Review: The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane by Sheila Roberts

tea shop on lavender lane by sheila robertsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Life in Icicle Falls, #5
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When it comes to men, sisters don’t share!

After a fake food poisoning incident in L.A., Bailey Sterling’s dreams of becoming a caterer to the stars collapse faster than a soufflé. Now Bailey’s face is in all the gossip rags and her business is in ruins. But the Sterling women close ranks and bring her back to Icicle Falls, where she’ll stay with her sister Cecily.

All goes well between the sisters until Bailey comes up with a new business idea—a tea shop on a charming street called Lavender Lane. She’s going into partnership with Todd Black, who—it turns out—is the man Cecily’s started dating. It looks to Cecily as if there’s more than tea brewing in that cute little shop. And she’s not pleased.

Wait! Isn’t Cecily seeing Luke Goodman? He’s a widower with an adorable little girl, and yes, Cecily does care about him. But Todd’s the one who sends her zing-o-meter off the charts. So now what? Should you have to choose between your sister and the man you love (or think you love)?

My Review:

I always enjoy visiting Icicle Falls, no matter who is being romanced. This small-town feels like a great place to visit, and the town it’s based on, Leavenworth, Washington, is not just real but really close to Seattle.

In addition to the chance to go back to Icicle Falls, The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane also provides the opportunity to catch up with the Sterling women. Samantha Sterling and the Sweet Dreams Chocolate Factory got their HEA in Better Than Chocolate (reviewed here), but now it’s her younger sisters Cecily and Bailey’s turns to find their own happiness.

Better than Chocolate by Sheila RobertsCecily has been working at Sweet Dreams since the first story; she’s found her niche as head of the marketing department. Her successful campaigns have helped to put Sweet Dreams and Icicle Falls back on the map, and into the black, in spite of the recession.

The one part of her life that Cecily hasn’t found a plan for is her love life. She’s attracted to two eligible men in town, Luke Goodman and Todd Black. Luke really is a good man, he’s the factory manager at Sweet Dreams and a loving single father. His first marriage was a success, but enough time has passed since his wife’s death that he is ready to try again, and he wants to try again with Cecily.

But as much as Cecily likes Luke, she can’t help but be attracted to bad-boy Todd Black, owner of the testosterone soaked local bar, the Man Cave. Todd’s been chasing Cecily ever since he hit town, and he’s decided that it’s time to make his move.

Cecily (and Samantha’s) younger sister Bailey throws a spanner into everyone’s plans. Bailey returns to Icicle Falls with her tail between her legs, after her attempt to run a catering company in LA is wrecked by one starlet’s food-poisoning publicity stunt.

Bailey needs a job. She needs more than that, she needs a way to get her confidence back. And she needs to work with food again, to get back on the horse that threw her.

It just so happens that Todd Black is much more of an entrepreneur than anyone, especially Cecily, gives him credit for. And he just so happens to own a property in central Icicle Falls that would be perfect for a Tea Room, with just a bit of sweat equity and repair.

Todd has just what Bailey needs. Except that Cecily has decided that he has just what she needs, admittedly in a much more personal way. So while Todd and Cecily are trying to take their relationship to the next level, Todd and Bailey are discovering just how much fun they can have building a business together.

Meanwhile, Luke Goodman is watching from the sidelines, hoping for his chance to convince Cecily that they belong together after all.

Escape Rating B: As is usual in the Icicle Falls series, the romance (or romances) take a backseat to the small town/family story.

We have more than a love triangle in this one, we have a love quadrangle. Luke loves Cecily. Cecily can’t make up her mind between Luke and Todd, to the point where everyone in town is confused about which one she’s dating. Then Todd starts falling for Bailey, and vice-versa.

Part of Cecily’s romantic confusion is that Luke is the steady and sensible man she should want, while Todd is the bad-boy that every girl wants to reform. Or at least that’s Cecily’s perception.

The reality is that Todd isn’t nearly as bad a boy as he seems. That Cecily can’t figure that out is proof positive that they aren’t meant for each other. However, Todd and Bailey’s mutual attraction brings out the possessive bitch in Cecily. Cecily has so many insecurities, particularly about Bailey, that she doomed the relationship before it had a chance to begin. Which it shouldn’t have.

