Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three Desperate Women, Two Ghosts and One Angel, or What I’m Reading for Halloween

Last year I reread three of my favorite ghostly romances to celebrate Halloween. Since I rule out horror completely and generally avoid anything too scary, this year I’m rereading three mysteries from keeper shelves—the stories of two helpful ghosts, a substitute guardian angel, and three women who need the aid they can give.

 Aunt Dimity’s Ghost (1992) by Nancy Atherton

Life looks bleak for Lori Shepherd. Her divorce and her mother’s death leave her feeling lonely and isolated. Unable to find steady employment, she is dependent upon poorly paid temp work to survive, which she is barely managing. A burglar delivers a knockout punch, vandalizing her meager possessions including Reginald, the stuffed pink rabbit who has been her most cherished companion since childhood.

Lori is reeling when she receives a letter from the law firm of Willis and Willis requesting her to come in to discuss a matter of interest. The matter turns out to be a request from Dimity Westwood, a woman Lori had known only as Aunt Dimity, the fictional English heroine of the stories Lori’s mother had told the child Lori. Lori is astounded to discover that Dimity had been her mother’s best friend since the two met as young women during World War II. Dimity has recently died and she has left Lori $10,000 and a job, to prepare the Aunt Dimity stories for publication. Lori will have the use of Aunt Dimity’s cottage in small English village of Finch and the assistance of the younger Willis, Bill, while she fulfills Dimity’s request.

Once she and Bill arrive in England, Lori discovers that she also has the assistance of Aunt Dimity herself, or at least her spirit, who communicates with Lori via messages written in a blue journal. Thanks not only to the stories but also to the voluminous correspondence Lori’s mother and Aunt Dimity maintained over decades, Lori learns bits of her mother’s history that she’s never known. She also discovers the tragedy in Dimity’s past, and as she and Bill work together to ensure that Dimity at last gets her HEA, the two young Americans fall in love with Finch and with one another.

The Aunt Dimity series has been one of my favorite mystery series since I first read this debut book twenty years ago. I’ve read all seventeen books and the eighteenth is on my 2013 book calendar, but this one and the one that followed two years later, Aunt Dimity and the Duke, remain my favorites. Aunt Dimity is a delightful ghost. I can’t imagine a better companion for Halloween, and there’s the added benefit of two love stories.

 Angel at Troublesome Creek (1999) by Mignon F. Ballard

Life is not treating Mary George Murphy well. He fiancé dumped her for an aerobics instructor, she lost her job, and her Aunt Caroline, who raised her, dies under suspicious circumstances.  Mary George is such a failure that even her suicide attempts prove unsuccessful. They do succeed in Mary George receiving the help of Augusta Goodnight, a substitute guardian angel who is sent because Mary George’s guardian angel is enjoying a little R & R.

Augusta can’t give Mary George the answers she needs about Aunt Caroline’s death. She’s a guardian, not a clairvoyant. But she can help Mary George focus on the problem and face life rather than flee from it. Augusta, who was last on earth in the 1940s, appears rather intermittently, but with her love of chocolate and swing music and the strawberry aroma that surrounds her, she is a distinctive presence. 

  Ghost at Work (2008) by Carolyn G. Hart

Bailey Ruth and Raeburn and her beloved Bobby Mac exchanged their terrestrial address in Adelaide, Oklahoma, for a celestial one after their cabin cruiser sank in a storm. Bailey Ruth loves her angelic life, but she feels compelled to be of help to humans. That compulsion leads her to volunteer at the Department of Good Intentions. She has visions of an assignment in Paris. Instead, Wiggins, the angel in charge of the department sends her to Adelaide, her former hometown, with  a list of rules for proper angelic behavior, most of which Bailey Ruth breaks within a few hours of her arrival on earth. She’s there to help solve the murder of local creep and businessman Daryl Murdoch.

Kathleen Abbott, wife of the minister of Bailey Ruth’s old church, stands a good chance of becoming the leading suspect if she can’t manage to move the body. Kathleen is hardly more comfortable with Bailey Ruth than she is with the corpse, but she’s desperate enough to accept the angel’s help. Bailey Ruth manages to create as many tangles as she untangles, bemuse a cop, bond with Kathleen’s young daughter, and marvel over the advances in technology since she departed the earth, all while ensuring that justice prevails.

