Category Archives: Reviews

Romance novel reviews

Review: Heartstrings and Diamond Rings by Jane Graves

Charming, funny and emotionally gripping

Heartstrings and Diamond RingsAlison Carter has the worst dating record in Plano, Texas. The night she thinks her boyfriend will propose, and he gives her a proposition of a different sort, she realizes she has an uncanny ability to pick losers.

So what harm could there be in hiring someone else to choose dates for her?

Alison goes to a local matchmaker who’s supposed to be a friendly old woman who’s been in business for years. Instead, Alison discovers that the matchmaker died and her hot grandson Brandon Scott inherited the business. Against her better judgment, she decides to trust him with her money…and eventually, with her heart.

But Brandon’s not completely on the up-and-up. Oh, he’ll set her up on dates and try to find her the perfect man. But he’s not the romantic soul he leads Alison to believe he is. In fact, he’s just in it temporarily until he can make enough money to buy some property to develop.

By the time he realizes how much Alison has come to mean to him, he also knows she needs a man who won’t lie to her—and that’s one thing he can’t give her.

Jane Graves writes books I adore.  Her characters are charmingly realistic and her stories are set in a world I recognize and love. Her novels reassure me that real people can find love, passion and commitment right around the corner.

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Review: A Lily Among Thorns by Rose Lerner

Rose Lerner’s stunning prose and keen eye for detail come together to create a unique, spellbinding novel

A Lily Among Thorns coverFive years after Solomon Hathaway gave his quarterly allowance to a prostitute, he walks back into her life to ask a favor.

Serena recognizes Solomon immediately. She used his money to buy her way up in the underworld, eventually becoming mistress to several high-flying men before going straight and opening an inn. She wants to return the favor, but having him around threatens the barrier she’s built around her heart in order to survive.

I’m not sure I can find words to express how much I love Rose Lerner’s prose. A LILY AMONG THORNS is only her second novel; her first, IN FOR A PENNY, came out last year and immediately became one of my favorite books of 2010.

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Who will win the RITA for best contemporary romance?

Since the Romance Writers of America announced the finalists for the RITA award back in March, I’ve been reading all of the nominated novels in my favorite category: contemporary single-title romance. Some of the authors are old favorites of mine, and some were new to me.

The winners will be announced on July 1, and I’m lucky enough to be in New York for the party. They’re fantastic novels, and I can’t wait to see who wins.

Best of luck to their authors!

Not That Kind of Girl by Susan Donovan

Not That Kind of Girl coverRoxanne Bloom launches a man-hating blog after overhearing her ass-hat boyfriend denigrating her bedroom skills to his friends – men she has to work with. Her now-ex breaks into her house and threatens her, until her man-hating pit-bull-Boxer mix nearly rips his throat apart. Roxie finds herself being sued and fighting to keep her dog alive. The only person she can count on is Eli Gallagher, the hottest dog whisperer around.

Eli’s used to being top dog, but can he help both Roxie and her dog feel secure enough that they let go of their angry aggression?

Read more about Not That Kind of Girl

The best parts

Susan Donovan does an amazing job of creating emotional intensity between her hero and heroine. Almost all the novels of hers I’ve read feature couples who spark immediately, and the flames grow hotter and deeper as the story develops. Plus, this novel contains the canine equivalent of a Regency rake: a pit bull most people think is irredeemable but who turns loving and loyal thanks to a woman’s devotion.

Still the One by Robin Wells

Still the One by Robin WellsWhen she was 17, Katie Charmaine had a summer fling with Zach Ferguson and ended up pregnant and boyfriendless. She gave her newborn daughter up for adoption – a heartbreaking experience she never revealed to anyone except the man she ended up marrying. But after her husband dies in Iraq, leaving her childless and grief-stricken, Zach returns to town with their 17-year-old daughter – a girl who’s pregnant and desperately needs parents.

The best parts

I cried. No, I bawled. The tenderness and conflict between each of the characters is realistic and satisfying. I loved that the author allowed Kate to have a wonderful relationship with her late husband, and that Kate struggles to overcome her grief before falling in love with Zach.

