Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Holiday Review: Midnight Kiss--An Anthology by Robyn Carr, Jean Brashear, & Victoria Dahl

This is a delightful holiday anthology of stories built on the practice done worldwide on each New Year's Eve known as the "midnight kiss." Millions have found themselves wrapped in the arms of a stranger, spouse, lover or friend as the old year fades away and the new year begins with horns and noisemakers, fireworks, toasts and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. Here are three stories written by some of romance literature's most beloved authors, each different in its characters, plot, scenario, and storyline, and yet each is pointed toward that magic midnight moment.

Robin Carr crafts a short story set in that familiar community of Virgin River where Sunny has retreated as the firsts anniversary of her failed wedding--she was actually left at the alter--approaches. Her memories are still so painful she has come to visit family in the hopes that getting out of Los Angeles will help get her through this awful day. She first rejects and then finally allows conversation with a tall, handsome and personable man who turns out to be a medical resident from Los Angeles who has also come to Virgin River for some peace and quiet in order to catch up on his studies. Together they begin to form a very tenuous acquaintance, exploring the beginning of a relationship, a careful and watchful journey by two people who are wondering how they can move on from overwhelming disappointments.

Jean Brashear tells the story of an attorney who has locked away any aspects of her softer side, who rarely ever allows anyone to see anything other than her harsh, prickly, brash and mouthy courtroom exterior. She is a woman who seeks male companionship for personal release, the queen of one-night-stands. Along comes a quiet man, a friend of friends, an artisan and woodcrafter, who is not sure he wants to have anything to do with her but who is fascinated with her. Their budding relationship is full of emotional ups and downs. The reader can feel Will's frustrations as he encounters block after block to her inner self, as well as Jordan's panic as he gets closer and closer to who she really is.

Victoria Dahl write a beautful love story of two FDIC agents who are a part of a team sent to close a bank. They are engaged in a tug of war, sniping and snarling at one another, and yet under all the clash are two people who long for the comfort of one another's embrace. How do they resolve past issues in order to move into a new relationship? Where can they find enough trust to match their passion?

All three of these stories are well worth the time to read and all will bring the warm fuzzies of the heart to the surface. The are worthy additions to the entertainments of the holiday season and will engender some serious thought for the reader about the meaning of the new year in one's own personal experience, hopes, dreams, and goals. Each of these stories is so well written that they are a joy to read apart from their holiday significance. All the authors know what they are doing. This is one very, very good book and I recommend it to all lovers of romance fiction. Happy Holidays!! I give this book a 4.5 out of 5.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Making Every Day Count: Wicked Nights With A Lover by Sophie Jordan

Perhaps the greatest mistake most people make in their lives is taking for granted that all of us will live to a ripe old age. In fact, most young people act as if they are immortal. But what happens when a person has to face their own mortality--being told they will die in a year, or contracting a deadly or terminal disease that cuts one's lifespan down to a mere six months? I have often wondered what I would do if given such a short time to complete my life.
Our heroine, Marguerite Laurent, is faced with this prospect. Encountering a seer she is told that she will be dead at the end of the next year. As a person who earned her living nursing the dying, she tended to dismiss this message as the joke of a con artist. But when Madame Foster's other predictions began to come true, Marguerite began to think far more seriously about how she would spend these last 365 days given her.

At the same time, she received a message from her father, a man who had paid little if any attention to her over the years, and who was a rough and tumble owner of a gaming hell in London. Now he wants to bring all three of his daughters together with some of London's money-hungry aristocrats so that they can, in his words, make good marriages. In truth, he wants to advance his own social standing. In doing so, he is cutting his partner out of a portion of the business assets that they have both worked so hard to accrue. Ash Courtland, her father's partner, had literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and now realizes that the ambitions of Marguerite's father will more than likely rob him of a good portion of his future. So he promptly proceeds to kidnap one of Jack's daughter's--doesn't make any difference which one--so he can marry her and preserve his financial future. Well guess which sister he got? We all know, don't we, and thus they began their trek toward Gretna Green.

