REVIEW: Clarissa Harwood’s BEAR NO MALICE

bear_no_maliceDisclosure: the author of Bear No Malice and I are friendly. Not bosom buddies because we don’t live in the same part of the country, but we’ve met and shared coffee, laughter and book talk. FYI, dear reader! Because review of Harwood’s second novel, Bear No Malice follows forthwith.

Bear No Malice shows a writer in better control of her material, assured and adept at navigating the intricacies of her narrative. Also, on a prosaic note, I loved the hero and heroine in a way I didn’t Impossible Saints. The saints proved difficult to like, but Bear No Malice‘s sinners are sympathetic, even when they’re difficult, overbearing, downright wrong, or blind to the truth of things. And Harwood manages to take melodramatic, Victorian clichés, the “fallen woman”, the do-gooder “vicar” and turn them quite nicely on their heads, surprising and delighting this reader. She even did so with secondary characters, the “cuckold,” the bored, society wife; everyone in Harwood’s Edwardian world has depth and nuance, is compelling and surprising. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s NO SAFE PLACE

no_safe_placeI first discovered Sherri Shackelford’s romances in my much-missed, much-loved Love Inspired Historical line, where I discovered many favourites, Lacey Williams, Karen Kirst, Allie Pleiter, among others. I loved Shackelford’s inspirational-light historical romances and A Family For the Holidays most of all (read it! it’s wonderful!). I was surprised to see Shackelford move to a category different from the historical, but trusted her to surprise and delight me, with the same talent for weaving interesting variations out of tired old tropes. Some of that was immediately obvious in the details of No Safe Place‘s premise. To start, the heroine, Beth Greenwood, is a forensic accountant. Yup, she’s the lady who susses out the money-bad and suss it she does, except it lands her in terrible danger. Beth is working at Quetech Industries, uncovering money laundering. The Friday before a holiday week-end sees Beth directing an email to the FBI about the fraud. It’s set to land in the FBI inbox come Tuesday. It doesn’t take long for Beth’s subsequent get-away plan to fall under the violent tendencies of goons sent to wipe her out. In comes – *Clark Kent* – aka Homeland Security agent, Corbin Ross – as Beth notes, “Her heart did a little zigzag in her chest. She liked the handsome, Clark Kent appeal.” Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Donna Alward’s BEST MAN FOR THE WEDDING PLANNER

Best_Man_for_the_Wedding_PlannerDonna Alward wrote some of my favourite category romances and seeing her back in “category-form” was most welcome. Alward writes romance for adults and it was disappointing to see her venture into imaginery-royal-kingdom territory in her past few books. While previous books have consistently been bedroom-tame, I think the classic Harlequin romance line results in a good fit.

Best Man for the Wedding Planner is book one of a two-book series, linked by the eponymous wedding planner, Adele “Delly” Hawthorne and her photographer best friend, Harper McBride. I was also delighted to see Alward set Wedding Planner in some of the most beautiful places in western Canada, heck, setting it in Canada alone is unusual and it made me so happy! Moreover, Wedding Planner sees Alward return to some familiar themes and draw her signature adult, mature, responsible characters, who nevertheless still manage to surprise the reader with their honesty and vulnerability. Ne’er is there a stupid misunderstanding or the shackles of bad parenting as explaining EVERYTHING there is to understand about a character’s obstacles to loving and being loved. There’s also the angst that Alward loves to write so well and there’s plenty of it in Wedding Planner, as Adele confronts the “best man” to her latest wedding venture, Dan Brimicombe, the man she loved and rejected eight years ago. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Therese Beharrie’s HER FESTIVE FLIRTATION

Her_Festive_FlirtationTherese Beharrie’s Her Festive Flirtation is neither festive, nor big on flirtation. It’s a serious romance about two people dealing with past hurt and avoiding their feelings for each other. Heroine Ava Keller was left at the altar by her fiancé a mere year ago. When the novel opens, Ava is in a bad way in various ways: though she still hurts from Milo’s abandonment, she agrees to be in her brother’s wedding party, also a Christmas-set one. The associations with her humiliation are painfully difficult. To add further injury to injury in the opening scene, Ava’s estate home is threatened by wild fire. While she seems to take the loss of her home with equanimity, she’s desperate, above all, to rescue her cat, Zorro. The volunteer fireman who comes to Zorro’s rescue is none other than Noah Giles, her brother’s best friend and the man she was in love with in her youth. Her brother was furious and Noah left town, cutting all ties with her, though he maintained his friendship with Jaden, Ava’s bro, and his own father. Seven years later, Noah is back to stay and both he and Ava have to deal with those pesky feelings for each other.
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s CUPCAKES FOR CHRISTMAS

Cupcakes_For_ChristmasA Kate Hewitt romance is a welcome thing. Hewitt writes her characters with insightful psychology. Their dilemmas are believable and well-developped. She writes with a light touch, making the reader chuckle with affection even as she sheds a tear or two. Her latest Willoughby Close, Christmas-romance incarnation is Cupcakes For Christmas, a trite title for a romance that tackles some difficult issues.