And One Last Thing… by Molly Harper

And One Last Thing coverWhen Lacey Terwilliger discovers her husband Mike is screwing his artificially enhanced secretary, she doesn’t just get mad; she gets online. Having sacrificed her own career to support his business, she writes one last email newsletter to his clients, family and friends, telling them exactly what a dickless wonder Mike is. Her revenge backfires, though, and she flees to her cabin to get away from her nagging, gossiping neighbors.

Fortunately for her, a hot author named Monroe lives next door. Can she convince him she’s not another psycho divorcée like all the others who’ve thrown themselves at him?

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The best parts

Molly Harper’s voice rocks. She’s like a twisted version of Kristan Higgins. Her characters are witty and clever – except for the morons you’re not supposed to like. This novel is funny, tender, sweet and sexy, so it hits all the right spots. If you have a thing for Hugh Jackman, read this book. That’s all I’m sayin’.

One Fine Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy

One Fine Cowboy coverPsychology grad student Charlie Banks is sent to observe a horse whisperer in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the horse whisperer, Nate Shawcross, has no idea his ex-girlfriend took people’s money and promised them Nate would run a horse clinic. He’s shocked when cute Jersey girl (and PETA activist) Charlie shows up on his ranch, hauling her attitude with her. Nate’s ranch is in trouble, though, and he can only save it by putting on a good show for the group of greenhorns that arrive for his clinic. And he desperately needs Charlie’s help to make the clinic a success.

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The best parts

This novel is the closest I can remember coming to a hero who was abused by a former partner. Although Nate’s ex-girlfriend didn’t hit him, she manipulated him so severely that his personality and confidence are shot. His insecurity when it comes to women is so endearing, and I loved the scenes written from his point of view. He wants to please Charlie, but he struggles hard to find ways to do so. Massive kudos to Joanne Kennedy for such a daring—and well-written—portrayal.

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

Simply IrresistibleIn one week, Maddie finally gets rid of her abusive boyfriend, loses her job because of it, and finds out her mother has died. Though she and her mother were estranged, Maddie and her two half-sisters inherit a falling-down inn on the coast of Washington.

Maddie’s learned that trusting men can be a dangerous thing, but when she hires the sexiest contractor for miles around, she learns that love starts with that trusting herself.

The best parts

The hero, Jax, is among the best contemporary heroes I’ve ever read. He’s strong without being obnoxiously alpha. He’s supportive without being a pushover. And he’s thoroughly addictive. For the last couple of months, I’ve returned to this novel over and over, rereading my favorite parts. It’s so high up my keeper shelf no one will be able to touch it.

Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl

Lead Me On by Victoria DahlJane Morgan is the ultimate professional woman, but she hasn’t always been. In fact, she has completely turned her life around from the chaos she experienced growing up. She’s full of secrets—like that most of her relatives are convicts and that she earned herself a reputation when she was far too young—but there’s one thing she can no longer deny herself: hot sex with a tough-looking man.

But as her perfectly composed life begins to unravel, William Chase proves he’s a hell of a lot more than a working class stud service.

The best parts

Victoria Dahl’s contemporary characters break all the molds, and it’s truly a joy to see their layers peeled away to reveal people who are unlike any others I’ve seen in romance. Jane’s shame over her past decisions is gut-wrenching, and her growth over the course of the novel is painful to experience but all the more satisfying because of that. Chase may look like an ex-con, but he displays the stalwart character of superman as he supports Jane through her struggles. This is such a beautiful, sexy, funny story that I took the bus to work because I couldn’t bear to put it down.

Nothing but Trouble by Rachel Gibson

Nothing But Trouble by Rachel GibsonHockey player Mark Bressler made his living on the ice, but when his Hummer hits a patch of black ice and flips, Mark’s career instantly ends and he’s left in excruciating pain to watch his team win the Stanley Cup. No wonder he’s pissed at the world.

But when failed actress and assistant to B-list celebs Chelsea Ross is hired to nurse him back to health, Mark’s pity part is over. With her bossy manner, she soon has Mark frustrated in altogether more pleasant ways.

The best parts

The sex. Rachel Gibson writes very hot contemporary romance, and her hockey players are among the sexiest professional athletes in the genre. Mark Bressler and Chelsea Ross have such a strong connection that it’s explosive when they get together.

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts

Happy Ever After by Nora RobertsFour friends run a wedding business. They plan a lot of weddings.