The fallout makes the town choose sides, and causes a family rift. It isn’t until Luke finally sweeps Cecily off her feet that the sisters are able to make peace. The romance in this one is very messy.

There’s an intended message here, that men may or may not stick around, but sisters are forever. I think there was a second one about listening to that little voice that tells you something is not a good idea. Cecily knows that Todd isn’t right for her, but she can’t resist the lure. At the same time, she won’t let herself move the relationship forward, because there are just so many things about him she wants to change.

Bailey likes Todd just as he is. It helps that she sees all of him, the entrepreneur and the hard worker, and not just the bad boy image he projects. Which may be another message about falling in love with the real person, and not thinking you’re going to change them.

It was great to see the Sterling sisters get their own HEAs, and it’s always a treat to visit Icicle Falls. I can’t wait to go back in The Lodge on Holly Road!

The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane banner 2 (1)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post from Sheila Roberts about the REAL Icicle Falls + Giveaway

cottage on juniper ridge by sheila robertsMy special guest today is Sheila Roberts, the author of the Icicle Falls series, including today’s featured review book, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge. Because this series is so lovely, and the town of Icicle Falls seems like such a marvelous place, I wanted to learn more about it, especially since it is based on a town very near my current homebase of Seattle.

Here’s Sheila to tell us all about her Icicle Falls and the real-life version you can visit!

The Real Icicle Falls
by Sheila Roberts

Readers often tell me that they wish my town of Icicle Falls was a real place. Well, here’s the good news. It is! Well, at least it’s based on one.

My imaginary town of Icicle Falls is based on the town of Leavenworth, Washington, one of my favorite places to visit. Granted Leavenworth doesn’t have it’s own chocolate factory like Icicle Falls does (and it probably doesn’t have some of the squirelly characters, either), but it has the wonderful views, the friendly people and the great spirit of determination. And, just like in Icicle Falls, the people of Leavenworth sure know how to celebrate a holiday. One of my favorite times to visit is during Christmas when they have their town tree-lighting ceremony. (And yes, Icicle Falls has one, too!)

Leavenworth_WashingtonLeavenworth is a popular destination town with a healthy economy but it wasn’t always so. In the early sixties, after The Great Northern Railway pulled out, choosing a different route through the mountains, this town nestled in the Cascades was in danger of becoming a ghost town. But the town leaders put their heads together and decided that, with its beautiful mountain setting, Leavenworth could be as charming as any alpine village. And they set about transforming the town from a typical western town into something truly special. Everyone pulled together to make this happen. “And we did it all without any government help,” says one of the older residents. In this day and age that’s really something to brag about.

In addition to changing the look of their shops and stores, the people of Leavenworth came up with a series of festivals designed to draw visitors. Today these festivals bring in over a million visitors a year.

I love the fact that a little imagination coupled with determination and hard work of the townspeople literally transformed this place. It’s a charming town filled with wonderful people, and I try to convey a little of their town spirit in my Icicle Falls books. I hope my characters are people that readers will enjoy and want to spend time with.
And, if you ever visit Washington I hope you’ll stop by Leavnworth, stay in one of its charming B & B’s, enjoy the scenery and the shopping and the great people who live there. I hope you’ll visit Icicle Falls, too!

Sheila RobertsAbout Sheila Roberts

Sheila Roberts is married and has three children. She lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have appeared in Readers Digest Condensed books and have been published in several languages. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her her novel The Nine Lives of Christmas has been optioned for film. When she’s not writing songs, hanging out with her girlfriends or trying to beat her husband at tennis, she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

To learn more about Sheila, please visit her website or blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.



Sheila will be awarding a $25 B & N gift card and an eCopy of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and a $25 B & N gift card to a randomly drawn host.

To enter, leave a comment on this post. For more chances to win, follow the other stops on Sheila’s tour.

