Friday, August 31, 2012

My TBR List for Fall

This is Labor Day weekend, and all across the country, families and groups of friends will be packing picnics, grilling steaks and burgers, taking that last trip of the season, and generally giving summer a celebratory sendoff. We all know that the holiday officially honors American workers and that officially the first day of fall is still three weeks away. But in practice, this weekend is all about bidding farewell to summer and looking forward to fall. Kids are back in school, the college football season begins, and even here in the sultry South, temperatures have dropped a bit. I know I won’t be wearing sweaters for another six weeks or so, but I’m already in a fall frame of mind. Among other things, this means that I’m thinking about the books that will be appearing in bookstores, online and brick and mortar, between now and the end of the year.

My TBR list for the final third of the year has been steadily growing since last December. I’m including only the romance/women’s fiction books for this post. There are others such as J. K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy and Jasper Fforde’s Woman Who Died a Lot that I’ll definitely be reading. No doubt I’ll add even more books as friends recommend titles or as I become aware of a new release I missed in my search.

This is not a comprehensive list by any means. Heroes and Heartbreakers has already posted comprehensive lists of September releases and will be posting other monthly lists well ahead of release dates. The Romance Dish and All About Romance will post their lists at the beginning of each month. This is strictly my list of the September-December 2012 books I plan to read. Although I doubt that I’ll read all three of the December 31 releases on New Year’s Eve, I expect to read most of these before this year ends. Thanks to ARCs from publishers, authors, and friends, I have a head start. I’ve already read the titles in bold, and they have been such good reading that I have high expectations for the rest.(The number in parenthesis after the author's name is the day of the month that the book will be released.)

The three I’m still most eagerly anticipating are

  • Mischief and Mistletoe, the Christmas anthology with new stories from the Word Wenches: Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Nicola Cornick, Anne Gracie, Susan Fraser King, Mary Jo Putney, and Patricia Rice.

  • Sea Glass Summer by Dorothy Cannell, a book that sounds like a romance/women’s fiction hybrid from an author whose mysteries I love (and she hasn’t given her readers a new book in more than three years).

  • The Lady Most Willing, the second collaborative novel from Connie Brockway, Eloisa James, and Julia Quinn. 

The List

The Last Renegade, Jo Goodman (4)
Found (Secrets of Crittenden County #3), Shelley Shepard Gray (4)
Out of Bounds, Ellen Hartman (4)
Not Proper Enough (Seducing the Scoundrels #2), Carolyn Jewel (4)
Pitch Perfect (Cricket Creek #3), LuAnn McLane (4)
The Good Woman (Brennan Sisters #1), Jane Porter (4)
Wife-in-Law, Haywood Smith (4)
The Road to Bayou Bridge (The Boys of Bayou Bridge #2-HSR), Liz Talley (4)
As You Wish, Elyssa Patrick (7)
The Mystery of Mercy Close (Walsh Family #5), Marian Keyes (13)
Two Wrongs Make a Marriage, Christine Merrill (18)
The Accidental Bride (Summer Island #2), Christina Skye (18)
How a Lady Weds a Rogue (Falcon Club #3), Katharine Ashe (25)
Leaves (Gold Family #1), Michael Baron (25)
When the Duchess Says Yes (Wylder Sisters #2), Isabella Bradford (25)
Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed (Sons of Sin #1), Anna Campbell (25)
Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke (Scandalous Brides #3), Suzanne Enoch (25)
My Scandalous Viscount (Inferno Club #5), Gaelen Foley (25)
Lord of Temptation (Lost Lords of Pembroke #2), Lorraine Heath (25)
A Fool’s Gold Christmas (Fool’s Gold #10), Susan Mallery (25)
Last Chance Christmas (Last Chance #4), Hope Ramsay (25)
Better Than Chocolate (Life in Icicle Falls #1), Sheila Roberts (25)
The Moonstone and Miss Jones (Phaeton Black #2), Jillian Stone (25)
Sweet Laurel Falls (Hope’s Crossing #3), RaeAnne Thayne (25)


Mischief and Mistletoe, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Nicola Cornick, Anne Gracie, 
                                    Susan Fraser King, Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice (1)
Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight (Windham Sisters #3), Grace Burrowes (1)
Sea Glass Summer, Dorothy Cannell (1)
His Mistletoe Bride, Vanessa Kelly (1)
In This Town (HSR), Beth Andrews (2)
No Matter What (HSR), Janice Kay Johnson (2)
To Be a Family, Joan Kilby (2)
Together for Christmas, Lisa Plumley (2)
Season for Seduction (Season #2), Teresa Romain (2)
Tempting the Bride (Fitzhugh #3), Sherry Thomas (2)
The Birthday Scandal, Leigh Michaels (9)
The Soldier’s New Found Family, Kathryn Springer (16)
A Gift for All Seasons, Karen Templeton (16)
My Kind of Christmas (Virgin River #20), Robyn Carr (23)
When Snow Falls (Whiskey Creek #2), Brenda Novak (23)
Angels at the Table, Debbie Macomber (23)
Merry Ex-Mas (Life in Icicle Falls #2), Sheila Roberts (23)
Wicked Nights with a Proper Lady (Dangerous Rogues #1), Tiffany Clare (30)
Scorched (Tracers #6, Laura Griffin) (30)
’Twas the Night After Christmas (spinoff --The Hellions of Halstead Hall), Sabrina Jeffries (30)
A Notorious Countess Confesses (Pennyroyal Green #7), Julie Anne Long (30)
The Scottish Witch (Chattan Curse #2), Cathy Maxwell (30)
Suddenly You (HSR), Sarah Mayberry (30)
Lord Gray’s List (London List #1), Maggie Robinson (30)
Barefoot in the Rain (Barefoot Bay #2), Roxanne St. Claire (30)
A Cowboy for Christmas (Jubilee #3), Lori Wilde (30)
Christmas in Cornwall, Marcia Willett (30)


