Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Review: When Summer Comes

When Summer Comes  
By Brenda Novak  
Publisher: Harlequin Mira  
Release Date: 
January 29, 2013  

Callie Vanetta has been diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Without a liver transplant, she has six months to live, and as an only child whose parents suffer from debilitating diseases, her chances for a transplant are slim. Determined to make what well may be the last summer of her life as normal as possible, she decides not to tell her parents or her friends about her illness. She turns her photography studio over to her assistant and retreats to her grandparents’ farm, ostensibly to prepare it for sale.

Levi McCloud returned from Afghanistan with all the usual psychic wounds of war plus some. He left home and joined the military at eighteen to escape his abusive father, a martial arts master who viewed his only son as a means of achieving the championship status denied to him by injuries. Estranged from his father and rootless, he has spent the months since his discharge traveling the country on his motorcycle, stopping only long enough to earn money at odd jobs sufficient to buy food and to maintain his motorcycle. His motorcycle breaks down outside of Whiskey Creek one night, and he is attacked by two pit bulls. Bleeding profusely from wounds inflicted by the dogs, he seeks help at Callie’s farm.  

At first frightened by this stranger who avoids her questions, refuses to be taken to a hospital, and runs when sheriff’s deputies show up, Callie soon decides that helping him is positive action she can take even if she is powerless to change her own situation. She offers Levi food, work and a safe place to heal and to repair his motorcycle. Ignoring the concerns of her friends, she offers him sanctuary in her home and, a short time later, in her heart. With the help of one friend to whom she reveals the truth about her medical condition, she manages to keep her illness a secret even from Levi, who caught up in protecting his own secrets.  

Callie and Levi are sympathetic, likeable characters. Even readers whose believe their own reactions to the kind of medical diagnosis that confronts Callie will understand why she makes the choices she does. She wants to enjoy what may well be the last months of her life with those she loves seeing her not her disease and she wants to spare them the anguish of an extended farewell. Levi’s troubled childhood and the guilt he carries from a forbidden romance that ended tragically make his decisions comprehensible too. Although romance readers will be prepared for Callie’s survival, the poignancy of her physical and emotional struggles is real, as are the obstacles she and Levi must overcome.  

This is a sweet romance, and it’s a solid addition to an entertaining, emotionally satisfying series. Novak’s lead characters are all distinct individuals with stories that capture the reader’s interest and touch her heart. In a culture as mobile as American culture has become, this circle of lifelong friends who care about one another and whose lives are intertwined will have a decided appeal for many readers. Some readers may find the ease with which they interfere in one another’s lives more intrusive than involved. I confess that I belong in the latter camp. I have lived most of my life in the small town in which I was born. Many of my closest friendships stretch back to kindergarten and grade school. We know a great deal about one another, but I can’t imagine any of us at any point in our lives holding “interventions” because we disapproved of someone’s romantic choices. Although I was less bothered by this kind of behavior in When Summer Comes than I was in When Lightning Strikes and When Snow Falls, it remains an irritant in a series that I have enjoyed otherwise.  

Heroes and heroines with potentially fatal diseases are rare in romance fiction. Some readers find such characters off putting; others find them realistic and sympathetic. What do you think?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bonus Review: The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home
By Mariah Stewart
Random House/Ballantine
Release Date: January 29, 2013

 Ellis Chapman has come to the small town of St. Dennis, Maryland, to try to put her life back together. Reared as the daughter of wealthy investment banker Clifford Chapman, accustomed to a privileged life of designer clothes, prestigious private schools, and first class accommodations on her world travels, she has nothing left—not even her name. When her father and fiancé were revealed for the thieves they were, Ellis lost her home, her car, her jewelry, and her bank accounts. Even though the FBI and SEC found her innocent of any involvement in her father’s illegal dealings, since even her salary as public relations director for CC Investments came from ill-gotten gains, she was allowed to keep nothing from her former life. For the past year, she has lived in the Boston townhouse of her best friend, Carly Summit, the only friend who stood by her when the scandal broke.

But the time has arrived to get on with her life, and the first step is to sell the house in St. Dennis that has been left to her by her mother. Because Lynley Sebastian bought the house and set up bank accounts to pay taxes, upkeep, and utilities out of money she earned as one of the first supermodels, it has not been confiscated with the Chapman assets. All Ellis has to do is meet the terms of her mother’s will by living in the house for six months, and then she’ll be free to take the money from the sale and construct a new life for herself. Only the family lawyer, Jesse Enright, knows that she is Ellis Chapman. To distance herself from the scandal and its devastating effects, she has chosen to be Ellie Ryder in St. Dennis, a New Yorker who bought the house from Lynley Sebastian’s estate for the express purpose of flipping it. Ellie expects her contact with the citizens of St. Dennis to be minimal, and so she feels no guilt about deceiving them.

Contractor Cameron O’Connor always thought he’d be the one to buy the historic house on Bay View Road when it was sold. He’s kept an eye on all these years, fist for Lilly and Ted Cavanaugh, then for their niece Lynley Sebastian, and lately just in memory of all the kindness the Cavanaughs showed him. His profession helps him appreciate the historical significance of the house, but it’s his personal history with it that is responsible for the emotional tie he feels. At first, he begins to help Ellie make repairs because he expects to buy the house from her, but the more time they spend together, the greater the attraction he feels for her. But the questions keep mounting too. Why is a woman too broke to pay someone to make the repairs she clearly is unqualified to do herself driving a Mercedes? Can it be mere coincidence that Ryder was also the maiden name of Lilly Cavanaugh? Why does Ellie look so familiar?