This is a very interesting love story--seduction, Marguerite's efforts to escape from Ash, growing attraction, horrible Northern England weather, coach accidents, jumping out of inn windows and on and on. But the course of true love certainly does not run smooth for these two and that's what makes this story not just another historical romance. Both of these characters are one-of-a-kind sorts of people, independent thinkers, able and willing to go after what they really want, needing the care and tender loving of another but not sure they are worthy, etc. They are real, flawed, and needy, smart, sassy, and compelling. Their personalities jump right off the pages and their encounters are sparkling and witty. There are some underlying issues at play here--both Marguerite and Ash have had to deal with the disregard of a society that put little worth on them. Daughter of an unwed mother who didn't seem to mind her child's illegitimacy, ignored by a dismissive father. Ash was a child of the streets who watched poverty and drink tear his parents' relationship apart and bore the wound of watching his sister die of neglect and malnutrition. So both these people have to learn trust, learn their own intrinsic worth, and learn that a genuine and self-sacrificing love can be redemptive and healing. Best of all, both these people know how to fight for what they want. And when that "something" is the person you love, that's a very good skill.

So I recommend this as a delightful historical romance that has just enough unique qualities that it stands out above many others in this genre. It will be a fun read for historical fiction fans and a worthy expenditure of the reader's time. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel is being released in December, 2010 by Avon Books, a division of Harper Collins.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On The Second Day of Christmas . . .

Oh, the well-known "12 Days of Christmas" . . . for most Americans they start 12 days before December 25th. Oops . . . and that's a BIG Oops!! The United States is one of only a very few countries that seem to think that Christmas begins and ends on 25 December. Not So.
Actually, today is the second day of Christmas. The count will continue on until January 6th, when for most of the world that observe the Christian festivals, the coming of the Wise Men is observed. It is then that most of the gift-giving occurs since it was the Wise Men who brought gifts to the Christ Child.
Many years ago when living in Berlin, Germany, we were privileged to share the holidays with some wonderful German friends. We learned a lot from them. On Christmas Day only a small token gift was at each place setting during Christmas Dinner--a token reminder that on Christmas the gift of the Christ Child was given to the world. Then on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the shoes were left outside the door, much as American children hang stockings on the fireplace mantle, the Wise Men would leave gifts as they passed by on the way to Bethlehem.
In our house, we put up our Christmas Tree very near Christmas Day and leave it up until January 6. I guess those experiences years ago in Berlin marked us more than we realize. We still gather on Christmas Day and share presents with our family. But on January 6, hubby and I remember those far off experiences and share a token gift. We are obviously out of sync with our neighbors who have all put their stuff away on New Years Day, but we have long ago ceased to do what the neighbors do. One year I was so delighted with the way our Christmas tree looked that we left it up until February.
Today is also known as Boxing Day in the British Isles, and for all my British blogger friends and followers, may your holiday observances be merry and bright. I am hoping to continue to have some special Christmas books for review in the next few days. Check back and enjoy.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Wishes, Blessings, Cookies, Kisses, Hugs, Hot Cocoa, & Dreams

It's here once again, that beautiful and gracious holiday knows as Christmas Day, celebrated in so many ways and with so many different traditions throughout the world. It is, of course, a uniquely Christian holiday as it remembers and lifts up the birth of the Christ Child of long ago. But for people of all faiths and perspectives it is one of those holidays that has assumed a life of its own that is independent of any kind of religious significance.
Certainly there are traditions in every family. In our family our traditions have gradually changed over the years as the kids and grandkids have grown and are moving away. What we did when they were little and what we are able to do now are vastly different. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of Christmas when there were just the six of us, living too far distant from extended family to be able to be together, but still working hard to give everyone a sense of being loved and belonging.

Some of the funniest Christmases I remember . . . I'm sure you have some, too.
***One years we were so short of money that we wrapped all the presents in the Sunday funny papers/comics. The kids were so excited about all the comics they didn't much remember or notice that the gifts were pretty much small, inexpensive, or useful (like socks and underwear).
***Another time we got my hubby a gumball machine. He is an avid lover of gumballs and was always bumming money off everyone for the gumball machines in the mall or stores. So we found his very own gumball machine along with replacement gumballs to refill it. Only one problem: our German Shepherd smelled the gumballs and tried to eat them. Messy, messy!! We never put candy or gum under the tree again.
Another year we were all together and were happy to have hubby's parents with us. Everyone was having a great time opening presents until we realized, after everything was opened, that my hubby had only gotten one present: a golf-ball paper weight from one of the kids. We were all so chagrinned that the next day, when all the after-Christmas sales began, we took hubby shopping and because we were all so guilt ridden, he made out like a bandit.
Perhaps you can remember some of your really funny Christmas happenings and would like to share them. Please do . . .

