Friday, March 30, 2012

Shoe Shopping

I’ve been shoe shopping today, the best kind of shoe shopping. Price was no concern. Neither was heel height nor the fact that I haven’t worn high heels in a decade. I have been shopping online for a shoe for my newest heroine. It’s not a Cinderella shoe, but it is important.

You see my heroine Bri (Briallen  Kendrick) is a jeans and boots girl. The most important thing in her life is Fantastica, the pet therapy farm she and her sister, Rica, own. Bri works with the animals and kids, and Rica is the public face of Fantastica, attending the fundraisers, speaking in the videos, and interacting with contributors. But Drew Bellamy has a seven figure check for Fantastica. There is one catch: his presenting it is contingent on Bri’s attending a charity ball. Rica, who has bullied her sister into attending the gala, is an experienced shopper at Another Dance, a consignment shop. She found Bri a killer dress, and she’s narrowed the shoes to two. She insists that Bri make the final choice. Bri and I are having a difficult time. She's trying to figure out a way to wear her boots, and I'm trying to figure out a way she can wear both of Rica's finds.

Here are her choices.

Alexander McQueen
Jimmy Choo

I must admit I had great fun shoe shopping for my character.  I even got my sister and my best friend involved. Why is it that women bond over shoes? I remember an extended discussion of shoes on The Eloisa James Bulletin Board that prompted this poem:

The Lay of the Shoe-Scorning Woman
(with apologies to Sir Walter Scott)

Breathes there a woman with heart so dead 
Who never to herself hath said,
These are my own, the shoes I crave!
Whose credit cards have never burned
As charges through machines have churned,
From wandering through shoe shops to save.
If such there breathe, go, mark her well;
For her no sisters’ voices swell.
High though her status, smart her game,
Boundless her closet as wish can claim,
Despite those gowns and bags and jeans,
This wretch can be no fashion queen. 
Living, shall forfeit sisterhood,
And, fading surely, as she should,
Shall join the earth on which she trod,
Unwept, unnatural, and ill-shod.

Are you a shoe-shoppin’ fool? Which shoe do you think Bri should choose? If you are a writer, do you shop for your characters? If you are a reader, are clothing details important to you?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Review: Sunrise Point

Sunrise Point
By Robyn Carr
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: April 24, 2012

Independence seems within the grasp of Nora Crane when she sees a note on the bulletin board at the Virgin River Presbyterian Church inviting applications for apple pickers at Cavanaugh Orchard. Nora isn’t afraid of hard work. She’s willing to do almost anything honest to support herself and her two daughters, two-year-old Berry and nine-month-old Fay. Things are much better for Nora and her girls than they were just a short time ago, thanks to the kindness of Pastor Noah Kinkaid and other citizens of Virgin River. But as much as she appreciates the help, Nora wants to earn her own way, and if walking 3.4 miles each way and picking apples to earn a decent salary will allow her to give her children what they need, she will do the work gladly.

 Tom Cavanaugh is an ex-marine who has returned home to help his grandmother run the family orchard. Once he couldn’t get away from the farm fast enough, but deployment in a war zone gave him an appreciation for the life that he could have following in his grandparents’ footsteps. Now he has big plans for the orchard and for his personal life once he finds a woman with whom to share it. Nora Crane is definitely not that woman. Tom is attracted to her, but he is looking for a woman like his grandmother—“settled, smart, a strong moral code.” Nora, mother of two and already divorced at twenty-three, could not possibly be that woman. Tome gives her a job only when his grandmother intervenes for Nora.

As Nora and Tom work together, they discover they have more in common than either suspected. Tom and his home seem like a dream to Nora, and she realizes quickly that she needs to protect her heart. Nora impresses Tom with her determination and work ethic, and his protective instincts kick in. Soon they are spending time together after work, and Nora and her daughters are winning his heart. His grandmother Maxie is doing all she can to promote the match, but a visit from the widow of one of Tom’s Marine buddies, who at first appearance is the kind of woman for whom Tom has been looking. Nora also has baggage from the past as she must come to terms with the father she believed had abandoned her.

Readers familiar with the series will recognize Nora as the needy young mother who receives one of the community Christmas boxes in Bring Me home for Christmas, Carr’s #1 bestseller. She is a character who is both likeable and sympathetic from the beginning. She was only nineteen when she became involved with a pro baseball player turned drug addict, her mother kicked her out when Nora came home pregnant, and her father ceased to be part of her life when she was six. Despite all these negatives, she demonstrates a quiet, stubborn strength, and she is devoted to her children. She also possesses intelligence, a sense of humor, and a kind heart. Tom is not as immediately likeable. He makes snap judgments, and is too certain of his own “rightness.” But his grandmother shakes him up a bit, his alpha caretaking is endearing, his heart beats his head to the right place, and he proves himself sigh-worthy material in the end.

As is usual with Carr’s books, the secondary characters add richness to the story. I adored Maxie! She may be seventy-four, but she is a vital woman who takes joy in her past, lives fully in the present, and looks toward the future with hope. She loves her grandson, whom she and her husband reared, but she sees his faults as well as his strengths. And she doesn’t hesitate to call him on his wrongheadedness when necessary. There’s an interesting clash between Jack Sheridan and Hank Cooper, another former military man and friend of the Riordans. I expect to see Luke return in one of next year’s books.

Sunrise Point is the nineteenth novel in Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series.  While I like some of the books better than others, overall they show amazing strength for such a long-running series. Sunrise Point is a strong addition. It’s more a hybrid of women’s fiction and romance than straight romance since Nora’s journey is as important as her and Tom’s relationship. The appearances by other Virgin River characters are more limited than usual in this book, and this means that it can be read as a standalone. If you like community-based stories, stories with a strong military connection, or contemporary romance that showcases the extraordinary qualities of ordinary people, you can’t do better than Robyn Carr’s Virgin River books.