Ellie’s intentions to stay uninvolved during her stay in St. Dennis don’t last long when she’s confronted with the friendliness and good will of the townspeople. Visits to deliver cupcakes and freshly baked bread, invitations to beer and bakery tastings, and First Families Day, and the attention of a certain hot contractor all lead to St. Dennis feeling more and more like home. Add a dog that comes to say and the family secrets that link Ellie to the house in surprising ways, and she is soon establishing roots in what was supposed to be strictly a temporary refuge. But will the welcome and friendship extended to Ellie Ryder be there for Ellis Chapman. Can she create a home here for the young half-sister she has just discovered? Will Cameron be interested in Ellis Chapman? These are the questions Ellie longs—and fears—to have answered.

The Long Way Home is the sixth book in Mariah Stewart’s Chesapeake Diaries series. Ellie and Cameron appear to be ordinary, likeable people, but appearances are deceptive. Both have things in their pasts that brought them shame and pain. Both know what it means to be at the center of shocking events they had no part in creating, and they both have to learn to trust enough to share their secrets if they are to have the life they want. Like the other characters in this series, these protagonists reveal that life in this small town is anything but simple and uneventful. More sweet than sizzling, this novel is a welcome addition to a series that blends heartwarming romance with layers of mystery.

Readers who have been following the series will enjoy the new story and delight in catching up with characters from the earlier books. Lucy and Clay’s wedding is a particular treat. Readers who like the small-town series of Robyn Carr, Emily March, and JoAnn Ross will likely find in Stewart’s St. Dennis another place that makes them long for a return visit.

The small-town romance trend shows no signs of fading. It seems that almost every month brings a new entry for the subgenre. I’ve lost count of how many I read regularly. How do you feel about small-town settings? Are you happy to see more, or are you ready for more big city scenes?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday Review: How to Entice an Earl

How to Entice an Earl
By Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: January 29, 2013

Lady Madeline Essex is feeling a bit lonely since her cousins, Cecily (How to Dance with a Duke) and Juliet (How to Romance a Rake) have begun living their happily ever afters, but even so, she herself is not quite ready for matrimony. There are things she hopes to accomplish first, foremost among them, completing her first novel. In pursuit of that goal, she uses a bit of sibling blackmail to persuade her brother to escort her to Mrs. Bailey’s, a gambling hell frequented by gentlemen looking for high stakes games and ladies not overly concerned with their reputations. Maddy is not at all happy to discover that the Earl of Gresham is in attendance as well, but she has reason to be grateful to him when she stumbles upon a dying man and the brother who abandoned her at such a moment becomes a prime suspect.

Christian Monteith, still unaccustomed to his new status as the Earl of Gresham, is at Mrs. Bailey’s on a mission for the Home Office because of suspicions that the murdered man and others, including Madeline Essex’s brother, may be involved in a radical organization. He’s furious to see Lady Madeline there, but his concern over her being touched with scandal soon takes second place to his concern over her safety. He’s about to learn that Maddy is not willing to retire to the sidelines while men solve the crime. She may cry in Gresham’s arms in a closed carriage, but she’s soon stubbornly, infuriatingly planning her own investigation.

As Maddy and Gresham work together to find a killer, with Maddy determined to prove her brother’s innocence and Gresham determined to protect Maddy, the simmering attraction between them intensifies at a rate that catches them both by surprise. But they also become friends who talk to one another, who laugh together. Gresham, who is burdened by guilt over his twin sister’s suicide while he was out of the country fighting the French, understands Maddy’s need to help her younger brother. He even sympathizes with her frustration over the strictures society imposes on women. Neither one is willing to call it love, but it’s clear that these two are falling hard for one another. However, there’s still a killer on the loose, one who is all too willing to interfere with their HEA.

How to Entice an Earl is the final novel in Manda Collins’s Ugly Ducklings trilogy. Like its predecessors, it weaves mystery and romance together in a fine balance. The action centers on the mystery, which also serves as a catalyst for the relationship between Maddy and Gresham. But the focus is squarely on the romance, and the reader is privileged to see the romantic relationship develop in a manner that involves humor, a deepening emotional intimacy, and plenty of sizzle.

Maddy’s outspokenness, her courage, her loyalty, and above all, her determination not to be defined by her parents’ disappointment in her or society’s expectations of her make her an engaging heroine. She is also surprisingly sensible despite her determination to fight her own battles. I especially appreciated her recognition, even before she understands that she loves Gresham, that they must marry. She may resent the limitations her world imposes on women of her class, but she recognizes there are boundaries she cannot transgress without giving up more than she's willing to forfeit and without hurting those she loves. She also knows Gresham and values the man that he is. She believes they can build a life together even though she thinks she will miss the love match her cousins enjoy.

She had come to appreciate his sense of the absurd as much as his strength and loyalty. Who would wish to be tied to a man who never laughed, she wondered, leaping ahead to what she knew this interview was truly about. Not their well-being or their absurdity, but their marriage.

