REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS

Angel_In-Devil's_ArmsI haven’t read a Julie Anne Long histrom in a “long” time, not since I dipped my reading toes into one of the Pennyroyal series and thought “meh”: opaque style, puerile humour, characters I couldn’t bring myself to care much about. Despite the weirdly lacking-in-perspective cover (look at his arm and that bed, how short are his legs?!), I wanted to read this latest series, the Palace of Rogues, thanks to my great enjoyment of her contemporary romance, The First Time At Firelight Falls.

Since the Pennyroyal experience, Long has dropped the overwrought and wrought a wonderful romance. I was skeptical at first, sensing that opacity I didn’t find in the contemporary, evident in Angel. But after the first chapter, this was a lovely read, indeed. Read on, for my full review. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Megan Crane’s SERGEANT’S CHRISTMAS SIEGE

Sergeant's_Christmas_SiegeMegan Crane’s Sergeant’s Christmas Siege is the second Alaska Force romance I’ve read, nabbing this second one after loving the first, Sniper’s Pride. (Let me take a moment to say that I missed out on the actual first in the series, Seal’s Honor. My reading order is not the series order if you’re keen to check them out.) In comparing the two, I would say that Christmas Siege was heavier on suspense than rom and I definitely enjoyed Sniper’s romance more. But Crane sure can write and, therefore, it’s always pleasurable to follow her protagonists’ journey. In this case, with a hero and heroine consistently, relentless verbally sparring, a dearth of tender moments, made for a romance that could’ve used some ramping up. Alaskan state trooper and investigator, Kate Holiday, arrives at Grizzly Harbor, where Alaska Force runs its save-the-vulnerable operations. Kate  suspects they’re a paramilitary group with nefarious purposes, only one of which is to upstage conventional law enforcement, such as her own outfit.
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REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s COWBOY CHRISTMAS REDEMPTION

Cowboy_Christmas_RedemptionI read a lot of Maisey Yates romance, rarely missing a new release. I read her as much for the intensity of the romance as for its ethos. Because it aligns with mine. And so, even though from a critical viewpoint there’s something repetitive about her romances, I enjoy each and every one. In Cowboy Christmas Redemption, Yates has dropped some of the relentless interiority of her recent work and created something deeper, better developped, with a more expansive theme and characters.

On the sidelines to Yates’s recent Gold Valley books (this latest is #8) are Caleb Dalton and Ellie Bell. Caleb is Ellie and her four-year-old daughter’s shadow. Since Ellie’s husband and Caleb’s best friend died, Caleb has been Ellie’s ” … rock. Her salvation.” Caleb was there to tell Ellie about his death, hold her when she grieved, hold her hand when she gave birth to Amelia, been there to repair the porch steps, drive Amelia to pre-school. He’s been everything stalwart and good Ellie could ever want, or need. But four years have gone and as Ellie emerges from grief, she wants more than being Clint’s widow. She makes a Christmas wish list, checks it twice, and goes out to get what she needs and wants after four years of single-motherhood and grieving widowhood. She wants a new dress, shoes, to dance in a bar, and flirt with a man. She wants to “feel like a woman again,” to experience intimacy once more.
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MINI-REVIEW: Meg Cabot’s NO JUDGMENTS

No-JudgmentsI’m way too old to have read Cabot’s Princess Diary books, but glad I’m old enough to enjoy her contemporary romance. Despite its rom-com cover, No Judgments, though often droll, tackles sombre issues for its protagonist and narrator, Sabrina “Bree” Beckham. Bree has divided her life between when-she-was-Sabrina and lived in Manhattan as a law student with a famous mom and a trust fund and, at present, Bree, living humbly in Florida’s fictional Little Bridge Island, waitress, art-dabbler, and cat owner. (Indeed, Bree’s imperious former-shelter-cat Gary is one of the most charming of the island’s denizens, feline, canine, or human.) But darker events than law-school-dropping-out brought Bree to Florida: her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, oh, not with another woman, but by excusing his best friend’s execrable behaviour, behaviour that left Bree with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. But there’s one man who breaks through her wariness, sexy Drew Hartwell, her bosses’ nephew and resident renovation-king-and-heartthrob. When Hurricane Marilyn bears down on Little Bridge Island, Drew and Bree, despite their initial banterish dislike (which we always know masks healthy-lust-like), work together to ensure evacuees’ left-behind animals are cared for, while falling into love and between Drew’s bed-sheets.  
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MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s LONE WOLF COWBOY

Lone_Wolf_CowboyI read Maisey Yates because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I don’t mean this in a predictable, comfort-read kind of way. Yates is NOT a comforting read; she is an angst-queen. I read her because I like her ethos: it’s as close to sexy inspie minus-God-talk as you’re going to get in contemporary romance. In Yates’s romances, encounters are meaningful; the past, redeemable; sex, mystical and earthy all at once; and, love, something huge, frightening, wonderful, and as much to be run away from as to run towards. These themes are reiterated in every romance, but they never get old and are expressed with urgency as the basis of self-fulfillment and a happy marriage. Most importantly, for Yates, as for my long-lamented absent romance-writing friend, Ros Clarke, the body knows before the mind and heart can come into its orbit.