I've read all nineteen Virgin River books plus the novellas. I think this makes it the longest-running romance series I've read, although Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple mystery series is up to twenty now. What's the longest running series you've read?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Celebrating March 27, Part VII

Six Books to Celebrate: Day Seven

Tomorrow is the official release day of all the books I’ve celebrated over the past week. I’m listing them below in order of the reviews at this site:

The Art of Duke Hunting by Sophia Nash
Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery
Master of Sin by Maggie Robinson
Woodrose Mountain by RaeAnne Thayne
The Cowboy Takes a Bride by Lori Wilde
A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare
At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran
Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville  

 I enjoyed all the March 27 releases that I’ve reviewed, and I hope you will enjoy them too.  I have another six March 27 releases that will be downloaded to my kindle at midnight. I know I have some great reading ahead. Over the next week or so, I’ll be reading and posting reviews at GoodReads for these books (in alphabetical order by author).

Hot Under Pressure
By Louisa Edwards
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: March 27, 2012

The final book in Edwards’s Rising Star Chef Challenge trilogy, this one is a reunion story between almost-exes. I love reunion stories, and I love sexy chefs.

      Taming an Impossible Rogue
      By Suzanne Enoch
      Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: March 27, 2012

Enoch takes her readers back to the Tantalus Club in the second book in the Scandalous Brides series. It’s a runaway bride story with an unexpected hero. And it’s Suzanne Enoch! I can’t wait to read this one.

      Imperial Scandal
      By Teresa Grant
      Publisher: Kensington
      Release Date: March 27, 2012

      I’m not big on novels with spies—unless they are written by Tracy Grant. British Intelligence agents Malcolm Rannoch (Charles Fraser) and his wife Suzanne (Mélanie Fraser) return for another adventure, this one set in Brussels before and during Waterloo. I’m a big Tracy Grant/Teresa Grant fan.

       The Seduction of Lady X
       By Julia London
       Publisher: Pocket
       Release Date: March 27, 2012

This third Secrets of Hadley Green book comes fast on the heels of The Revenge of Lord Eberlin. I can’t wait to see how the HEA is achieved in this story of a seemingly impossible, forbidden love. 

     Trouble Me
     By Laura Moore
     Publisher: Ballantine
     Release Date: March 27, 2012

Moore is a relatively new author for me, but I loved the first two Rosewood books.  I’m eager to return to the Radcliffe family estate and horse farm in Virginia to learn what happens to wild child Jade, the third of the Radcliffe sisters. 

    Elegy for Eddie
    By Jacqueline Winspear
    Publisher: Harper
    Release Date: March 27, 2012

If you like historical mysteries and haven’t read the Maisie Dobbs books, you are missing one of the best series around. This is #9, and I’ve been anticipating it since I closed the final page of A Lesson in Secrets (#8).

You’ve heard all about the March 27 releases I have read or will be reading, but these fourteen books (one more that I included in my intro to the week) are only some of the new titles available this week. What book are you most looking forward to reading this week or next month or in May?

The Randomizer selected Quantum to receive the free book. Q, please contact me a jangarho at gmail dot com, and we will work out the details for you to receive the book of your choice among the fourteen featured March 20-26 at Just Janga.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Celebrating March 27, Part VI

Three Books to Celebrate: Day Six

Earlier this month, I reviewed three of the March 27 releases that I’m celebrating this week. I’ve linked to the full reviews in my excerpts below.

A Week to Be Wicked
By Tessa Dare
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 27, 2012
(review posted at Just Janga)

I’ve been a Tessa Dare fan since I read and gave top scores to her entries in Avon’s Fan Lit competition. I’ve read and loved the eight novels and two novellas that preceded A Week to Be Wicked, but I think this is her best book yet. Minerva and Colin are both characters who fall within the conventions of romance fiction (the bluestocking and the rake) and yet manage to be fresh and original. They are funny and flawed and completely engaging—an unexpected pairing that, against all odds, feels perfect.

At Your Pleasure
By Meredith Duran
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: March 27, 2012
(review posted at The Romance Dish)

Meredith Duran is quite simply one of the best writers I’ve read. Her characterization is superb, her plots compelling, and her prose lucid and powerful. She also offers her readers the gift of difference in a genre more accustomed to sameness. Duran sets At Your Pleasure in England in 1715, the year after the coronation of George I. The possibility of a Jacobite rebellion was real; some scholars believe it was a more serious threat that the rebellion of 1745. Most readers of historical romance fiction are familiar with the rudiments of the latter rebellion, having encountered references to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Battle of Culloden, and Cumberland’s brutal suppression in novels from Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders to those by Veryan, Gabaldon, Canham, and countless others. The political climate of England in 1715 when Catholics, including Catholic aristocrats, were denied the right to worship, to vote, to be educated is less familiar. Duran captures the realities of the period without slamming her readers in the face with a history book. And she combines historical accuracy with emotionally credible actions and reactions.

Confessions from an Arranged Marriage
By Miranda Neville
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 27, 2012
(review posted at Heroes and Heartbreakers)

Minerva’s deepening respect for the man Blake is empowers him to become more, and he is able when she needs him most to be commanding and powerful, every inch the duke with generations of dukes behind him. Perhaps the greatest evidence of the changes in Blake is his acceptance of what he is and what he is not, a self-acceptance tempered by his regret that he cannot be the man Minerva wants. And Minerva’s response to his self-acceptance is a lovely reminder that these two have grown into two people who like and respect one another as well as healthily lusting after one another.

