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Showing posts by: Janga click to see Janga's profile
Mon
Apr 14 2014 9:30am

The Game of Love by Edith LaytonApril 23, 2014, will mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and Shakespeare lovers around the globe will be celebrating the occasion throughout the month of April with lectures, conferences, readings, and parties. The most famous celebration is probably the one in Stratford-on-Avon where they will be serving birthday cake to visitors April 25-26. Now I’m no Shakespeare expert, but I am an English major with four courses in Shakespeare on my transcript and a generalist who spent a portion of each year for more than three decades teaching one of a dozen of his plays. (Twelfth Night was my favorite to teach, and I blush to confess that the last time I taught Hamlet to a class of general studies high school students we had a party to celebrate not Shakespeare’s birth but Hamlet’s death.) I think my experience with Shakespeare is sufficient for me to hold my own celebration: a rereading of my top five Shakespeare-influenced romance novels.

[Journeys end in lovers meeting...]

Mon
Apr 7 2014 9:30am

The best authors of romance fiction know how to use the conventions of the genre. They are skilled not only at storytelling and prose style but also at tweaking and twisting familiar tropes— sometimes even violating taboos—to make their stories stand out from the thousands of other romance novels available in print and digital formats. But one convention that is practically sacrosanct in romance is the appearance of the hero. Most heroes are exceptionally good-looking. Reviewers and other readers routinely sigh over their favorite handsome, hunky, hot heroes. Nora Roberts’s Roarke topped All About Romance’s 2006 mini-poll for favorite hero, and certainly his looks are part of his immense appeal. He is first described in Naked in Death (1995) as “almost ridiculously handsome” with black hair that is “thick and full and swept back from a strong forehead to fall inches above broad shoulders” and eyes of such an extraordinary blue that “the word was much too simple for the intensity of color or the power in them.” Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie Fraser was first runner-up in the AAR poll, and while I’ve never read the Outlander books, I can deduce from Gabaldon’s proposing Gabriel Aubry as a lookalike that Jamie must be extraordinarily good-looking.

Beastly heroes, who may or may not be transformed into handsome princes (or dukes or earls or . . .), are rarer than handsome heroes but still very much a part of the pantheon of Romance’s most beloved heroes. Arguably, Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain, hero of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels (1995), heads this list. Dain’s “dark . . . harsh, hard” face with his Usignuolo nose is a match for his “Dartmoor soul,” a fitting description for one known as “Lord Beelzebub.” As much as I adore Dain, my candidate for the most visually memorable beastly hero is Sir Alistair Munroe in Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast (2009): “Black, lank hair fell in tangles to his shoulders. . . . One side of his stubbled face was twisted with red angry scars. A single light brown eye reflected the lightning at them diabolically."

The purpose of my musings about handsome and ugly heroes is that while romance novelists and their readers have embraced both beautiful and beastly heroes, homely heroes are the rarest species to be found in the gallery of romance heroes. “Homely” means plain, of ordinary appearance, not beautiful or good-looking, but not truly beastly either. Perhaps it is the connection with the ordinary that makes a homely hero seem a contradiction in terms, but Edith Layton created a quartet of heroes who demonstrate that homely hero is an oxymoron, an apparent contradiction that proves surprisingly true.

[This makes them practically perfect in every way...]

Thu
Apr 3 2014 4:30pm

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart LovelaceI started reading the Betsy-Tacy series when I was five, the same age as Betsy Ray and her best friend, Tacy Kelly, in the first book of Maud Hart Lovelace’s enduring series. I read the six books that cover Betsy’s life from her first year in high school through the early months after her marriage to Joe Willard long before other YA books filled my bookshelves. I loved those books and reread them again and again and again. Betsy, Tacy, Tib Muller (who turned their duet into a trio), and their crowd were as real to me as my own friends.

