Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke Who Came To Town (The Honorable Scoundrels #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #3
Pages: 84
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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She doesn’t want to be a kept woman...

Josephine Potter knows she must retain her employment to provide for her younger sisters and to maintain the house. While a young woman working as an accountant—at a hotel no less—could be frowned upon by some, it’s still a respectable way to earn a living. No matter what a certain duke might think. Besides, Josephine has a few rules she lives by: Don’t rely on others, don’t accept money from someone you don’t know, and never allow a man to control your life. But when she is fired from her job, Josephine may have to bend a few rules...

Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, has never met a more bull-headed woman than Josephine Potter! The Potter sisters are granddaughters of a Viscount and should not have to work for a living. So despite Josephine’s arguments, Devon insists she end her employee status immediately and accept a stipend for her and her sisters. When she is then fired, she accuses him of meddling in her life...and things are about to heat up despite the cold winter weather. As they work together to figure out why Devon’s hotel is losing money, a mutual attraction that won’t be denied, grows between them.

But when rumors of impropriety abound, can Josephine’s reputation be saved...or will her life be destroyed by scandal?

My Review:

This is the third, and presumably final, novella/novelette in the Honorable Scoundrels series. I say final because the series has been the story of the three Potter sisters finally finding their happily ever afters, after having been left destitute by their late and not much lamented father.

There are only three sisters, so unless cousins start popping up, only three stories in the series.

Each of the stories in the series has been a delectable little treat, and this final story in the series is no exception.

Josephine Potter is left at home in London while her next sister Louise goes to the north of England to take up a position as a governess in The Governess who Captured His Heart, and their youngest sister Eve travels southwest to spend the holidays with a married friend who can help her make connections, if not in the haut ton, at least connections that will lead to a respectable marriage in The Earl Who Loved Her. (All three stories take place at the same time, but none of them know what really happens to the others. At least not until afterwards.)

Josephine stays home in London because she has a job. A rather surprising position as an accountant for a middle-class hotel

But her job isn’t half as surprising as the man who unexpectedly pays her a visit. Since her family’s fall in fortunes, a duke, any duke, is the last sort of person she expects to see in their slightly down-at-heel townhouse. Even more surprisingly, Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, claims to be a representative of the Potter sisters’ guardian – a man who has never cared a fig for their state or status or even if they were managing to keep body and soul together.

Which they learned to do without his nonexistent help, thankyouverymuch.

But their old guardian is dead, and the new holder of his title and obligations feels obligated to take care of the Potter sisters, not just by a meager stipend, but actually in the style they should be entitled to as great-granddaughters of a Viscount.

Which means that the Duke of Snowdon arrives at Josephine’s threadbare house and insists that she quit her job and rely on the charity of a man she has never met, and whose father couldn’t be bothered to spare her and her sisters the merest thought.

Josephine is having none of it, and can’t be bothered to be polite about it. Nor should she be. But when her job suddenly disappears, she’s absolutely certain that the Duke of Snowdon must be behind her sudden reversal of fortunes.

And he is, but not in the way that she believes. Now Devon needs Josephine’s help to find out why his investment in a respectable middle-class hotel is losing money instead of making it.

Working together, they find not just the true source of Devon’s problem, but also that their best true match is with each other.

Escape Rating B: This series is fun, brief, and meant to be read all together. Three lunch breaks might just about do it – these stories are quite lovely and equally short.

One of the things that worked well in the first two books is the way that the unlikely romances occurred in equally brief circumstances. Events had to proceed quickly because there was a naturally limited amount of time for the couple to fall irrevocably in love in spite of occupying rather different social strata and economic circumstances.

The duke’s coming to town is not similarly constrained. Devon could spend as much time in London as he needed or wanted, in spite of his visit not occurring during the Season or when Parliament was in session. That the element of time constraint was missing meant that this story could have been longer, and I wish it had been. In the vastness of London there was plenty of opportunity for more background and an equal amount of time for the romance to develop.

So while I enjoyed The Duke Who Came to Town, I think I would have liked this one a bit better if it had been a longer story. Which is, in its own way, a different kind of compliment to the author. I liked these people so much that I wanted to spend more time with them.

But if you are looking for a series of sweet little treats to sweep you away for short breaks during the busy holiday season, you can’t go wrong with these Honorable Scoundrels.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh

Review: Cherish Hard by Nalini SinghCherish Hard (Hard Play, #1) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Hard Play #1
Pages: 374
Published by TKA Distribution on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh kicks off her new Hard Play contemporary romance series with a sizzling story that’ll leave you smiling…

Sailor Bishop has only one goal for his future – to create a successful landscaping business. No distractions allowed. Then he comes face-to-face and lips-to-lips with a woman who blushes like an innocent… and kisses like pure sin.

Ísa Rain craves a man who will cherish her, aches to create a loving family of her own. Trading steamy kisses with a hot gardener in a parking lot? Not the way to true love. Then a deal with the devil (aka her CEO-mother) makes Ísa a corporate VP for the summer. Her main task? Working closely with a certain hot gardener.

And Sailor Bishop has wickedness on his mind.

As Ísa starts to fall for a man who makes her want to throttle and pounce on him at the same time, she knows she has to choose – play it safe and steady, or risk all her dreams and hope Sailor doesn’t destroy her heart.

My Review:

I found myself reading Cherish Hard in the middle of reading yesterday’s book. Not that yesterday’s book wasn’t good and absorbing, but I realized that I was still in the mood for another romance – and Nalini Singh always delivers.

