Liquid Lies & Literary Lasagna

Recipe from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, p. 210.

So, I made lasagna last weekend. Thank you, thank you. Yes, it was a major achievement in my life. And it was the best lasagna ever made. In this house. By me. Okay, so it was the only lasagna I’ve ever made. But there was something magical about building up the dish layer-by-layer and watching it evolve into carbohydrate heaven while it baked. That, for me, is the beauty of cooking–transforming individual ingredients into something bigger, better, more meaningful. It’s magic.

The ugly side of cooking? Shopping. I mean, really, could they make raisins harder to find? But, that’s another post for another day.

I’ve been meaning to write about Hanna Martine’s excellent debut, Liquid Lies, for awhile now. As a librarian, I booktalk a lot of books–and I love it. For this book, I might say something like, “Oh, you might like Liquid Lies. It’s about a woman from a race of people who can control water and she wants to get promoted in the family business–but then she is kidnapped. Soon her only ally is the man who was paid to capture her–and the one man she can’t resist. Dum dum daah.”

Now, I think I’ll go with “Read this. It’s like literary lasagna.” Sure, you might not that see that in a New York Times review, but maybe you should.

Lasagna is as rich and textured, each bite a perfect combination of its ingredients. The same could be said for this urban fantasy. Martine deftly intertwines complicated characters like Gwen, the woman destined to be a leader for the Elementals (with an arranged marriage and everything) and Reed, a mercenary who keeps a solid wall between his heart and the job. Usually. 

And then there is the world–it’s our world, but not. Gwen’s people, the Ofarians, live amongst the Primaries (that’d be us ordinary-boring-humans) and they are good at keeping secrets, even from their own people. We soon discover another race, the Tedrans, and they also have a story to tell–but which is the truth?

Mix in a little bit of Gwen’s mission in life–which takes on a new and different meaning as her world unravels–and then top it off with a smokin’ hot attraction between Gwen and Reed. Boom. Now you have a book worth savoring. When you’re done, you’ll feel satisfied and a bit wrung out from the journey, in very good way.And, you’ll probably be a little thirsty, too…

Available December 31!

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dara

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

A few days ago I reached into the TBR bag, closed my eyes and pulled about A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare. Don’t get me wrong, the books in the TBR bag–yes, I had to upgrade the pile to a bag–are all ones I want to read. It’s a fine balancing act between TBR books, writing craft books and books that leap of the library shelves and into my arms at the library. (Psst–did you know Tessa Dare is a part-part-part-time librarian? She is!)

I was lucky enough to meet Tessa at the recent Romance Writers of America National Conference and see her win the RITA award in the Regency Historical category. I had read another of her titles from the Stud Club Trilogy and had been impressed by the quirky humor, appealing characters and surprising story lines.

A Night to Surrender is the first in the Spindle Cove series. Susanna Fitch is a take-charge woman who transformed Spindle Cove into a welcome retreat for woman who don’t fit in any where else in society. Whether for their appearance, health or unusual interests. Susanna has created an environment for these woman to grow and explore without the usual limitations of the day–and without the presence of several bachelors.

Until Victor Bramwell comes to town, that is. A recently injured soldier, he is trying to get back to the front lines where he belongs. He’s been charged with raising a volunteer militia to prove he still has what it takes to lead soldiers in war. Unfortunately, men are hard to find in the Spindle Cove area. The few he does find start spoiling Susanna’s idyllic society–and sparks start to fly between her and “Bram”. Soon these sparks turn into more than just attraction and both will need to reevaluate their self images as well as goals in life when faced with their true feelings for each others.

A Night to Surrender was a terrific read, full of humor, sensuality, and unexpected twists along the way. But, don’t take my word for it–read the first chapter here.