In Heaven to Betsy (1945), the first of the YA books (the fifth in the series), Betsy meets two boys: the blond Joe Willard, who shares Betsy’s love of reading and writing, and Tony Markham, whom Betsy and Tacy christen the Tall Dark Handsome Stranger. Neither boy is part of the group that Betsy has grown up with in Deep Valley, Minnesota, and their newness is part of their appeal. Joe is independent and a bit mysterious; Tony is funny and charming. Even at eight, I understood  that sooner or later Betsy would have to make a choice, and although I belonged to Team Joe from the first, I wanted Tony to be happy too.

Betsy In Spite of Herself (1946) takes a detour around the original triangle as Betsy catches the attention of the wealthy, sophisticated Phil Brandish and learns an important lesson about being true to herself, but by the next book, Betsy Was A Junior (1947), Joe is involved with Phyllis Brandish, sister of Betsy’s sophomore-year boyfriend, and Tony’s bad-boy vibes appear to be winning the day. Betsy likes the image of herself as the one who saves Tony from himself.

[Such a tempting project to undertake...]

Tue
Mar 18 2014 4:00pm

Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James

Eloisa James
Three Weeks with Lady X
Avon / March 25, 2014 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital

Having made a fortune, Thorn Dautry, the powerful bastard son of a duke, decides that he needs a wife. But to marry a lady, Thorn must acquire a gleaming, civilized façade, the specialty of Lady Xenobia India.

Exquisite, headstrong, and independent, India vows to make Thorn marriageable in just three weeks.

But neither Thorn nor India anticipate the forbidden passion that explodes between them.

Thorn will stop at nothing to make India his. Failure is not an option. But there is only one thing that will make India his.

The one thing Thorn can't afford to lose—his fierce and lawless heart.

Fans of Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses series, especially those whose hearts were stolen by Leopold Dautry, Duke of Villiers, will be delighted that Thorn Dautry, oldest of Villiers’s six illegitimate children is, in the words of the heroine of Three Weeks with Lazy X, “a chip off the old duke.”  One description particularly evoked the scene-stealing Villiers from the earlier books: "Shoulder to shoulder, the duke and his son looked like an illustration in Gentleman’s Magazine of handsome gentlemen wearing the very latest fashions.” But even though Thorn is the physical image of his father from his impressive body to the white streak in his hair and also possesses the duke’s air of command, he is quite different from Villiers in significant ways.

Thorn was twelve when Villiers found him and changed him from Juby the mudlark, forced to risk life and limb searching the dirty Thames for objects that could be sold, to Tobias, illegitimate but recognized son of a powerful duke. His early years left him with edges that not even the years that followed in a privileged household with his siblings and a loving father and step-mother could smooth away. In Eloisa James's Three Weeks with Lady X, readers learn he is more than a former mudlark and more than his father’s son. He is Thorn, a self-selected name for a self-made man who earned his fortune, who accepts his bastardry and who refuses to disguise a roughness that is natural to him but foreign to the polished Villiers.

[Ooh! The Taming of the Crude?...]

Wed
Mar 5 2014 3:30pm

Watch the Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken HodgeFor well over four decades, authors of historical romance novels have found that the conflict between American and British cultures adds interesting layers to the relationship between the hero and the heroine. Granted that sometimes these American characters, born or brought up in the United States, seem little more than stereotypes, but when they are believable, distinctly American characters, they provide a more egalitarian perspective with bourgeois values that contrast, sometimes sharply, with the manners and mores of the British aristocracy.

The first American protagonist I remember in an English-set historical romance is Christina Tretton, the heroine of Jane Aiken Hodge’s Watch the Wall, My Darling (1966), an adventurous romance with Gothic elements. The novel is filled with masked highwaymen, smugglers, spies, and threats of French invasion, all of which, along with her newly met English family, test Christina’s intrepidity. She exhibits her American independence when she, unlike most of her English relatives, refuses to be ruled by her controlling grandfather.

