absolution.

For twelve years Mara Lowe has been Margaret MacIntyre. As Margaret, she found a life with meaning and purpose and service. Thanks to her brother’s perfidy, the price of protecting others in that world is her own ruin. She has approached the man now known as Temple to offer him truth and a restored reputation in exchange for the money her brother has lost at the Fallen Angel—her money, money that she needs to support her two dozen plus dependents and a pig named Lavender. If the price she must pay is ruination, it is a price she is strong enough to pay.

But Mara had reckoned without knowing just how powerful Temple is, more powerful than he knows, most powerful when she senses his vulnerabilities. His hunger for vengeance is potent, but it pales in comparison to his hunger for truth, unvarnished and unreserved. And truth that complete may be the price Mara cannot pay.

From the time I finished One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, one of my top reads of the first half of this year, I was eager to read No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, the third book in MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series.  I wanted to see Temple’s innocence established, and so I expected to love the book in which this was accomplished. But nothing could have prepared me for how completely engaged I was by the story of Temple and Mara. From the beginning to the end, I couldn’t turn pages fast enough, and I may have bitten the heads off a few people (metaphorically, of course) who had the temerity to interrupt me while I was reading. I read several hundred romance novels a year and enjoy most of them. In fact, my critics would say I have a heart too soon made glad when it comes to romance fiction. But it is rare that I read a book that captures my head and my heart, my reader self and my writer self in equal measures. This one did.

I love Temple! I think losing reveals much more about a character than winning does, and some of my favorite stories center on heroes or heroines who lose everything and end up being very different people who are larger and braver and wiser than the person they used to be.  Temple, tortured as he is by the possibility that he really is the Killer Duke, nevertheless is already all of these things, and then he is faced with the a part of himself that wants not just to accept what happened, not just to forgive the woman who destroyed his life, but to love her and make her his. To describe the situation as fascinating is an understatement. As big as Temple is physically, his heart and soul are even bigger. It’s easy to love such a hero.

Mara is more difficult. Sometimes I don’t even like her. What she did to Temple seems unconscionable. And then I remember that she was barely sixteen and desperate in a world where women had little power at best, and Mara had less power and more pain than most. What she did required a wild, radical courage extraordinary in one so young. And her devotion to her boys and her pig is admirable—and amusing at times in a story so dark and intense that the reader is caught off guard by the humor. I may be among a minority, but I learned to like Mara.

If someone told me that I’d love a story in which the hero was a suspected murderer and the heroine the woman who framed him, I’d laugh in her/his face. Yet such is the wonder of MacLean’s craft in this book that I not only loved the story but rank No Good Duke Goes Unpunished among the very best romance fiction, not just of this year but of all-time. My recommendation is that if you enjoy historical romance with characters who captivate with every word they utter and every move they make, a story rich in countless shades of emotions, and prose that makes you want to linger over its glorious texture if only you were not compelled to keep turning pages, get this book in your hands by the quickest route possible.

And that embargoed epilogue! A brilliant if immensely frustrating (for the reviewer/reader) move. I pre-ordered a copy of NGDGU, and I have made plans to stay up and read the epilogue as soon after midnight as it downloads to my kindle. And oh, I long to read Chase’s book. No pub date has been announced yet other than 2014. I wonder how long we have to wait. In the meantime, I plan to reread the first three books and the previous series. For one think, I’m itching to trace the Miltonic allusions in the Rule of Scoundrels books.

 "Brilliant" is not a word I use lightly, but I would use it to describe this book. What's the last book you could honestly call brilliant?

Note: My apologies for being MIA last week. Life just overwhelmed me for a bit--family illness, bad news for friends, and deadline hell. I was not waving but drowning and just couldn't get to the blog. I'll do another marathon post week soon to make up for missing a week.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Review: A Slight Change of Plan

A Slight Change of Plan
By Dee Ernst
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: 
November 19, 2013

Kate Freemont Everett is fifty-five years old and in the process of crafting a new stage in her life. Her husband, a workaholic ob-gyn, died of a heart attack eight years ago. Kate had reached the conclusion that their marriage was short of satisfactory before his death, and while she grieved his premature passing, she settled into widowhood without major difficulties. Her husband’s workaholic ways left her amply provided for financially, so she has no money worries. But now her youngest child, a computer geek, is on the verge of graduating from college and will soon be apartment hunting with his first serious girlfriend; her middle child and only daughter, a veterinarian, is about to be married to her long-time boyfriend; and her oldest is a successful cartoonist living happily with his partner in a west Village apartment.

