PW Reviews

July 14, 2010: I can no longer claim ownership of specific PW reviews, at the request of management. As a result, this stand-alone page will grow no more and remains as is, from mid-June. An aside: Never has trying to do good done more bad.

When I'm done, I hope this page will feature as many of my older PW reviews as I can locate online. For newer reviews I plan to create links, but we'll see how it goes. (Last updated June 16 with 19 reviews - the first 11 and the final 8).

Something interesting to note: Over the years at PW I've worked with close to a dozen editors, and how they view reviews (and whether they've written books themselves) impacts their editing.


Decision and Destiny by Deva Gantt...cannot locate


The Wind Comes Sweeping by Marcia Preston

Despite a laconic style that helps temper some of the more disturbing content, Preston's tale of a woman struggling to stay afloat on a contemporary Oklahoma ranch is too distancing to be truly affecting. Marik Youngblood lives alone on Killdeer Ridge Ranch, haunted by regrets. Her ranch is debt-ridden, but rather than ask her wealthy sister for relief, Marik leases part of her acreage to a power company for wind towers, angering her neighbor, Burt Gurdman. After Marik and Jace Rainwater, who's applying to become Killdeer's foreman, discover a dead bald eagle under one of the wind towers, they learn that Burt poisoned the bird in a failed attempt to prove the towers unsafe. Burt's hostility grows and Marik is forced to turn to Devon, a powerful man from her past. Preston (Trudy's Promise) ably frames Marik's story with the legend of Silk Mountain, the story of an 1890s frontier woman who committed suicide rather than face life in the harsh Oklahoma territory. But even the cast of multidimensional characters, especially Jace and his autistic son, cannot entirely shore up this novel.


In Love with a Younger Man by Cheryl Robinson

Robinson's (Sweet Georgia Brown) new urban fiction is distinguished by its intractable protagonist, Olena Day, whose first love committed suicide at age 15, which just might give her the right to be the bitch her college dormmates refer to her as. Olena's roommate/cousin Candice tells Olena she won't find a boyfriend because dark skinned men prefer light skinned women, and when Olena does find a boyfriend, Andrew, and gets pregnant, he convinces her to abort what would have been twins. Then he leaves her, only to get engaged to another girl he's made pregnant. Fast forward 25 years: Olena is a successful businesswoman without love or friends. She takes a paid yearlong sabbatical intending to write a book and sort out her life, but soon falls for Matthew Harper, a finance executive at a luxury car dealership who's 18 years younger. Their relationship is passionate and complicated, and a stunning revelation at the end makes the age difference seem a minor point as Olena must face not only her future but her past. In a straightforward and entertaining tale, Robinson delivers what she promises.


Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

Shors' sophomore effort (following Beneath a Marble Sky), set on an island in the South Pacific during three weeks in 1942, features achingly lyrical prose, even in depicting the horrors of war. After a U.S. hospital ship is torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese, a handful of survivors struggle for survival on a remote island. They include the captain and an officer; a Japanese prisoner, Akira, and two ship's nurses he saved (one of them the captain's wife); and the ship's engineer, who saves a Fijian stowaway, Ratu. Akira, a college professor pressed into service, is haunted by what he saw, did, and didn't do at Nanking. Jake, the engineer, is a black farmer who sees in Ratu the son he never had. Ratu adds a colorful combination of winsome bravado, humor and childish fear; each main character is similarly well-rounded, excepting the single-minded traitor among them, unsuspected by his fellow castaways. Shors pays satisfying attention to class and race dynamics, as well as the tension between wartime enemies. The survivors' dignity, quiet strength and fellowship make this a magical read.


A Silent Ocean Away by Deva Gantt...cannot locate


Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum

Fehlbaum's debut novel, set in a small Texas town, is overloaded with thorny issues and hindered by a very special episode tone, but features a genuine and empathetic lead. After enduring six years of sexual abuse from her step-father, 14-year-old Ashley Asher finally gathers the courage to confide in her mother; predictably, mom sides with step-dad. Soon, Ashley is sent to live with her estranged birth father, David, and his new wife and son. Though he's now a kind man who's put his life-long anger issues behind him, Ashley still struggles to trust her father. His wife, Bev, a high school English teacher, brings Ashley into her extended family of summer school students; a controversial reading assignment, Ironman by Chris Crutcher, provides the novel's other hot-button issues—racism, censorship, homophobia and religious extremism. An over-the-top scandal is followed by Bev's hokey, message-laden testimonial before the local school board. Throughout, Ashley's self-destructive tendencies, conflicted feelings and struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder read authentically; had Fehlbaum focused more on her recovery, rather than a raft of societal woes, this story would have been more powerful.


More Than This by Margo Candela

In this just-miss he-said/she-said from Candela (Life Over Easy), Evelyn Morgan Reed-Sinclair is a reluctant socialite returning to San Francisco a hundred pounds lighter after a year in Paris—and a hundred times more worldly after discovering her art teacher/lover was a married man. Accompanying her gay best friend, James, to his Web job one day, Evelyn is mistaken for a temp and decides to move from rich dilettante to working girl. Meanwhile, Alexander Velazquez, a wunderkind lawyer from a working-class Bay Area family, gets fired from his high-priced Manhattan firm (after suggesting that the cleaning staff unionize) and comes home to San Francisco as well, taking a high-powered but icky job for the money. Evelyn and Alex work in adjacent office buildings—and readers can guess the rest. Their story, told in a wry first-person by the two, alternately has some nice almost-encounters and internal ditherings, but they're overly drawn out. Overwritten secondaries tip the scales.


The Art of Keeping Secrets by Patti Callahan Henry

Two years after Annabelle Murphy's husband Knox dies in a plane crash, the wreckage is found-and with him is the body of a woman. In the disappointing latest South Carolina Lowcountry saga from Henry (following Between the Tides), the firm ground under Annabelle's feet suddenly dissolves with questions as to who the woman was, and what her relationship to Knox might have been. Annabelle's teenaged daughter, Keeley, struggles with feelings of anger and betrayal; her college-aged son Jake mans up as best he can. Her close male friend, Shawn, may turn out to be something else entirely. And into all their lives comes Sofie Milstead, a sad young woman who studies dolphins, who avoids most relationships and who knew who the mysterious woman was. Sofie doesn't explain her connection to Knox until late in the story, and a sense of foreboding pervades the entire read. When all is finally explained, the payoff is meager, and a downer.


Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon

Reardon's stirring novel grapples with homosexuality and born-again Christianity. When Taylor Adams comes out, his parents ship him off to Straight to God, a camp for those who have gone astray. The nightmarish camp seeks to exorcise the satanic influence from its charges, some of whom are gay, and some of whom are petty criminals or drug addicts. The camp's strict guidelines include no speaking for newbies (who wear yellow stickers on their clothing), the writing of Moral Inventories to be shared with group leaders, and prayer meetings. Taylor is furious about his incarceration, but through his intellect and open nature, he discovers leadership qualities in himself and learns that not everyone is the religious automaton they appear to be. Reardon's first novel (A Secret Edge) was geared to young adults; this new book, which includes frank language and sexual encounters, tries to reach out to older readers, albeit sometimes awkwardly (the explanation of text message–like acronyms, for instance, is clunky). While the extremes of the evangelical movement are harshly depicted, Reardon does a decent job overall of staying off a soapbox. The result is thoughtful and convincing.


Magic's Design by Cat Adams

A sweetly satisfying love story barely manages to compete with a myriad of fantasy elements in this stand-alone from C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp (the Tales of the Sazi series). Upon awakening from one of her periodic blackouts, Ukrainian egg artist Mila Penkin meets the injured Talos Onan, an Overworld Police agent bent on capturing Vegre, a criminal who escaped a magical underground prison. To her surprise, Mila heals Talos psychically. She soon learns that her mother stole her memories and discovers her connection to the ailing Sacred Tree of Life. Mila turns her healing magic to reviving the tree while helping Talos to thwart Vegre's evil plot. Some subtle foreshadowing builds powerfully, but too often the focus on small details and confusing political machinations means the bigger picture is lost.


The Thirteenth by L.A. Banks...cannot locate


Ravenous by Sharon Ashwood

A previously published romance writer kicks off an urban fantasy romance series, her first under the Ashwood pseudonym, with this well-paced tale of supernaturally infested Fairview, U.S.A. First a haunted house nearly kills witch Holly Carver. Then her boyfriend dumps her. Finally, a demon escapes from a portal that her ancestors tried and failed to close. Though Holly's not great at big magic, she determines to finish the job, aided by her sage grandmother's advice and spell books and handsome police detective Conall Macmillan, who got some sort of psychic flu after being kissed by a strange woman in a bar. As for Holly's undead business partner, Alessandro Caravelli, his loyalties are split between his vampire queen, Omara, and Holly, whom he realizes he loves. Strong world-building and romantic elements benefit from deft touches of humor; readers will look forward to the sequel.


Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs

Briggs makes a well-deserved move into hardcover with the rousing fourth adventure for kick-ass were-coyote auto mechanic Mercedes Thompson. Healing in body and spirit after the events of 2008's Iron Kissed, Mercy is preparing to marry alpha werewolf Adam Hauptman when an old friend asks her to help fend off a nasty ghost. It's a good time for Mercy to leave Portland, Ore.: vampire queen Marsilia is after her and her vampire friend Stefan for successfully hunting down a monster that should have killed them. Mercy leaves Adam to negotiate peace with Marsilia and heads to Spokane, Wash., to investigate the ghost, an unexpectedly complicated task. Though action supersedes characterization, the preternatural culture of vampire seethes and wolf pack politics is deeply intriguing. Briggs provides plenty of detail about Mercy's complex world without boring info-dumps, satisfying both new and longtime readers.


White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison

Confusion reigns for characters and readers in the complicated seventh urban fantasy outing (after 2008's The Outlaw Demon Wails) for witch detective Rachel Morgan. Rachel's reputation is in tatters—to save humanity, she used powers that are considered evil—and she's still devastated by the mysterious death of her boyfriend six months earlier. Her attempts to solve his murder bleed into a case involving an emotion-sucking banshee, and soon Rachel has to bring in her PI partners—Ivy, a bisexual vampire, and Jenks, a pixie in existential crisis—along with empathic psychiatrist Ford and the banshee victim's father, Federal Inderland Bureau captain Edden. Harrison's unique vampire mythology unduly complicates world-building, and newcomers will be desperate for a glossary, but the nearly nonstop action nicely plays off the poignancy of Rachel's difficult life.


Sunset Bay by Susan Mallery...cannot locate


What a Pirate Desires by Michelle Beattie

Beattie's debut, a 1660s Caribbean pirate romance, is heavy on swashbuckling and light on character development. Five years before, a brigand called Dervish killed Samantha Fine's family. She and her friend Joe escaped the massacre, but wound up enslaved by an evil plantation owner, so they stole his ship and turned pirate, with Sam cross-dressing as Capt. Sam Steele. Now she's decided to break one-eyed pirate Luke Bradley out of jail and get his help finding Dervish When sparks fly between Luke and Sam, she fears he will break her heart—he's a pirate, after all—and he believes she's too good for him. This very traditional but fun romance features a feisty heroine, a tortured hero and a sassy parrot along with strong doses of betrayal, action and plenty of cunning.


Ecstasy by Jacquelyn Frank

Bestseller Frank's intensely emotional and sensual series debut expands the universe of her Nightwalkers series (Noah, etc.) to include the light-shunning Shadowdwellers. Trace, a Shadowdweller vizier, almost dies in a sword fight with an assassin in Shadowscape, a realm of uninhabited darkness between his world and the human-inhabited Realscape. Human healer Ashla Townsend, whose New York attitude is tempered by fear of persecution over her gifts, saves Trace by drawing his injuries into herself, leaving him wondering why she can enter the Shadowscape and see him. As their mutual attraction develops, Trace realizes they're Sainted, destined to be mates for life, but cultural differences and the assassination plot threaten their burgeoning relationship. This romantic and strongly sexual story between complicated characters is made even richer by an intriguing secondary cast and efficient world-building that's familiar without being lazy.


Simple Wishes by Lisa Dale

The only flaw in Dale's haunting debut is its reliance on the old chestnut that small town life is superior to the big-city crush. Adele Martin flees her mistakes in New York for the Pennsylvania cabin inherited from her long-estranged mother, Marge, who died six years earlier. Beatrice and Al Lopresti, Marge's friends and neighbors, befriend Adele, though Beatrice refuses to divulge Marge's secrets. Taught that love means indebtedness, Adele is confused by the attentions of woodworker Jay Westvelt. He prefers the simple life, wants stability and a family and doesn't identify as an artist despite his talent. Dale strongly communicates Adele's fears about the future and anger over the past through her relationships with vivid secondary characters such as the Loprestis' troubled teenage granddaughter, Kayleigh, as she puts the reader through a well-paced emotional wringer.


Fallen Angel by Margaret and Lizz Weis

Margaret Weis (Dragonlance) and daughter Lizz's fantasy romance succeeds mostly in the fantasy department. Matthew Gallow, burned at the stake as a Christian martyr, fell from grace, returned to human form and now drinks too much and performs fake exorcisms for money. After he casts out a real demon from an adolescent girl, he becomes an overnight celebrity. Natalia Ashley, who manages rock star Cain, offers Matthew big money to "perform" nightly exorcisms while the rocker sings his hit song, "Possession." Neither realizes that Cain's possession is not metaphorical; he signed Satan's dotted line and promised to turn his fans into hell's army. Matthew, a compelling, tortured hero, is aided by an archangel with a black sense of humor, a dormouse and Natalia's grandfather Woof, a Dead-head ghost. Natalia and Matthew's romance is more explained than demonstrated in this otherwise intriguing supernatural thriller.