By the 1980s when traditional Regencies topped my list of favorite reading material, the American protagonist was not quite so rare. Regency Sting (1980) by Elizabeth Mansfield was a particular favorite because the American hero, Jason Hughes, Viscount Mainwaring, enjoys playing to his English connections’ assumption that he is a graceless yokel badly in need of tutoring in how to look and behave in ways befitting his newly inherited title. I reread another favorite oldie, Joan Wolf’s American Duchess (1982), not long ago. The basic plot anticipates the “Dollar Princesses” of the late 19th century, the American heiresses who came to England looking to exchange their wealth for marriage to a titled gentleman. While the situation between the rich American heroine, Tracy Bodmin, a dutiful daughter who accepts her father’s plans for her, and the impoverished, aristocratic hero, Adrian, Duke of Hastings, who needs an infusion of cash to protect his family and his heritage, is standard fare, Wolf adds details that make American Duchess more realistic and more substantive than similar tales.

[There is no better marriage than an heiress and an impoverished duke in want of a wife...]

Fri
Jan 10 2014 10:30am

A Precious Jewel by Mary BaloghWhether it is Charles Dickens showing readers poor Bob Cratchitt shivering in the under-heated office of Scrooge and Marley, Emily Bronte revealing Catherine and Heathcliffe swept by storms external and internal, or Agatha Christie using a snowstorm to trap houseguests in her classic country house mystery story, writers have used weather to reveal character, serve as metaphor, and advance plot for centuries. Writers of romance fiction are no exception, and Mary Balogh is perhaps the most skillful of romance authors in using weather for all these purposes.

Sometimes Balogh uses weather subtly. In A Precious Jewel (1993), the entire story rests on the weather. The reader learns in the opening sentences that Sonia, Sir Gerald Stapleton’s regular “girl” at Miss Katherine Blythe’s brothel, is “indisposed” because “she has taken a chill from walking in the park . . . without adequate protection from the cold wind.” It is this fact that leads to Gerald’s introduction to Priscilla Wentworth and sets up Balogh’s popular prostitute-as- romance-heroine novel. In a similar manner but in a quite different scene, No Man’s Mistress (2001) opens with this sentence: “The weather had cooperated in magnificent fashion with warm sunshine and a cloudless blue sky.” The beautiful spring day (May Day, in fact) is both backdrop and metaphor for the easy, carefree, romantic first meeting of Ferdinand Dudley and Viola Thornhill; it makes possible a memory that will be vital to their relationship when the two become antagonists at their second meeting.

[And then comes the snow...]

Tue
Dec 24 2013 1:00pm

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne ThayneI’m a fan of second chance stories, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that my five favorites from among the twenty or so contemporary Christmas stories I’ve read this year all focus on characters who, after knowing real unhappiness, get another chance, not just for a happy Christmas but for a happy life. The lovely gifts in “Grown-up Christmas List” are realized in these books. “And love would never end . . .” That’s my kind of Christmas.

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne Thayne

Genevieve Beaumont, Hope’s Crossing’s spoiled princess and former Bridezilla, and Dylan Caine, war hero who left a few missing parts in Afghanistan, have only two things in common. They both ended up at drinking at the Speckled Lizard on the Friday after Thanksgiving and they both really dislike the Christmas carols some patron with lousy taste in music keeps playing on the digital jukebox. When Genevieve decides to make her objections to the music known, she ends up in an altercation with a redhead with a fondness for Christmas carols and a job as assistant district attorney. The altercation turns physical, and when the redhead’s obnoxious male companion gets involved, Dylan can’t sit there and watch him manhandle Genevieve, even if she is a spoiled brat. By evening’s end, they have something else in common: they are handcuffed together in a squad car on their way to the police station.