Review: The Cottage on Juniper Ridge by Sheila Roberts

cottage on juniper ridge by sheila robertsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #4
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: February 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

How to Change Your Life…

Can a book change your life? Yes, when it’s Simplicity, Muriel Sterling’s guide to plain living. In fact, it inspires Jen Heath to leave her stressful, overcommitted life in Seattle and move to Icicle Falls, where she rents a lovely little cottage on Juniper Ridge. And where she can enjoy simple pleasures—like joining the local book club—and complicated ones, like falling in love with her sexy landlord, Garrett Armstrong.

Her sister Toni is ready for a change, too. She’s got a teenage daughter who’s constantly texting her friends, a husband who’s more involved with his computer than he is with her, and a son who’s consumed by video games. Toni wants her family to grow closer—to return to a simpler way of life.

Other women in town, like Stacy Thomas, are also inspired to unload their excess stuff and some of the extra responsibilities they’ve taken on.

But as they all discover, sometimes life simply happens. It doesn’t always happen simply!

My Review:

This is a sweet treat of a book, and not just because all the characters discuss their problems with regular applications of Sweet Dreams Chocolate from the local chocolatier.

Speaking of Sweet Dreams Chocolate, it is terrific to see how all the lovely people who starred in the previous books in the Icicle Falls series, (Better Than Chocolate, Merry Ex-Mas and What She Wants) are doing now that they have their own HEAs.

Better than Chocolate by Sheila RobertsBut the main characters of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge are Jen Heath, who rents the titular cottage, her sister Toni, and local resident Stacy. They are each, in their various ways, influenced by Muriel Sterling’s latest book, Simplicity. (We also know Muriel from Better Than Chocolate, and why she needed to get some simplicity in her life.)

Jen reads Muriel’s book, and decides that it is time she got some of her own simplicity back. Her life in Seattle has become so busy with the drudgery of two jobs to pay for a condo she can’t afford that she hates her life. So she buys into the siren song of Muriel’s book to the point where she rents a cottage in Muriel’s home town of Icicle Falls and puts her condo in Seattle on the market.

Jen is reaching for a simpler life where she has time to do things she enjoys and kindle some new friendships. She wants to find the joy that she used to have.

What she finds is a hunky landlord who is also a firefighter. She falls into insta-lust, but he thinks she’s a complete flake for turning her life over so irresponsibly. He’s already been in love with one irresistible but irresponsible ditz, and he’s not interested in doing it again, even though he adores the child that came out of his impulsive first marriage.

Jen creates a new life for herself, and hopes that her landlord will eventually get the stick out of his ass and see that the sparks they generate could lead to a real relationship. Garrett, in turn, tries to force himself into a relationship with someone steady and solid. It takes him a long time to realize that the heart wants what it wants, and that looking for the fun in life does not necessarily make Jen selfish, childish or even remotely flakey.

While Jen is getting her new life together, her sister Toni is searching for someplace where her family can not just get away from it all, but disconnect from the electronic gizmos that are always distracting them from each other. It turns out that the little Washington town that her sister moved to on a whim may be the perfect place to find her family again.

Icicle Falls resident Stacy just needs to declutter her life. It takes a cosmic push for her to realize that she doesn’t own her stuff, she has so much stuff that it owns her. It takes a lot of effort, and some whole new ways of thinking, for Stacy to find a channel for her love of finding beautiful things.

Icicle Falls sustains and supports them all.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the Icicle Falls series, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge is primarily a story about the supportiveness of strong friendships. In this case, the friends are the members of the Icicle Falls Book Club, a group of women who share books, chocolate, and a chance to unwind in a place where everyone understands what the others are going through. It’s their once-a-month break for some “me time” with the BFFs who will be there for them, no matter what.

Jen Heath comes in from the outside, but her shared love of books and the general friendliness of the town is enough to get her adopted by this tight-knit bunch of marvelous women. They help each other through whatever needs to be shared and/or listened to. We all need a group like this in our lives, but it’s hard to find!

The tying element of Muriel’s book, Simplicity, resonates with each of them differently. They are all over-worked or over-committed, and the book makes them stop and think about ways they can de-stress their lives, just a bit.

While it is the story of Jen’s journey of self-discovery that drives the book, Stacy’s story had a tremendous amount of resonance. It’s not just that she has been letting her hunt for beautiful bargains fill her empty nest, but how many memories she has invested in what to other people looks like “stuff”. At the same time, it was great in Stacy’s story to see a long-term marriage that is happy, where the husband is supportive and generally terrific and the couple feels lucky to be together.