I was ready to cheer aloud when on their wedding day Maddy learns something that could have become a Misunderstanding of Great Proportions. But Maddy proves how well she knows her man by rejecting the obvious and intuiting the truth. How rare is that in romance?

And Gresham! I’ll always think of him as Monteith because he was not yet the Earl of Gresham when I first encountered him in manuscript form and fell in love with his humor, his disdain for fashion, his kindness, and his sense of honor. I waited impatiently for his story, and he proved to be the hero I expected.

If you haven’t met the Ugly Ducklings, what are you waiting for? How to Entice an Earl can certainly be read as a standalone, and you can begin with it--although I’ll be surprised if you don’t find the cousins and their heroes so appealing that you’ll want to read their stories too. I highly recommend all three books.

The Big Misunderstanding is a classic romance trope that operates across all subgenres. Some readers love it. Others hate it. I admit I fall in the latter camp and, thus, was thrilled that Maddy avoids the Big Mis. I’ve seen misunderstandings work, but far more often, they leave me wondering how people who don’t talk to one another expect to create a life together. What is your opinion of the Big Mis?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Review: One Good Earl Deserves A Lover

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover:
The Second Rule of Scoundrels
By Sarah MacLean
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: January 29, 2013

Lady Philippa Marbury, fourth daughter of the Marquess of Needham and Dolby, is not the typical aristocratic miss. A scientist more interested in books and plants than in balls and clothes and on dits, she is brilliant but socially awkward. She is about to be married to Earl of Castleton, a man she accepted because he was good and kind and he liked dogs. He also admired Pippa’s intelligence and was happy to for her to use her knowledge in the running of estate. Also, he had asked her. 

Pippa has no illusions about how most people view her odd ways. Curious by nature and always more comfortable when she can act from full knowledge, she is concerned about her ignorance of the physical aspects of marriage. Like any good scientist, she believes that research will give her the answers she needs, but for this particular research, she requires an assistant, one who possesses the knowledge she lacks. Cross, the mysterious part-owner of the infamous Fallen Angel, London’s most notorious gaming hell, who is known as an expert in coitus, is perfect for the position.

Cross knows that despite her deceptively ordinary appearance, Lady Philippa must be mad. Nothing short of insanity could explain why the daughter of one of the most powerful peers in the land would be in his office in the Fallen Angel using words like “ruination” and “coitus” and demanding that he be her “research assistant.” Jaded as he is, Cross is shocked, and only his experience as gambler allows him to hide his reaction. He wants Pippa, a name he thinks fits her uniqueness, far away from his hell—for her sake and for his own. His awareness of her physical presence and the memories she evokes of the world from which he is an exile disturb him more than he’s willing to admit even to himself.

Cross succeeds in sending Pippa home with her ignorance of coitus unchanged, but an unexpected and secretive meeting at Pippa’s betrothal ball intensifies their interest in one another. Cross can’t afford the complication of Pippa. He has a sister to protect and a dangerous blackmailer to thwart. Pippa must stop thinking of Cross. In a matter of days she will be the Countess of Castleton. And yet . . .

The pairing of  a bookish heroine and a wounded hero with a rakish history ensured that I would find this book appealing, but it is Pippa who sent the novel soaring to the top of my rating scale. A misfit in spectacles who is not really understood even by those who love her, she is a total delight—remarkably intelligent, unconsciously funny, honest, and authentic. Cross has the perception to appreciate her, to see her beauty, internal and external. I sometimes find it difficult to imagine a hero and heroine really being happy together a decade or more past the final page. I wonder what connection they will find during periods when passion becomes more flicker than flame. I have no such concerns about Pippa and Cross. I believe their intimacy encompasses their minds and spirits as well as their bodies.

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover is a difficult book to categorize. The title suggests a light-hearted romance, and I appreciated the ambiguity of the “one good earl.” In many ways, the story is a romantic comedy. There are some deliciously funny scenes that left me laughing out loud—the initial meet scene in Cross’s office, Pippa and Castleton’s dance at their betrothal ball, Pippa’s interview of Sally Tasser. But there are also scenes of great poignancy and even darkness. The allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost are sometimes amusing, a few times melodramatic, but in a real sense the owners of the Fallen Angel know hell is more than slang for a gaming house. The mix makes this story more complex and more richly textured than most romantic comedies.

This second book in the series can be read as a standalone since the story of Pippa and Cross is complete within its pages, but readers who enjoyed the first book, A Rogue by Any Other Name, will be pleased to see more of Penelope and Bourne. And Temple and Chase, the other two partners in the Fallen Angel, play large enough roles to leave readers eager for their stories. I’m happy to say that MacLean accomplishes the latter without making these characters seem to be nothing more than sequel bait.

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Sarah MacLean’s books, but this one is my favorite, at least for the moment. I admit that I am eagerly anticipating Temple’s story, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, scheduled for release on August 27, 2013, and I’m even more eager for Chase’s story to see if my suspicions are confirmed. I suppose I have to wait until 2014 for that one.

