<i>Ruptured</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Ruptured: Exclusive Excerpt Maggie Mae Gallagher "He said my name like a benediction..." <i>Misbehavior</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Misbehavior: Exclusive Excerpt Kathryn Kelly She's about to have the ride of her life... <i>Firebug</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Firebug: Exclusive Excerpt Lish McBride "I tried my best not to admire my friend as he stripped..." <i>Love on the Boardwalk</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Love on the Boardwalk: Exclusive Excerpt Christi Barth "Then she moaned as his tongue tangled with hers..."
From The Blog
September 16, 2014
5 Classic Secondary Couples
Willa aka willaful
September 16, 2014
Authors as Romance Heroines
Regina Kyle
September 15, 2014
Karen Marie Moning's Burned News!
Team H & H
September 15, 2014
Trailer for Mockingjay Part 1 Released!
Team H & H
September 12, 2014
Friday Beefcake: A Venti Hottie, Please!
Team H & H
Showing posts by: Leigh Davis click to see Leigh Davis's profile
Sun
Sep 14 2014 10:00am

First Look: Alicia Hunter Pace’s Forgiving Jackson (September 15, 2014)

Forgiving Jackson by Alicia Hunter PaceAlicia Hunter Pace
Forgiving Jackson
Crimson Romance / September 15, 2014 / $4.99 digital

Coming home to Beauford Bend opens up old wounds for four sexy, successful brothers, but the love of a few good Southern women will heal their hearts and change their lives forever.

Country music heartthrob Jackson Beauford isn’t used to hearing “no” for an answer. When a tragic fire at one of his concerts stirs memories of the blaze that claimed his family years ago, all he wants is to go back to his childhood home in Tennessee and wallow in his grief. But he arrives home to chaos . . . and a Southern magnolia with her heels dug in.

After suffering a vicious attack in New York City, Emory Lowell returned to Beauford Bend, a place she’s loved since she was a teenager. Now in charge of Around the Bend Elegant Events, she’s not about to let a spoiled superstar take away her livelihood. The boutique artisan town of Beauford depends on this business, and so does she. With its high walls and around-the- clock security, Beauford Bend is the only place she’s ever truly felt safe.

Jackson insists she close down his late aunt's business and leave him in peace, but quiet Emory refuses to budge, knowing this is a battle worth fighting. As a passionate attraction flares between these two wounded souls, they discover there’s much more at stake here than business. Jackson may be just the person to help Emory face her past, and if she can help him learn to forgive himself, their love might be the key to turning Beauford Bend back into a real home.

Two wounded individuals intersecting at the same place with the overriding desire for shelter and solace shouldn’t be at cross purposes. But they are when it means two different things, as in Alicia Hunter Pace's Forgiving Jackson.

[Sounds deliciously complicated...]

Mon
Sep 8 2014 9:30am

First Look: Christina Dodd’s Virtue Falls (September 9, 2014)

Virtue Falls by Christina DoddChristina Dodd
Virtue Falls
St. Martin's Press / September 9, 2014 / $25.99 print / $12.99 digital

Twenty-three years ago, in the isolated coastal town of Virtue Falls, Washington, four year old Elizabeth Banner witnessed her mother's brutal murder. Elizabeth's father was convicted of killing Misty and sentenced to prison. Elizabeth was sent to live with relatives, and grew from a solitary child to a beautiful woman with a cool scientific mind and an instinctive distrust of love. Now Elizabeth is back in Virtue Falls, a geologist like her father, living cautiously, her life guided by logic and facts. But nothing can help her through the emotional chaos that follows the return of her ex-husband, Garik Jacobsen, an FBI agent on probation and tortured by the guilt of his past deeds. Nor can it help her deal with her father, now stricken with Alzheimer's and haunted by Misty's ghost. When a massive earthquake reveals long-concealed secrets, Elizabeth soon discovers her father is innocent. Is the killer still at large, stalking ever closer to the one witness to Misty's murder? To Elizabeth herself? Elizabeth and Garik investigate, stirring old dark and deadly resentments that could provoke another bloody murder— Elizabeth's own.

