Romance Reviews, October 15, 2011

SEASONAL SPARKLERS Whether cozy and family-centered or action-packed and adventurous, lively and urban or peaceful and rural, passionate and steamy or subdued and tender, this year’s crop of holiday romances continues the long-standing tradition of providing something for everyone. Not surprisingly, romances focusing on small towns and communities as well as stories linked by theme or character are particularly popular, and novellas in anthologies will often have connections to the author’s other titles. So grab a cup of coffee or a mug of tea, help yourself to the cookies, and settle in for some holiday cheer! [Although romances are reprinted year-round, holiday reissues are especially prolific. Unfortunately, these are not always billed as reprints. It might take some digging, but it is usually worth double-checking to find out.] Also, check out LJ‘s e-original/e-only romance reviews in Xpress Reviews.

Alexander, Victoria. His Mistress by Christmas. Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780758255679. $19.95. HISTORICAL
Independent and happy to be widowed, Lady Veronica Smithson is looking for a lover, not a husband. But when she sets her sights on explorer Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater, she neglects to consider his skillful determination and need to marry. Soon, Veronica is caught up in a game of seduction that sweeps the pair from town to country in a deliciously unpredictable holiday drama that sparkles with humor, overflows with assorted family members, and relates the most memorable Christmas ever. VERDICT Smart and sexy, filled with witty banter and stellar writing, this lively Victorian jaunt pairs a free-thinking, unconventional heroine with a footloose hero in a glorious battle of the sexes. Alexander (The Perfect Mistress) lives in Omaha.

Brown, Carolyn. Darn Good Cowboy Christmas. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Oct. 2011. c.384p. ISBN 9781402261572. pap. $7.99. CONTEMPORARY
All her life, carny-raised Lizelle Hanson has dreamed of having a home with no wheels. So when her uncle gives her his small ranch, she jumps at the chance to fulfill her dream. The last person she expects to find looking after the house is sexy cowboy Raylen O’Donnell. Despite dire predictions from her family (and doubts from Raylen’s), Liz is determined to stay. While her carny talents and free-spirited upbringing make for some interesting moments and the carnival lure still draws her in, Lizelle finds no match for the irresistible passion that sizzles between herself and Raylen. VERDICT Sassy and quirky and peopled with an abundance of engaging characters, this fast-paced holiday romp brims with music, laughter, intriguing carnival detail, and plenty of Texas flavor. A classic battle between wings and roots that is sure to please Brown’s growing Western fan base. Brown (Red’s Hot Cowboy) lives in Oklahoma but has a soft spot for Texas. [Library marketing.]

Burrowes, Grace. Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Oct. 2001. c.416p. ISBN 9781402261541. pap. $7.99.HISTORICAL
Thrown together by chance and the vicious London weather, Lady Sophia Windham and Wilhelm (Vim) Charpentier, Lord Sindal, suddenly find themselves snowed in, in charge of a baby abandoned by Sophie’s maid. They face a growing attraction for each other, as well as an attachment to the child, while not knowing each other’s true identity. Passion soon flares, but it isn’t until Sophie’s three brothers finally arrive that they sort things out and set things to rights. But then life just becomes more complicated. VERDICT Supremely sexy, emotionally involving, and graced with well-written dialog, this gently paced, baby-centered story is a fascinating, enjoyable read and nicely connects with the author’s earlier books (The Heir; The Soldier). Burrowes lives in rural Maryland. [Library marketing.]

Carr, Robyn. Bring Me Home for Christmas. Mira: Harlequin. (Virgin River). Nov. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780778312710. pap. $7.99. CONTEMPORARY
Sensing that her law student boyfriend is about to pop the question and unsure of her feelings for an old flame, second-grade teacher Becca Timm talks her twin brother into taking her on a guys-only hunting and fishing trip with his ex-Marine buddies. Her secret goal? To see Denny Cutler, her former boyfriend who has settled in Virgin River, and to assure herself that the fire that once burned so hotly between them is definitely extinguished. But when a broken ankle keeps Becca in town longer than she expected, she reluctantly moves in with Denny. The enforced togetherness gives them time to sort out their past‚ and make sure they don’t let another chance at happiness slip through their fingers. VERDICT Virgin River once again springs to vivid life, this time with all the warmth and sparkle of the holiday season, as the talented Carr weaves another touching, insightful tale of love, understanding, and forgiveness and offers a couple a welcoming place to call home. Carr (Harvest Moon) lives in Las Vegas.