As I got into the book, and we were introduced to the hero’s marvelous family, someone sounded familiar – so I had to check. And OMG it was T-Rex. Sailor’s older brother Gabriel is the absolutely delicious hero of one of my favorite books of the past few years, Rock Hard. So it looks like the Hard Play series is kind of a prequel to the author’s Rock Kiss series.

This is fantastic! Rock Hard was a universal favorite among the Book Pushers. We all wanted more. It looks like we got that more, and with bells on.

But Cherish Hard is not T-Rex’s story. Instead, this is the story of his brother Sailor, and the woman Sailor first meets at 17, and watches in a combination of teenaged lust and adult horror, as her then-boyfriend dumps her, in public, with the nastiest words possible, and she runs out of a party in devastated shock.

Even then, Sailor doesn’t want to let his mystery redhead go. But she gets away before he can break out of the overcrowded room. Which doesn’t stop her from being the fuel for all of his fantasies for six long years.

When they meet again years later, at first neither of them remembers the other. When they finally do, Sailor rushes towards the woman who has fueled his every fantasy, while Isa Rain wants to run far and fast from the man who witnessed her humiliating heartbreak.

But they can’t keep away from each other. Because Sailor has just signed a contract with her-mother-the-dragon to design the landscaping for her company’s new series of organic restaurants. And Isa has just caved into her mother’s blackmail to serve as vice-president of the family crafting business for the summer.

What Isa doesn’t know, but her mother does, is that Isa’s project as VP is to manage the organic restaurant start-up, including Sailor’s contract.

The Dragon Mother believes that one summer of being VP will awaken Isa’s inner dragon and turn her away from her dream of being a teacher. She may also be counting on Isa getting the hot and sexy Sailor out of her system.

The best laid plans of mice, men and dragon mothers often go astray…

Escape Rating A: As much as I squeed about the link between Cherish Hard and Rock Hard, you do not have to read Rock Hard or the Rock Kiss series first. Although they are absolutely marvelous and you might just want to. But the events of Rock Hard occur after Cherish Hard. I’m not quite sure just how long after, and I may treat myself to a re-read to find out, but the stories aren’t really linked. Or at least not yet.

The romance between Isa and Sailor sizzles on every page of Cherish Hard, from Sailor’s reaction to Isa at their first disastrous near-meeting to their second encounter outside her school to their unexpectedly hot relationship the moment they finally do manage to really connect.

At the same time, this is a romance between two people with serious abandonment issues. Issues that they both acknowledge, but have only half worked through, if that. Sailor’s bio-dad left him, his older brother Gabe, and their mother when Sailor was five, after first cleaning out all of the family’s bank accounts, even Gabe and Sailor’s boyhood savings. He’s slime, and Sailor sees the man’s face every time he looks in the mirror.

Sailor has a plan to become a successful businessman, at pretty much any cost, in order to feel like he is not the man his bio-dad was. And he seems to be driven to sacrifice everything to that goal, at least until he falls for Isa.

Isa was abandoned in place. Both her parents are still alive, but neither seems to have any emotional investment in Isa or any of their children, whether separately or together. Isa’s only sources of real support and affection were her grandmother, now deceased, and her best friend. But Isa is determined to give her siblings, her half-sister Catie and her stepbrother Harlow, the grounding and emotional support she never had, no matter what.

She’s 28, and looking for a relationship with a man who will put her first, as no one in her life ever has. Instead, she falls for Sailor, even though she believes he isn’t ready for the kind of commitment she needs, and has admitted that his business comes first, and will for a long time.

They seem to be at an emotional impasse, and the conflict that they have to overcome is to find a way to make it work, because they are both all in whether they are ready to admit that or not.

Watching them find a compromise that gives them both what they really need, and not just what they thought they wanted, is beautiful.

I can’t wait to see how the rest of Sailor’s brothers find their matches, because I already know it’s going to be awesome.

Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Earl Who Loved Her (The Honorable Scoundrels, #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #2
Pages: 86
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A chance meeting...

Eve Potter can hardly wait to arrive at Amberly Hall for the Christmas season! The hope is that she will make a match with an eligible gentleman. But as fate would have it, she misses the coach that is sent to collect her from her point of arrival, and starts out on foot...only to go in the wrong direction. Nearly frozen, she arrives at Blackhall, where she is invited inside and introduced to the master of the house, the Earl of Ravenworth. Eve is smitten, for he is beyond handsome, which makes him a temptation she must avoid. But can she...?

Bryce Harlowe lives as a recluse, shunned by Society and even his own family after being accused of taking a scandalous transgression. The young woman at his door cannot stay at Blackhall less her reputation be ruined. And yet, when the pesky winter climate leaves them snowed in together at Blackhall, Bryce and Eve grow closer, each discovering a mutual respect and longing for the other. Until Bryce’s past is revealed, threatening to rip apart their newfound love...

-Please note that this is a novella-

My Review:

The Earl Who Loved Her is the second novella in the Honorable Scoundrels series, after last week’s The Governess Who Captured His Heart. The series features the three Potter sisters, Louise, Eve and Josephine.

The Potter sisters were raised as gentry, great-granddaughters of a Viscount. But their grandfather was a younger son who made a quite comfortable living as a solicitor. Unfortunately for the girls, their father did not inherit either their grandfather’s talent for the law or his facility with hanging on to his money.

When their mother died, their father descended into a bottle and neglected both his living and his daughters. At his death, the sisters were left destitute. But instead of throwing themselves on the kindness of strangers or even distant and neglectful family, they are determined to rescue themselves.

The Honorable Scoundrels series is the story of those attempts, which have so far proven to be much more successful than any of their late father’s attempts at either business or the practice of law.

The first two stories in this series take place at the same time, but in different places. This is not one of those stories where the same events are viewed through different eyes. As far as Eve (and Josephine) know, their sister Louise is off to her first position as a governess somewhere in the north of England.

