Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday Review: Rose Harbor in Bloom

Rose Harbor in Bloom
By Debbie Macomber
Publisher: Random House/Ballantine
Release: August 13, 2013

Debbie Macomber carries readers back to Rose Harbor Inn for the second book that combines new characters, including the inn’s owner, Jo Marie Rose, with a familiar setting, Cedar Cove, and occasional appearances by beloved characters from the original Cedar Cove series. The widowed Jo Marie, although still grieving for her husband Paul, who was killed in Afghanistan, is finding peace and a new sense of purpose in welcoming guests to her inn. She feels a real sense of satisfaction in setting in place the just-finished sign that announces the inn’s new name and Jo Marie as proprietor.

She is less satisfied with the state of her rose garden, which she had hoped to have ready by the time she held an open house to introduce Rose Harbor Inn to the Cedar Cove community, but she has learned that curmudgeonly handyman Mark Taylor moves at his own pace, even though it is considerably slower than Jo Marie likes. With all the inn’s rooms booked for guests who will soon be arriving and the open house scheduled for Sunday, Jo Marie doesn’t have much time to worry when Mark quits when they have an argument.

The first of her guests to arrive is Mary Smith, a businesswoman from New York, whose clear exhaustion and the scarf covering her hair loss identify her as a cancer patient. Mary left the Seattle area nineteen years ago, and without her brush with mortality, she might never have returned. She made the trip against the advice of her oncologist, but she feels a compelling need to reconnect with her past, a part of that past is in Cedar Cove and a part of it is still in Seattle.

Most of Jo Marie’s guests are in Cedar Cove to celebrate the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Julie and Kent Shivers. The Shivers’s granddaughter, party planner Annie Newton, is the family member charged with managing the details of the celebration. Annie, who is recovering from a broken engagement to a man who proved to be self-absorbed and unfaithful, finds it comforting to plan this celebration for her grandparents who have been in love for half a century. But the couple who has always seemed the essence of marital happiness to Annie seems more interested in bickering and sniping at each other than in celebrating their five decades of marriage. As if that were not disturbing enough, there is also the presence of Oliver Sutton, her grandparents’ neighbor, the bane of her existence when they were growing up. Oliver is eager for a cease fire to their hostilities, but Annie can’t forget the past.

The necessity of coming to terms with one’s past is the theme that connects all the stories in this novel. Mary must forgive herself and accept the things that cannot be changed and own the courage to embrace the joy that life still offers. Annie must forgive youthful folly and see Oliver with new eyes, recognizing that he is not the tormenter of her young years or the fiancĂ© who betrayed her. Even Jo Marie proves to have issues with the past and with her acceptance of Paul’s death.

As always Debbie Macomber gives her readers characters who stumble and make mistakes but who learn to forgive, to love, and eventually to acquire the grace to accept life’s bounty with open hands and grateful hearts. Macomber’s readers can trust her to bring more such characters to Rose Harbor Inn to heal and to grow. Jo Marie’s story will continue to develop, the mysteries of Mark Taylor will slowly unravel, and Cedar Cove will continue to offer readers a place where peace is possible and even strangers find it feels like home.

If you require high-pressure adventure, sizzling sexy scenes, or intellectual puzzles in all you read, Debbie Macomber is not the author for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy a heartwarming, comfortable world where community is real, where people actively care for one another, and where kisses supply all the sexual passion, Debbie Macomber is among the best at creating such a world. I read all thirteen Cedar Cove books, and I, for one, am glad the Rose Harbor series allows me to return to the Cedar Cove world. I look forward to the next book in the Rose Harbor series. In the meantime, I’ll be watching Hallmark’s Cedar Cove TV series, and I almost never watch TV.

Are you a Debbie Macomber fan? What’s your favorite Macomber book? Have you watched the Cedar Cove TV series?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Final July 30 Release Review: How to Lose a Bride in One Night

How to Lose a Bride in One Night
By Sophie Jordan
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 30, 2013

Annalise Hadley can hardly believe how her life has changed. First her father found her and, despite her illegitimacy, transformed her from a nearly penniless seamstress into an heiress. Now, despite her limp and her dubious past, she is the bride of the handsome, charming Duke of Bloodsworth. But her wedding night is not the culmination of a fairy tale; instead, it is a nightmare that proves all too real. Her new husband, thinking he has been successful in his attempt to murder her, throws her into the river like the piece of trash he clearly thinks she is.

Owen Crawford’s year as a sharpshooter with the British Army in India changed him irrevocably. He harbors no resentment over his brother Jamie’s marriage to Paget Ellsworth, the vicar’s daughter Owen expected to marry. Indeed, Owen is pleased that they have found happiness together, but he feels removed from them. They don’t know the man he has become. He is a reluctant savior, but he can’t ignore the woman he finds on the riverbank, broken and burning with fever. Saving her seems in some way compensatory action for the lives he has taken.

Owen takes the woman to a gypsy camp where the tribe’s wise woman uses her skills to set Annelise’s broken leg and care for her other injuries. When Annalise regain consciousness, she feigns amnesia, claiming to remember only that her first name is Anna. Owen is skeptical of the amnesia, but he realizes there is truth in the gypsy healer’s claim that having saved Anna’s life, he is responsible for her. He decides to give her refuge in his London house until her recovery is complete and then give her money to make her own way. But the attraction he feels for Anna complicates matters. Owen is not ready for the complications or for the tenderness Anna evokes in him, but he will learn that opening his heart to the possibilities will not only allow him to protect Anna but also to conquer his own demons.

Anna, knowing that her husband is still a threat and terrified that Owen will return her to him if she reveals her identity and convinced that her father will do the same, maintains the fiction of her identity. Despite Owen’s gruffness and his avoidance of her, she feels safe with him. She also is determined to hold him to his promise to teach her the defensive skills in which he is expert, but there are no defensive skills that will protect her heart against the threat Owen Crawford, Earl of McDowell, poses to it. This time Anna’s salvation depends upon her trusting Owen enough to be honest with him and with herself.

The denouement seemed rather melodramatic to me, but Annalise and Owen are engaging characters, and watching these two damaged people experience the healing that love can bring to wounded hearts provided an emotional, rewarding read. This is the third book in Sophie Jordan’s Forgotten Princesses series. I had not read the earlier stories, but I had no difficult following Annalise and Owen’s story. I will admit to being so obsessive about series that I plan to read the first two novels Wicked in Your Arms and Lessons from a Scandalous Bride and the novella, The Earl in My Bed.