Immortal Warrior by Lisa Hendrix

Hendrix (Runaway Bay) launches a paranormal medieval romance series featuring immortal Vikings cursed by the sorceress Cwen to live half of each day as animals. Sir Ivo de Vassy, an eagle by day, looks forward to the Northumberland title, land and wife that Norman King William just granted him, though he fears discovery and the possibility of passing the curse on to his children. His bride, Lady Alaida of Alnwick, is a political match, but she impresses Ivo with her beauty, strength and intelligence. Ivo's kindness warms her heart, and they slowly grow closer despite his daily absences and the schemes of Cwen and a jealous neighbor. Ivo's fellow immortals Brand (a daytime bear) and Ari (a nighttime raven) add color and charm to this story of martial and marital conquest.


All the Way by Kimberley White

This action-packed contemporary romance suffers from a heroine imperiled by bad judgment and an otherwise terrific hero who can't seem to figure out the happily-ever-after that's staring him in the face. A shoot-out at the hotel where police have stashed murder witness Payton Vaughn leaves her protectors dead. She escapes into the night, and in desperation carjacks journalist Adriano Norwood. Payton tries to shield Adriano, but soon admits to managing a nightclub for notorious drug dealer Sherman Grazicky until she saw a hit he ordered. As Adriano's partner works to translate evidence Payton didn't even know she had, Grazicky's jealous wife plots Payton's death. White (Forever After) throws in some hot scenes, but strong chemistry can't mitigate Payton's willingness to advance her career by working for a mobster or Adriano's inability to see beyond the next five minutes.


Talk of the Town by Sherrill Bodine

Bodine's contemporary romance has strong bones, but the execution is marred by stock characters. Media mogul David Sumner buys the Chicago Mail and immediately moves gossip columnist Rebecca Covington to the home and food section, replacing her with young, aggressive Shannon Forrester. Rebecca enlists her gay best friend, Harry Grant, to cook while she spices up her columns with gossip. Bodine (author of several series romances as Lynn Leslie and Leslie Lynn) drowns her characters in cliché: big-spending divorcée Rebecca's endless label-dropping ([she] hiked up her black Carolina Herrera skirt... not caring if the expensive Wolford fishnets got bigger holes), Harry's immaculate home, widower David's vow to never love again, Shannon's endless jealousy. Even good chemistry between Rebecca and David can't diminish the sense that the real star is Rebecca's Juicy Couture cashmere jogging suit.


Red by Jordan Summers

Summers (Off Limits) occasionally stumbles in this intense series launch, a futuristic paranormal romance set in an ecologically desolate 2160. Gina Red Santiago, the lone woman in the elite international tactical team commanded by the grandfather who raised her, travels off-duty to Nuria in the Republic of Arizona to investigate a woman's mysterious, brutal death. Gina doesn't believe in the rumors of supersoldiers, vampires and werewolves created by a secret government genetic engineering project, until she learns that almost everyone in Nuria is a werewolf and finds herself powerfully attracted to lycanthrope sheriff Morgan Hunter even as she connects others in his pack to the murder investigation. Complex and sometimes confusing world building combine with a steamy and conflicted romance between a strong heroine and a literal alpha male hero, with plenty of chemistry to fuel future volumes.


Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

Handeland (Thunder Moon) launches the intriguing Phoenix Chronicles urban fantasy series with a strong story that's only missing one thing: a glossary of the multitude of paranormal creatures tied to biblical lore. Psychic ex-cop Elizabeth Phoenix reluctantly takes the case after her foster mother, Ruthie, is murdered by monsters. Soon she's pointing out demons to her ex-boyfriend Jimmy, a half-vampire battling an army of Nephilim who plan to enslave and destroy humanity. They fight their way from Wisconsin to the southwest, where Jimmy leaves Elizabeth with Sawyer, a powerful Navajo shape-changer who awakens her libido as well as her psychic powers. Elizabeth's wry demeanor and complex relationships with Sawyer and Jimmy share center stage with the dramatic story line. The biblical component, while often confusing, adds dramatic dimension, and the demons' evil plans and vividly described handiwork create immense suspense for the final battle.


Untouchable by Linda Winstead Jones...cannot locate



The Book of Scandal by Julia London

London (Highlander Unbound) sets this convincing tale of romance and intrigue in the early 1800s, an obscure period of strife in the English monarchy. Nathan Grey, the Earl of Lindsey, lost himself in liquor and debauchery after the death of his infant son, while his wife, Evelyn, abandoned their loving but superficial marriage and began flirting with another peer. Three years later, when Nathan learns that Evelyn could be named in Princess Caroline's infamous Book of Scandal, he kidnaps her from court, pretending they've reconciled. Nathan's attempt to guard the family's reputation soon blossoms into a genuine desire to rebuild their marriage, but Evelyn resists. Meddling by servants and both sets of parents provides needed backstory and also unites the couple against their helpful interference. The only sour note is Nathan's insistence that Evelyn apologize for adulterous thoughts that pale compared to his unabashed actions. Despite the confusing court scandals, this reunion story is mostly a joy.


Line of Scrimmage by Marie Force

Force's debut contemporary reads like an overly long category romance. Ryan Sanderson, three-time Super Bowl–winning quarterback for the Denver Mavericks, interrupts his almost-ex-wife, Susannah, while she's dining with her new fiancé, Henry, and his parents. Ryan threatens to slow the divorce proceedings, delaying Susannah and Henry's wedding, unless she allows him to woo her until their marriage legally dissolves in 10 days. Susannah capitulates, and after they finally communicate with one another about the stillbirth that destroyed their marriage, their passion reignites. When Henry reappears on the scene, however, the story falters. Henry, who has loved Susannah for years, always tried to get between her and Ryan, and she seems to have meekly tolerated it. Susannah's passivity and poor judgment reflect poorly on her, and Henry has few positive qualities. Ryan, on the other hand, is a good guy desperate to fix past mistakes, a terrific change of pace from the typical reluctant hero.


Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julia James

In this awkward debut romance, the supposed hero's juvenile behavior sets the stage for a frustrating read that not even a sparkling final third can mitigate. Taylor Donovan, a brilliant Chicago lawyer visiting L.A. to defend a sexual harassment case, is not happy to be assigned to help heartthrob actor Jason Andrews prep for a courtroom drama. As they begin working together, Jason predictably behaves like a spoiled teenager, but becomes increasingly enchanted with Taylor. She eventually begins to see Jason as a nice guy underneath his Hollywood attitude—with sleazy, jealous actor Scott Casey as a convenient foil—but she can't set aside her trust issues. As Jason tries to convince Taylor to stay in L.A., the book suddenly turns witty and romantic, but getting there is no fun at all.


A Dangerous Love by Brenda Joyce

In Joyce's latest de Warenne Dynasty Victorian romance (following The Perfect Bride), Ariella de Warenne is an extremely well-traveled young gentlewoman with radical thoughts and an independent lifestyle. Viscount Emilian St. Xavier is half-gypsy, and his hatred for the gadjos-non Gypsies-threatens to consume him. When his gypsy family makes camp on the de Warenne estate, Emilian discovers that his mother was killed as a result of bigotry in Scotland and vows revenge against the gadjos. Upon meeting Ariella and discovering her attraction for him, he at first thinks that, like other English gentlewomen, she only wants him for sex. When she asks for his friendship, he decides that she will make the perfect instrument of his rage-despite the honorable Englishman in him. The basic "virginity for revenge" plot is common, and while Ariella is a genuinely radical thinker, Emilian is eye-rollingly over the top-except at the very end, where he seems very much flesh and blood.


Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber

Macomber returns to Seattle's fictional Blossom Street of A Good Yarn (and others) for a hopeful tale of four widows who meet at 38-year-old Anne Marie Roche's bookstore. Separated from her husband after he refused to have a baby with her, Anne Marie felt certain they would reconcile—until he suddenly died. Lillie Higgins lost her husband in the same plane crash that claimed the husband of their daughter, Barbie Foster. Elise Beaumont entered widowhood after cancer claimed her husband. Together, the four make life-fulfillment wish lists. With Elise's prodding, Anne Marie decides to fulfill one of her wishes—do good for someone else—and becomes a lunch buddy to an at-risk third grader. Anne Marie, meanwhile, must deal with the reappearance of her adult stepdaughter, Melissa, who always held her in disdain. Elise mainly serves as a catalyst for Anne Marie's journey, but there is plenty of focus on Lillian and Barbie, who find purpose in unexpected and difficult relationships. Though stilted dialogue can pull readers out of the moment, Macomber's assured storytelling and affirming narrative is as welcoming as your favorite easy chair.


Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde

In the less than sprightly latest from Fforde (Restoring Grace), newly minted interior designer Anna, 27, is renovating a run-down cottage in the Cotswold to flip for a profit. At her neighbor's request, she takes in a homeless greyhound, and it happens that Rob Hunter, the local greyhound rehoming officer, is also the inspector who ensures that historical homes are properly restored. Though he initially is a thorn in her inexperienced renovator side, Anna comes to appreciate Rob's humor, warmth and caring nature. But then Max Gordon, the architecture guest lecturer Anna's had a crush on for years after a near-miss on getting together when she was in college, appears at her London reunion and seems poised to sweep her off her feet. The cast of country secondaries provides color and interest, and Fforde adroitly registers Anna's subtler feelings. But the pace is slow, and the renovation details overwhelm the romance.


The Last Twilight by Marjorie Liu...cannot locate


Trick My Truck But Don't Mess with My Heart by LuAnn McLane

Following her father's heart attack, Candie Montgomery takes leave from her advertising job in Chicago and returns to Pinewood, Ky., to help her twin sister, Sarah, run the family's used-car business. The townsfolk blame Candie for the recent breakup of her sister's engagement to longtime love, Nick, so Sarah suggests Candie find a boyfriend to take the heat off; the gorgeous and amiable Tommy Tucker, the new rec director at a local park, offers before she can even ask. The two soon discover an ease with one another along with a great attraction. Candie's idea to revamp the business brings Nick back into their lives, and a clever plan to reunite him with Sarah ensures. There's a fair amount of corn to this romance, but there's also an infectious quality to the writing, and some great humor.


Elijah by Jacquelyn Frank

Setting aside the centuries of warfare between them, the Demons (paranormal but neither Biblical nor evil) and Lycanthropes are working together to defeat the Necromancers, who threaten both their races. When Demon warrior captain Elijah is nearly killed in an ambush, he is rescued and restored by none other than Siena, the Lycanthrope queen. Before long they discover a powerful attraction, but Siena fears that giving in to love will mean relinquishing her power. After the heavy world-building in Frank's last two Nightwalker books (Jacob and Gideon), newcomers may struggle to keep straight the various paranormals and their powers; they'll be more comfortable in the romance department, which proves steamy in the extreme, occasionally bordering on deep purple. Both leads are strong, and Frank grants her hero a refreshing measure of insight into the relationship. What works even better is the camaraderie that develops between the Nightwalker tribes, as Frank plunges deeper into her dark world.


To Catch a Cheat by Kelley St. John...cannot locate


Crusader Gold by David Gibbins

In Gibbins's sequel to Atlantis, marine archeologist Jack Howard searches for an ancient gold menorah seized by Vespasian's army during the sack of Jerusalem. While Jack and his team of scientists and historians follow clues from Istanbul and England to the Arctic, Canada and Mexico, a group of neo-Nazis (who have co-opted an organization as old as the Crusades and dedicated to the relic's safety) conspire to find and use the menorah to destabilize the world's religions. Stilted exposition, in which Jack details large chunks of history for colleagues who should already know it, mars an otherwise interesting backstory, and cardboard characters rouse little sympathy. Elsewhere, an overwhelming surfeit of detail serves at best to drag down the suspense, at worst to cause terminal confusion. Those with an already-strong sense of Roman, barbarian, Viking and English history, as well as those with a sincere desire to learn, will appreciate Gibbins's alternate history of King Harald Hardrada's defeat, if not necessarily the teacherly style or clunky adventure story in which it's couched.


Only You by Francis Ray...cannot locate

Ice Storm by Anne Stuart (starred review)...cannot locate

Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist...cannot locate

Unmasqued by Colette Gale...cannot locate


The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

Incredibly vivid lead characters, earthy writing and an intense love story buoy the third entry in Hoyt's Georgian-set romance series (following The Leopard Prince), which kicks off with Lucy Craddock-Hayes's page-one discovery of Viscount Simon Iddesleigh in a ditch near her home, naked and beaten almost to death. Though her blustery father fears for Lucy's virtue, they take the battered man in, and the insightful, beautiful Lucy is soon as drawn to the handsome, witty gentleman as he is to her. But Simon's mission, to avenge the death of his brother, pulls him in two opposing directions: his soul-deep need for revenge and his desire to protect Lucy. The exquisite romance, flawed slightly by a dearth of historical details, is touched by Hoyt's mesmerizing storytelling; in a less talented writer, the love story could easily have been overwhelmed by the revenge subplot, but Hoyt skillfully uses Lucy and Simon's internal and external conflicts—including the threats against their lives—to enhance her love story.


Stray by Rachel Vincent

Vincent's debut, an urban werecat fantasy, is a good story that suffers from about 200 pages of bloat. Faythe Sanders is a Texas grad student with a secret: she's a shape-shifting werecat. After she's attacked by a Stray—a werecat without ties to any pride—Faythe's father, the Pride Alpha, orders her to return to the family compound. As it turns out, two other werecat tabbies have gone missing, indicating an organized effort by the formerly go-it-alone Strays. The author's world building is intriguing but overly narrow, reducing the range of jungle feline behavior to a keen territorial instinct. Secondary characters abound, including Faythe's intended, formerly human werecat Marc; five years earlier, she escaped the pride on what was supposed to be the eve of their wedding. Unfortunately, they both have frustrating character tics that are only exacerbated by the novel's length: Faythe is more often too-stubborn-to-live than kick-ass, and all the tears Marc wells up over Faythe don't forgive his insufferable jealousy. A polished tale may hide within this one, but Vincent needs to rein herself in a bit if she wants to build a readership.


