Sunday, December 30, 2012

A WREATH OF SNOW: A Victorian Christmas Novella by Liz Curtis Higgs

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by WaterBrook Press
Genre: historical fiction, Christian fiction, historical romance, holiday novella (Christmas), Victorian Scotland
Rating: 5 stars

Stirling, Scotland. 24 December 1894 
After a heated argument with her greedy and cynical brother Alan, a tearful and heartbroken Meg Campbell puts a sudden end to her Christmas visit, fleeing her parents' home and heading back to Edinburgh where she works as a teacher. The cheerful holiday sentiment is now replaced by sadness and guilt "as sharp as the wintry wind". Alan is disabled since the age of ten: under Meg's very own eyes, a granite curling stone was recklessly hurled against his back by an inebriated young man, causing a serious spinal injury.  As a young boy, Alan was already fostering feelings of resentment and jealousy toward his older sister. With her bright mind and independent spirit, Meg had always been her parents' favorite child and the tragic accident only fueled Alan's bitterness and cynicism, providing him also with a perfect excuse to work on his sister's guilt, drive her away from home, and finally win his parents' undivided attention. 
"Man's goings are of the Lord", and on the most saint of the nights a special present will be delivered to Meg by divine intervention in the person of handsome Gordon Shaw, the same man who had accidentally injured her brother Alan years back and whose conscience now refuses to be silenced. Not an object wrapped in paper and twine then, but the most redeeming gift of all, love.  Brought together by an unprecedented snow storm and stuck on the same train bound to Edinburgh, Meg and Gordon will be initially unaware of each other's identity, but once drawn to each other by mutual attraction,   nothing will keep them apart, not even that painful secret of their shared history.

She already missed Gordon. Though they'd met a mere twenty-four hours ago, he'd made a deep impression on her, like a thumb pressed into soft clay. [...] Meg loved the way he said her name, as if he'd just taken a bite of something sweet.

He'd known her for all of a day, yet he could not stop thinking about her. Aye, she was bonny, but her appeal went far deeper than those blue eyes of hers. She had a fine intellect and a broad streak of independence that matched his own.

They turned to each other at last, their breaths mingling in the frosty air. Meg thought Gordon might kiss her, so intently was his gaze trained on her mouth. She prayed he wouldn't. She hoped he would. Gordon slowly lifted his eyes until they met hers. "I came to say good-bye and I find I cannot.

As a first time reader of Liz Curtis Higgs, best-selling author of inspirational fiction, I couldn't have had a more pleasant and gratifying experience. Five shining Christmas stars is my heartfelt rating for a holiday novella that by all means excelled for the historical accuracy of the late Victorian setting, charming characterization of lead couple, clean romance, and meaningful plot. Imbued with the Christian cornerstone principles of forgiveness and redemption, and delivered with the grace of an emotionally descriptive and eloquent prose, this heart-warming holiday tale is actually good for all seasons and all ages. It will not fail to engross those readers who love all things Scottish and Christmas, as well as those who appreciate a sweet romance enriched with graceful shades of angst and suspense. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE BRIDGE: A NOVEL by Karen Kingsbury

Hardcover, 258 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Howard Books
Genre: contemporary romance, Christian fiction, inspirational, holiday (Christmas), novella
Rating: 4.5 stars

  "How many books had passed over the counter on their way to changing a life? Even saving a life? Books could do that. […] His hope was found in books, and in novels of redemption and hope, purpose and true love. Through them God had given him a purpose. The purpose of putting books in the hands of other people like him."

Goodreads blurb
Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but she left her heart back in Tennessee with a man she walked away from five years ago. They had a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since. Ryan Kelly lives in Nashville after a broken engagement and several years on the road touring with a country music duo. He can still hear Molly’s voice encouraging him to follow his dreams; Molly, whose memory stays with him. At least he can visit The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—and remember the hours he and Molly once spent there. For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books—even through dismal book sales and the rise of digital books. Then in May, the hundred-year flood swept through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store. Now the bank is pulling the lease on The Bridge. Despondent and without answers, Charlie considers the unthinkable. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, everything changes. In the face of desperate brokenness and lost opportunities, could the miracle of a second chance actually unfold?

My thoughts 
This year more than ever I needed to abandon the fast lane of the shopping frenzy and crazy holiday baking, and loose myself in inspirational reads, heartwarming messages of love and hope...the world needs more lovers, more storytellers and more readers, if you ask me.
Karen Kingsbury's novella is a lovely Christmas confection. Charlie's character, his shattered dreams and desperation really touched my heart. I found the lead couple's love story to be extremely poignant in its simplicity: rich highbrow girl from California meets small-town boy from Mississippi. Fate (and her father) keep them separate for quite a long time, until fate (and God, the giver of second chances) bring them together again, for good. It sounds like an Hallmark channel movie and it could easily be one. Such a pity the final chapter ended abruptly: had the author stretched it a few more pages, the novella would have been just perfect. All in all, this inspirational story made my heart flutter and wish for more.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


HIS MISTLETOE BRIDE   by Vanessa Kelly

Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages

Published October 1st 2012 by Zebra 
Genre: historical romance novel, Georgian/Regency England, holiday (Christmas) 
Rating: 5 stars

"She pulled his head down, feathering a kiss across his lips. "I love you," she whispered. It was reckless and foolish to admit it, but her heart refused to be silenced".