“I’m not going to lead the party and I’ll never be a member of the government, let alone Prime Minister. I wish I could be the man you want, Minnie, but I don’t have it in me.”

“You are the man I want. You don’t have to be anyone different.”

Sigh! I’m a believer. Happily ever after all the way.

The three are very different books—a Regency road book (Dare), an early Georgian romance with a political subtext (Duran), and a forced marriage tale between opposites (Neville), but each features characters that capture the reader’s imagination and affections, plots that compel the reader’s attention, and prose that delights the reader’s ear. I highly recommend all three.

 Adding these three books to my March 27 list brings the total number of reviews to eight—five historical romances, two contemporary romances, and one women’s fiction novel. That a close approximation of my reading in romance/women’s fiction generally. What subgenres do your read most often?

Remember that the winner of the free book will be chosen randomly from among those who comment on Tuesday-Sunday posts. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Celebrating March 27, Part V

The Cowboy Takes a Bride
By Lori Wilde
Publisher: Avon
Released Date: March 27, 2012

Mariah Callahan has spent eleven years as an assistant to the best wedding planner in Chicago, and then she’s fired, blackballed, and standing in unemployment lines. Just when things are their bleakest, Mariah gets a phone call telling her that her father is dead and she has inherited his ranch. Her father walked out on her and her mother the week before Mariah’s seventh birthday, and Mariah has seen him only once since then, an unannounced visit when she was fourteen that was a major embarrassment for her. But maybe her inheritance can be sold for enough money to set Mariah up as competition for her former boss. With this plan in mind, Mariah leaves for Jubilee, Texas, cutting horse capital of the world.

The first person she encounters in Jubilee is a drunk, nearly naked cowboy in a gold-plated horse trough. The drunk is Joe Daniels, who has used alcohol to escape from the pain of losing his friend and mentor, Dutch Callahan, two years to the day after the death of Joe’s wife, Becca. Joe and Dutch shared a dream of Some Kind of Miracle, a hose Dutch found and trained and that Joe owned and rode, winning the $400,000 purse of the Fort Worth Triple Crown Futurity. Dutch’s death just gives more impetus to the dream. Joe can’t believe the attraction he feels for Dutch’s city kitten daughter. She’s all wrong for him. Mariah is not any happier that she can’t seem to get the sexy cowboy with a smart mouth and a kind heart off her mind.

On the surface, Mariah and Joe are all wrong for each other. She’s a city girl who has never belonged anywhere. She believes her mother is the only person who ever loved her, and her mother, having found her true love late in life, is living happily with him in Argentina, unaware of the dire straits her daughter is in. Mariah is convinced that her only hope for happiness is selling her inheritance quickly and getting out of Jubilee. She fears Joe is a man cut in the pattern of her father. She has no intention of taking second place to a horse again. Joe’s Texas roots are deep. His land belonged to four generations of his forebears, and Joe can’t imagine living anywhere else. His grief over his wife’s death almost broke him, and he is convinced Becca was his one true love and that he will have no second chances. Can these two very different people, both fearful of risking their hearts, move past all that separates them to accept the love that can heal the wounds of the past and offer a happy future?

Joe and Mariah are likeable characters. It’s easy to understand their caution about each other, and the two-month period that Joe needs to buy the land from Mariah gives them time with each other, time to change Mariah’s mind about Jubilee, and time for their passion for each other to become greater than their fears. From the beginning, the exchanges between the two are funny and smart without detracting from the emotional appeal of a plot that includes a great deal of sorrow. There’s a strong secondary plot involving Joe’s former sister-in-law and life-long friend that substantively adds to the book’s appeal.

This is the first book in a new series for Wilde. Readers who enjoyed Wilde’s Twilight, Texas books and readers who are fans of the small-town subgenre will want to add The Cowboy Takes a Wife to their reading lists. Based on the first book, the new series will have the charm and colorful characters that made the Twilight series popular.

Are cowboys your weakness? Or do you prefer more polished heroes?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Celebrating March 27, Part IV

A Book to Celebrate: Day Four

Woodrose Mountain
(Hope’s Crossing, Book 2)
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: March 27, 2012

Evie Blanchard is a woman in retreat. Six months ago she left behind a life that had been fulfilling but also filled with devastating loss and moved to Hope’s Crossing, a small Colorado town, where she works at String Fever, the local bead shop. She finds making jewelry satisfying, and she develops meaningful friendships among the women who patronize the bead shop. She particularly values her friendships with the shop owner, Claire Bradford (Blackberry Winter), and Katherine Thorne. Although she sometimes thinks of her former life as a pediatric physical therapist, she can no longer pay the price of emotional involvement with her patients. The quiet, risk-free contentment of her new life is exactly what she wants.

One day that contentment is threatened when Brodie Thorne, a wealthy businessman in Hope’s Crossing, asks her to be in charge of physical therapy for his fifteen-year-old daughter Taryn, who sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in which another teenage girl was killed. Taryn’s lack of cooperation with her therapists at the rehabilitation center where she is being treated has led to the decision that she may make more progress at home. Brodie is determined that his daughter have the best care his money can provide, and his mother thinks that includes Evie as her physical therapist. Evie turns Brodie down, but when Katherine begs her to reconsider, Evie agrees to work with Taryn on a temporary basis, setting up her program and approving a physical therapist to replace her.

There is a strong attraction between Evie and Brodie. Both of them resist it initially, and even after they surrender to it, they clash on Taryn’s treatment. Evie’s methods bring about marked improvement in Taryn who makes progress with mobility and language skills. But when Brodie discovers that Evie’s has encouraged visits from the young man he holds responsible for his daughter’s injuries and her friend’s death, the developing relationship between them ends amid anger and accusations. However, Taryn’s courage proves the catalyst that frees them all from guilt and fear and offers the promise of an HEA.