A Royal Pain. Megan Mulry (1)
The Wedding Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts #18), Jennifer  Chiaverini (3)
Renegade, Nancy Northcott (6)
The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro #3), Nora Roberts (6)
Rescue My Heart Animal Magnetism #3), Jill Shalvis (6)
Her Highness and the Highlander (Princess Brides #2), Tracey Ann Warren (6)
Born to Scandal, Diane Gaston (13)
All I Want for Christmas (anthology), Christmas Kisses / Baring It All / A Hot December Night,
Candace Havens, Kathleen O'Reilly and Lori Wilde (13)
Too Dangerous to Desire (Lords of Midnight #3), Cara Elliott (20)
When the Duke Found Love (Wylder Sisters #3), Isabella Bradford (27)
To Wed a Devilish Duke, Lecia Cornwall (27)
If You Were Mine, Laura Lee Guhrke (27)
The Importance of Being Wicked, Miranda Neville (27)
A Private Deal with Agent Gunn (Gentleman of Scotland Yard #3), Jillian Stone (27)


The Bridegroom Wore Plaid, Grace Burrowes (1)
The Baby Bump, Jennifer Greene (18)
All He Ever Needed (Kowalski #4), Shannon Stacey (18)
A Breath of Scandal (Reckless Brides #2), Elizabeth Essex (24)
Vanity Faire, Megan Caldwell (26)
The Lady Most Willing, Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Connie Brockway (26)
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride (Regency Rogues #5), Stefanie Sloane (26)
The Seduction of Elliot McBride (Highland Pleasures #5), Jennifer Ashley (31)
Sea Glass Winter (Shelter Bay #5), JoAnn Ross (31)
Chance of a Lifetime (Harmony #5), Jodi Thomas (31)

What new releases have you looking forward to fall?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tuesday Review: The River Witch

The River Witch
By Kimberly Brock
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Release Date: April 6, 2012

I don’t read a lot of debut authors. Their absence from my annual list of books read has nothing to do with prejudice against beginning authors and everything to do with the number of authors who are autobuys for me and the limited number of books I am able to read. The debut authors I do read tend to be friends or friends of friends. Less frequently, I will read a debut author who comes highly recommended by someone whose opinion about books I respect.  Most of these books are romance fiction. Recently I read a rare debut book that falls in none of these categories. It is a Southern novel that seduced me with its cover copy, and it gets two thumbs up from me and a notation in my reading journal to keep an eye out for the next book from this author.

Thirty-year-old Roslyn Byrne is facing a season of loss. First, a short-term affair with a man who “wasn’t a bad man, but . . . was a plain bad choice” ends with his going home to his wife. A short time later, Roslyn suffers injuries in an automobile accident that end her career with the Atlanta Ballet Company. While she is in the hospital recovering, her maternal grandmother, an influential figure in her childhood, dies. Several months later, she loses a baby and her sane, cynical hold on reality. Her mother, fearful that Roslyn will retreat to the Byrne home place in Glenmary, Tennessee, persuades her to travel to Manny’s Island, an isolated spot in the marshlands off the eastern coast of St. Simon’s, one of Georgia’s Golden Isles. Broken and scarred in body and spirit, Roslyn will find in this mystical, unfamiliar place the healing she needs to integrate all the parts of who she is and become healthy and whole.

The house Roslyn rents and the twelve acres on which it stands belong to Urey Trezevant. Over the months Roslyn spends on the island, she forms connections with the mysterious Urey and his young daughter Damascus, named for the river that borders their property. Like Roslyn, they are people who have known a loss so grievous that they remain among the walking wounded. Urey’s sister, Ivy Trezevant Cain, who is hungry for a life larger than the one she has on the island, becomes Roslyn’s friend, as does her teenage son, a charmer known as JB. Ivy’s husband, Will, provides a way for Roslyn to share a part of her Byrne legacy. Each of them, along with Nonnie, the old conjure woman who has a vision concerning Roslyn purpose on Manny’s Island, and Otis, the stubborn old farmer who knows checkers and pumpkin husbandry, has something to teach Roslyn.

From Roslyn and Damascus, the point of view characters, to the minor characters, even those who people the book only as memories, Brock creates a cast of crazy-quilt personalities of shifting colors, contradictory impulses, and secrets hidden sometimes even from those who possess them. They challenge the mind and touch the heart. I found Damascus, part lost child and part old soul, particularly appealing. She reminded me of other girl children in cherished Southern novels, characters like Carson McCullers’s Frankie and Harper Lee’s Scout.

