REVIEW: Linda Castillo’s A GATHERING OF SECRETS

Gathering_Of_SecretsI remember reading Linda Castillo’s first Kate Burkholder murder mystery, Sworn To Silence. I’d been reading romance steadily for two years and had come to realize that my previous mystery reading enjoyed the occasional romance that was included more than the mystery itself. What I missed about reading mysteries, though, was a sympathetic amateur/professional sleuth/detective, a voice of justice that rang true and vibrant and that I felt connected to. While Sworn To Silence‘s opening page was too violent for squeamish me, Kate captured my interest and sympathy. Castillo’s detective is, in this present volume, A Gathering Of Secrets, Painters Mill Ohio’s chief of police. She’d grown up as a member of their Amish community, but a teen-age sexual assault and the subsequent events and estrangements with family and community meant she left her sense of belonging behind. As a cop and now chief, Kate is nevertheless uniquely placed to deal with crimes occurring in Amish country, knowledgeable and understanding, yet very much dedicated to justice and the rule of law that comes with a secular perspective. Kate is a wonderful creation: fair, persistent, compassionate where she needs to be, never deviating from applying the law, but fully aware of the nuances of even the most heinous of crimes, and always, always empathetic to everyone affected, victims’ and victimizers’ families and communities.   Continue reading

REVIEW: Beatriz Williams’s THE SUMMER WIVES

The_Summer_WivesOne of the many things I love about Susanna Kearsley’s, Lauren Willig’s, Karen White’s, and now Beatriz Williams’s writing is their fidelity to the HEA. They hybridise various forms, historical novel, romance, gothic novel, mystery, murder or otherwise, social novel, they mash it up and produce novels that never fail to end up among my year’s favourites. Like their closest predecessor, Mary Stewart, they write in the first person (which used to be a romance-rarity but not so these days), creating a young, female protagonist who moves from innocence to experience during the narrative’s course. All this can well describe Beatriz Williams’s The Summer Wives, a novel that had me in its thrall over two days, waking up at dawn today to finish it. Initially, the novel impressed me as convoluted, with a plethora of characters and three historical narrative strands, but the voice of its central character and first-person narrator, Miranda née Schuyler Thomas, offered an Ariadne ball as I made my way through Williams’s labyrinth of love, hate, revenge, and betrayal. Underlying it was the susurration of Shakespeare’s Tempest, not only thanks to the eponymous heroine, but an island with native and visiting denizens, the sea’s ever-present beauty and danger, and a mystical, outside-of-time atmosphere. I would read it, stopping for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and whisper to myself, “Full fathom five thy father lies … ”   Continue reading

REVIEW: Amie Denman’s IN LOVE WITH THE FIREFIGHTER

In_Love_With_the_FirefighterI confess the reason I wanted to read Amie Denman’s In Love With the Firefighter was the cute cover. I pride myself on selecting my titles for my precious reading time with the confidence that this is an author I’ll enjoy; ALL are carefully curated. BUT, *throws hands up*, the kitten got me … also the word “firefighter”. I do love a firefighter hero, so much easier to pull off than policemen, or military, so much more convincing as heroes. I admit I was leery of the “heartwarming” label: how saccharine will this be? I’m as guilty as the next romance reader of being addicted to the Hallmark Christmas movie, but I don’t want to watch them year-round. I’m happy to say that Denman’s Firefighter+kitten takes place during a hot Virginia-Beach-like summer in fictional Cape Pursuit and is surprisingly un-saccharine. It opens with firefighter Kevin Ruggles and his firefighting crew barrelling through tourist-heavy streets to reach the site of a fire. Though Kevin is a seasoned rig-driver/firefighter, the call’s urgency sees his fire-truck swerving skills take down a double-parked car’s driver-side door. Said car belongs to newly-arrived-to-Cape-Pursuit heroine, Nicole Wheeler. Their meet-cute is hardly the stuff of romance, more of annoyance, insurance claims, and shame-faced remorse on Kevin’s part. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s IT TAKES TWO