In Yates’s seventh Gold Valley romance, she tackles a heroine with a daunting backstory. Vanessa Logan (Olivia’s sister, heroine of Yates’s first Gold Valley romance, Smooth-Talking Cowboy) returns to home-town Gold Valley because it is “the last refuge for her demons, and the final locked door in her life … her origin story. And everyone needed to revisit an origin story. She’d gone out on her own, failed, hit rock bottom and healed. But she had healed away, not at the site of her first fall from grace.” Teen-age Vanessa had shamed her family by drinking, carousing, and indulging in promiscuity. Running away to LA, she became an addict to drugs and alcohol. Now, she’s back to confront her family and teach art therapy to the hero’s, Jacob Dalton’s, brother’s therapy ranch for troubled boys. 
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REVIEW: Virginia Heath’s THE DETERMINED LORD HADLEIGH

Determined_Lord_HadleighI’ll repeat what I tweeted a few days ago … “Virginia Heath, where have you been all my life?” There’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than to find a great new author. I’ve loved the length and ethos of Harlequin Historicals, but haven’t found a glom-worthy, auto-buy author among them. I am cautiously, optimistically saying Heath may be “it”. The final book in her King’s Elite series, The Determined Lord Hadleigh, had me in thrall the past few days with engaging characters, a slow-moving, slow-burning romance, and an ease and smoothness to the writing that we rarely see in romance, sadly. (I didn’t even mind that I came to the series at the end, even though I was sorry to have missed the previous books.) I was captivated from the opening scene: dramatic and “tell me more” compelling as it was.
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MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s COWBOY TO THE CORE (Gold Valley #6)

Cowboy_To_CoreTo date, there are 19 Copper Ridge romances and this, Cowboy To the Core, sixth in the complementary Gold Valley series. And here I am, having stayed up late to inhale yet another Maisey Yates romance. You’d think, after 25 of an author’s works, I’d be ready to roll my eyes and thrown in the reader bookmark. Nope. If you asked me which are my favourites so far (’cause I know you’re aching to read these, but may not be willing to tackle all 25), I’d say Brokedown Cowboy (Copper Ridge #2), One Night Charmer (Copper Ridge #7), Seduce Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge #12), and A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas (Gold Valley #4) are top-notch, but I’ve enjoyed each and every one. (Any Copper Ridge/Gold Valley may be read as a standalone, but there are cameos of happy couples from previous books. So you’ve been warned.)
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MINI-REVIEW: Jody Hedlund’s A RELUCTANT BRIDE

Reluctant_BrideI haven’t read a Hedlund romance in a long time, not since 2013’s Rebellious Heart, a loose telling of Abigail and John Adams’s courtship and marriage (which I loved, btw). The Bride Ship, Book One, has a compelling historical context: a bride ship, in 1862, headed for Vancouver Island and British Columbia with poor women on board preparing to become the wives of the sparse-of-women British colony. One of them is heroine Mercy Wilkins, an angel of “mercy”, a gem, a flower, from the London slums. When we meet Mercy, she hurries towards the Shoreditch Dispensary with an ill child. Instead of the kindly, but getting-on Dr. Bates, a new, handsome doctor (more of him later) is ministering to the poorest of the poor, like Mercy, like the baby in her arms, like everyone in this wretched neighbourhood. When Mercy’s family has to eject yet another of her mother’s many children, Mercy, in hopes she can help her sister Patience leave the workhouse and at Patience’s urging, agrees to board the bride-ship. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lucy Gilmore’s PUPPY LOVE

Puppy_LoveWhile Lucy Gilmore is a new-to-me romance author, some of you may know her under the name Tamara Morgan. (I may even have some of “Morgan’s” romances lurking in the TBR.) Though I’m leery of new-to-me romance authors, I succumbed to the cover puppy’s cuteness. If I were to ever have a dog, it would be a Pomeranian, though in truth, I’m a cat-lady. Reading Gilmore’s first volume in the Service Puppies series, I didn’t regret my venture to new-author territory for a moment. Gilmore’s romance may not break new genre ground, but it delighted me. To start, I loved the premise and meet-cute and recounting them will give you a good idea of what you can expect. Harrison Parks is my favourite kind of hero: huge, grumpy, rhetorically monosyllabic, introverted, and a sentimental softie under the bluster and muscle. He’s also a wildfire firefighter and type 1 diabetic, whose workaholism put him into a diabetic coma. Now his boss, Oscar, wants him to get a service dog to detect his blood sugar — before he’ll let him anywhere near a wildfire again. Harrison loves his work and, grumbling and whinging up a storm, he finds himself at the Puppy Promise kennel staring down at a ball of fluff named Bubbles and a bitty woman in a ruffled dress telling him Bubbles is his new lifeline to getting back to the work he loves.
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REVIEW: Alyssa Cole’s AN UNCONDITIONAL FREEDOM

An_Unconditional_FreedomI requested an ARC of Alyssa Cole’s An Unconditional Freedom for the most superficial of reasons: I couldn’t resist the hunk on the cover. I’m a sucker for an open-necked shirt, soulful brown eyes, and the man is holding a scroll and lantern … can it get any better? As for the contents, I was open to them, but didn’t go in with any great expectations. What I found was, finally, FINALLY, someone who can put the history back in historical romance. You can’t historically “wallpaper” a history so unjust and ugly: how Cole managed to make me hold my breath with excitement, stop my heart with fear for her characters, and root for a slow-burn romance is testament to her mad writing skills.

At the end of the novel, a seasoned revolutionary in the war against slavery advising the heroine on when to hold’em and when to show’em in this righteous war says: ” ‘First thing you learn about being a Daughter — sometimes you gotta be subtle, and sometimes you gotta burn it all down.’ ” As a Daughter of Romance, Cole sure knows how to be subtle and how to burn it all down, navigating American Civil War history with sureness and skill, steering her characters’ inner worlds with insight and sensitivity and though there are moments when she burns it all down with action, she brings the ship to moor with a light touch of love, commitment, hope, and joy. Her narrative is serious, historically fascinating, and in places, even horrific, but it is never sombre, dark, or hopeless. Its movement is ever towards the light of possibility, even though the journey darkens and the way wavers. Continue reading