Brock proves in this lovely, lyrical novel filled with music, natural and perhaps supernatural, that the conventions of southern literature can still be used with grace, power, and freshness by a twenty-first century Southern writer. The past is a vital force that impinges on the present, place as presented in the present of Manny’s Island and the mythic time of Glenmary is as rich and vibrant a presence as any character, family ties that can sustain and imprison—these qualities and more place Brock in the tradition of Southern literature. Hers is an exceptional debut. The River Witch is a beautiful book, haunting and unforgettable. I rank it with the best of contemporary Southern fiction.

I reiterate for my friends who read only romance fiction, be advised that this is not a romance. I highly recommend The River Witch, but it does not have a conventional HEA, although the ending is neither depressing nor confusing.

What’s the last book by a debut author that made you want to share its wonder with all your reading friends?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bonus Review: When You Wish Upon a Duke

When You Wish Upon a Duke
By Isabella Bradford
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: July 31, 2012

One night shortly after Lady Charlotte Wylder, the eldest daughter of the late Earl of Hervey and his countess, rescues her youngest sister’s cat from a tree, she learns that she has been betrothed since she was in her cradle to James Augustus FitzCharles, the third Duke of Marchbourne. Sometime later Charlotte and her duke meet face to face when she has again climbed a tree, this time on the duke’s estate, to rescue Fig the cat. The two quite literally fall for one another as they tumble from the tree. Tree climbing will continue to figure prominently in this story.

Charlotte is a free-spirited innocent, and her duke is a bit on the stuffy side, very concerned about appearances and about the scandalous connection that made him a duke with royal blood in his veins, the great-grandson of a king. Some conflict based on their very different natures is inevitable, and March’s fear that their lusty coupling is inappropriate for his lady duchess leaves Charlotte to wonder what happened to her merry groom and the lovemaking she thoroughly enjoyed. There’s also a villain who creates a spot of bother, but this is fundamentally a light-hearted book. All problems are resolved with a certain humor, and even the villain’s just deserts, while no doubt painful to him, don’t deprive him of life or limb.

Charlotte and March are endearing characters. I thought they were wonderfully paired, and I believed in their HEA.  They both change in the course of the story, something that I’ve learned not to count as a given. Charlotte gains maturity and the confidence to refuse to let Charlotte the person be submerged in Her Grace, the duchess. For his part, March has to let go of his obsession with propriety and appearances. His attitude is more understandable as more of his past is revealed, but he must learn to trust not only Charlotte and her love for him but also his own integrity.

When You Wish Upon a Duke is a book that will make readers smile, but it is lifted above the status of a merely amusing book by the detailed look it offers of the domestic life of a duke and duchess in Georgian England. From descriptions of Charlotte’s quarters in the ducal mansion to the clothes she wears and the food served to the ducal couple, the setting is vibrantly rendered. I especially liked the scene where the duke asks Charlotte to call him March, the name his intimates use, and she agrees to do so if he addresses her by her first name. Both customary behavior and the way this relationship will depart from the customary are revealed in this brief exchange.

I found it refreshing that although there is an arranged marriage, March and Charlotte are eager to fall in love with one another and committed to one another’s happiness. It was also pleasant to encounter a hero who was neither a rake nor a recluse brooding over nameless wrongs. The focus of the novel is unswervingly on the hero and heroine, but readers see enough of Charlotte’s sisters, especially the youngest, to trust they will prove interesting heroines in their turn. I must admit the one scene that disturbed me was Charlotte’s parting from her family. Their disappearance from the story was convenient for the narrative, but the manner seemed heartless. March has a cousin whom I found interesting and would like to see more of. I have a suspicion about him, and I will be interested in seeing if I’m correct.  If I’m wrong, I’ll just have to imagine I’m right. 

Lest you think that Isabella Bradford is a debut author, I hasten to include the information that it is a pseudonym for Susan Holloway Scott, who has written five excellent historical novels under her own name and more than thirty historical romances as Miranda Jarrett. Having enjoyed books written under both those identities, I expected to enjoy this one.  My expectations were met.

The second book in the series, When the Duchess Says Yes will be released September 25 with the final book in the trilogy, When the Duke Found Love, to follow on November 27. I look forward to both of them, but I’m also hoping for more historical fiction from Susan Holloway Scott. And the covers of books two and three are even more gorgeous than the cover of WYWUAD.

There seems to be an epidemic of authors writing under several names. Do you find it confusing? Do you always know if you’re reading a true debut author or meeting one you’ve read before in a new guise?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Review: The Lovesick Cure

The Lovesick Cure
By Pamela Morsi
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: August 28, 2012

First, Jesse Winsloe lost a job she had held and loved for eight years, earth sciences teacher at Tulsa’s Lake Grove Middle School. Then, she lost her fiancé, principal of that school, who now expects Jesse to have lunch with him and his new wife to “clear the air.”  It’s hardly surprising that the invitation pushes Jesse to go along with her mother and stepfather’s suggestion that she leave Tulsa and pay a visit to Aunt Will, her nearest paternal relative, who lives in the Ozark community of Marrying Stone, Arkansas, where Jesse’s father had grown up.

Aunt Will is Marrying Stone’s “granny woman,” valued for as much for her practical wisdom as for her knowledge of the healing properties of herbs, midwifery, and other folk remedies. She has retired from this role, sold her home, and moved to Onery Cabin, built by her great-grandfather, an isolated log cabin on a mountainside farm, accessible by automobile only with a four-wheel drive vehicle.  Despite her retirement, people still approach her for “cures,” but Jesse doesn’t have to ask. Aunt Will, who “knows a lot about mending broken hearts,” volunteers a “plain and simple” cure for Jesse’s “lovelorn solitaries,” six nights of applying a foul-smelling poultice during the phase of the waning moon. 