An ex- soldier who won't give up his warlike manners, let alone surrender his heart to love. A virtuous and strong willed Quaker who will need to cross the ocean to connect with her passionate nature and find a place she can really call "home". An arranged marriage and a quest for love. All wrapped in vivid and accurate descriptions of the Georgian England winter season and its rituals. A colorful Christmas tableau and a hero/heroine chemistry that escalates from warm to scorching hot. Here's your perfect romance-lover holiday gift.
One of the most distinctive qualities of this historical romance novel is the refreshingly different kind of heroine. Young Phoebe Linville lives a very singular condition of outsider among her own people. Member of a Quaker  family, but subtly shunned by her community because of her deceased mother's refusal to conform to some tenets of the faith, she decides to accept his maternal grandfather's invitation to leave New Jersey and join him in England. The characterization of the female heroine is quite solid and detailed, consistent in the way she struggles to meet the rigid expectations of a religious community and gradually reveal a surprisingly head-strong and passionate nature. Phoebe was doomed to live a quiet spinsterhood, steeped in an austere village upbringing, but once in England she will meet her perfect half in an unexpected place. Major Lucas Stenton, distant cousin of hers and heir to her grandfather's earldom, welcomes her upon her arrival with two shocking pieces of news: her grandfather has passed away during her boat trip to England, not before asking Lucas in his final will to become Phoebe's guardian and husband. The marriage may be an arranged one, but the chemistry between the handsome and intimidating  ex-soldier, and the unconventional and genuinely beautiful American is as immediate as the blink of an eye. She is a starchy Quaker by upbringing, but she can't help being affected by the large framed and hard eyed soldier. He may have spent years and years on the battle fields leading armies and defeating enemies, but he can't resist her innocent beauty and straightforward tongue. Despite his reluctance to surrender his heart to any woman after a former lover had demolished his life, Lucas is won by Phoebe's gentle manners and quick wit. A clear declaration of love won't be easily yielded by our emotionally armored soldier, 

"...when dealing with matters of the heart, [Phoebe's] fearless warrior husband turned tail and headed for the hills."

But he tremendously enjoys his wife and while his heart lacks the eloquence, his actions will speak volumes. The author's clever choice to bring the lead characters close together from the start, sets the scene for some warm "interactions", incandescent I would say. In the cozy isolation of his country estate, and with the aid of a festive Christmas spirit, Lucas conducts a "sensual assault" that will breech Phoebe's inhibitions and crumble his own emotional barriers.
The introduction of a secondary plot thread, that doesn't really get thick except for the final pages, serves the purpose of enhancing the conflict and test the trust issues between the newly weds. With weak-in-the-knees romance, sexual chemistry a go-go, and as sumptuous as equally accurate descriptions of holiday traditions, His Mistletoe Bride will bring the winter temperatures up a notch or two.

***Review based on a complimentary copy graciously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased opinion

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

EMBRYO by J. A. Schneider

Kindle Edition

Published May 18th 2012 by Amazon Digital Services 
Genre: medical thriller, romantic suspense, science fiction
Rating: 5 stars

