Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy Yeager

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy YeagerDearly Beloved (A Match Made in Heaven Book 1) by Peggy Jaeger
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Match Made in Heaven #1
Pages: 430
Published by The Wild Rose Press on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Colleen O'Dowd manages a thriving bridal business with her sisters in Heaven, New Hampshire. After fleeing Manhattan and her cheating ex-fiancé, Colleen still believes in happily ever afters. But with a demanding business to run, her sisters to look after, and their 93-year-old grandmother to keep out of trouble, she's worried she'll never find Mr. Right.

Playboy Slade Harrington doesn't believe in marriage. His father's six weddings have taught him life is better as an unencumbered single guy. But Slade loves his little sister. He'll do anything for her, including footing the bill for her dream wedding. He doesn't plan on losing his heart to a smart-mouthed, gorgeous wedding planner, though.

When her ex-fiancé comes back into the picture, Colleen must choose between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now.

Guest Review by Amy:

Given what Colleen had been through, we shouldn’t be surprised if she’s burnt out on the whole idea of marriage. Which she is – for herself. She’s enjoying running her own wedding-planning business, with collaboration from her sisters, in the small town from whence she came. And she’s apparently good at it: wealthy socialites from all over retain her to plan their nuptials, and she’s happy to deliver.

Isabella Harrington and her beau are her latest happy couple, with the wedding coming up soon. And things are ticking along swimmingly, until Colleen meets Izzy’s brother Slade Harrington. He loves his sis, and he’s the checkbook behind this wonderful wedding. He’s not sparing the shekels, it’s true – but he may be the most frustratingly handsome man in existence.

Escape Rating: A: Small-business owner lady, wealthy playboy – it’s a common trope, and author Peggy Yeager has given us a pleasant if predictable spin on the story. This book isn’t going to challenge your thinking about world-shaking things, but it does deliver a briskly-moving, sweet story of two people from very different worlds falling for each other. Along the way, we have a nice collection of interesting side characters: Isabella, Isabella’s mother (Slade’s stepmother), Isabella and Slade’s father, a famously exotic supermodel who’s seen with Slade way too often for Colleen’s taste, Colleen’s sisters and grandmother, and even the local chief of police round out an interesting and diverse cast of characters who add a wonderful flavor.

Slade, for his part, has always lived the part of playboy, although his own life experience has him soured on the idea of a long-term relationship. He’s a serious cynic about it, and not at all interested in the long game. Except, well, that wedding planner lady is really…really…ahem.  Nope, not gonna do it.  Back and forth he goes with Colleen, playing get-away-closer for quite a big chunk of the book. Colleen, for her part, is enjoying all the attention, but she’s not really interested in someone from a world too like that of her ex (who, of course, must turn up a couple of times in the story, just to stir the pot a little).  Back and forth she goes…and so it goes, until right after the wedding, and Colleen finds out that he did something that – in her mind – was Really Bad. A violation of her trust! An end run around something she’d already laid down the law on! What a dastard!

Being a stereotypical Irish redheaded lass, she lets him have it with both barrels, and walks away from their budding relationship, just as it was starting to get pretty interesting. But of course, neither of them is happy with this, and it takes something pretty serious happening to convince each of them to bend.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale is that we spend a the whole book firmly in Colleen’s point of view. The tale is told first-person, and we’re given a rich look at her own internal dialogue, even as she (and we) see things going on around her. Her moments of self-deprecation reminded me rather a lot of my own. There but for the grace of…well, whatever. I could really identify with some of her more-flustered moments, and that really got me engaged with this story.

If you’re looking for a great lazy-day read, here’s a good one for your list. It’s a feel-good story without too much complexity, well-crafted and easy to get into. Enjoy.

Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell

Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowellThe MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, Romance, timeslip fiction
Pages: 318
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 30, 2019
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On holiday in Scotland, Lara MacInnes discovers the journals of a woman who loved Lara's own very-great grandfather, Lachlan MacInnes, in the mid-eighteen hundreds. With the help of Iain Glendenning, a handsome Highlander, Lara traces the path of this long-ago romance. Their research unearths mystery and murder. Uncovering the truth, a hundred and fifty years later, is a torturous and frustrating trail. Along the way, Lara and Iain in fall in love. Can they put an end forever to the feud between the MacInnes and Glendenning Clans that has persisted since the Battle of Culloden?

My Review:

The MacInnes Affair is the finest kind of time-slip romance, one where the dive into the past illuminates but does not overshadow the story in the present – and the other way around. It is a marvelous story every step of the way.