Bookish heroines (and bookish heroes) are among my favorite characters. Do you share my fondness for such characters? Who are your favorite bookworms in romance?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday Review: The Marriage Campaign

The Marriage Campaign
By Karen Templeton
Publisher: Harlequin 
(Special Edition)
Release Date: 
January 22, 2013

Karen Templeton wraps up her Summer Sisters trilogy in this book, following The Doctor’s Do-Over (Mel and Ryder’s story) and A Gift for All Seasons (April and Patrick’s story). Blythe Broussard is serving as maid of honor and wedding planner for the double wedding of the two cousins with whom she shared the summers of their childhood at their grandmother’s house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She’s thrilled for Mel and April, but their happiness makes her newly and acutely aware that the flip side of her treasured independence is loneliness.

Wes Phillips, a young widower with an eleven-year-old son, is one of Maryland’s congressional representatives. His wife was killed two years earlier in the same automobile accident that took the life of Ryder’s fiancée. But unlike Ryder who has mourned his loss and is ready to begin a new life with Mel and her daughter Quinn, Wes can’t imagine himself married to anyone other than Kym. He takes his responsibilities to his district seriously, in part because of his own idealism and in part to honor Kim who worked hard to see him elected. He is devoted to his son Jack, but Wes’s work in Washington means that he is away from Jack a great deal of the time and often caught up with job-related tasks even when he is home in Maryland.

Blythe, emotionally abandoned by her own parents, identifies with Jack who is still grieving for his mother and angry that his father doesn’t seem to have time for him. His grandparents live with him, but not even their loving presence makes up for what he has lost. Blythe knows from experience the dangers that such feelings can lead to. When Wes hires her to design a new, more grown-up room for Jack, she finds herself falling hard for Wes, Jack, and Jack’s black lab, Bear.

She’s not the only one. The attraction that Wes feels for Blythe from their early meetings grows into something more powerful as the two of them spend more time together. Soon Wes knows he wants Blyth in his life permanently, but Blythe is all too aware of the obstacles to that ending. Jack is not ready for someone to take his mother’s role, and even when Jack opens his heart to Blythe, her own wild-child past makes her the last person a politician needs as his wife.  

Readers will find both Blythe and Wes likable, sympathetic character and will feel invested in seeing them achieve their HEA. Jack is an important character, and Templeton makes both him and Quinn, who are tweens at that difficult stage when they are no longer little kids but are not yet teenagers, both believable and endearing. The relationship among the three cousins continues to be an important thread in the story and part of the appeal of the series. Those who read the two earlier books will certainly enjoy the glimpses of Mel’s and April’s HEAs with the men they are marrying, but The Marriage Campaign can be read as a standalone.

The Doctor’s Do-Over is my favorite of the three books, but this book is a strong conclusion to a trilogy that is among award-winning Templeton’s best work. If you haven’t read Karen Templeton, this book—or even better, this series—is an excellent place to begin.

I can’t think of many romances that feature a politician as a hero. Why do you think politician heroes are a rare breed in romance fiction?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Anticipation, Part I: The Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2013 (January-June)

So the best of 2012 lists have been posted and discussed, but there’s another list I enjoy creating and sharing just as much—my list of the romance fiction I look forward to reading in 2013. This is not a comprehensive list. The Romance Dish, Heroes and Heartbreakers, and All aboutRomance all post lists each month of the romance novels and novels with strong romantic elements in all subgenres. (Links are to January lists.) I encourage you to check the lists at those sites because they are inclusive. My list is from my book calendar, and it includes only those books I plan to read the first six months of this year. Even with this restriction, the list may be incomplete, particularly for books scheduled for release after March 31. I’m sure I’ll be adding to the list as I read ARCs, reviews, and raves from friends and as I discover more new releases from authors who are self-publishing. Sometimes publishers change titles and release dates after early information is released, but based on the information available to me on January 1, 2013, these are the romance novels (and a few novellas) that have me singing a variation of an old Carly Simon song.

We never know all about the books to come,
but we dream about them anyway, yay.
And I wonder if they’ll really be keepers
or just books to read and give away.

Anticipation, anticipation
is making me sigh
and keepin’ me smilin’

These are the great new books—


The Baby Bump* (HSE), Jennifer Greene
Waking Up with a Rake (Royal Rake #1), Mia Marlowe
Beach House Beginnings* (prequel Beach House series), Christie Ridgway
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride (Regency Rogue #5), Stefanie Sloane

Back to the Good Fortune Diner* (HSR), Vicki Essex
Countdown to First Night* (anthology), Jillian Hart et al.
A Hometown Boy* (HSR), Janice Kay Johnson
That Weekend* (HSR), Jennifer McKenzie
The Other Side of Us* (HSR), Sarah Mayberry
The Truth about Comfort Cove* (HSR--Comfort Cove #2), Tara Taylor Quinn
Something to Believe In (HSR), Kimberly Van Meter

Dream Eyes (Dark Legacy #2), Jayne Ann Krentz

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker – Jennifer Chiaverini

Be Mine: Sizzle/Too Fast to Fall/Alone with You (anthology),
Jennifer Crusie, Victoria Dahl, Shannon Stacey
Moonlight Masquerade (Edelian #8), Jude Deveraux
The Downfall of a Good Girl* (Harlequin Kiss), Kimberly Lang
Out of Warranty, Haywood Smith
The Marriage Campaign* (Summer Sisters #3), Karen Templeton