Are you obsessive about reading all the books in a series, or can you read one and forget the others? 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Another Review for a July 30 Release: The Lady and the Laird

The Lady and the Laird
By Nicola Cornick
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: July 30, 2013

Lady Lucy MacMorlan is a perfect lady, a perfect daughter to her father, and a perfect sibling to her surviving brothers and sisters, but perfect Lucy harbors some secrets that would seriously jeopardize her reputation for perfection. Few people know that she was the author of a series of erotic letters she had been paid to write for her brother Lachlan and his friends, resulting in their scandalous success at their  amorous escapades. Nobody knows the reason Lucy is so devoted to the memory of her older, scholarly fiancĂ© that she has refused to consider another suitor since his death. Nobody knows what Lucy does with the money she makes from her letter writing. It’s her need for funds that persuades Lucy against her instinct to write more letters for Lachlan. This time the letters are not for an opera dancer but for the young woman betrothed to Robert, Marquis of Methven.

Robert, Marquis of Methven, is furious that his promised bride has left him waiting at the altar and eloped with Lachlan MacMorlan. It’s not that Methven loves the girl, but he does love his land and feel responsible for those who dwell on it. Thanks to his estrangement from his grandfather, his absence from Scotland at his grandfather’s death, and the terms of a fifteenth-century treaty, he stands to lose half his ancestral lands to a man who will exploit and abuse his clansmen. Marriage to Lord Brodie’s daughter and a legitimate heir from their marriage would have fulfilled the treaty terms, but the list of other women who would satisfy those terms is nonexistent. Then his lawyer informs him that Lady Lucy MacMorlan, as a descendant of the original Earl of Cardross, will fulfill the terms as well. And Methven knows that he will make Lucy his bride, but he has no idea of the trials that await him on his journey to that goal.

Readers who like intelligent heroines will find much to like in Lucy who even as a sixteen-year-old preferred reading books to dreaming about her future husband. Who would ever imagine all that the proper daughter of a duke was learning from those books she read--erotic poetry and swordplay and all sorts of things that would later prove useful. Some may think that some of her choices suggest that she could have used more pragmatism mixed with her book learning, but people, even smart ones, do make foolish decisions when driven by their fears. And Lucy is convinced that marriage and passion and pregnancy lead to certain death, an irrational idea but an understandable one given her experience. When her love for Methven grows stronger than her fear, it’s a real test of that love’s power as well as evidence that Lucy has healed enough to leave behind the broken, terrified adolescent that she has been behind her carefully cultivated image of perfection.

Methven has the leader’s sense of responsibility for his people and the protectiveness of his woman that are conventionally primary alpha characteristics, but he delights in Lucy’s strengths and is incredibly tender when that quality is what she needs. He is also willing to admit that he is wrong. In other words, he is a complex, compelling, satisfying hero.

Cornick also provides some interesting secondary characters. Lucy’s sister Mairi and Methven’s cousin Jack are excellent foils for the protagonists and promising future leads. Lucy’s godmother is amusing, and I adored Methven’s fierce grandmother. But my favorite part of the book was the Highland Ladies Bluestocking Society. I wanted to join them. I did find the villain flat, but I find that a common weakness in historical romance fiction.

The Lady and the Laird is the first of Cornick’s Scottish Brides series. I look forward to Mairi and Jack’s story, One Night with the Laird, which will be released on October 29. The story of Christina, the eldest MacMorlan sister who is already a spinster, may prove to be the most fascinating of the three.

I’m not a reader who reaches for a romance just because it’s set in Scotland, but I have read several Scottish romances recently, with mixed results. I wonder if more are being written than usual. Are you a fan of Scottish romances? Why do you think they are so much more popular than romances set in Ireland?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I lied. Not deliberately. But Tuesday I promised a review of a July 30 release for four consecutive days. I had every intention of completing a review on Wednesday to post today, but yesterday was my birthday. My sister took me to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants where I overindulged in chicken and dressing, sweet potatoes, and fried green tomatoes. I really needed a nap after that, and then I had birthday Kindle cards that were crying to be used and birthday phone calls to answer and Facebook wishes to read. Then I got an ARC of a book I've been really longing to read. The next thing I knew the day was gone, and I had no review. :(

So, I'll write the review later today and post it tomorrow and post the fourth review Saturday. My apologies for the delay. A lazy, low-key celebratory birthday is a legitimate excuse for delay, isn't it?

Do you ever just steal a day for laziness and self-indulgence?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another July 30 Release: Lady Anne's Lover

Lady Anne’s Lover
By Maggie Robinson
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: July 30, 2013

Lady Imaculata Egremont has spent the two years since her debut making herself the most scandalous lady in London. Her exploits have filled the pages of The London List, and her name has figured prominently in London’s spiciest scandals from nude plunges in fountains to public kisses shared with another lady. What the gossips don’t know is that the lady has courted scandal deliberately in an effort to make her father, an earl with political clout and a reputation for high morality, grow so disgusted with her behavior that he abandons his incestuous plans for his daughter. When Evangeline Ramsey (Lord Gray’s List) learns the truth, she helps Lady Imaculata transform herself into Anne Mont and to leave London to answer an ad for a housekeeper in Wales.

Major Gareth Ripton-Jones has lost a great deal, and it looks as if he is about to lose more. A hero of most of the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars, he returned home whole only to lose an arm in a freak fall. The woman he hoped to marry, disgusted by his disability, dumped him, and then his father died, leaving him with an estate in ruins. When his former beloved was murdered, the village concluded Gareth was the culprit and ostracized him. Having given up on saving his estate, Gareth is expecting to be forced to sell his land, and he is drinking himself into a stupor while he waits. Since the locals refuse to work for him, he is forced to advertise in The London List for a housekeeper.

Anne’s housekeeping skills are laughable, but the major is so inebriated that he hardly notices. He can’t ignore the curves of his housekeeper who appears far too young to for her job and for the widowed status she claims. Anne sets out to solve the major’s problems, starting with an attempt to scold him into sobriety. When she proposes a marriage of convenience that will allow her access to the fortune her mother left her and give the major a way to save his land, Gareth agrees, thinking the marriage may be convenient in more ways than one. The ending is predictable, but along the way to a satisfying HEA, the murderer is revealed, the evil earl defanged, and two delightful, deserving protagonists find love.