Lara MacInnes arrives at Athdara Castle during her summer break from teaching school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She’s come to the Scottish Highlands to visit her mother’s best friend, to research her own family history – and to put some time and distance between herself and her breakup with her overbearing ex-fiance.

She is first rescued by, and then falls in love with, Iain Glendenning, the son and heir of the Laird of Athdara – and also the son of her mother’s best friend. And who is also just about to break his engagement with his very own overbearing about-to-be-ex fiance.

That should be enough for the two of them to have in common, but that barely scratches the surface. And it’s what’s under that surface that makes this book so special.

The MacInnes and the Glendennings represent two sides of a bitter mid-18th century feud. At Culloden they fought on opposite sides, with the MacInnes part of the Jacobite cause, and the Glendennings on the side of “German Geordie”, the eventual King George I.

(If the name Culloden sounds familiar, you might be remembering Jamie Fraser from Outlander. The MacInnes Affair is nothing like Outlander, but Culloden and its aftermath cast a long and bloody shadow over the history of Scotland. It’s one of those fixed-points in time that ANY work of historical fiction dealing with 18th and 19th century Scotland has to touch upon.)

But Lara and Iain do not represent the first time that a MacInnes and a Glendenning have fallen in love across that bloody divide. The family history that Lara has come to investigate revolves around that first time, even though they are not aware of it when they begin their research.

Once upon a time, Lachlan MacInnes rescued Elspeth Glendenning, even more spectacularly than the 21st century event. That same Lachlan MacInnes emigrated to Canada to become Lara’s great-great-(and possibly a couple more greats)-grandfather. Very little seems to be known about him.

But Lara and Iain find Elspeth’s diaries. In her private writings she laid her own soul bare. And gives her 21st century descendants – and us – a heartbreaking story of love and duty, loss and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lovely sense of history coming full circle in this story. Lara leaves home for Scotland to discover the truth about her ancestor, Lachlan MacInnes. And she returns home to discover that the truth was right there waiting for her all along.

But the journey along the way is what makes this one so good.

It’s interesting, looking back at the story, to think, on the one hand, that Lara and Iain’s story runs fairly smoothly. There are a couple of bumps in their road, but nothing that can’t be, and isn’t, overcome.

But when they get caught up in the search for Lachlan’s, and eventually Elspeth’s story, we do too. We read the diaries with them and feel both the heartbreak of Elspeth’s story as well as Lara and Iain’s compulsion to discover those hidden truths.

And even though Elspeth’s story is a “bigger” story, it’s tragic and heartbreaking at so many points, somehow it doesn’t overshadow Lara and Iain’s. That’s one of the things that this author does so very well, tell a story in two time frames and make them both equally compelling.

There are people who will see the synopsis for The MacInnes Affair with its time-slip storyline and its Scottish Highland setting and make an instant comparison to Outlander. That comparison is a mistake. Please don’t mistake me, I love the Outlander books and have read them all. But it’s a massive series that goes much more deeply into the 18th century and dives much farther into its history than a single-volume work could or should.

The MacInnes Affair is the story of one single pair of star-crossed lovers and their one small corner of history. And it’s lovely exactly as it is.

The way that their history wraps around and both influences the now and is in turn resolved in that now – well, that’s magic.

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowellFatal Charm by Blair McDowell
Formats available: ebook
Pages: 252
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful young jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.

With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already sizzling between the two ignite into passion?

My Review:

Like all of Blair McDowell’s marvelous books, Fatal Charm is a non-stop romantic suspense thrill ride from beginning to end. And in addition to the edge-of-your-seat danger that the heroine is dropped into, we have an enchanting love story as well as a great story about the depths of friendship and just how terrific the love of a family-of-choice can be.

Jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy is thrown into a boiling hot mess at the beginning of this story, and doesn’t manage to climb out until the very, very end. And the reader is right in the pot with her the whole time.

Her ex turns up dead. Except he’s not really her ex – not because they never broke it off, as seems usual in this kind of story, but because they never seem to have gotten it on in the first place. Allen Thompson was a friend who seemed to want to be more than that, but Caitlyn just never felt any spark.

Not getting any more deeply involved with Allen was possibly the wisest thing she’s ever done. Which doesn’t stop the man from landing her in the soup as he dies. At which point, Caitlin discovers not just that he’s left her with an epic mess, but also that nothing the man ever told her seems to have had much bearing on the truth.