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Eating Tips

It is my pleasure to welcome Tracy from "Tracy's Place" as my guest blogger today. Enjoy . . .
Holiday Eating Tips

Because it's the season when the food police co
me out with their wagging fingers here are a few tips on how to get through the holidays without gaining 10 pounds.

1. About those carrot sticks. Avoid them. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnogaholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later then you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other peoples food for free. Lots of it. Hello? Remember college?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Years, You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa. Position yourself near them, and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. You can't leave them behind. You're not going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. And one final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips. Start over.

A friend sent this to me via email and I just laughed at how tempting it would be to follow all of these rules! Of course, then I'd have to buy a whole new wardrobe. Wait, maybe I will follow these rules! lol

Even if you don't, have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's a Gift To Be Simple: A Simple Amish Christmas by Vanetta Chapman

"It's a gift to be simple, it's a gift to be free,
It's a gift to come out where we ought to be . . ."

The old Shaker tune kept running through my mind as I was reading this delightful story set in the Amish Community of Eastern Pennsylvania, a story about a kind and generous person who has been living among the English for three years with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia and who is seeking to find out " . . . where she ought to be. " Annie Weaver left her Amish community at age seventeen, finished her GED (Amish children are only schooled to around the 8th grade level), and went on to become an R. N. Now she is working with children in the Pediatrics section of a large hospital in Philadelphia when she receives word that her dad has been in a terrible accident--his buggy was run down by a car--and he is in need of some serious nursing. She returns but faces some important decisions about the direction of her life. She has violated some of the important aspects of her faith and her community traditions, and now she must face their censure or find a way to ease back into Amish life if indeed, that is what she really wants.

This is a lovely story that takes the reader not only into Annie's conscious processing of her personal experience, but provides a window into Amish life as a whole. The people are loving and generous, troubled with the same pressures that trouble all human beings, stressed with the same difficulties that all families face, needing to resolve hurts and wounded relationships as do all people on the planet. Yet the Amish have their own unique way of approaching each of these situations. Even the hurt of a young woman who is pregnant without a husband is approached in a way that is healing and restorative.

This story is about reclaiming her life, moving her education and her experience in the wider world back into the Amish context and making it a positive experience. All is not smooth and there are wounds and days of wondering if this was the right place for her. It is a story about finding that sense of place that all of us seek. As an unmarried woman Annie must face the pressures of finding a mate--there are two men who have expressed a desire to "court" her, but she knows that she must decide if her re-entry into the community will be a permanent one.

By her own admission this is the first Amish setting for Ms Chapman's fictional writing, and having grown up with a Mennonite dad (kissing cousins to the Amish), I think she has done a great job. Her research has been well done and the flow of the story is gentle but persistent. I was deeply moved by some of Annie's experiences and for such a young woman she displayed an amazing amount of wisdom regarding the "human condition." That she brought sunshine and joy into her family's life is without doubt. This holiday story is a delight and I recommend it to adults and young adults alike. It will leave any reader with a sense of having visited a culture that may be vastly different from what most of us know, but it is a simpler, winsome way to live and holds its own magic. I give this novel a 4 out of 5.

This novel is being released this holiday season by Abingdon Press.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love & Adventure in the Old West: The Christmas Brides by Linda Lael Miller

This delightful anthology of two previously released Christmas tales has just been re-released by Harlequin. A McKettrick Christmas was first released in 2008 and A Creed Family Christmas was released in 2009. Now they have been put together in this delightful Christmas book and for those of us who did not previously encounter this offering it is a genuine Christmas "gift." Both tales are extensions of the series involving the McKettricks of Arizona and the Creeds of Montana. Set in the early days of the 20th century, they bring the simple life of those times alive even as they detail two stories of romance under unlikely circumstances.

A McKettrick Christmas is the story of Lillie McKettrick who has recently completed Normal School in San Francisco and is now traveling home by train. Traveling with her is Whitley Carson, a man who has been courting her and who is now journeying to meet her family. He is from a wealthy and socially prominent family and is not taking well to the inconveniences of train travel--no dining car, no sleepers, no private compartment. Their journey is abruptly halted by a massive avalanche which derails some of the cars and nearly pushes the passenger car where Lillie and Whitley are seated over the cliff. Also present is Dr. Morgan Shane, a Mr. Christian, John Brennan--a PFC in the Army, a mother and children traveling to join their dad who is the new foreman on the McKettrick ranch, and an elderly couple with their parrot. What may seem like a temporary circumstance--rescue must surely be on the way--eventually turns out to be a life-threatening situation as the days and nights move forward without the arrival of help.