As far as Louise (and Josephine) know, Eve is off to visit her best friend Margaret, who lives near Bournemouth on England’s southwest coast. Margaret has married well, and Eve’s invitation to her house for the holidays is intended to provide Eve with important connections so that she has a chance of marrying well and rescuing the family’s fortunes – or at least their position in society.

But just as Louise’s trip had unexpected results, so did Eve’s. She arrived at the coaching station in the midst of a freezing drizzle, and could not face waiting a half hour or more for the promised carriage to arrive to get her. Instead, she set off down the road, expecting to arrive at her destination in good time.

She trudged her freezing, cold, wet way to the nearest estate, only to discover when she was admitted that she fetched herself up not at her friend’s house, but at nearby Blackhall, home of the reclusive (and scandalous) Earl of Ravenworth.

Just as the rain turns into snow, and the roads become impassable. Eve is stuck at Blackhall, alone (except for the servants) in the house with the most notorious man in the district. If her situation is ever discovered, it will ruin her chances for a favorable marriage – whether anything happens between them or not.

Eve’s reputation teeters on the brink of utter ruin.

Of course, nature does not cooperate, and the weather gets even worse. Eve can’t leave. But the more that she and Bryce get to know each other, the more tempted they become. Bryce cannot manage to conceal just how much he is tempted to compromise the beautiful and intelligent Eve. And she is even less capable of hiding just how close she is to letting him.

But Bryce feels like his past actions have made him unforgivable, so he refuses to tell Eve what it is that she should be (or not be) forgiving him for. They are at an impasse – until Eve finally has the ammunition she needs to take matters into her own hands.

Escape Rating B+: Just like the previous novella in this series, The Earl Who Loved Her is a short, sweet and relatively clean read. And treat.

Also like the previous story, this one takes place over a relatively short and deliberately constricted time period, and under circumstances where there are of necessity relatively few characters and the hero and heroine are forced into a circumstance where they have little choice but to spend a great deal of concentrated time together.

It’s a circumstance that makes the relatively quick romance and the short length of the tale work very well.

The Earl Who Loved Her is a little treat – sort of like a “fun-sized” candy bar. There’s just enough story here for a brief pick-me-up, without being so big as to feel (or make the eater feel) over-saturated with sweetness (or chocolate, to continue the metaphor).

The language that the Earl sometimes uses is a bit flowery, but the feelings behind it seem true. As with the previous book, he is a man who considers himself not worthy of the heroine’s affections. He wants to make sure she has the choice to pursue the goal she originally planned, and is absolutely certain that he can’t be the advantageous marriage that she needs, no matter how much she wants him to be.

And no matter how innocent he is of the “crime” of which he has been accused. It’s up to her to get it through his thick skull that he is what she wants after all. And Eve, like all the Potter sisters, is more than up to the challenge!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + Giveaway

Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + GiveawayOf Spice and Men by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #3
Pages: 256
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Lights. Camera. Murder? Wildwood Cove’s star turn is soured by a sneaky killer in this delicious cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Crêpes of Wrath.

Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!

With a Hollywood film crew in town to shoot a remake of the horror classic The Perishing, the residents of Wildwood Cove are all abuzz. Even Marley McKinney, owner of The Flip Side Pancake House, can overlook the fact that the lead actress, Alyssa Jayde, happens to be an old flame of her boyfriend. After all, the crew loves Marley’s crêpes—so much so that Christine, the head makeup artist, invites her onset for a behind-the-scenes tour. But when Marley arrives, the special-effects trailer is on fire . . . with Christine inside.

The cops quickly rule Christine’s death a murder, and Alyssa a suspect. Marley’s boyfriend insists that the actress is innocent, but when Marley sticks her nose into the complicated lives of The Perishing’s cast and crew, she discovers more questions than answers. It seems that everyone has a hidden agenda—and a plausible motive. And as the horror spills over from the silver screen, Marley gets a funny feeling that she may be the killer’s next victim.

Sarah Fox’s addictive Pancake House Mysteries can be enjoyed together or à la carte: THE CRÊPES OF WRATH | FOR WHOM THE BREAD ROLLS | OF SPICE AND MEN

My Review:

One of the things that makes cozy mysteries so cozy is that they are often set in small towns where there are lots of quirky and interesting characters and everyone knows everyone else’s business. One of the dilemmas of cozy mystery series set in small towns is that sooner or later the reader starts to wonder why anyone would continue to live in place where the odds of becoming either a murder victim or a murder suspect are so disproportionately high.

Could there be any remaining residents in Midsomer County who have not been involved in murder at some point? Or Cabot Cove?

In Of Spice and Men, the third book in the Pancake House mystery series, the author has solved the problem by bringing a film crew to the tiny town of Wildwood Cove. This is the kind of thing that really does happen, and lives in the town’s memories for decades after.

(If you are ever in tiny Micanopy, Florida they still have plenty of memorabilia from the local filming of the 1991 film Doc Hollywood on display)

The movie being filmed in Wildwood Cove is the remake of the cult horror classic The Perishing (apropos title, all things considered!), and the little coastal town has plenty of Victorian houses to use as stand-ins for the creep-o-rama. The film shoot is a lot of excitement for Wildwood Cove, but things get a bit too exciting when our amateur sleuth, Marley McKinney, finds the first victim in a burning trailer on set.

Marley tried to rescue the woman, but she was already dead when Marley found her. And even though Marley couldn’t have saved her, she still feels guilty that she didn’t. That’s enough to get Marley started on the case, even though, as usual, the sheriff would rather she resisted her impulse to conduct yet another amateur investigation.