Looking for a gritty romantic suspense book? Then look no further to Christina Dodd’s new release, Virtue Falls, the story of so many lives damaged by a single murder and a possibly erroneous conviction.

[Fall into the story!]

Fri
Sep 5 2014 11:00am

Broke, Homeless, and Hated: Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Most Down-on-Their-Luck Heroines

Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsA down-on-her-luck heroine is a fairly common and an often used plot device. but that said, nobody writes them better than Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Phillips’s forte is melding pathos and humor in an inimitable way that has us both empathizing and laughing at the heroine’s situation, even as we watch her face formidable challenges. Being a Susan Elizabeth Phillips heroine is not for sissies, because for most of the book the heroine is living by two truisms: only the strong survive and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Most of Phillips’ heroines have some type of financial problem, but others—well they’re just drowning in bad luck. Many heroines had some horrific past incidences, like the rape Phoebe Somerville experienced, but this list is based on current circumstances. Here in my opinionated opinion are the top five luckless Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ heroines:

5. Isabelle Favor from Breathing Room

Deciding Factor for placement: Broke, jobless, jilted, joke on Letterman, I.R.S. tax bill

A heroine who gets to escape her troubles by living in Italy for two months shouldn’t seem pathetic, but is easy to pity Isabelle Favor. Her accountant runs off with her money, leaving her at the mercy of the I.R.S. and David Letterman. Then her boyfriend dumps her, explaining that he has fallen for someone else, and together they’re having a baby. He then cruelly twists the knife by stating his palm pilot is warmer in bed than Isabelle. As Isabelle’s troubles are exposed, her career as a life coach hits the skids. If she is not successful in the four cornerstones of her business—healthy relationship, professional pride, financial responsibility and spiritual dedication, then of course she has no credibility.

[And that's pretty important...]

Wed
Sep 3 2014 9:30am

Sweet Sacrifice: Heroic Sacrifices from Kleypas, O’Keefe, Phillips, and More!

A Gentle Rain by Deborah SmithThis past spring, I talked about heroines that made sacrifices for their family in What We Do for Love: Sacrificing Heroines from Higgins, Carr, and More so it only seemed fair that I chat about the heroes, because guys in romance novels are just as willing as the women to put aside their foot-loose ways for the people they love. George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life set the bar high, but there are many men who have emulated him.

The first heroes who come to mind are Cameron, Ethan, and Phillip Quinn from the Chesapeake Bay saga by Nora Roberts, but that's almost too easy, since the whole series is about the sacrifices each brother makes to care for their brother Seth.

Ben Thocco from Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith fell in love with his Down syndrome brother from the moment he smiled at him.

[A smile is worth almost anything...]

Mon
Sep 1 2014 4:00pm

First Look: Deborah Blake’s Wickedly Dangerous (September 2, 2014)

Wickedly Dangerous by Deborah BlakeDeborah Blake
Wickedly Dangerous
Berkley / September 2, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.

But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.

Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…

Wickedly Dangerous, the first book in a new series by Deborah Blake, is a new paranormal series with a different flair, based on a Russian fairytale.

Russian tales state that Baba Yaga, a wicked witch with a curved-chin, beaky-nose, iron teeth, and giant chicken legs flies through the air on an enchanted mortar and pestle, to search out naughty children. And when she finds them she doesn’t discipline them, she eats them. That would keep me out of the forests and woods!

[Dangerous, indeed!...]

Sun
Aug 31 2014 10:00am

First Look: Joanne Rock’s Promises Under the Peach Tree (September 1, 2014)

Joanne Rock
Promises Under the Peach Tree
Harlequin / September 1, 2014 / $6.75 print, $4.99 digital

The trouble with Heartache

Nina Spencer swore she was done with Heartache, Tennessee, when she left the town—and her sexy ex, Mack—in her rearview mirror. But when her bakery business is rocked by scandal, she needs a place to regroup. What she doesn't need is Mack Finley reminding her of peach-flavored kisses and the hold he still has on her.