Nightsong by Carolyn Davidson

Davidson's western historical, about a hunted man and the half-Indian with whom he takes refuge, is a mixed bag. Davidson's lyrical, almost ethereal prose never quite fits the harsh western setting of 1888, in which racism has isolated Debra Nightsong from both her tribe and the world of white men. Tending to the Dakota territory farm where she lives alone, Debra is surprised one evening to find an armed man in her house: Ethan Tyler, a man on the run for reasons he won't reveal. Though he imposes himself on her household—making Debra a virtual prisoner—he proves charming, good-hearted and a valuable worker. Davidson is at her best chronicling the day-to-day of farm living, and her prominent supporting characters—including Debra's half-brother and the bounty hunter pursuing Ethan—give the story extra dimension. Unfortunately, those characters show little complexity, functioning more like saints than citizens of the Wild West. Frustrating matters further, Debra and Ethan are separated for a full third of the book, carrying on an epistolary romance that barely satisfies the characters, much less the reader. Though Ethan's everyman quality and the genuine caring he and Debra share hold promise, Davidson's muted storytelling and odd choices result in a lackluster tale.


Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell by Samantha James

Starred Review. Other than a secret that takes too long to reveal, this Victorian romance from James (A Perfect Hero) concerning the troubled union of fiery Annabel McBride and tormented Simon Blackwell is just about perfect: rich, meaty, sexy and honest. Upon meeting, the two immediately set to butting heads, but it isn't long before an instant of weakness finds them in a passionate lip lock. Just like that, their fate is sealed: Anne's reputation is compromised and the two are married. Simon, haunted by unmentionable heartbreak, refuses to consummate the marriage, planning to divorce her after a year or so; Anne is horrified at the prospect and determined to make a genuine husband out of him. Simon thwarts her every attempt until his past catches up with him, and she finds the way to bring him back from self-imposed emotional exile. Simon's dark secret, hinted at throughout, may frustrate readers, but it also lends the book an enticing gothic edge. James's writing is assured, her story moves well, and she has a fine pair of leads in Anne and Simon; their hard-won happily ever after will satisfy any historical romance fan.


To Die For by Linda Howard

Although someone is trying to kill fitness salon owner and former cheerleader Blair Mallory yet again, she retains her winning comedic voice in Howard's follow up to 2005's To Die For. Southern belle Blair remains perfectly matched with police Lieutenant Wyatt Bloodsworth, who has given her one month to execute their wedding, or else he's taking them to Vegas. Things take a turn when a crazed driver nearly runs Blair down in the mall parking lot; it's not long before Blair starts receiving strange phone calls and spots a car tailing her, but the normally astute Wyatt doesn't put two and two together. Though the danger is real-and escalates violently-this is no heart-thumping suspense novel, but instead an old-fashioned clash of the sexes: Blair's high-maintenance style versus Wyatt's alpha male tendencies. Funny and sexy throughout, Howard's latest is marred only by Wyatt's shoddy policework, a convenient misstep that propels the plot but rings false. Regardless, fans of this couple will delight in their rematch, and Howard's recently revealed comedic talents are sure to secure her new readers.


Over the Moon anthology

Knight's sexy and exciting "Moon Dance"-first in this uneven new paranormal romance anthology-features Direkind werewolves from her Mageverse (vampires, witches and werewolves created by Merlin to protect humanity). An aristocratic werewolf runs away from her arranged marriage to a brutish Alpha and into the arms of a lower-caste "made" werewolf; she'll gain her freedom only if he impregnates her. Next is Kantra's ethereal "Between the Mountain and the Moon," an Eros and Psyche story of a young woman lost while camping and rescued by a mysterious man with ulterior motives-and a bone to pick with a vengeful Queen. In "Driftwood," Davidson cleverly merges her Wyndham Werewolf and Undead series when a lone wolf stumbles upon a vampire in a deep ditch at the beach. Erotic romance newcomer Sunny's "Mona Lisa Three," a clumsy sequel about a Mixed-Blood Queen and her guards/lovers, proves difficult to follow without its complicated setup (in this year's Mona Lisa Awakening), and the sizzling menage a trois action could turn off romance readers.


Dead Sexy by Amanda Ashley

Ashley falls short in her attempt to transcend old-fashioned vampire romance in her jumbled new near-future romp. On the trail of a murderer whose victims include mortals and the undead, ex-vampire huntress Regan Delaney is forced to team up, against her better judgment, with the vampires' Master of the City, Joaquin Santiago. As the case develops and the leads grow closer, Joaquin's werewolf nemesis takes advantage by kidnapping Regan to make her his werewolf mate. After Joaquin's daring rescue, the author introduces a dose of Indian mysticism when the two venture into the wilderness to locate a shaman who can cure Regan—only to see Regan kidnapped again, this time by a tribe still living as if in the 19th century. Despite some genuinely warm and clever moments between the partners, the book lacks heat and would have benefited greatly from a more modern sensibility. As it is, the odd juxtaposition of Ashley's old-school romantic voice and damsel-in-distress plotting with paranormal and futuristic elements makes for a frustrating misfit.


Lover Revealed by J.R. Ward

Newbies to Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood may struggle to fill in the backstory, but these erotic paranormals are well worth it, and frighteningly addictive. The six "brothers" are vampires: enormous, tattooed, tormented warriors who protect other vampires from destruction by the "lessers," desouled humans in the evil Omega's Lessening Society. Hero and ex-cop Butch is the only human allowed into the Brotherhood's inner circle, but Butch is no mere human, a fact suspected by one of his vamp colleagues, and confirmed by the sinister plans of the Omega. The book is fully committed to its urban sensibility, the vampires' rarified language (a glossary is provided) and their revved-up sex drives, and it all works to great, page-turning effect (with the notable exception of a chick lit–like attention to designer brands). Though Butch's love interest, the virginal, aristocratic vampire Marissa, initially elicits more annoyance than empathy, she grows a spine as the book progresses and Butch's destiny comes to light. In just two years, the first three books in the series have earned Ward an Anne Rice–style following, deservedly so; this entry should prove no less popular.


The Marcelli Princess by Susan Mallery

The finale of Mallery's Marcelli family series (after The Marcelli Bride) is a charming but exasperating misfire. Mia Marcelli is shocked to wake up in her California home next to the father of her four-year-old son, a man she believed had been killed. It turns out that he's not the thief she thought he was, but rather Crown Prince Rafael of Calandria. She doesn't yet know it, but he's come to claim his love child and heir—and once his son is on Calandrian soil, Mia will have no legal rights to him. Rather then deal honestly with Mia, Rafael schemes to get his son before the truth is revealed, giving him all the more work to do when the time comes to redeem himself. Most of the previously introduced Marcelli clan return in this book, but Mia and her family are its best part. The sexist, duty-bound Rafael is a one-note brooder who doesn't do much to win over the reader, despite some humor and strong chemistry between the leads. Mia's unlikely history as a secret agent and the "disguised prince's secret baby" premise may require more suspension of disbelief than readers can spare, though series fans will find much to enjoy in the family dynamics.


Falling Upwards by Kassandra Sims

Sims's sophomore effort (after The Midnight Work) is a fantasy romance that starts out slow, choppy, confusing and rooted for too long in the real world; once the story passes into its thoughtfully constructed through-the-looking-glass fantasy world, however, the pace and narrative both pick up and the "huh?" factor begins to work to the book's advantage. After businesswoman Neva Jones meets a gorgeous young man named March in a pub in Wales, she begins to have auditory and visual hallucinations, leading her to question her sanity. Once back home in Alabama, Neva is compelled by strange feelings and visions to dive into the murky water of her grandparents' pond. When she emerges onto dry land, she encounters talking animals, fairies and—strangely enough—her new acquaintance, March. Because of something that happened in that Welsh pub, Neva and March must fulfill a quest that takes them through realms populated by giants, jealous goddesses and a frat-boy sea god. Sims's incorporation of Welsh mythology into her fantasy quest is the strongest part of the book; by contrast, the burgeoning love affair between Neva and March never quite convinces.


She's No Faerie Princess by Christine Warren

Secret negotiations between the Council of Others—paranormal beings who secretly walk among us—and human delegations are at a critical juncture in Warren's fine, erotic follow-up to Wolf at the Door. Meanwhile, werewolf Tobias Walker works to keep Manhattan's streets quiet, in hopes that a treaty can be reached allowing the Others to "come out" safely. Trouble arises when impetuous Fiona, princess of the Fae (called Faeries by humankind), breaks the rules laid down by her aunt, the queen, and crosses into the human plane for a bit of a vacation: shopping, rock and roll concerts and relaxation. But upon her arrival, she's attacked by a wayward demon; luckily, Tobias is there to rescue. Since a spell prevents her from returning home, Tobias secrets her in his apartment, risking the explosion of her aunt's legendary temper and the breakdown of negotiations. Worse, a mysterious entity is killing humans and making it look as though Others are responsible. As they race to solve the mystery and return Fiona to her world, an impossible attraction between Tobias and Fiona grows—and it seems their passion has the power to ignite Fiona's magic abilities. The strong chemistry between the leads; a multitude of well-drawn, unique secondary characters; and a gritty urban setting make this a winning read. Though part of a series, Warren excels at making her complex world accessible to new readers.


Cold as Ice by Anne Stuart

In Anne Stuart's strong follow-up to 2005's spectacular Black Ice, supporting player Peter Jensen moves into the leading role in a romantic suspense story pitting him and other members of the mysterious "Committee"—a group of international secret agents—against Texas billionaire Harry Van Dorn and his diabolical plan to create seven worldwide tragedies for fun and profit. Unfortunately, the arrival of lawyer Genevieve Spencer on Van Dorn's yacht throws a wrench in Jensen's assassination scheme. While he could easily dispose of her as "collateral damage," Genevieve breaks through his icy veneer and he gives her the means to fight her way out of danger. The brilliant Van Dorn is wildly over the top in his depravity, easily outdoing the most shameless James Bond baddie, but Stuart's spare writing keeps the gripping story focused. Though too much relies on Jensen's failure to tell Genevieve about her client's true motives, and Genevieve herself is an inadequate match for the steely agent, the chemistry between them crackles. Stuart courts controversy with Jensen's lack of emotion and total body control, allowing him to use sex as a tool for disarming both women and men; her hero's sexual flexibility is bound to turn off some readers, just as it's bound to entice others. Those who take the plunge shouldn't be disappointed: Stuart knows how to take chances, and this edgy thriller shows how well they can pay off.


Eve's Christmas by Janet Dailey...cannot locate


Just One Sip anthology

Quirky visions of vampire love animate this collection of three original novellas by paranormal romance authors MacAlister (author of the popular Dark Ones series), Ashley (Penelope and Prince Charming) and Webber (The Remarkable Miss Frankenstein). In Ashley's contribution, "Viva Las Vampires," journalist Meredith Black pursues an interview with sexy Vegas hotelier Stefan Erickson, owner of Transylvania Castle hotel. Little does she know he's a real vampire, with designs of his own for her. Webber's entry, "Lucy and the Crypt Casanova," cruises on the irascible charm of lead Lucy Campbell, a klutzy TV talk-show hostess who's forced to team up with her no-good ex, a sexy vampire detective, for the sake of a hot story: a murder investigation involving an incubus, a rare monster that feeds on youth like vamps feed on blood. The strongest of the three, for its over-the-top sexual antics and fully realized farcical world, is MacAlister's "Bring Out Your Dead," a story that unites an undead life coach for zombies (and part-time English tutor), Ysabelle Raleigh, with an anxious vampire who takes her for his long lost "Beloved." Despite a few missteps (MacAlister's French-mangling spirit guide, for instance, tends to irritate rather than amuse), this fast, funny and twisty collection proves good to the last drop.


Real Women Don't Wear Size 2 by Kelley St. John

In St. John's sexy contemporary, staid size 10 Clarise Robinson, top salesperson at Eubanks Elegant Apparel, is determined to use the company retreat to go after her secret love, best friend and boss, Ethan Eubanks. Self-consciousness has kept her from pursuing him in earnest, but as Clarise turns 30, she decides it's "high time she at least tried to locate her wild side," and the office trip is the perfect opportunity: Tampa, Fla.'s Gasparilla Pirate Festival (think Mardi Gras on peg legs). With a new, body-hugging wardrobe and a sexual to-do list, Clarise decamps to Tampa, and while she drunkenly flashes her "Robinson Treasures" for trinkets, Ethan discovers his feelings for her are quite different outside the office. Amid plentiful and inventive sex, though, those old inhibitions take hold of Clarise and Ethan, who can't quite come clean about their sticky feelings. The hot fun is occasionally dampened by some distracting purple dialogue, and hobbled by a too-long ending. Still, this is steamy reading that should appeal to those in the Sex and the City crowd who aren't getting their fill from standard chick lit.


Sweetgrass by Mary Alice Monroe

When his domineering father, Preston, suffers a stroke, environmentalist Morgan reluctantly returns to help run Sweeetgrass, the aging family plantation, even though he said he'd never go back to South Carolina after guilt over his older brother's death made him flee to Montana. Mary June, Morgan's mother, has grown estranged from her husband, but his stroke causes her to take a hard look at their past. Amid all this emotional chaos, Morgan's Aunt Adele is trying to force them to sell Sweetgrass to developers. Once again, Monroe, author of Skyward (2003), makes expert use of metaphors as she weaves the story of the region's Sweetgrass baskets into the story, and subtly addresses the urgent need to protect the environment. Monroe makes her characters so believable, the reader can almost hear them breathing. The lush details in this prodigal-son tale bring the low-country setting to life, and flashbacks tell the story of a young love rediscovered. Readers who enjoy such fine southern voices as Pat Conroy will add the talented Monroe to their list of favorites.


