Review: No Groom at the Inn

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No Groom at the Inn
Megan Frampton
($4.99 print, $1.99 e-book)

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Happy Holidays, lovely romance enthusiasts!  In honor of the upcoming festivities, I thought I’d get us in the holiday spirit with a review of a delightful novella by Megan Frampton.  The adorably-punny No Groom At the Inn is everything you’d want in a holiday novella.  It’s got a wonderfully absurd plot, a devil-may-care charmer, a fiercely independent and bookish heroine, and a touch of holiday cheer.

Lady Sophronia Bettesford is a down-on-her-luck daughter of an earl.  Her father passed away penniless, leaving her to the mercy of her distant relations–specifically, an unappealing cousin who has offered her a rather bleak future of tending his children and his chickens.  As Sophronia travels to this dim new life, she is approached by a handsome stranger who promptly proposes marriage!

Mr. Jamie Archer is in need of a fiancée– not a wife, strictly speaking– just the temporary illusion of a fiancée to appease his beloved, meddlesome mother.  Jamie and Sophronia strike a deal: she will accompany him to a country house party over the holidays and pretend to be his fiancée.

Sophronia and Jamie are both incredibly likable characters, and Frampton does some impressive character development within the constraints of the shorter novella format.  Sophronia’s father was an intellectual, somewhat reclusive earl who instructed her in all matter of peculiar things.  She, as a result, is extremely intelligent and somewhat socially inexperienced.  Jamie is an appealing opposite to Sophronia– while certainly not unintelligent, his primary characteristic is his social ease and charm.  Jamie does not wish to marry while Sophronia yearns for a family of her own.  The balance between the two characters is deftly handled– what could easily turn into an opposites attract romance novel cliché is instead a powerful tool in the hands of Frampton.  The differences, and more subtle similarities, between the Sophronia and Jamie are what ultimately bring them together.

While the character development is rich, the story line is truncated by the shorter length of the novella.  Jamie’s inevitable realization that he loves Sophronia feels rush and the corresponding “grand gesture” really isn’t given enough time in the novella.  The last third of the book differs in pacing from the first two thirds, something that detracts from the success of the story as a whole.

However, there are many delightful elements in No Groom at the Inn.  Besides the awesome title pun, Frampton provides several unique additions that add to the book.  A theme throughout the novella is Sophronia’s adroitness with words, a skill that came from her father’s teaching.  Sophronia and her father used to play a game called “Dictionary,” in which players attempt to offer their own definitions of unknown words.  Each chapter in the novella starts with an example of “Dictionary,” with words like “otosis” and “vecordy.”  The game plays an integral part in the plot and wordplay is a fun constant throughout the book.

If you’re looking for a quick holiday read or perhaps looking to grab a few moments of solitude during the craziness of Christmas, I highly recommend No Groom at the Inn.  It’s a fun, quick read, meant to be enjoyed with a piping-hot mug of cocoa or a splash of egg nog, sitting in a comfortable chair, and enjoying a day in your pajamas.  In other words, the perfect post-Christmas brunch treat!

Review: The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge

hobbesThe Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge
ELISABETH HOBBES
November 22, 2016
(print $6.50, ebook available Dec 1, $4.99)

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I can’t get over how much I enjoyed this book!  To be perfectly honest, Medieval romance is a little out of the ordinary for me–the gowns and gallantry of the Regency period are irresistible to me– but I was so happy to read Elisabeth Hobbes’ The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge.

Hobbes’ story reads like a romance novel and historical adventure novel all rolled into one.  The relationship between Constance and Aeleric, long-lost lovers divided by war and loyalty, is very sweet and compelling while the revenge story keeps the narrative moving along nicely.

Set against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Norman Invasion, the book nicely incorporates historical fact with modern storytelling.  In a refashioning of Romeo and Juliet (thankfully with a much happier ending), Hobbes’ romantic couple meet when both are in their teens and are on opposite sides of the divide.  Constance is a Norman, while Aeleric is the youngest son of the recently-deposed Saxon leader.  To make matters more complicated, Constance’s brother-in-law, a delightfully Machiavellian Norman lord, is the one who took the land and killed Aeleric’s father and brothers.  Aeleric thirsts for revenge, but bound by a vow made to Constance, he cannot kill her brother-in-law.

The story picks up seven years after the character’s initial meeting and the terrible events that shape the rest of the novel.  The characters encounter each other again, both having suffered a great deal in the intermitting years.  Constance and Aeleric no longer trust each other, but are drawn together by their past, their mutual hate for the Norman lord, and the continued passion that burns deep between them.