Mack never forgot Nina—not that he didn't try. Yet between caring for his family and organizing the annual Harvest Fest, he's overwhelmed and he needs Nina's help. They can work together without getting swept up in memories and the rush of brand-new passion, …right?

With my almost Pavlovian response to story arcs with reunited lovers, it is no surprise Joanne Rock’s Promises Under the Peach Tree caught my eye. Along with this favorite trope, I discovered realistic conflicts about lovers’ expectations and divided loyalties.

[Reunited and it feels so—?...]

Fri
Aug 29 2014 3:00pm

First Look: Barbara Davis’s The Wishing Tide (September 2, 2014)

The Wishing Tide by Barbara DavisBarbara Davis
The Wishing Tide
NAL / September 2, 2014 / $15.00 print, $9.99 digital

Five years ago, Lane Kramer moved to Starry Point, North Carolina, certain the quaint island village was the place to start anew. Now the owner of a charming seaside inn, she’s set aside her dreams of being a novelist and of finding love again. When English professor Michael Forrester appears on Lane’s doorstep in the middle of a storm, he claims he’s only seeking a quiet place to write his book. Yet he seems eerily familiar with the island, leaving Lane wondering if he is quite what he appears.

Meanwhile, Mary Quinn has become a common sight, appearing each morning on the dunes behind the inn, to stare wistfully out to sea. Lane is surprised to find a friendship developing with the older woman, who possesses a unique brand of wisdom, despite her tenuous grip on reality.

As Lane slowly unravels Mary’s story and a fragile relationship between Lane and Michael blooms, Lane realizes the three share a common bond. But when a decades-old secret suddenly casts its shadow over them, Lane must choose between protecting her heart and fighting for the life—and the love—she wants.

With some books, it is difficult to pick just “one thing” to highlight. The Wishing Tide by Barbara Davis is one of those books. The characterization, the plot, and the setting all synergistically complement each other, resulting in a beguiling, romantic, dark, and comedic story.

[In other words, you can't look away...]

Wed
Aug 27 2014 9:30am

Beginning Anew in the August 2014 Women’s Fiction Roundup

Small Blessings by Martha WoodroofAugust women’s fiction releases cover all the bases, from a thrilling mystery set in Australia to humorous romances set in and around the English countryside. Several books have a Southern setting, in a not so distant past, and you have small town settings on the west coast, and a quiet college town. A common theme runs through all of them—of new beginnings, and the need for change, courage and resolve.

Small Blessing by Martha Woodroof

…an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year old son he never knew he had.

Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing the oddball faculty in his department and caring, alongside his formidable mother-in-law, for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.

Then, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner, out of the blue, her first social interaction since her breakdown. Tom wonders if it’s a sign that change is on the horizon, a feeling confirmed upon his return home, where he opens a letter from his former paramour, informing him he'd fathered a son who is heading Tom's way on a train. His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness…

A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

Strengths: Unconventional characters; unique plot; warm, inspiring message, surrogate family bonds; charming
Measure of Love: Tablespoon
Introspective Level: Medium

[What else is on the dockett?]

Tue
Aug 26 2014 4:30pm

First Look: Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Heroes Are My Weakness (August 26, 2014)

Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsSusan Elizabeth Phillips
Heroes Are My Weakness
William Morrow / August 26, 2014 / $26.99 print / $15.99 digital

Deepest winter.
An isolated island off the coast of Maine.
A man. A woman.
Puppets. (Yes, puppets . . .)
And . . .
A mysterious house looming over the sea . . .
He's a reclusive writer whose imagination creates chilling horror novels. She's a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids' puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill his characters with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill an audience with laughs. But she's not laughing now.

Annie Hewitt has arrived on Peregrine Island in the middle of a snowstorm and at the end of her resources. She's broke, dispirited, but not quite ready to give up. Her red suitcases hold the puppets she uses to make her living: sensible Dilly, spunky Scamp, and Leo, the baddest of bad guys. Her puppets, the romantic novels she loves, and a little bit of courage are all she has left.