The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica Bauermeister

How to Misbehave (novella, introduction to Camelot series), Ruthie Knox

When She Said I Do (Worthington #1, Celeste Bradley
How to Entice an Earl* (Ugly Ducklings #3), Manda Collins
That Scandalous Summer* (Rules for the Reckless #1), Meredith Duran
Here I Go Again, Jen Lancaster
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover* (Rules for Scoundrels #2), Sarah MacLean
The Temptation of Your Touch, Teresa Medeiros
That Night on Thistle Lane* (Swift River Valley #2), Carla Neggers
When Summer Comes* (Whiskey Creek #3), Brenda Novak
Crazy Thing Called Love* (Crooked Creek Ranch #3), Molly O’Keefe
Beach House No. 9* (Beach House #1), Christie Ridgway
The Long Way Home* (Chesapeake Diaries #6), Mariah Stewart 


Finding Justice (HSR), Rachel Brimble
Lady Eve’s Indiscretion (Windham Sisters #2), Grace Burrowes
The Closer You Get (HSR), Kristi Gold
Reservations for Two (HSR), Jennifer Lohmann
Wild for the Sheriff (HSR), Kathleen O’Brien
In from the Cold (HSR), Mary Sullivan
Bending the Rules (HSR), Margaret Watson

The Autumn Bride (Chance Sisters #1), Anne Gracie
A Duke Never Yields (Affairs by Moonlight #3), Juliana Gray
Crystal Cove (Friday Harbor #4), Lisa Kleypas

One Less Lonely Cowboy (HSE), Kathleen Eagle
Bungalow Nights (Beach House #2), Christie Ridgway
More Than Words, Where Dreams Begin (anthology),
Sherryl Woods, Christina Skye, Pamela Morsi

Captain Durant’s Countess (The London List #2, ebook), Maggie Robinson

Perfect Timing (Kendrick/Coulter #11), Catherine Anderson
A Bride by Moonlight* (Fraternitas Aureae Crucis #4), Liz Carlyle
The Best Man* (Blue Heron #1), Kristan Higgins
Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane #5), Elizabeth Hoyt
The Conquest of Lady Cassandra (Fairbourne Quartet #2), Madeleine Hunter
The Earl Is Mine (House of Brady #2), Kieran Kramer
The Last Debutante (Secrets of Hadley Green #4), Julia London
A Most Scandalous Proposal*, Ashlyn MacNamara
Three Sisters* (Blackberry Island #2), Susan Mallery
The Duke Diaries* (Royal Entourage #3), Sophia Nash 


Back Where She Belongs (HSR), Dawn Atkins
The Next Right Thing (HSR), Colleen Collins
An Act of Persuasion (HSR), Stephanie Doyle
Anything for Her (HSR), Janice Kay Johnson
Maybe This Time (HSR), Joan Kilby
Home to Laura (HSR), Mary Sullivan

The Heart of a Hero (Spellbound Falls #4), Janet Chapman
What Darkness Brings (Sebastian St. Cyr #8), C. S. Harris
The Second Chance Café* (Hope Springs #1), Alison Kent

Along Came Trouble (Camelot #1), Ruthie Knox

With This Kiss (e-short: Seducing the Pirate 2nd Generation, Part 1), Eloisa James

Family Pictures, Jane Green

With This Promise (e-short: Seducing the Pirate 2nd Generation, Part 2), Eloisa James
Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10), Jacqueline Winspear

Secrets of a Runaway Bride (Secret Brides #2), Valerie Bowman
And the Miss Ran Away with the Rake* (Rhymes with Love #2), Elizabeth Boyle
The Wanderer (Thunder Point #1), Robyn Carr
The Handbook to Handling His Lordship (Scandalous Brides #4), Suzanne Enoch
The Paris Affair (Suzanne & Malcolm #3), Teresa Grant
With This Ring (e-short: Seducing the Pirate 2nd Generation, Part 3), Eloisa James
Once Tempted (Silver Creek #1), Laura Moore
Last Chance Book Club (Last Chance #6), Hope Ramsay
Sins of a Ruthless Rogue (Sinners #2), Anna Randol
The Love Shack (Beach House #3), Christie Ridgway
What She Wants (Icicle Falls #3), Sheila Roberts
Currant Creek Valley (Hope’s Crossings #4), RaeAnne Thayne
Sandcastle Bay (Ocean Breeze #1), Sherryl Woods


Far in the Wilds (prequel novella), Deanna Raybourn

Talk of the Town (HSR-Shady Grove #1), Beth Andrews
Darius (Lonely Lords #1), Grace Burrowes
A Better Father (HSR), Kris Fletcher
The Summer Place (HSR), Pamela Hearon
You Are Invited . . .  (HSR), Holly Jacobs
Love Irresistibly (FBI/US Attorney #4), Julie James
The First Move (HSR), Jennifer Lohmann
Right from the Start (HSR), Jeanie London
Starting Now (Blossom Street #9), Debbie Macomber
Let It be Me (Blue Raven #5), Kate Noble
The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (2nd Epilogues), Julia Quinn
Sweet Madness (Veiled Seduction #3), Heather Snow
One Texas Night, Jodi Thomas
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, Wendy Wax