Leigh, Lora & others. Tied with a Bow. Berkley Sensation: Penguin Group (USA). Nov. 2011. c.432p. ISBN 9780425243299. pap. $15. PARANORMAL
Four talented romance authors team up with lively novellas that put a seductive, supernatural spin on the holidays. A fallen angel meets a woman he saved from death as a child in Virginia Kantra’s Upon a Midnight Clear, the Regency-set prequel to her Children of the Sea series. In a world filled with half-human vampires (ventala), demons, muses, archangels, and assorted folk, a young journalist rescues a time traveler and is plunged into a miraculous adventure in Kimberly Frost’s First Light, a novella that launches her new paranormal series. Unaccustomed to interacting with humans, a member of the Lupi spends the holidays with his mate’s human Wiccan family with interesting results in Eileen Wilks’s Human Error. A Coyote Breed enforcer must claim his mate when her actions put her in danger in Leigh’s latest addition to her popular Breed series, An Inconvenient Mate. VERDICT This sizzling quartet of holiday-linked erotic paranormal romances is just the thing to warm up a wintry night; perfect for readers who like their reading with a sexy, otherworldly edge.

McCarthy, Erin & others. Unwrapped. Brava: Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780758251329. pap. $15. CONTEMPORARY
Chilling winter weather sweeps from downtown Chicago and a snowy Kentucky highway to a wild Scottish isle, wreaking havoc‚ and romance‚ for the characters in this sexy Christmas trilogy. A slippery road lands a hairstylist in the arms of a toy designer when they are trapped by a blizzard and end up sharing a motel room in McCarthy’s sultry Blue Christmas; a basket weaver and a wary bachelor solicitor finally come to terms with their feelings for each other in Donna Kauffman’s Santa in a Kilt; and a couple who once shared a night of ski resort passion meet again in a Chicago department store and end up snowbound when a blizzard shuts the city down in Kate Angell’s creative Snow Angel. VERDICT Gorgeous, sexy heroes are just waiting to be unwrapped in this crackling anthology that is guaranteed to steam up the windows this holiday season.

eShalvis, Jill & others. Small Town Christmas. Forever: Grand Central. Nov. 2011. c.147p. eISBN 9781455513611. EPUB $2.99. CONTEMPORARY
Small-town settings are all the rage, especially at Christmas, and in this funny, heartwarming collection of short stories, three popular authors take readers home for the holidays to very different but equally enjoyable communities that are linked to each author’s continuing series. A champion NASCAR driver returns to Lucky Harbor, WA, in hopes of claiming the one woman he can’t get out of his mind in Shalvis’s lively, laughter-laced Kissing Santa Claus. In her sweetly poignant I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Hope Ramsay showcases a bit of matchmaking magic (in the form of a bedraggled calico cat) when an ex-soldier arrives in Last Chance, SC, to deliver a gift from a fallen comrade and finds a woman to love and a place to call home. The love light dawns for quiet farmer Ethan Miller when his childhood best friend returns to Bramble, TX‚ seven years older and all grown up‚ in Katie Lane’s funny and charming O Little Town of Bramble. VERDICT Although fans of the various series are sure to enjoy these brief holiday forays, the stories will appeal to new readers as well and may just tempt them to make return visits. This e-only title might also entice print-only series fans into trying something new.

Thomas, Jodi & others. A Texas Christmas. Zebra: Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9781420119664. pap. $6.99. HISTORICAL
Cleverly linked by a devastating 1887 Texas blizzard and the panhandle town of Kasota Springs, the stories in this engaging anthology bring home the meaning of Christmas in diverse and touching ways. Thomas introduces two grade-school misfits who meet again when a reclusive farmer saves the mercantile owner from thugs and they end up trapped in his secluded home in One Wish: A Christmas Story. An ostracized lady saloon owner helps and in turn is helped by a wounded Bostonian in search of the pink bluebonnet in DeWanna Pace’s captivating Naughty or Nice. In Linda Broday’s realistic The Christmas Bell, a rancher sets out to rescue passengers stranded on a snowbound train and ends up trapped himself with a lovely, surprisingly capable banker’s daughter. A quiet blacksmith shelters a young widow and her children from the storm as well as from her difficult aunt in Phyliss Miranda’s heartwarming Away in the Manger. VERDICT Wintry, warm, and infinitely readable, this Western anthology of related stories is unusually satisfying‚ a winner for readers who like collections filled with Old West flavor.