Annie couldn't be more ill prepared for what she finds when she reaches Moonraker Cottage or for the man who dwells in Harp House, the mysterious mansion that hovers above the cottage. When she was a teenager, he betrayed her in a way she can never forget or forgive. Now they're trapped together on a frozen island along with a lonely widow, a mute little girl, and townspeople who don't know how to mind their own business.

Is he the villain she remembers, or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.

It's going to be a long, hot winter.

Fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips never know what to expect from one book to the next. From football, to computers, to matchmaking to the English nobility, she has done it all. My favorite book in terms of originality is Natural Born Charmer—it is not often that a hero meets his love interest while she is wearing a beaver costume.

[DAM, she's good!]

Tue
Aug 26 2014 9:30am

First Look: Sandy Hall’s A Little Something Different (August 26, 2014)

A Little Something Different by Sandy HallSandy Hall
A Little Something Different
Swoon Reads / August 26, 2014 / $9.99 print, $7.12 digital

Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.

But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. 

You have heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child—well, in this new playful release, A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall, it takes a village to get two crazy-for-each-other university students together.

Some of you might have never been shy or self-conscious in seeking out the object of your infatuation—you see someone you like, you strike up a conversation and if nothing comes of it, well, there are plenty of fish out there. But for those of you who've agonized over every sighting, explored every nuances of a simple one word conversation, like “hi,” be prepared to be thrown back to your youth with Hall’s amusing and tender story of two people finding their way to each other.

[Ahhhh, first love...]

Sun
Aug 24 2014 2:00pm

First Look: Rachel Gibson’s What I Love About You (August 26, 2014)

What I Love About You by Rachel GibsonRachel Gibson
What I Love About You (Truly, Idaho)
Avon / August 26, 2014 / $7.99 print / $6.99 digital

GIMMEE A B-R-E-A-K!

Ex-high school cheerleader Natalie Cooper could once shake her pom-poms with the best of them. But she's paid for all that popularity—her husband's run off with what's left of their money and a twenty-year-old bimbo named Tiffany. Leaving Natalie to manage a photo store and having to see some pictures she, well, really shouldn't.

GIMMEE A S-H-O-T!

Then she comes toe-to-manly chest with Blake Junger. Exiled to a remote cabin in Truly, Idaho, Blake wants nothing to do with anyone. Instead, he's determined to struggle with his demons and win—all on his own. But the last thing he needs is Natalie distracting him with her luscious curves and breaking down the barriers of his heart.

GIMMEE YOUR H-E-A-R-T!

I fell in love with Rachel Gibson’s storytelling with her very first book, Simply Irresistible. Gibson has a talent for creating hardheaded men who think they know everything about life and living—until they meet the women who show them what is truly important in life. This job is not for the weak, and really smart women should know to stay far, far away. Because men like Blake Junger are not civilized, polite, kind-to-children type men. In fact, they sometimes are the exact opposite:

[Hard to love?...]

Sat
Aug 23 2014 11:00am

First Look: Laura Drake’s Sweet On You (August 26, 2014)

Sweet on You by Laura DrakeLaura Drake
Sweet on You (Sweet on a Cowboy)
Grand Central / August 26, 2014 / $8.00 print, $7.99 digital

A Love as Bold as a Texas Sunset...

Ex-army medic Katya Smith has always healed other people's pain. Now she has to deal with her own. Taking a job as an athletic trainer on the Pro Bull Riding circuit seems like the perfect escape from her grief-except Katya doesn't know anything about bulls, and even less about the tough men who ride them. She doesn't expect to fall for the sport, or for one tantalizing cowboy who tumbles her defenses.

For rodeo champion Cam Cahill, fifteen years of bucking bulls have taken their toll on his body. Before he retires, he wants a final chance at the world title-and he doesn't need some New Age gypsy telling him how to do his job. But when the stunning trainer with the magical hands repairs more than his worn muscles, everything changes. Soon Cam finds himself trying to persuade Katya to forgive her past so she can build a future...with him.

Hearing that Laura Drake’s The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America RITA award for Best First Book intrigued my interest in her work. Although I know little to nothing about rodeos, or bull riding, the heroine’s profession in Sweet on You appealed to me. After reading the book, it's clear that Drake is an author that unhurriedly and thoroughly builds a strong emotional bond first, and I appreciate that.