When Marley discovers that the heroine of the movie is her boyfriend’s ex, that said ex is the prime suspect in the murder, that she expects Brett to “take care of things” with his uncle the sheriff, and that, most unnerving of all, Brett seems to be going along with her demands, Marley sees red. And green. Particularly as Brett keeps defending the woman, refusing to admit that she had both opportunity and motive.

After a lot of soul searching, Marley decides that solving the murder is the fastest way to get Allison Jayde out of her life – whether by landing her in jail for good or absolving her so that she doesn’t need Brett’s help. And who can blame her?

But the deeper that Marley digs, the more complicated the case gets. There are too many people who might have had a motive to kill the victim, and even more people who had a motive to pin it on the selfish and shallow Allison Jayde.

As Marley frequently complains, she has way more questions than she has answers. Right up to the moment she finds herself face-to-face with the murderer, and suddenly it all makes sense.

Unfortunately for Marley, it also makes sense for the murderer to make sure that she can’t reveal what she’s figured out to anyone else. Ever.

Escape Rating B: In the end, that I am still following this series boils down to the fact that I like Marley as the main character. Not just that she’s both plucky and nosy, but also the way that she has taken on the changes in her life and made a new life for herself in a new place with new (and interesting) people.

It takes as much courage in real life to immerse yourself in new surroundings with new people and especially take on the ownership of a business as it fictionally does to poke her nose into murder.

I like just how grounded Marley is, and how responsible she is. She genuinely does care about her town, her friends and her business – and occasionally that caring gets her into trouble.

It is interesting that all of the crimes she has poked her nose into, at least so far, have touched on her life directly in one way or another. Her first time out she was investigating the death of the cousin who left her the Flip Side Pancake House (The Crepes of Wrath). In her second “case” she investigated the death of a local misanthrope because Marley herself was the prime suspect (For Whom the Bread Rolls). Now in her third “case” she’s looking into the murder in order to get her boyfriend’s ex out of town as fast as possible.

No one’s circle of acquaintances in real life is quite this murder-prone, but it does make for quirky mysteries.

The case that Marley is stuck in this time has a lot of twists and turns. And this time out the victims, suspects and witnesses are all outsiders, so Marley has a difficult time finding out who wants to do what to whom. There’s plenty of drama (and melodrama) both onscreen and off, and Marley has her hands full sorting out what is real and what is make believe.

But she’s likeable and always fun to watch. Enough so that I’m looking forward to her next adventure.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire

Review: Hiddensee by Gregory MaguireHiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fairy tales, fantasy, historical fiction, mythology
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists' colony—a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann—the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann's mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky's fairy tale ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults—a fascination with death and the afterlife—and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

My Review:

Hiddensee is about the creation of a myth. Or perhaps it’s a myth itself, and just includes the creation of an entirely different myth.

And it’s a story wrapped around a fairy tale. It begins with the Brothers’ Grimm, off in the distance, collecting folktales for future sanitization into fairy tales. It ends with a fairy tale, the story of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, just in time for this Christmas season.

But mostly Hiddensee is the story of a boy, who begins as a foundling in the midst of a folktale, and who drifts through his long life to become the toymaker who makes the Nutcracker, and gives it to his goddaughter.

Dirk, who is initially just Dirk and not even Dirk Drosselmeyer, spends his early years in a remote woodcutter’s cabin in the Bavarian forest, raised by an “old man” and an “old woman” who he knows are not his parents.

It’s a simple life that comes to an abrupt end, when it is time for the old man to teach the boy the job of woodcutting. Or so it seems. It is possible that either the boy killed the old man by accident, or the old man killed the boy on purpose. But either way, someone was supposed to end up dead.

Instead, young Dirk begins his travels with an adventure. On his way to the nearest village he finds himself caught up in the story of the “Little Lost Forest”, forced to choose between order and chaos, between life as a hermit or life among people, and between the mythological figures of Pan and the Pythia. It’s a decision that colors his entire life – even if he spends most of it never really making a choice of his own.

Until the Christmas night, late in his long and often passive life, when he gives his dying goddaughter the gift of the original Nutcracker. The old toy contains a piece of Pan’s knife – a tiny bit of magic and the start of his own adventures, so long ago.

In the magic of Christmas, or perhaps the magic of the Nutcracker, or even a little bit of both, young Clara witnesses the great battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King – and her life is saved.

Escape Rating C+: I have a ton of mixed feelings about this story. The Nutcracker, of course, is a holiday classic. But I have to confess that I am not as familiar with the story as I might be.

And I’ll also confess that I have never read Wicked, which may not have been the author’s first book, but which is certainly the book that made his reputation for taking stories that everyone knows and giving readers a look behind the curtain to see what happened before the story. Or after it. Or while the more familiar story is going on elsewhere.

Hiddensee certainly fits in that tradition. And readers who either love the story of The Nutcracker, or who are fans of this author’s work, will probably eat this one up with a spoon.

As a story on its own, Hiddensee didn’t quite gel for this reader. Dirk may be the protagonist of the book, but he is a character who has little to no agency in his own life. He doesn’t act. He doesn’t move the action forward. He drifts, and things happen to him and around him. He reacts, and sometimes he doesn’t react very much. Certainly never very forcefully.

But, as little as Dirk takes any control of his own story, the story of what happened to him definitely pulled me along. Each individual chapter felt like a tiny story of its own, and I felt compelled to read from one to the next in spite of the passivity of the hero of the story.