This is the third and final book, following Lord Gray’s List and Captain Courant’s Countess, in Maggie Robinson’s series featuring a London tabloid. Lady Anne’s Lover reveals Robinson’s knack for combining humor and heat with a heart-stirring tale. I loved Anne from the opening sentence. Despite the real horror of her situation, she displays ingenuity, strength, and courage and maintains a sense of compassion for her fellow human beings. Her bumbling attempts at housekeeping are funny, but it says much about her character that she is tenacious in her efforts. She is also straightforward in expressing her views about the major’s surrender to self-pity and alcohol.  It took longer for Gareth to win my heart. I thought he could have used more of Anne’s strength of character, but I will admit that if his victory over alcohol had been won speedily, I would have complained about that. He comes through in the end, and much can be forgiven a man with sapphire eyes. I should also note that although Gareth defends her honor, Anne is just as much her own savior in the penultimate scene. Thank you, Maggie!

If you haven’t read the London List books, you are missing a rare treat. Lady Anne’s Lover can certainly be read as a standalone, but why deny yourself the pleasure of a stellar trilogy. If you’re a fan of historical romance that sizzles and scintillates and satisfies, you’ll become a fan of Maggie Robinson.

I realized when reading this book that several of my favorite historical romances feature heroes battling alcoholism. Do you have favorites that treat this subject? Are there any historicals that feature heroines who are recovering alcoholics?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Super Tuesday and Tuesday Review

July 30 will be another Super Tuesday for Romance Readers with a stack of incredibly good books being released that day. I sang the praises of one of those releases at Heroes and Heartbreakers today: Why Dukes Say I Do by Manda Collins. Beginning today and continuing through Friday, I will review a July 30 release at Just Janga. Last week, I reviewed three—Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden, Three Little Words by Susan Mallery, and Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak. Sometimes soon, The Romance Dish will publish my reviews of Some Like it Hot by Susan Andersen and The Devil and Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney. To celebrate this super week of releases, the Randomizer will pick one commenter from this week’s post (North America only) to receive a free copy—Kindle or print—of Why Dukes Say I Do and one other of these July 30 releases (reader’s choice).

Now for the regularly scheduled Tuesday Review!

Sanctuary Island
By Lily Everett
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: July 30, 2013

Ella Preston is reluctantly accompanying her younger sister Merry to Sanctuary Island, a thinly populated island off the Virginia coast that serves as a refuge for wild horses. The free-spirited Merry is eager to reconcile with their estranged mother, Jo Ellen Hollister, a recovering alcoholic. Ella has no desire for reconciliation with the mother she hasn’t seen since their father divorced her and took the girls away when Ella was thirteen. Three years younger than Ella, Merry may remember less clearly than Ella what life with an alcoholic parent was like, but Ella hasn’t forgotten. Therapy may have helped her forgive her mother, but it didn’t make her want Jo Ellen in her life. But since impulsive Merry is going to Sanctuary Island, so is Ella, who has spent most of her life looking after Merry.

It’s not only wild horses who find sanctuary on Sanctuary Island. It proved a refuge for Grady Wilkes when he returned after one of his search and rescue missions literally blew up leaving him with grievous injuries that have left him still scarred physically and psychically five years later. Grady owes a lot to Jo Ellen whose contribution to his recovery was crucial and who has continued to be a mother figure in his life. He’s not about to stand by idly while the two daughters who have refused to have anything to do with their mother for fifteen years turn up to take advantage of her just as she come into an inheritance.

The open-hearted Merry and Jo Ellen reconnect immediately. Merry feels at home on the island and as her mother’s daughter. Ella is far more complicated, and even as she slowly comes to recognize that Jo Ellen is not the woman she has imagined, she clings to the past and to the anger she denies but cannot eradicate. She also discovers that Grady is more complex and vulnerable that her early conclusions about him suggested. As these two wounded people grow closer, their power to heal one another grows clearer. But they can embrace the future only if they can trust one another enough to let go of the emotional baggage they carry from their pasts.

I enjoyed Louisa Edwards’s Recipe for Love books, and even after reading the billionaire Harrington brothers novellas that served to introduce Sanctuary Island to readers, I wasn’t sure why Louisa Edwards was now writing as Lily Everett. Sure, there was a major change in setting, but she was still writing contemporary romance. Her stories were still a mix of humor, hurt, and heat. I understood better after reading Sanctuary Island, which has the definite feel of a romance/ women’s fiction hybrid. Ella’s journey to self-knowledge and self-acceptance are key to the story, but this fact does not lessen the power of the romance. In fact, there’s a love scene that I’d rank very high on the tenderness, heart-melting scale.

Ella and Grady’s story is richly emotional and rewardingly intricate. Despite Ella’s time in therapy, she is still very much the adult child of an alcoholic. Her need to be in control, her heightened sense of responsibility, her difficulty in letting go and just having fun, and, most of all, her difficulty separating the past from the present are all classic symptoms. She felt so real to me that I found it easy to understand and forgive her stubbornness and her carefully maintained distance from her mother. I fell in love with Grady from the start. His loyalty, his courage, and his ongoing struggles with the consequences—physical and emotional--of his injuries gave him depth and credibility. Without taking any respect away from military heroes, I was also pleased that his injuries were sustained in a different manner. As the recent deaths in Colorado surely reminded us, heroes wear a lot of different uniforms, and some even dress as civilians.

Although the romance is central to the story, Ella’s relationship with Jo Ellen is equally important. Truly forgiving her mother, not merely giving lip service to the idea, is an essential step in Ella’s ability to become healthy enough to give and receive love. Everett does an excellent job of giving both relationships their due.  Jo Ellen too is a great character. Her love for her daughters is evident as are the regrets she lives with and her need to accept herself as worthy of a second chance, not just with her daughters but with a full life.

The Billionaire Brothers novellas are fun reads, and I think contemporary romance fans will enjoy them. But Sanctuary Island is something more than a good read. It has substance and heart, and it leaves the reader thinking about connections and disconnections and forgiveness and healing as well as happy endings. I highly recommend it. 

I adored Merry and her curmudgeon match. Their story, Shoreline Drive (January 28, 2014) is already available for preorder.