Hero of My Heart, Megan Frampton

It Happened at the Fair, Deeanne Gist
The Mystery of Mercy Close (Walsh Family #5), Marian Keyes
The Ashford Affair*, Laura Willig

Whiskey Beach, Nora Roberts

Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince (Aunt Dimity #18), Nancy Atherton
Making His Way Home (Mirror Lake #6), Kathryn Springer

Tarnished Among the Ton, Louise Allen
Fly Away, Kristin Hannah
Her Hesitant Heart (HH), Carla Kelley
The Greatest of Sins, Christine Merrill
The Mystery Woman (The Ladies of Lantern Street #2), Amanda Quick
A Spear of Summer Grass*, Deanna Raybourn

Half Moon Hill (Destiny #6), Toni Blake
Midnight Temptations with a Forbidden Lord (Dangerous Rogues #2), Tiffany Clare
Run to You, Rachel Gibson
Cowboy, Take Me Away (Rainbow Valley #1), Jane Graves
Lord of Wicked Intentions (Lost Lords of Pembroke #3), Lorraine Heath
The Devil’s Heart (Chatham’s Curse #3), Cathy Maxwell
What a Lady Needs (Redgraves #2), Kasey Michaels
A Passion for Pleasure (Daring Hearts #2), Nina Rowan
Barefoot in the Sun (Barefoot Bay #3), Roxanne St. Claire
Wind Chime Point (Ocean Breeze #2), Sherryl Woods


Halfway There (Fool’s Gold novella), Susan Mallery

Ten Reasons to Stay (novella, School for Heiresses 7.5), Sabrina Jeffries

A Prior Engagement (HSR, SAS #4), Karina Bliss
Jane’s Gift (HSR), Abby Gaines,
True to the Law, Jo Goodman
A Family Reunited (HSR), Dorie Graham
Dead, White, and Blue (Death on Demand #23), Carolyn Hart
April Showers (HSR), Holly Jacobs
Where It May Lead (HSR), Janice Kay Johnson
Whisper’s Edge (Cricket Creek #7), Luanne McLane
Her Perfect Cowboy (HAR), Trish Milburn
It’s Never Too Late (HSR), Tara Taylor Quinn
Heart on His Sleeve, Jodi Thomas

Meant to Be (Book #1), Terri Osburn

The Secret Life of Lady Julia, Lecia Cornwall
Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4), Tessa Dare
Exposed (Tracers #7), Laura Griffin
I’ll Be Seeing You, Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan
Once Upon a Tower (Fairy Tales #5), Eloisa James
Just One Kiss (Fool’s Gold #11), Susan Mallery
It Had to Be You (Lucky Harbor #7), Jill Shalvis
Love at First Sight (Cupid, Texas #1), Lori Wilde
Sea Glass Island (Ocean Breeze #3), Sherryl Woods

A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams


Earl Meets Girl (Royal Pain #2), Megan Mulry

Swept Away (novella), Mariah Stewart

Ladies Night, Mary Kay Andrews
A Cookbook Conspiracy (Bibliophile Mystery #7), Kate Carlisle
Just for Today (HSR), Emmie Dark
How to Tame Your Duke, Juliana Gray
A Walk down the Aisle (HSR), Holly Jacobs
Carolina Girl (Dare Island #2), Virginia Kantra
A Time for Us (HSR), Amy Knupp
Romanced by a Rake (Royal Rakes #2), Mia Marlowe
The Father of Her Son (HSR), Kathleen Pickering
His Uptown Girl (HSR), Liz Talley
Can’t Stop Believing (Harmony #6), Jodi Thomas
Once a Champion (HSR), Jeannie Watt
The Time Between, Karen White

Flirting with Disaster (Camelot #2), Ruthie Knox

Whistling Past the Graveyard, Susan Crandall
Sweet Salt Air, Barbara Delinsky
What The Duke Desires (Duke’s Men #1), Sabrina Jeffries
Through the Evil Days (Clair & Russ #8), Julia Spencer Fleming

London’s Last True Scoundrel (Ministry of Marriage #4), Christina Brooke
The Newcomer (Thunder Point #2), Robyn Carr
Vixen in Velvet (Dressmakers #3), Loretta Chase
Scandal in the Night (Reckless Brides #3), Elizabeth Essex
A Woman Entangled (Blackshear Family #3), Cecilia Grant
The Duchess Hunt (House of Trent #1), Jennifer Haymore
It Happened One Midnight (Pennyroyal Green #8), Julie Anne Long
Two of a Kind (Fool’s Gold #12), Susan Mallery
The Sum of All Kisses (Smythe-Smith #3), Julia Quinn
The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter (Paranormal Investigator #3), Jillian Stone
Anything But Sweet, Candis Terry
Willowleaf Lane (Hope’s Crossing #5), RaeAnne Thayne
All Out of Love (Cupid, Texas #2), Lori Wilde

June ?
Fatal Mistake (Fatal #6), Marie Force

That’s 179 books I hope to read in the first six months of this year. I have read twenty-five already (those marked with an asterisk), and I’m excited about the rest. What am I anticipating most eagerly between now and June 30? A tough question, but here’s my top ten: the release of How to Entice an Earl (featuring my favorite hero in Manda Collins’s Ugly Duckling trilogy), the start of a new Anne Gracie series with The Autumn Bride, Eloisa James’s three-part second generation tale that’s a spinoff from The Ugly Duchess and “Seducing the Pirate,” the two books (The Wanderer and The Newcomer) in Robyn Carr’s first new series in almost six years, the print publication at long last of the Bridgertons’ second epilogues  (Happily Ever After), Wendy Wax’s provocatively entitled While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, a return trip to Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island (Carolina Girl), a new book from Susan Crandall (Whistling Past the Graveyard), the eighth Pennyroyal Green book from Julie Anne Long (It Happened One Midnight), AND the release of Meant to Be (Terri Osburn’s debut) on May 21.