Caitlin thought Allen was an accountant. From Canada. When in fact, he was a high-end thief, a very wanted man on the run, and from France. And those lies are only the beginning.

Allen left Cait with a very hot piece of jewelry, hidden among her samples and uncut stone. It’s a dragon. And everyone who has ever possessed the thing seems to have found themselves in a whole mess of fiery trouble – ending with Allen and Caitlin and beginning with Marie Antoinette. Allen, really Alain, stole the pretty little firebreather from the Louvre, and it’s been nothing but trouble before and since.

When two mysterious and nasty men steal first Caitlin’s sample case, then break into both her shop and her house, her defenders rally round and the mystery begins to unravel. It’s certainly unraveling Cait, while ravelling both her assistant Aristotle Jones and his professor Colin Stryker into the web.

Aristotle and Cait have been friends for five years. In spite of completely different origins, coming from entirely different places, Aristotle and Cait have become a family of choice. There is never any hint of romance, and there never was and never will be. They are brother-and-sister. But Aristotle is currently a doctoral candidate at Berkeley, and when he brings his mentor Colin Stryker to Cait to see if they can figure out what is going on with the little dragon, well, Colin’s feelings for Cait are anything but brotherly.

Still, both Aristotle and Colin close ranks firmly around Cait as they figure out where the dragon came from, what it is, how it ended up being Cait’s problem, and what they should collectively do about the deadly and disastrous little creature.

All the while dodging two increasingly desperate villains who are determined to get the dragon back and get revenge on anyone who keeps it from them, at any cost.

Escape Rating A-: Just as with all of this author’s work, Fatal Charm kept me going back to its mystery and adventure all day long, until I finally gave in and just finished it. I started at lunch and in spite of work and other annoying interventions, couldn’t stop myself from turning the last page after midnight. I just had to see how it all turned out.

The romantic part of this romantic suspense is both simple and complicated. On the simple side, it’s pretty clear that Colin and Cait fall for each other the minute they meet. On the complicated side, they both resist the pull, and for good and sensible reasons. Colin’s last attempt at real romance went down in flames. Cait, while she managed not to “settle” for Allen, is still left not trusting her own instincts. She never even suspected that he lied about EVERYTHING.

And there are plenty of more mundane factors keeping them apart as well. Colin is nearly 40, and worried that he’s a bit too old for the 20something Cait. But more than that, there’s a geography problem. Colin is only a visiting professor at Berkeley – his home is in Ireland. Cait’s life, reputation and means of making a living, work that she loves, are all in California. Neither of them really believes a long-distance relationship can work, even if they survive the current mess they’ve landed in.

That mess provides the suspense angle for this story, and it’s a pot that keeps boiling from the very beginning until the almost bitter end. The brooch unravels secrets on multiple continents, revealing truths and lies about people that Colin has loved and trusted for decades. In order to solve the mystery, he’ll have to believe that some of his dearest friends have been lying to him, just as Cait discovered that Allen was lying to her.

The danger never lets up, and overtakes them all more than once. But in the end, those tasty just desserts are passed around to those who deserve them, and our heroes finally figure out what might be their best chance at a happy ending. If only they can manage to grab it.

If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell’s work. I found her through a book tour five years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries. From the very first book, Delighting in Your Company, she’s kept me enthralled every single time. My only disappointment is that she takes time writing and researching her books (which is a good thing!) so that I only get one of her gems per year. A treat every single time.

Review: Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell

Review: Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowellWhere Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Pages: 278
Published by The Wild Rose Press on December 16th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Romantic suspense that takes the reader on a non-stop thrill ride! Set on the beautiful Amalfi Coast of Italy.
When Eve Anderson meets Adamo de Leone on a ship bound for Europe, she has no idea of the dark secret that will endanger both their lives. She accompanies him to his home on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to open an inn left to him by his grandfather. But then she learns he spent 5 years in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Could the man she loves be responsible for embezzling eighty million dollars from the investment firm he once owned?
Adamo wants to hold Eve at arm’s length until he can clear his proud family name. But when there is an attempt on his life and Eve is terrorized by a gun-bearing thug, he realizes how much he wants her, and he must accept whatever help he can get to uncover the well-hidden trail of a six-year-old crime

My Review:

Where Lemons Bloom is a non-stop romantic adventure, complete with a dramatic rescue, a romantic cruise, an innocent man trying to clear his name, and his hair-raising confrontation with the ex who did him very, very wrong. All while being helped by an old Godfather in Italy and his younger brother in the States who is trying to stay out of the old family business, but can’t resist a chance to right a wrong – especially when he and his company have been caught up in the mess.