Genevieve and Dylan are not likeable characters. Dylan, of course, is a hero, and he sacrificed enormously in service of his country. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for him, but it’s also difficult to really like him when he is all wounded animal snarling and tearing at his loving family who are brokenhearted over his losses but whose gratitude that Dylan’s life has been spared is even greater. However, with Dylan, readers familiar with the series recognize from the opening scene that his psychological healing has begun, albeit in infinitesimal increments. The Dylan of earlier books would never have agreed to meet his brother Jamie at the Lizard.

[Good thing he did...]

Fri
Dec 20 2013 12:15pm

The Gift of Christmas by Debbie MacomberThis year Harlequin reissued Debbie Macomber’s first Christmas romance, The Gift of Christmas, almost three decades after it was first published. Since that first holiday book in 1984, Macomber has written another twenty-three Christmas novels plus a novella. This doesn’t count the books reissued singly or in combination. Then, there are the three Hallmark Christmas movies—Mrs. Miracle, Call Me Mrs. Miracle, and Trading Christmas. The first two became Hallmark’s highest rated movies of their respective years, and the third won its slot. For many romance readers and a lot of other readers and viewers who don’t consider themselves romance fans, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Debbie Macomber’s contribution.

David Hinkley, an entertainment columnist for New York Daily News, called the Hallmark movies based on Macomber’s books “the Labrador retrievers of the movie world” whose “only goal is to make you feel good.” I thought that was an apt characterization of Macomber’s Christmas books as well. Labs are popular and family-friendly, and time with one leaves you smiling. All these things are true of her books.

[Especially her Christmas books...]

Wed
Dec 18 2013 6:30pm

Under the Mistletoe by Mary BaloghFew historical romance authors can equal Mary Balogh’s record in writing Christmas stories. Her first Christmas novella, “The Star of Bethlehem,” appeared in the very first Signet Regency Christmas collection, A Regency Christmas (1989). In fact, a Balogh story was included in the Signet Regency Christmas anthologies for the first nine years they were published. She also wrote a story, “Guarded by Angels,” for Topaz’s Angel Christmas (1995). “A Handful of Gold,” first published in The Gifts of Christmas (Harlequin, 1998), was reissued in Christmas Keepsakes (Harlequin, 2005) and The Heart of Christmas (Harlequin, 2009). Under the Mistletoe, a collection that includes four Balogh Christmas novellas from her Signet years plus a new novella, was published in 2005.

In addition to these dozen Christmas novellas, Balogh has also written four novels with Christmas settings and themes: Christmas Beau (1991), a revenge story turned into a reunion story by the magic of Christmas, A Christmas Promise (1992), a cross-class marriage of convenience tale with a family Christmas that bridges two worlds and a most sigh-worthy conclusion; Christmas Belle (1994), another reunion story, this one with a rare actress heroine; and A Christmas Bride (1997), one of the best redeemed heroine novels. Speaking critically, I think A Christmas Promise is the best of the four. It shows the complications of a marriage between people from different classes, offers a detailed look at the Christmas celebrations of the period, and provides a poignant view of how grief affects the bereaved during a holiday, and it does all this with grace, credibility, and romantic tension. But I love all four books and have reread each one several times.

[Then there are the novellas...]

Fri
Dec 13 2013 10:30am

Christmas Angel by Jo BeverlyEach year I eagerly await the release of the new Christmas romances and always find at least a handful to add to my Christmas collection that will be brought out for rereading during Christmases yet to come. While that collection of favorite Christmas reads includes everything from children’s books to murder mysteries, I particularly cherish the historical romances that allow me to experience Christmas in a distant place and time. For some reason, historicals have been rather scarce among the Christmas romances I have read in 2013, but thanks to the age of reissues, I still have a top five for the season.

1. Christmas Angel by Jo Beverley

Having survived Vitoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo, Leander Knollis, Earl of Charrington, has returned to England with a sense of his own mortality and a determination to settle down with a congenial wife. His problem is that all the eligible maidens he has met persist in falling in love with him, and Leander believes himself incapable of romantic love. Leaving the lovelorn misses in London, Leander sets out for Hartwell, the Surrey cottage where his friend Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, and his wife Beth have settled. Beth proposes that Lee consider a local widow for his bride, one certain not to fall in love with him.