What books are you most eagerly anticipating in the first six months of 2013? What should I add to my list?

Note: Anticipation, Part II: The Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2013 (July-December) will be posted in late May.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Winner Is . . .

The winner of her choice of a 
January Harlequin Superromance is


Please email me at jangarho at gmail dot com with your contact info and your choice of book.

Tomorrow at noon (ET)  I'll post my list of the books I am anticipating for January-June 2013. Please stop by and let us know the books you are most eagerly anticipating.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Supers: Three Short Reviews


Back to the Good Fortune Dinner
By Vicki Essex
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

Growing up, Tiffany Cheung couldn’t wait to leave the small town where she always felt like a misfit. Now, having lost her job as a junior assistant in a New York publishing house and having been evicted from her apartment, she is forced to return to Everville, New York, to her parents’ home, constant comparisons to her brother, and pressure to work at the Good Fortune Diner, the family’s Chinese restaurant. Tiffany is determined to find another job in the city, but for the present she has no money, no car, and a hefty credit card bill plus major body repairs for her wrecked car. The last thing she wants is for her parents to bail her out, a move that could guilt her into working at the diner. When her high school crush asks her to tutor his son for the summer, Tiffany can’t turn down the money or the chance to see more of Chris Jamieson, who is even hotter now than he was in high school.

Tiffany Cheung’s tutoring helped Chris Jamieson earn a college scholarship, but when his girlfriend became pregnant, he left school to marry her and to work on the family farm. Now he’s the divorced father of a teenage son with a snarl, an attitude, and failing grades in English. His problems are compounded by his father whose ideas about farming and about people are stuck in the previous century. Chris hopes history will repeat itself when Tiffany tutors his son, but he’s ready to write a new story with the new and improved version of his former tutor. But with generational clashes, cultural clashes, and other misunderstandings, Chris and Tiffany have a lot to overcome before they head for their HEA.

Romances that cross cultural barriers are rare, and Back to the Good Fortune Diner does an exceptional job of showing the hybridity of second/third generation immigrants and the prejudices that are still alive and flourishing in pockets of American culture on both sides of cultural divisions. Tiffany is not always a likeable character, but she is interesting and realistic. The relationship between her and Chris develops in a realistic fashion as well. The secondary plot of Daniel, Tiffany’s brother, adds further interest. I recommend this one with a couple of caveats. Some readers may feel that Tiffany surrenders too much of what she wants to get her HEA, and, given the characterization of the parents of both hero and heroine, readers over fifty may feel that mature adults are unfairly portrayed as bigots unable and unwilling to deal with change.

The Truth about Comfort Cove
By Tara Taylor Quinn
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

This is the third book in Quinn’s It Happened in Comfort Cove series, following A Son’s Tale and A Daughter’s Story. The abduction of two-year-old Claire Sanderson twenty-five years earlier is the case that links the three books. In The Truth about Comfort Creek, two cold case detectives, Lucy Hayes of Aurora, Indiana, and Ramsey Miller of Comfort Creek, Massachusetts, continue to work together to give Emma Sanderson the answers she needs about her little sister’s disappearance.

Lucy and Ramsey have a lot in common, and not all their common ground is professional. Lucy is fighting to keep her emotionally fragile, alcoholic mother sober and strong enough to testify in the trial of the man who raped her and abducted her six-month-old daughter twenty-eight years ago, before Lucy was born. That loss has shaped Lucy’s life as much as it has her mother’s. Totally committed to her job, Lucy maintains a reserve in her private life that keeps everyone at a distance.

Ramsey too knows what it means to lose a sister and watch a mother disintegrate from grief. His sister Diane died as a teenager, and Ramsey holds himself responsible for her death. Knowing that his mother holds him responsible as well, he left Vienna, Kentucky, where he grew up as soon as he could, and he rarely returns, not even to visit his parents on holidays. Instead, he immerses himself in his work, focusing particularly on child abduction cases. His job is his life.

Drawn together by the Sanderson case, the two become friends. They talk on the telephone almost nightly, sharing information about their cases, helping one another when possible, and continuing to spend hours of their own time searching for clues in the Sanderson case. They even fly halfway across the country to be there for one another at crucial moments. Before either of them realizes what’s happening, they come to depend on those phone calls. Their friendship deepens, their physical awareness of one another intensifies, and soon two people who never allowed themselves to think about a relationship are involved in one that is becoming more and more important to them. When the Sanderson case is unexpectedly solved in a way that smashes all their theories about what happened to Claire, their feelings for one another become their only certainty.