Erwin Frederick “Piney” Baxley, Jr. is a physician’s assistant who returned to Marrying Stone after he was licensed and set up a community clinic in the first floor of his home. Except for one day a week when a doctor holds office hours in the clinic, Piney provides the medical care for Marrying Stone. He is the single father of a seventeen-year-old basketball star. Piney loves his community and his son is the center of his life, but he’s wary of a relationship with a local woman since he’s a two-time loser at love with his former wife. Jesse reminds him that he is more than his job, more than the father of a teenager. They like one another, and a short-term friendship with benefits may be just what both Piney and Jesse need—or they may discover they need much more.

Readers familiar with Marrying Stone and Simple Jess, two of Morsi’s Americana romances from the 90s, will recognize the setting, although The Lovesick Cure is contemporary. In fact, the heroine’s gets her Ozark nickname “DuJess” from the old timers in Marrying Stone who still remembered Jesse Best when Jesse Winsloe was born and thus called her “Deux Jesse.”  Morsi does a superb job in the new book with presenting Marry Stone in the 21st century, a place that has retained the uniqueness of a traditional mountain community but with touches such as Wi-Fi at the clinic, cell phones, Camryn’s Goth look, and Dr. Mo (Dr. Mohammed El Azziz) as reminders that even so isolated a place as Marrying Stone, Arkansas, has changed with the passing years.

Aunt Will’s story, its past and its present, is interwoven with the story of Jesse and Piney and, to a lesser degree, of Tree and Camryn. All of the characters have the genuineness and likeability that are typical of characters created by Morsi.  I always end a Morsi book with the warm feeling that her characters have earned a place in my heart and in my memory.

There is a certain humor in Aunt Will’s cure for lovesickness. An empathetic reader will likely laugh and cringe at the help Aunt Will gives Jesse in removing the hardened poultice. And I think Piney’s informing Jess that the stench the cure left behind is unmistakable may be the first time I’ve seen an H/H relationship begin with the hero telling the heroine she literally stinks. But Jesse’s time with Aunt Will does effect a cure. When she first arrives, Jesse is filled with a mix of emotions, none of them good: “Jesse was bereft and embarrassed and confused. She was hurt and angry. And she hated the pity she saw in people’s eyes.” After a few weeks, she begins to realize that something was missing in her relationship with her former fiancé: “Their relationship had two speeds: ‘just friends’ or ‘in bed.’ And they had always done better with the former than the latter.” Piney completes her education in exactly what was missing.

Tree and Camryn’s story is real enough to make a reader with teenage children turn pale, and it’s also a bit of a gender twist since it’s the girl who is pushing for them to become fully sexually active. I found it easy to sympathize with Camryn’s fears that Tree will leave her behind and Tree’s determination to resist repeating his father’s mistakes. Tree’s relationship with Piney is another significant thread in this intricately woven narrative. Piney’s description of a parent’s responsibilities will strike home with many readers.

A father had to think about everything, consider everything. Piney understood that he had to view the “big picture” of his son. It was not enough to revel in his athletic achievements. Tree had to develop his intellect and his character, as well. He was going to go out in the world, and it was his father’s responsibility to see that he knew how to handle money, how to wash his laundry, how to change the oil in the car, and how to write a thank-you note in longhand. Tree needed to be helpful, kind and responsible. He also must be hardworking, determined, and principled. Coach Poule was free to enjoy Tree as a high school hero, a star athlete. It was Piney’s job to make sure those accolades were not going to be the sum total definition of his son.

With such a father, it’s no wonder Tree thinks of Piney as he does. “You don’t want me to end up like you. I have to tell you, that’s always been kind of weird to me. I hope I end up like you. In fact, that’s the one goal that I’m really sure about. I want to be as much like you as possible.” And their relationship has enough problems to keep things real. There’s believability, humor, and a bit of role reversal when Tree discovers the truth of his father’s relationship with Jesse.

Aunt Will is the richest character and the pivotal one. All the other characters are connected to her. She has the credible humanness of the other characters, but she is also an almost mythic figure in her wisdom and in the mystical power some believe her to possess. Her utterances at times have an epigrammatic quality.

 “It’s a point of wisdom to know that life is always going to feel like an uphill grade, even now when you’re on the downhill slope.”…… “It’s best to live in the here and now. . . .”

“And wring all the happiness you can find out of what you have.”

When the doctor, concerned about Aunt Will’s health, urges her to treat her body like spun glass, she laughs and tells him she’s never been spun glass. “I’m more the galvanized wash bucket kind of gal,” she says. I’d say she’s pure gold, and the best part of Pamela Morsi’s new book.

Morsi writes quiet books, and their sensuality level is mild. If you limit your romance reading to high adventure and scorching heat, The Lovesick Cure is not for you. But if you like your characters warm and real with a convincing mix of flaws, foibles, and genuine goodness and your fictional worlds similar to something you might find around a few twists in the road or halfway up a mountain, you will enjoy this book. It’s not the best Morsi has written. It lacks the catch-in-the-throat, punch-in-the-heart quality of some of her most highly praised books, but it is a very good book and one I definitely recommend.