The best parts

This is the last in a quartet about women who run a wedding business. There’s at least as much focus (if not more) on the women’s friendships as there is on the romance between Parker and Malcolm. The hero doesn’t even feature in the back-cover text. But if you like reading about wedding details—from cakes to flower arrangements—you’ll probably like this book.

Have you read any of these? Who do you think will win?

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Review and giveaway: INSIDE by Brenda Novak

This twisting, turning tale had me rooting for the unlikeliest of heroes.

Inside by Brenda NovakAfter spending over a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Virgil Skinner is exonerated. While incarcerated, he did what he had to in order to survive—including joining a tough and well-connected gang. Now that he’s out of prison and trying to escape the gang, he’ll do whatever he has to in order to help his sister survive their threats, even if that means going back inside to help the authorities figure out who ordered a hit on a judge.

Peyton Adams is second in command at the maximum security prison Virgil is being coerced into infiltrating. She’s the only one of the authorities who cares about the dangers such a plan poses for a recently released man, but as she and Virgil spend more time together preparing for his time inside, she develops stronger reasons for wanting to keep him out of prison.

I loved the tug-of-war between Virgil and Peyton’s attraction and need for distance. They’re both so conflicted, wanting to be together for reasons that go much deeper than sexual attraction, but both facing very real consequences if they give in. Peyton could lose her job, but more importantly she’s conducted herself with strict professionalism over the years to carve her career in a traditionally male sector. Virgil risks having to survive a harsh prison after experiencing love, intimacy and freedom for the first time in his life.

But they can’t resist each other.

Take this scene, for example, after Peyton rushes to the motel Virgil’s staying in because she thinks his gang may have found him, and she decides she can’t leave him there.
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Review: Yours To Keep by Shannon Stacey

Yours To Keep coverSean Kowalski gets out of the army and has no idea what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. He heads to his cousins’ hometown, where he can find work until he figures out his future. He’s barely in town a few hours before a crazy woman shows up at his door and announces he’s her fake fiancé.

When I first requested this book for review, I was a bit wary. The fake-fiancé thing can either be painfully cheezy or cute. Fortunately, I thought this setup was cute, and the characters had me chuckling from first to last.

When Emma shows up at his door and announces that he’s her fake fiancé, he says:

“Maybe we should start this conversation in a different place. Like the beginning.”

She took a deep breath, then blew it out. “My grandmother’s raised me since I was four.”

“Maybe not that far back.”

“She retired to Florida a couple years ago with some friends and I took care of the house I grew up in. But all she was doing was worrying about me and when she started talking about moving back so I wouldn’t be alone, I told her I had a boyfriend. Then I told her he’d moved in with me. And, because I would only date a super great guy, after a while he proposed and naturally I accepted.”

Maybe I could relate because I have one of those grandmothers, too. As far as my grandma is aware, London never gets dark, I never go anywhere on my own, and the crime rate here is lower than it is in Antarctica.

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Review: Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson

Clear a couple of days in your schedule because Any Man of Mine is unputdownable.

Any Man of Mine coverThe week Autumn went to Las Vegas – determined to start having a life of her own again after taking care of her mother through a terminal illness – she ended up married, pregnant and abandoned. That’s apparently what happens when you let yourself be seduced by a professional hockey player.

Nearly six years later, Autumn and her ex-husband Sam LeClaire run into each other at a wedding. Since Autumn’s the wedding planner, she has to be nice to him, even though he’s regularly disappointed their five-year-old son by changing his plans at the last minute.

Sam’s a busy man who enjoys all the perks that come with being a professional athlete. He barely remembers the weekend he spent so drunk he ended up married and a father, but he’s always regretted the way he left Autumn. When she finally gets fed up with him letting their son down and tells him little Conner cries himself to sleep, Sam realizes he needs to man up and become a better father. That means spending more time around Autumn, who justifiably hates him.

Rachel Gibson is one of my favorite contemporary romance writers. I’ve read nearly all of her books, and the thing that keeps me coming back for more is the emotional intensity of the relationships between her heroes and heroines. Her men are always masculine and tend to start off selfish and egotistical—in other words, they have a lot of room to grow. Her women are strong, sassy and independent, but have usually been severely let down in the romance department.