I adore Bailey Ruth. With her love of fashionable clothes, her appetite for good food, and her heart that’s in the right place even when she makes the wrong moves, she’s my kind of angel. This cozy mystery manages to be both hilarious and heartwarming. There’s even a touch of sweet romance between Kathleen and her husband.

All three series have Christmas books too: Aunt Dimity’s Christmas (1999), Aunt Dimity #5; Hark! The Herald Angels Screamed (2008), Augusta Goodnight #7; Merry, Merry Ghost (2009), Bailey Ruth #2. So, I’ll be revisiting them to celebrate another holiday soon.

What’s your favorite Halloween read? Do you prefer the scary stuff, or do you vote with me for the funny and heartwarming.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Reviewing a Reissue: Night Falls Like Silk

Night Falls Like Silk
By Kathleen Eagle
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Release Date: 
August 28, 2012
(original publication: 2003)

At nineteen, a naïve Cassandra Westbrook was a college freshman in need of tuition money and hoping to find it in a beauty contest. Edgar Westbrook, one of the judges and a quarter of a century her senior, persuaded her to marry him. Twenty years later, she’s a wealthy widow who enjoys the elegant home, the active social like, and the other perks her money provides. Her only family consists of her sister Darcy, who has a history of making bad choices, and Darcy’s son, Aaron, an artistically gifted, socially awkward twelve-year-old.  She owns a successful art gallery and has a particular interest in Native American art.

Thomas Warrior, aka Thomas Brown Wolf, is the son of an African American father he never knew and a Lakota mother who died before Thomas reached his thirteenth birthday.  Until he was adopted by Angela and Jesse Brown Wolf, Thomas practically raised himself, mostly on the streets. Angela and Jesse’s intervention came too late for Thomas’s brother Stony, who was unable to break free of his drug addiction. Jesse, a cop, was one of the arresting officers when Stony was picked up on charges for which he later served prison time, an act Thomas views as a betrayal for which he cannot forgive Jesse. An artist from childhood, Thomas has made a name for himself, first as a comic book artist and now as a graphic novelist, a career that has proved even more lucrative. He loves his brother, Angela, and his Brown Wolf siblings, but he lives an essentially reclusive life, answerable only to himself. Those who have read Eagle’s earlier novel The Night Remembers will recognize Thomas’s early story in Tommy T, a secondary character in Angela and Jesse’s book.

Cassandra and Thomas first meet when at Sotheby’s in Chicago when they are the only two bidders remaining in the contention for a rare folio of beautifully preserved Native American ledger drawings. Cassandra wins the contest, but the two have made an unforgettable impression on one another. They meet again in the Brown Wolf home where Angela is trying to convince Thomas to mentor Aaron, a student in her school. The sparks of attraction that were struck at that first meeting ignite as Cassandra and Thomas spend more time together, and the two soon become lovers. Their physical intimacy is not matched by emotional intimacy however. Both are intensely private people wary of trusting others. Cassandra is also uneasy about being a decade older than Thomas and not altogether comfortable with their differences; Thomas is reluctant to admit to feelings stronger than lust for Cassandra because to do would give her power over him.

This already complex relationship is complicated further when Aaron disappears. Soon afterwards, the ledger drawings are stolen. It becomes clear that the plot of Thomas’s graphic novel is being carried over into real life. Thomas himself becomes suspect number one. Life mirrors his art so closely that Thomas even doubts himself. Cassandra never believe Thomas could hurt Aaron, but when the drawings disappear, knowing how strongly Thomas felt that they belonged with the tribe, her faith in him wavers. With hope for Aaron’s safety growing dimmer every additional hour he is missing, Cassandra must decide whether she trusts the man who has shared her bed and captured her heart.

Kathleen Eagle is a strong storyteller and a superb writer, and both gifts are evident in this novel. With that said, however, this is not the novel I would recommend as an introduction to Eagle. Reason to Believe, What the Heart Knows, and The Last Good Man are all fuller, more emotionally powerful tales, and any one of them provides a captivating first look into the wonders of Eagle’s fictional worlds. I found Cassandra an interesting character, but I never felt a strong emotional connection with her. The connection with Thomas was much stronger, but since I had read The Night Remembers first, I don’t know how much of my reaction was based on my affection for and understanding of Tommy T in the earlier book. 