Aeleric is a remarkable hero– he’s wounded and angry, but his tenderness and gentleness continue to shine through despite the terrible things that have happened to him.  Aeleric wrestles over important moral questions, battling between honoring his word to Constance or honoring the memories of his fallen family.  A real strength to the book is Aeleric’s introspection, which allows the readers to really understand his internal conflict and feel deeply for him.

Constance is an admirable character, as well.  She was born with a deformed leg and her fortitude in overcoming that difficulty, in addition to the abuse she received at the hands of her brother-in-law and dead husband, make her an appealing heroine.  She is aptly named because despite all the knocks against her, she continues to feel very deeply and truly for those she cares about.

If you’re looking for explicit sex scenes, this isn’t the book for you.  However, the book does not suffer from the lack of down-and-dirty sex scenes.  Constance’s relationship to sex is complicated; she was shown little kindness by her husband and was conditioned to view her body as a bargaining chip for her safety.  Hobbes does an excellent job of depicting how a woman recovering from, essentially, many years of marital rape, might be able to find intimacy again with a partner she loves.  The sex scenes are not really described in detail, but that in and of itself is appealing.  Does anyone remember that part in Titanic where Jack and Rose have sex in the car and all you see is the hand on the window, sliding down the steamed-glass?  The sex in The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge is kind of like that: somewhat obscured, but nonetheless steamy.

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I highly recommend this book.  If you like medieval romance novels, stories like Romeo and Juliet or Robin Hood, or are just looking to read a sweet and interesting story, The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge is for you.  I look forward to reading more Elisabeth Hobbes books in the future!

arrow-56-xxlAlso, did you know? We’re giving away a free copy of The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge, as well as FIVE other new releases from Harlequin!! Enter our giveaway here!!

Review: Searching For Disaster

searchingfordisaster1-2SEARCHING FOR DISASTER
JENNIFER PROBST
October 11, 2016
($2.99 ebook)

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Jennifer Probst’s Searching For Disaster is a fun and flirty novella that packs a powerful punch.  The book opens on a scene set six years before the rest of the story; our couple, Liam and Isabella, met at a college party, felt an instant connection, but were ultimately driven apart.  Since that fateful meeting, Liam and Isabella’s lives have taken them on different paths, but they were always left wondering about the one that got away.  Flash forward six years and Isabella and Liam meet again… *cue the sparks flying.*

Given the length of this book, I was impressed with its depth and plot development; often, novellas can feel somewhat superficial because of length constraints. This was absolutely not the case in Searching For Disaster.  Isabella and Liam are well-rounded characters, with interesting pasts and personalities that really elevate the story.  Isabella is a recovering drug addict while Liam is a straight-and-narrow police officer.  I thought that Probst’s handling of that dynamic was very nuanced: the primary obstacle to their love–Isabella’s former addiction– does not feel forced or trite, but rather a real problem that they must confront.  Liam must decide if he can trust Isabella, and Isabella must determine whether she can trust herself.  Of course it isn’t easy, but I was impressed with how Probst created a plot point that was both serious and meaningful, without being melodramatic. It can be easy to use things like drugs or alcohol to create a “bad boy” or “bad girl” character, a trope that can too-easily fall flat. Instead, Probst constructed a character who had made mistakes, picked herself back up, and gone on a journey to become a better person– who wouldn’t be cheering for a girl like that when she finally gets her Happily Ever After?

There are a lot of fun elements in this book.  Isabella works at a matchmaking agency, so her life is populated by hilarious, powerful women who support one another and work together to run their business (yay powerful lady friends!).  Liam and Isabella both end up adopting puppies and they commiserate over the horror that is puppy training.  They share a love of Star Wars and, quite adorably, end up naming their puppies Han Solo and Leia (awwww).  Probst provides many interesting, fun details that really ramp this book up.

While this is a short, easy read it still manages to tug on your heartstrings and make you become invested in the characters– no easy feat for a novella, so kudos to Probst!  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary novellas, small-town romances, and flawed and interesting characters.  I also think that if you liked this book, you may enjoy Nancy Naigle’s Every Yesterday, which I reviewed last month.