Woods, Sherryl. An O’Brien Family Christmas. Mira: Harlequin. (Chesapeake Shores). Oct. 2011. c.288p. ISBN 9780778312703. $16.95. CONTEMPORARY
When a relationship with noted ladies’ man Matthew O’Brien ruins her career, Laila Riley impulsively breaks things off, but neither expects to end up going to Ireland for Christmas with the entire O’Brien clan. It seems Nell O’Brien is one determined grandmother (as well as a sly matchmaker), and when Laila and Matthew finally confront each other and agree to go, the stage is set for romance‚ just as Nell had planned. But Nell hadn’t counted on meeting in Dublin an old love of her own‚ something that has her grandchildren speculating, one overprotective son tied up in knots, and Nell, herself, faced with unexpected options. VERDICT Heart-melting, poignant, and romantic, this year’s O’Brien family holiday celebration overlays the warm, hectic joy of the season with a dash of conflict and a touch of the Irish. A memorable, multilayered story. Woods (Beach Lane) divides her time between Colonial Beach, VA, and Key Biscayne, FL.

Freethy, Barbara. Garden of Secrets. Pocket Star: S. & S. (Angel’s Bay, Bk. 5). Oct. 2011. c.384p. ISBN 9781451636512. pap. $7.99. ROMANTIC MYSTERY
In an effort to avoid two rival beaus at a New Year’s Eve party, Dr. Charlotte Adams escapes upstairs at the stroke of midnight and suddenly finds herself a suspect in the robbery and assault of the sister of a woman she had issues with in high school. Old secrets and resentments bubble to the surface along with new threats and a few red herrings in this well-plotted romantic mystery that brings at least one deserving pair together, solves more than one puzzle, and will have readers anxiously turning pages until the very end. VERDICT With masterly flair and sensitivity and a sweet dusting of ghostly magic, Freethy delivers a stunning conclusion to her beloved Angel’s Bay series. The author (At Hidden Falls) lives in the San Francisco area.

Goodman, Jo. A Place Called Home. Zebra: Kensington. Dec. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780821774182. pap. $6.99. CONTEMPORARY
Caught off guard when they become joint guardians of three children after the parents, their dear friends, are killed in an accident, businesswoman Thea Wyndham and political cartoonist Mitchell Baker struggle with their grief, their situation, and their difficult significant others. They realize that neither is prepared to become a parent‚ and certainly not alone. But the children need them, and as they work to solve their separate dilemmas, Thea and Mitch discover that they need each other, as well. VERDICT Realistic, romantic, and infused with plenty of humor, this brilliantly executed, fearlessly sensual first contemporary title from an author who has made her name in historicals is a stunning success. While this reviewer wouldn’t want to see Goodman neglect the historical arena, another modern-day winner like this heartwarming novel would be more than welcome. Goodman (Kissing Comfort) lives in West Virginia.

Robb. J.D. & others. The Unquiet. Jove: Berkley: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780515149982. pap. $7.99. PARANORMAL
An appealing assortment of characters seek answers and, in some cases, internal quiet as they fight to make sense of a wide variety of strange happenings in this well-crafted anthology. Eve Dallas confronts a Jekyll and Hyde nightmare as she works to solve the gruesome murder of three recovering addicts in Robb’s gripping, futuristic Chaos in Death; a mysterious coin works its magic in unexpected ways in Mary Blayney’s Regency-set historical Her Greatest Treasure; a series of mis understandings centering on a phone psychic eventually reward the characters in Patricia Gaffney’s touching Dear One; a violent Highland ghost trapped in time resolves his issues with the help of a determined, fearless woman in Ruth Ryan Langan’s sensual Unforgiven; and a ghost finally succeeds in bringing peace to his guilt-ridden brother by means of a psychically susceptible children’s author in Mary Kay McComas’s mesmerizing, sometimes unsettling His Brother’s Keeper. VERDICT While not Halloween-specific, this superbly conceived paranormal collection includes everything you’ll need for a thrilling October read.