Where so many stories ignore women who have achieved their happily ever after, in The Cottage at Juniper Ridge we see a whole range of experiences, from Jen’s search for true love to Toni’s need to reconnect to Stacy’s search for her own purpose within the context of a continuingly happy marriage.

Icicle Falls continues to be a marvelous place to visit, filled with people you’d love to meet. I can’t wait for the next book!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Sheila Roberts + Giveaway

Today I would like to welcome Sheila Roberts back to Reading Reality! In October I interviewed Sheila to celebrate the first book about Life in Icicle Falls, the totally yummy  Better Than Chocolate. Although she’s here today on tour for What She Wants, which is a terrific book about men’s friendships, the third book in the series, Merry Ex-Mas, was all about women’s friendships. So, I asked her to write a bit about the theme of friendship that runs through her stories.

Love and Friendship

What She Wants by Sheila RobertsI seem to be drawn to these two topics when writing my books. Love is so important. We all need love in our lives! But we also need friendship.

I enjoy writing about women’s friendships because I think they’re hugely important. Our girlfriends are always there for us. A true friend is always there with tissue when we need a good cry and chocolate to make us feel better. A true friend is always there to celebrate when we find Mr. Right and to hug us when Mr. Right turned out to be Mr. Wrong. Maybe that’s why my stories usually feature a cast of friends as well as a romance.

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila RobertsI enjoyed writing about girlfriends helping each other sort out their man troubles in my previous novel, Merry Ex-mas. This time around though, I wound up putting together a different cast of characters. What She Wants is all about the men and how they deal with love and friendship. Guys may not be as touchy-feely as we are. And they’re not going to bare their souls to one another. But, in a pinch, a man can count on his friends.

My shy, geeky hero, Jonathan Templar, and his poker pals are a good example of this. These men are all different – in age, in lifestyle, in their levels of success. But one thing they share in common: they can’t figure women out. Solving the mystery of what women want needs to be a team effort. I’m hoping readers will enjoy watching as this group of men go from clueless to clued in.

So please join me in Icicle Falls for some laughter and good times, and let’s see if these guys can find true love.

Sheila RobertsAbout Sheila Roberts

Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s happily married and has three children. She’s been writing since 1989, but she did lots of things before settling in to her writing career, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

To learn more about Sheila, please visit her website or blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Sheila will be awarding a print copy of What She Wants (US/Canada only) to 10 randomly drawn commenters during the tour. A Grand Prize of a $25 eHarlequin coupon plus a finished copy of What She Wants (US/Canada only) will be awarded to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more chances to win, check out the other stops on Sheila’s book tour!

VBT What She Wants Banner

Review: What She Wants by Sheila Roberts

What She Wants by Sheila RobertsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Life in Icicle Falls, #4
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: March 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

What do women want?

Jonathan Templar and his poker buddies can’t figure it out. Take Jonathan, for instance. He’s been in love with Lissa Castle since they were kids but, geek that he is, she’s never seen him as her Mr. Perfect. He has one last shot—their high school reunion. Kyle Long is equally discouraged. The pretty receptionist at his office keeps passing him over for other guys who may be taller but are definitely not superior. And Adam Edwards might be the most successful of Jonathan’s friends, but he isn’t having any success on the home front. His wife’s kicked him out.

When Jonathan stumbles on a romance novel at the Icicle Falls library sale, he knows he’s found the love expert he’s been seeking—Vanessa Valentine, top-selling romance author. At first his buddies laugh at him for reading romance novels, but soon they, too, realize that these stories are the world’s best textbooks on love. Poker night becomes book club night…and when all is read and done, they’re going to be the kind of men women want!

My Review:

Any trip to Icicle Falls is a treat. It reads like an almost perfect small town, one of those places where everyone knows your business, and wants the best for you.

But like most places, under the surface, things aren’t always what they seem. Not all the marriages are perfect, and not everyone’s experience in high school was happy. Certainly everybody hasn’t figured life out by the time of their 15th high school reunion!