I confess that I’m a great fan of romance/women’s fiction hybrid novels. Many of my favorites fall in this group. Are you a fan, or do you prefer your genres unmixed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy First RWA Literacy Signing Day to Manda Collins and Terri Osburn!

Most of you know the Romance Writers of America National Conference is taking place this week. More than 400 authors will be signing books today from 5:30-7:30 for the 2013 "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Ballroom A–C (Atrium level). Among them will be good friends and fellow Bon Bons, 


Both will be signing for the first time, another milestone in their careers. Happy Signing, Manda and Terri! May your "Sold Out" signs be needed, may your hands be weary from the number of signed books, and may this be the first of many RWA Literacy Signings.

If you are in the Atlanta area, remember the signing is open to the public. You do not have to be registered for the conference to attend. If you go, look for Manda and Terri. And tell them Janga said hi.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday Review: Love and Other Scandals

Love and Other Scandals
By Caroline Linden
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 30, 2013

Joan Bennet is twenty-four, and after seven seasons, she has not has even one proposal of marriage. Joan is too tall and too curvy, her hair is too straight, and she is too unconventional in every way to meet current standards of beauty. Even her mother seems to have accepted that Joan will be a spinster. Joan and two of her friends have managed to secure copies of a most scandalous serial entitled 50 Ways to Sin. If only half of the amorous activities described in its pages are true, Joan is sure that she regrets her spinsterhood.

Tristan, Viscount Burke, is wealthy, handsome, and one of the most infamous rakes in London, known for is gambling and womanizing. He is also a close friend of Joan’s brother, Douglas, and has been since the two were schoolboys. Tristan is sharing Douglas’s bachelor quarters while his own London house is being remodeled. Thus, when Joan arrives at her brother’s quarters, charged by her mother with securing his promise that he will attend a certain ball to dance with a particular young lady, she finds Tristan, a half-naked Tristan at that. She is fascinated by what she sees, and Tristan is fascinated by the sharp-tongued, unsuitably dressed young woman who gets her brother’s promise in writing.

The two are equally matched in the battle of wits that begins with Joan’s visit and continues in a bookstore and at a ball. Joan emerges the victor in early skirmishes, but Tristan leaves her speechless after a waltz, a kiss, and a promise of more to come. When circumstances leave Joan alone in London with her scandalous Aunt Evangeline as her chaperone and Douglas asks his friend Tristan to keep an eye on Joan, things get really interesting. A visit to Aunt Evangeline’s dressmaker has Joan wearing colors and styles suited to her figure and coloring and Tristan thinking of more waltzes and more kisses and more . . .  Battling verbally most of the way, the two soar, literally, and fall (for each other), and find their way to a deliciously satisfying HEA.

Love and Other Scandals is Caroline Linden’s first book since The Way to a Duke’s Heart (August 2012), the conclusion to her well-received Truth about the Duke series. Linden doesn’t break new ground or shatter any conventions in the new novel. What she does do, and superbly well, is give readers the kind of story that made so many fall in love with the Regency-set historical. Joan is a heroine who is a misfit in tonnish circles but who has more intelligence, originality, and true beauty than the belles who are winning hearts and proposals; Tristan is the kind of rake parents warn their daughters about but one who is a lost boy at heart. Their romance is a delightful story—amusing, sweet, sexy, and just great fun. I loved it!

Adding to the charms of the heroine and hero is a cast of memorably interesting secondary characters. Joan’s mother may be a managing mama, but she is a loving one nonetheless, one who sincerely wants her children’s happiness. Her father is a reformed rake with a sense of humor and a strong commitment to his family. Their love story foreshadows Joan and Tristan’s. Douglas is a scamp, clearly due for some seasoning. Even Joan’s friends Abigail and Penelope Weston are distinct personalities, and Joan’s aunt, Evangeline of Courtenay, is a likeable, interesting character with an intriguing story of her own. I don’t know if this is the first book in a new series, but I hope it is. I really want to see more of Douglas and Aunt Evangeline.

If you have a fondness for historical romance without spies or secret codes or looming villains, stories where the focus is solidly on the hero and heroine whose journey to their HEA is a joyful ride troubled only by the threat of scandal, I highly recommend this book. I’m ready for the next one from Linden, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she stays true to this pattern.

Some readers complain about sequel bait. I confess I belong to a different group, one that looks at secondary characters I like with a sincere hope that they will get their own stories. To which group do you belong?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Another Bonus Review: Home to Whiskey Creek

Home to Whiskey Creek
By Brenda Novak
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: July 30, 2013

Noah Rackham, a professional mountain biker, is on a sunset ride one evening when he hears cries for help. He is horrified when he discovers that the cries are coming from the abandoned mine shaft where his twin brother died in a cave-in after their high school graduation fifteen years earlier. With difficulty, he pulls the woman from the mine, and he’s even more shocked when he sees her and realizes that she was beaten and dumped in the mine. But despite her condition, she insists on being taken to her grandmother’s home rather than to the hospital or police station.

Adelaide Davies left Whiskey Creek as soon as could get away, and she hasn’t been back in thirteen years. She returned only because her grandmother is in declining health and no longer able to run her restaurant Just Like Mom’s alone. Addy hopes to persuade her to sell the restaurant and return to Davis with Addy. But she has only been back one day when a man breaks in and abducts her, tossing her down the old mine shaft where sixteen-year-old Addy had been gang raped by five of Whiskey Creek’s star athletes as part of their graduation celebration with a warning that worse would happen to her and her grandmother if she told anyone what happened fifteen years ago. Addy knows that her attacker was one of four rapists; the fifth, Cody Rackham, perished in the same mine shaft. What her attacker doesn’t know is that Addy has her own reasons for keeping silent about the rape all these years.

Addy had a crush on Noah in high school, and she admits to herself that the grown-up Noah is even sexier that the boy she once dreamed about, but Addy doesn’t want any ties to Whiskey Creek. Noah can’t understand why Addy refuses every effort he makes to see more of her, but he’s a persistent sort. He hopes that Addy will let go of her secrets and give the two of them a chance. He has no idea that Addy’s secret can destroy a lot of lives, his own family among them.

In this fourth book in her Whiskey Creek series, after When Lightning Strikes, When Snow Falls, and When Summer Comes,  Brenda Novak does what she does best—combines compelling characters with a suspenseful plot and a romance that keeps the reader hoping for an HEA. Novak uses one of my favorite quotations from William Faulkner as an epigram for Home to Whiskey Creek: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” (Requiem for a Nun). The statement becomes thematic as Addy finds that despite the years and her three years of therapy, her past has made her the person she is and is still imprisoning her with its tenacious tentacles. She can’t really claim a future until she deals with her past. Her attackers discover that they cannot escape the consequences of past actions.