In its ambition to treat human infertility and genetic disorders, Madison Hospital Medical Center has pioneered advanced and acclaimed techniques for the early diagnosis and treatment of birth defects and inherited diseases. But in doing so, it may have crossed the line of what is considered ethically legitimate. When in less than twenty four hours, four different OB/GYN patients see their pregnancies and their lives end in an unexpectedly tragic way, a brave and promising intern (Jill Raney) won't stop in front of what is too easily dismissed as isolated and tragic coincidences. In order to find the answers, Jill will put her career and her very life (as well as the name and the life of brilliant resident doctor David Levine) on the line of fire.
I enjoyed it immensely! A very entertaining and well-conceived medical thriller, gripping from the first dramatic scene to the white-knuckle finale.  Driven by interesting and full-drawn characters, as well as a tantalizing pace, and a thought-provoking story-line, this highly suspenseful debut novel by self-published author A. J. Schneider had me on the edge of my seat for the vast majority of its eventful and highly-descriptive chapters. Leading to the momentous final pages, the author breaks up Embryo's pulse-pounding narrative with the pleasant injection of a tenuous romance and sparse, although effective, love scenes. I congratulate the author on her tasteful and wise use of sensual chemistry as a narrative tool to advance plot and character development. The female protagonist initially lacks the cool detachment that usually characterizes the spunky heroines from many a suspense novel, but she is sheer determination in doc scrubs, and despite her emotional outbreaks and show of vulnerability in front of the tragic outcome of some ER situations, she comes through as an endearing character capable of beating a system that would like to cover up its wrongs and seal her mouth. Meticulously researched and solidly rooted in human biology, Schneider's use of  medical terminology (especially obstetrics and genetics) is robust but not overwhelming, quite interesting rather. It enhances the realistic effect with the use of accurate medical facts and procedures that are certainly  not unfamiliar among the fans of this genre, and not beyond whomever retains memory of the basics of human genetics or has experienced pregnancies and maternity.
A fearless and vulnerable heroine, a charming and protective hero, an ambitious and controversial fertility expert, acclaimed for his pioneering work in human reproduction,  an imposing medical institution renown for its researches and breakthroughs in prenatal diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders, an ethical debate, a malignant genius, and a final plot twist that you won't take for granted, Embryo has it all. For me it was a skillful and intelligent concoction of  suspense and science fiction, an absolute page-turner. My only minor complaint, if any, is that the novel could have used an epilogue: the closure, although not rushed and actually well built in terms of suspense and climactic resolution, needed to deflate in some sort of tension relief, maybe even with a shift of focus on the romantic involvement between our lead characters.  All in all, yet another pleasant surprise from the usually underestimated world of indie authors.

*Review based on a complimentary e-copy provided by the author in return of an unbiased opinion.

To know more about J. A. Schneider, please visit her on
Barnes & Noble

Monday, December 3, 2012

TOUCH OF A THIEF by Mia Marlowe GIVEAWAY: "And the winner is..."

And the winner is...

Emily Tardy

Congratulations, Emily! Please check your email. To all the other contestants, thank you for participating. You haven't won this time, but keep stopping by the blog with your comments for more reviews and exciting giveaways.

Monday, November 26, 2012



Paperback, 223 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Sebastian Cole LLC
Genre: contemporary novel, romance, romantic fantasy
Rating : 5 stars

What if you lost your true soul mate, the one person in life you were meant to be with? Would your love ever truly die? Not if you’re Noah Hartman, who refuses to let go of Robin after she inexplicably abandons their love and disappears from his life seemingly forever, her hidden secret yet to be discovered.

And when you finally accept your fate and do your best to move on with your life, what do you say when the unthinkable happens: your true love Robin reappears as your wedding ceremony to another woman is about to commence, looks deep into your soul with her loving, tear-filled eyes, and tells you the one thing you’ve desperately longed to hear for all of these years?

But the ending to this heart-wrenching love story has yet to be written, as Noah, old and sick in a hospital bed, tells his story of love and loss to Josh, a wise orderly at Mount Sinai Hospital. As his family members arrive to bid him goodbye, Noah discovers a far greater truth about his past, present, and future. Things are definitely not as they appear as the pieces of a shattered love are put back together in the remarkable final chapter of Noah’s life.

What an exquisitely romantic story! Utterly heart-wrenching in its tragedy, absolutely gratifying in its resolution. Far from being a mellow romance novel, the author deepened and enriched the shadows of widely exploited tropes (lost love and second chances) with more introspective and dramatic tones, tragic elements and a mind-blowing ending. Although frequently referred to as a romantic fantasy, I wouldn't say that Cole's soulful debut novel falls in that clear-cut category, being the otherworldly element not a dominant feature throughout the narration, as much  as an imaginative touch that the author used very lightly and that found its culmination only at the end of the book.
Lying in a hospital bed, eighty year old Noah Hartman offers to a compassionate medical orderly a bitter-sweet recount of his love life. As past events and present-time regretful considerations unfold  in front of our eyes with the fluidity, accuracy and comfortable pace of a movie script, Noah takes us for an emotional trip down memory lane, leading the readers through his heartbreaking quest for love and the countless obstacles that external forces, prejudices, and twists of fate placed on his path to happiness. What makes this story of undying love so poignant and inspiring is the combination of two very fragile and vibrant characters and the incredible resiliency of their mutual feelings. I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of compassion for Noah and Robin. Their back-stories may be marked by environmental and genetic traits that will act as invisible and sometimes unexplained forces against the fulfillment of their love (Noah's Jewish background and family's hostility to Robin, Robin's tragic past and lack of emotional stability), but true love has a way to reveal itself in "a moment of truth and clarity" and to lead two soul mates through the storms and the rough seas, like a compass to its true north.
Keep a tissue box close by while reading this evocative novel...Sand Dollar won't leave your soul and your eyes dry. 

*Review based on a complimentary copy graciously offered by the author in return of an unbiased opinion.