Reading about Jonathan Templar and his Friday-night poker buddies turning to romance novels to figure out what women really want definitely turned out to have its share of hilarious moments…but it also ended in some lessons learned for the men involved.

They did figure it out, even if their source of advice turned out to not exactly be the person they thought she was!

Five guys play poker: the town nerd, the successful businessman, and the cubicle dweller, along with one happily married man and one divorced middle-aged cynic. The happily married man knows that the secret is to treat his wife like she’s the most important person in his world, because she is.

Jonathan, Kyle and Adam need to learn that lesson, for various reasons of their own. It’s Jonathan, the computer guru of the group, who overhears women at the library book sale telling each other that if only men read romance novels they might have a chance at getting a woman and keeping her satisfied.

Jonathan is desperate enough to try, even if he is so embarrassed that he keeps it a secret. Along with his not-so-secret life-long crush on Lissa Castle. But Lissa (of course!) only ever saw him as a friend. Jonathan hopes that, armed with the advice from the books and a complete makeover, he’ll be able to sweep Lissa off her feet at their 15th high school reunion at the end of the summer.

His friends Kyle and Adam are equally desperate for reasons of their own. So they all dive headlong into the world of romance novels, hoping that they will be able to find their own happy ever afters with the women of their dreams.

Even if they have to get hit by a clue-by-four to get their dreams on the right track!

Escape Rating B: There are three love stories packed into this one book, but they are woven together by the constant of the Friday night poker get-together. It was neat to have a romance told pretty much from the point of view of the guys in the story. And it worked!

Adam needs a wake-up call, and he takes a long time to get one. He doesn’t want to grow up and realize he’s been selfish. Kyle’s problem is that he’s been lusting after a bimbo instead of paying attention to a woman who is pretty and terrific and good for him. He’s another boy who needs to man up.

Jonathan is the anchor, because he’s the one who most wants to change. His is kind of an “ugly duckling” story, although he isn’t really ugly–but he thinks of himself that way. He’s just geeky, but very successful at it. His problem is that life-time crush on the former girl-next-door. He needs to get her or get over her, so he decides to get her. And he uses the romance novels as a textbook for what women want. It’s really kind of sweet. He even gets to be a hero.

But because the story is told from Jonathan’s point of view, we really don’t get to see why he loves Lissa. We know that he does, but we don’t know what makes Lissa so special. Jonathan is a terrific guy, and a lot of women would be happy to find someone like him. He goes to a tremendous amount of effort to make himself over for someone who has never noticed him. I wish we had a chance to get to know her better.

I loved the scenes where the poker buddies meet the romance writer who was their inspiration. Those scenes were fantastic!

What She Wants Tour Banner

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-7-13

Sunday Post

This weekend is part of the Reading Reality Blogo-Birthday Celebration. Sunday’s part of the celebration is that I get to tell you, one more time, all the chances that you have to win one of the bookish prizes!

About Last Night by Ruthie KnoxFrom the Blogoversary part, you have a chance to win a copy of either Ruthie Knox’ RITA nominated About Last Night, or her brand new Strangers on a Train story, Big Boy (review on Tuesday) or a $10 Amazon Giftcard.

From the Birthday part, you have a chance to win a copy of the entire (and entirely yummy) Devil DeVere series by Victoria Vane. Or another $10 Amazon Giftcard.

And, just for extras, there is also a chance to win a print copy of the first book in Robyn Carr’s new Thunder Point series, The Wanderer.

You have until April 13 to put your hat into the rings, or your entry into the rafflecopters, for all the prizes.

BTW, Mikki D. won the ebook copy of Temptation by Kathryn Barrett from Kathryn and Entangled Publishing.

Eternally Devoted by Stacey KennedyNow for the complete recap of last week’s posts:

B+ Review: Mystically Bound by Stacey Kennedy
B Review: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens
A- Review: Eternally Devoted by Stacey Kennedy
Blogo-Birthday Celebration and Giveaway Day 1
Blogo-Birthday Celebration and Giveaway Day 2
B+ Review: The Wanderer by Robyn Carr
Guest Post: Q&A with Robyn Carr + Giveaway!

The Blogo-Birthday won’t come around for another year. Boo-hoo. But there are still more good things ahead!