 

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Review: Sparking the Fire

cover-finalSPARKING THE FIRE
BOOK 3
A HOT IN CHICAGO NOVEL
KATE MEADER
Pocket Books
September 27, 2016
($7.99 print, $6.99 ebook)

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Kate Meader’s latest installment of the Hot in Chicago series is just that– hot (and, of course, also in Chicago).  In Sparking the Fire, Wyatt, former-Marine and current Chicago firefighter and Molly, Hollywood movie star, reconnect five years after a sexy anonymous fling.  Now, memories of their six-night stand are rekindled as they work together on Molly’s new movie, a film about about a female firefighter, loosely inspired by Wyatt’s notorious sister Alex.

Molly, reeling from a public divorce and a nude-photo leak, is trying to rebuild her reputation by producing and starring in the movie; Wyatt, recovering from an injury, is assigned to be the fireman consultant on the set.  Although they each have their reasons for wanting to keep things professional, the undeniable attraction that existed five years ago resurfaces and is too powerful to resist!

I liked this book for a number of reasons.  First, Meader’s narrative style is fresh and compelling; since she writes contemporary romances, she’s able to get away with, in particular, short, choppy dialogue that rings true to the ear. Given Wyatt’s taciturn nature, the staccato back-and-forths between Molly and Wyatt feels like real-life conversations.  Meader incorporates a lot of pop culture references and occasional slang to make the dialogue even punchier.

Second, Molly and Wyatt were both well-developed characters with interesting backstories separate from their interactions.  Molly’s career as an actress, as well as the way she handles her divorce and photo leak, are all intriguing facets of her character.  Similarly, Wyatt was raised as part of a larger foster family, the Dempsey’s (whom the entire series is about) and has his own baggage that he’s dealing with as a result of his past.  While the past certainly plays a major role in the development of Molly and Wyatt’s relationship, it’s refreshing to see such deep, well-rounded characters who exist in and of themselves and not merely as part of a couple.

Finally, I liked the family dynamic of the Dempsey clan.  I’m a newcomer to Kate Meader, and this book prompted me to go out and read more of her Hot in Chicago series!  After reading about Wyatt’s sister Alex and her fiance Eli, I was intrigued enough by their story that I bought it a couple days later! The way the family relates to one another, and the shared past of living in foster care, makes for an engaging and entertaining story.

This book gets three flames because the sex is pretty spicy, but it’s not overly-raunchy.  This is definitely a true romance novel and not a romance-erotic novel, so it’s certainly steamy but not as explicit as the latter category tends to be.

I’m giving this book four stars because, as I’ve just said, it has a lot going for it.  The reason it’s not getting five stars is because, while the characters and writing are awesome, the plot dragged at points and didn’t grip me the whole way through. By contrast, when I read Playing With Fire, I couldn’t put it down!  Part of that may have been personal preference– I found powerful and passionate Eli a more compelling hero than stoic Wyatt, so readers who like the “strong and silent” type may connect more with this book.  Overall, though, Meader crafts a fun and feisty story, with dynamic characters that feel like real, genuine people. I highly recommend this book.

katemeaderAbout the Author:

Kate Meader was raised on romance. An Irish girl, she started with Catherine Cookson and Jilly Cooper novels, and spiced it up with some Mills & Boon. Now based in Chicago, she writes romances of her own, where sexy contemporary alpha heroes and strong heroines match each other quip for quip. When not immersed in tales of brooding mill owners, oversexed equestrians, and men who can rock an apron or a fire hose, Kate lives on the web at katemeader.com.

 

Oldie but Goodie: Lisa Kleypas’ Hathaway Series

This isn’t so much a review as an opportunity for me to gush about an amazing, yet under-appreciated series: the Hathaway family series.  Recently, my contemporary romance-loving mom (Hi, Mom!) started reading historical romances (hooray, a new convert!).  Of course, she came to me for a recommendation and I immediately pointed her to Lisa Kleypas who is, in my opinion, the queen of historical (and contemporary) romances.

My mom started with the Kleypas classic, the Wallflower series.  This is hands-down one of the best historical romance series of all time (It Happened One Autumn is on my Forever Favorites Shelf!).  And, even better, Kleypas has revealed that fans will get to revisit some of the beloved Wallflower characters in her upcoming book, Devil in Spring (yay!!).  Mama Quirk (no, I don’t really call her that) was hooked by the Wallflower series and wanted to read more.  So, I pointed her towards Kleypas’ Hathaway series.  I wasn’t planning to re-read them myself, but we were on vacation and I (of course) read my books too fast and ran out of things to read, so I started reading the series again.