This novella has, at its core, a truth that could be summed up thus: circumstances don't make character, they reveal it. And so it was in this situation. Each of these people is stretched to the capacity for absorbing shock, difficulty, personal emotional and psychological challenges, physical hardships, and the willingness to extend themselves for the welfare of others and the greater good of all. It is a heart-warming story in so many ways that also brings to bear the reality of what family really can be--strength, loyalty, trust, setting aside individual differences, and the love which forms an indestructable link, one to another. I give this novella a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

A Creed Family Christmas tells the story of Lincoln Creed, a widower, who has been seeking a governess/housekeeper for over a year because of his 7 year old daughter Gracie. He is a Harvard-trained lawyer who has taken up the responsibility of the Creed Ranch in order to save his family's legacy--his brother Wes was not really cut out to be a rancher--and now that his wife has died, must find a way to move one and care for their daughter. As a last resort he is even willing to marry a qualified woman who would be wife to him and mother to Gracie. he was not, however, willing to give his heart. Juliana Mitchell is an aristocratic lady from Denver who has chosen to leave her family behind in order to teach and care for Native American children at the local Indian School. However, that school has been closed and she is destitute, out of a paying job, receiving no funds from her inheritance because her brother thinks she is wasting her life. Lincoln finds Miss Mitchell and four Indian children huddled in the General Store, trying to figure out what to do and where to go, with no money for food or shelter. Being the good person he is, he brings Miss Mitchell and the children home to his ranch just a few days before Christmas. Juliana stands to be in trouble with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for not sending the children on to the Indian School in Missoula, but she knows what they would face, and her heart tells her she must find another solution for them.

This is a lovely story that brings so many lives together. There is Lincoln's best friend who lives at the ranch and serves as his foreman, a Native American who immediately bonds with the oldest boy and who is willing to help them return to their families in the Dakotas. There is Wes Creed, who owns and publishes the local newspaper (when he is sober) and who lives with the owner of the saloon. There is Gracie who is 7, going on 40, and who opens her heart to Julliana and the Indian children in a way that is so touching. (She wants them all to be her brother and sisters.) And, of course, there is Lincoln and Juliana and their attraction to one another. It is a gentle story of the realities of living in those times, life in a simpler time in so many ways, but life that is brutal in its lack of safety nets for women and children. The prejudice against Native peoples was so open and harsh. And there was the reality that Juliana faced: returning to her brother's home and facing a life as a poor relation and probably a spinster sister/aunt. There weren't many options for women in those days.

I loved this story and like the first tale in this book, I hated to see it come to an end. But this story is especially about redemption--redeeming lives that face such hardship, renewing family ties, regaining personhood and a sense of place, returning to one's roots and finding joy in being accepted for who one is rather than social position or wealth. This is definitely a 4.5 out of 5 rating story!

Both these stories bear the stamp of Ms Miller's considerable talent and writing expertise. They bring the essence of what we believe Christmas to be, and tell these historical tales with that goal in mind. For readers who have not encountered these families previously, these novellas introduce these characters so beautifully. Yes, The Christmas Brides is one truly great read!

Released in November 2010 by Harlequin Books.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Cocked & Loaded by Desiree Holt

Desiree Holt is one of my favorite romance authors and I was delighted to find this full length novel when so much of her recent work is in the form of short stories or novellas. As is often the case, the main characters are star-crossed lovers, who began a torrid love affair, only to have it end abruptly two days later when bad-boy Zane Cameron was in the hot embrace of another woman right outside the local watering hole, in plain sight of all and sundry including Jamie Randall. Not too long after that Jamie left Amen, Texas for greener pastures and she hasn't been seen or heard from for 12 years--that is, until her career was in the tank, her resources depleted due to legal expenses, and no where else to go. She has now returned to live in the ramshackle hovel in which she was raised as the daughter of the town drunk. Her dad is dead of a recent automobile accident and the house and the land are hers. She wouldn't be here if she had anywhere else to go!!

Unable to believe his eyes, now-Sheriff Zane Cameron spies Jamie Randall leaving the local supermarket. He has nurtured his anger against her for 12 years--anger because she up and left him, anger because her bigot of a father threw him off their property when he was trying to resolve things with Jamie--complete with racial slurs at his half-Commanche origins, anger because he still fantasizes about her and needs to find a way to get her out of his blood. He even goes so far as to try to find a pretense to run her out of town. She's not moving, especially when out of the blue one of the local "fat cats" tries to buy her house and land for an unheard of price. What's with this? Her reporter's instincts also kick in when she sees her dad's pick-up complete with all the new dents from the accident, and they don't seem to square with the accident report. That doesn't seem to go over well with the Sheriff either.