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Review: My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

A tender, funny novel about divorce? Only Kristan Higgins could pull it off.

My One and Only coverHarper James thinks she know what it takes to make a marriage work. After all, as a divorce attorney she’s seen plenty of evidence of what makes marriages fail; plus, her own brief but heart-shattering experience of marriage taught her that practicality, not passion, is the secret to success. She believes:

“Comfort, companionship and realistic expectations…they didn’t sound nearly as glam as undying passion, but they were worth a lot more than most people believed.”

And she thinks she’s found the man who’s her ideal mate—or, he will be, once he makes several changes in his life, like cutting off his rat-tail and getting a second job. Fortunately, Harper’s a very organized woman, so she’s made him a list of things he needs to do before they get married—which she hands to him when she proposes.

If you’re not familiar with Kristan Higgins’ novels, there are several things you’re guaranteed: 1) a kind, funny, mostly lovable heroine; 2) a wonderful but realistically flawed hero; 3) secondary characters who are so well drawn they never feel secondary; and 4) an adorable pet. My One and Only has all those elements, but there were times when the hero and heroine irked me and didn’t seem as realistic as I wanted them to be.

Because the novel’s written in first person exclusively from the heroine’s point of view, I really have to feel connected to the heroine in order to love the story. I also need to get enough insight through the heroine’s eyes of how the hero is feeling because I’m never once let into his head. This is where I had some issues.

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Review: Chasing the Sun by Kaki Warner

If you love high-stakes conflicts, wry humor, and compelling characters, you’ll love Chasing the Sun.

Chasing the Sun coverIn the first book of the Blood Rose trilogy, Pieces of Sky, Jack Wilkins is a charming, skirt-chasing young man who’s desperate for two things: Elena (a beautiful woman he grew up with) and freedom from his oldest brother Brady’s control. At the end of that novel he follows Elena to San Francisco to convince her to fall in love with him.

In Chasing the Sun we discover he didn’t succeed. When I read the first chapter (which was included at the end of the second book, Open Country), my heart nearly stopped. Daisy? Who’s this Daisy woman? I was primed for the novel to focus on Elena’s growing love for Jack as he proved he could be worthy of her. I loved Elena and wanted Jack to become a better man because of her.

Instead, Chasing the Sun shows Jack proving himself to Daisy Etheridge…and to the daughter they created back when Jack was still in love with Elena.

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Review: The Taming of Mei Lin by Jeannie Lin

A passion-packed short story left me desperate for more.

Book cover The Taming of Mei LinIn a genre that can sometimes feel quite limited in scope, it’s unfortunate – but probably natural – that a lot of the reviews Jeannie Lin will get will focus on the setting instead of the writing. But after reading The Taming of Mei Lin, a very short story released by Harlequin Historical Undone on 1 September, I found myself eager to read more because Jeannie Lin’s beautiful writing style drew me so deeply in to this fascinating time period.

The Taming of Mei Lin is set in China in 710 A.D. Around 35-pages long, it’s the prequel to her novel Butterfly Swords, which will be released in October by Harlequin Historical.

The heroine, Mei Lin, is being harassed by a local official because she spurned his offer of marriage, declaring that she’d only marry a man who beat her in a sword fight. When gorgeous Shen Leung – a legendary wandering swordsman – arrives in her village and tests her skill, she realizes he’s her one chance to escape her lonely life. More than that, though, she’s drawn to him in a way she’s never been to anyone.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a short story, but Jeannie Lin packs a lot in. The language is sensuous, the tension almost unbearable, and the plot twisty as a snake. This is one of my favorite passages, soon after Mei Lin arrives at Shen Leung’s room to kill him for (accidentally) publicly humiliating her. Continue reading

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What hits your hot button?

(Note: the hot button I’m referring to isn’t related to our previous discussion on how to heat up the fictional bedroom. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)

Last week I randomly clicked on a link to a review for Judith James’ Libertine’s Kiss. (I can’t find that link now, so if this description of the review sounds familiar, please let me know.) The review was thoughtful and complimentary, and awarded the novel 4.5 stars out of 5.

At the end, the reviewer gave her reasons why she’ll never re-read Libertine’s Kiss, even though she thought the book was well-written. It features two subjects she doesn’t like reading about, even in fiction: sexual abuse and domestic violence.

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