The Spindle Cove series continues with the titles below, including A Lady by Midnight that was just released this week. They are already downloaded to my e-reader–just don’t tell my TBR bag. It killed a spider for me last night, and I’d hate to make it an enemy now…

 A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa DareA Lady by Midnight


I have been assimilated

While I often read children’s fantasy and science fiction novels, I seldom select science fiction or fantasy romances. Am I prejudiced? Perhaps…or maybe I just never found the right author – until now!I have been assimilated and Susan Grant’s novel Sureblood: A Tale of the Borderlands is to blame. This weekend I raced through her storyso quickly I’m surprised my Nook didn’t catch fire.*Spoiler alert*The tale is set in the Borderlands of the Universe, where pirate clans clash with each other while raiding those that steal from their lands. Valeeya Blue has a lot to prove, both as a female raider and as the daughter of the clan captain. During her first raid as skiff commander, she boards a ship only to find that a rival clan, the Surebloods, has also decided to help themselves to the bounty. The Surebloods are led by their own young captain, Dake, and the sparks immediately start to fly between the handsome raider and the captivating she-pirate.The Blues and the Surebloods band together to escape a third enemy, which starts them down the bumpy road to clan unity. During a celebration that follows, Dake and Val follow through with the desire that has been quickly building since they met. Evil plots have been set in motion and, while they are indisposed, Val’s father is assassinated.Instantly, the Blues blame the Surebloods, the fragile peace starts to crumble, and Val’s life is forever changed. Dake leaves to help find out the truth behind the attack, but fails to contact Val in the months that follow. She becomes clan captain and soon after becomes a new mother, too.What Val doesn’t know is that Dake enduring the worst hell a pirate can imagine, but he never forgets his Blue girl and vows to return to her and to restore peace to all the clans. Will he return in time to help forge peace? Will Val believe in his innocence or has she found love with another?The pacing in this story was top-notch and I found it difficult to put the story down or to let it out of my mind. Just as I would catch my breath after a tension filled scene, the story would careen into another dangerous section. The elements of foreboding woven throughout added to the suspense, as did the evil villain present throughout the novel.The world was believable and easily imagined and I enjoyed the subtle physical and cultural differences between the clans. The perspective switched from Val to Dake (and sometimes others) and I believe that adds a little more depth to each character. The characters themselves suffer hardships that make you hurt for them and hope that things will, somehow, work out in the end.This was another title from the Harlequin’s Big Summer Reads (thanks HQN for the ARCs!). As a side note, even in the world of eBooks, cover art is still important. The stylistic cover immediately caught my attention. I look forward to catching up with Grant’s previous novelsand I am glad that my reading tastes were gently nudged in a new direction.


Orchard Valley Brides

Have you ever been strongly attracted to someone against your better judgment? That’s exactly what happens to the both heroines in the stories that make up Debbie Macomber’s Orchard Valley Brides, another of the Harlequin Big Summer Reads.In Norah, the heroine is working one last shift as an ER nurse before her sister’s wedding the following day when the lone survivor of a private plane crash is rushed in. His injuries are serious and things get complicated when Norah realizes the man was flying into town to stop her sister’s wedding because of his feelings for her.Wealthy CEO Rowdy Cassidy is a man used to getting his own way. When the pretty nurse Norah visits him after the wedding, he demands to see her more and has her reassigned to work on his floor. Norah soon finds herself captivated by this powerhouse of a man who can turn an entire hospital upside down, but she knows a relationship with him would be a mistake. After all, isn’t he still in love with her sister?In Lone Star Lovin’, Sherrie decides to move from Orchard Valley to a small town in Texas to work as a physician’s assistant. Her first patient is a handsome rancher struggling to parent a teenage daughter and before long sparks start to fly between them.Neither Cody or Sherrie trust the immediate attraction they feel for each other. Cody’s daughter is hell bent on getting a mom, which does not help matters. When Cody proposes to Sherrie, saying they might as well get married since he doesn’t have time for all the romance crap, she feels her heart deflate like a balloon with a slow leak. She is falling in love with the gruff rancher, but she wants someone who will share his heart as well as his bed.Both novels were originally published in the early 1990s, although they are timeless in their appeal. The stories include strong family ties and small town settings in Oregon and Texas. Macomber is best in the back-and-forth dialogue between the main characters, making it both fresh and funny. The sensuality is drawn more from the build-up of attraction between the couples than any detailed bedroom scenes. Those that have read Macomber’s titles will know exactly what to expect. New readers will find sweet stories of people learning how to listen to their hearts as well as their heads when it comes to love.