This story is a contemporary romance set in contemporary Texas complete with heat and dust, murder, transporting illegals, a sexy sheriff with a mother from Hell, mysterious goings-on that just seem to get more and more mysterious, a long-lost love that is buried so very deep under layers of hurt and anger, and friendship and loyalty that seem to fill in all the empty holes. There are trust issues between Zane and Jamie, largely because of his flare for infidelity oh so long ago, and working through all the old wounds makes this a compelling love story against the suspense backdrop.

Another major component in their love story is the reality that both Zane and Jamie have really grown up, have established themselves as professionals in their own right, and found out lots about themselves. Zane really finds that he still loves Jamie, but he also knows that he has discovered that there is a dark side to him and he doesn't know if Jamie can accept that dark side of who he is. Jamie needs to restore her good name. She has been accused of wrong-doing in the newspaper business and she can't seem to move on until the entire truth comes out. Can Zane live in that kind of limbo?

I found this novel to be very readable and after reading it the second time felt that it showcased Ms Holt's considerable talent beautifully. Lots of characters, lots of hot loving, lots of situations that come right off the front page of the news, well-written with a plot and storyline that keep the reader engaged--literally on the edge of the seat. I am a Holt fan but that doesn't automatically mean that I feel positively about everything she writes. Some of her work, IMHO, is way too brief and I get the feeling sometimes that she is simply churning little stories out to keep publishers happy. Not so with this novel. It is a story that made an impact on me. There are surprises and twists in the story that I should have seen coming but didn't. That's a good story well told. Ms Holt teases the reader right up to the very final pages--no reading the ending first allowed!

This novel was published a while ago, but I think it is some of her best work. I recommend it to lovers of contemporary romance. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Precious and Fragile Things by Megan Hart

Megan Hart is one of those authors who gravitates toward the hard-core edge of human experience and she is not afraid to make those issues and situations the context of her novels. There are quite a few kidnapping novels and stories about the Stockholm Syndrome, but Ms Hart has not necessarily written a story that replicates those. As a testimony of her creativity she has crafted a story that is significantly different.

What actually happens when a young mother, frazzled and tired, truly weary of being the work-horse of her family, overwhelmed with laundry and crying kids and vet visits and husbands who can pick up and take a business trip without creating any ripple in the family life while any time away for her is a major undertaking. Gillian Solomon, or Gilly as she is called in this story, is a woman who has always wanted a family of her own, loves her husband dearly and deeply, yet has this insane desire to run away--to be free of all the hands that pull at her, free to finish tasks that forever go undone, free to just be. On a fateful day in January she stops at her bank's ATM, and in just a few moments her life changes forever. As she is returning to her car she finds that a carjacker has slipped into the passenger side, is holding a lethal knife to her throat and ordering her to just drive. Nothing she offers makes any impression. He won't even stop to let her children out of the back seat. Somehow she manages a quick stop and drops them off at an Amish home, knowing that they will be cared for. Even when they stop for gas she doesn't run. There is a part of her that doesn't want to go back.

For the next three months Gilly and Todd are holed up in his uncle's mountain cabin in Pennsylvania, totally and completely snowed in with drifts up to the roof. He has taken some of his inheritance money and fully stocked the cabin with food. There is sufficient wood and propane. Even when Gilly wrecks the car trying to escape they know that they will not freeze or starve. In a moment of weakness Gilly tries to kill herself and contracts pneumonia for her trouble--a terrible illness that Todd nurses her through. Yet there is always this tension. At first she begs to be let go. He can't do that--he knows she will tell them who he is and where he is--he just can't go back to prison. He is not unkind; he never attempts to assault her; he forces her out of her depression; he is not an uncomfortable companion. He just won't let her go.