However, I got to the end and wondered if there shouldn’t have been more. The Nutcracker tale itself, while it is the crescendo to the entire tale, also felt a bit tacked on. It’s not Dirk’s story at this point, it’s Clara’s. And there is a certain sense that it was all a dream. Or that it all happened in a dream.

It’s not quite real, which seems true for much of Dirk’s life.

There were so many fascinating ideas that were briefly touched on within the confines of this story. I’d love to have seen more about the Little Lost Forest and the Pan and the Pythia. It felt like there was a terrific myth in there that always hovered just out of reach. Just as it was for Dirk during his life.

Perhaps that was the point. Hiddensee is a haunting tale, but I just expected more.

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Review: The Governess Who Captured His Heart by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Governess Who Captured His Heart by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Governess Who Captured His Heart (The Honorable Scoundrels, #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #1
Pages: 87
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Temptations or Priorities...?

Determined to help her oldest sister make ends meet, Louise Potter accepts a governess position in the northern part of England. If this means accompanying an older gentleman on his travels, then she will. There’s only one problem: Louise is about to discover that her travelling companion is not the elderly man she expected, but rather seduction itself...

Alistair Langley has no desire to share his carriage with his niece’s newly hired employee. But the matron he expected to find at his door is instead a beautiful young woman, one he knows he can’t travel alone with. After all, he’s going to visit his brother who is pressuring him to marry and produce a Langley heir—or be cut off from inheritance. When he confides in Louise, together they form a plan. But the closer they become, the more temptation beckons...

Until finally a choice must be made: Love or money? Or is it possible to have both?

My Review:

The Governess Who Captured His Heart will probably capture a lot of readers’ hearts in this short and sweet historical romance.

The trope is a classic. Two people, trapped together on a long trip with not much to entertain themselves except each other. They have an unexpected opportunity to get to know each other to an amount of depth that would never have occurred outside of this carriage ride, when they are stuck with each other’s company, and no one else’s, for hours at a time. For an entire week.

Louise Potter is on her way to her first posting as a governess. Her new employer offers her the opportunity to ride to the estate in comfort, as her uncle is traveling to visit her at the same time. Louise hears “uncle” and expects someone middle-aged and probably overweight, bald, or both.

Alistair Langley, on the other hand, hears “governess” and expects someone starched from head to toe and equally comfortably middle-aged, possibly with grey hair confined to a severe bun. Certainly someone matronly at the very least.

The only thing that either of them got remotely correct was the bun – if not the color.

Louise Potter is in her mid-20s, just barely considered “on the shelf” by polite society. Which she used to be a part of before her father drank away what was left of the family fortunes and then inconveniently died, leaving Louise and her 2 sisters with no income and a house they can’t afford but desperately want to keep. Her older sister has managed to become an accountant, and now Louise has secured employment as a governess. They hope to put together enough funds to keep the house and give their youngest sister the season they never had.

Alistair Langley is just over 30. His family’s history is just a bit irregular, or at least his parents’ marital escapades were. His “niece” is very nearly his own age. And their family, while definitely of the upper crust, is far from conventional.

Alistair is the heir to a title, and is being pressured to marry and secure the family line. Louise is under pressure of her own, to make a success of this first posting and help her sisters.

But a week of forced intimacy leads both of them, step by reluctant step, to the inescapable conclusion that whatever they thought their futures would be, their best chance of happiness is with each other – even if it’s a chance that neither of them believes they can take.

Escape Rating B+: This one is a great little story. At 87 pages, it is short – a nice little pick-me-up if you want to just get swept away, but don’t have very long to stay swept. And the short length of the story works well in this particular instance. While I would love to know more about both Louise’s circumstances and Alistair’s rather peculiar family, it isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy this story.

I think that has to do with the way this story is laid out. All of the action, and certainly all of the romance, takes place on that trip. Everything is confined into a relatively small space and time. It would have been all too easy to expand things, and most of it would have felt like extra padding. This is just right.

Most of the romance is in the banter and the unresolved sexual tension, which ratchets up deliciously with each conversation. This is a romance where these two people, first surprised by each other, then discomfited by each other, discover that they have much more in common than they or society would expect them to.

They have a likeness of mind (as well as an attraction of the body) and like definitely calls to like.

I also liked that their conversations and internal thoughts felt “real”. They both do want, and they both are responsible people, and those two drives conflict with each other. They are both bound to their duty, and it makes them respect each other – as well as helping the readers to like and respect them.

In this short length, and with this particular circumstance, that this is also a relatively clean romance works well. They might, and particularly in Alistair’s case, they do, have quite salacious thoughts, but they don’t act upon them until after the wedding. If he’d ravished her when he first discovered that he wanted to, this would be a different story, and probably not nearly as good.

The Governess Who Captured His Heart is the first novella in the Honorable Scoundrels trilogy featuring the Potter sisters. I’ll be reading The Earl Who Loved Her next week. I can’t wait to find out how youngest sister Eve meets her match!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

 

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Review: Christmastime Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Christmastime Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawayChristmastime Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #10) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Copper Ridge #10
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on October 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It's Christmas in Copper Ridge, and love is waiting to be unwrapped…

Falling for a bad boy once is forgivable. Twice would just be foolish. When Sabrina Leighton first offered her teenage innocence to gorgeous, tattooed Liam Donnelly, he humiliated her, then left town. The hurt still lingers. But so does that crazy spark. And if they have to work together to set up her family winery's new tasting room by Christmas, why not work him out of her system with a sizzling affair?

Thirteen years ago, Liam's boss at the winery offered him a bribe—leave his teenage daughter alone and get a full ride at college. Convinced he wasn't good enough for Sabrina, Liam took it. Now he's back, as wealthy as sin and with a heart as cold as the Oregon snow. Or so he keeps telling himself. Because the girl he vowed to stay away from has become the only woman he needs, and this Christmas could be just the beginning of a lifetime together…

My Review:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, particularly in Copper Ridge, Oregon.

