Nina Bangs’ Forever Wicked

Forever Wicked is the eighth installment in Nina Bang’s Castle of Dark Dreams series, but even if you’ve missed the earlier Wicked books, you can jump right into this one and enjoy it. If you are a long-time fan of cosmic troublemakers Ganymede and Sparkle Stardust, you’ll find some old friends here, but Forever Wicked is Ganymede and Sparkle’s story, as they deal with memories from the past, enemies and dangers in the present, and hopes for the future.

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Forever WickedGanymede has problems. He’s dodging the Big Boss, but he knows a confrontation is coming—his latest, frustration-spurred round of cosmic mayhem has attracted too much attention. His attempt to reach his creator, revenge in mind, backfires, and he finds himself saddled with a brand-new untrained cosmic troublemaker. He’s beginning to feel sorry for the humans who get caught up in the mayhem he causes. Perhaps worst of all, he’s on the outs with “that woman,” Sparkle Stardust, his companion for much of his long immortal existence.

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Sparkle isn’t ready to give up on Mede. She’s on the road looking for him (attracting his attention with Facebook posts). Her trouble-making talent involves creating sexual chaos, but somehow she’s lost control of her own love life, and she wants Mede back. After all, it was just a stupid argument. And what power, cosmic or otherwise, can keep Sparkle from going after what she wants?

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Even Sparkle is surprised when she tracks Ganymede to a beautiful (but haunted, and very hard to find) house in Cape May, New Jersey, a long way from the Castle of Dark Dreams, her home (in her adult theme park) in Galveston. She’s even more surprised at Ganymede’s collection of adolescent troublemakers. Are Sparkle and Mede really cut out to train them?

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But they will need the help of the children, along with some of their old friends (and frenemies) to face the confrontation that awaits them back at the Castle—almost as much as they need each other. Sometimes even cosmic troublemakers find themselves in cosmic trouble!

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I don’t want to give away the twists and turns of Sparkle and Ganymede’s adventures as they deal with enemies and dangers that threaten far more than their own lives and happiness, but let me just say that Forever Wicked is exciting, romantic, and often very funny.

A Country Mouse in London

The fourth installment in Cheryl Bolen’s Brazen Brides series, Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure, begins with Miss Emma Hastings’ arrival in London.

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Miss HastingsEmma has never met her Uncle Simon, but they have corresponded for years, and he wants her to join him in the Ceylon Tea Company, of which he is a proprietor. She’s eager to accept his offer, to escape her sheltered life with an elderly aunt in Upper Barrington, and to see London. In all her twenty years, she’s never had such an adventure.

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But when she steps off the mail coach at the George Tavern, it’s raining, she has no money, she’s burdened with an enormous portmanteau containing all her possessions, and the uncle who has invited her to live with him is nowhere in sight.

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Emma is a very determined young woman, if perhaps not as cautious as she should be, so she sets off on foot to find her uncle’s house on Curzon Street. She arrives, soaking wet and exhausted, in front of a dark, clearly unoccupied house. This adventure is not going well.

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But along comes the neighbor, clearly drunk, but with a kindly air about him, offering help.

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Adam Birmingham has been drowning his sorrows. His mistress, a beautiful opera singer named Maria, has run off with—and married!—an Italian Count. Surely she was The One, and he will never find another woman to love, never have a happy marriage like his brothers, Nicholas (His Golden Ring) and William (Oh What a (Wedding) Night).

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Soused as he is, Adam invites Emma to spend the night in his house. As if that weren’t improper enough, he falls asleep on the chaise in her bed chamber! After hearing her story the next morning, Adam sees a new project for himself: If he’s doomed to be miserable, why not make someone else happy? Why not take care of this poor little country girl he found standing alone in front of the house next door? And since he’s already compromised her reputation, why not offer her a marriage of convenience?

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Emma the country mouse and Adam the wealthy bachelor are an unlikely match, but together they set out to solve the mystery of Uncle Simon’s fate. As they investigate, they also come to suspect that a marriage of convenience might not be so convenient after all.

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As always, Bolen gives the reader a delightful look at Regency London, this time from the wide-eyed viewpoint of a respectable but not at all aristocratic young lady from the countryside. Along the way Emma holds her own, meeting characters from Bolen’s earlier books and making a place for herself in their world.

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Trilogy

With Texas Heat, Gerry Bartlett begins a new contemporary romance series set in the Houston oil industry. Cassidy Calhoun has no idea she’s even distantly related to the owners of Calhoun Petroleum until she’s invited to the reading of Conrad Calhoun’s will. Texas HeatSuddenly she finds herself moving in with the three half-siblings she never knew about, required to work at the oil company for a year before collecting her inheritance, and more attracted than she should be to Mason MacKenzie, the oil field competitor who will be evaluating the performance of the Calhoun siblings. If they don’t perform well, Calhoun Petroleum may go right down the pipeline, or be devoured by Mason’s Texas Star Oil, which is facing its own share of financial problems.