Mysteria anthology

Splitting the difference between Desperate Housewives and The X-Files, this paranormal romance brings magic and monsters to the steamy suburbs in four satisfying novellas about the town of Mysteria. Bestseller Grant kicks off the volume with the story of the demon responsible for leading a group of supernatural settlers to establish Mysteria, a Colorado haven for the paranormal. Centuries after his "random act of demonic kindness," Satan casts the demon out of Hell, naked and mortal, to be discovered, sheltered and eventually loved by the town's female pastor. Gena Showalter's contribution is the most lusty of the bunch, following a hunky psychic who has visions that the witch he's desperately in love with will be the death of him. In P.C. Cast's novella, a frustrated high school teacher, descendant of the only nonmagical founder of Mysteria ("Her magic worked like her marriages. Not at all"), is pursued by a young werewolf she used to teach. Bestseller MaryJanice Davidson follows another werewolf, this one in the market for a house—which turns out to be haunted by a sarcastic ghost—in an enjoyable but underdeveloped episode. There's magic, heat and lots of laughs in these loosely conjoined stories, and it's obvious the authors had a great time putting the book together; the growing audience for paranormal romance should have nearly as good a time reading it.


Until the Knight Comes by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Welfonder's newest is a medieval romance set in Scotland. Lady Mariota Macnicol stands falsely accused of murdering her lover, but escapes, hiding out at the deserted Castle Cuidrach. When the castle's new lord, Sir Kenneth MacKenzie (the villain from Welfonder's Devil in a Kilt), arrives to take possession, she brazenly informs him that she is the chatelaine—then changes her story after she learns he is the actual owner. MacKenzie accepts Mariota's half-truths and provides her haven, and they wind up falling hard for each other, though both have been betrayed by lovers before. But Mariota remains on the run from her accusers, while MacKenzie plots to keep her at Cuidrach until he can win her trust and convince her to marry him. Their lusty dialogue grows wearisome ("[T]he intensity of him unleashed a trickling anticipation that spilled all through her, making her blood run thick and rich"), and uneven pacing keeps readers in a state of distraction, as Welfonder shifts rapidly between the romance and the book's suspense-deficient subplots.


Blood Ties by Jennifer Armintrout (this is the infamous review I mentioned in my 04/19 blogging)

Armintrout's bold debut, the first book in a violent vampire series, bares its fangs early, unafraid to spill blood and vital organs from its very first pages. ER resident Dr. Carrie Ames tells the story of how, after being attacked and left for dead, she eventually realizes she's been "turned." Fellow vampire Nathan Grant saves Carrie from her sire's jealous lover, only to give Carrie a life-or-death ultimatum: either pledge allegiance to the Movement, a group of humanitarian vampires dedicated to the eradication of their own race, or perish for their cause. Feisty, independent Carrie would like to make up her own mind, but an invisible "blood tie" to Cyrus Kerrick, her evil sire, leaves her in his thrall—she can't help lusting after his body and power. A deadly game of wits develops between Carrie and Cyrus, whose desire for companionship masks his plot for world domination. Carrie, Cyrus and Nathan are all well drawn, as is the love triangle that develops among them. The book's level of gory detail—the narrator is, after all, a newly minted emergency room doctor—may put off all but the most stalwart of readers, but if you've got the stomach for it, this fast, furious novel is a squirm-inducing treat.


Fever Dreams by Nicole Jordan

In the fourth book of her Paradise series, Jordan backgrounds the series' mythology, which centers on a secret band of noble warriors called the Guardians of the Sword and its attendant subplots, leaving a generic man-at-arms/damsel-in-distress story in its place. Guardian Alex Ryder has carried a torch for the lovely Lady Eve Seymour since before he was a knight—and before Lady Eve was a Seymour. Newly widowed of her wealthy, selfish husband, Eve fears men and intimacy, but her sister, Claire Montlow, concocts a plan to help Alex win Eve's love. Asking Eve to play matchmaker for Alex, Claire knows that Eve will be forced to confront her love for him. It doesn't hurt Alex's case that somebody is intent on killing Eve, allowing him to flex his Guardian skills protecting her. Readers who enjoy heroes in pursuit may enjoy this one, but the backstory makes this a weak series entry. Eve can frustrate with her refusal to recognize Alex's obvious overtures, but Jordan's prose still waxes purple in plentiful love scenes.


Surrender by Pamela Clare

Clare's lush historical romance takes readers to 1750s New York, where the three MacKinnon brothers, Jacobites sworn to free Scotland from British rule, have settled in exile. Iain MacKinnon and his two brothers, powerful Highland warriors trained in native American warfare, are falsely accused of murder and forced to take up the banner of their enemy King George in the French and Indian War. While on patrol, Iain rescues a Scots woman who calls herself Annie Burns from the French and Abenaki soldiers who raided her home. Annie, who hides a tragic past of family betrayal and indentured servitude, struggles with her newfound freedom and the mixed feelings she has for her saviors—so much like the Jacobite warriors who cut down her Loyalist father and brothers in battle. As Annie's ambivalence gives way to love, Clare (Ride the Fire) explores 18th-century religious and political conflict on both a personal and international scale. While her prose sports a hint of purple, believable characters, scorching chemistry and a convincing setting make this a worthy read.


Desire After Dark by Amanda Ashley

This contemporary vampire romance may lack the violence, intensity and eroticism typical of the subgenre, but bestseller Ashley (After Sundown) still delivers an exciting plot and a heroine who can kick ass with the best of them. A killer is draining green-eyed redheads of their blood in the Midwestern town of Pear Blossom Creek, and 22-year-old Victoria Cavendish knows she should be leery of mysterious men like Antonio Battista, who orders food he never eats at the diner where she waitresses, then disappears into thin air. In fact, Antonio is a 600-year-old vampire. While an obsessive, yellow-eyed vampire stalks Vicki and a vampire hunter remains convinced Antonio's the killer, the innocent smalltown girl and Antonio fall in love. Even if they can survive the danger, what will happen to their love? A ghost living in Antonio's isolated Spanish castle provides additional paranormal flair, and a secondary romance between the vampire hunter ready to retire his stake and Vicki's best friend round out the story.


Don't Look Down by Suzanne Enoch

Playful love scenes and a large dose of humor lift Enoch's second novel to star gorgeous 33-year-old Richard Addison, a British billionaire, and stunning 24-year-old Samantha Jellicoe, a former thief (after Flirting with Danger). While Rick tries to prove to Samantha that settling down with him won't destroy her sense of self, he works to keep her out of trouble with the police after Sam's first client in her new security business is murdered. Besides trying to solve the murder, Sam must deal with her internal conflicts about loving Rick and, in a lighter vein, her ex-crook business partner's grousing about going straight. Some readers may have a problem with the story's unreality, which is heightened by the immorality of most of the wealthy portrayed in the Palm Beach, Fla., setting. Contemporary romance-land offers up as many billionaires these days as the ridiculous number of dukes cluttering English historicals. Still, Enoch deserves credit for having a couple go through a second book with their sexual chemistry intact.


Let's Be Jolly by Janet Dailey

Tissue-thin characterization, minimal backstories and a lack of sexual chemistry mar bestseller Dailey's latest, which consists of two rewritten romances, Bride of the Delta Queen (1978) and Northern Magic (1982). In Bride, Selena Merrick is mistaken for a high-priced prostitute by Chance Barkley, who later suspects her of scamming his wealthy Aunt Julia during a cruise on a Mississippi steamboat. Selena spends too much time fighting Chance's suspicions or angered by his coldness—though he is a great kisser. The secondary plot line involving Aunt Julia is pure cornpone. In the somewhat better Northern Magic, Shannon Hayes arrives in Anchorage on a flight from Houston, Tex., and is disappointed not to be met by her fiancé, Rick, who's preceded her to Alaska. When Shannon learns that Rick's supposed employer, bush pilot Cody Steele, never hired Rick, Cody and his fuss-budget father agree to help her find Rick. Shannon soon realizes that if they do, she'll need to choose between her fiancé and the enigmatic Cody. Only a brief epilogue set three months later relates to the book's Christmas theme.


Veiled Promises by Tracy MacNish

Romance has evolved far beyond Perils-of-Pauline plotting, but you'd never know it from the star-crossed love shared between well-born Camille Bradburn and Irish sea captain Patrick Mullen in MacNish's dated debut, set in 18th-century England. The interests of Camille's father, the duke of Eton, lie in tupping the servants; her mother, the duchess, is a self-righteous harridan who beats her. When Camille, through her brother, meets Patrick, neither is prepared for the love that quickly grows between them. Their secret courtship is sweet, the stories they share revelatory, but outside forces pile ridiculous amounts of hardship and tragedy upon them. The author writes well, and a sure melancholy tone from the start foreshadows tremendous difficulties, but some readers—forced to endure the duchess's endless efforts to crush Camille's spirit, misunderstandings fueled by jealous lies, physical and sexual violence, separations and false imprisonment—may give up in despair before the couple finally achieve their happily-ever-after.


Black Ice by Anne Stuart

Starred Review. This taut romantic suspense novel from RITA Award-winner Stuart (The Widow) delivers deliciously evil baddies and the type of disturbing male protagonist that only she can transform into a convincing love interest. Chloe Underwood, a 23-year-old American who regards herself as a disappointment to her high-achieving family, makes a meager living in Paris by translating children's books into English. After accepting a last-minute translating job in the French countryside, she discovers that rather than working for a consortium of food executives, she's stumbled upon a group of sadistic international arms dealers. Cold-blooded assassin Bastian Touissant, who was sent a year earlier by a nebulous "the ends justify the means" agency to infiltrate this shady group and try to stop its illegal activity, seems to blend right in. On meeting Chloe, Bastian isn't sure whether she's a spy, perhaps sent to kill him, or the innocent she appears to be. Despite his ruthlessness, Bastian can't resist saving Chloe's life (on multiple, graphic occasions) and attempting to send her back to her family in the U.S. Brilliant characterizations and a suitably moody ambience drive this dark tale of unlikely love.


Honeymoon Suite by Lynn Michaels

Fourteen-year-old Missouri rich girl Dory Lambert worshipped Chase McKay, the chauffeur's son, even after she saw him with his hands down her beautiful older sister Jill's pants. After the incident, Chase was packed off to college by the girls' father only to eventually become an incredibly wealthy architect. When Chase returns from New York to visit his father, Charles, 16 years later, he finds himself struck once again by Jill's beauty—and also by Dory's good looks and maturity. But after he bungles an attempt to bribe Dory into making his father retire, Jill launches Operation Cockroach. If Jill's scheme succeeds, Chase will marry her, and his money will refill her family's depleted coffers. Even as Chase falls in with Jill's plan, he finds himself attracted to Dory and wondering if he's chasing the wrong sister. Throw in an eccentric cast of characters, including a sweetly wicked little boy and a nerdy FBI agent who fires Jill's engines, and you've got... romance? Hardly. Chase doesn't emerge as a viable or even likable hero until the last quarter of the book, and readers will find it hard to believe that the object of his affections is someone he's never even kissed. Michaels (Mother of the Bride, etc.) has a gift for humor, but this Sabrina homage comes across as more silly than romantic.


Better Off Dead by Meryl Sawyer

Too many coincidences mar Sawyer’s newest romantic suspense novel (after Lady Killer). Samantha Robbins, the former assistant to the CFO at the military supply company PowerTec, has gone into the federal witness protection program after exposing business irregularities at her company. But PowerTec is the least of her worries; a nasty operative for Obelisk, a shadowy organization that steals military technology, has sent a hired gun after her, believing she discovered something dangerous that could destroy Obelisk. When the Feds relocate Samantha from Sante Fe to Hawaii as "Devon," she meets Chad, a handsome but secretive Delta Force officer doing underwater forensics as well as weapons testing (off the record) for his old Defense Department boss. His suspicious nature and top-secret work with a next-generation infrared device, along with her evasiveness and own fears, play well off of each other. Is she after the device, and if not, what is she hiding? Is he after her? If he isn't, will he be killed by association? The protagonists are believably attracted to each other despite their fears, but the story begins to crumble around them as disjointed elements start coalescing in increasingly unbelievable ways. Worst of all, Devon’s moment of truth, when she finally reveals all to Chad, is remarkably anticlimactic. In the end, this book offers readers plenty
of buildup, but very little payoff.


Missing by Sharon Sala

By the end of the first chapter of Sala's overwrought romance, Wes Holden, a former POW in Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD, has seen a Muslim terrorist kill his wife and son. Meanwhile, in rural West Virginia, Ally Monroe cares for a selfish father and two fully grown brothers. Her father urges her to marry a local widower, but Ally, who gave up on love long ago (what with being born with a game leg), dreams of a man walking out of the woods to save her from her drudgery—which is exactly what happens. The grief-stricken Wes, having regained his senses and realized that his slimy stepbrother wants to get his hands on his army benefits, escapes to Blue Creek, W.Va., where he meets Ally. But there's a mysterious farmer up on the mountain, and extremely unsettling things happen when Ally's brothers begin to help him harvest his crop. Though the two well-realized leads fall in love in a credible fashion, their story is lost amid the overwriting. The palpable aura of sadness surrounding Wes and Ally eventually grows to overwhelming proportions, because most of the other characters are incredibly selfish, greedy, evil or mad. To top it off, the book takes a gruesome, violent turn toward the end that makes it, and its Perils of Pauline plot, even more absurd.


