New Book!


In a number of historical romance novels, the protagonists are more than likely kept apart until the very end by some seemingly trivial misunderstanding.  I kept waiting for that trick to expose itself in this new novel, the first in the new Abandoned at the Altar series by Laura Lee Guhrke. I soon realized, however, that Will Mallory, the Duke of Sunderland, and his once intended bride, Lady Beatrix Danbury had no such misunderstanding. Life simply took them down two separate roads six long years ago. One went to Egypt to follow his life’s dream while the other stayed home in England to follow hers.

Six years ago, Will and Beatrix, childhood sweethearts, were engaged to be married. In fact, they were two short weeks away from that walk down the aisle. Will receives a missive from a famous archaeologist inviting him to search for King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. He must leave straightaway, but tries to persuade Beatrix to come with him. Trix, as she’s known, is tied to England’s shores by her parents’ history. Her mother ran away when she was nine and her father fears losing his daughter to the same fate. Unhappy and feeling the pull of her family and her aristocratic responsibilities, she decides not to go with Will, and he, as heartbroken as she, leaves. The engagement is broken. It takes Trix five years to find someone to help her really begin life again (and that would be Aidan Carr, the Duke of Trathen, whose story is told in the next installment of the series, Scandal of the Year). While she doesn’t love Aiden the way she loved Will, Beatrix feels she’ll be content with him, and she begins to live her life again.

When Will unexpectedly comes back to England to beg for funds to continue his expedition, he and Beatrix are thrown together with disastrous results. Tempting fate, they feel the pull of  first love, and are caught in a compromising kiss. Aidan breaks off the engagement, leaving Trix on her own again. I began to worry at this point that this story may not have the happy ending I’ve come to expect from this genre. Perhaps this will be the one exception to that happily ever after rule that leaves me with that  smile on my face and proverbial song in my heart, even if it is for fictional characters finding their destinies with each other.  It’s the reason why I keep reading these books. What this story actually comes down to is this; There is no “trick” as to why these two are not together. Sometimes love is just not enough.

To the author’s credit, I have never read a novel in this genre that is so rich on introspection and relatively light on dialog, at least in the first part of the book.  This is not a bad thing. Throughout the first two-thirds of the story, Beatrix and Will each have many moments of reliving their past. Ms. Guhrke mixes the present day with poignant childhood memories revisited by both and this makes the story a bit wistful and more than a tad melancholy in many places. Every memory is analyzed and hashed out until you are fully and totally vested in the couple and their history.  It is an amazing feat, really. By the time the novel ended, I felt I knew these two inside and out, and I felt badly for both of them in equal measure.

When certain confrontations force both Will and Beatrix to question themselves and their choices in the last third of the novel, we watch two people mature and finally come to terms with their childhood love and the separation that has colored everything since.

Can Will persuade Beatrix to let him make things right? Can he again persuade her  to marry him and go to Egypt with him six years after he originally asked? Can Beatrix make that leap of faith, leave her surroundings and her comfort zone, and finally, truly be with Will? Is there no compromise these two can make? Things were looking very dicey for a while.  But let me just say this. There is a meeting of the minds, and that is all I’m going to say about the ending of this wonderful love story by one of my very favorite authors. I finished the book days ago, and I’m still sitting here with a smile on my face, and that song in my heart. Ms. Gurhke once again delivers, and in extraordinary fashion. Bring on the sequels.

Destiny, Ohio is once again the place to be in my virtual literary world. That’s because Whisper Falls is finally out on the shelves. Book number three in author Toni Blake’s Destiny series, Whisper Falls is just as luscious as the first two installments (One Reckless Summer and Sugar Creek). But be prepared, my friends. Ms. Blake tees up one beautiful bad boy as this story’s hero. If you thought Officer Mike Romo was something else, just wait ’til you meet his younger brother.