I like small town stories, and I read a lot of them. I consider Thayne’s Hope’s Crossing series a standout in the genre. First, the town is not idealized. People know one another and are involved in one another’s lives to a greater degree that would be common in an urban setting, but Hope’s Crossing and its citizens have their share of problems. Marriages break up, kids get in trouble, and tragedies strike without discrimination. Second, Hope’s Crossing and its people are not generic. This is a specific place, and the characters are individuals. Because the characters and their problems seemed rooted in reality, I believed in them and cared about them.

Evie’s running away from her home and her job after the death of her adopted daughter may seem weak, but people handle grief in different ways. And Evie’s love for Taryn and the work she does with her proves her heart is bigger than her fear of being hurt again. Brodie is a flawed hero. Not only is he a father who was sometimes too busy for his daughter before her accident, but his guilt and his love for Taryn lead him to behave like a jerk at times. But his need to blame someone for what happened and his determination to protect his child from anything or anyone he perceived as harmful to her were understandable given the man he was and the accident and all that followed it. Thayne resists the temptation to turn Taryn into a suffering saint. She has the typical teen’s self-absorption. She is angry and frightened by her condition, and she feels guilty about one friend’s death and another’s vilification. Sometimes she can be a brat. But she is also capable of empathy, courage, and self-sacrifice, and it’s a delight to watch her begin to grow up.

Woodrose Mountain will join Blackberry Summer on my keeper shelf. And I have Sweet Laurel Falls marked as a must-read on my book calendar. It is a reunion story (my favorite trope) featuring Maura McKnight-Parker, the mother of the teen who died in the accident that injured Taryn. I look forward to revisiting Hope’s Crossing when this third book is released in October 2012.

Do you like books with small-town settings? What are your favorites?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Celebrating March 27, Part III

A Book to Celebrate: Day Three

Master of Sin
By Maggie Robinson
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: March 27, 2012

Andrew Rossiter is a male prostitute who is paying a return visit to Duca Allesandro di Maneiro and his wife. Rossiter, who fathered the couple’s heir, two-and-a- half-year-old Marco, has been hired to impregnate the duchess a second time. The key players are on board the duke’s yacht when assassins board it, killing the duke and duchess. Andrew escapes with the child, but knowing his son’s life remains in jeopardy, he establishes a new identity on an isolated island in the Outer Hebrides. Andrew Rossiter has become Andrew Ross, a widower with one child.

Waiting for him on the island is Gemma Peartree, an impertinent sprite who speaks six languages. Their meeting is unpropitious. Gemma has been waiting on the island for two weeks. The house Andrew has purchased through agents is in disrepair, Gemma’s possessions have been lost, and the island is cold and wind-blown. Gemma badly needs a bath and a change of clothing. When Andrew first sees her, she looks more like scullery maid than a governess.  Andrew is eager to be rid of her. Not only is she not governess material, but also the inexplicable attraction he feels threatens his vow to put sin behind him. More important, Marco, who has been ripped from all that is familiar to him, forms a quick attachment to Gemma, who is gentle with him and the only person on the Gaelic-speaking island who speaks Italian. And, as Gemma keeps reminding Andrew, she has a contract.

Both Andrew and Gemma are haunted by their pasts and protective of their secrets. Andrew’s past is more deeply shadowed than Gemma’s. His angelic looks are ironic in view of his sordid secrets and the dark forces that shaped him from childhood. He believes himself incapable of giving or receiving love and unworthy of happiness. It will take all Gemma’s stubbornness and all her wiles to persuade Andrew that he has a heart that can be filled with love for her and for his son, to convince him that a future untainted by the past is within his reach.

Redemption stories are among my favorites, and this one is superb. First of all, it truly is about a man in need of redemption. Readers familiar with Mistress by Marriage will know that Andrew Rossiter is no titled hero suffering from a guilty conscience over wasting his substance on drink and doxies. He is, as Gemma recognizes full well, “a man who had done everything with everybody.” But the most fertile ground for love’s redemptive powers is often found in the hearts of those who believe themselves unfit to be redeemed. Second, both Andrew and Gemma grow during the course of the book. Revelation of secrets sheds healing light, and the love they feel for one another and for Marc frees them to become more fully the selves they were meant to be.

This final book in Robinson’s Courtesan Court series is a dark story, but it is also one filled with flashes of humor and seductive sensuality with characters who compel the reader's interest. It has the added benefit of Robinson’s lucid, skillfully crafted prose. If you’ve read Robinson’s other Courtesan Court books (Mistress by Mistake, Mistress by Midnight, and Mistress by Marriage), you probably have Master of Sin on your TBB list. If you haven’t read Robinson yet, what are you waiting for? Master of Sin can be read as a standalone. And I’m betting that you’ll find these books the verbal equivalent of Lay’s potato chips: bet you can’t read just one.

How do you feel about redemption stories? What are your favorites?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Celebrating March 27

A Book to Celebrate: Day Two

Barefoot Season
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: March 27, 2012

Michelle Anderson is a soldier coming home to Blackberry Island after ten years away, half of them deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wounded and suffering from PTSD, she’s hoping to find peace and healing of body and psyche running the inn left to her by her father when he abandoned the island and her. She believed the inn “the one place she could count on never to change.” But it has changed. Before her death, Brenda Anderson, Michelle’s mother, had renovated and extended the inn beyond recognition. Even the owner’s suite that had been Michelle’s home for the first eighteen years of her life is unfamiliar, changed to suit the tastes of its current occupants, Carly Williams and Gabby, Carly’s nine-year-old daughter. Carly is the last person Michelle wants to see. Best friends growing up, the ties that connected them were stretched their senior year in high school by choices made by the adults in their lives and shattered when Michelle slept with Carly’s fiancé two days before the wedding.