[All the best laid plans...]

Sat
Dec 7 2013 3:35pm

Morning Glory by LaVyrle SpencerI grew up reading and rereading Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, not exactly romance fiction, but with all the matches from Tibby and Julian in Colonial America through six more books to their descendants in World War II England, the series certainly qualifies as fiction with a strong romance element. I didn’t really think about moving to a different genre when I moved from reading Thane, Janet Holt Giles, Elisabeth Ogilvie, and other weavers of American-set historical fiction to reading American-set romance fiction.

For years, American historicals were a regular part of my romance reading. But LaVyrle Spencer and Maggie Osborne retired, Pamela Morsi and Susan Wiggs moved to women’s fiction and contemporary romance (or some hybrid of the two), and Lorraine Heath and Laura Lee Guhrke joined the European historical-writing crowd. These days, except for Frontier/Westerns, which remain strong with frequent contributions from writers such as Jo Goodman, Cheryl St. John, Jodi Thomas, and Kaki Warner, it is rare that I read an American historical that gives me the feeling that I’ve found a gem to add to my collection. But with the boundaries of the American historical expanding into the World War II era and beyond, I have hope that American historicals, from Colonial America settings to the 1960s, will find again a place on monthly lists of available romance novels.

In the meantime, I’ll keep rereading my top ten favorite American historical romance novels (listed in order of publication since I can’t decide which ones I love most).

1. Morning Glory (1990) by LaVyrle Spencer

Among Spencer fans, this one is often cited as the top favorite. With Will Parker, a drifter and ex-con, as hero, and Ellie Dinsmore, a pregnant widow many of the good citizens of Whitney consider mad, as heroine, it offers unconventional protagonists. These two lonely outsiders enter a marriage of convenience in a small Georgia town in the 1940s and capture the reader’s interest and affection in their story about finding a place to belong. Morning Glory’s continued popularity is confirmed by its ranking as #25 on the 2013 Top 100 poll at All About Romance.

[+9 more must-read American historicals...]

Thu
Dec 5 2013 5:30pm

Miss Ware's Refusal by Marjorie FarrellBlind characters feature prominently in Western literature from very early in its history. Tiresias, who received the gift of prophecy from Zeus, was always a favorite of my students, whether they encountered him in the plays of Sophocles, Dante’s Inferno, or Eliot’s “Wasteland.” (Of course, it was the connection with sex rather than his blindness that most of them found appealing, but I digress.) My point is that the idea of blindness being accompanied by a compensatory gift, often a kind of “second sight,” is an ancient one. The blinded war veteran who functions as a metaphor of a wounded post-war world reestablishing order from chaos, although not as old as the blind seer, is another familiar literary motif. Romance fiction lacks a Tiresias figure as far as I know, but historical romance authors have used the blind warrior hero who must come to terms with a new self and reassert his command over a reordered world with wonderful results for at least the past two decades. My top five such stories (in order of publication) includes both medieval warriors and Peninsular War veterans.

1. Miss Ware's Refusal (1990) by Marjorie Farrell

Simon Balance, Duke of Sutton, suffers a head injury at Waterloo and loses his sight as a result. Farrell does a superb job of showing the stages Simon moves through, from disbelief and denial to frustration, fear, and humiliation to an inner darkness more intense than his physical blindness, and finally to—with the heroine’s help—acceptance of his limitations and triumph over them. A bookish hero and heroine make this one a special treat. Words are inadequate to describe my delight that Simon takes his first tentative step out of his self-imposed isolation when Judith reads to him from a copy of William Blake’s engraved Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I wanted to join their conversation.

[And we do, too!...]