My overall response to Night Falls Like Silk is that it was a good read that could have been better had it been several chapters longer and provided more development of the relationships, the heroine and hero’s certainly but also of Cassandra’s relationship with her sister and nephew and Thomas’s with his family, particularly Jesse. Even with this caveat, Night Falls Like Silk is well worth reading. If you’ve enjoyed other Kathleen Eagle books, you should add this one to your list.

Kathleen Eagle has created a superb group of Native American characters in her single titles and in her category romances. Ben Pipestone in Reason to Believe and Reese Blue Sky in What the Heart Knows are my favorites. Do you have a favorite Native American hero?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Review: Barefoot in the Rain

Barefoot in the Rain
By Roxanne St. Claire
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: October 30, 2012

Jocelyn Bloom left Mimosa Key as a teenager, determined never to return. She’s been back only three times in fifteen years: for her mother’s funeral, for a crucial town meeting, and for the wedding of one of her closest friends. Now she’s been named the other woman in the divorce of one of the celebrity clients she serves as life coach, and Jocelyn needs a sanctuary. Her other high-profile clients are distancing themselves, and the paparazzi are after her in a feeding frenzy. Longtime friend Lacey Walker offers privacy and support at the upscale resort she and her husband Clay are building at Barefoot Bay. Jocelyn is not surprised when not only Lacey but also their other best friends Tessa and Zoe meet her at the airport, but she’s totally unprepared for a meeting with Will Palmer, a friend with whom she shares an even older history, the one for whom she fled Mimosa Key.

Will Palmer was a golden boy. A star athlete in high school with a college baseball scholarship that the town, Will’s father, and Will himself expected to be a logical step on his path to a major league career, he never expected to be back in Mimosa Key, living in his parents’ house, working as a skilled carpenter on Lacey and Clay Walker’s dream project, and taking care of a man he has every reason to hate. Will has spent a lot of time over the past fifteen years thinking about Jocelyn Bloom, his best friend from the time he was ten until that night etched forever in his memory when two eighteen-year-olds almost became lovers and Will tasted failure more bitter than any loss he’s ever known on a baseball diamond.

Jocelyn, a woman in control with a detailed plan for every move, is about to get a lesson in how little she can control. First there’s the unexpected meeting with Will, and then there’s the news that her father, whom she hasn’t seen since her mother’s funeral, is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is being cared for by Will, whom he once threatened to kill. The powerful father she hates has become a harmless old man who knits, does needlepoint, and watches TV. He thinks Will is his son, and he’s forgotten he had a daughter. He thinks Jocelyn has come from his favorite HGTV show, Clean House, to reorganize his home and give him a new start in life. Jocelyn plans to find her father a place in a home that can care for him. Will, who has come to care for the helpless man, wants her to forgive her father. Even more he wants a second chance with Jocelyn. But Will doesn’t know everything that happened that long ago night, and Jocelyn is still fiercely protecting her secrets, old and new. Can a heart guarded by defensive walls so thick open itself to love’s healing touch?

Roxanne St. Claire is another of my autobuy authors, and I enjoyed Barefoot in the Sand, the first book in her Barefoot Bay series. But the first book didn’t prepare me for the power of Barefoot in the Rain. St. Claire deals with important issues realistically and poignantly. She shows the complex emotions that are entangled in domestic abuse and the ways even those who escape are shaped by the experience. She gives the best portrait I’ve seen in fiction of the ways Alzheimer’s steals its victim’s memories and transforms personality. Having dealt with Alzheimer’s personally, I also appreciated her showing the black humor that stems from these changes. 

But this book is so much more than just another issues book. It’s also a book that raises questions about the human capacity for change and for forgiveness. Are some things unforgiveable? Can people who are guilty of heinous actions change? Is harboring even deserved anger and hatred worth the prison sentence it imposes on the heart that holds such darkness?

Barefoot in the Rain is a terrific romance by conventional criteria. I cared about these characters. I was totally engaged by Jocelyn and Will’s relationship, I loved seeing Lacey and Clay living their HEA, and I look forward to returning to Barefoot Bay for Zoe’s and Tessa’s stories. But it’s those questions that the book poses that haunt me. It’s those questions that make me not only give this book my highest recommendation but also add a request. If you read only a dozen romances this year, make this one of them.

What other romances have you read that left you thinking long thoughts and pondering significant questions?