Carly Williams has spent the last ten years managing the inn, raising her daughter, and holding on to the thought that her long hours and poor pay would result in her owning an interest in the inn. But Brenda Anderson’s promise was a lie. Instead of owning twenty percent of the inn, two percent for each year she’s worked there, Carly finds her job in jeopardy. The inn is wholly Michelle’s, and Michelle wants her former best friend out of the inn and out of her life. Firing Carly gives her great satisfaction, but Brenda’s extravagance has resulted in a double mortgage on the inn with payments in arrears. Michelle needs Carly if the inn is to make enough money for it to remain in the Anderson family.

The two women are forced to work together to save the end. It’s not easy for either of them, and betrayal from unexpected sources serves a near knockout blow. Michelle must battle not only the old wounds from her life on Blackberry Island but also devastating memories from her final deployment. For a time, she finds surcease in alcohol, and she has to reach a dangerous point before she is willing to accept help. But honesty and forgiveness and memories of better times see both women through the troubles that threaten all they hold dear and enable them to restore their friendship.

Readers who know Mallery only through her popular Fool’s Gold series and other romances should be aware that Barefoot Season is women’s fiction. While there is a romantic element for both Michelle and Carly, the romance is strictly secondary to the relationship between Michelle and Carly. Even to their relationships to their parents is more significant to the plot than are the romances. But the story is powerful, dealing with some tough issues. Michelle and Carly are both layered characters with complicated histories and imperfections.

I found Carly the more sympathetic character. Whatever wrong choices she made in her past, she has become a devoted mother who works hard to give her daughter a good life. As the wronged party, she might be expected to harbor resentment and bitterness, but she is the quicker to forgive. I didn’t always like Michelle even when I felt sorry for all she had endured. She seemed very slow to accept responsibility for what under any circumstances was a reprehensible act. I admit I had a real WTF moment when I read these lines: “Yet despite what she had done, Michelle found herself wanting Carly to apologize. As if Carly was the one who had done wrong.”  It’s a measure of Mallery’s skill that she could peel away the protective guises to reveal the hurting teenager who remained part of the tough, experienced soldier. And in Jared Tenley Mallery gives Michelle a hero perfect for her in every way.

Barefoot Season is the first book in the Blackberry Island series. This Puget Sound island, the “New England of the West Coast” is a lovely setting, and I look forward to returning there for the rest of the series.

Do you read women’s fiction? Have you ever been won over by a character whom you initially saw as unsympathetic?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Celebrating March 27 Releases

A cornucopia is an emblem of abundance. We usually see cornucopias overflowing with fruits and vegetables representing a bountiful harvest as Thanksgiving decoration, but the cornucopia I’m imagining today is overflowing with books. Sometime a Tuesday arrives offering such bounty that it calls for a special celebration. March 27 is such a Tuesday.

 I have a baker’s dozen of books on my must-read list for that day; I have read seven of them already. Beginning today and continuing over the next six days here at Just Janga, I’ll be reviewing five of the novels I have read. On the sixth day, I’ll recap two I have already reviewed on other sites, and on the seventh day, I’ll talk about the six books I’m still eagerly anticipating. That final day, I’ll also be giving away a copy of one of the March 27 romance releases (winner’s choice of book and format) to one randomly selected commenter from the first six days. So look for a new post each day this week, and be sure to comment for a chance to win one of these great books.

A Book to Celebrate: Day One

The Art of Duke Hunting
(Royal Entourage, Book 2)
By Sophia Nash
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 27, 2012

Roman Montagu, seventeenth Duke of Norwich, is under a curse. Since the first Duke of Norwich’s marriage proposal and gift of dead ducks was rejected by a lady he then accused of being a witch, sixteen Dukes of Norwich have died at an early age and in “fowl” circumstances. Roman is resigned to his fate, but he wants to delay death as long as possible and he is determined that the cursed line end with him. He avoids water and ducks, otherwise enjoying his life as a member of the Prince Regent’s Royal Entourage. It is after the most scandalous shenanigans of this group that Roman finds himself in the last place he would choose to be—lashed to the rail of The Drake during a severe thunderstorm. His terror combined with the ravages of the Entourage’s notorious party renders him irrational.

His life is saved by Lady Esme March, the widowed Countess of Derby, who pulls him to safety inside her cabin, locks the door to prevent him from further endangering his life, and distracts him in a manner that successfully takes his mind off all thoughts of storms and death. The damaged ship manages to make its way to the nearest harbor, and Esme and Roman find themselves along with the captain of the ship isolated from the other survivors. Once Roman learns that the woman who saved him is a member of his own social circle, he does the honorable thing and offers marriage, but Esme has no plans to remarry. The two spend the next several days much in each other’s company, getting to know one another and liking what they come to know. But they expect to part and continue with their lives unchanged when they return to England. Prinny, whose major interest is rescuing himself from the consequences of the infamous party, has other ideas. He commands that Roman and Esme marry. Can these two independent people with clear plans for their lives let go of their fears and trust themselves and one another enough to confess their love and build a life together?

I loved Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea, but I think The Art of Duke Hunting is even better. Many of my favorite romance novels combine humor with poignancy, and Nash does so here with skill and emotional power. Roman is a multi-faceted character and a terrific hero, despite all the duck jokes. By the time I read Esme’s description of his “intelligent regal face full of angles,” I was half in love with him. His affection for his friends among the Entourage made him more attractive and I found his commitment to devising a way for London to have clean water admirable. His honesty with himself about the emptiness of his self-indulgent life was all I needed to believe him a hero worthy of the remarkable heroine Nash gives him. Even when he makes the wrong choices, his motive for doing so is clear, and his choices are in character for what the reader has come to know about him. And once he recognizes that he is wrong, he takes quick and dramatic action that leads to a sigh-worthy conclusion.