To know more about Sebastian Cole, please visit him at

Saturday, November 24, 2012

TOUCH OF A SCOUNDREL (Touch Of Seduction #3) by Mia Marlowe + GIVEAWAY

Paperback, 310 pages
Published August 1st 2012 by Brava
Genre: historical romance novel, Victorian England
Rating: 4.5 stars

London, 1860. 
Griffin (known as "Devon"), thirty year old Earl of Devonwood,  has a gift. He is a seer, a person endowed with the ability to glimpse the future by touching inanimate objects, a birthright inherited from his mother "just as directly as his raven hair and storm gray eyes". For the last sixteen years he's been tormented by guilt:  Devon blames himself and the inaccuracy of one of his visions for the accidental death of his father. Since that day, "Griffin's boyhood slipped away forever", on his narrow shoulders the heavy responsibilities of an earldom, a mother and two younger siblings. 
Emmaline Farnsworth, fresh American beauty and upstart commoner, is the daughter of a scholar and egyptologist. She may not be the most suitable match for the brother of an earl, and Devon will do whatever he can as head of the family to prevent such an ill-suited engagement. But Devon's younger sibling, Theodore, thinks himself in love with her and ready to propose: in Emma's capable and self-assertive personality Theo, who grew up in the  shadow of his brooding older brother, has found  the perfect match for his own feckless and  amiable personality; in Emma's father (Monty Farnsworth) he has met a great mentor and a surrogate father figure capable to bestow knowledge without overshadowing his yielding personality. 
Sadly, and with a good amount of guilt on her part, Emma doesn't return Theo's feelings and yet she hasn't done much to discourage his courtship: to complicate the matter, after a first encounter with his older brother Devon, and judging from the visceral reaction that affects both of them, it's clear where the romance will blossom...against their better judgment. 
There's more to Emma and his scholar father than meets the eye, in fact: they're not who they claim to be. With the aid of a fake Egyptian artifact, this  couple of skilful con artists plans to swindle Theo into funding an Egyptian expedition, flee with the money and settle in a sanatorium on the German Alps where Emma's father will hopefully restore his rapidly deteriorating health. Consumption is killing him and this scheme may be the last good opportunity they have to provide Monty with the proper therapy for his unforgiving ailment. Not to mention the effects their vagabond life-style and lack of stability is having on Emma, wearing her soul as quickly as lines and illness are marking Monty's face at every turn of the seasons. More than the riches, the luxury of permanence calls to her. 
It will be a fortuitous "touch" between Devon and Emma to unveil, through allegorical and accurate visions of sizzling passion, occult enemies, and lurking dangers, how deeply and inevitably connected their destinies are.
I really liked this historical romance novel, with all its emotional complexity. I am not a big fan of love triangles, but the plot, enriched by a light paranormal twist, was original and captivating. I loved Mia Marlowe's writing style, her prose always elegant and eloquent, her descriptions exquisitely vivid, the sensuality incandescent and yet tasteful. Being the heroine a confidence artist, I didn't necessarily admire her, but the author managed to portray her as a sympathetic character with the depths, the lights and the  shadows of a young woman who was born an orphan, raised in foster care and whose only family is an adoptive father who deceits wealthy and gullible victims for a living. With her genuine feelings of guilt and gratitude for Theo and her deeply passionate love for Devon, she eventually redeems herself. The suspenseful element, the references to occultist practices and the supernatural qualities of the male protagonist are not heavily exploited and they are packed mainly in the final chapters of the novel. What really defines the storyline is the emotional conflict playing between Devon, Emma and Theo; Devon's visions act more as windows on the ineluctability of their love and perfect narrative devices to advance the plot and reveal the most basic truth about human relationships: laws of attraction are hard to defy. Absolutely delectable!

*Complimentary copy graciously provided by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased opinion. 


The publisher would like to offer a copy of TOUCH OF A THIEF ( book #1 in the Touch Of Seduction series) to a lucky commenter. Drop a comment about this review or any of Mia Marlowe's novels and kindly include your email address  for a chance to win. Contest open only to US and Canada residents.  

TOUCH OF A THIEF ( Touch Of Seduction #1) by Mia Marlowe

Paperback, 274 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by Brava 
Genre: historical romance novel
Lady Viola Preston is careful to wear gloves when she steals jewels. When she touches a gemstone with her bare skin, it speaks to her, sending disturbing visions. Still more disturbing is the handsome rogue who catches her red-handed.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Kindle Edition
Published September 2011 by Apocryphile Press 
Genre: memoirs, autobiography

Amazon blurb
Readers of "Ruby’s World – My Journey with the Zulu" demanded answers!

In "Unlocking the Dream", Karen Baldwin shares her intimate dream of a one-breasted heroine that drives her through an intense journey of healing and self-determination. Not satisfied to merely survive a heart attack and breast cancer, Karen demands that her dreams dictate a purpose and path for her life.