It all starts with a romantic rescue. Eve Anderson gets caught in the undertow off the coast of Barbados, and Adam de Leone rescues her from death by drowning. As she recovers from her ordeal, she wants to celebrate that she is still alive in a midnight tryst with the mysterious stranger, never expecting to see him again.

Instead, they find themselves sharing a table on a romantic trans-Atlantic cruise. For different reasons, neither of them feels ready to explore their intense attraction, but they can’t stop themselves from falling into each other’s company, and into a warm friendship that tries to bury the chemistry they feel.

Of course, they finally acknowledge failure, and as their romance blossoms, Adamo is finally forced to reveal the secret that Eve has sensed he’s been hiding. He’s a convicted felon, but he swears he’s innocent. At first, it seems as if he’s just saying what every criminal would say, but Eve believes him.

Not just because she loves him, but because the crime he is supposed to have committed doesn’t make sense. Or it doesn’t make sense that Adamo committed it. Someone certainly made off with $80 million dollars from his investment firm, but it wasn’t Adamo. His partner supposedly committed suicide to escape his own guilt, but there’s no suicide note.

And someone is trying to kill Adamo. If he’s a threat to anyone, it’s to the real perpetrators. He was willing to put it all behind him, but with his and Eve’s lives on the line, he has to find out who really done it before they do him in.

Adamo certainly has to get over his stupid notion that Eve could definitely do better than a broke ex-con with only a defunct inn in Positano to his name and seemingly a price on his head. Eve knows better, but convincing Adamo is a harder sell than it ought to be.

Of course, they could get killed before the dust settles. Or they could find their happily ever after.

Escape Rating A-: Adamo and Eve are two people who have both been through their own versions of hell. They are both certain that they are not ready to enter into a relationship, but love finds them anyway. Then it takes them on the non-stop thrill ride of their lives.

One of the things that I liked about this book is that the hero and heroine both have a few miles on them. They aren’t teenagers or even young twentysomethings. These are two people who have been around the block, and the trip has left them with some life scars that made them who they are.

Eve’s troubles have been more deeply personal, where Adamo’s were spread across the front pages for weeks. At the same time, the events in Eve’s life also changed who she expected to be, and left her with a load of her own guilt. Eve dropped out of college to become the full-time caregiver for her aging and invalid father as he suffered a series of strokes that left him disabled. She gave up her dreams so that he wouldn’t die alone in a nursing home, and in the end, he died alone while she was out shopping.

She feels both relieved and guilty. When she meets Adamo she is at the beginning of a three-month trip to Europe where she hopes to reset her life now that it is hers again. She needs to find a new purpose. She finds that purpose in helping Adamo reopen the inn that his grandfather left him. After his catastrophic failure and his prison term, the inn is the only asset Adamo has, and the only thing keeping him moving forward. Well, that and the marvelous extended family that is waiting to welcome him home to Italy.

It’s been said that the two most important things in life are love and meaningful work. Re-opening the inn gives both Adamo and Eve plenty of meaningful work. They also find love with each other, but Adamo is holding back because he’s so sure Eve can do better. When his life is threatened, he finally decides that he can’t live and let live, he has to solve the mystery of his past before it gets them both killed.

Once Adamo starts chasing own that old truth, the pace of the story never lets up. Especially once the Conti brothers get involved. With a little investigation, Adamo discovers that whoever tried to kill him is using the Conti organization, or at least its low-level soldiers, to get things done. Neither the “connected” Conti brother in Italy nor the legitimate businessman Conti brother in New York are happy to discover that someone has infiltrated their organizations and is involving them in contract hits and money-laundering schemes that they didn’t authorize.

When the villains find that the tables have been very efficiently turned on them, revenge is sweet, if not quite complete. But there are more than enough just desserts to make you smile at the end.

There has been a recent spate of “Italian Billionaire” romances, but Where Lemons Bloom turns that trope on its head. Adamo has all the makings of the typical Italian romantic hero, but is poor as a churchmouse. There has also been a recent rush of mobster romances, but this story subverts that in a good way. The old-fashioned Godfather is now an old man who is trying to take care of his people before he, and possibly some of the old ways, pass away. His younger brother is legit, but still willing to play the part if it helps the side of the angels.

All in all, Where Lemons Bloom is romantic suspense where the suspense has the reader frantically flipping pages to make sure everything turns out alright. And the romance is absolutely incandescent.