Noah too is caught in the past. He has never come to terms with his twin’s death, and he has continued to protect Cody’s image so that few people know the reckless, dangerous stranger that Cody became on alcohol and drugs. There is another thread from his past that Noah must deal with as well. He has suspected for some time that his almost life-long best friend, Baxter, is gay and has more than friendly feelings for Noah, but uncomfortable with the idea, Noah has refused to address the issue. When something happens that forces him to admit that Baxter is gay, the price is almost unbearable.

This is the most complex book in a strong series. Readers who have followed the series will find this one rewarding on its own merits and as part of the interwoven stories of this group of friends. Readers who have not read any of the other books will find that this books works well as a standalone novel. I recommend this book and the full Whiskey Creek series. I’m looking forward to Take Me Home for Christmas, an October 29 release that is not only a holiday story but also a second-chance-at-love tale for Sophia DeBussi and Ted Dixon, a story I’ve been hoping for since the first book—and maybe all the friends will come home to Whiskey Creek for Christmas.

Brenda Novak has dealt with real issues in this series—celebrity culture, class differences, life-threatening illness, gang rape, and coming out. Domestic abuse will almost certainly figure into the next story. Do you like issue stories, or do you think they distract from the romance?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bonus Review: Three Little Words

Three Little Words
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: June 30, 2013

Isabel Beebe has returned temporarily to her hometown of Fool’s Gold, California. She has two goals for her stay: (1) to manage Paper Moon Wedding Gowns, the family business begun by her grandmother, while her parents are on a world tour and update it for them to sell upon her return; (2) to avoid contact with Ford Hendrix. She’s making progress toward the first goal, but the second one became impossible since she’s just learned that her parents rented their garage apartment to Ford. Since Isabel is living in her parents’ house, there is no way she can continue to avoid him.

Isabel’s older sister, Maeve, was engaged to Ford, but, after cheating on him with one of his best friends, she dumped him for that friend days before she and Ford were to be married. A broken-hearted Ford joined the Navy, and Fool’s Gold has seen little of him in the fourteen years since then. Isabel, who was fourteen at the time, was in love with Ford in the way only a young teen can be in love. She wrote to him for ten years, sharing bits of her life, refusing to be discouraged at the lack of replies.  She only stopped writing when the man she later married was about to propose. When she’s being honest with herself, she admits that she will always have a special feeling for Ford.

Ford Hendrix knew the time had come for him to find something to do with his life other than continue with the Navy SEALs, so when his friend Justice Garrett proposes they join with a couple of other friends to set up a security training facility in Fool’s Gold, Ford decides he’s ready to return permanently. He’s enjoying spending time with his family, but his mother’s hovering is driving him nuts, as is her determination to see him and his brother Kent as happily married as the rest of their siblings. Ford hopes that renting an apartment will give him some space from his mother and sisters. When even that doesn’t discourage his mom, he persuades Isabel to be his faux girlfriend in order to stop his mother’s matchmaking efforts. With Isabel set to return to New York and open a shop there, Ford thinks she’s perfect for the role. He’s about to find out how perfect she truly is for him. But Ford doesn’t do forever, and it’s clear to him that whether she’s in New York or Fool’s Gold, Isabel is a forever girl.

I love these characters! Isabel is sweet and funny and confused and vulnerable, particularly after her divorce. Yet she has an essential optimism that I found endearing. Ford is a charmer with a terrific sense of humor and an understanding heart, an irresistible combination.  I cheer Mallory for giving readers a warrior hero with his own demons to fight who is neither a loner nor an alpha butting heads to show he’s in charge. The chemistry between them is great, but equally important Isabel and Ford like one another. And their history provides a strong link. Ford will always be the man in whom the younger Isabel confided, and Isabel will always be the young girl whose letters kept him sane in a dark and dangerous time. This is the foundation other feelings build on. I really like the two of them together and believe they can build a life together. The secondary romance between Consuelo and Kent is also wonderful, although their relationship is very different from Isabel and Ford’s. Consuelo and Kent are such an unexpected match, and yet they are great together. As always, part of the pleasure of a Fool’s Gold book is the town itself and visits with old friends.

My one complaint is that the hero who thinks he can’t love and must run away has been overdone.  I’m ready to see some variety in the conflict that postpones the HEA. Indications are that the next set within the series will feature the football players who are moving their business to Fool’s Gold. I’m eager to meet them and their heroines, but I hope to see the pattern of relationships mixed up a bit.

Do you think books in a long-running series can become too similar? What’s the difference between the comfortably familiar and the disturbingly repetitious for you?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tuesday Review: The Lemon Orchard

The Lemon Orchard
By Luanne Rice
Publisher: Penguin Group Viking/
Pamela Dorman Books
Release Date: July 2, 2013

The life of Julia Hughes, an adjunct professor of cultural anthropology at Yale University, essentially stopped five years ago when her sixteen-year-old daughter, Jenny, was killed in an automobile accident in which Julia’s husband also died. Although Julia grieves for her husband Peter, they were on the verge of divorce when he was killed. It is the loss of her only child that has left her emotionally paralyzed, unable to return to her life, isolating herself in the east coast home with her memories and Bonnie, a twelve-year-old blue merle Border Collie, the only living thing that connects Julia with Jenny.

Julia accepts the invitation of her uncle John Riley, a professor of Mexican Studies at UCLA, and his actress wife Graciela to house-sit for them at their home in Malibu, California, while they are in Ireland. Julia had visited Casa Riley often, but this is her first visit in five years. Except for an occasional dinner with Lion Cushing, an aging actor who is almost family to Julia, her visit to California changes little about her life except the location—until Julia learns the story of Roberto Rodriguez.  

Roberto is the manager of the Rileys’ lemon orchard. A Mexican who entered the country illegally, Roberto also lost a daughter five years ago. He and his six-year-old daughter left his hometown in Mexico to find a better life in the United States. In the desert where so many Mexicans die as they attempt an illegal crossing, Roberto left Rosa in the shade of a rock while he looked for the ride that had been arranged for them. But he was captured by the Border Patrol, and by the time he persuaded someone to look for Rosa, there was no trace of her. For five years, Roberto has worked hard, haunted by his memories of Rosa and her angel doll, Maria, and wondering if his child is dead or if she has somehow been saved.