It’s not that Kate’s life is empty. She has a successful career as a tax lawyer, she is close to her kids and to her younger sister, and her best friend of forty-eight years is always available for lunches and shopping and the kind of open, cabbages-and-kings conversations that every woman needs. She has two cats, Seven and Eight, and a dog named Boone, part spaniel, part terrier, who thinks she’s a cat, for furry companionship. But despite her blessings, Kate is ready for a change. She left her job with a nice severance package, she is prepared to sell the house where she brought up her children and let someone else worry about cleaning and upkeep on five bedrooms, three and a half baths, three-car garage, pool, and finished basement. Kate wants a condo with health club privileges and walking trails for Boone. She also wants someone to share her life, inside and outside the bedroom.  She hasn’t had a date in more than thirty years, but her sister has persuaded her to register on an online dating site.

Kate finds out that Robbie Burns was right about plans “Gang aft agley,” although disruptions to Kate’s plans--things like a wedding with a fraction of the guests she thinks should be invited, a genius son and his even greater genius girlfriend sharing her condo, a wrinkle in her cartoonists son’s perfect relationship, and her estranged mother moving into her basement—are not exactly grief-provoking or painful exactly. Maybe Robbie was only half right. After some disasters, her dating life is improving. In fact, it’s getting downright complicated. There’s the online match, who is a nice guy, and the sex is good, but he’s a bit controlling. Then there’s the blast from the past, the Real True Love who has remained in her memories and in her heart. Then there’s the interesting Englishman, but his ex-wife is a real bitch, and she also happens to be the future mother-in-law of Kate’s daughter. Kate’s calendar and her life are full, but her plan? Let’s just say it’s changing.

Last year I did something I rarely do. I bought Dee Ernst’s debut novel, Better Off Without Him (2010), an eBook, without having read a single review or having one friend recommend it. I bought it based solely on the description of a romance writer with teenage children going through a divorce with the help of her friends and a sexy plumber, and I consider it one of my smartest book buys of 2012. I loved the book. I laughed so loudly that my family asked me to share the joke. When I saw A Slight Change of Plan on NetGalley, I eagerly requested the privilege of reviewing it, another smart decision. A Slight Change of Plan is a worthy follow-up to Better Off Without Him.

I think anyone with a sense of humor will enjoy this book, but I think it resonates particularly with women old enough to have their own fund of mixed memories, hard-earned experience, and reservoirs of love for all the family and friends and lovers, old and new, who own a piece of their hearts.

Often I found myself pausing to reread a sentence or a page. Sometimes the pause was to extend the moment of laughter, but more often it was to luxuriate in the feeling that I was sharing something special. The novel is written in first person, and so all that the reader knows is filtered through Kate’s voice.  For some readers that may present a problem, but it is not one for me. I love the intimacy of the first-person point of view. It gave me the feeling that Kate was a person I knew well and liked a great deal and the feeling that Ernst is an author who knows and understands the life I have lived, the lives my friends have lived.

When Kate is clearing her house before moving, she finds that she has to dump some stuff.

I had to get rid of records. I had LPs dating back to the sixties—did you know that Sally Field released an album as the Flying Nun? Some of these were harder to get rid of than others, but, as Jeff pointed out, I had already downloaded everything of importance into my little MP3 player. Since I could now listen to every Dan Fogelberg song ever recorded without having to get up and flip anything over, out went the vinyl. Books were also a bit of a problem. So I just got rid of all of Adam’s and kept mine.

Kate was more disciplined that I. I tossed Sally Field, but I kept my Beatles albums on vinyl. I refuse to count the Dan Fogelberg songs on my playlists. And I almost never got the books packed because I kept stopping to reread favorite bits from various ones.

Then there’s the passage where Kate talks about her Real True Love, the one who left her. Her words struck what Faulkner called the “resonant strings of remembering.”

He was the one.
You never ever loved another man the way you loved him. And when it was over, he broke your heart like it would never be broken again.