“Lucky” Romo, pegged as a trouble maker and town tough guy, never stood a chance at being understood. So he left without so much as a goodbye to anyone, including his family. And he stayed away for years until an unexpected obligation brings him back home. But Lucky’s a man with secrets – dangerous secrets that seem to be catching up to him just when he thought his days of running from the past were over.  So what is he thinking, inviting the beautiful girl next door into the mess he calls his life? Apparently, he’s not thinking at all …

And Tessa Sheridan should know better. She has enough problems of her own trying to get traction under a failing business while dealing with a serious illness that frequently knocks her out of the box for days. It’s just that the hunky biker next door is really not as scary as he looks. In fact, Lucky Romo makes Tessa forget herself almost completely and, given the sad state of her particular union – that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with every one of Ms. Blake’s well drawn, complex protagonists. You especially have to admire the beautiful bad boy, particularly while he teeters on the brink of redemption. However, Lucky is so much more. Misunderstood as a child, the reason for his rebellion is revealed in an amazingly touching scene, and damn if it didn’t bring tears to my eyes.

Actually, there were many scenes to remember – one in particular reminded me of my first excursion on the back of a Honda Shadow:

“Um, what do I hold onto?” she asked loudly over his shoulder. He turned his head just enough so that she could see his eyes within the helmet.

“Me.”

And what follows is a perfect description of what it’s like to fly down a country road perched on the back of a powerful machine with absolutely nothing to come between you and the glorious rush of the wind except the broad, leathered shoulders of the man you are clinging to. But I digress. . .

Please treat yourself to Whisper Falls. And if you haven’t read the rest of Ms. Blake’s wonderful Destiny series, now would be the time to rectify that shameful oversight. Great stories, fantastic characters, sexy situations and a whole lot of fun. Go on, then. It’s a great ride…

When Abigail Donovan’s publicist creates her Twitter profile, it is with the intention of helping Abby reconnect with her diminishing fan base. And her fan base definitely needs replenishing because it’s been awhile since that first bestselling book made Oprah’s list. To make matters worse, Abby is struggling with a crippling case of writer’s block, and is perilously close to becoming another one-hit wonder of the literary world.

Abby’s very first tweet is answered by @MarkBaynard. Mark tells Abby he’s an English Lit professor on sabbatical and traveling the world as he writes his own novel. The two make a pact not to Google each other and their online relationship develops through prolific tweets of 140 characters or less.

Ms. Medeiros carefully constructs Abby and Mark’s relationship through short snippets of conversation that are so entertaining, they never seem to last long enough. She brilliantly illuminates the story with both characters’ intelligence, sense of humor and vulnerability. We are swept away, just like Abby, to the faraway locales Mark describes perfectly, albeit succinctly. And just like Abby, we begin to like Mark – really, really like him.  But when he balks at having a “real” conversation via cell phone,  she (and we) begin to suspect that perhaps things aren’t really as they seem.

Goodnight Tweetheart is not your typical romance. Most of the dialogue is written in tweets and, short of giving too much away, the ending is not what usually constitutes a happily ever after. That being said, it was one of the most emotionally engaging conclusions I’ve ever read.

I should mention that I met my husband online in the fledgling days of large public chat rooms, way before E-Harmony and Match.com. We were “hanging out” in the same AOL chat and mutually decided, through instant messages, to meet the very next night (in a crowded, public place of course). Our first “in person” date lasted six hours – we closed the restaurant at 2 AM and got married a short year and a half later. That was twelve years ago. So needless to say, I am a true believer in the power of technology-inspired connections.

Read Goodnight Tweetheart and I promise you will be too.

Christmas-themed romance stories that come out this time of year are usually reminiscent of THAT Christmas tale.  You know, the one where this one sells his watch and that one cuts her hair and both sacrifice what they hold dear in order to give something to the other. His Christmas Pleasure, by Cathy Maxwell, is no exception. While this novel has that theme running through it as well, there is something quite refreshing about a historical romance where there is no rake; the male protagonist is reformed even before the heroine gets to  him, and in that, this story is different.