This story is one of those that the reader knows must end but how? It is like a huge boulder rolling down the mountainside, but the bottom of the canyon is hidden by thick mists. Where will it land and what will happen when it does? Gilly must deal with her own feelings about her husband and children, about the relationship her feelings now have to do with her growing-up experiences, dealing with dreams and nightmares and trying to find a way to get through one boring day after another. Todd is terribly troubled--he isn't really bad or stupid or uneducated. He has been traumatized in his early childhood by the loss of his parents and siblings; he has survived the foster care system but not without wounds and scars and with responses to life's situations that may be predictable but are still sad and uncomfortable. He had intended to kill himself at the cabin. He never intended to have Gilly there. He makes some surprising discoveries about himself and his family that are very hurtful. But what is one more blow for this man? Yet as the weeks go by he is not sure he wants to end his life now. It becomes apparent that Todd is beginning to care deeply for Gilly, and even when she rejects his tepid romantic advances, he works through his anger and hurt without hurting her. He is not a really bad man. But where does this all leave them?

This is a wonderful novel and once again displays Ms Hart's skill as an author and her expertise in crafting a story many writers would never attempt. This is not beauty and life, it is not love, hearts and flowers. It is sad and hurtful and raw and gutsy. But there are moments of gentleness and caring, demonstrations that Gilly's orientation in her traditions and her depth as a mother and caring person bring some peace and understanding to this troubled man. It is not an easy book to read, but I have to admit I couldn't put it down--read it all, word for word, in one sitting. I felt like I was falling down an emotional well and when I reached the end, I was surprised while not being surprised. It's almost like waiting for the other shoe to drop and when it does, it is still a surprise. There is a sense of the inevitable but the reader has no clue how it will all end.

So if you are a Megan Hart fan, you will like this book. It is not one of her erotic novels--no sex except for Gilly's memories of her times with her husband--but this is an incredibly in-depth novel and a very good read. I give this book a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: Promise Canyon by Robyn Carr

Once again we visit that remote but winsome locale in Northern California, north of San Francisco in Humbolt County, an area with mountain peaks and valleys, some of the world's oldest redwoods, and people who are happy and sad like everywhere else. In this series, author Robyn Carr has crafted a saga that includes the on-going stories of individuals and families in this little community, one that is tucked away and gets little attention by those outside its borders, but within which lives and breathes hearts that are merry and some that struggle to get through each day, and others that work hard to give and take for themselves and the sakes of others.

You still have the delightful cook at Jack's Bar, Preacher by name, one who just seems to be able to bring the best out in food, who is probably a true culinary artisan, but who just keeps on delivering tasty delights without even knowing it. But this novel is about two Native Americans, one a veterinary tech from Los Angeles who needs to be near family and far away from a debilitating relationship with a spoiled former wife, a marriage that should never have happened. The other is a smart, ingenious, hard-working, family-loyal, fun-loving woman who has chosen to live a hidden emotional life because of a teen relationship that damaged her sense of her own worth and her trust in her own instincts. Clay Tahoma is Navajo, loving his family and wanting to be near his sister, her raucous and wonderful family as well as being able now to bring his son from Arizona to be near him. Lilly in Hopi, but she has chosen not to embrace her heritage, still cherishing the relationship with the grandfather who has raised her, but feeling the need to be on her own and independent of the connections that form her sense of herself far more than she realizes. This novel is really their story, but the ups and downs of the community, the hurts and struggles of some of the families that began in preceding Virgin River novels continue on as Clay and Lilly find their way toward each other.

Some reviewers have found that these later Virgin River novels to be "more of the same." I, on the other hand, find them compelling as I would any continuing story. This novel like the others is multi-layered: on the one hand you have the characters that form the core of the novel; on the other hand you have their story over against the backdrop of the continuing story of the Virgin River community. So each novel seems to bring the reader in contact with characters that have become familiar with, whose lives continue on while new residents and their dilemmas are introduced. I like that mix a lot.

I also very much appreciate the effort the author made to bring out the issues that surround the Native peoples of this country. Many are not aware that California has more Native American reservations within its borders than any other state in the Union. The Northern California areas are especially rich in Native culture and tradition, and bringing Clay with his Navajo traditions together with Lilly and her Hopi context made for a wonderful and rich love story. Bring in the conflict caused by a spoiled and dysfunctional ex-wife and you have the stuff of good romance fiction. I have to own up to being in tears when I got to the end--a resolution to Clay and Lilly's story and their concerns that moved me deeply. It is not easy for many Native peoples to live with the clash of cultures represented by the wider American culture as it butts up against their Native traditions, many of which are far more concerned about the integrity of the land and the health of the earth than those who are driven by technology and the personal drive for wealth and power.