Then there are the passages that just make me laugh. For example, this conversation between Kate and her best friend:

“This menopause thing is killing me. Just when I think my libido has taken a permanent vacation, it comes roaring back, and suddenly I miss sex. God, an orgasm is one of life’s few pleasures that isn’t harmful or illegal.”

Cheryl arched an eyebrow. “Don’t need a man for one of those,” she said.

“I know. But I’m tired of naming my vibrators so I have someone to thank.”

If you like romantic comedy that makes you laugh and smile and think and remember, I highly recommend A Slight Change of Plan. If you like it as much as I did, you can still get a digital copy of Better Off Without Him at a very reasonable price. And I’m wondering what’s next from Dee Ernst.

Do you like first person point of view in fiction? Or are you a reader who has a decided preference for third person stories?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday Review: Adventures in Parenthood

Adventures in Parenthood
By Dawn Atkins
Publisher: Harlequin 
Release Date: 
November 1, 2013

Dixon Carter has depended on his older brother Howard as a constant, unchanging presence in his life. Even his place of employment, Bootstrap Academy, is the dream of Howard, who worked as a social worker for seventeen years before he and his schoolteacher wife, Brianna, started the job-training and placement agency to help workers in Phoenix displaced in a faltering economy. Dixon is left in charge of his twin nieces when Howard and Brianna take a rare vacation to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, the first time they have ever left their four-year-old daughters. Dixon is blindsided by the news that Howard and Brianna have been killed in an automobile accident as they were returning to Phoenix. Devastated by his own grief, he is also overwhelmed with the realization that he has suddenly become responsible for his nieces.

Aubrey Hanson can hardly contain her excitement about a potential sponsor that will allow her to continue her blog—Extreme Adventure Girl: Ordinary Girl on an Extraordinary Journey. Having just returned from reindeer racing in Norway, she resents every mile between L.A. and Phoenix that delays her sharing the news with her twin Brianna, the person who has shared all the important moments of her life. Aubrey’s good news would add another celebratory note to the celebration of Briana and Howard’s anniversary. Nothing could have prepared Aubrey for the news that awaits her when she arrives in Phoenix. Brianna and Howard are dead, and Ginger and Sienna are orphans. Instead of attending an anniversary party, Aubrey must help plan a funeral.

Both Dixon and Aubrey have lost the person dearest to them, and both are eager to assume the care of their young nieces.  But neither of them has any real understanding of all that parenting two little girls whose lives and hearts have been delivered a knockout blow. Despite Aubrey’s good intentions, she reluctantly admits that the lifestyle of constant travel and risk-taking imposed by her adventurous life makes her a poor candidate to be the girls’ primary guardian. Dixon, in contrast, is based in Phoenix, the girls’ home, with a stable routine. Moreover, he has been a regular part of their young lives, and their emotional attachment to him is strong. Clearly, it is in the best interest of the children that they remain in his care.

The two agree that Dixon will serve as guardian, but Aubrey will be involved in the girls’ life as much as possible. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. First, the situation is complicated by Dixon and Aubrey’s history. They came within a heartbeat of having a fling at Howard and Brianna’s wedding, but Dixon’s native caution prevailed at the last minute. The chemistry between them remains potent, but given the differences in their lifestyles and personalities, avoiding temptation seems their wisest choice. And if their feelings don’t complicate matters enough, the disagreements over what risk-taker Audrey and risk-avoider Dixon think are best for Ginger and Sienna are vast. Are they too great to overcome when the happiness of four people is at stake?

Atkins provides a realistic view of grief and the difficulties of rebuilding lives after traumatic loss. Both Dixon and Aubrey are complex characters with personal histories that make it easy to understand why they have become the particular people they are. I also appreciated that after their almost-fling, they both went on with their lives. Both have been seriously involved with other people in the interim, and the fallout from those failed relationships adds to their wariness with one another. Ginger and Sienna are credibly portrayed in their reactions to their parents’ deaths and to the changes in their lives. Not only does Atkins avoid making them cardboard kids, but she also avoids making the twins carbon copies of each other. All of these characters change during the course of the story. Atkins does an admirable job of showing the difficulties of getting on with life after great loss while giving readers a solid romance at the same time. If you think category romance can’t be satisfying and substantive, you should give Adventures in Parenthood a try.