The Truth about Comfort Cove is a compelling romantic suspense tale with a resolution that few readers will suspect. Although this is the culmination of a mystery that runs through three books, sufficient background is provided so that this final book can be read as a standalone. The romance and the suspense elements are skillfully woven together. Even the shattering solution plays an essential role in the relationship between Lucy and Ramsey. Seeing these two wounded hearts find their HEA is immensely satisfying.

That Weekend
By Jennifer McKenzie
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

Ava Christensen, a TV blogger and celebrity reporter, thinks that she has earned the newly available job as co-host of an entertainment news program, but her executive producer, Jake Durham, has a different opinion. He gives the position to a younger, less experienced male colleague with connections. Ava is furious, and being forced to spend a week with Jake at a film festival soon afterwards adds fuel to her fury. But when she slips on an icy street and breaks her wrist, Ava discovers how caring and comforting Jake can be. The two agree they should behave professionally and ignore the simmering attraction between them, but good intentions melt under the force of a chemistry that proves irresistible. But Jake’s carrying a lot of baggage from his past that he has to let go of if he and Ava are to have a future together.

This story was well written, and the entertainment context and the inclusion of bits of Ava’s blog, it has the feel of being truly contemporary. There’s one amusing scene when Ava is in the hospital that has her texting with her best friend about Jake while she and Jake exchange emails about her body language response to the texting.  But I just never felt fully engaged with these characters. Perhaps I’m just not part of the targeted audience for this one, or perhaps it suffered from the inevitable comparisons to other, less conventional and predictable books that are part of January’s Superromance offerings.

One of the things that impressed me about this group of romances was how many of them in some way moved beyond the conventions of romance in some way. Do you prefer your romances conventional or unconventional?

On Friday, one randomly selected commenter will win her/his choice of one of the HSRs I have reviewed this week. (With apologies to international readers, this contest is open to U. S. residents only.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Other Side of Us

The Other Side of Us
By Sarah Mayberry
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

Musician and sound engineer Oliver Barrett considers himself a happily married man until one day he swaps cars with his wife and discovers that she is involved in an affair with an old boyfriend and has been since six months after she and Oliver married six years ago. Reeling from the mix of anger, grief, and humiliation resulting from the breakup of his marriage, Oliver distances himself physically from his problems by leaving Sydney for the beach house a thousand miles away that he and his older brother have inherited from an aunt. He hopes the time he plans to spend getting the house ready to sell will give him some much needed emotional distance from the events that changed his life.

Mackenzie Williams is a television producer recovering from an automobile accident that almost claimed her life. Mackenzie has retreated to her beach house, next door to the house of Oliver’s aunt, where she is going through the long and painful rehabilitation required by the multiple injuries she sustained. She pushes her body to its limits and sometimes beyond, determined to reach the point where she is able to return to the job that has become her life.

Oliver, a considerate neighbor, introduces himself to Mackenzie so that she won’t be concerned to see evidence of life in the house that has been vacant for a year, but her surliness convinces him that he should avoid her. Unfortunately for his intentions, Oliver’s schnauzer, Strudel, and Mackenzie’s dachshund, Mr. Smith, find each other far more congenial than do their owners. In fact, Mr. Smith turns into a regular escape artist in his pursuit of Strudel, a fact that exacerbates the conflict between the dog owners. It’s not until Oliver helps Mackenzie when her house is inundated by storm runoff that the two establish friendly relations. As they spend time together, the attraction between them grows, but they both have to deal with baggage from their pasts before they are ready to commit to a new life they can share.

Oliver is wonderful—smart and sexy and generous with a sense of humor and a love of music. Add to these qualities his love for his dog, his songwriting skills, and his chestnut red hair, and you have a near perfect hero in my opinion. I adored him from the start. Mackenzie was more difficult to like. While I found her tenacity and courage admirable, I was put off initially by her self-absorption and coldness. But I changed my mind about her gradually, and the ending where she took action rather than meekly accepting Oliver’s fear-motivated choices pushed her high on my list of favorite heroines.

Characters are always the most important element in my response to fiction, and Mayberry is among the very best at creating characters who become real and significant. The choices Oliver makes when he discovers his wife’s infidelity, for example, are choices I can see men I know making in his circumstances. I love that both the hero and heroine are adults who have lived long enough to have experienced life and that their experience includes but is not limited to sex. I love that this is a book about two people developing a relationship not about strangers who fall in lust at first sight and never seem to have anything in common other than desire. And the fact that Oliver and Mackenzie achieve their HEA only after effort on both their parts and that their HEA includes professional and personal success made me want to cheer loudly. Readers who define action in terms of explosions, literal and figurative, may not understand the appeal of Mayberry’s books, but if you read contemporary romance because you are interested in relationships with all their complexities, challenges, and rewards, I highly recommend this book. That’s my usual response to a Mayberry book.

"Autobuy" is a word we hear frequently in the romance reading community. Do you have auto-buy authors whose name on the cover is enough to persuade you that you must read the book?


Harlequin Superromance is my favorite category imprint. A number of my autobuy authors write for this line. I was delighted when I learned that beginning in January 2012, the stories in this line would be longer and more complex. And the books I have read have more than fulfilled my expectations. I’ll follow today’s review with other January HSR reviews Wednesday Thursday.  On Thursday Friday, one randomly selected commenter will win her/his choice of the HSRs I review. (With apologies to international readers, this contest is open to U. S. residents only.)