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Cassidy has more to deal with than Mason’s questionable intentions. She has no idea why her mother kept her away from the Calhouns all her life, even though it meant living in near poverty for both of them. She doesn’t know who to trust, either—can her siblings be as welcoming as they seem? And what about the people at Calhoun Petroleum? And then the real danger begins.

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The Calhoun Petroleum story continues in Texas Fire, as Cassidy’s newly discovered sister, Megan Calhoun, sets out to fulfill her assignment in the will, working in theTexas Fire oilfields for a year, a tough call for someone who has changed jobs—and boyfriends—whenever boredom set in. And to make the situation touchier, she’s volunteered to go on the road with engineer Rowdy Baker, the long-time boyfriend Cassidy left behind. Rowdy has about as much love for Calhoun women as Megan does for dust storms, work boots, and cramped travel trailers.

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But Rowdy and Megan make up their minds to soldier on, even while Megan learns to live without credit cards and Rowdy finds himself saddled with an unexpected puppy. Megan’s fake ID, intended to deflect the feelings of people hurt by the downsizing of the oil industry in general and Calhoun Petroleum in particular, doesn’t last long, and she’s thrust into representing the Calhoun interests to everyone from diner waitresses to environmental protesters.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Megan has a guilty secret—she knows something about Rowdy’s past that even he doesn’t know. How in the world will these two share a year in the oilfields without killing each other or bringing another disaster down on Calhoun Petroleum?

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Texas PrideThe story continues in October with Texas Pride, when the action shifts back to company headquarters in Houston. Shannon Calhoun is struggling with her assignment, protecting Calhoun Petroleum’s image with press releases, when her old flame Billy Pagan, now a top drawer lawyer, shows up with yet another threat to the Calhoun family business.

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I’ve really enjoyed Texas Heat and Texas Fire, and I’m looking forward to Texas Pride (available October 3 from your favorite ebook source).

Cheryl Bolen: Ex-Spinster By Christmas

Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday gift for fans of Cheryl Bolen’s House of Haverstock Regency romance series, bringing siblings, in-laws, grandmothers, and babies from the Upton and Ponsby families together for Christmas at the country estate of the Duke of Aldridge.

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ex-spinster-by-christmasBut all is not holiday cheer for everyone. Lady Caroline Ponsby, the Duke’s sister, has had her fill of being a spinster. It’s not that she hasn’t had suitors—eleven men have offered for her since she came out into society—but the only man she cares for is Christopher Perry. Unfortunately, for all his affection, he seems averse to marriage and has never proposed. Caro is convinced that he never will. She wants a home of her own, and a baby. In short, she needs a husband, and she sets her sights on Lord Brockton, a handsome rake with an impressive home and a bad reputation.

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Christopher Perry has been madly in love with Caro since the day he met her, but he doesn’t believe himself worthy of a duke’s daughter. He’s immensely wealthy, but his money came from trade, and, even worse, his great-grandfather was a Jewish jeweler. How can he ask a lady like Caroline to marry so far beneath herself?

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When Christopher learns that Brockton is courting Caroline, and that the notorious rake has been invited to the family’s country home for Christmas, he is devastated. When his mother and sisters abandon him to attend another sister’s delivery, Christopher decides to take up his own invitation to the country, determined to prevent Caroline from making a terrible mistake.

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When the country Christmas holiday turns out to be far more eventful than anyone expected, true colors are revealed. Will there be a happy ending for Caro and Christopher? Well, this is a Christmas romance, after all.

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Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday treat for Regency readers, and especially for lovers of the House of Haverstock stories, who will be happy to reconnect with so many members of the extended family.

Sally Kilpatrick’s Better Get To Livin’

Sally Kilpatrick returns to the small town of Ellery, Tennessee, in her third novel, Better Get To Livin’, the story of two people who have more in common than might appear at first glance. Presley Ann Cline (who is grateful that her train wreck of a mother didn’t name her Elvis) has had a very modest success in Hollywood (bit parts and commercials), so modest that she used her spare time to go to cosmetology school. But after a very embarrassing photo of her hits the papers (and the Internet), she’s come home to Ellery for a break, ending up with a job at the Holy Roller beauty salon.