So I continue to enjoy and find great worth in this Virgin River Series, and this like the others I have read was a joy for me. I recommend it as a very good read and one that is a fine addition to those which have preceded it. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

This Book is due to be released by Harlequin Books on 01 January 2011

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: The Debutante's Dilemma by Elysse Mady

Miss Cecilia Hastings has succeeded in achieving what every young lady hopes for in her first London season--in duplicate. She has caught the eye of not one by two of England's most elligible bachelors. Both Jeremy Batterley, Earl of Henley and Richard Huxley, Duke of Wexford are handsome, wealthy and kind, the epitome of English gentlemen. But Cecilia doesn't want proper; whe wants passion. So she issues a challenge to her youngt lovers: a kiss, so she may be able to choose between them.
Friends since childhood and compatriots on the fields of Spain, Jeremy and Richard have found that falling for the same woman has set them at odds with one another and risks destroying their friendship forever. But a surprising invitation to a late-night garden tryst soon sets them on a course that neither of them could have anticipated. And these gentlemen quickly discover that love can take many forms.
It is a known fact that the London Season has stood historically as the great marriage mart of the Western society and the aristocracy that founded and ruled it year after year was religious in seeing to its vitality and continued existence. Into the fray came young men and women--well, some of the men were young, seeking a spouse, a bearer of children, a financial "leg-up" or a bail-out after riotous living and its resulting debt. If the gods of the London Season smiled on the "beautiful people" then there were one or two Incomparables--young women who were so beautiful that their entry into a salon or ballroom was enough to paralyze everyone in awe stricken wonder. Such a woman was Miss Cecilia Hastings, a young woman who not only looked stunning but whose manners and deportment were flawless and whose clear-eyed gaze had only to fall on a young man and he was, for all intent and purpose, smitten. In the case of this particular maiden, two of London's most eligible aristocrats have fallen head over heels in love with her--and they are best friends. Oh my . . .! And not only that, they have been best friends most of their lives and this mutual fixation is threatening to destroy them all.
This is a really fun novella--a woman who is the darling of society, whose manners and mannerisms are the joy of the watch dogs of the ton, and who enlivens every party she attends--yet in private, she is absolutely determined to do her own thing. She actually has responded to both of these men . . . their bodies touching hers during the waltz has resulted in that heated "zing" no one else can spark. Yet which man should she choose, and how can she insert herself between two of London's finest without destroying their regard for one another? Will this not eventually cause her future husband to resent her?
This novella is about individuality in the face of crushing social pressure, knowing one's own mind and find creative ways to be one's own person. It is about trust and the depth of love, insisting on having a relationship that may have to remain hidden, but without which one refuses to live. It is well-written with believable characters and a very good plot and storyline. It is one of those shorter literary works that is fun to read, satisfies the romantic in readers, tantalizes the imagination, all within a historical context. Good writers know how to do that and I think it has been done well here.
So I recommend this novella as a fun read, not taking up an extended amount of time, but manages to be one of those literary treats that fits well into a busy schedule. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.
This novella was released by Carina Press on 08 November 2010.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Coming Up In the Near Future--It's all Going in the Ole Book Bag!

The Holiday Season is just around the corner and of course if most of us are true to form, we are still trying to find that perfect gift for a family member or friend who really doesn't need another gift--perfect or not, and we have exchanges at work, or we need to do the old gag gift for the silly part, etc. This really translates into some frantic running about while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. All this up against the background of the national financial downturn, and I get the distinct feeling that all of us are watching our pennies and trying to make every gift dollar as carefully spent as possible--every gift as meaningful as we would hope it can be.

After the first of the year, though, there are still some wonderful literary "gifts" coming our way. In truth, books are really the "gifts that keep on giving" and I, for one, am so glad that they are always there. Just over the horizon is another delightful Virgin River creation: Midnight Kiss, an anthology of stories set in the Virgin River area of No. California, all crafted around that magic moment when the Old Year departs and the New Year arrives. These stories are wonderful and I will be posting a full review of this collection in a couple of weeks.

Next there is another riveting novel from Megan Hart: Precious and Fragile Things. Not a love story, not erotic romance in any way, shape or form. But in that distinct and unmistakable way, it bears the Megan Hart stamp of authenticity--dark, edgy, drawn from a reality that many don't want to acknowledge. A full review of this will be posted on 15 December.