Perfect Cover by Maureen Tan

Action-romance author Tan's (AKA Jane, etc.) first book for Silhouette's new suspense line, Bombshell, is curiously bereft of action. Half-Vietnamese Lacie Reed works for a U.S. senator, ferreting out bad guys who smuggle illegal immigrants into the country. When her mysteriously wealthy "uncle," Tinh Vu, asks her to come to New Orleans to help solve the murders of three local Vietnamese, her loyalties are divided. In the end, Lacie gives in to Tinh's plea, ignoring the senator's warning that Tinh is a crook. With the help of detective Anthony Beauprix, Lacie goes undercover, disguising herself as a runaway teen and finding employment in a Vietnamese restaurant. Not much happens as Lacie noses around, watching and working, but the novel's sense of foreboding ratchets up nicely when it becomes clear that the murders are part of a larger scheme. The chemistry between Lacie and Beauprix is subdued, but Tan paints an authentic picture of the Vietnamese subculture. Less convincing is Lacie's uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time and to make amazing leaps of logic. On the other hand, readers may expect nothing less of a "Bombshell" heroine.


Crazy Hot by Tara Janzen...I reviewed the book months before its originally scheduled release. The book was delayed for a year, and a different mass market editor apparently assigned the "new" book to a different reviewer.



Charmed and Dangerous by Lori Wilde

Wilde's second single title contemporary romance (after License to Thrill) finds former Olympic athlete Maddie Cooper and FBI agent David Marshall on the trail of Maddie's twin sister, Cassie, who was supposed to help David nab an art thief. After a less than auspicious first meeting—David confuses Maddie for Cassie and tackles her, and she tries to blind him with pepper spray—the two learn that Cassie has skipped town and may be in cahoots with the thief. Refusing to believe her twin could have switched sides, Maddie insists on tagging along as David travels to the Grand Caymans and then to Europe to track down the thief. There's nothing subtle or surprising about Wilde's plot and characterizations. From the very first sentence ("FBI special agent David Marshall loved a good fight and he played to win"), it's clear what kind of hero David is. Likewise, readers are told repeatedly that Maddie, the rational, dependable twin, has long felt responsible for the well-being of her flightier sister. Nevertheless, the story has its witty moments (upon being saved from a villain by a lesser villain, Cassie thinks to herself, "My antihero!"), and the chemistry between David and Maddie, though overblown at times, is hot enough to satisfy those looking for light summer reading.


Weekend Warriors by Fern Michaels

Readers beware: this book is not for the faint of heart or for fans of Michaels's more traditional romances (Kentucky Rich, etc.). There is no happily ever after here; indeed, the primary emotion fueling this story is not love, but anger. Anger leads wealthy Myra Rutledge, who lost her daughter to a hit-and-run driver with diplomatic immunity, to found the Sisterhood, a secret vigilante group of women who have been unable to seek justice through lawful means. Assisting Myra in this effort are former MI6 agent Charles Martin and defense attorney Nikki Quinn, who was Myra's daughter's best friend. High on estrogen and hate, the women pinpoint their first target—the Weekend Warriors, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who brutally raped Kathryn Lucas, one of Nikki's former clients. The women decide on a Lorena Bobbitt-style punishment and carry it out with very few misgivings—so few that readers will have trouble seeing them as sympathetic. With its paper-thin premise and lack of a rational or moral grounding, this overwrought story isn't likely to satisfy or inspire.


Play Dead by Anne Frasier

Frasier (Sleep Tight, etc.) has perfected the art of making a reader's skin crawl, which is evident from this book's very first scene, in which a medical examiner discovers in the midst of an autopsy that the cadaver he's working on is really a live person. Set in Savannah, Ga., this exceptional thriller follows the hunt for the deranged person who's drugging people so that their minds remain wide awake even as their bodies resemble death. The creepiness factor increases when Frasier introduces homicide detective Elise Sandburg, who was abandoned in a cemetery as a baby and who knows Gullah spells and culture. Elise's partner, anti-social David Gould, is equally strange; his past holds secrets so dark he should be under psychiatric care. Formerly with the FBI, Gould currently lives in a rundown, foul-smelling apartment and sleeps with a prostitute who works for a voodoo priestess. As the two detectives follow leads to the priestess and the former college professor who researched the drug, they forge a tentative bond and come to terms with their own troubled pasts. Frasier's characters are not only fully realized, but fascinating to boot, and she evokes the dark, mystical side of Savannah with precision and skill. Appropriately, this unsettling tale closes with a grim children's rhyme and a spell for "Elise's Follow-Me-Boy Mojo."


Master of Temptation by Nicole Jordan

Jordan's newest Regency-era romance (after Ecstasy) is appropriately set on the fictional Mediterranean island of Cyrene, which is headquarters to the clandestine Guardians of the Sword. Formed in the Dark Ages by legendary British warriors exiled to the island, the "secret society of protectors" now operates with input from Britain's Foreign Office. The first time war hero Max Leighton visits the island, he shares an intimate night with the enigmatic healer Caro Evers. Neither forgets that night, and when their paths cross again a year later—after Max agrees to help the Guardians rescue a kidnapped noblewoman—they pick up where they left off. Although Max is determined to win Caro's heart, she believes he wouldn't want her if he knew her secret: she's not only a healer but a well-trained Guardian. As the author illustrates time and again, however, Caro isn't immune to Max's charms, and the two fill the pages with love scenes to the point of redundancy. More compelling is their emotional relationship, which plays upon Caro's insecurities and Max's nightmares of war. Although the kidnapping subplot is merely a device to bring Max and Caro together, readers who prefer their romances more sexy than suspenseful and more fantastical than historically accurate will savor this sensual feast.


Smooth Talkin' Stranger by Lorraine Heath

With this sweetly simple contemporary romance, Heath abandons the historical Wild West setting her fans have come to love, but she hasn't forsaken her beloved home state of Texas. Like Heath's first contemporary outing, Hard Lovin' Man, this book takes place in Hopeful, a little town chock-full of charm. After spending just one night with beautiful single mom Serena Hamilton, CIA agent Hunter Fletcher realizes that he'd like to spend many more nights with her. This realization may raise some readers' eyebrows, especially given Hunter's fear of both relationships and commitment, but there's no denying that the attraction between the two is mutual. When a baby results from their brief affair, they decide to try to build a life together. However, they must first learn to trust each other. For Hunter, that means coming clean about his past association with Serena's late husband. Heath's prose is smooth and evocative, and her characters are refreshingly down to earth. But the big secret on which the protagonists' relationship hinges feels contrived. Be that as it may, Heath is such a master at her craft that she still manages to wrap readers up in the daily dramas of her characters' lives.


Coming Home by Dee Holmes

Three longtime friends who are at crossroads in their lives unite to repair a vandalized house and reevaluate their priorities in Holmes's (The Boy on the Porch, etc.) formulaic but heartfelt tale of friendship, love and second chances. Olivia Halsey earns a modest living renting the Rhode Island house she grew up in and working as a teacher in Massachusetts. But after breaking off a relationship with her handsome, caring, marriage-minded boyfriend, Daniel Cafferty, and learning that her childhood home has been vandalized, Olivia decides to tackle the repairs single-handedly. Her friends Lexie and Claire, however, won't let her. Party girl Lexie recently lost her broadcast news position in Chicago, and scrupulous homemaker Claire must cope alone with her wayward son's drug abuse while her emotionally distant husband travels for business. As the women restore Olivia's house, they help each other work through their dilemmas. Meanwhile, Daniel arrives to offer his assistance and convince Olivia to reconsider his marriage proposal. Holmes's characters are fully realized, but it's the universality of their problems and concerns that will really strike a chord with readers. Although this book is categorized as a romance, it holds as much appeal for women's fiction fans as for romance aficionados.


When She's Bad by Leanne Banks

Banks ably portrays a large cast of empathetic characters and develops three romantic threads in her second single-title romance (after Some Girls Do). The most admirable of these characters is heroine Delilah Montague, a brassy, self-made woman who moved from shampoo girl to executive director at the ritzy Spa DeMay by virtue of her smarts and charm. Her friendship with Howard Bradford, the Texas millionaire who owned the spa, didn't hurt either, but now that her benefactor is dead, she must prove herself to her employees and to Howard's daughter, Lilly. At the same time, she must cope with her attraction to gorgeous attorney Benjamin Huntington II, appease a blackmailer and cope with a baby who's thrust upon her by one of Howard's old acquaintances. When Delilah isn't trading quips with Benjamin—who comes from a wealthy family and is therefore, she thinks, out of her league—she's doling out advice to her assistant, Sara, or clashing with Lilly, who plans to marry Benjamin's brother, Robert. These secondary characters are surprisingly fleshed out, but the intrigue subplot, involving an easily thwarted blackmailer, is flimsy. The romantic conflicts are familiar (wrong-side-of-the-tracks woman meets well-off man; divorcee falls for younger man, etc.), but that won't keep readers from enjoying Banks's zesty, dialogue-driven tale.


Girls of Summer by Barbara Bretton

Skillfully evoking the cozy but claustrophobic atmosphere of Shelter Rock Cove, Maine, Bretton's sequel to A Soft Place to Fall (2001) tackles the familiar topics of renewal, friendship and familial bonds. The story opens the morning after Ob-Gyn Ellen Markowitz spends the night with her senior partner, Dr. Hall Talbot, a three-time divorcee and father of four. Instead of bringing the couple more tightly together, however, that night—particularly the point when Hall utters the name of his long-ago love, Annie—pushes them farther apart. Certain that Hall still carries a torch for Annie, Ellen tries to ignore her attraction to him. But unbeknownst to her and the nosy townspeople, Hall has been over Annie for some time. He just doesn't know how to convince Ellen of this truth. Then Ellen's half-sister Deirdre shows up with a dog the size of a small bear, needing a place to park him for the summer. Their complicated kinship adds another dimension to the story, as do vibrant secondary characters like Hall's best friend Susan and Scott, the laconic mechanic who fixes Deirdre's car and serves as her love interest. The denouement comes too soon, partly because the various story lines are tied up too easily but mostly because this is a book readers will want to savor.


Black Water by T.J. MacGregor

Fans of the Twilight Zone should relish MacGregor's newest offering (after Out of Sight); reading this spine-tingling suspense novel is like spiraling headfirst into the most disturbing episode ever aired. As Mira Morales and her teenage daughter, Annie, prepare to return via motorboat to their home in the Florida Keys, Mira is knocked unconscious and Annie is kidnapped. After regaining consciousness, the psychic Mira tries to locate her daughter, but when her boat glides through Florida's "black water," she travels back in time to 1968. Meanwhile, Annie's kidnapper, the germaphobic Patrick Wheaton, drags her through the same "corridor." Through the investigative work of FBI agent Wayne Sheppard and the psychic bond that Mira and her grandmother Nadine share, the reasons behind Wheaton's actions unfold, and the story becomes even more unsettling. The constant shift between the past and present may confuse readers, especially as events unfolding in the past begin to affect the present. Though some may find the book's paranormal elements hard to swallow, MacGregor skillfully builds the tension to a heart-pounding conclusion.


Catch the Moon by Diana Dempsey

Shades of Dynasty color this formulaic offering from former TV news anchor Dempsey (Falling Star). Not only does the novel focus heavily on money and power, but the characters, who are mostly upper crust inhabitants of Monterey County, Calif., all fit distinct molds. Brilliant Latina spitfire Alicia Moldonado, a deputy DA, despises the wealthy but can't help feeling attracted to charismatic television newsman Milo Pappas, who's equally attracted to her. Like many a soap opera hero, however, he's easily duped by a pretty face and a sob story, which makes him putty in the hands of his ex-girlfriend, Joan Gaines, a racist heiress and schemer. After the gruesome murder of Joan's politician husband, she cozies up to Milo. Though Joan manages to sink her claws into him, the befuddled newsman still tries to make headway with Alicia, who's on a mission to determine whether the man accused of the killing is truly guilty. Not surprisingly, Alicia doesn't trust Milo—he's the son of an ambassador, after all—and Joan's devious machinations further complicate their relationship. With its overheated story line and one-dimensional characters, this trite tale is more suited for daytime TV than nighttime reading.


Skyward by Mary Alice Monroe

A devoted naturalist and native of South Carolina's Low Country, Monroe is in her element when describing the wonders of nature and the ways people relate to it. In her previous book, The Beach House, she sprinkled information about loggerhead turtles throughout her romance. This time around, she caters to bird-watchers. Harris Henderson handles injured birds with ease at his birds of prey rehab center, but he has no idea how to manage his diabetic five-year-old Marion. Enter Ella Majors, a pediatric nurse-turned-nanny. As Ella cares for the girl, she becomes an integral part of the Hendersons' lives and, before long, Harris begins to see her as more than a plain caretaker. Hauntingly beautiful relationships between birds and people add texture to the story. Most notable are the connections among an elderly black man named Lijah and his eagle, Santee, and a rooster that appears to guard both the center and Brady, a troubled teen working off a community service sentence. Monroe (aka Mary Alice Kruesi) successfully combines elements of women's fiction and romance in this lyrical tale. While it follows a more romantic arc than her previous book, it has enough depth and sophistication to appeal to a broad base of readers.


Only by Your Touch by Catherine Anderson

The characters and plot twists in Only by Your Touch, Catherine Anderson's newest contemporary romance (after Always in My Heart), may feel familiar to the author's fans, but this by-the-numbers tale still possesses poignancy and charm. Determined to keep her sickly son safe, Chloe Evans divorces her abusive husband and moves to Jack Pine, Ore., where she meets the enigmatic Ben Longtree, a part-Indian veterinarian once arrested for murder. Chloe is struck by the man's kindness to animals and is deeply attracted to him, but at the same time, she must fend off a police deputy who tries to assert his claim over her in an ever more ominous fashion. The once-abused heroine, too-good-to-be-true hero and too-evil-to-be-believed villain are character types that Anderson's fans know well, but that won't stop readers (both old and new) from savoring the book's tender moments.