In response, her nights explode with colorful images that lead her to travel alone to a Zulu village in South Africa. Once there, what begins as a joyous adventure becomes a crushing and inexplicable betrayal.
Dreams nurture and guide our souls’ contracts. Join Karen Baldwin’s compelling adventure and decide for yourself: Has she unlocked the key elements of her dreams, or is she still on the journey?

– Wanda Burch – Author of "She Who Dreams" 


Karen Baldwin would like to offer UNLOCKING THE DREAM, the prequel to Ruby's  World (read my review here), for FREE! To receive your FREE COPY click HERE, enter your information in the form provided, and you'll receive an email with the link to your free copy. THIS OFFER IS VALID ONLY UNTIL NOVEMBER 30.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Kindle Edition
Published 2011 by Apocryphile Press 
Genre: memoirs, autobiography
Rating: 5 stars plus

"My hope of making a big difference  may have been naive. Not trying would have been worse."

What a terrific book! Knowing that there are people like Karen Baldwin in this world warmed my heart...reading about the incredible challenges she had to face in her attempt to bring hope and relief to the children of a small rural village in South Africa broke my heart and had me in tears...learning to which extent her life had been in danger and how close the threats were the entire time she spent in Zinti, made my blood run cold...understanding how stubbornly some cultures resist and fear change simply disheartening...having faith that some day these cultures will embrace the change and keep working toward that goal, very hard but necessary.
Sometimes the most riveting stories don't need to be pieces of pure fictional fabrication populated by imaginary characters. In 2008 Karen Baldwin, heart-attack and breast-cancer survivor, decided to leave her San Francisco life behind and spend three months in a South African rural village, teaching English at a local elementary school.  Her life changing experience as the first white teacher among the Zulu started as a humanitarian dream but ended up as a nightmare, unexpectedly and at the hands of the same people who had warmly welcomed and hosted her. Only few weeks after her arrival in the rural village of Zinti, in fact, her journey came dramatically to an end, turning out to be completely different from what she had anticipated.
Karen's struggle with language barriers, her sense of dislocation and isolation,  the environmental and cultural hostility, even the abominable "social practices" (infants scarification, female genital mutilation, black magic) that played in front of her candid outsider eyes, didn't prevent her from bonding with her host (Ruby) and her family:

"As a guest in their culture I'm committed to being an observer, not a critic."

But Karen felt absolutely powerless and deflated in front of the most fundamental differences between Ruby's world and the fortunate and privileged condition we get to enjoy as citizens of a western democracy: for us it's easier to bridge the gap between the way things are and the way we want them to be. In the African continent, so often considered the "womb" of the human race, thick layers of ancient traditions, cultural prejudices and gender discriminations set insurmountable  barriers on the way to freedom and social justice.
I was deeply touched by this outstanding account of Karen Baldwin's true life experience in the heart of traditional Africa. In the form of a daily journal, her well-paced and fluid narration opens a window on the ongoing tragedy of a continent torn between  taboos, gender inequities, power struggles and shifting loyalties. Not only Karen's memoirs put in a new perspective our own starry-eyed views in matter of human rights and democratic society, they also teach that with bitterness and tragedy comes the powerful seed of hope.
A real jaw dropper...a work of fiction couldn't have been written with more soul and deeper emotional intensity. Thought-provoking, suspenseful, engaging at all times, this excellent book was effortlessly well-paced and executed with a captivating and vibrant writing style. Highly recommended.

*This review is based on a complimentary e-copy kindly offered by DM Productions LLC in return of an unbiased opinion. 


The author would like to offer UNLOCKING THE DREAM, the prequel to Ruby's  World, for FREE! To receive your FREE COPY click HERE, enter your information in the form provided, and you'll receive an email with the link to your free copy. THIS OFFER IS VALID ONLY UNTIL NOVEMBER 30.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS by BreeAnn Fisher and Debra Venti

THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS by BreeAnn Fisher and Debra Venti

Paperback, 24 pages
Published July 31st 2012 by Tate Publishing & Enterprises 
Genre: illustrated children's book
Rating: 5 stars

We all know the story, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, but what happens after? Spoiled on Christmas sweets and presents, this family needs an intervention with the wonderful and loving Nanny Elf, who teaches everyone that Christmas is about more than just 'stuff'. Join authors BreeAnn Fisher and Debra Venti for a humorous twist on a Christmas classic in The Night After Christmas. 
In this charming illustrated book for children, furniture industry veteran Debra Venti and  soon-to-be-graduated daughter BreeAnn Fisher spin the tale of how wise and wonderful "Nanny Elf" rescued a family from the false and empty values that too often we associate with one of our most meaningful and spiritual traditions. With clever rhyming, enchanting musicality, and humorous vignettes, this inspirational Christmas tale will warm your heart and enlighten children (as well as adults) on the true meaning and spirit of the holiday season. Perfect stocking stuffer. 