If you haven't planned already to do so, you need to consider reading Allison James' newest: Firewalker, and Lorelei James' latest: Cowgirls Don't Cry. Both are more than worthy additions to series that are, in themselves, spectacular collections of western romance or paranormal romance. Also coming in February is Jaci Burton's The Perfect Play and in March, J. R. Ward's Lover Unleashed. March will also be the occasion for the release of Maya Banks' third novel in her KGI series.

One last comment: I have six grandchildren--three are adults who really like to read and three are still in school, ages 8, 12, and 15. They are all being encouraged to read, read, read. In f act, one already holds the record at her elementary school for the most pages read ever. We are giving books, books, books. I know that I can hook so many childhood and growing up memories to the books that were a part of my life in those years. So hubby and I are hoping to fill the memory banks of our granddaughters with the same anchors--really good books.

So here's a sincere wish that your pre-holiday days and weeks will be as organized as possible and not nearly as frantic as in past years. Happy reading . . .

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review: Her Kind Of Hero by Kathleen Dienne

Young widow Vanessa Bingham is ready to stop grieving. She misses the intimacy and tenderness of a man's touch. It's obvious her old friend Derek Lane wants her, so why does her first attempt at seduction cause her to flee?

Derek has been in love with Vanessa for ever. His feelings have kept him from having a serious relationship--or a casual one--with any other woman. So when she finally turns to him, he doesn't want to settle for being a "friend with benefits" kind of person. But Vanessa is a very hard person to resist for long.

Just as things with Vanessa begin heating up, disturbing photos begin showing up at Vanessa's doorstep. Someone is watching her every move--someone she may very well know. Terrifies by the stalker's very real threats, Vanessa soon begins to realize that Derek may very well be her kind of hero.

Derek was just one of those wonderful friendship kind of guys, the kind that never fail to "be there" when needed. Best friend to her deceased husband, Vanessa knew that Derek was one of those special people who keep everything from becoming disorganized during a crisis, who step in to take on the burdens when someone is hurting, who is the kind of friend everyone visualizes as being a part of their friendship circle. For Vanessa, Derek was the rock that anchored when her 36 year old husband died unexpected causes. Somehow he managed to keep her together, took over the funeral arrangements when she nearly came unglued, kept track of all the floral donations, and continued to support her and to be her rock and general "fix-it" man in the years since she was alone. Maybe it was because he was a research librarian at the local university, but there was a general aura of quiet and calm all around him, all the time. His presence as he repaired her porch, cleaned out the rain gutters, or saw to her house in some way was a sign that his friendship was open-ended. What Vanessa didn't know was that Derek would have walked off the edge of the earth if she had asked it of him.

This novella highlights the kinds of challenges that face women after the loss of a loved one as well as pointing out that close proximity to someone often blinds us to the true value they have in one's life and daily experience. This is a very well-written novella and the characters are everyday people trying to find a common path to contentment and fulfillment. Both Derek and Vanessa are introspective people who are not open with their feelings and their reluctance to share kept them imprisoned in the "same old, same old" kind of life. Even after Vanessa worked up the courage to invite Derek to share a more personal relationship, to deepen their friendship into something more, he fled. The story reveals issues that both Vanessa and Derek must face before they can expect any future relationship to develop between them. Yet they are both charming in their reticence to move forward--Vanessa is wanting a new love in her life. She is a woman who is bone-tired of being alone. Derek is one of those gentle souls many of us are around all the time. This is indeed a tentative but gentle and winsome love story and journey of discovery. I think the story also brings into greater definition the issue of what really lies beneath a carefully crafted and guarded exterior. Both of these people must come to grips with the deeper feelings that are driving them--choosing to remain on the safe and pedantic plain of friendship they currently hold dear, or take some risks and open up those deep wellsprings of feelings that could easily overwhelm and irrevocably change them and their future as friends.

This is the first novella by this author I have read but I must confess that I found it a beautiful story filled with a kind of gentle energy that engaged my spirit and was deeply satisfying for my mind and emotions. It smacked of reality in a way that I found compelling--these two people seemed to me to be reminiscent of so many individuals who stand on the brink of greater intimacy, having to choose whether to hold pat or take a risk and move forward. The path of life is fraught with potholes and this story explores the speed bumps that can confound forward progress in the search for love and fulfillment.

This is not an extensive literary piece so will not take up a vast amount of the reader's time. But I think it is well worth the time investment and will be one of those stories that will feed the cravings for romance so many of us love to have as a part of our lives. I give this novella a 4 out of 5.

This novella was released by Carina Press on 22 November 2010.