It_Takes_TwoI admit I was very curious to try a Jenny Holiday’s romance, after hearing Twitter-praise amidst murmurs of rom-com … BUT, I’m not a rom-com fan. Sex and the City is puerile (Holiday takes a sentimental nod to it here). I like some gravitas to my roms; I like wit, but not humour. With lawyer (*moue of disappointment*) romantic leads, Holiday had several prejudicial strikes against her. Add protagonists who watch baseball over hockey (even though, as a Toronto-set romance, *shudders* that would mean Leafs), I can’t really say I was disposed to love this. I’m also not a fan of wedding settings, especially contemporary wedding settings, with their propensity for destination, vineyards, officiates in place of synagogues, rabbis, priests, and churches, imams and mosques. I sound like a cranky, old lady, but I might as well own it and enjoy it. It’s my crank and I’ll cackle and snark if I want to. So, the series premise: weddings of (best) friends, wedding planning, brides and maidens of honour, dress disasters, bachelor and bachelorette parties. In the case of series novel #2, It Takes Two, the heroine is Wendy Liu, best friend to bride Jane. The hero? The bride’s brother, Noah Denning, the guy who took care of Wendy when her father died, the guy Wendy’s been sparring with for years … and the guy who also stood her up at the high school prom. Continue reading

REVIEW: Karina Bliss’s RESURRECTION

ResurrectionNo matter the claims to originality, no matter how new and fresh the voice, 99.9% of romances follow the narrative pattern of encounter, attraction, obstacles, false Eden, betrayal/estrangement, and resolution/HEA, and all centring solely, exclusively on the central couple, their conflict, their feelings, and their between-the-sheets time. But Bliss always manages to surprise me, always twists that old familiar, comfortable pattern to make me stand up and notice. In historical romance, only Rose Lerner has managed to do the same (see especially my review of True Pretenses). I’ve loved each of Bliss’s Rock Star romances. She delighted, moved, and surprised me in each one, but her fourth, Resurrection, might be the best one yet. Surprisingly, its quota of romantic tension is near-zero. The hero and heroine’s feelings are so apparent and easy that all the while, Bliss sneaks in other interesting things, themes and ideas, and still, in the end, makes me sigh with the perfection of her HEA (I also ugly-cried, but the scrunched-up faced Miss Bates is a thing best left unimagined).
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MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s COWBOY SEAL REDEMPTION

Cowboy_SEAL_RedemptionNicole Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series builds a world of hope and love for broken people. It is no wonder that its geographic setting, fictional “Blue Valley” Montana, is a land of sky, mountain, and range, a world the noise of urban life, or the bombs of deserts far away haven’t touched. Except they have. By war and those who’ve returned from it, broken in spirit and body. Helm’s heroes are men who served in Afghanistan and were injured externally and internally, when one of the them, the ghost who stands sentry to their worst memories and their best (because they cared so much for one another), Geiger. But they are now in Montana, Alex Maguire, Jack Armstrong, and Gabe Cortez, to bring renewed life and hope to broken vets at their aptly-named Revival Ranch. Helm’s heroines are often survivors of domestic wars, now grown women who knew a childhood of abuse, fear, and neglect. Helm brings the broken man and woman together so they can build a new life. Sex doesn’t have the answers (though there’s that too and it’s good), romance doesn’t (though candles are lit and flowers are bought), but healing comes through therapy, talking to each other, striving for understanding, and being honest with, and true to, oneself. Like her obvious professional buddy Maisey Yates, Helm writes to her own tune of redemptive love, through confession (secular and personal), connection, and creating bonds with others, rather than breaking or avoiding them. To reach this point, however, hero and heroine must go through an agon of being broken open and exposed.  
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REVIEW: Roni Loren’s THE ONE YOU CAN’T FORGET

The_One_You-Can't_ForgetI enjoyed the first in Roni Loren’s series “The Ones Who Got Away”, centred on a group of school-shooting survivors as they heal from the past and find love, twelve years after the shooting. I thought the first was great and looked forward to the second, the here named The One You Can’t Forget. Though heroine Rebecca Lindt is the high school shooting survivor, the hero is a survivor of a sort too: from loss, financial ruin, divorce, and alcoholism. Between the two of them, you’d think Loren’s novel’d be a misery-fest. While it’s a serious novel about serious things, it’s also funny, hopeful, and sexy.