Falling for a bad boy once is not merely forgivable, but probably a rite of passage to adulthood. We all do it at least once, and usually learn that the wild ride isn’t worth the inevitable fall. Falling for one twice is a pattern. Falling for the same bad boy twice is usually well beyond foolish.

But not for Sabrina Leighton. In this second-chance-at-love romance, there are a whole ton of, let’s call them mitigating circumstances.

The first time she fell for Liam Donnelly, she was all of 17 and he was 20. There was a certain amount of young and stupid involved on both of their parts. And the fact is that while the emotions may have been very, very real, nothing actually happened outside of those emotions.

Thirteen years ago, the one real thing that they had was friendship – a friendship that Liam broke, along with Sabrina’s heart, when he left. Not without a word, but with a whole lot of words that have continued to haunt Sabrina all these years.

And most of those words weren’t even true. But the scars they left still hurt.

Now that Liam is back in Copper Ridge, as part of the Donnelly brothers return to town in the wake of their grandfather’s death (see Slow Burn Cowboy, Down Home Cowboy and Wild Ride Cowboy for the full story) Liam and Sabrina keep running into each other, whether Sabrina wants to or not. (You don’t have to read the entire Copper Ridge series for the Donnellys’ piece of it to make sense, but it probably helps to read this quartet)

Copper Ridge is a very small town.

That Sabrina and Liam have unfinished business is pretty obvious to pretty much everyone, even if not everyone knows all the gory details. So whether Sabrina’s boss (and ex-sister-in-law) Lindy sets Sabrina up to deal with her unfinished business, or whether that’s just a happy side-effect, Sabrina is stuck. It’s part of her job to work with Liam on setting up a tasting room in town that will feature wines from her winery and cheeses from his ranch – as well as trap a whole bunch of tourist dollars and funnel customers back to both their businesses.

It’s a great business idea – even though at least initially it feels like a really lousy personal one.

But the chemistry that Liam denied all those years ago, and that Sabrina wasn’t quite mature enough to understand, hasn’t abated one little bit in the intervening years. The only way that they can manage to work together is not to get past what happened in the past, but to go through it.

To hash out all the stored resentments, explore all that bottled chemistry, and attempt to get each other out of their systems.

Like that’s ever going to happen.

Escape Rating B: Christmastime Cowboy feels like the cherry on top of the Donnelly Brothers subseries of the Copper Ridge ice cream sundae.

Also a real “cherry”, as Sabrina has never managed to find a man who even gets close to turning her crank after Liam ran off all those years ago.

I love the way that this author does angsty heroines, but Sabrina’s angst didn’t quite have the deep, tolling bell ring of angst of the heroines of Down Home Cowboy and Wild Ride Cowboy. Not that Sabrina hasn’t been hurt, but her wounds seem a bit more self-inflicted that either Alison’s or Clara’s.

While the story loses a bit of depth in comparison with the others because of that, one of the good parts of Christmastime Cowboy is the way that Sabrina finally manages to figure that out for herself, with only a couple of glancing blows from the clue-by-four administered by Liam.

Not that he doesn’t have plenty of his own baggage to deal with. But his baggage was dropped on him by his dysfunctional parents. Not that he hasn’t added plenty of extra pieces along the way all by himself. But he needs multiple hits from that clue-by-four, not just administered by Sabrina, but also by his brother Alex, before he finally figures out what’s been staring him in the face all along.

So the story, as it has often been in this series, is one where the hero is just certain that he hasn’t got a heart, or if it’s still in there it’s three sizes too small and that he’s just not worthy of giving it to anyone else. Ever.

The heroine, on that other hand, figures out how to dump enough of her own baggage to start a real life for herself, one that she’d much prefer to have with the hero, but that she knows she can manage to make on her own once her stomped on heart finally heals.

As formulas go, this one is always a winner.

Christmastime Cowboy is the final book in the Copper Ridge series. But the romance is just moving a bit down the road to neighboring Gold Valley in Smooth-Talking Cowboy. No one needs to smooth-talk this reader to jump back to this author’s next series. All of this author’s next series!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of Christmastime Cowboy to one lucky US/CAN commenter:

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Review: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, Joanna Shupe’s Avon debut introduces an English beauty with a wicked scheme to win the man she loves—and the American scoundrel who ruins her best laid plans…

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match—leaving her free to marry the artist she desires. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own—one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

My Review:

There’s a reason that the “fake engagement” is such a well-beloved (and well-used) trope, and books like A Daring Arrangement are that reason. The story sparkles with wit and sizzles with scandalous heat from the moment that the hero and heroine first strike sparks from each other – when he’s three – or possibly four or five sheets to the wind – celebrating his birthday on horseback inside one of New York City’s best restaurants. She stands on a chair to make sure they are eye-to-eye, and neither they, nor the reader, ever look back.

Lady Nora Parker wants to start a scandal, so that her father-the-Earl will whisk her home to England, and back to the arms of the very unsuitable artist she has fallen in love with. Julius Hatcher wants an entree into the upper echelons of so-called polite society, so that he can discover the identities of the men who ruined his father and drove the man to suicide.

Neither of them expects to fall anywhere near love. Nora is in love with somebody else, and Julius has vowed never to marry. The manner of his father’s death left him with the indelible impression that love and family only leads to obligations and dependencies that can drag a man even further down than he has already fallen.

So Julius is determined not to fall. But he still needs revenge on the men who broke his father and got away unscathed. He sees Nora as a means to that end, just as Nora sees Julius as the means to her end.