Thu
Nov 7 2013 11:45am

Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed by Jo BeverleyMy name is Janga, and I’m a series addict. The habit goes back to childhood when my favorite fictional characters—Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Betsy Ray—were featured in series that I reread again and again, always in order. The most tattered romance novels on my keeper shelves are Jo Beverley’s Rogues and Mallorens, Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels, and Nora Roberts’s MacGregors, which I have also reread again and again, and always in order. One of the things I like best about series is falling in love with a secondary character and knowing that sooner or later the author will write a book in which that character becomes the hero or heroine.

I started reading Jo Beverley’s books with her very first traditional Regency, Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed (1988), and so she was already on my autobuy list when she introduced her Company of Rogues with An Arranged Marriage in 1991. There were an even dozen of the Rogues when they banded together as schoolboys at Harrow, but Beverley, deciding that it was unrealistic for all of them to have survived in wartime had two of them, Lord Roger Merrihew, son of the Marquess of Edenbridge, and Allan Ingram die in battle before the series begins. The name of a third, Lord Darius Debenham, younger son of the Duke of Yeovil, showed up on the fatality list after Waterloo in the second book in the series, An Unwilling Bride (1992). Although Dare’s role in the first two books is slight, he was a light-hearted charmer who captured the affections of Beverley’s readers. I know I’m not the only one who shed tears when his death served as the occasion for one of the most moving speeches in romance fiction, the Rogues’ toast given by head Rogue, Nicholas Delaney, twin brother of the Earl of Stainsbridge:

“To all the fallen: may they be forever young in heaven. To all the wounded: may they have strength and heal. To all the bereaved: may they feel joy again. And please God, may there one day be an end to war.”

[Give me all your series...]

Mon
Nov 4 2013 9:30am

Emily March
Miracle Road
Ballantine / November 5, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital

After tragedy strikes his team, college basketball coach Lucca Romano arrives in the haven of Eternity Springs to reassess his life. Even a winning record and big offers can’t dent the wall of guilt that Lucca has built around himself. Nothing can—except maybe a vibrant new neighbor who won’t give up on him.

Schoolteacher Hope Montgomery believes in miracles. She has to believe—because giving up would mean crumbling under the greatest loss a parent can endure. Hope understands Lucca’s suffering; she lives it herself every day. However, the high school team needs his coaching expertise, so she sets out to draw him from his cold, solitary shell and into the warmth of life in their small Rocky Mountain town. But when a weak moment leads to consequences that shake Hope’s faith, it’s up to Lucca to put aside his heartache and show the teacher that here in Eternity Springs broken hearts can heal—just in time for Christmas.

With a series set in a town called Eternity Springs—in which is located a spa called Angel’s Rest owned by a benevolent, mysterious woman named Celeste Blessing—and this seventh book, a Christmas book, featuring a heroine named Hope (whose kidnapped daughter is named Holly) and a hero named Lucca (meaning bringer of light; an Italian variant of Luke), one might expect this story to be unbearably twee. One would be wrong. The hurt and guilt that Hope Montgomery and Lucca Romano suffer in Emily March's Miracle Road is painfully realistic.

[How do they get through it?...]

Thu
Oct 31 2013 9:30am

The Game of Love by Edith LaytonEdith Layton saved my sanity. One semester in grad school, I was taking courses in Old English, French, and Chaucer, auditing a 19th-century American novel course, and teaching three sections of freshman comp, or as a friend described it, living my life in five languages. I was tottering on the brink of losing it all when I picked up a book I had bought at the local UBS and escaped for a few hours into Edith Layton’s Regency world. I fell in love with Arden Lyons, hero of The Game of Love (1988), the middle book in Layton’s Super Regency Love trilogy. How could an English major resist a hero whose book opened with an epigram from A Midsummer Night's Dream (“a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing”) and who furthermore borrowed from the Bard to compliment the heroine and to challenge a coward? I didn’t fully appreciate at the time Arden’s role as a former king of the underworld, a plot point used with varying results by many romance writers I have since read, nor the rarity of a hero who shows a heroine why he is convinced he’s wrong for her. I cannot count the heroes post-Arden who made a different choice. But I knew I had found the perfect retreat from my stressed-to-the-nth degree life.