As Julia and Roberto share the stories of their losses, a bond forms that develops into a rare friendship and then into a love affair. Julia uses her skills as an anthropologist to generate a plan to find out what happened to Rosa. A former professor connects her to an anthropologist who works for an organization dedicated to reuniting families of Latino immigrants whether it is a literal reunion or, as is more commonly the case, provides them with information and remains to bury. She contacts Jack Leary, a retired Border Patrol agent who gave orders for the search for Rosa, and he is persuaded to join in the hunt. As Julia’s quest to restore Rosa to her father moves closer to resolution, so does the improbable relationship between Julia and Roberto.

The Lemon Orchard resonates with the themes of love and loss and family dynamics that have characterized her work since her debut novel Angels All Over Town in 1985. The Southern California setting from the wealthy Hollywood world of Lion Cushing to the beauty of the lemon orchard to the Latino neighborhood of East LA grounds this story that moves between a love story between two people whose shared loss is greater than their considerable differences of ethnicity, class, and education and a harrowing look at the all too real problems of illegal immigration.
The characters are engaging, the plot is compelling, and the emotional stakes are high. The use of multiple points of view allows the reader to believe in a relationship that otherwise would demand credulity, and the use of flashbacks keeps the devastating losses Julia and Roberto suffered as fresh for the reader as they remain for the characters. Including Jack Leary’s perspective allows Rice to add balance and keep a human face on the Border Patrol. It also allows her to include fascinating details such as the existence of the Shadow Wolves, Native American trackers who use traditional skills of their people in contemporary situations. I confess to being confused sometimes by the purpose of Lion Cushing’s point of view.

Readers who have enjoyed other novels by Rice will find this one a welcome addition. The novel plays to her strengths and centers on a social issue rarely addresses in popular fiction. Romance readers who may be unfamiliar with Rice’s books should take note that The Lemon Orchard is not a romance. The romantic element is strong and central, but there is no conventional HEA. If Rice were a romance author, readers could count on a sequel, but although Rice has written several connected books, including the six-book Hubbard’s Point series, most of her more than thirty novels are standalones. While my favorite Rice novels continue to be three from 2000-2001—Follow the Stars Home, Dream Country, and Summer Light, I have no hesitancy in recommending The Lemon Orchard to readers who enjoy women’s fiction with a strong romantic element but don’t require a neatly beribboned HEA.

Do you require an HEA for everything you read? Should every love story end happily?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Best Romance Novels of 2013: January-June 2013

Last month Amazon announced their Best of 2013 January through June. I had read seven of the ten on their list of romances, but I knew my own choices would look very different. And I knew, given how many books I had read the first half of 2013 that I marked as keepers, that I would have a tough time choosing only ten. To make things easier, I decided to limit my choices to full-length novels, to select only one book per author, and to eliminate books written by good friends and Vano buddies. The last was particularly wise since I loved How toEntice an Earl by Manda Collins (a January release), Captain Durant’s Countess (a February release), Meant to Be by Terri Osburn (a May release), and Any Duchess Will Do (also a May release) and reviewed them all. 

So, with those restrictions in place, I chose my top ten romance reads of 2013 so far. Since seven out of ten are historical romances, I guess I can cancel my post on why the historical romance is alive and well on my bookshelves. “Best” in this context is totally subjective. These are the books I read that sent me back to reread sections as soon as I finished the first reading, that gave me characters who lingered in my mind well after I closed the book, that inspired me to give a shout out to others romance readers saying, “Oh, you need to read this one.”

Janga’s Best of 2013 So Far (in order of publication)

 One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, Sarah Maclean (January 29)

One Good Earl Deservesa 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.

The Autumn Bride, Anne Gracie (February 5)

A blend of humor and poignancy marks The Autumn Bride as distinctly the work of Anne Gracie. In this first book in the Chance Sisters series, Gracie has woven another tale of complex family relationships, delightful secondary characters, and a love great enough to win over all the obstacles life throws in its way. I loved everything about this book—the “sisters” who create a family out of affection and need, the hero as disillusioned boy and as honorable man, and the gallant, all together wonderful Lady Beatrice, who almost steals the book from the lovers.

Maybe This Time, Joan Kilby (March 5)

Maybe This Time is one more reason anyone who loves contemporary romances that offer compelling characters and complex situations with a different slant should give Harlequin Superromances a try. This novel gives readers a reunion story in which Emma and Darcy Lewis, a divorced couple, must deal with an unplanned pregnancy after a single night together. They have unresolved feelings about the death of their first child that were a contributing factor to their divorce, and Emma’s pregnancy brings them back to the fore. Emma is determined to limit Darcy’s role in her child’s life, and Darcy, convinced that he’s a poor parent, is equally determined to provide financial support but leery of emotional involvement. After their son is born, Emma’s view of herself and her world shatters. She has problems breastfeeding the baby, who is a colicky, cranky infant. The combination of sleep deprivation, stress over nursing, and self-disgust over her failure to love her child pushes Emma to the point of a breakdown. Darcy, forced to become more involved in the day-to-day care for his son, discovers he is more competent than he thought and that his love for his child is immeasurable. They find their second chance for an HEA, but it is hard won and fraught with missteps.

The Best Man, Kristan Higgins (February 26)

In The Best Man, Kristan Higgins gives readers a story that combines scenes worthy of a twenty-first-century Lucille Ball with scenes that will have readers reaching for a hanky to catch the tears. Faith is a wonderful heroine, funny and flawed and endearing. Levi is a total guy--uncomfortable with emotions (his own and those of others), deeply committed to taking care of problems, and a better man than he himself will ever recognize. These are characters who will engage readers’ attention and capture their hearts. But Higgins gives readers more that a great romance in this book; she gives them a complete world set in a place so real one can see the clouds over the lake and smell the grapes growing on land saturated in family history. Beyond Faith and Levi, Higgins includes a large cast of quirky characters, each of whom possesses a distinct, individual presence. Faith’s large family (three generations of them), Levi’s co-workers, the citizens of Manningsport, Jeremy Lyon, and Blue (There has to be a dog. This is a Kristan Higgins story.)—each adds something special to this book. I fell in love not just with Faith and Levi but also with the place and the people to which they belong. This is the only book on which Amazon editors and I agree.