But Julius is unwilling to cause the scandal that Nora desperately wants. Now that he’s found his way into the upper crust, he needs to stay there until he’s found what he wants.

Neither of them expects that what they will want most is each other. But the longer their fake engagement goes on, the more they discover that they belong together. Just as someone else tries to tear them apart.

Escape Rating B+: For the most part, this story is an absolute lark. With a raven casting a bit of a shadow near the end. Let me explain.

The best part of this story is the relationship between Nora and Julius. They are both smart people who like breaking the rules. They are absolutely perfect for each other. In a world where most men see Nora as a breakable ornament, and most women see Julius as a handsome devil with an open (and bulging) wallet, in each other they find an equal. They draw sparks from each other both sexually and intellectually, and most importantly, they challenge each other. And they keep up with each other.

And in the best “fake engagement” tradition, they are the last people to realize that their relationship is real, no matter how it got its start.

However, I did find it just a bit obvious that Nora’s lover back in England was bound to show up in New York and do something to break up her relationship with Julius long before he finally appeared. On the one hand, his attempt at breaking them up was even further over the top than I expected, and on the other hand, while I figured out that he was behind some of the nastiness behind the scenes, he went way further, and in a different direction, than I expected.

Nora is a character that I really grew to love over the course of the story. She starts out seeming just a bit selfish, but also very brave. And in the end, it’s her bravery that shines through.

And the bubble and sparkle of A Daring Arrangement has me looking forward with delighted anticipation to the next book in this series, A Scandalous Deal, coming next spring.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Giveaway Link: https://goo.gl/qPk2oY

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James + GiveawayWilde in Love (Wildes of Lindow Castle, #1) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #1
Pages: 416
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

My Review:

Wilde in Love is the first book in what looks to be a fun new series. So no worries about whether or not to read the previous books, because this is a chance to get in on a treat of a series from the very first page.

It is also a “banter into romance” type of story. And that banter is center stage not merely from the very first page, but actually from the title. Wilde in Love is the title of a ridiculous play, that is frequently discussed, derided and ultimately just about lampooned within the pages of the book Wilde in Love.

It’s also a pun in the sense that while the play of the title is an over-the-top melodrama that fictionalized Alaric Wilde’s adventures into a romance that never existed, the story of the book is all about Alaric Wilde falling head over heels in love with the one woman who has no interest in his fame or fortune.

Not that Alaric himself has much interest in his fame. His fortune is another matter entirely. But Alaric Wilde has finally returned home to his rather eccentric family after years of traveling around the world, and penning best-selling books about his travels.

His return to England is almost a farce of its own, as crowds of admiring and swooning women greet his ship. While his books have become widely read, the play based on his supposed romantic exploits has turned him into the 18th century equivalent of a superstar – complete with the 18th century equivalent of groupies.

And he wants none of it. What he does want is to discover the anonymous author of that ridiculous play, so that he can sue them and have it closed down. Or just closed down. And all the copies burned. And the ashes covered with something permanently destructive, like quicklime. Or acid. Just in case.

Alaric’s homecoming coincides with the celebration of his brother’s betrothal. The month-long(!) house party is the perfect place for hordes of Alaric’s “admirers” to try their best to get his attention, with an eye towards romance, marriage or a notch on their bedposts. Or all of the above.

In the midst of all the chaos, Alaric finds himself attracted to the one woman who doesn’t give a fig about his fame or his fortune. She has plenty of money of her own, and if there is one thing that Willa Ffynche values above all, it’s her privacy.

So even though Willa and her best friend Lavinia have been the toast of the season, the perfectly demure young debutantes who have collected admirers and engagement offers with abandon bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real and rather earthy young women who are their true selves.

And the real Willa is the perfect woman for the rather untamed Alaric – if he can convince her that, in spite of his current notoriety, his adventurous nature is exactly what she needs to match her own.

Escape Rating B+: Wilde in Love is a romp from beginning to end. This is historical romance at the height of its over-the-top-ness. And it reaches those heights because both Willa and Alaric, in their completely separate ways, are more than willing to expose just how ridiculous all of the rules of society really are when taken to extremes.

I liked Willa (and her bestie Lavinia) very much indeed. What makes them so interesting is the way that they both acknowledge that society’s rules must be outwardly obeyed, while dealing honestly with each other. They have a pact to keep up the appearance of being “perfect” debutantes, while always admitting to each other that it is completely an act. Their attitude is quite refreshing, and it exposes a good bit of the seedy underbelly of their society.

Something that Alaric also does, but in a completely different way. He’s been out of England long enough that the extremes of social behavior and society dress are simply things he will not do. There’s a scene early in the book, where he thinks about the whole “stiff upper lip” thing that his brother North is forced to live by, and the degree to which they are both grieving the death of their oldest brother, and admits to himself that the rest of the world does not share this concept of keeping all one’s emotions tightly wrapped no matter what – so that in the end he reaches out and hugs his brother – who for a few brief but necessary moments – hugs him back. It’s a scene that says so much about Alaric, where his true heart lies, and just how high the cost for that stiff upper lip, all at the same time.

The core of Wilde in Love is the developing romance between Willa and Alaric. This is a wooing with words long before it becomes a wooing by deeds. They essentially talk each other into love, into bed, and into marriage with a whole lot of sparkling wit and a shared understanding that the conventions are not quite at the be-all-and-end-all level that society thinks they are.

This is not a romance that develops quickly, so it is good that the surrounding cast of characters is equally interesting – particularly the increasingly contentious sparring match between Willa’s friend Lavinia and Alaric’s best friend Parth. I hope that we’ll be seeing them finally figure out that the sparks they strike from each other have way more to do with love than with the detestation they are both protesting much too much in a future book in this series.