Olivia James, at near-40, is a spinster, having never committed herself to husband or family, even though she lived in London and dated for years before returning to Wychwood-on-Lea to run her now-retired mother’s bake-shop, Tea On the Lea. Hero Simon Blacklock is newly arrived in Wychwood, living with his sister, teaching music part-time at the local elementary school and playing his cello at church concerts. Simon walks into Olivia’s shop to buy a cupcake, answering the call of Olivia’s Christmas bakes promotion, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Olivia has been working hard to raise the shop’s profile and drum up business. The cupcake promotion is one of several events that run throughout the novel with a scrumptious Christmas-baked-goods theme. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Marnie Blue’s MISTLETOE KISSES

Mistletoe_KissesAs winter sleet, ice, snow, and ice loom, and the day-job continues its relentlessly demanding pace, I can at least celebrate the coming holidays. And the hols bring the Christmas romance and Hallmark Christmas movies in double-time! What does this have to do with Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses? Everything, as it’s a slip of a romance that sounds like category rom and smells like Hallmark. If you like one or t’other or both, you’re going to be a happy camper.

Blue is a new-to-me author and the first of my newly-resolved reviewing decision to try new romance authors every few months. My introvert’s heart can’t really take much more change than that. I started Blue’s romance with trepidation, experienced delight, eye-rolled several bits, and ended up replete with reader satisfaction. Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses doesn’t break any romance molds and its Hallmark-Christmas-movie ethos will be familiar to those of us who revel in the joys of tinsel, garland, frosted gingerbread men, and tree-lighting ceremonies, of which there is a hilarious one in Mistletoe Kisses. When the novel opens, Grinch-like cop-hero Justin Weaver is sneezing his way through his Santa-beard as he grumbles at his commanding officer’s “request” to make nice with the public by playing Santa to collect toys for underprivileged children. It’s a good cause and Justin is a good egg, he just hates Christmas, his tight Santa costume, and public appearances … especially speeches. 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

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: G. M. Malliet’s IN PRIOR’S WOOD

In_Prior's_WoodWith romances being the majority of my fictive reading, it’s nice to have an occasional palate cleanser. More often than not, I turn to a cozy mystery to serve as such. Even though G. M. Malliet is a new to me author and I am loathe, being conservative in temperament, to risk the loss of precious reading time to an author who may prove to be unworthy of it, I cannot resist a vicar hero … and, in this case, also former-MI-5. I blame James Norton’s ample charms on Grantchester and my long-running love of Spooks/MI-5 and the feasting of eyes on Matthew Macfadyen, David Oweloyo, Rupert Penry Jones, and Richard Armitage in one glorious long-running series.

Malliet’s vicar-hero is a stunning man unaware of his stunning-ness, which makes him eminently lovable, adorable, and likeable. His occasional partner in crime-solving is his Wiccan wife, Awena, as well as young, intelligent local “copper,” DCI Cotton. They live in a conglomeration of little English towns with variations on the name Monkslip and in his vicar-guise Max is in charge of the souls and bodies of St. Edwold’s Church’s parishioners. Continue reading

Comfort Reads and the End of an Era: With a Mini-Review of Janice Kay Johnson’s IN A HEARTBEAT

In_A_HeartbeatWith much sadness, I read Janice Kay Johnson’s note on her Superromance, In A Heartbeat. It is her last, alas, and the category is no more. I’ve loved so many of JKJ’s Superromances, especially the early ones. I read In A Heartbeat with enjoyment, for it is JKJ signature good. I didn’t always love the category’s authors and found some tedious, but I loved the idea of what it represented: a fantasy-based genre coming as close to realism as it could.

I read Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight at the same time as I read Johnson’s In A Heartbeat and, given Neels’s comfort-read status, I expected some dissonance. In the end, I wasn’t surprised to find none from two authors whose moral impetus is writing about decent people doing good and falling in love. The only difference, given Johnson’s preference for realism, is that her characters do the best they can, in often difficult circumstances. Betty Neels’s characters are about being the best they can.   Continue reading