This week I’ll have reviews of Ruthie Knox’ Big Boy and Victoria Vane’s The Trouble with Sin. It’s only fair after dropping hints about both stories last week in the giveaways. They are both definitely worth getting!

What She Wants by Sheila RobertsAnd in the middle, Sheila Roberts will be back to talk about the theme of friendship that runs through her stories, and she’ll be giving away a copy of her latest book, What She Wants. I’ll also have a review of this story of poker buddies turning to romance novels to figure out what women want. Does it work? Come and find out!

Review: Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila Roberts

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila RobertsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #3
Length: 293 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: October 23, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Cass Wilkes, owner of the Gingerbread Haus bakery, was looking forward to her daughter Danielle’s wedding—until Dani announced that she wants her father, Cass’s ex, to walk her down the aisle. Seriously? Even worse, it appears that he, his trophy wife and their yappy little dog will be staying with Cass….

Her friend Charlene Albach arrives at their weekly chick-flick night in shock. She’s just seen the ghost of Christmas past: her ex-husband, Richard, who left a year ago when he ran off with the hostess from her restaurant, Zelda’s. Now the hostess is history and he wants to kiss and make up. Hide the mistletoe!

And bring out the hot buttered rum, because the holidays aren’t easy for Ella O’Brien, either. Ella, newly divorced, is still sharing the house with her ex while they wait for the place to sell. The love is gone. Isn’t it?

But watch as Christmas brings all kinds of surprises….

Merry Ex-mas, ladies!

My Review:

There’s no place like home for the holidays–unless your ex is there!

That’s the situation for three of the women in the otherwise picture-postcard pretty town of Icicle Falls, Washington. And it’s beginning to look a lot like Xmas.

Make that Ex-mas.

Ella, the manager of the town’s boutique clothing store, is still sharing the house with her irresponsible, country-music playing ex-husband. Neither she nor Jake can afford to pay their half of the house payment and rent on a separate place. So they share uneasily, and try to keep out of each other’s way for fear that sparks might re-ignite. Either a fight, or sparks of a much more romantic nature. It’s just too bad that Ella’s mother can’t keep her nose out of their business.

Charley washed her ex, Richard, right out of her hair, and her restaurant. She bought him out of everything when she caught him boinking their hostess. But now he’s back and revving up the romance, saying and doing all the right things to convince her that he knows he made a horrible mistake. Or is she?

Cass owns the bakery. She doesn’t miss her ex, and never wants him back. She’d be happy if she never saw Mason again. But that’s a wish that isn’t going to be granted. The one good thing their marriage produced was three beautiful children, and their oldest is getting married. At Christmas. Too bad there’s no room at any inn in their tourist destination town and Cass’ ex and his Barbie-doll wife are going to have to stay at her house–while she plans their daughter’s last-minute nuptials.

The holidays are normally an insane time of year, but when your ex comes back like the ghost of Christmas Past, well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing that these women all have fantastic friends to get them through the holidays!

Escape Rating B+: I thought I was all holidayed-out, but Merry Ex-mas isn’t so much a Christmas story as it is a small town friendship story with a little romance. With two totally adorable dogs!

Better than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts(If you like small-town romances, the earlier Icicle Falls book is Better Than Chocolate, and it’s terrific!)

These three women are great friends, they stand by each other through everything, and it shows in the story and the way it’s written. Their lives are so intertwined, that it wouldn’t be “real” to have three separate stories. They have one story that moves between the three of them.

I liked Cass, Ella and Charley a lot. I thought their stories were great fun to read, and also that it was good that they didn’t all get a happy ending. Life isn’t like that. One happy ending, and on the rest, let’s say, progress.

What she Wants by Sheila RobertsI can’t wait to read more about Life in Icicle Falls. I’m looking forward to the next book,  which has the rather provocative title, What She Wants. Maybe Charley or Cass will get some happiness. Or happier.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Author Sheila Roberts

I’m so hyped today. Of course I am, I’m hyped on chocolate! Again! My guest today is Sheila Roberts, and she’s here to introduce us to her first yummy (review here) book about Life in Icicle Falls, Better than Chocolate. True love IS better than chocolate, but most of us will agree that chocolate is pretty damn good.