We met Rebecca Lindt in the series début, The Ones Who Got Away, as the stiff, cool prom queen to the heroine’s sexy wild child persona. But Rebecca was Liv Arias’s great love’s prom date: Finn may have put Rebecca on his arm, but he was kissing Liv in the supply closet … when tragedy struck. In the first book, Finn and Liv are reunited lovers and Rebecca is the rejected girl next door. Loren more than makes up for Rebecca’s losses by giving her Wes Garrett, tattooed chef extraordinaire. I thought, from Loren’s spectacular start, that I would love The One You Can’t Forget more than The Ones Who Got Away … but nope, the latter still edges out the former, but the former came very very close. Part of that was thanks to a spectacular “meet-cute”, which wasn’t so cute, but definitely memorable.
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MINI-REVIEW: Stacy Henrie’s A COWBOY OF CONVENIENCE

Cowboy_Of_ConvenienceThough I read less and less inspirational romance these days, I chose to read Henrie’s A Cowboy Of Convenience because Harlequin is shutting down its Love Inspired Historical line and I was feeling nostalgic. Like Superromance, I’ve found some authors I’ve loved in it: Lacy Williams, Sherri Shackelford, Karen Kirst, and Alie Pleiter. I hope they’ve found writing pastures and are busy and happy sowing their talents.

Henrie’s Cowboy Of Convenience contains much of what we’ve come to expect of the subgenre and, most importantly, what I appreciate of it: a certain humility in its world-building and characterization. Nothing in Henrie’s romance rocked my romance-reading world, but I appreciated what it had to say nonetheless. Its story is typical: a cowboy, Westin McCall, who yearns to start his own dude ranch asks the ranch (where they both work) cook, widowed single-mother Vienna Howe, to pool their resources, marry as a “business arrangement” and start their own enterprise. Vienna, with her daughter Hattie, recently inherited her abusive, deceased husband’s near-by ranch, in Wyoming. Until West’s proposal, Vienna was uncertain as to what she would do with her windfall. The idea of creating a country home and business that her daughter could inherit was too good to pass up and Vienna agrees to marry, in name only, with West. 
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REVIEW: Katharine Ashe’s THE PRINCE

The_PrinceIn 1825 Edinburgh, Miss Elizabeth “Libby” Shaw yearns to follow in her father’s footsteps, to become a doctor, to heal others. But a woman in 1825 Edinburgh, or anywhere in the Western world, cannot apply to Surgeon’s Hall for studies and sit qualifying exams, for the very reason that she is a woman. Miss Libby Shaw strikes an arrangement with Mr. Ibrahim Kent, a society portraitist and exiled “Turk,” actually Ziyaeddin Mirza, Prince of Tabir. Libby will live in his house as his guest, under disguise as Mr. Joseph Smart, surgical student. In return, as Libby, she will sit as Ibrahim’s artist’s model. With this convenient bargain, Ashe begins her fourth Devil’s Duke historical romance and a remarkable achievement it is too. I’d read the first, The Rogue, and liked it very much, but The Prince far surpasses it. The two novels are linked in having admirable, easily-loved stubborn heroines who have a cause and  mission that they fulfill by taking on acts then only enacted by men. Their heroes  are taciturn loners who come to see the rightness of their heroines’ causes and aid and abet them without taking over, dictating, or directing. The novels are linked by questions about what it means to be a woman, a man, and have meaningful work. By virtue of their eccentricity, these heroes and heroines are outsiders yet live within society and are rewarded with a warm circle of friends and family.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s THE FIRST TIME AT FIRELIGHT FALLS

First_Time_At_Firelight_FallsEons ago, I read Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed An Earl and liked it well enough, but not with the passion of anticipating the next book in the series or eye-balling the newly-arriveds for her author’s name. I was surprised to see her turn to contemporary romance as she seemed quite ensconced in the former. But, hey, what do I know about author inspirations or the changing face of romance publishing? Bupkis. I was curious, however, and since contemporary is my sub-genre of choice, happy to give her a try with book four of the Hellcat Canyon series, The First Time At Firelight Falls, and even happier to eat reader humble-pie when I was *forced* to reassess my initial ho-hum judgement of it. It is seemingly run-of-the-mill contemporary small-town romance: Hellcat’s denizens are eccentric and supportive, there’s a good dose of wholesome humour and a modicum of conventionally-positioned, hot sex between the leads, and, at least initially, a whole lot of not-much-ness.
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