Andres Ramigio, Baròn de Vasconia of Spain, has a reputation, but it’s not self-inflicted. Women seem to fall into his path, quite literally, and the one woman he has the misfortune to fall in love with, spurns him quite publicly. Abigail Montross, niece of a duke and daughter of a banker, is in love with an Earl’s son who is looking for more than a tradesman’s daughter for a wife. Set up in an arranged marriage by her father, she has already been engaged to and jilted by  another man. When she seemingly rescues Andres from his own father’s fate, their two lives become entangled in ways neither one of them expect. And after Abby’s father proposes another arranged marriage, she desperately looks for a way to avoid it. The Baròn has already seen the good in Abby, and unwittingly provides her with an escape. When he talks to Abby about a solution to their problems (he needs funds, she needs a way out),  it’s already evident that he’s halfway in love with her, which in turn, makes us love him even more.

When Andres persuades Abby to marry him, he’s the one who wants a proper wedding and a blessing from her parents. She’s the one who convinces him to elope. When they reach Stonemoor, the property given to him in Northumberland in exchange for a promise never to return to London, Abby realizes her new husband is not quite what he seems, but our faith in Andres is confirmed when he confesses all.

When Abby receives disturbing news from home in the middle of major misunderstanding with her new husband, and then hightails it back to London, there is little question that Andres will follow her, even if it means losing his home and his new livelihood in the process.

There are some wonderfully written scenes in this book. The showdowns between Andres and Abby’s determined father, the confrontation between Andres and a cuckolded husband, the coach ride that Andres and Abby share, the proposal scene in a garden with a roomful of women watching through a window, and of course, the final scene in the book where everything all comes right again, in a very surprising way, all reflect Cathy Maxwell’s ability at story-telling. This is a fun, quick story that will no doubt get the reader into the holiday spirit.

It was my Christmas pleasure to read it.

The final installment in Stephanie Laurens’ Black Cobra Trilogy is perhaps the most exciting of all.  The Reckless Bride follows the story of Rafe Carstairs, keeper of the original letter that will expose the identity of the Black Cobra.  His return to English soil is fraught with several distractions, not in the very least Lady Esme Congreve and her niece, Loretta Michelmarsh.  At the request of Esme for Rafe to act as their guide, he and Hasaan accompany the ladies back towards England.  A long journey up the rivers of Europe throws Rafe and Loretta closer together, coinciding with Esme’s match-making plans.  Their attraction is almost instant, but neither side is willing to admit to it.  When a murderous plot against Esme is discovered, explaining non-cultist attacks on them throughout Europe, she seeks sanctuary at a convent run by a friend while Loretta continues on with Rafe.  Left to their own devices, they realize they cannot hold back from each other, and finally succumb to their passions.  But, Rafe’s mission is the most dangerous of all, and Loretta is reckless enough to follow him until he sees it through. With the help of almost every single character in other Laurens’ novels, the Duke of Wolverstone gets his villain, and our four brave heroes get their happy endings.

As usual, Laurens delivers a flawless plot, keeping you in suspense until the surprising conclusion and discovery of the Black Cobra.  Add to this page after page of steamy, sexy love scenes between the drop dead gorgeous Rafe and the determined Loretta, and you won’t be able to put this book down.  Believe it or not, I found myself becoming impatient with Rafe and Loretta’s trysts, because I wanted to get back to the Black Cobra plot!  Another great series from Stephanie Laurens!

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”

This was the first thought that crossed my mind when I put my Nook to sleep on this book for the last time.  All that angst, all that heartache could have been avoided and the happy ending gotten to so much sooner, if Lady Isabel Townsend and Lord Nicholas St. John didn’t have major trust issues, brought on by unhappy pasts. His problem stems from his role as the Bulan, or the Hunter, assigned by the Crown to track fugitives, spies and missing persons of interest to the British Empire.  His last assignment landed him in prison because he fell in love and trusted the wrong person. Couple that with an unfaithful mother who deserted her family without a backwards glance and you can see where he’s coming from.

Lady Isabel had a father who was known as the Wastreal, a man who gambled and played his way through life and his fortune, leaving his children  (in addition to Isabel there is her brother James, the ten year old heir) and his wife to fend for themselves in the Yorkshire countryside. Isabel is still reeling and trying desperately to raise her brother, keep Townsend Park intact and harbor runaway women at the same time. A tall order for any heroine, surely.  Bring these two damaged souls together and watch the angst and sparks fly. And fly they do.