McCloud's Woman by Patricia Rice

A sequel to Patricia Rice's Almost Perfect, McCloud's Woman throws together TJ McCloud, a callous forensic anthropologist, and flashy movie producer Mara Simon, but inconsistent character development and an overstuffed plot prevent sparks from flaring between the two. Mara's film crew needs access to an ocean site, but TJ's dig site stands in the way. Hoping TJ will give her a break since he used to be friends with her deceased older brother, Mara appeals to him only to be rebuffed. The two eventually fall in lust with each other, but several obstacles stand in their way—including TJ's guilt over Mara's brother's death and his potential involvement in a war crime scandal. The protagonists frequently push each other away and come together again, but Rice gives readers little reason to care for her characters, let alone cheer for their happy ending.


Her Scandalous Intentions by Sari Robins

With its conventional plot and cookie-cutter protagonists, Robins's Regency-era debut doesn't break any new ground, but fans of romance-cum-espionage adventures will take pleasure in the characters' easy banter and daring escapades. James Morgan, a duke who is now spying for the Crown, finds himself in a quandary after he mistakes sweet, charitable Charlotte Hastings for a traitorous thief intent on financing Napoleon's restoration to power. James intends to wring a confession from Charlotte during a weekend party, but when he is caught in her room, he claims she's his betrothed in order to save her reputation. Believing James may be a traitor, Charlotte initially refuses to go along with his charade, so he kidnaps her and endures several groin injuries before the avuncular General Cumseby, a friend to both, sets the matter to rights. Though the two no longer suspect one another, they still have their pretend betrothal, which proves useful as they join forces to ferret out the real villain. James and Charlotte spend as much time working together as they do arguing, but their silent caring for one another shines through even when they're at odds. Neither a humorous romp nor a saga, this will appeal to readers who enjoy steely heroes and strong-willed heroines who give as good as they get.


The Woman Most Likely To by Jennifer Greene

At the start of this sweetly sanguine offering, Susan Sinclair, her widowed mother, Lydia, and her daughter, Becca, are at critical junctures in their lives. Susan, a successful businesswoman, has come home to scenic Copper Creek, Mich., to check up on her mother, who, Becca claims, has gone nutty. Upon her arrival, she discovers that Becca has a bigger problem. She has gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Fears of ending up like Lydia, who was unhappy in her one-sided marriage, kept Susan from marrying Becca's father, Jon Laker, and now Becca is worried that she'll foul up her own future. As for Jon, he would love to have the exasperating Susan back in his life if only she would stop running from him and commitment in general. Greene's (Devil's Night, etc.) writing possesses a modern sensibility and frankness that is vivid, fresh and often funny. She also manages to tackle important issues such as abortion without making light of them or resorting to melodrama. Lydia's "born-again hip" manner of speaking may be far-fetched for some (does any grandma say "way cool?"), and readers will undoubtedly be frustrated that it takes so long for Susan and Jon to work through their issues. Still, readers will rejoice when the couple finally get it right.


Wild at Heart by Jane Graves

When hard-nosed police officer Alex DeMarco is arrested for the murder of a wealthy and sexually voracious woman, the closest thing to an eyewitness is PI Valerie Parker, who was paid by the dead woman's husband to follow her. Alex is innocent, but will Valerie hold against him the fact that he had her dismissed from the police academy five years earlier, the day after they spent a passionate night together? After someone takes a long-range rifle shot at Valerie, she begins to believe in Alex's innocence, but a reckless act on her part forces them on the road in search of evidence to clear his name. Once Valerie and Alex begin working in concert, the pace picks up and the chemistry between them combusts. Although some of the details concerning Val and Alex's experiences growing up are cliched—he was abused by his father and she was sexually abused by her stepfather—they work through their issues in a mature manner and forge a stronger emotional bond in the process. Members of Alex's eccentric family, introduced in Graves's previous book (I Got You, Babe), make an appearance, which will please fans, and a red herring helps maintain the "whodunit" tension. Despite a few abbreviated sex scenes, which tease rather than titillate, this is an intoxicating (if far-fetched) tale.

The Hidden Heiress by Amanda Scott

The characters in Scott's (The Abducted Heiress) 16th-century romance take nearly three quarters of the novel to deduce what is obvious to the reader from page one that beautiful Elspeth, who slaves away as a servant with Cinderella-like endurance, is the book's "hidden heiress." Long assumed to be the bastard daughter of an exiled earl, Elspeth has been forced to earn her keep at Farnsworth Tower since she was a child. The worst aspect of her position, however, is dealing with Farnsworth's domineering wife and bratty daughters, who are little more than stereotypes. Everything changes the day she saves Patrick MacRae from capture in the woods and helps him secure a position as falconer at the Tower. His bearing indicates he's no mere criminal on the lam; in fact, he's a highland knight on a mission to reach Stirling, where King James V has been holding his laird hostage. King James and Cardinal Davey Beaton, the man behind Scotland's throne, play significant roles in the story, as do a group of magical "wee people," who help push Elspeth and Patrick together. Although it's clear from the start that Elspeth and Patrick are destined to fall in love, there's no real romantic tension or, for that matter, believable affection between them. Too many principal characters and too little interaction between the hero and heroine keep this trite fairytale from taking wing.


The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe

After losing her high-powered advertising job in Chicago, Caretta Rutledge grudgingly returns to her low-country roots at her mother's behest. Cara has long resented her mother, who focused her maternal efforts more on looking after the annual loggerhead turtle spawn than on protecting herself and her children from their abusive father. But when Cara learns that her mother is ill, she must lay her bitterness aside and try to make amends. Cara starts by restoring her mother's small beach house and joining the same turtle brigade she resented while growing up. In the process, she reconnects with an old friend and finds love in the arms of a local boat owner and naturalist. This poignant read won't disappoint fans of so-called "Southern Fiction"; the South, which represents both poison and tonic, is eloquently portrayed here, and its healing properties inevitably come to the fore. Just enough information about the loggerhead turtles and their spawning cycle opens each chapter, swiftly engaging the reader from the outset, and all of the integral characters are richly developed. With its evocative, often beautiful prose and keen insights into family relationships, Monroe's latest (following The Four Seasons) is an exceptional and heartwarming work of fiction that is bound to please fans of women's fiction and romances alike.


The Trials of Angela by Millie Criswell

The humor Criswell employed so skillfully in her previous offerings (The Trouble with Mary; What to Do About Annie?) strikes a discordant note in her latest book, the third in a series of contemporary romances chronicling the lives and loves of a close-knit community of Italian Americans in Maryland. This strident entry follows the romance between Angela DeNero and John Franco, two attorneys who are engaged in an ugly custody battle that has their relatives up in arms. Against his better judgement, John is representing a powerful and underhanded lawyer whose new trophy wife is seeking to regain custody of her son, whom she abandoned. Unfortunately, Dan, the boy's father and a relative of John's through marriage, has hired Angela, a prim and proper Harvard grad who captured John's heart in high school and is poised to do so again. Angela and John are both well-drawn, likable characters, but the "villains" in this story serve no purpose other than to stir up a little conflict and push the plot along. Although the lawyer jokes that preface each chapter are cute, characters like Angela's cross-dressing father, her underwear-deprived friend and John's kleptomaniac grandma are piled on, and the story about two scarred individuals finding love with one another is lost in the cacophony.


Knight Triumphant by Shannon Drake

Set in Scotland in the early 1300s during the war between Robert the Bruce and King Edward I, the fourth book in Drake's Graham family series (following Seize the Dawn) opens with a history lesson disguised as a fairytale, but quickly launches into an epic story of love, war and conviction. After escaping plague-ridden Langley castle shortly following her husband's death, Englishwoman Igrainia is captured by Scottish warrior Eric Graham, who seeks to free his wife and daughter from Langley's prison. Upon learning that his daughter is already dead and his wife is dying from the disease, the warrior threatens to kill Igrainia if she cannot save her. In short order, Eric's wife dies, the warrior himself falls ill, Igrainia nurses him back to health and then she tries to flee back to England. Once recovered, Eric recaptures Igrainia and eventually forces her to marry him, a political move that benefits Scotland but enrages both Igrainia and King Edward. This lengthy romance is loaded with period detail and brutal battles between Bruce and the Brits but, thankfully, Eric and Igrainia's fitful romance is always at the forefront. Although it takes a considerable amount of time and many obstacles for the two to realize they love one another, this is a well-researched and thoroughly entertaining read.


Miss Match by Leslie Carroll

When 35-year-old drama teacher Kathryn Lamb joins her nosy neighbor's dating service, Six in the City, she meets brilliant entrepreneur Walker Hart, the temporary head of Six. He's living in his mother's penthouse and running her company while she's in Europe getting married...or is it divorced?...yet again. Though the two share an undeniable chemistry, Walker's serial-marrying mama has made him the poster boy for confirmed bachelors everywhere, and Kathryn is unwilling to settle for anything less than wedding bells. And so Kathryn embarks on a series of disastrous dates with other men, and Walker remains nearby enough to drive them both crazy. Carroll's debut is precisely what Ivy touts it as "Chick-lit meets contemporary romance." With its many encounters between the heroine and men other than the hero, this cutesy comedy will appeal more to fans of the former category. However, even chick-lit readers and hip Manhattanites (the book's target readership) will tire of the characters' aimless repartee, which is more scripted than sincere, and the numerous references to the trendy and designer. Despite an obvious allusion to Sex and the City, this dialogue-driven drama isn't likely to hook fans of that series.


July Thunder by Rachel Lee

Readers looking for a contemporary romance focused almost entirely on character development will enjoy this saccharine story, which explores the relationship between a widowed deputy sheriff and a divorced schoolteacher in the small Colorado town of Whisper Creek. Sam Canfield and Mary McKinney meet after a car accident leaves her without a vehicle. Although they share a mutual attraction for one another, they are both hesitant to become entangled in a relationship since Sam still mourns the death of his wife and Mary hasn't been able to forgive herself for her son's death. However, they embark on a rocky relationship that heats up when a brush fire threatens their community and Sam's estranged father, a fire-and-brimstone pastor, arrives in town. The plot is minimal, and Lee's prose, though evocative, is sometimes excessive (such as when Sam contemplates the vulnerability of the soft skin inside Mary's upper arm). Lee (Under Suspicion) thoroughly explores the themes of forgiveness and tolerance—religious and otherwise—and fleshes out the story with a small but endearing cast of secondary characters. Although Sam's and Mary's healing occurs in a relatively short period, the intensity of their relationship and emotions will win over the most hard-hearted readers.


Dream Island by Josie Litton

The fantasy realm of Akora, an ancient island civilization hidden from the world by its geography and its citizens, serves as the backdrop for this fanciful Regency-era romance, the first in a new series from Litton (Come Back to Me). Determined to travel to Akora with Lord Alex Darcourt, a half-English Akoran prince, and search for her missing brother, Royce, Lady Joanna Hawkforte stows away on his ship. She's discovered after she injures herself on board, but Alex, intrigued by her courage and beauty, tends her back to health and introduces her to the customs of his homeland. Despite Akora's party line on female behavior that women should be submissive to their warrior men and treated like birds in a gilded cage Joanna and Alex's sister, Kassandra, roam about Akora freely. In the midst of one of her wanderings, Joanna overhears two men plotting against the leader of Akora, Alex's half-brother. Fortunately, Joanna and Kassandra possess special psychic abilities that may help them rescue Royce and thwart the traitors' plans. Through descriptive and sometimes flowery prose, Litton (aka Maura Seger) conveys the fairy tale-like perfection of Akora, but her protagonists, who also seem pulled straight from a storybook, are only marginally developed. Indeed, this frothy fantasy is driven more by flashy and unlikely action than genuine romantic tension or character development.


Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley

A sequence of improbable events propel a virtuous, 21-year-old spinster and a moody rogue to meet and fall in love in the second installment in Foley's Regency-era Knight series (after The Duke). The story opens with a dramatic flourish when Alice Montague stumbles upon an orgy organized by the mysterious Lord Lucien Knight. Alice has come to "rescue" her sister-in-law, Caro, a one-dimensional character who spends the entire book flitting in and out of men's beds and making mischief—but she soon finds that she needs rescuing herself. Lucien, who is really one of England's premiere spies, has refused to let her leave his side for at least a week, but she fears that it will take less time than that to fall in love with the devilish rake. The story is at its best when Lucien and Alice are alone together, sharing their dreams and insecurities and developing a genuine relationship. Unfortunately, these intimate moments are all too rare. Midway through the novel, their romance gives way to a far-fetched subplot involving the capture of a French spy who plans to kill Lucien and terrorize England. Though they occasionally devolve into stereotypes, Foley's protagonists are captivating, but her hackneyed plot doesn't do them justice.


The Husband Test by Betina Krahn...cannot locate

Snowfall by Sharon Sala...cannot locate


Under Suspicion by Rachel Lee

Lee (A January Chill, etc.) is known for her romantic suspense novels, but this dry effort is short on romance and long on tedious technical detail. When a guard is killed and a Mexican dagger is stolen from a museum in Tampa, Fla., police detectives Clarence Tebbins and Gil Garcia team up to track down the culprit. The evidence implicates beautiful museum curator Anna Lundgren, but Gil and Tebbins soon realize that she may be a target, especially in light of her family's history with the dagger and its supposed curse. Whoever touches the jaguar-headed jade dagger is doomed, along with their descendents, to "die by fire in the jaws of the jaguar," and shortly after Anna's father discovered the dagger, an earthquake claimed his life. Instead of pinning down the killer's motive, however, Gil and Tebbins spend most of the novel trying to figure out how he bypassed the museum's high-tech security system. Anna's computer whiz twin sister finally determines how the system was circumvented, but the knowledge brings them only a small step closer to finding the killer. Although Gil and Anna are well-drawn characters, Lee (aka Sue Civil-Brown) puts little effort into developing their relationship. Readers will be disappointed by the novel's outrageous plot, lack of romantic tension and all too demented villain.