A Certain Fondness for Crazy

As I started to read my first Victoria Dahl book, Crazy for Love, I didn’t really know what to expect. I imagined humor, I imagined steamy love scenes, but I certainly didn’t expect to find a hero with anxiety issues. But, find him I did – and I loved Max for being strong, true, and admirably struggling to live with his control issues.
Max and his brother Elliott have decided to take a much-needed vacation. Elliott is a divorced workaholic from the CDC and Max is a sea-faring treasure hunter who feels responsible for the safety of everyone he encounters. Everyone!
Max has managed to hide his anxiety by playing the charming playboy and the ploy has always worked, until he mets Chloe, a fellow tourist in the cabin next door. She sees right through his act and makes him face the truth about himself and his life.
What Max doesn’t know is that Chloe has a secret of her own. A month ago, she was supposed to be getting married, but then her fiance died in a plane crash. Suddenly, she finds out he hadn’t died after all – he had staged the accident to escape from marrying her! That’s when the rumors start flying and suddenly Chloe is a national tabloid star as Chloe the Bridezilla! When Chloe’s identity is revealed, she and Jenn are forced to return home to prepare for the ex-fiance’s upcoming trial.
Reading Crazy for Love was a wonderfully refreshing experience. Dahl masterfully creates a main character that is strong, handsome, and neurotic. His anxiety issues reveal his true nature and make him endearing as we see him struggle to live with the worry that he battles 24/7. Chloe understands him and loves him, while also trying to help him be honest with himself as he starts thinking about changing his life.
Another of the Harlequin’s Big Summer Reads off the list – but now I have all the other Victoria Dahl books to look forward to! So long, housework!

All I Ever Wanted

A few months ago, I had the fun opportunity to write a blog post for the Borders True Romance Blog. I wrote about being in a reading slump and how I just couldn’t find a really great book to sink my teeth into. Well, I am in a slump no more, my friends! One of the reasons: Kristan Higgins, the next stop on the Harlequin Big Summer Reads.

What a thrill to receive a review copy of All I Ever Wanted from Harlequin! Kristan Higgins has quickly skyrocketed to a permanent place on my list of favorite authors. Her ability to create quirky characters, charming small towns, and relationships that suffer from insecurities, uncertainties and misunderstandings.
In All I Ever Wanted, Callie is ready to celebrate her 30th birthday (that’s right, the big 3-0) when her boss/crush/ex gives her a gift, tells her she is special and then hits her right between the eyes with the news that he is seeing someone. Callie reacts much as the rest of us would, she runs to the DMV and has her breakdown there, much to the dismay of the uptight, Russian assassin in line behind her.
She tries to move on with life, so when she hears there is a cute new vet in town, she tells her dog to look sick and makes an appointment. Sadly, the new vet is the same Russian assassin from the DMV and is still ice cold, but that’s when the fun begins.
Callie and Ian (who, it turns out, is not a Russian assassin after all) keep running into each other and eventually Callie breaks through the cold demeanor to find the shy man with a big heart that lies beneath.Callie’s life could probably be more complicated, although she isn’t sure how. Her divorced dad is trying to make up with her mother 20 years after they split-up. Her man-hating sister is sleeping with the creepy mortician that works at their family funeral home, and her Gramps, well, Gramps has a story all his own.
Once again, Higgins has created a story full of people just enough and stories just weird enough to make it easy to fall into and difficult to remember that the characters aren’t actually real! I find it interesting that while reading, I am fairly sure of a happy ending, I’m just not quite sure how it is actually going to happen.
The laughter, the tears, the romance – these books are money well spent (or library card well used). Don’t just take my word for it, Higgins was awarded a RITA last month for Too Good to Be True. (Seriously, how awesome are these covers? Beautiful.)
With the holidays coming, Higgins’ publishers should bundle her books for big holiday sales. Check out her other titles on her website and ENJOY!

How the West Was FUN!

Next up on my TBR pile: Harlequin’s Big Summer Reads. I am determined to make this summer last longer and that won’t be a problem because there are some great titles on this list!

First up: How the West Was FUN!
Cowboys and romance novels, now that is a combination that appeals to many. Some may be attracted to the cowboy stereotype simply because of biological tendencies – the desire to be provided for and protected. Others may be charmed by the strong silent type that cares as much for animals as they do people. No matter what attracts you to cowboys – you’ll want to consider these two series.