The secondary characters are superbly drawn and serve to complicate and enrich the story. The dukes of Candover and Abshire are provocative characters. I’m especially looking forward to Abshire’s story.  I also liked the fact that the Prince Regent is an actual character who plays a pivotal role in the plot. I still chuckle when I think about the scene where he orders the marriage.

“Your Highness,” Roman said rubbing his forehead with one hand. “This is impossible. I am certainly not the man for Lady Derby. And she does not want to marry me.”

“And what does it matter what anyone wants these days? Do you think I want rotten potatoes thrown at my head every single morning? Do you think I want talk of revolution spreading through the country like wildfire on a summer afternoon? You are to be married, I say. Right this blooming moment, sod it all.”

I have no idea if the historical Prinny would have spoken these words, but I had no trouble believing the Prinny of Romancelandia would have.

But the heroine is what moved this book from a good read to a keeper for me. She is wholly delightful, not least because she is more than a conventional romance heroine. I love that she’s an artist who is passionate about her art. She values her independence. She loved her husband who taught her about pleasure and love even though she’s angry with him for choosing whiskey over her. One of my favorite lines is “The wallflower within her had never wilted.” She is an endearing combination of assurance and insecurity.  She thinks of herself as “old at four and thirty, and worse, she was plain. And too tall. A wretched combination for a lady.” But she shows such courage when she stands up to her mentor, insisting upon her own artistic vision. Perhaps even more important, she is kind and large-hearted. Overall, she is one of the most engaging heroines I’ve encountered.

It’s not necessary to have read Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea to understand and enjoy The Art of Duke Hunting. In fact, the clearest explanation of what the Royal Entourage is, the very top A list celebrities of their day, can be found in the second book: “Every English lady worth her weight in smelling salts had a favorite member of the royal entourage, and Norwich had always been Esme’s since the night many seasons ago when she had first spied him entering a gilded ballroom in Mayfair—his mother on one arm, his ravishing sister on the other.” 

So too can the account of the behavior of the Entourage on that night that scandalized a nation, a night when eight dukes, one archbishop, and the Prince Regent were involved in duels, lawn bowling in their underwear, “swimming amok with the swans in the Serpentine” in the company of “scantily clad females,” and other boisterous acts that led one of the dukes to miss his own wedding and gave Prinny many uneasy moments. 

I recommend you read both books because Sophia Nash is a gifted writer whose books are a joy to read, but if you are going to read only one, I suggest The Art of Duke Hunting.

How do you feel about series? Do you start with the first and wait impatiently for the rest? Do you wait until  all the books in a series are released and read them together. Do you read them out of order? Read some and not worry about those you missed? Or do you avoid series altogether? 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Heroes

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Saturday is a day when people without a drop of Irish blood in their veins will be wearing green and sporting “Kiss Me, I’m Irish buttons. I’m skipping the green beer and the shamrock shakes this year. I’ll celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 2012 with a Reuben sandwich and a few hours with five of my favorite Irish heroes from romance fiction. I’m an equal opportunity dreamer, and so I’m including three historical and two contemporary heroes in my celebration.

The Historical Heart Stealers

Miles Cavanagh, Dangerous Joy (1995), Jo Beverley
I love Beverley’s only Irish Rogue! Miles has been appointed guardian of a wild child who has all kinds of dark secrets. It’s not a responsibility Miles wants, and the more time he spends with Felicity Monahan, the less he wants to be her guardian because the feelings she inspires are not at all appropriate between guardian and ward. There’s rich humor in this one along with a dastardly villain, lusty lovers, and a little Irish magic.

Christor Moore, the Earl of Clane, The Irish Rogue (1999), Emma Jensen

I can’t resist a hero who is both a lordly aristocrat and An Cú, The Hound, a Robin-Hood-style Irish highwayman who robs wealthy English citizens and distributes his take among the poor.  His story is an overlooked Regency gem.

Finian O'Melaghlin, The Irish Warrior (2010), Kris Kennedy

A truly tortured hero, Finian, chief councilor to the O’Fail king, possesses intelligence, courage, strength, honor, and humor along with the highly developed skills of a warrior. He is an unforgettable hero, one worthy of a whole storm of sighs.

Contemporary Heroes for the Connoisseur


Murphy Muldoon, Born in Shame (1996), Nora Roberts

I could have filled this list with Irish heroes created by Nora Roberts, but Murphy Muldoon is my favorite. A man of the earth with a poet’s heart, a lover of books and a dreamer with a deep love of family and friends, he is willing to pay the price love exacts from those who give themselves without reservations. He’s one of my best beloved beta heroes. (I’ll probably reread Born in Fire and Born in Ice too. I love seeing Maggie Concannon upset the cool, controlled Rogan Sweeney, and even though writer Grayson Thane is not Irish, he is in Ireland. )

Finn O'Malley, The Parting Glass (2003), Emilie Richards

A hero whose pain has driven him to abandon his healing profession, Dr. Finn O’Malley is lured to return to the practice of medicine and participation in life by an American woman and her autistic son. If you like your heroes dark and dour with wounded spirits, you’ll love Finn. I do.
 Who are your favorite Irish heroes? And how are you celebrating St. Patrick's Day?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Review: Somebody to Love

Somebody to Love
By Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: April 3, 2012

Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Parker Welles begins the day with her biggest problem finding a new idea for another series of children’s books since she’s sent the Holy Rollers, the roller skating angels whose adventures she has been writing for six years, to their eternal reward. Parker is thrilled to be finished with the Holy Rollers, a series “so sickeningly precious it made The Velveteen Rabbit look like a chapter out of Sin City.” A few hours later, the trust-fund baby who is so wealthy that she donated all her income from the Holy Rollers books and movies to Save the Children has less than  a month to clear her personal possessions out of Grayhurst, the family mansion , where she has been living with her five-year-old son, Nicky. Her father has lost her trust fund and Nicky’s along with all his own property in an attempt to cover investor losses in an insider-trading scheme gone bad. The $6000 in her personal checking account, $5000 in cash from her father, jewelry worth another couple of thousand, and a house in Gideon’s Bay, Maine, make up her total assets. (Gideon’s Bay is the setting of Catch of the Day. And, yes, Maggie and the enigmatic Malone are around planning their wedding.)

Parker’s father is headed for jail, her mother’s marriage to husband #4 is in trouble, and her son is set for a three-week vacation in California with his father. (Higgins fans will remember Ethan Mirabelli and his wife Lucy from The Next Best Thing) Parker plans to check out the house in Maine, spend a few dollars on cosmetic repairs, sell the house, and return with a nest egg that will allow her to find a place to live, care for her son, and take time to determine what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. But predictably her plans go agley. The Maine house will require a great deal more than cosmetic improvements if Parker is to sell it. In short, it’s a disaster. And Parker’s experience with do-it-yourself projects is zilch.

The situation is dire. Thank goodness for James Cahill. Cahill, commonly referred to by Parker as “Thing One,” is the personal lawyer of Harry Welles. Parker sees Cahill as just another of her father’s minions, and she has assured him that she does not need his help. But Cahill has decided to help whether she wants him to or not because he owes Harry Welles for giving him a job and because he fell for Parker the first time he saw her in the hospital shortly after the birth of her son. James has the skills Parker needs to renovate the house, and since she thinks he’s still on her father’s payroll, she accepts his help.

As they work together on the house, Parker discovers that James is very different from her perception of him. Not only is the attraction that burned between them on one occasion still very much alive, but a genuine friendship develops as well. Soon the two are engaged in what Parker persists in calling a summer fling, but feelings are too deep and Parker and James matter too much to each other for their relationship to remain a mere fling. When Nicky returns, he and James bond, after some initial resistance from Nicky, but just as an HEA seems within reach, James’ past shows up and Parker’s reluctance to trust this man seems to have been well-founded after all.

I count myself a Kristan Higgins fan, but her books see-saw between books I love unreservedly and those I love many things about but . . . Somebody to Love falls in the latter category. I was delighted to see Higgins give third person point of view a try. Also, since I enjoyed both Catch of the Day and The Next Best Thing, I was pleased by the connections. I though James was a wonderful hero, a good guy with complications whom I rooted for from the get-go. Nicky was an endearing but believable five-year-old with an imagination, a stubborn streak, and some reservations about a new man in his mother’s life. But it took me a long time to like Parker. I was glad that she recognized that with $11,000 and a house, she was better off that a sizeable segment of the population, I was pleased that she admitted her best friend being married to the father of Parker’s son was on the strange side, and I admired her commitment to her son. But I found her designation of James as Thing One spoiled princess behavior and her disdain for her characters who were vivid enough for her to converse with bothered me.  Her coy references to “Lady Land” bothered me more.  I did like her better by the book’s end, but I never found her as engaging as I found James. Still, the book has the trademark Higgins humor, a lovable pooch, the sense of real contemporary life, and more substance than some romantic comedies. I definitely recommend it, and you may like Parker more than I did. Plus I really did love the role of Mickey the Fire Engine, and the epilogue was lovely, just sweet enough to leave me smiling and sighing.

Are you a fan of romantic comedies? What are some of your favorites among books? Among movies?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Romance Fiction’s Hall of Fame

March is Women’s History Month, and my posts for three of the next four weeks will be a celebration of women. It seems fitting that the first of the celebrations on this blog dedicated to the reading and writing of romance fiction should focus on romance writers.  Almost four years ago, this post appeared on the Romance Vagabonds, but with a few updates, everything I wrote in 2008 holds true in 2012.

Halls of fame are an American tradition. Every sport imaginable has its hall of fame. Most of us know the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio (and a separate College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana), but there are also halls of fame for the best in soccer, hockey, tennis, cycling, bowling, swimming, motorsports, and so on. The same holds true for music. Whether your preferred genre is rock, country, classical, gospel, or blues, you can find a hall of fame dedicated to the genre’s high achievers. Inventors have their own hall of fame; so do songwriters, cowgirls, astronauts, ukulele players, and Texas Rangers. So why is there no Romance Writers Hall of Fame?  

Now before you accuse me of sloppy research, let me add that I know the Romance Writers of America does have a Hall of Fame. But membership is based on a single criterion: “Upon receipt of her/his third (formerly the fourth) RITA Award in the same category, an RWA member is inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame for that category.” Some of the brightest lights in the romance writing galaxy are on the list that includes Justine Dare/Justine Davis, Jennifer Greene (Alison Hart), Francine Rivers, Cheryl Zach, Nora Roberts (the first inductee and the only three-time, multiple-categories inductee), Kathleen Korbel/Eileen Dreyer, Jo Beverley, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jodi Thomas, Kathleen Creighton, and Julia Quinn. But surely a genre that boasts a long history and more than 6000 published books annually in recent years has more than ten writers who merit special recognition for their legacy of excellence in writing romance fiction and sustained contribution to the genre.