[A strong foundation for love!...]

Thu
Aug 21 2014 9:30am

First Look: Robyn Carr’s The Homecoming (August 26, 2014)

The Homecoming by Robyn CarrRobyn Carr The Homecoming (Thunder Point #6)
Harlequin MIRA / August 26, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital

At the age of nineteen, Seth Sileski had everything. A superb athlete and scholar, handsome and popular, he was the pride of Thunder Point. Destined for greatness, he lost it all in a terrible accident that put an end to his professional football career when it had barely begun. The people in his hometown have never forgotten what might have been.

Seth has come to terms with the turns his life has taken. But now he's been presented with an opportunity to return home and show his father—and the people of Thunder Point—he's become a better, humbler version of his former self.

Winning over his father isn't the only challenge. Seth must also find a way to convince his childhood neighbor and best friend, Iris McKinley, to forgive him for breaking her heart. With his homecoming, will Seth be able to convince the town, his family and especially Iris that he's finally ready to be the man who will make them all proud?

I disagree with so many platitudes, but the one I can wholeheartedly embrace is “when life gives you lemons, made lemonade. Part of Robyn Carr’s appeal is she knows how to cleverly incorporate truism like this within her story. And of course the other is that she creates such pleasing, admirable characters. In book six of the Thunder Point series, The Homecoming, both Seth and Iris have learned to make lemonade as you’ll find out over the course of the book. But their appealing nature is clear from the first moment you meet them.

[We can't wait to get introduced!...]

Sat
Aug 16 2014 11:00am

First Look: D.D. Ayres’s Irresistible Force (August 26, 2014)

Irresistible Force by D.D. AyresD.D. Ayres
Irresistible Force
St. Martin's Press / August 26, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital

For Shay Appleton, it’s love at first sight when a gorgeous stray dog is brought into the animal shelter where she works. She just knows he’ll make a terrific watch dog—and with an abusive ex who won’t let go, she needs all the protection she can get. But Shay never suspected that her new pet is actually a trained police K-9 named Bogart—until Bogart’s even more gorgeous, human partner shows up on her doorstep.

Officer James Cannon is one tall, strong alpha male who’s convinced that Shay stole his dog. But once he gets closer to the suspect, he realizes that this stubborn, independent woman not only needs a guard dog, she needs James as well. It seems that someone from her past is stalking her, and threatening her life. When danger meets desire, will James risk his career and his best friend…to protect the woman who’s stolen his heart?

You don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy D.D. Ayres’s new series because she has all the bases covered with menacing antagonists, sizzling chemistry, and flawed, appealing characters.

The threat to the characters is real, and the way that plays out is intriguing, but even more than that, I enjoyed the flawed characters. Characters who have made mistakes—like getting involved with the wrong people. In Shay’s case, she put off doing something because of fear of the past repeating itself— even backing down when she should have stood her ground. But she has good reasons for the way she acts.

[Irresistible reasons?...]

Thu
Aug 14 2014 2:15pm

Drinking to Numb the Pain: Addicted Heroines in Romance

Before the Storm by Diane ChamberlainIncorporating addiction into a story can be very challenging for an author. Most of us have been around family and friends who've lost control of their life to either drugs or alcohol. And some of us have watched these individuals quit, going months or years without using their drug of choice, only to relapse, or fall off the wagon. We know that there is no cure and that many times addiction goes hand in hand with some type of mental disorder like depression or trauma, like PTSD. We know that people use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate; to feel good, to smother pain, and to escape untenable situations.

By incorporating addiction into a storyline, not only does the author have to convince us that there is a happy-ever-after in the hero’s or heroine’s future, but the author also has to create a relatable flawed character and explain why the character is acting in a non-heroic way. Most authors do this by writing situational addiction—the loss of a child, the trauma of war, the pain from childhood, etc. Many authors show the addiction in the past, making the character immediately worthy of readers’ regard.