*Complimentary copy graciously offered by the authors in return of an unbiased opinion

Friday, November 9, 2012

SUDDENLY YOU by Lisa Kleypas

SUDDENLY YOU by Lisa Kleypas

Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 28th 2006 by Avon Books
Genre: historical romance novel, Victorian romance
Rating: 5 stars

If the ocean was made of Lisa Kleypas' historical romance novels I would gladly drown in it! The deeper I read through her backlist titles, the more startling the storylines, the more dazzling the characters, the more poignant the love stories.
Ms. Kleypas is currently and admirably expanding the scope of her story-telling in her contemporary romance series Friday Harbor (read my reviews of Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake) with the introduction of subtle and graceful touches of magic realism. But it's yet another historical romance novel (one of her earliest actually, originally published in 2001) to solidify her status as a master of her craft...her story-telling abilities are simply incomparable,  her prose technically strong, her writing style always meticulous and highly-descriptive, her tales always enchanting and heart-warming. 
So, through tantalizing dialogues, strong romantic and sensual focus, vivid characterization of lead couple and Victorian setting, Kleypas delivers  another stunning exploration of that clash between moral settings and unbridled passion featured in many of her historical novels. She brings together two unforgettable characters, ushering them quite deftly in the midst of fateful turns, over-the-top  sexual chemistry, drama, and life-changing decisions.
Proper Amanda Briars, the spinster novelist "with her quills and papers and ink-stained fingers" is a recognized figure in London literature circles. At the age of twenty-nine she is still unmarried and enjoying her independence too much to relinquish it. She has friends, a comfortable home, an interesting and profitable occupation. The truth of the matter is that she is afraid of men, always had an awkward kind of relationship with them...never really flirted with them, inspired respect and admiration maybe, but always kept them at distance. Her position in society as a respected spinster and writer represents a safe zone, where men and the disappointments they usually bring along are not allowed. As the time goes by, Amanda feels like she is missing out on something that every woman should experience at least once in a lifetime, an experience that would certainly help her with her researches and writing process. On the eve of her thirtieth birthday, Amanda decides to "hire" a lover for a one-night stand, but for a delicious twist of fate the gorgeous man that shows up at her door is not the gigolo she was expecting.
John T. Devlin ("Jack") is a notorious and high-profile figure in London's literary society, a man with a mysterious background, questionable moral ethics and ruthless business practices, but with a golden touch that helped him transform a small printing shop into the largest publishing house in the city, and quickly rise to astounding power and wealth. Cast-off son of a member of the aristocracy, he grew up between his father's rejection and the physical abuses and violent practices of the Knatchford Heath School, a place where education and upbringing had the sound of whip lashes and the taste of food deprivation. His imposing shoulders and magnificent back are the scarred map of harsh punishments, sometimes undeserved but gladly and silently taken in order to protect smaller and weaker kids. No wonder the man who's now dominating the British publishing field is as driven as ruthless: hunger, anger, and revenge are great motivators, but they starve the body as much they embitter the soul.
Physical descriptions and character development easily brought to my mind the familiar faces of Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe, starring as John Thornton and Margaret Hale in the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, another distinguished and beloved couple among historical romance fans.

After their first fortuitous and rather "steamy encounter" (mind you, Suddenly You is probably one of the most scorchingly sensual romance novels  Kleypas has ever written), they shift their relationship to a mere business level. Devlin, in fact, convinces Amanda, author of standard three-volumes novels, to convert her past production into serialized editions, normally considered of less quality but more and more popular among readers, not to mention more profitable. Restraining their relationship to a mere publishing agreement will be too hard, though. The chemistry between our lead characters is too tempting and far too irresistible. Sizzling love scene after sizzling love scene, Devlin and Amanda carry their affair on a path of uninhibited passion and sensual exploration that will  relentlessly lead them to a much deeper emotional attachment. But they will be both held back by personal demons and moral brakes to be able to admit and embrace their mutual feelings without going through conflicting emotions, stupid pride and heart-wrenching misunderstandings. The resolution of this steamy and poignant love story will be as heart-warming as ever. In this respect as in many others, Lisa Kleypas never fails to enchant. A remarkable milestone in the historical romance field. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 29, 2012

TURNING UP THE HEAT by Laura Florand

ebook, 110 pages
Published October 2012 by AOS Publishing 
Genre: contemporary romance novella, women's fiction
Rating: 5 stars plus

Daniel: "Léa - when a man climbs a glass mountain, it's not usually for the damn golden apple. It's for the person he gives the apple to."

Léa: "I  gave all of me to you" she said, low, muffled. She had never even realized it before. All of her. To him. To everyone else. "And I didn't even get you back for it. You were too busy."

Daniel: "You've always made me feel like I was your whole world. To the point that if you stopped believing in me, I think I wouldn't exist. [...] You've got to admit, it's a beautiful irony, chérie. I gave myself up for you. You gave yourself up for me. And we're here scrabbling to find enough of each other we can hold onto."