I admit to an abiding affection for quiet books. How do you feel about them? Do you prefer books in which big things happen at dependable intervals?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Miss Buncle's Book: Vintage Romance

Miss Buncle’s Book
By D. E. Stevenson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: September 1, 2012

When Barbara Buncle’s dependable dividends suddenly become less dependable in the early 1930s, she needs to add to her income. She rejects keeping hens because they are “such fluttery things,” and she rejects paying guests because Dorcas, her cook/maid/parlor maid/friend who used to be her nurse, didn’t like the idea. The only thing left for a diffident, middle-aged spinster to do is to write a book--and she does. Since she believes she can write only what she knows, she writes about Silverstream, the small English village where she has lived for all of her life, and its inhabitants. She sends Chronicles of an English Village to Abbott & Spicer because they are first in an alphabetical list of publishers.

Arthur Abbott, like all publishers, is in search of a bestseller. He doesn’t have much hope that he’s found one when his nephew Sam, newly employed by the firm, gives him a manuscript with the pedestrian title Chronicles of an English Village written by John Smith. But Sam’s insistence that “the feller who wrote this book is either a genius or an imbecile” persuades him to read it. He reads it twice. He concludes that Sam was wrong.

It was not written by a genius, of course, neither was it the babblings of an imbecile; but the author of it was either a very clever man writing with his tongue in his cheek, or else a very simple person writing in all good faith.

Either way Abbott decides he may have his bestseller, and he sends a request that John Smith pay a visit to the office of Abbott & Spicer to discuss their buying his book. He’s rather charmed when “John Smith” turns out to be the naïve, devastatingly honest Miss Barbara Buncle whose blue eyes and good teeth are all she has to rate her as physically attractive for a woman of her years.

Abbott &Spicer publish the book with a change in title. Chronicles of an English Village becomes Disturber of the Peace, and Disturber of the Peace becomes a bestseller. Those hens Miss Buncle decided not to keep could scarcely have had more ruffled feathers than the villagers of Silverstream when they discover themselves in the book. There are threats of legal action, demands that the book be pulled from bookstores, and plans to horsewhip John Smith when his identity is revealed. No one suspects that the reviled author is the self-effacing Barbara Buncle who is busily taking notes for a sequel, but both Miss Buncle and Mr. Abbott realize that if the villagers don’t find out who John Smith is before the sequel is published, they will certainly have their answer then. 

The first romances written for adults I ever read were my mother’s books, all of them written before the romance revolution of the 1970s. I loved those “gentle romances” and devoured all that my mother owned and all I could find on the shelves of the local library. The novels of D. E. Stevenson were among my favorites. They were written decades before I read them as a preteen, but they had a warmth and a charm that kept me searching for more of them. I was delighted when I saw that Sourcebooks Landmark was reissuing Miss Buncle’s Book, originally published in 1934. Rereading it, I easily understood why Stevenson’s books sold three million copies in the United States.

Barbara Buncle is not the typical romance heroine. She’s older, she’s dowdy, and she’s about as far removed from a “kick-ass heroine” as one can imagine. She provokes laughter, but it’s affectionate laughter, and she moves the reader to sympathy as well. Her problems are real. When Mr. Abbott gives her a hundred pounds as an advance, she signs the receipt with tears in her eyes.

It really was rather astonishing (when you come to think of it) what that tiny piece of paper represented—far more than a hundred sovereigns (although in modern finance less). It represented food and drink to Barbara Buncle, and, perhaps, a new winter coat and hat; but above all, freedom from that nightmare of worry, and sleep, and a quiet mind.

I loved the description of her reaction to the reviews of her book, and seeing the HEA of a character who never even dreamed of one was immensely satisfying.

The cast of secondary characters is large, quirky and memorable. There are some a reader will dislike intensely because she recognizes them, although they may dress differently and speak with a different accent: the domineering, hypocritical Mrs. Featherstone-Hogg; the controlling emotionally abusive Mr. Bulmer; and the cunning, gold digging Vivien Greensleeves. But they are balanced by the hard-working Dr. Walker, still wildly in live with his pretty, intelligent wife; the good-hearted, if misguided, vicar, Ernest Hathaway; and the lively, impulsive Sally Carter. And Stevenson gives her readers three romances—four, if we count the good doctor’s love for his beloved Sarah.

I highly recommend this for readers of sweet romances. But I also recommend it for those who would like a change of pace, are looking for something light and amusing, or find appealing the promise of a book that has the charm of vintage photographs and the comfort of a hug.  I hope that Sourcebook follows up with Miss Buncle Married (1936) and The Two Mrs. Abbots (1943), but I can’t wait. I put them on hold at my library. 

Sourcebooks also reissued Georgette Heyer’s romances and mysteries, the electronic editions of which are on sale for $2.99 each through August 20 in celebration of Heyer’s birthday. I love the idea of making vintage romances available to modern readers. Are there older romances you’d like to see reissued? What do you think makes the difference between enduring appeal and hopelessly dated?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Review: Loving Lady Marcia

Loving Lady Marcia
By Kieran Kramer
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: August 28, 2012

Lady Marcia Sherwood, oldest daughter of the Marchioness of Brady, was just shy of sixteen and still a schoolgirl when she met the Lattimore brothers, a meeting that shaped her life in unexpected ways. They were her escorts to Dublin where she planned to join her family to attend a wedding. Duncan, Earl Chadwick, is older, more reserved, more serious, and totally lacking in the charm possessed in abundance by his younger brother.  Marcia falls in love with the golden-haired, golden-tongued Finn, and on her sixteenth birthday, certain that Finn is the love of her life and that they will soon be married, they become lovers. The following morning a note from Finn informs her that his brother is sending him to America in order to keep Finn and Marcia apart.