I’m so glad I picked Mine Till Midnight back up!  This is classic Kleypas- a strong female heroine and equally strong hero are irresistibly drawn together yet must learn to compromise and accommodate one another.  Although the Wallflower series dealt with people who were outsiders of the London ton, the Hathaway series confronts many similar issues even more explicitly.  In Mine Till Midnight, Amelia Hathaway falls in love with Cam Rohan, a man of Romany descent who straddles the fence between social outsider and society gentleman.  Cam is concerned about Amelia and her family’s reputation, but their attraction is too strong to resist!  After re-reading Mine Till Midnight, I was reminded of much I loved their relationship and how great a hero Cam is.  Amelia is a sensible, pragmatic woman who has taken charge of her siblings in light of their parents’ deaths.  She is strong-willed and resilient; at first she is worried Cam will diminish her independence, but he proves to her he can help shoulder her burdens without constraining her.  Cam is steadfast, and he augments all the great things about Amelia.  I like their story because, although it of course would satisfy any romance lover, it is, at its core, a story of two strong, practical people who learn to work (and love) together.

After Mine Till Midnight, I just couldn’t stop!  I also re-read Seduce Me at Sunrise, which differs from the first novel in the series in its lushness and drama.  Both Winifred and Merripen, the heroine and the hero, are characters of deep, often gut-wrenching emotion. Merripen is also of Romany descent and his troubled past leads him to believe he isn’t good enough for Win.  This novel takes place over the course of many years, as Merripen becomes part of the Hathaway family when he was a child.  Merripen and Win’s connection is primal; it’s a heart-stopping, overwhelming, all-encompassing kind of love that sweeps the reader along with it.  Kleypas is careful to make the obstacles to their love real enough that the story never feels melodramatic; instead, the drama and tension of the romance lends to a feeling of supreme satisfaction when Win and Merripen finally come together.  After reading this book, my heart was full (seriously, giddy tingles!) and I literally wanted to gush about it to everyone– hence, this post!  Just to give you some idea of how amazing this book is– and how opulent and lovely Kleypas’ writing is– here’s one of the most beautiful quotes:

I love you, he thought, looking at Win.  I love every part of you, every thought and word… the entire complex, fascinating bundle of all the things you are.  I want you with ten different kinds of needs at once.  I love all the seasons of you, the way you are now, the thought of how much more beautiful you’ll be in the decades to come.  I love you for being the answer to every question my heart could ask.”

I mean, COME ON.  If your heart isn’t warmed by that, you must be a robot.  Seriously, this is a gorgeous book of sweeping, passionate love.  It’s impossible to resist.

I’m glad to have the chance to talk about these two books side by side because although I love them both, it’s for very different reasons.  I love that Cam and Amelia are smart, hard-working people who are drawn to each other’s minds (and bodies) and have a sense of purpose and responsibility.  I love that they complement each other’s strengths and that they support each other’s weaknesses.  By contrast, I love Win and Merripen for their passion, their drama, the utter beauty of their love.  I can’t really pick which one I prefer, which is why I’m so glad they’re back-to-back in the series, allowing the reader to experience both kinds of love.  That Lisa Kleypas, she knows what she’s doing.

The rest of the series is equally great.  I highly recommend checking out any of the Hathaway books; fans of Kleypas, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James will love the Hathaway series.  The family dynamics throughout the series are incredibly endearing and the romances are classically lovely.  Honestly, I can’t get enough.  I’m smiling as I think about them.  Now that I’ve finished this post, I should get back to my homework, but I’m probably going to get started on Tempt Me at Twilight!

Mini-Review: King of Wall Street

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Louise Bay
King of Wall Street
Released August 24, 2016
(ebook: $3.99; Free on Kindle Unlimited!)

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Hello lovely romance readers!  I’m starting a new feature this week: mini-reviews!  I wasn’t necessarily planning to review King of Wall Street, but I was so impressed with it, I can’t resist.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a huge trend in contemporary romance: a$$hole billionaire dude seduces and eventually shows his softer side to wishy-washy ingenue (thanks, Fifty Shades).  To be clear, I’m definitely not hating on those billionaire alphas– they’re sure fun to read about and the stories are always steamy– but I am a little tired of reading about men who are not terribly likable and women who are…overly-compliant (Granted, I understand that a lot of books in this theme fall under a BDSM umbrella, but I’ve also noticed even when the couples aren’t specifically in some sort of D/S relationship, the alpha-men are ultra bossy and the women are not always the strongest).  A couple weeks ago, I saw promos for King of Wall Street and, despite its pretty unique cover art, figured it would be like the dime-a-dozen business butthead books that are so popular.