The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After, Julia Quinn (April 2)

I’ve been a Bridgerton fan since I first read The Duke and I, and I loved this collection. Each second epilogue added a moment I could appreciate to the overall Bridgerton story, and collectively they allowed me to return briefly to a fictional world where I spent some of my most cherished reading hours, a world where true love is forever and families banter, badger, and bear one another’s burdens through the years. As for Violet’s story, it was the perfect ending. Quinn says Violet became her favorite character over the course of the series and that writing “Violet in Bloom” was a “labor of love.” I think that shows as Quinn gives us a look at almost the full span of Violet’s life, a life well-lived with long joys and deep sorrows but overall a life that proved happily ever after, even if it denied Violet the conventional HEA. 

Sweet Madness, Heather Snow (April 2)

I enjoyed the earlier books in Heather Snow’s Veiled Seduction series, but Sweet Madness is truly extraordinary with a portrayal of “battle fatigue,” as PTSD was then labeled, so stark that it packs a knockout blow to the reader’s heart. This is a rare romance in which the heroine, Lady Penelope Bridgeman, “saves” the hero, Gabriel Devereaux, in a manner consistent with who she is and what she could credibly be expected to know in time in which she lived. She is no miracle worker, and Gabriel’s progress is slow. Penelope has her own wounds that need healing, and  Gabriel’s tenderness and belief in her are wonderful to see. This is a book that merits more attention than it has received. It has “romance classic” written all over it.

Once Upon a Tower, Eloisa James (May 28)

A captivating story, characters who are heartbreakingly young and real, and prose so gorgeous you can hear music—Once Upon a Tower, a blend of Rapunzel, Romeo and Juliet, and the storytelling gifts that are uniquely Eloisa James, has them all. This just may be James’s best book yet. I loved it so much that it took a top ten list to explain my reasons. James excels in marriage-in-trouble tales, and this story of Lady Edith “Edie” Gilchrist and Gowan Stoughton, Duke of Kinross, who are so young that they are still in the process of exploring their own identities, strikes a particularly resonant chord. The secondary romance between Edie’s father and stepmother, Layla, a gem of a character, repeats the theme with an older couple. If you love historical romance set in the timeless world of fairy tales that will bring a tear to your eye, a smile to your lips, and leave you rejoicing that you are a romance reader, you don’t want to miss this novel.

Carolina Girl, Virginia Kantra (June 4)

I read so many small-town series now that it’s tough for a new one to hook me, but Virginia Kantra did it with her Dare Island series. I loved Carolina Home, and I think Carolina Girl is even better. Kantra avoids the mistake many authors make with small-town settings. Dare Island is neither generic nor idyllic. It is a specific place with good and not-so-good qualities. Meg Fletcher and Sam Grady have a long history, but they also have new things to discover about one another, and Kantra gives them the time to make the discoveries. The reader also sees Meg and Sam’s relationship within the contexts of other relationships. The secondary characters exist for a purpose rather than merely serving as background figures. I loved their story, and, as with the first book, I turned the last page already eager for the next book in the series.

A Woman Entangled, Cecilia Grant (June 25)

Cecilia Grant is one of the best writers to join the romance communities in the past few years. Each of her books is extraordinary, and each is different from the others.  Romance fiction is filled with tales of aristocrats who marry outside their class and somehow avoid the usual consequences of that choice. I have delighted in many such stories, quite willingly suspending disbelief. Many of these books are cherished keepers. But I think it’s worth taking note of this novel that shows a more realistic view, including the effects on the generations that follow of marriages that may be happy but may not be “good.” A Woman Entangled is a beautifully written novel, a darn good story, and a different slant on an old trope. The protagonists are not perfect, or even always likeable. Kate Westbrook sometimes seems shallow, and Nick Blackshear sometimes seems hard and unforgiving. But underlying Kate’s desire to win acceptance from her father’s family is a conflict addressed by no less than Jane Austen, as Grant indicates with the Austen allusions, and Nick is not a bad man. He is a good man who is forced to make a tough choice and chooses professional and social survival over family feeling. He wounds himself as well as his brother by his choice, and he feels guilty. Both Kate and Nick grow and change as the story moves toward its conclusion, as readers want their heroes and heroines to do. Only imperfect beings are capable of growth.

It Happened One Midnight, Julie Anne Long (June 25)

In this eighth Pennyroyal Green book, Long weaves a story that pairs two people who should never be a match and makes me believe they are perfect for each other. She makes the impossible seem destined and the unexpected seem ideal. Thomasina de Ballesteros  sees in Jonathan Redmond all that he is and all that he is capable of becoming. If ever a heroine deserved a hero to cherish her, Tommy does. And Jonathan’s heart is large enough to cherish all the pieces of who she is. Theirs is a story that, from the opening scene through the epilogue, never makes a misstep. Once again Long gives readers a book in which true love is characterized by the ability to see the essential self of the beloved that lies beyond the masks created to protect and conceal. Tommy makes an important distinction between love and romance. She, like Jonathan, comes to understand that love ennobles the giver and renders meaningful small, daily expressions.  It Happened One Midnight is deeply romantic, but even better, it is a heart-shatteringly beautiful love story with a sigh-evoking HEA.

What do you think of Amazon’s list? What are your top reads of 2013 so far?

Links to reviews are to my reviews here, at The Romance Dish, or at Heroes and Heartbreakers except for the books that I did not review.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bonus Review: Princess Charming

Princess Charming
By Beth Pattillo
Publisher: Belle Books
Release Date: May 24, 2013
(Reissue, originally published 2003)

Lucy Charming is a Cinderella complete with a dead father, an evil stepmother, wicked stepsisters (although one is somewhat reluctantly wicked), and time in the kitchen. The daughter of a duke, Lucy is turned into a servant by her abusive stepmother. It turns out that Lucy doesn’t mind too much since she is far more interested in undercover political activism, specifically universal suffrage, than she is in ballrooms and moonlight dances with handsome princes.

Nicholas St. Germain is a prince, the crown prince of Santadorra. But Nick is no more interested in being a prince than Lucy is in ballrooms. In fact, he is estranged from his father and has made a life in England, refusing to return to Santadorra. When he was twelve, he was forced to flee with his mother and sister when revolutionaries attacked. His mother and sister were killed, and Nick has never been able to forgive himself for failing to save them or for surviving. He also holds his father responsible for their deaths. Because of this background, Nick has developed a savior complex. He is compelled to rescue people.