Heartbroken, Marcia picks up the threads of her life, never confiding in anyone. But convinced that she can never marry since she is not the innocent, virginal Brady daughter everyone thinks she is, when time comes to leave Oak Hall, her school in Surrey, she refuses to make her debut into society. Instead, she returns to Oak Hall as a teacher. Four years later, she has become headmistress, devoted to the school and to her students, firm in her belief that serving as headmistress is her mission in life. She is in London on business for the school when she meets Duncan, who stirs unwelcome memories. On the same day, her schoolgirl nemesis and now owner of Oak Hall, dismisses Marcia from the position of headmistress, effective immediately. Her life is changing again.

Duncan has spent the four years since his brother’s departure for Virginia dealing with estate problems and rearing Joe, the illegitimate son Finn left behind. Unable to surrender the infant to foster parents, Duncan has brought Joe up as his own son. He is unconcerned about those who frown upon him for recognizing a bastard son, but he does worry about how Joe may be affected. He decides that it’s time he takes a wife, and he’s intrigued by the woman Lady Marcia Sherwood has become. Responsibility is added to attraction when Finn shows up in London unannounced and confesses his seduction of Marcia to Duncan. He decides that the only way to make up for Finn’s offense is to marry Marcia himself. But although Marcia finds herself reluctantly interested in Duncan, she finds Finn as charming as ever—at least until she finds that he lied to her about Duncan’s forcing him to go to Virginia. However intoxicating she finds Duncan’s kisses, they are not enough to make her forsake her hopes of returning to Oak Hall as headmistress.

Loving Lady Marcia is the first book in Kieran Kramer’s House of Brady series. Yes, there is humor in Kramer’s nod to the iconic TV series. Marcia and her sisters Janice and Cynthia all have golden hair, and their mother was a widow when she married the Marquess of Brady, who is the father of three sons. Their names? You guessed it—Gregory, Peter, and Robert. The blended family is loving and funny, even though their well-being is overseen by Burbank the butler rather than Alice. I felt as if I were sharing a giggle with Kramer at several points, but the topical humor never distracted me from the historical characters whose story I found fully engaging.

Lady Marcia is a complex mix of strength and vulnerability, warmth and intelligence. I thought she was more likeable and more interesting than the TV character. Duncan is a dream of a hero. A man of honor with a heavy sense of responsibility and a great heart, he takes care of everyone, even his charming but conscienceless brother. How can a reader resist a hero who possesses all these qualities plus good looks, incredible kissing skills, musical talent, and a habit of reading aloud to his staff? I definitely found him irresistible, and his young son is just as adept at stealing hearts.

If you liked Kramer’s earlier books or if you enjoy your romance mixed with clever humor, I think you will be as delighted with this book as I was. I’m hoping to catch glimpses of Marcia, Duncan, and Joe enjoying their HEA as the stories of the other five members of this Brady Bunch unfold in subsequent books.

I confess I found the premise of a historical Brady Bunch greatly appealing. What about you? Are there other TV shows from the late 20th and early 21st centuries that you’ve seen rewritten as historical romance? Can you think of others that hold possibilities?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: The Inn at Rose Harbor

The Inn at Rose Harbor
By Debbie Macomber
Publisher: Ballantine
Release Date: August 14, 2012

Debbie Macomber makes her debut with a new publisher and returns her readers to familiar territory in the first book of a new series.
Just after New Year’s Day, Jo Marie Rose bought a bed-and-breakfast in Cedar Cove. Still grieving for her husband Paul Rose, a soldier killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in late April of the previous year, she has come to Cedar Cove against the wishes of her family, who want her to stay in Seattle. She and Paul had all too brief a time together, but she believes that she will never love again with the joy and intensity they knew. However, the inn gives her a sense of peace that persuades her Cedar Cove is where she needs to start to build a new life. Since she buys the inn in turnkey condition from a couple who restored the 19th-century home, she is open for business almost immediately. The only significant change she makes is to rename the inn in her husband’s memory.

Her first guests have returned to Cedar Cove reluctantly. Joshua Weaver left twelve years ago when he joined the army shortly after he graduated from high school. His relationship with his stepfather was never cordial, and it grew worse after his mother’s death. When his stepfather accused Josh of stealing from him and kicked him out of the house shortly before graduation, their estrangement was complete. Josh came back just long enough to attend his stepbrother’s funeral five years ago, not even staying overnight. Now the project manager for a construction company, he is in Cedar Cove only because Michelle Nelson, a neighbor and social worker, has contacted him with the news that his stepfather is terminally ill and needs help. It is only a sense of duty that brings Josh home, and he is eager to take care of business and leave as soon as possible.