While both hero and heroines deal with addiction, it seems to me that the majority are male. Maybe it’s a throwback to the Victorians' beliefs that women are paragons of perfection and purity, or maybe as female readers we would much rather identify with the person doing the saving rather than the person whose life has spiraled out of control. What do you think—is there a readers’ partiality for tortured heroes over heroines?

[What say you?...]

Tue
Aug 12 2014 9:30am

First Look: Catherine Bybee’s Taken by Tuesday (August 12, 2014)

Taken by Tuesday by Catherine BybeeCatherine Bybee
Taken by Tuesday (Weekday Brides)
Montlake / August 12, 2014 / $4.99 digital

He’ll do anything to keep her safe…for the rest of their lives.

Judy Gardner: College graduate Judy stands ready to conquer the world…if she can get a job. Hoping to transition from aspiring architect to famous architect as quickly as possible, the dark-haired beauty moves to LA, staying in the home of her celebrity brother, Michael Wolfe. But it’s hard for Judy to focus on work when the sexy bodyguard she fell for last summer keeps showing up in her life and leaving her breathless.

Rick Evans: With his hard body, green eyes, and easy smile, Rick could have any woman he wants. But the Marine-turned- bodyguard only has eyes for Judy and her spitfire attitude. When a faceless villain attacks Judy, Rick will stop at nothing to protect the woman who opened his heart from the monster hunting her.

Nothing is better than a bit of fantasy to take you away from the mundane. Catherine Bybee’s Weekday Bride series not only has the whimsical premise of Alliance, an elite match matching firm for the über rich—the books are also filled with appealing characters, warm family connections, and unique conflicts. Taken by Tuesday, the newest release, is an enlivening tale of romance and danger with an emphasis on the danger.

[What's love without a little risk?...]

Wed
Aug 6 2014 4:30pm

Dog Daze: Working Dogs in Romance Novels from Ayres, Kantra, and More!

The Search by Nora RobertsI am no stranger to perusing books because of dogs on the cover, or because canines are mentioned in the blurb. I discussed it in an H&H post, Must Love Dogs (and Cats): Animals in Romance Novels.  It doesn’t matter if the dog is there for comic relief, like Pooh in It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; a woman’s best friend, like Buttercup from Kristan Higgins’s One of the Guys; or a working dog like Peck from Nora RobertsThe Search.  I love them all. But lately, I’ve noticed that animals in books are taking a more multifaceted role, becoming an intrinsic part of the plot and even anthropomorphized as characters.

Of course that’s not such a big jump, since over 90 percent of pet owners consider their pet a member of their family, meaning they let their animals sleep with them, take them on vacation, buy them Christmas presents and celebrate their birthday (ah—guilty). But it is more than that; perhaps there has been a sort of meeting of the minds between people who consider animals pets, and people who consider animals as having a job to do. Each type now seem to have a new appreciation of the ways animals enrich our lives—in both work and play.  

And our romance books reflect that. More and more, the animals in our stories have a specific job to do, maybe as a member of a K-9 police or military unit, or a therapy dog or search and rescue dog.

I have already mentioned Roberts’ The Search. How can you not love a dog who saves a boy’s life?

[Trick question, 'cause it's impossible...]

Sun
Aug 3 2014 10:00am

First Look: Beth Harbison’s Driving with the Top Down (August 5, 2014)

Driving with the Top Down by Beth Harbison

Beth Harbison
Driving with the Top Down
St. Martin's Press / August 5, 2014 / $$26.99, print / $12.99, digital

Three women, two weeks, one convertible: sometimes life doesn't take you in the direction you expect...

Colleen Bradley is married with a teenage son, a modest business repurposing and reselling antiques, and longtime fear that she was not her husband’s first choice. When she decides to take a road trip down the east coast to check out antique auctions for her business, she also has a secret ulterior motive. Her one-woman mission for peace of mind is thrown slightly off course when sixteen year old Tamara becomes her co-pilot. The daughter of Colleen’s brother-in-law, Tamara is aware that when people see her as a screw-up, but she knows in her heart that she’s so much more. She just wishes her father could see it, too.