Lucy and Nick meet when she is trying to evade two men who are following her with evil intent and enters the garden where Nick is doing gardener duty to pay off a lost wager. A comedy of error ensues with mistaken identity (She thinks he’s a gardener; he thinks she’s a maid), botched rescues, and a wager with much higher stakes. Nick’s friend, Lord Crispin Wellstone, takes on the role of a benevolent godfather with good intentions, useful contacts, but no magical powers.

The summary makes this book sound like a frothy romp that is an entertaining revision of a fairy tale, and it does begin that way. The combination of the familiar and the strikingly different has a strong appeal; the humor is rich and seems an appropriate prelude to love overcoming obstacles. But the tone changes when Nick and Lucy’s identities are revealed. There’s nothing light or amusing about troops set on demonstrators or the grittiness of prison. What I thought was a witty spoof with two lovers headed for an HEA after the requisite sparring becomes social commentary and psychologically disturbing obsession. Color me confused and frustrated.

I have read and enjoyed other books by Beth Pattillo, and I know she is a writer who can both entertain and provoke thoughtful examination of complex issues. Unfortunately, the mix in Princess Charming did not work for me.

Dozens of romance authors have written their own versions of Cinderella. Why do you think this fairy tale continues to have such wide appeal?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tuesday Review: In the Arms of the Heiress

In the Arms of an Heiress
By Maggie Robinson
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Release Date: July 2, 2013

When heiress Louisa Stratton gained control of her fortune, she left Rosemont, her palatial estate in England, where her aunt had maintained rigid control over her for more than two decades. For the past year, she has been motoring across the continent, accompanied only by her outspoken maid, Kathleen Carmichael. Louisa has delighted in her freedom and her adventures. When her aunt’s cautionary letters bemoaning the dangers threatening two young women alone became too burdensome, Louisa invented a husband, Maximillian Norwich, whom she met at the Louvre and married after a whirlwind courtship. 

But now letters from her cousin Hugh and her aunt’s doctor warning Louisa that her aunt is seriously ill have been added to her aunt’s demands that Louisa return home and introduce Maximillian to her family have increased the pressure on Louisa to curtail her European adventures. Problems with her bank also require her presence in England. But going home leaves Louisa with the problem of Max. She briefly considers killing him off, but Kathleen reminds her of the difficulties his death would present. The idea of a mourning period has no appeal for Louisa, and so she decides to hire a husband, or at least a man to play the role of Max, from the Evensong Agency, whose motto was “Performing the Impossible Before Breakfast Since 1888.”

Charles Cooper, a veteran of the second Boer War, has resigned his captaincy and set out to drink himself into oblivion. Self-destruction is the only way he knows to eradicate his memories of war and its atrocities. The son of a factory foreman, Charles was sent to Harrow at twelve by George Alexander, the owner of the pottery works that employed Charles’s father, where Charles and his brothers went to work as soon as they were old enough to be hired. Alexander recognized Charles’s intelligence and gave him a gentleman’s education that would allow him to live a better life, but education also separated Charles from his family by a distance that no trip home could bridge. Charles is not close to his two older brothers, who still work in Alexander’s factory, nor to their families, but he is determined to leave them money and his journals about his war experiences, hoping they will understand him then.

Charles thinks Mrs. Evensong is crazy when she offers him a job. He does his best to alienate her with his crudeness, but Mary Evensong is made of sterner stuff than he realizes. When he learns the munificent sum Louisa Stratton is willing to pay for him to become Maximillian Norwich for thirty days, he seizes the offer as a way to provide for his brothers and their families. He concludes that Louisa is a “silly society bitch” with questionable sanity and too much money, but he can endure her for the handsome fee she’s offering.

From his first sight of Louisa, Charles begins to discover she is completely outside his experience: “She was a golden girl from tip to toe. Miss Louisa Stratton looked like money, honey, and double cream.”  Charles is outside Louisa’s experience as well. The fictional Maximillian may have been ideal, “entirely considerate of [her] feelings, always at [her] elbow ready to be helpful. . . . [to] discuss art and history and philosophy and [take her] opinions as seriously as his own,” but he was not half so tempting as the rough-edged Charles. Between the intimacy of sharing a suite and the visions Charles and Louisa keep having of one another’s nude bodies, the temptation to enjoy the benefits of true matrimony within their fake bonds are growing, and yielding to temptation is so pleasurable—especially when this unlikely pair find their hearts are making choices their heads having caught up with. But Louisa and Charles are not the only ones with secrets, and some secrets prove dangerous. Someone at Rosemont is determined to get rid of Maximillian. If he can’t be bought off, poison or a bullet may work. Louisa and Charles must learn to trust one another wholly if they want to survive to see their game of pretense become the real thing.

In the Arms of the Heiress is the first book in Robinson’s turn-of-the-century Ladies Unlaced series, and it is an absolute delight. Funny, poignant, and sexy, it has all the charm of a classic screwball comedy with more substance. Charles is a tortured hero, a type that Robinson creates with great skill, but the specifics of his working-class history, the horrific details of his experience in South Africa, and his unique combination of angst and humor make him distinctly individual.  Louisa is a darling. I fell for her on the second page when she imagines Maximillian’s death and thinks “If there had really been a Maximillian, she was sure she’d show all the proper feeling for losing the love of her life. She probably wouldn’t rise from her lonely bed for weeks, perhaps months. Years. She’d rival the late queen in her longing for Albert, only she’d be far more attractively dressed.”

The secondary characters add dimension, particularly Kathleen, the loyal, tart-tongued maid who has her own love interest. Louisa’s family left me indignant on her behalf, and the mystery of the attacks on Charles and Louisa kept me guessing until very near the multi-threaded end. The mystery of the supremely confident and competent Mary Evensong remains unresolved. I have speculated wildly about the implications of her name. I’m hoping the second book in the series, In the Heart of the Highlander (October 1, 2013) will answer all my questions. It features Mary and a Highlander hero. I’ve already starred it as a do-not-miss-this book on my calendar.

If you like historical romance that leaves you with a laugh and a sigh and a decided impatience for the next book in the series, I highly recommend In the Arms of the Heiress.

What's the last book you read that you loved so much it left you impatient for the next book in the series?