Roberts, Nora. The Next Always. Berkley: Penguin Group (USA). (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, Bk. 1). Nov. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780425243213. pap. $16. CONTEMPORARY
Up to his eyeballs in the details of working with his family’s contracting company to restore Boonsboro’s dilapidated historic hotel and turn it into an elegant, boutique bed-and-breakfast, architect/carpenter Beckett Montgomery has had little time for a social life. But when a brief, slightly enchanted moment in the shadowy hotel results in a near kiss between him and Clare Brewster, the woman he has been attracted to since high school, the stage is set for romance and a relationship neither had expected. A young war widow with three scrappy young sons; a hunky, caring, kid-friendly hero; two rambunctious trios of brothers; and the inn’s resident ghost trailing honeysuckle and silvery laughter make this another winner for Roberts. VERDICT Incorporating zingy humor, spot-on dialog, and a bone-deep understanding of brotherly relationships, Roberts has taken a page from her own life as the owner and restorer of the Inn BoonsBoro to launch what promises to be another winning trilogy‚ touching, funny, sweetly sexy, slightly paranormal, and just plain satisfying. Roberts (Chasing Fire) lives in Keedysville, MD (just a stone’s throw from Boonsboro).

Dailey, Janet. To Santa with Love. Zebra: Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9781420120738. pap. $6.99. CONTEMPORARY
Restless and taking a break from school, Jacquie Grey heads west and tangles with an Arizona rancher when she crashes into his truck and agrees to care for his son to pay for the repairs to her car. This is a revised and expanded version of The Master Fiddler, originally published by Mills & Boon in 1977.

Deveraux, Jude. The Black Lyon. Avon. Oct. 2011. c.276p. ISBN 9780380759118. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL
The forerunner to Deveraux’s beloved Montgomery series, this 13th-century historical, first published in 1980 and focusing on the tumultuous romance between Ranulf de Warbrooke and Lady Lyonene Tompkins, is one of the author’s earliest works. While not as polished as her later titles, it is a fiery delight and essential for most romance collections. This title has been re issued multiple times.

Jackson, Lisa & others. Santa Baby. Zebra: Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780821772942. pap. $6.99. CONTEMPORARY
Diverse, lively, sometimes funny, and filled with holiday charm, this popular quartet of novellas, both sexy and sweet, features stories by Lisa Plumley (Merry, Merry Mischief, with a focus on babysitting!), Kylie Adams (Holiday Stud, with its sexy escort hero and desperate lawyer heroine), Elaine Coffman (Under the Mistletoe, in which children teach a grumpy psychologist the joys of Christmas), and Jackson (A Baby for Christmas, with a mystery baby‚ and his dad). First published in 2002, this anthology has been reprinted previously.

Kauffman, Donna & others. The Naughty List. Brava: Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780758253118. pap. $6.99. CONTEMPORARY
This feel-good holiday trio includes Kauffman’s latest community-centered Hamilton novella, Naughty but Nice; Cynthia Eden’s upbeat All I Want for Christmas, a slightly daring adventure of a brainy businesswoman who asks Santa for a good time; and Susan Fox’s Tattoos and Mistletoe, a touching reunion tale of a now-successful pair of high school outsiders. A 2010 title, this smart, sexy collection is perfect for those who missed last year’s trade edition.

Krentz, Jayne Ann. The Waiting Game. Severn House. Dec. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9780727880598. $28.95. romantic suspense
A burned-out yuppie goes in search of her missing uncle and finds instead a dangerously attractive, definitely alpha hero‚ just as was planned‚ in this fast-paced, suspenseful adventure that is classic, page- turning Krentz; first published in paperback as a Harlequin Intrigue in 1985.

Laurens, Stephanie. Tangled Reins. Severn House. Oct. 2011. c.288p. ISBN 9780727880536. $28.95. HISTORICAL
An independent, country-bred lady takes her younger sister to London for the Season and becomes sought after herself, much to the surprise‚ and consternation‚ of the notorious noble rake she’d encountered in the country. Originally published in 1992 as a Harlequin Historical, this is one of Laurens’s delightfully compelling early Regency-era romances. While not billed as a traditional Regency, it would be a welcome addition to many of those collections.

Sands, Lynsay. The Deed. Avon. Oct. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780062019707. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL
Reissued as part of Avon’s participation in partnership with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s K.I.S.S. and Teal campaign, this medieval escapade begins with the stunningly naive heroine’s hilarious petition to the king that her then-husband bed her and heads off in a funny, sexy direction when she gets a new mate. This witty tale was first published in 1997 and is Sands’s (of Argeneau and Rogue Hunter fame) first novel.

About Kristin Ramsdell

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Libraries Unlimited)