The already bumpy trip takes another unexpected turn when they stop at the diner that served as Colleen’s college hangout and run into her old friend, Bitty Nolan Camalier. Clearly distressed, Bitty gives them a story full of holes: angry with her husband, she took off on her own, only to have her car stolen. Both Colleen and Tamara sense that there’s more that Bitty isn’t sharing, but Colleen offers to give Bitty a ride to Florida.

So one becomes two becomes three as Colleen, Tamara, and Bitty make their way together down the coast. It’s a road trip fraught with tension as Tamara’s poor choices come back to haunt her and Bitty’s secrets reach a boiling point. With no one to turn to but each other, these three women might just discover that you can get lost in life but somehow, true friends provide a roadmap to finding what you’re really looking for.

Reading about soul mates finding each other is magnificent. But in its own way, reading female buddy books can be just as inspiring. Both type of stories are based on the fact that we all need someone to care.

And that need – for someone to “just give a damn” — is at the heart of Beth Harbison’s new book, Driving with the Top Down.

Colleen Bradley is being left behind as her husband and teenage son go off together to do some male bonding—no females allowed. And she is fine with that because this will give her a chance to get her act together – to shrug off the feeling that she is second best in her business, and lacking as a mother and a wife.

[She'll learn a lot on this upcoming trip...]

Fri
Aug 1 2014 11:00am

First Look: Susan Donovan’s The Sweetest Summer (August 5, 2014)

The Sweetest Summer by Susan DonovanSusan Donovan
The Sweetest Summer (Bayberry Island #2)
Signet Select / August 5, 2014 / $7.99 print, digital

A mermaid statue could be the cause of heartbreak or everlasting romance for a practical-minded police chief and his first love—in the second of the delicious Bayberry Island trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Susan Donovan...

Every instinct told Police Chief Clancy Flynn that his island’s claim to fame was nothing but a silly tourist attraction. But now and then, he couldn’t help but wonder if his lifetime of bad romances—starting with the pretty tourist who broke his fourteen-year-old heart—could be traced back to a childhood prank involving that very statue....

Then one day the pretty tourist comes barreling back into Bayberry—all grown-up and on the run with her niece. Though Evelyn McGuinness is wanted for kidnapping, she tries to persuade Clancy that there’s more to the story. Now the by-the-book police chief must make the toughest decision of his life: to take Evelyn into custody—or into his arms....

There is just something about first love, isn’t there? If this is one of your favorite story arcs, then you will find plenty to enjoy in Susan Donovan’s The Sweetest Summer—along with a pretty unique backdrop—the magic of mermaids.

[And of love...]

Tue
Jul 29 2014 5:00pm

First Look: Shannon Stacey’s Falling for Max (July 29, 2014)

Falling for Max by Shannon StaceyShannon Stacey
Falling for Max
Carina / July 29, 2014 / $4.99, digital / $7.99, print

Max Crawford has reached the point in life where he's starting to think about settling down. Unfortunately, he's always been a little awkward when it comes to social interactions, and working from home doesn't help. He spends so much time alone, painting beautiful, historically accurate model trains that half of Whitford has begun to joke that he may be a serial killer. Not exactly prime husband material.

Tori Burns has found happiness in Maine, thanks in large part to her shifts at the Trailside Diner. She likes the work, and she loves the local gossip. When shy, geeky Max Crawford becomes a regular, she's intrigued. When she finds out he's in the market for a wife, she's fascinated…and determined to help.
Molding Max into every woman's dream turns out to be much easier than expected. But has Tori's plan worked a little too well? As she turns his comfortable life all sorts of upside down, she'll have to find a way to show just how she's fallen for him…the real him.

It is not uncommon to read a book about shy, socially awkward heroines. We love watching them blossom under the attention of the right person. Heroes for the most part are a different breed. Their vulnerabilities are hidden layers deep beneath assertive, high-handed alpha characteristics and bits of swagger. Over the book the heroine has to slowly peel back the layers, coaxing the hero into letting his guard down and admit to any type of weakness. While it is fascinating to watch this, there is a sense of uniqueness when a hero is candid and open up front. Max in Shannon Stacey's Falling for Max is one such hero.

[We wish we had more like him in real life...]