As soon as I finished The Game of Love, I was back at the UBS searching for the other books in the trilogy, Love in Disguise and Surrender to Love. They were as good as the middle book. In fact, Warwick Jones, hero of Love in Disguise, is still my standard for the credibility of love at first sight. I was a believer the minute I read these words: “And then, for the first time in his life, between the drawing in of one breath and the letting out of another, he lost a breath somewhere in between, forever...For she looked exactly as he'd always imagined love itself would look if he ever found it.” Arden and Warwick and Julian (hero of the third book) and their heroines helped me endure the insane pressures of that semester. I finished with every freshman essay graded in a timely fashion, a high pass on the French exam that completed my first foreign language requirement, A’s in Old English and Chaucer, and a forever debt to Edith Layton.

[I owe it all to you...]

Tue
Oct 29 2013 9:30am

Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy AthertonI wrote a post a couple of years ago about my favorite ghostly romances, but there are other ghosts who have delighted this reader’s heart who are either not protagonists or not characters in romance fiction. Since I’m a wimpy reader, I like my ghosts benevolent, so there are no scary ghosts on my list.

1. Aunt Dimity’s Death (1992), Nancy Atherton

Nancy Atherton published the eighteenth book in her Aunt Dimity mystery series this year, but Aunt Dimity’s Death (1992) is the first and best (and one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association). American Lori Shepherd believes Aunt Dimity is a fictional character who lives only in the stories Lori’s mother told her. Lori is shocked when she receives a substantial inheritance from Dimity Westwood, but not nearly as shocked as she is when she arrives at Dimity’s English cottage to discover Dimity herself is still very much a presence there. She communicates with Lori by writing in a diary, an appropriate mode since Lori is charged with writing the Aunt Dimity stories her mother told her. As much love story as mystery, Lori finds her own soul mate and reunites Dimity with her lost love. Lori says of the stories she wrote, “I wrote of how vital it was to believe in the love offered by an honest heart, no matter how impractical or absurd or fearful the circumstances.”

[Enter the spirit world...]

Tue
Oct 22 2013 4:30pm

Wild Child by Molly O'KeefeMolly O’Keefe
Wild Child
Bantam / October 29, 2013/ $7.99 print & digital

Monica Appleby is a woman with a reputation. Once she was America’s teenage “Wild Child,” with her own reality TV show. Now she’s a successful author coming home to Bishop, Arkansas, to pen the juicy follow-up to her tell-all autobiography. Problem is, the hottest man in town wants her gone. Mayor Jackson Davies is trying to convince a cookie giant to move its headquarters to his crumbling community, and Monica’s presence is just too . . . unwholesome for business. But the desire in his eyes sends a very different message: Stay, at least for a while.

Jackson needs this cookie deal to go through. His town is dying and this may be its last shot. Monica is a distraction proving too sweet, too inviting—and completely beyond his control. With every kiss he can taste her loneliness, her regrets, and her longing. Soon their uncontrollable attraction is causing all kinds of drama. But when two lost hearts take a surprise detour onto the bumpy road of unexpected love, it can only lead someplace wonderful.

In the third chapter of Wild Child, Monica Appleby looks at Jackson Davies and thinks, “I see you. . . . All the parts you hid behind that smile. And they aren’t pretty.” Molly O’Keefe may assign the thought to her heroine, but the words could serve as well as an authorial declaration for this author who cuts away all the veneer to expose the messiness, the raw wounds, and the self-delusions that lie beneath the Prufrockian faces her characters craft to protect themselves.

[Get to the heart of things...]