Marlene: Sheila can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Sheila: Thanks so much for hosting me! I’d be happy to. Here’s Sheila in a nutshell. I love to read (and write). My family is hugely important to me and so are my friends. I’m a real party girl – love to play games, any kind of games, love to bake and entertain. I’m big into tennis and I drag my hubby out dancing on a regular basis. Right now I’m in the process of learning how to golf and I think I might have discovered a new addiction.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing for us. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Sheila: Definitely a plotter. I like to have a map of where I’m going. I may take some side trips on my writing journey but at least I know how I’m going to get to the end of the journey.

Marlene: What can we expect of Better Than Chocolate?

Sheila: A good read. At least that’s what I hope you’ll get. My motto is: Read Sheila for a Good Time. That’s what I try to deliver.

Marlene: There are lots of romances about family companies, but what inspired you to write about a chocolate company (Yum!)?

Sheila: Well, when I was creating my town of Icicle Falls (which is, by the way, my ideal town), I asked myself what I’d want to see in it. And a chocolate factory came to mind. I’m a bit of a chocolate addict and if I was going to own a business that’s the kind of business I’d want.

Marlene: Would you like to share your favorite scene from the book with us?

Sheila: You know, I have a lot of favorite scenes, but probably my top one is the scene where my heroine, Samantha Sterling, is having a nightmare. I won’t give it away, but let me just say it involves being chased by giant candy bar monsters and then by our hero. Oh, and there’s a vat of chocolate, too.

Marlene: Who first introduced you to the love of reading?

Sheila: Probably my grandmother – but that’s pretty ancient history we’re talking! We always had books around our house and I remember how excited I was when I got my very first library card. One of my favorite childhood books was The Wind in the Willows. Our Seattle neighborhood had a Carnegie library. It wasn’t a huge building but it was gorgeous. I can still see it in my mind’s eye – the brick building, the stone steps, the hardwood floors and the bench in the children’s book section. How the light fell through the windows in the late afternoon. What a great place!

Marlene: Who influenced your decision to become a writer?

Sheila: Only me. I’ve always written, ever since I was kid.

Marlene: What book do you recommend everyone should read and why?

Sheila: Pride and PrejudiceGreat writing and a great study in human nature.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Sheila: Well, I think if people enjoy humor and want a laugh they’ll want to read my books. I hope the books also are encouraging (some of them, like Small Change and Bikini Season, are actually self-help fiction – I’m especially fond of Small Change because I think I included a lot of helpful money-saving tips). Finally, I think I spin a good yarn. So, if you’re looking for fun, a good story, and some encouragement then I’m the girl for you.

Marlene: Would you like to tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects? What’s next on your schedule?

Sheila: I have some fun reads looming on the horizon. In November Merry Ex-Mas, a holiday tale of wives and their exes will be out. And that one is great fun. We even made a music video for it, which you can find on Youtube. (Look for Merry Christmas Mama and you’ll see me getting hauled off by Santa!) Then come spring I’ll have a novel out titled What She Wants, which is about a group of poker buddies learning to solve their woman problems  in a very unusual way.

Marlene: Do you really think there’s anything better than chocolate? Maybe coffee? Tea? Wine? Margaritas? 😉

Sheila: Nothing is better than chocolate… but don’t tell my husband I said that. 🙂

Marlene: Morning person or night owl?

Sheila: Somewhere in between. Not a bad place to be.

Maybe nothing is better than dark chocolate, or even milk chocolate. But I’m not so sure about white chocolate. Frankly, I’m not sure white chocolate IS chocolate, but to each their own. 

Thanks so much, Sheila, for being such a wonderful guest today!

Review: Better Than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts

Format read: print ARC provided by the publisher
Formats available: Mass Market paperback, ebook, Large Print book
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Chick-Lit
Series: Life in Icicle Falls
Length: 400 Pages
Publisher: MIRA
Date Released: September 25, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company has been in the Sterling family for generations, ever since Great-Grandma Rose literally dreamed up her first fabulous recipe. But now it looks as if they’re about to lose Sweet Dreams to the bank—and that would be a disaster, not only for the family but for the town of Icicle Falls, Washington. Can Samantha, the oldest daughter and new head of the company, come up with a way to save it?After Samantha does some brainstorming with her mother and sisters, inspiration strikes. They’ll have a chocolate festival! Time’s running out, but the Sterling women are determined and the town’s behind them, so everything’s bound to go smoothly….