Thus, what a refreshing surprise King of Wall Street was!  Louise Bay has taken a common trope and turned it into a compelling, emotional story filled with the best (i.e. sexy) parts of the Fifty Shades and Crossfire series, but upending some of the frustrating cliches of that sub-genre.  Max King, the illustrious hero, is at first blush your typical Wall Street power mogul: he’s arrogant, he’s rude, and he takes no prisoners.  But, throughout the story, Max’s softer side comes out.  He’s dealing with single-fatherhood of a delightful 14 year-old daughter; he has two annoying sisters always meddling in his life; he’s been patronizing the same New York deli for ten years.  There are so many signs of life here!

Even better, Harper Jayne is a heroine I can get behind.  She’s smart, she’s successful, she’s sassy, and she stands up for herself!  How awesome it is to read about a heroine in one of these billionaire books who isn’t a wet blanket!  She totally fits the model for our favorite types of heroines.

King of Wall Street is a lot of fun.  The characters are engaging, the story is light-hearted, with just enough obstacle to make the romance interesting.  I’d recommend this book to fans of Fifty Shades, the Crossfire series, or some of Maya Banks’ series, especially if you like reading about office romances and alpha-men, but aren’t necessarily looking for the heavy emotional baggage a lot of the characters in those books tend to carry.  Also, this book is FREE on Kindle Unlimited and it’s definitely worth a read if you’re a subscriber!

Review: How the Duke Was Won

dukeLenora Bell
How the Duke Was Won
Published April 26, 2016
($7.99 paperback, $6.99 ebook)

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Filled with swapped identities, a recalcitrant duke, and a boisterous band of supporting characters, Lenora Bell’s How the Duke Was Won is a spectacular success.  The plot is innovative, the chemistry sizzles, and the happily-ever-after is all that a sappy reader like myself could hope for.  This isn’t a new release– it came out in April of this year, but it’s definitely worth looking back at.  The next book in the series was released a couple of weeks ago, and is definitely on my TBR list. 

Charlene Beckett, an earl’s illegitimate daughter, is in desperate straits– her mother is proprietress of a nearly-bankrupt brothel and a loathsome lord/loanshark is knocking on their door to collect his repayment, in the form of Charlene’s services.  Fortunately, her father’s wife, Lady Desmond, has come to hire Charlene to impersonate her own daughter, Lady Dorothea, at a house party hosted by the elusive Duke of Harland.  The two half-sisters, Charlene and Dorothea, are nearly identical; all Charlene has to do is obtain a proposal from the Duke and then allow Dorothea to take her place when she returns from an overseas voyage.  In exchange, Lady Desmond will pay off Charlene’s debt, freeing her from the clutches of the malicious lord.  Seems easy enough, no?

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Review: A Scot in the Dark

513pLOEbTfLSarah MacLean
A Scot in the Dark
Published August 30, 2016
($25.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, $6.99 ebook)

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Sarah MacLean’s books are absolutely delightful.  Full stop.  No qualification.  A Scot in the Dark, the second in her “Scandal & Scoundrel” series is no exception; MacLean has crafted a hero and heroine so compelling and so rightly matched, that you can’t help but smile when enemies are dispatched, obstacles overcome, and true love conquers all. Continue reading

Review: Every Yesterday by Nancy Naigle

51ZEjMq-SnLNancy Naigle
Every Yesterday
Release: August 30, 2016
(paperback $9.98; e-book $4.99; free on Kindle Unlimited)
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In Every Yesterday, Nancy Naigle returns to the fictional North Carolina town Boot Creek.  Naigle’s new release (published August 30) is chock-full of sleepy Southern charm.  Naigle deftly creates a world where the tea is sweet, the humidity is heavy, and the ties that bind are unbreakable.  Independent Megan meets interminable bachelor Noah when they are paired as maid of honor and best man in their friends’ wedding.  Bonding over a love of old cars and the baggage they both carry, Megan and Noah find love despite their mutual reticence.

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Review: First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips
First Star I See Tonight
Release: August 23, 2016
($26.99 hardcover, $12.99 ebook)
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Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Chicago Stars books are ones I’ve read, re-read, and forced my friends to read — who wouldn’t love these sensitive, tight pant wearing, good ole boys with hearts of gold?  The series, which Phillips began in 1994 (It Had to Be You) had seemingly (tragically!) ended with its seventh installment (Natural Born Charmer, 2007).  Although SEP has published other fantastic novels and series since then, fans clamored for more of the beloved Chicago team.

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