RWA’s Lifetime Achievement recipients are a fuller recognition of those who have contributed significantly. This award didn’t acquire its distinguished title until 1990. For the first seven years, writers recognized for their body of work were awarded the Golden Treasure. Perhaps the name seemed purple-tinged and too closely tied to the heaving bosom books of the past. At any rate, in 1990 the award that recognizes annually a living romance writer whose record of excellence extends over fifteen years or more and whose contributions to the genre are notable was renamed the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2008, in honor of the romance writer who is arguably the highest achiever in the history of RWA, the award was rechristened the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Vicki Lewis Thompson was the first recipient of the award under its new name.

Studying the list of winners provides an encapsulated history of modern romance fiction. The first winner was Virginia Nielsen McCall, who had published more than thirty romance and YA novels by the time she received the Golden Treasure in 1983. Three years later, Roberta Gellis, author of the popular Roselynde Chronicles, a series of meticulously researched Medieval romances published from 1978-1983, was the winner. Kathleen Woodiwiss, whose 1972 novel The Flame and the Flower is credited with revolutionizing romance fiction and inaugurating the modern romance, was the honoree in 1988. RWA paid tribute to the queens of the “Gothic Revival” and early romantic suspense over the next four years as in turn Eleanor Burford Hibbert (aka Victoria Holt)*, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Mertz (aka Barbara Michaels), and Mary Stewart were recognized. 

In 1995 and 1997 respectively, Jayne Ann Krentz and Nora Roberts were the recipients of the LAA. Both writers were prolific and successful within category fiction and groundbreakers in single-title romance fiction. Krentz’s 1986 novel, Sweet Starfire, combined elements of romance with science fiction to create a new subgenre, the futuristic romance. Roberts’s success with interconnected tales of friends and family in series such as the MacGregor books began one of the most firmly entrenched trends in romance fiction, and her success with reissues of popular books transformed the shelf life of paperback romance novels. Both women also proved themselves able and eloquent defenders of the genre. The Krentz-edited collection of twenty-two essays by romance writers, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of Romance (1992) received the Susan Koppelman Award for Feminist Studies.  Roberts vocally defends the genre and argues for romance’s unique ability to incorporate elements of other popular genres into its fluid form.

Krentz and Roberts, along with other LAA winners such as Ann Maxwell, aka Elizabeth Lowell (1994), Anne Stuart (1996), Linda Howard (2005), Susan Elizabeth Phillips (2006), Linda Lael Miller (2007), Vicki Lewis Thompson (2008), and Debbie Macomber (2010) continue to produce books that keep us happily reading. Last year, Sharon Sala became the twenty-seventh honoree on this list that includes writers who have shaped the genre over half a century or so, but even twenty-seven seems too few to do justice to the genre’s rich and extensive history.

I’d love to see an International Romance Writers Hall of Fame, something along the lines of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame that from 1996-2004 inducted four writers annually based on “their continued excellence and long-time contribution to the science fiction and fantasy field.” I would hope to see contributions of romance writers before the 1970s honored as well as those since that turning point.

I already have my four nominees for the first inductees prepared.

Jane Austen
Not only do many, many romance readers suffer from advanced cases of Austen-mania, but romance writers, even some like Charlaine Harris who appear to have little in common with Jane Austen acknowledge her influence. Regency writer Carla Kelly acknowledged her debt to Austen in an AAR column (August 2001): "In the odd moments when I manage a witty bit of dialogue or tweak a plot until it begs for mercy, I can wink and think to myself, 'Thanks, Jane.'" Such tributes are too numerous to catalog, but they provide abundant evidence that Austen continues to contribute to the genre.

Georgette Heyer
Think of almost any character type or plot device that we associate with Regency-set historicals, and Heyer readers can point to a book where Heyer used it. The intelligent, independent heroine, the arrogant lord, the marriage of convenience, the innocent disillusioned, the heroine disguised as a male—all these and more are handled with skill and wit in Heyer’s books. Mary Jo Putney calls Heyer the inventor of a genre and Putney along with Judith McNaught, Catherine Coulter, Leigh Greenwood, and surprisingly Robin Schone acknowledge debts to Heyer.

Faith Baldwin
Not many of today’s romance readers know the work of Baldwin, but she was the Nora Roberts of her day, perhaps the most famous and financially successful American romance writer of the early twentieth century. A New York Times critic wrote in 1939, "There ought to be some sort of literary or at least book prize for Faith Baldwin. She can turn them out a mile a minute, all readable . . . all tops in her field."  (Sounds like a description of NR, doesn’t it?) Baldwin wrote eighty-five novels, several of which were turned into movies. She created a popular series, the Little Oxford books that spanned generations. The series included Station Wagon Set (1939), Any Village (1971), No Bed of Roses (1973), Time and the Hour (1974), and Thursday's Child (1976). Although the H/H in these books get their HEA and the sensuality level is sweet, Baldwin did not shy away from issues such as infidelity, divorce, and career and family conflicts.

Nora Roberts
Do I even need to explain this choice? The Witness (April 2012) will be Roberts’s two hundredth novel, more than 175 of them New York Times bestsellers. More than 400 million of her books are in print, and she is the public face and voice of the genre to those outside it. Her MacGregor books made history when The McGregor Grooms became the first Silhouette original title to hit # 1 on The New York Times bestseller list, Perfect Neighbor became the first category romance ever to hit The New York Times bestseller list, and The McGregor Brides became the first Silhouette single title to hit The New York Times bestseller list. Her success with series has been a major influence on the popularity of connected books, and the sales of her reissued titles helped to extend the shelf life of romance novels before digital books were thought of.

Do you think we need an International Romance Writers Hall of Fame? Keeping in mind the criteria of excellence and significant contribution to the genre, who would you like to see included?