How often in our married life we loose the ability to hear the words that are not spoken? How easily married couples grow apart and drift away from each other under the crushing pressure of hard work, business responsibilities and pursuit of success? How many times bonds and  emotional connection between two lovers are shuttered because our hearts sometimes speak different "love languages" and the same emotions are expressed in different manners? Even the most solid love match may fall victim of mixed signals and heart-wrenching misunderstandings. 
When a driven, dominant, perfectionist Daniel, and a yielding, generous and selfless a met, they were immediately drawn to each other, like an arrow to its target. Him, the young and ambitious kitchen protégé of an acclaimed three-star restaurant, all energy and unfailing will. Her, the owner's young and adoring daughter, creative and artsy, all sweet charm and pliant warmth. Love between the two teenagers was fresh and intense like a fragrant jasmine flower in bloom, unfaltering even under the overwhelming weight of a's father's death. A nineteen year old Daniel proposed to a right away, taking the reins of the restaurant and providing for his wife's younger siblings at the same time. Taking the reins of their lives and their family business with the same endless energy that has now brought Daniel, eleven years later, on the top of the culinary world as the most sought-after chef. Completely absorbed by their all-consuming topnotch restaurant, tv appearances and consultancies around the world, Daniel and a lose sight of each other. Too often it happens in a marriage that we take our partners for granted, as if they were the fixed stars of our personal constellation. Daniel's endless supply of energy, his unwavering dedication to his profession and the success of the restaurant, his very larger-than-life personality have always filled a's heart with pride, but over time those same things started to smother her, making her feel small and inadequate, even unable to pursue her own dreams of an artistic career and preserve her own identity. During one of Daniel's many travels overseas, a tired and atrophied a escapes to Tahiti to take a break and find herself, throwing Daniel's into a panic and a deep state of uncertainty:

"[He] realized she had been slipping through his fingers for months, like water he was trying too hard to hold. Panicked as if he literally would be wiped out of existence without that love".

He will follow her to the end of the world to make her understand that she is the driving force that fuels his engine, the reason of his accomplishments, the granite base on which his whole world stands on. Her nurturing love, her sweet and infectiously happy personality have a re-stabilizing influence on the frantic life of the renown top chef.

" He got through the day just on the promise that sometime that night he would be able to smell her hair. Oh, shit, he could not go home to an empty bed that did not smell of her. He couldn't. He couldn't do it."

So, in the exotic frame of a tropical paradise, surrounded by the luxuriant beauty of a French Polinesian island,  Léa and Daniel will find each other again, finally turning up the heat of their relationship, giving shape and substance to unfulfilled erotic dreams, unbridling their passion in surges of sizzling sensuality and heart-tugging emotional connection.  
What an enchantingly sensual and romantic read this was! In her new novella, Laura Florand delivers another intense and insightful portrait of the workings of the human heart.  Brace yourselves...this exquisite and love-filled tale will engage you and inflame your senses with heart-warming romance and steamy sensuality.

Laura Florand is the author of luscious and sensual romantic comedies. Her latest full length novel, The Chocolate Thief (read my review here), is the first installment of The Chocolate series. The Chocolate Kiss, book #2 , will be released on December 24th 2012.

*A complimentary e-copy was generously offered by the author in return of an unbiased opinion.

Friday, October 26, 2012

POPPED OFF (Stay At Home Dad Mysteries #2) by Jeffrey Allen

POPPED OFF (Stay At Home Dad Mysteries #2) by Jeffrey Allen

Paperback, 281 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Kensington
Genre: cozy mystery novel 
Rating: 4.5 stars

"As usual, I was the only male in the room, the rest of the waiting parents being moms who were either just coming or on the way to spinning class or a tennis match or whatever else the moms of Rose Petal did during the day. I was an anomaly in Rose Petal - a father who stayed at home - and was regularly viewed with a raised eyebrow whenever I ventured somewhere new during a time of the day when most other dads were at a desk."

The uneventful life of a happy and proud "full-time dad" turned into a much more exciting deal when in book #1 (Stay At Home Dead) Deuce Winter decided to become a part-time detective. In this hilarious new installment of the Stay At Home Dad Mysteries series, the small Texas town Rose Petal has to deal with the disappearance of the president of the local youth soccer league and the theft of all its funds.  With the help of his quirky and unlikely business partner, Deuce will solve the mystery  and restore the order in the palsy-walsy community of Rose Petal, while successfully juggling his jobs as a full-time caring parent of a four year old girl, household manager, and loving husband of a high-profile attorney. 
This was a down-right funny read and a very good combination of clever mystery plot and hilarious situations, frothing with lough-out-loud dialogues, quirky characters (how to forget Deuce's dad ranting over Facebook, the midgety business partner Victor, or the air-headed but ruthless girls from the college sorority group) and, surprisingly, even with some very tender and romantic moments, the more so intriguing because written from a male's point of view. I am really starting to appreciate the comedic relief of the cozy mystery genre and I strongly believe that the ability of injecting spot-on humor in every compartment of a story (plotting, characterization, dialogues) takes natural talent as well as a considerable amount of writing skills. Therefore I wholeheartedly recommend The Stay At Home Dad Mysteries series. Pick it up from the prequel (Stay At Home Dead, book #1) and keep an eye on the upcoming third installment Father Knows Death, book #3