Fri
Oct 11 2013 9:45am

Up to the Challenge by Terri OsburnTerri Osburn
Up to the Challenge
Montlake / October 22, 2013 / $12.95 print, $9.99 digital

When the Dempsey patriarch suffers a heart attack, Lucas Dempsey steps up to keep the doors of the family restaurant open. The proverbial prodigal son returns home to Anchor Island—putting family first and his quest to make partner at his high-powered law firm on hold. Sporting a bruised ego after losing his fiancée to his older brother, Lucas would rather walk on glass than spend six weeks within spitting distance of the happy couple. But family duty calls. And that duty includes working side-by-side with a tantalizing spitfire intent on driving him mad.

Tough-as-nails boat mechanic Sid Navarro is happy to trade her tools for an apron to help the Dempseys in their time of need. That is, until she realizes she’ll be working alongside Lucas, the man she’s loved from afar since she first laid eyes on him in high school. Lucas could charm the paint off a schooner, but Sid knows she doesn’t fit his girl-next-door type. To show her true feelings would mean certain heartbreak, but the temptation of Lucas in her bed might be more than she can resist.

After a rocky start punctuated by verbal barbs and exasperating arguments, things heat up between them—big-time—but their steamy affair turns more than casual in a matter of weeks. Sid’s life has become the dream she’s always wanted, and Lucas has fallen hard for the last woman he ever expected to love.

But this affair has an end-date, as Lucas must return to his life and career in the big city, a place where Sid would never fit in. When the end comes earlier than expected, walking away turns out to be a challenge neither of them wants to win.

Terri Osburn's Up to the Challenge is a sexy, fast-paced, romantic story of family, island life, and finding love in unexpected places.

[Love will find a way...]

Thu
Sep 26 2013 9:30am

Season for Scandal by Theresa RomainTheresa Romain
Season for Scandal
Zebra / October 1, 2013 / $6.99 print, $5.99 digital

Jane Tindall has never had money of her own or exceptional beauty. Her gifts are more subtle: a mind like an abacus, a talent for play-acting—and a daring taste for gambling. But all the daring in the world can't help with the cards fixed against her. And when Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, unwittingly spoils her chance to win a fortune, her reputation is ruined too. Or so she thinks, until he suggests a surprising mode of escape: a hasty marriage. To him. On the surface, their wedding would satisfy all the demands of proper society, but as the Yuletide approaches, secrets and scandals turn this proper marriage into a very improper affair.

The first thematic analysis of a text that I remember writing centered on the theme of appearance and reality in Hamlet. I thought about that long-ago experience as I considered what I wanted to say about Theresa Romain’s third holiday Season book, which not only once more makes rich use of the appearance and reality theme that this author used to good effect in the first two books of the series but in which she also alludes to Hamlet.

[But but—Hamlet is a tragedy!...]

Tue
Sep 17 2013 9:30am

Run to You by Rachel GibsonRachel Gibson
Run to You
Avon / September 24, 2013/ $7.99 print, $6.99 digital

Stella Leon's bartending gig was going fine until gorgeous ex-Marine Beau Junger decked her mob-connected boss, spirited her out of the city, and claimed that Stella's half-sister—the one with the perfect life—sent him. Now Stella has no choice but to go along for the ride . . . and seduce
Beau's military-issue socks off . . .

The Marine Corps was Beau's escape from his old man's legacy of naval heroism and serial philandering, but no amount of training could prepare him for the day he looked in the mirror and saw his father staring back. The answer: swear off meaningless sex. Oh, and find a way to make Stella Leon quit being so damn hot . . .

I’ve read romance novels with virginal heroines, and I’ve read romance novels, albeit considerably fewer, with virginal heroes, but Rachel Gibson’s Run to You is the first romance novel I’ve read that features a heroine who is a “technical virgin” and a hero who is in the midst of a self-imposed period of celibacy.

[Guessing the no-sex zone won't last for long...]