Lord Nicholas longs to escape the marriage minded mamas of London after being awarded the accolade “Landable Lord” by a popular magazine. When the Duke of Leighton assigns him to a special project, he jumps at the chance to head north.  His arrival in Yorkshire is noted by Lady Isabel, who is aware of his new moniker but is more interested in getting Lord Nicholas, a noted antiquarian, to appraise her statutes than she is in getting him to the altar. Nicholas refrains from telling her the real reason for his visit to her home, and thus ensues a series of misunderstandings so convoluted,  it is a miracle that the two of them actually like each other enough to fall in love.

Sarah MacLean paints a wonderfully colorful portrait of her characters in this novel.  There are way too many stubborn moments for Isabel, and I began to think that Nicholas was a saint to still want her, but conflict does make a happy bedfellow, especially when there is an overabundance of make-up sex. These two, suffice it to say, do a lot of making-up.  You’re just brought to the point where you are wondering how much more Nick can take when Isabel finally asks herself the same question and confesses to her love for him. But is it too late?

As an aside, I just need to mention that the best line of the book (and there were many good ones) and the one that embodies the very essence of the reformed rake, falls to Lord Gabriel St. John, Marquess of Ralston, Nick’s twin brother. While trying to console Nicholas, he says, “You are laboring under the mistaken impression that their  job is to need us. In my experience, it is almost always the other way around.” I love this line. It’s the basis of why I love romance novels. And why I loved this one, too.

This book is a sequel to Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Gabriel’s story) by the same author, and together they are both fun, lively reads. Each will have you heaving a satisfied sigh when you’re done. There’s nothing like a good story to make for a happy ending.

Normally, when I read a romance novel, I naturally identify with the heroine, if rooting for her to get her man is akin to identification. While reading this novel, however, I found myself fascinated by the workings of the mind of the male protagonist and instead, cheered for him to overcome his childhood demons and get his happy ending. It’s as if Cinderella’s prince was the more important character in that particular story than Cinderella herself; a wonderful twist to be sure.

The first in the London’s Greatest Lovers series by Lorraine Heath introduces Morgan Lyons, the 8th Earl of Westcliffe. Damaged in his youth by the early death of his father, the bitterness of his mother and jealousy toward his younger brothers, both for what they have (a higher rank and money for one) and what they don’t (the lack of noble responsibilities, for the other), Morgan accepts his role in an arranged marriage to the much younger Claire, a childhood friend of his younger brother, Stephen.

On their wedding night, Stephen’s penchant for mischief and Claire’s fear of her older, serious husband results in a three year banishment to the country for her and a separation that Morgan uses to rake his way through London. When circumstances arise and Claire is forced back to town to bring her philandering husband to heel, the two begin where their truncated marriage left off; they come to know each other better and begin to fall in love.

When danger lurks from an unpredictable source and tragedy results, Morgan realizes that Claire’s love can be trusted and he in turn comes to admit his feelings, no longer worried about feeling the vulnerability and insecurity that has followed him his entire life.

Lorraine Heath introduces secondary characters in this novel that provide the basis for understanding Morgan’s rakishness, his unwillingness to fully trust his wife, and his belief that he can never fall in love or trust love in return. His relationships with his brothers, especially the younger Duke of Ainsley (I’m assuming he will have his own sequel one day soon) his mother, his deceased father, his former paramour, Anne, even his beloved dog Cooper who dies and leaves him fully alone, or so he believes, explain why he did not give Claire a second chance after their wedding. These relationships also let us see why he feels he cannot let himself need anyone, including his wife, for whom he has feelings he’s trying so very hard to excuse away. I don’t think I’ve ever read another novel in this genre that uses secondary characters to this extent. They should all endeavor to do so.  After all, we are all the sum of our past experiences, shaped and molded by circumstances and people early on. The author brings this out wonderfully in this book, and it’s why I sympathize so strongly with Morgan. He’s simply trying so hard to get past all of it, and when he does, it’s like the sun coming out from behind a thundercloud; almost blinding in its intensity. I cannot wait for the sequel, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman, the story of Morgan’s brother Stephen, which will be out December 1, 2010. This book makes its debut on November 1, 2010.

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