As an aunt and great-aunt whose nephews and nieces are important in my life, I like stories that show aunts and uncles playing significant parts. Most readers remember Auntie Mame, of course, but aside from her, who is your favorite fictional aunt or uncle.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saturday Review: One Night with the Laird

One Night with the Laird
By Nicola Cornick
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013

They meet as strangers at a masquerade ball in Edinburgh and share one night of passion so powerful that neither of them can forget it. Both will be horrified when they discover the identity of their nameless lover.

Lady Mairi MacLeod is a beautiful widow with enormous responsibilities. Her husband, who inherited an impressive fortune from a nabob grandfather, left it all—the four homes, a dozen businesses, assorted bonds and investments, and various philanthropic ventures—in his widow’s control. But even these responsibilities are less weighty than the secret Mairi must protect, one that could plunge her and her aging in-laws into ruinous scandal and leave a mark on the proud MacLeod name. Mairi can hardly believe that the one night she surrenders to the temptation to add color and excitement to her life that the man she chose for her lover turned out to be Jack Rutherford, a rake she despises. “He was arrogant, self-assured, deplorably confident, all too well aware of his charm and the effect it had on every woman he met.”

Jack Rutherford was almost destroyed by the cost of loving and losing after the deaths of mother and sister, deaths for which he holds himself responsible. Only the intervention of his grandmother saved him from the abyss into which guilt, grief, and alcoholism were leading him. Having achieved sobriety and with a self-earned fortune, he makes certain his relationships with women are limited to satisfying sexual encounters from which he walks away with an untouched heart. He berates himself when three months after a single night with the seductive beauty he knows only as Rose, he still thinks of her, still desires her.

Jack is dismayed when his cousin Robert, Marquis of Methven, asks that Robert escort Lady Mairi MacLeod to Methven for the family house party to celebrate the christening of the second son born to Robert and his wife, the former Lady Lucy MacMorlan, in the three years of their marriage. Jack is not fond of family gatherings at best, and he and Lady Mairi have been at odds since she haughtily rejected Jack’s invitation to become his mistress shortly after the two met. Jack is convinced that Mairi is “too rich, too beautiful, and too clever.” But since he is convinced that Mairi will refuse his escort, he consents to Methven’s request that Jack make the offer. He is unprepared to discover that the scornful Mairi is the runaway lover whom he has been unable to forget, and he is furious when Mairi makes clear that the night they shared was an aberration that will not be repeated.

To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Jack comes to the rescue when Mairi’s enemies threaten her safety, to the point of pretending that he is betrothed to her. But once they are thrown into one another’s company, the explosive chemistry between them ensures complication neither is seeking. Jack and Mairi’s only chance for happiness lies in defeating the enemies plotting against Mairi and the defenses that two people scarred by past experiences have mounted to protect themselves.

One Night with the Laird is the second in Cornick’s Scottish Brides series, following The Lady and the Laird (Lucy and Robert’s story). It is a more sensual and more suspenseful story than the first book. Cornick’s deft touch with characterization is evident as both Mairi and Jack emerge as fully dimensional, sympathetic characters whose happiness readers root for. Some readers will be pleased to see that Jack’s armor against love is substantial enough not to be melted by lust, however hot the flames. His awareness that he loves Mairi comes slowly without his understanding the changes until late in the story. Others may think the HEA happens too abruptly.

If anyone offers a prize for the most sensual opening chapter in mainstream romance in 2013, One Night with the Laird deserves to be a leading candidate. And the sizzle (including one scene of the type that seems to have been added to oral sex as a necessary scene for a steamy rating) doesn’t end with the opening. Villains also abound, and the cardinal offender may come as a surprise. This is a solid addition to a strong series. I prefer the first book to the second, but my preference is a matter of personal taste. Readers who like their stories darker and sexier will likely prefer this second offering. While readers familiar with the first book will enjoy a richer context for Jack and Mairi’s story, the second book can be read as a standalone.

Claimed by the Laird, the story of Christina, the third MacMorlan sister, is scheduled for release in August 2014.

I am slowly coming around to careful consideration of the suggestion that readers would find a sensuality rating on romance novels useful. While some of my favorite romance authors write hot, I prefer not to be surprised by the sensuality level. What do you think?