But speaking of future books in the series, Wilde in Love ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Not that Willa’s and Alaric’s relationship doesn’t come to a marvelous and slightly unusual HEA, because of course it does. But his brother North’s betrothal, the one that was being celebrated at the beginning of the story goes completely sideways. It’s going to take another whole book for that puzzle to finally get itself worked out.

And I can’t wait to read that story in Too Wilde to Wed!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Giveaway Link:  https://goo.gl/iEZbPM 
Giveaway Terms & Conditions:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Wilde In Love by Eloisa James.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl WoodsLilac Lane (Chesapeake Shores #14) by Sherryl Woods
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Chesapeake Shores #14
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!

At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancé suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

You won’t want to miss this epic return to Chesapeake Shores, a place we’re betting you’ll want to stay forever.

My Review:

Chesapeake Shores sounds like an absolutely magical little town, at least if you don’t mind a whole town full of nosy and interfering neighbors. Not that the collective O’Brien clan doesn’t mean terribly well, and not that they don’t seem to generally do well in their meddling, but Keira Malone is used to being the boss of her own life, thankyouverymuch.

Which doesn’t mean that her life doesn’t get a much needed makeover when she arrives from Dublin to visit her father, her daughter, and her new grandbaby. The ostensible reason for her visit is to help take care of her new (and only) grandchild, and to “consult” for her son-in-law about the authentic “Irishness” of the traditional Irish pub he’s opened in Chesapeake Shores.

Keira has spent her entire adult life working in and managing Irish pubs in Ireland, so she certainly has the right experience for the job. But it’s a made-up job. Her daughter and her father, both now living in Chesapeake Shores, fear that Keira will turn in on herself after the death of her fiance.

After all, that’s exactly what Keira did after the breakup of her marriage. She turned inward and pretty much stayed inward – and exhausted, raising three children on her own with zero help from her drunken ex-husband. And just when she finally let herself open up – boom, another disaster.

So the family, not just Keira’s daughter Moira and Keira’s father Dillon, but the entire O’Brien clan that they have both married into, plots and schemes to get Keira to Chesapeake Shores. And once she’s there, and they all observe the sparks that fly between Keira and the pub’s resident chef Bryan Laramie, they all keep right on scheming, with an eye towards matchmaking between the chef and the “consultant” who seems to question his every move. Or at least he feels that way.

Bryan is just as alone as Keira, and the whole town seems to be more than willing to conspire to get these two together – from manipulating Keira into renting the cottage next door to Bryan’s house to cooking up a cooking contest to finish off the local Fall Festival – a cooking contest that pits Keira’s authentic Irish Stew recipe against Bryan’s hand-me-down version.

The winner of their contest will take all, not just the prize, but also the other’s heart. If they can both figure out what it really, truly means to “win”.

Escape Rating B+: Lilac Lane is a sweet and savory mix of contemporary romance, women’s fiction and small town magic.

Not magic as in Harry Potter, but just the magic that seems to permeate so many small town romances. Chesapeake Shores is just a lovely little town where good things happen to good people – and where there don’t seem to be any bad people – if maybe a few misguided ones – who do not appear in this story. Chesapeake Shores is just a great place to live.

Keira Malone and Bryan Laramie are an interesting and slightly different protagonists for a romance. Both are a bit older – while it’s not specified precisely, both have adult children and seem to be on either side of 50 – with Keira a few years older than Bryan.

They are both people who have been seriously wounded by life and love, and in ways that are similar underneath some rather startling surface similarities. Keira left her husband because he was an alcoholic, Bryan’s wife left him because he was ambitious, self-absorbed and absent. But Keira kept in touch with her ex – not directly, but enough that he could have visited his children anytime he wished – if he wished. Bryan’s wife, on the other hand, just disappeared with their daughter. She vanished. He’s spent years, and countless thousands of dollars, trying to locate them both. It’s not that he wants the marriage back – and who would, but he wants to regain contact with the daughter he still loves.

Neither of them is good at letting people in. Keira because her two attempts at romance have ended in disaster, and Bryan because he’s never bothered to divorce his missing ex.

Both of them need resolution in their lives – and there’s something about the way that they spark each other that makes them both reach for it.

The romance is of the squeaky-clean variety (the hero and heroine have only a few kisses between them when he proposes) but it works for this story and setting. Both Keira and Bryan are tentative about love, and that hesitation is expressed wee in their non-courtship, two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationship.

Although, speaking of two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationships, Keira’s relationship with her daughter Moira, and Moira’s relationship with her husband in specific and with the universe in general feels just a bit “off”. As a reader, I couldn’t figure out why Moira acted the way she did, and in real life I’d feel more than a bit sorry for her husband and her mentor.

Chesapeake Shores does seem like an absolutely marvelous place. The large O’Brien clan is deeply interwoven into the fabric of the town, which seems to have been created by one of them as a tourist destination – and it has flourished.

O’Briens seem to be everywhere. Keira’s father has remarried into the family, as has her daughter. The other women of the O’Brien family both meddle in Keira’s life with abandon and become the circle of sisterhood that she never had – and dearly appreciates now.

Lilac Lane is the 14th book in the Chesapeake Shores series. I’ve not read the earlier books, but was able to get into the story easily. Enough of the family’s previous connections and romances were explained in a way that meant I didn’t feel left out. It probably helped that Keira herself comes in as an outsider, so things have to be explained a bit to her – and we get the benefit of that.

But I certainly enjoyed Lilac Lane more than enough that I’ll be happy to visit Chesapeake Shores again soon!

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