I Got You, Babe by Jane Graves

Set in Tolosa, Tex., this rollicking romantic comedy explodes off the starting block as beautiful Renee Esterhaus, a self-made woman with a lengthy juvenile rap sheet, jumps bail and tries to flee the state after being falsely accused of armed robbery. To escape a smarmy bounty hunter who is hot on her trail, Renee walks into a country diner and promises John DeMarco a night of mind-blowing sex if he'll take her to his cabin pronto. John, a cop on a much-needed vacation, senses that something is amiss, but his instincts take a backseat to his hormones the minute he sizes up the blue-eyed blonde propositioning him. Instead of the sex he was promised, however, Renee flees, courtesy of John's car and cash. When John catches her in a McDonald's drive-thru, he plans to turn her in, but something about the way she behaves and the stories she tells leads him to lock her in his house instead of the slammer. While John searches for a way to clear her name, he begins to realize that he's falling in love. The novel's climax is over the top, but Graves's ready wit and charismatic characters are an abundant source of comic relief. Readers looking for a strong hero and a feisty heroine who face off against each other will enjoy this fast-paced tale.


Maybe Baby by Elaine Fox

One seemingly innocent lie swiftly snowballs to preposterous proportions in this farcical contemporary romance. Harp Cove, Maine, is "The Way Life Should Be" quaint, friendly and filled with good-humored gossips. While visiting the picturesque little town, Dr. Delaney Poole has a one-night stand with renowned ladies' man Jack Shepard and is stunned to learn soon after that she is pregnant. A year later, Delaney returns to Harp Cove with her infant daughter to assume the position of town doctor, only to find that Jack is her landlord. For some unknown reason, Delaney had intended to pass herself off as a divorce, but when she sees Jack and the sultry teenybopper he's with, she invents a husband who lives in another region. To convince Jack that she does have a husband named Jim—or is it Joe?—Delaney has to slice a couple of months off of Emily's age, redo her tax form and stuff her closet with men's clothes. Delaney is a terrible liar, however, and Jack sees through her charade. The only thing that perplexes him, and the reader, is why Delaney feels the need to lie in the first place. Fox (Compulsion), a veteran author of historical romances, has made the mistake of letting silly shenanigans and screwball behavior overshadow the romance here, and this debut contemporary is unlikely to earn her a broader readership.


Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson

Anderson (Baby Love, etc.) departs from traditional romantic stereotypes in this poignant, contemporary tale of a love that transcends all boundaries. Handsome rancher and reputed rake Ryan Kendrick and the beautiful paraplegic Bethany Coulter seem an unlikely couple, but, after one date and a passionate kiss, Ryan can't stop thinking about Bethany. Bethany, on the other hand, has felt the sting of rejection far too often, and she's unwilling to become involved, especially with a man who has a reputation. Once the two finally do come together, their lovemaking becomes the focus of the book. The lengthy scenes detailed here are hardly gratuitous, however, and readers will empathize with Ryan as he offers a heartfelt prayer to God regarding his intimacy with Bethany. This well-paced tale is largely a strong read, but certain elements—Ryan is a millionaire and his family is just too good to be true—seem forced and far-fetched. Although some readers may be hesitant to read a romance involving such a major physical disability, Anderson makes it not only plausible (with seemingly good research to back her story up) but romantic through and through.


Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank

A follow-up to Frank's debut novel, Sullivan's Island, this colorful contemporary romance effortlessly evokes the lush beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry while exploring the complexities of family relationships. When Caroline Wimbley Levine learns that her mother, Miss Lavinia, has supposedly gone mad, she leaves the big city bustle of Manhattan and returns to Tall Pines Plantation. Caroline originally left Tall Pines to escape her feisty, eccentric mother and her drunken brother, Trip, but when Miss Lavinia dies, Caroline is forced to come to terms with her family's troubled history as well her failing relationship with her husband. As Caroline reminisces about her past rebelliousness and her childhood, she realizes that her father's sudden and tragic death many years before served as a catalyst for the family's disintegration. Caroline and Trip also learn that their seemingly selfish and self-assured mother was not so uncaring after all. While most of the story is told from Caroline's point of view, journal entries written by Miss Lavinia open several of the chapters, providing the narrative with additional texture and warmth. Although the novel is short on plot, readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the lives of these deftly drawn, heartfelt characters.


Dakota Dawn by Marion Marshall...cannot locate


Midnight Honor by Marsha Canham

Set during the Jacobite rebellion of the mid-1740s, Canham's latest (after Swept Away) details the events leading up to and following the battle at Culloden, where the English battled Bonnie Prince Charles's rebel Scots. Although Angus Moy has vowed that he wouldn't lead his people in their rebellion against England, his spirited wife, Anne, defies him by joining the rebels and becoming the colonel of his clan. Regardless of the obvious physical intimacy the two share, Anne's loyalties rest firmly with Scotland while Angus remains faithful to the crown for reasons he won't reveal. Due to their conflicting allegiances, Anne and Angus are estranged for a large part of the narrative, and readers may become confused as to who the hero is when Anne's handsome and able clansman, John MacGillivray, joins her crusade. Through lush and earthy prose, Canham depicts the simplicity of Highland life and the brutality of war with vivid accuracy, and infuses her characters with vitality. Readers who think that the setting of a novel should function merely as decorative wallpaper may be disappointed by the amount of space Canham devotes to historical events, but those who long to immerse themselves in another time and culture will appreciate this meticulously detailed tale.


Someone To Love by Kasey Michaels

Sparkling with Michaels's characteristically droll repartee and lovable lead characters, this Regency-set romance enchants with its skillful treatment of a familiar formula. Kipp Rutland, the Viscount Willoughby, promised his mother on her deathbed that he would marry and secure the family line. An irresistibly dashing man who possesses a surprising intellect, Kipp nevertheless believes that he will be content marrying a striking yet dim-witted debutante. His best friend, Brady, knows otherwise and successfully manipulates Kipp into a marriage of convenience with the level-headed Abigail Backworth-Maldon, a young widow whose husband's ferocious gambling and scandalous demise have branded her in the eyes of the society. Abigail hopes her marriage will relieve her of having to manage her eccentric family, but she soon finds that they won't let go so easily. As Abigail and Kipp struggle to fend off her family and one of Kipp's ex-lovers, their friendship slowly blossoms into love. The chemistry between Abigail and Kipp is convincing, but even more impressive is the strong cast of supporting characters (some of whom readers will recognize from Waiting for You and Indiscreet), who add humor and depth to the breezy narrative.


All About Love by Stephanie Laurens

In the sixth installment of Laurens's series of Regency-set romances involving the devilish men of the Cynster family (A Secret Love, etc.), the familiar "curse" that causes the Cynster men to fall in love with and marry independent women comes into play once again. Alasdair Reginald Cynster, widely known as Lucifer, arrives at the country home of his mentor, Horatio Welham, only to discover he's been murdered. Knocked unconscious himself, the last thing Lucifer feels before he blacks out is a woman's touch. When he awakens, he is at the family home of Phyllida Tallent, his angel of mercy. Although Phyllida and Lucifer join forces to solve Horatio's murder, Phyllida conceals a secret that she is unwilling to reveal despite a growing attraction to her handsome new companion. As for Lucifer, once he's recovered from his initial distaste at being in love, he sets about wooing Phyllida, and only her determination to remain independent keeps them apart. Phyllida and Lucifer are rich, engaging characters, and Laurens's writing shines. Loyal fans of the series will also be pleased to note that Devil and Demon, protagonists from the previous novels, make an appearance as well.


Lip Service by Suzanne Simmons

Readers weary of the overblown internal conflicts that fuel many romances will appreciate the subtle hand Simmons (Lady's Man) employs to draw a relationship that burns with a delicious sexual tension. Well-to-do curator Schuyler Grant and Trace Ballinger, an attorney with a rough past, are brought together after the death of Schuyler's wealthy aunt Cora. The two meet en route to Grantwood, the Grant family's Hudson River Valley estate, when a strange car bumps Schuyler's Ferrari off the road. While their initial meeting is less than auspicious, the unlikely couple grow more affectionate as they investigate the mystery surrounding Cora's final request to transfer the crumbling Grantwood castle to Schuyler and "lay the ghosts to rest." The problematic request is made all the more puzzling by some strange goings-on at the mansion that indicate that someone may be trying to harm Schuyler. Although the premise of this cozy investigation may seem far-fetched at times, the spicy romance acts as the narrative's driving force. The secondary characters--a cook named Mrs. Danvers, two elderly and eccentric spinster neighbors, another who carries his dog in his pocket and a 90-year-old gardener--flesh out the story by providing humor and depth.


The Scottish Bride by Catherine Coulter

Coulter completes her quartet of Regency-set historical romances (The Sherbrooke Bride, etc.) about the Sherbrooke family with a refreshing twist. In contrast to the rakish men featured in the three preceding books, the hero here, Tysen Sherbrooke, is a dour vicar and a widower with three children who arrives in Scotland after inheriting a barony and a castle. With admirable bravado, he rescues Mary Rose Fordyce from the clutches of a local man who will do anything, including rape, to force her into marriage with him. Tysen is outraged at this turn of events, and is surprised as well to discover he has feelings for Mary Rose, feelings that don't conform to his piousness. Unlike many romances where the heroine reforms a rake, here the heroine brings chaotic light into the ordered life of a prudish and seemingly humorless hero. The sheer number of characters in this finale is staggering, but loyal fans will be thrilled to note that many of the protagonists from Coulter's earlier installments are included in the cast. While there are some inconsistencies in character, particularly involving Mary Rose's mother, Coulter's rich development of Tysen and Mary Rose more than compensate.


This Perfect Kiss by Christie Ridgway

Set in the heart of Hollywood, Ridgway's latest contemporary romance (after Wish You Were Here) captures the zeitgeist of a culture ruled by bright lights and scandal. Rory Kincaid, who hails from a decadent family of actors, is intent on being sponsored as the Blue party senate candidate and salvaging his tarnished name. His straightlaced political ambitions are threatened, however, when he meets curvy Jilly Skye, an eccentric but compassionate vintage clothes retailer. Although Jilly's purpose in Rory's life is to sell two generations' worth of his family's memorabilia, the two arrange a sham engagement to make Rory look better in the eyes of his party and to satisfy Jilly's growing attraction to her "desert prince." Despite their spurious relationship, Rory and Jilly must fight their strong attraction to each other in order to save themselves from what they believe would be their downfall--his to scandal and hers to love. Rory's stormy relationship with Jilly is a blend of humor and scorching sexual chemistry, and their story is made all the richer by a subplot involving Rory's four-year-old aunt Iris. While readers will appreciate Jilly for her zest for life, it is Rory who truly comes alive in this story as he strives to rid himself of his preoccupations with the past and his image.


The Trouble with Mary by Millie Criswell

Criswell, best known for her American historical romances, makes her delightful contemporary debut with a funny and sexy romance filled with eccentric Italians who live - not in New Jersey like Janet Evanovich's characters - but in Maryland. The trouble with Mary is that she's a 33-year-old virgin who yearns for independence from her strong-willed mother. To that end, she has opened an Italian restaurant and is looking to be "zinged." The further trouble with Mary is that the man she wants to zing with, Dan Gallagher, is the same journalist who gave Mary's restaurant, Mama Sophia, a scathing review - and he's a divorced father who has come to believe that a woman's place is in the home. Add into the mix an Italian kleptomaniac grandmother, an overbearing Italian mother, a father who invents accessories for the toilet, a wicked Jewish best friend, a 200-pound landlady and Matt, Dan's potty-mouthed son, and readers will have a pretty good idea of what's really the trouble with Mary. Though the 33-year-old virgin angle is somewhat effective, it's not entirely believable. And yet Mary's observations of the people around her, the scorching chemistry between Dan and Mary, and the delicious recipes Criswell sprinkles throughout make this a worthwhile read.


The Wish by Marianne Willman

Readers will find a good amount of enchantment in Willman's latest historical romance (following The Enchanted Mirror and The Lost Bride), set at the end of England's Regency period. The defiant hero is Justin, earl of Ravenall, who needs the cachet of his missing ward's fortune to retain and restore his birthright. Could the missing heiress be Perdita, a young servant who knows nothing about the circumstances surrounding her birth? At long last, Justin and Perdita find each other, but their romantic alliance is based on half-truths: Perdita does not reveal that the six-pointed birthmark on her wrist, which marks her as the missing heiress Pauline Hexham, is only a scar; and Justin allows her to believe that he protects her because he is an altruistic nobleman. The novel's gothic flavor enhances the danger that threatens to harm both Justin and Perdita and invites added suspicion about their relationship. Though the novel has some awkward, even strange, phrasing ("he caressed her breasts, held them in his hands as if they were doves"), readers will race through to the end to find out how Justin and Perdita's tenuous relationship is resolved and, of course, to find out if wishes and dreams can come true.


It Happened at Midnight by Cait London

Michaela Langtry returns to the fictional Wyoming town of Shiloh after being forced out of her job as an on-air meteorologist in Manhattan. She is embraced by the healing love of her family but must also come to terms with Harrison Kane II, a man who has sparked her passion since they were teens. Both have faced tremendous sorrows and pain in their lives - Michaela's sister was kidnapped as an infant, and Harrison's cold father committed suicide after it was discovered he had embezzled money. Harrison has always been treated like a member of the Langtry family, and even though they've never so much as shared a kiss, he has a plan to make Michaela his. London prefaces each chapter with a journal entry from Zachariah Langtry, Michaela's proud and brave ancestor and the family's patriarch, which tells the story of the fiery love he shared with his half-Native American wife, Cleopatra, a parallel to the smoldering relationship between Michaela and Harrison. Six gold coins, each bearing the letter L, form part of the Langtry family's legendary history, and there's apparently nothing one villainous character won't do to obtain them. While there is some touching dialogue in the last couple of scenes, the remainder of the book proves tiresome. London is an uneven writer - prone to too much detail and melodrama - and this latest doesn't live up to her previous, Sleepless in Montana.