About the author
Jeffrey Allen is the alter-ego of national best selling mystery writer Jeff Shelby. He is a recovering stay at home dad who now teaches high school English and coaches basketball. A graduate of the University of California, Irvine, he currently lives with his daughter in the suburbs of Dallas, TX. To know more about this author, visit his website

*Review based on a complimentary copy graciously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased opinion

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TRICK OR READ! A treat for every reader from my Halloween book basket #4

Trick or treat! Give me something good to read...

That time of the year when many of us will bring their glycemic index through the roof is just around the corner. So, together with those devilish mini candy bars and a list of hotline numbers to the best dentists in the area, I am stuffing my Halloween treat basket with a few book recommendations in a variety of genres...cozy mystery lovers, horror, and young adults, paranormal and shapeshifters fans, these treats are for you.

Mass Market Paperback, 323 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Signet
Genre: cozy mystery, fantasy, contemporary romance, paranormal (witches) 

Katie Lightfoot's tired of loafing around as the assistant manager of an Ohio bakery. So when her aunt Lucy and uncle Ben open a bakery in Savannah's quaint downtown district and ask Katie to join them, she enthusiastically agrees.While working at the Honeybee Bakery—named after Lucy's cat—Katie notices that her aunt is adding mysterious herbs to her recipes. Turns out these herbal enhancements aren't just tasty—Aunt Lucy is a witch and her recipes are actually spells! When a curmudgeonly customer is murdered outside the Honeybee Bakery, Uncle Ben becomes the prime suspect. With the help of handsome journalist Steve Dawes, charming firefighter Declan McCarthy, and a few spells, Katie and Aunt Lucy stir up some toil and trouble to clear Ben's name and find the real killer...

Hardcover, 376 pages
Published February 13th 2007 by William Morrow
Genre: horror, fantasy, paranormal novel (ghosts)

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre -- his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman's noose, Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, etc. -- so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it. The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker's sanity.

DARKNESS DAWNS by Dianne Duvall
Paperback, 345 pages
Published March 3rd 2011 by Zebra
Genre: paranormal romance novel (vampires)

In this dazzling, sensual novel, Dianne Duvall beckons readers into a world of vampires, immortals, and humans with extraordinary gifts…where passion can last forever, if you’re willing to pay the price…Once, Sarah Bingham’s biggest challenge was making her students pay attention in class. Now, after rescuing a wounded stranger, she’s landed in the middle of a battle between corrupt vampires and powerful immortals who also need blood to survive. Roland Warbrook is the most compelling man Sarah has ever laid hands on. But his desire for her is mingled with a hunger he can barely control…In his nine centuries of immortal existence, no woman has tempted Roland as much as Sarah. But asking her to love him is impossible—when it means forfeiting the world she’s always known, and the life he would do anything to protect.

HOW TO LOSE A DEMON IN 10 DAYS by Savanna DeWylde
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 28th 2012 by Kensington Brava 
Genre: paranormal romance novel (demons), urban fantasy

Grace does. She's got more demon than she can saddle. In fact, she's got a sinfully sexy Crown Prince of Hell named Caspian. She's also got ten days to get rid of him or Bad Things shall ensue. See, her Russian mobster ex-boyfriend didn't take kindly to her smutty Mephistophelean contract. It's not that she's conspiring with fiends; that was his idea. It's that she's conspiring against him with outrageous devilry that runs the gamut from embarrassing to a dead hooker turned dominatrix demon gunning for his soul. One should never trust demons, let alone shag them. They don't have hearts. Yet Grace is buying hers some slightly tarnished armor and hoping that once he's been shoveled into it, kicking and screaming, he'll find it's just his size. This wicked witch needs a white knight--or at least a Prince of Darkness for a Happily Ever After.

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published August 20th 2009 by Dutton Juvenile 
Genre: illustrated children's book
When Miss Smith reads from her magical book, the worlds she describes come alive - literally! Today Miss Smith is taking her class on a field trip to a deliciously spooky library. There the class meets librarian Virginia Creeper and settles down to listen to a few scary tales. Before long everyone's favorite creepy characters are stalking the library and a haunted party is in full swing. So . . . who's for taking a ride with the Headless Horseman? This richly illustrated, colorfully designed story captures the thrill of letting imagination run wild.

Spooky, sexy, cozy, funny...different flavors, great Halloween reads!