It is also duty that brings Abby Kinkaid to Cedar Cove. Her older brother is getting married, and his bride is from Cedar Cove. The family, who moved from Cedar Cove a decade earlier, is gathering for the wedding, and Abby knows she has to join them. She has always believed that it was the accident that changed her life irrevocably that forced her parents to move to Arizona. Abby grew up in Cedar Cove, a happy, outgoing girl who shared all the typical activities with her best friend, Angela White. But during Christmas vacation when the two were college freshmen, they were involved in an automobile accident. Angela was killed. Abby was driving, and she felt guilty for her friend’s death, a feeling exacerbated by Angela’s family’s anger and bitterness toward her. Abby believes the whole town holds her responsible for the accident, and so she cut off all contact with friends in Cedar Cove. The guilt she carries has shaped her life, turning her into a very different person from the joyful girl she once was. Even now, ten years after the fact, she refuses to stay at the hotel where the other wedding guests are. Her only idea is get through the wedding, drawing as little attention to herself as possible, and then return as quickly as she can to her home in Florida, about as far from Cedar Cove, Washington, as one can get.  

The themes that link the stories of Josh and Abby are obvious. They are both in need to forgive and to heal in order to move beyond their pasts. In Abby’s case, it is self-forgiveness, but that can be the most difficult of all. They both find far more than they expected in Cedar Cove. The strength and warmth Josh finds in Michelle helps him to forgive his stepfather and begin a new life with Michelle. Abby finds friends who celebrate her return, eventual absolution from Angela’s family, and reconnection with a man from her past. The inn at Rose Harbor promises to be a place of healing and new beginnings not only for Jo Marie but also for all who visit.

Fans who have loved Macomber’s Cedar Cove books will be happy to see that the new series has all the warmth and sense of community that made the original Cedar Cove series so beloved. Old friends such as Grace Harding, Olivia Griffin, and Peggy Belden make brief appearances. I suspect others will show up in subsequent books. If this first book sets the pattern, this series will be the same hybrid of women’s fiction and romance that characterized the other Cedar Cove books. There is even a curmudgeonly, ex-military handyman, Mark Taylor, who promises to add interest and perhaps unanticipated romance to Jo Marie’s new life. Nobody is better than Debbie Macomber at writing books that show hope and love triumphant over the staggering blows life throws at people. There is little new about this new series other than the publisher, but Macomber’s sales suggest more of the same is exactly what her fans want.

Are you a Debbie Macomber fan? What do you think accounts for her huge popularity?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday Review: Within Reach

Within Reach
By Sarah Mayberry
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: August 7, 2012

 Angela Bartlett and Billie Young have been friends since they were young girls at boarding school. The effervescent Billie and the contained Angie are very different personalities, but they balance one another, and they are true sister-friends. Of course, Angie is there to celebrate Billie’s thirty-second birthday  with her, her husband Michael, their children—five-year-old Eva and baby Charlie—and assorted friends and neighbors. But the unthinkable happens: Billie, vital and vibrant at the beginning of the celebration, is dead of an undiagnosed heart problem before the evening’s end.

Ten months later Angie returns from a trip to New York where she’s been training with an American  jewelry designer and finds a gaunt Michael merely going through the motions of living, surrounded by clutter and dust and two children whom he loves desperately but with whom he’s hardly connecting. It’s another blow to Angie’s heart to see what has happened to Billie’s family. Determined to help in any way she can, she offers practical help with the house and the children, but she offers tough love as well, telling Michael that he has become a zombie living in a cave and suggesting that he change his plan to take a year off and return to his work and to life.

Michael, at first angry about Angie’s comments, is forced to reconsider when his daughter reminds him of broken promises to her. Michael recognizes that he owes it to his children to move out of the shadows into the light. He apologizes to Angie and accepts her advice about work. Over the next months, Angie spends a great deal of time with Michael and the children, picking Eva up after school, sharing meals, and developing a real friendship with Michael as an individual and not just as her friend’s husband.

As the friendship between Angie and Michael deepens, an awareness of one another shifts to desire. For both of them, the desire is mixed with guilt. Angie still thinks of Michael as belonging to Billie, and Michael still thinks of himself as married to Billie. They can’t build a future together until each of them can come to terms with what once was and accept with joy what can be.

I’ve been a Sarah Mayberry fan since I read Home for the Holidays and loved it back in 2009. I glommed her backlist and have eagerly awaited subsequent books, all of which I’ve enjoyed.  But I think Within Reach is the best she’s written. Mayberry’s characters always seem real; they behave like adults who know what it is to hurt, to dream, to grow. And Mayberry has the knack for giving her readers romances with plenty of sizzle without making the characters appear to have the libidos of adolescent males. But Within Reach goes beyond her usual excellent romance to present a powerful and moving look at grief and recovery.

Because the reader meets and likes Billie Young in the prologue and sees her interacting with her best friend as well as her husband and children, the empathy evoked for both Angie and Michael has a dimension it would lack had Billie been merely a name. The unrequited love for a best friend’s spouse or lover that blossoms into mutual love after the death of the friend is standard fare in romance fiction, and it has been handled skillfully by some authors, disastrously by others. But what Mayberry does is different, and I think more difficult. Before Billie’s death, Angie and Michael’s relationship is solely through Billie. They like one another, but they define one another in terms of Billie. Angie sees Michael as Billie’s husband; Michael sees Angie as Billie’s best friend.  This removes any sleaze factor from what happens later, and it allows Mayberry to show their relationship develop gradually with the emotional connection strengthening as the sexual tension increases.