Run for Your Life by Andrea Kane

Following a string of historical romances, Kane (The Theft, The Gold Coin) plunges into the popular world of contemporary romantic suspense. Kane's strong suit is her ability to create memorable characters; consequently, the plot is driven not only by events, but also by the wants, fears and histories of heroine Victoria Kensington, a 28-year-old Manhattan attorney, and hero Zachary Hamilton, a brilliant 30-something intelligence expert. Victoria's fear of dependence, rooted in her relationship with her Machiavellian father, caused Victoria and Zach's initial breakup four years earlier and hinders their getting back together after an incident in Central Park involving Victoria's unstable sister, Audrey, apparently running from unknown pursuers in a hospital gown. Audrey's flight and disappearance somehow involves the secretive Hope Institute, and not only forces Victoria to face her relationship with Zach, but also to deal with her father, who may be involved in drug smuggling with the Institute. What sets this book apart from other romantic thrillers is Kane's deft skill in defining the actions of her lead characters: her love scenes, for example, are exceptional, neither euphemistic nor clinical. Though slow to start, her latest marks a decisive transition for Kane from genre fiction into the mainstream.


More than Gold by Shirley Hailstock

Twelve years ago, on the recommendation of CIA agent Jack Temple, Olympic gymnast Morgan Kirkwood executed a daring prison rescue of an American operative during the games at Seoul (and an hour later won a gold medal). Fearing retribution these many years later, Morgan (a former homeless girl who survived the mean streets of Washington, D.C.) has set up an intricate, masterful escape plan. Upon returning home one day, Morgan senses danger and realizes that someone has broken into her house. Inside she finds Jack Temple, who quickly explains that he's there not to threaten her life, but to save it. Moments later, Morgan and Jack escape a barrage of bullets in an episode worthy of James Bond. Though Hailstock (Opposites Attract) has created an interesting back-story for Morgan and many explosive and sexy moments for her and Jack, the book fails to fully engage the reader; and between Morgan's inexplicable skill as a covert operator and a single kiss 12 years in the past, there's demanded too much suspension of belief.


All Due Respect by Vicki Hinze

Hinze (Acts of Honor) has crafted a diverting, romantic thriller. Dr. Julia Warner-Hyde can't seem to escape the clutches of her abusive ex-husband, Karl, who nearly killed her three years before. Even in prison, Karl's threats are still real. When Julia's old lab partner, the kind and handsome Dr. Seth Holt, seeks her out in Grace, the small Alabama town in which the former rocket scientist is now teaching the first grade, she is torn. Should she risk leaving the safety of Grace to secure a top-secret project (the details of which may have been leaked to the highest bidder)? Julia knows that Seth's concern that millions of Americans' lives could be lost is not an exaggeration, but she is unsure whether she can trust him. How can she avoid explaining why she disappeared three years ago without a word? Will the Two West Freedom Coalition, a well-funded terrorist organization, manage to obtain the final pieces to the advanced technology that would allow it to hold the U.S. hostage? And will Karl find her? These questions interspersed throughout Julia's thoughts as she goes on with her day-to-day duties - are answered in the novel's exciting plot.


By Possession by Madeline Hunter

Earlier this year, Hunter excited romance readers with the release of her first novel, the medieval By Arrangement. With the release of this new volume, she cements her position as one of the brightest new writers in the genre. Brimming with intelligent writing, historical detail and passionate, complex protagonists, this novel follows Addis de Valence, a Crusading knight who returns, seemingly from the dead, to reclaim the heritage he had lost to a scheming half-brother and the whims of a greedy king. Caught up in his struggle is Moira Falkner, a young, serf-born woman who knows that loving the scarred Addis will lead to nothing but misery. But Addis knows he cannot live without Moira and that he is only at peace with her in his life. Yet, if Addis regains his position, Moira would have to live in the shadows, as her mother did, and she finds this unacceptable. Hunter makes 14th-century England come alive - from the details of its sights, sounds and smells to the political context of this rebellious and dangerous time, when alliances and treason went hand in hand. For all the historical richness of the story, the romantic aspect is never lost, and the poignancy of the characters' seemingly untenable love is truly touching.


The Wishing Garden by Christy Yorke

There's magic in Yorke's second novel, magic in the prose, the details and the exquisite characterizations. Divorced advertising executive and Tarot-card reader Savannah Dawson takes her 15-year-old daughter, Emma, from their San Francisco home to Arizona so that they can spend time with Savannah's estranged mother, Maggie, and her father, Doug, who is dying of cancer. Then Savannah meets Jake, a secretive stranger who is building a special bench for her father's garden; at the same time, Emma meets Eli, the local bad boy who works for Jake. Although the relationships between these four characters form the basis for much of the drama in the story, the romantic elements remain secondary to the explorations of each individual's personality. Readers enter a world where poetry and soil speak for a dying man, where love can create as well as destroy and where all characters are complicit in each other's pain, either by choice or by chance. Yorke (Magic Spells) even has Jake's dog, Sasha, narrate some scenes, and those, together with the scenes revealing Maggie and Doug's difficult, complex, and ultimately loving relationship, are the most poignant in the book. Readers who enjoy contrary characters will especially prize the paradoxes in this well-executed novel.


Once a Wolf by Susan Krinard

The second entry in Krinard's most recent historical/werewolf romance trilogy, this novel features a Victorian lady who is compelled to recognize the animal powers that lie beneath her New York high-society manners. Lady Rowena Forster has not changed into her wolf form for years; in fact, she's hoping her upcoming marriage to powerful and wealthy Cole MacLean will keep her "honest." Then, Rowena is kidnapped by another werewolf, Tomas Alejandro Randall, who is seeking revenge against MacLean, and she is forced to look beneath her veneer of civility. What is the right way to deal with one's werewolf nature? Tomas simply accepts that he is a werewolf, and Cole uses his power to manipulate one and all. While Rowena begins to fall for Tomas's gentler side, Cole's minions are busy tracking them throughout the West. Krinard tells her tale powerfully, with strong secondary characters, including Cole's younger brother and a young girl Rowena and Tomas save from a mob of angry villagers. While the story feels a few chapters too long, this paranormal tale will appeal to lovers of both horror and straight historical romance. Rowena's transformation from the Lady of Ice to a Lady of Fire and her union with Tomas makes for fascinating, and erotic, reading.


Mrs. Love by Kathy Thurlow...cannot locate


Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath

Heath is known for her deft characterizations, attention to historical detail and mastery of small moments, so it comes as no surprise that the second installment in her trilogy of Englishmen in Texas (after A Rogue in Texas) features all of the above, and more. There are moments of adventure and suspense to complement the quieter times, exquisitely rendered love scenes and a hero and heroine so lonely that watching them find each other is truly joyous. At the end of the Civil War, Englishman Harrison Bainbridge finds himself dirt poor in Texas, so he embarks on a business venture with Jessye Kane: driving cattle to sell for a profit up North. Jessye, a saloon owner's straight-talking daughter, seeks nothing but her financial independence. Though attracted to each other, Jessye assumes Harrison is little more than a lazy scoundrel and, with no successful romance in his past, Harrison does not believe love is his to give. Through the events on a cattle drive, Jessye comes to learn the Englishman's true character, but a villain from her past threatens the possibility of a romance and leaves Harrison gravely injured. As exciting as the cattle drive is, the illumination of Jessye and Harrison's characters, often through the eyes of others, shines brightest. A sub-plot involving a little girl may seem a bit too convenient, but it is one of Heath's strengths to take a standard plot point and make it new and vital. Though these characters are somewhat larger than life than those earlier in her career, Heath has more than enough talent to handle them.


Swept Away by Gwynne Forster...cannot locate


Prince Charming by Gaelen Foley

Foley's final installment in her historical romance trilogy (following The Pirate Prince and The Princess) is set on the fictional island nation of Ascencion in the early 1800s. When the Masked Rider robs crown prince Rafael de Fiore, he vows revenge. Prince Rafe and his coterie track the thief to an estate, where Rafe meets and becomes interested in the lovely mistress--Lady Daniela Chiaramonte. Prince Rafe is a man with many problems. Although he was raised to rule, he has not been given the opportunities to do so, and for too long he has lived only for his pleasures--until he meets Dani, who does not know if she can believe his sweet words and exotic touch. Soon he discovers that his country's answer to Robin Hood is the lady Dani. The prince is torn between arresting or marrying the spirited young woman whom his countrymen have taken to heart. Foley brings historical accuracy and richly drawn characters, particularly the complex prince, to her romance.


The Cowboy by Joan Johnston

In the first book of her latest contemporary romance trilogy, the Sisters of the Lone Star, Johnston connects descendents of the British Blackthorne family (of her earlier Captive Hearts series) with the present-day Texan Creed family. The two clans have been engaged in a century-long feud; caught in between are the young Callie Creed and Trace Blackthorne. The Blackthornes have prospered while the Creeds struggled. Just when the love between Callie and Trace begins to bridge the gap between the two families, another clash tests Callie's loyalties between her family and Trace, causing an 11-year rift for the lovers. What will it take to bring them back together, heal old wounds and bind them forever? Though she's no stranger to genre, here Johnston's story line feels melodramatic and overwrought in its modern setting.


California Moon by Catherine Lanigan


Once a Pirate by Susan Grant

Fans of high-sea adventures will enjoy Grant's debut time-travel romance. Grant's background as a U.S. Air Force pilot brings authenticity to her heroine, Carly Callahan, who ejects into the sea 1,200 miles off the coast of Spain after her plane malfunctions. When she is rescued, she finds herself in the early 1800s. Her savior is pirate Andrew Spencer, who mistakes her for Lady Amanda Paxton--his intended kidnap victim in a plan for exacting revenge against the man who destroyed his family. While not strictly accurate, Grant's descriptions of life on the high seas give a taste of the buccaneer's life, good and bad. Carly's assimilation into the 19th century is evocatively portrayed, as are the strong chemistry between the two and Andrew's reluctant acceptance of Carly's true identity. The subplot of those trying to retrieve "Lady Amanda" ties in with the drama in the opening gambit: Will Carly return to the future, and, if she does, what will happen to her and Andrew's love? Grant's novel creates a satisfying ending that, with a little suspension of disbelief, holds up to scrutiny.


The Courtship by Catherine Coulter

Set in Regency England (though not a Regency romance), Coulter's latest historical novel describes, with delectable humor and sexuality, the romance between the beautiful Lady Helen and the Spenser Heatherington, Lord Beecham. A libertine, Spenser has vowed that he won't marry and produce an heir until just before he's ready to meet his maker. But his resolve wavers when he meets Helen, an inn-keeper who enchants every man she meets. At first, Helen would rather have Spenser as her partner than her lover, but she soon changes her mind. Helen's powerful discipline not only engenders great enjoyment for her and Lord Beecham in the bedroom, but in less steamy situations provides levity for the reader. In addition, a mystery subplot--concerning what might have happened to Aladdin's Lamp had the Knights Templar brought it back to England during the realm of Edward I--is intermixed with the love story. The novel reintroduces several beloved characters from Coulter's The Sherbrooke Bride and The Hellion Bride, who add to the droll good times. Coulter's romances may sometimes miss the mark, but she's in top form here, with a good-guy hero in pursuit of a worthy heroine. Readers will wish them years of delightful torment, silk cravats and all.


A Kiss To Dream On by Neesa Hart

Hart (Halfway to Paradise) offers a strong contemporary romance that tackles deafness as both a personal problem and a sociopolitical issue. While reporting in Bosnia, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jackson Puller is devastated when he witnesses the brutal death of a boy he'd been writing about. When Jackson returns home to Washington, D.C., his boss decides he needs a change of pace and assigns him a series of columns on the Wishing Star foundation, run by Dr. Cammy Glynn, a once-deaf psychiatrist who can now hear with the aid of a Cochlear implant. Cammy's immense distrust of journalists, as well as other issues including her hearing impairment, makes her wary of getting too close to Jackson. He has no such qualms, however, and is determined to win her love and trust. For all of Jackson's inner turmoil, he is a hero readers will admire. Both he and Cammy are among the walking wounded, yet each maneuvers well in the world. Hart spends too much time focusing on Cammy's underlying fears of commitment, which by book's end seem unsubstantiated. However, this is a small flaw in what is otherwise a truly enjoyable read.


Choices by Abigail Reed

Reed's debut novel centers around three women who must choose whether to carry an unexpected pregnancy to term. African-American Treva Connor, the emotional backbone of the plot, has been warned that her health, and that of her baby, could be in danger if she decides to remain pregnant. Deirdre Samms is an extremely focused young woman who finds herself pregnant as a result of a one-night stand just before she is to start law school. Pepper Nolan is an insecure owner of a lingerie boutique who fears that, as a single mother, men won't want her. The women come together in the abortion clinic where Treva works, and with each other, confront their problems. Reed presents a realistic and detailed picture of abortion in the 1990s, from those who face physical danger by providing abortions to those who go through the experience. Although the writing veers toward the melodramatic, the content is strong enough to make this a commendable read.


A Star To Sail By by Susan Delaney

In Delaney's debut novel, young, widowed mystery writer Peggy Millwright discovers Owen Sinclair, a sailor who washes up on the beach near her Jersey Shore home—claiming to have fallen overboard in 1853. She doesn't believe his story but nonetheless feels compelled to help him adjust to the 20th century. As she gets to know him, his gentleness gradually warms her. While the plot meanders (an entire segment is devoted to Peggy's remembrance of her honeymoon in Czechoslovakia), Delaney's depiction of Owen's experiences as he discovers the wonders of post-1853 life and grows closer to Peggy are captivating. Delaney has written a moving story, especially in her description of Peggy's withdrawal from the world after the death of her husband and her struggle to learn to love again.


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