Or not. Events seem to be conspiring against Samantha, and her mother’s attempts to help aren’t helping. To make matters worse, the fate of her company is in the hands of her archenemy, Blake Preston, the bank manager with the football-hero good looks. It’s enough to drive her to chocolate. But Blake’s also enough to convince her that (believe it or not) there’s something even better than chocolate.

Let’s get this one out of the way right now, there are very few things better than chocolate. But true love might be one of them. And that’s the whole point behind this heart-warming story of a woman who has less than two months to rescue her family’s chocolate company–and by extension, the small town that depends upon it.

The romantic love story in Better Than Chocolate takes a back seat to the family love and the small-town neighborly affection and support type of love, but that’s absolutely okay. Because this is one of those stories where the heroine needs to get everything together (and so does the hero, just differently) before she’s in the right place for her happily-ever-after. The HEA is the chocolate syrup on this sundae.

Samantha Sterling’s first love has always been her family’s business, Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company. And that business is in dire straits, also because of family. Samantha’s mother, Muriel, stepped from marriage to Sam’s father Stephen, directly into a second marriage to Waldo. That business was her family’s legacy to their daughters, but nothing was ever put in writing, and Muriel wanted to please her new husband. Waldo had no head for business. At his death, Samantha found herself assessing the horrible damage.

She had less than two months to save everything, and no idea how to do it. She also held a load of resentment toward her mother, who had no head for money, and just trusted her husband implicitly, instead of her daughter.

Icicle Falls, Washington, depends on two things, steady employment from Sweet Dreams, and tourist money from skiers. Tourism is down because of the recession, and it’s been a warm winter, with not much snow.

If Sweet Dreams closes, it’s not just the death of the Sterling Family legacy, but it will deal one heck of a blow to the town’s economy. So Samantha tries to plead with the bank for one last chance to turn things around, only to discover that the new bank manager is unable, or unwilling to give Sweet Dreams another extension. And that Blake Preston, the new manager and former football hero from Icicle Falls High School, is just as hot in a suit and tie as he was when he was a high school senior and she was a lowly freshman.

Too bad he’s Scrooge. Or maybe that should be Mr. Potter, the venial bank manager from It’s a Wonderful Life. Blake Preston is the enemy.

If the bank won’t give her a loan, Samantha has to find another way to save the company. And that’s when her sister comes up with the brilliant idea for a Chocolate Festival. Before Valentine’s Day. Less than six weeks away.

The story of Better Than Chocolate is the whole town pitching in, often with hilarious results, to make the Icicle Falls First Annual Chocolate Festival a roaring success. As successful as the festival is, it still isn’t enough to save Sweet Dreams.

Samantha needs an angel. Maybe a frenemy will do.

Escape Rating B+: I think that how readers are going to feel about this book will depend a lot on what they are expecting. I enjoyed the small-town feel of Icicle Falls, and loved how the town both pulled together to get the Festival ready, and how some of the long-standing feuds still had impact. There are some people who can’t let go of their high school grudges, even 10 or 15 years later, even if the whole town will get hurt in the process. It’s petty but it feels real.

The character of Sam’s mother Muriel drove me crazy. On the one hand, I love the support group that picks her up. The LAMs (Life After Marriage) are awesome. That Muriel dove into a tailspin when she was widowed is understandable. But that she was so totally clueless about money gave me the heebie-jeebies for a character who is around 60, not 80. This particular stereotype is one I truly dislike.

The romance between Sam and Blake isn’t the main point of the story. The story is saving the company and pulling off the chocolate festival. It’s also about Blake figuring out how to be his own man and not a corporate whipping boy. But the best parts are the Sterling women negotiating their new places in each others’ lives and in Sweet Dreams. Sam learns that the way to save the company is not to try to do it all herself, but to bring out the best in everyone.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.