Prolific author Linda Lael Miller has written several western romance series, both historical and contemporary. In McKettricks of
Texas: Garrett, the second in the series, Garrett works for a married political giant who has taken a wrong turn by going public with an illicit affair. He feels betrayed by the man he idolized, so he quits
and returns home to the family ranch. Upon arrival, he finds that the family’s home is currently inhabited by temporarily displaced Julie, her son, Calvin, and their three-legged dog, Harry.
Julie can’t deny her attraction to Garrett, but she is determined to be cautious both to protect her young son and because she can’t imagine that as a high-powered political insider would settle down with a small town girl. To complicate her life even further, Calvin’s dad is back in their lives, she’s overwhelmed at work, and their home is being sold out from under themI enjoyed returning to the world of the McKettricks and catching up with Tate and Libby while looking forward to Austin’s story. Miller is able to present a contemporary story with enough of the wild west to make you feel right at home on the Texas ranch. She also write children and animal characters particularly well, making the family dynamics ring true.
Another steamy title is Claimed by Vicki Lewis Thompson from her Sons of Chance series. Ten months ago, Jack was reluctant to leave the warm bed he shared with girlfriend, Josie, so he told his dad to go pick up a new horse without him. When his dad is later killed on the trip, Jack feels responsible and breaks up with Josie as his penance.
So, when he decides to visit Josie after a night of drinking in the small Wyoming town, he shouldn’t have been surprised that the encounter goes badly. She pushes him away, and he makes a fool of himself. Jack is going to be the best man at his brother’s upcoming wedding (on horseback, naturally) and guess who is the maid of honor? Yes, fair Josie – and she doesn’t know how to ride a horse. Jack himself offers to teach her and soon their lessons turn into a secret affair. Josie wants to give her heart to Jack, but is he ready to take it for real?
Claimed is part of the Harlequin Blaze series, which are shorter, steamy contemporary romances with an emphasis on the development physical relationship between the two characters. I don’t read this series too often, but check them out if you want a quick, sensual read (kind of like dessert!). I have, however, thoroughly enjoyed Thompson’s Hex and Nerd series. You can learn more about these fun, sexy series on her website.

In Bed with the Duke and Stolen Seduction

Recently, I attended a library conference program by several romance authors and good fortune rained down upon me! Little did I expect that Christina Dodd would be both signing and giving away copies of In Bed with the Duke which I had been hearing some good buzz about. Seriously, how can you not want to read a book called In the Bed with the Duke?I must admit, historical romances are not usually my first choice. However, this one drew me in from the start! Endearing Emma Chegwidden is wandering lost in the countryside after losing her job when suddenly the masked “Reaper” appears. The next thing she knows, she is waking up in elegant house and offered employment. A few nights later, the Reaper enters her room to escape from the evil Prince that rules the land. Our Emma offers the Reaper a place to hide and thus begins an affair with a man with a secret identity.Emma and the Reaper are both wonderful characters: strong, vulnerable, and passionate. Full of intrigue, steamy love scenes, and adventure, this historical romance is worth the read.At this same library conference, I also picked up a signed copy of Elisabeth Naughton’s Stolen Seduction during an author signing. Oh, happy serendipity! This book is third in a romance/adventure trilogy, and I like to describe it as a very grown-up 39 Clues.Hailey Roarke leaves her job as a Florida police officer to run the family business in Chicago. Her father’s death starts a chain-reaction of events all surrounding a quest to find some missing statues. Hailey is on the search when she accidentally-on-purpose runs into the hunky cop Shane Maxwell. Their brief romantic moment makes things complicated the next morning when he arrives to question her as a murder suspect.Here the tale takes some surprising twists-and-turns as the pair flies from country to country in search of answers. Full of action, romance, and true emotion, this is definitely a book you won’t want to put down and you’ll race to track down the others before time runs out!


Breaking Point

Someone should write a book called The Secret Lives of Books and maybe that would explain why books end up in every room of my house. While herding some of them up today, I was compelled to research the next book in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series. Rejoice fellow Team 16 fans! Breaking Point (Max and Gina’s story) will be released on July 12. You can even order a signed copy!