The intimacy between them grows naturally from the time they spend together, their mutual commitment to Eva and Charlie, the honest conversations they have, and their concern about each other’s well being. And Mayberry never oversimplifies the process. The relationship, emotional and physical, is a series of advances and retreats, and both Angie and Michael struggle with feelings of guilt and disloyalty each step of the way.

Angie’s relationship with Eva and Charlie is separate from her feelings about Michael. She is a beloved figure in their lives before Billie’s death, and her love and concern for them never diminishes. Even when she thinks she and Michael can have no future, she knows that somehow that she will continue to be a part of the lives of these children. They are paramount for Michael. It is his realization of what his hopelessness is doing to them that pushes him to take the first moves beyond grief. Mayberry also makes readers see the children as individuals. Eva is smart and funny and very much her mother’s daughter in her joy in life. Even young Charlie has a definite personality.

Finally, Mayberry never diminishes the love both Angie and Michael have for Billie.  Each understands the loss the other suffered.  When Angie sees Michael upon her return from New York, she thinks, “He’d loved Billie so much. She’d been the center of his world and she’d died far, far too young. Was it any wonder that he was finding it so hard to pull himself together and move on?”

Even when Michael is angered by what Angie says to him about moving out of his cave, he recognizes what she shared with Billie: “She and Billie had been more like sisters than friends. They had finished each other’s sentences, said the honest thing when it needed to be said and been each other’s best cheerleaders.” The love they had for Billie will go on. It is part of them, and the love they share is neither greater nor lesser than the one Michael shared with Billie. It is equal—and different because grief has made these two people different from the persons they once were.

I would like to have seen another chapter, or perhaps an epilogue. I came to care about these characters so much that I wanted to see more of the HEA. I applaud their recognition that the life ahead of them will doubtless hold problems, but I longed to bask in their happiness see a bit of their future with the children. But maybe that’s the sign of a great read—the reader just doesn’t want to let go of the characters. 

It’s probably redundant to add this, but I highly recommend Within Reach. I’ve added it to my best of 2012 list.

What’s the last book you read that left you reluctant to say goodbye to the characters? Do you think this reluctance explains the popularity of series?

I loved this book so much that I want to share it. I’ll give a copy to one randomly selected commenter (from among U. S readers).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bonus Review: Forever and a Day

Forever and a Day
By Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Grand Central Forever
Release Date: July 31, 2012

Grace Brooks wasn’t looking for a job as a dog walker, but when a misdialed call leads to an offer of the job, she needs the money badly enough to take it. She can only hope her high-achieving super scientists parents never find out that their adopted daughter is reduced to such work. She hasn’t told them that her promising career as a CPA for a banking firm in Seattle came to an abrupt end when she rejected the horizontal position her boss saw as part of the job. Lucky Harbor was exactly one gas tank away from Seattle, but Grace has found friends and a sense of belonging in the small town. She hasn’t found a steady job however, and unlike her friends Mallory Quinn (Lucky in Love) and Amy Michaels (At Last), her social life is sadly lacking as well. What she doesn’t know is that the phone call about a dog walking job she never sought is going to change everything.

Josh Scott hates chaos, but that’s what his life has become.  Five years earlier, his parents were killed in an automobile accident that left Josh, already the single father of an infant son, responsible for his sixteen-year-old sister Anna, who was left a paraplegic by the same accident, and for his father’s medical practice. Things haven’t become any easier. Josh works two shifts each week in Lucky Harbor ER and volunteers once a week at a local clinic while keeping the practice he still thinks of as his father’s going, parenting a five-year-old who has been in a barking stage since Anna introduced a pug puppy into the mix, and riding herd on Anna who is in full-throttle rebellion against her limited, boring life. When his baby sitter bails on him, he really is desperate. He needs help, and Grace needs a temporary job.

Grace is still looking for a job beyond Luck Harbor, one more in keeping with parental expectations. Josh is still determined to avoid a relationship that would mean one more person depending on him. But the chemistry between them proves stronger than their resolutions, and their hearts recognize they are meant to be together long before their heads concede the victory to love.

Forever and a Day is the sixth novel in the Luck Harbor series, the third in the Chocoholics trilogy. It’s my favorite of the series. Grace and Josh are a delight together. Their relationship between them grows in a credible manner with an appealing blend of humor, sexy scenes, and genuine communication. Grace allows herself to become the free spirit she was meant to be, and she balances Josh’s sense of responsibility that weighs too heavily upon him at times. Toby and Anna play important roles. Josh’s love for son is shown in heartwarming scenes, and his relationship with Anna has the complications that one might realistically expect given their particular circumstances. I especially liked seeing Grace’s relationships with Toby and Anna develop naturally rather than seeming to be mere extensions of her relationship with Josh.

Fans of the series will enjoy seeing Mallory and Amy enjoying their HEAs, but the book can be appreciated as a standalone. I’m a fan of small-town contemporary romances, and Shalvis has created one of the strongest series in the subgenre with her Lucky Harbor books. There is the strong sense of community that is the heart of such books, but the focus is on the romance between Grace and Josh. If you’re a fan of Shalvis, I predict this book will become one of your favorites. If you’ve never read Shalvis, I highly recommend beginning with this one. It’s a definite winner.

The trend for small-town contemporary romances shows no signs of slowing down. Do you like this subgenre? Which series is your favorite?