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better-get-to-livinWhen the owner of the Holy Roller (who seems to hate her for no discernible reason) sends Presley to do the cosmetic work for a recently deceased lady at the Anderson Funeral Home, Presley runs into Declan Anderson, her crush when she was a high school student and he was her tutor. She also runs into a lot of ghosts, whom she can see, hear, and talk to.

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Declan wanted to be an architect, but he left his university studies to go to mortuary school and honor his promise to his father to keep the funeral home in the family. Now he runs it with his stepmother Caroline, and dreams about buying and rehabbing an old house when his brother Sean comes back to run the funeral home.

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Declan is aware that he’s living his father’s dream, while Presley takes a bit longer to realize that her mother cares more about her Hollywood career than she does. That doesn’t make it any easier for either of them to change their path—or even to decide if they really want to.

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This is a wonderful book about two good-hearted people trying to find their destinies, and wondering if that destiny could possibly include each other. Between a tornado, a fire, family promises, meddling ghosts, and that recent widow with her sights set on Declan, their paths seem littered with obstacles, but there just might be a way.

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Sweet, touching, and very funny. Full of quirky characters and unexpected turns. Presley and Declan tell their stories in alternating chapters, and each has a distinct and thoroughly likable outlook. Highly recommended, along with Kilpatrick’s previous books, The Happy Hour Choir and Bittersweet Creek.

AE Jones: In Sickness and In Elf

In the first entry in AE Jones’ new Paranormal Wedding Planners series, In Sickness and in Elf, Alex Bennett returns reluctantly to her grandmother’s bridal business. Left at the altar two years earlier, Alex has developed a downright phobia about weddings, but when her grandmother asks for her help, she can hardly refuse. Turns out she doesn’t know the half of her family business, Bennett Bridal, until she sees a runaway bride turn into something else entirely.

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In Sickness and In ElfWhen Devin Cole shows up to investigate, Alex finds him arrogant, annoying, and just about irresistible. Devin has his own problems—stripped of his paranormal powers until proven innocent of fault in a disastrous earlier investigation, he faces a tribunal which he’s really not prepared for. He doesn’t have time to solve the problems at Bennett Bridal, especially not with the infuriating and oh-so-tempting Alex insisting on helping.

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Bennett Bridal’s San Diego, it seems, is teeming with vampires, werewolves, and countless varieties of demons, all hankering to get married. But who is determined enough to prevent marriages between paranormals and humans to resort to sabotaging the weddings? Alex and Devin better figure that out before Bennett Bridal goes down, and takes Happily Ever After with it.

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In Sickness and in Elf is a delightfully fun read, and Jones promises a sequel, From This Fae Forward, soon. I’ll be watching for it. And don’t miss Jones’ Mind Sweeper series, either.

After Pride and Prejudice

I have a confession to make. I am not a Jane Austen Fan. (Some of my romance writer friends will consider this blasphemy.) I haven’t read a word of Austen since I was in high school, several decades ago. Back then I had a matched set of paperbacks, and I remember the covers (oval pictures surrounded by green vines on a white background) better than I do the contents, although I know I read all four. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility (never made sense of the title), Emma, and . . . what was that other one? Oh, yes, Mansfield Park. No idea what that one was about. Heck, I haven’t even watched the numerous movie and TV versions. Think I might have seen some version of Emma. Maybe.

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I think I’m in the minority on this. Some of my friends love the books, some love the movies (especially Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), some love both. Not many, like me, don’t much care. Somewhere in the house I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve never gotten past the first couple of pages. (I think I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on my old Kindle, but I never opened it.)

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Many Austen lovers have tried their hand (or keyboard) at Austen sequels and variations (mostly, as far as I know, based on Pride and Prejudice), an enterprise made possible by the growth of independent publishing, but I haven’t been swept into that phenomenon, either.

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So when I read Cheryl Bolen’s three post-Pride and Prejudice novellas, I was diving in cold. I recognized the Darcys and the Bennets (I haven’t actually been living in a cave all these years), but the supporting characters—which were Austen’s? which were Bolen’s?—were a mystery. But I enjoyed the stories very much.

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Pride & Prejudice Sequels

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Miss Darcy’s New Companion is Lucy Wetherspoon, who takes the position as Elizabeth and Darcy leave for their continental honeymoon. Lucy is a spinster without a fortune; the Darcys’ neighbor, Lord Fane, is a bachelor in need of a fortune with which to restore his own family’s home. Perhaps Georgiana’s dowry will do the trick—until he meets Lucy.

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In Miss Darcy’s Secret Love, Georgiana is wooed by a highly eligible bachelor, the Earl of Hampton (that thirty-thousand pound dowry might just have something to do with his interest), and she believes such a marriage would please her brother. But she can’t forget her feelings for her childhood friend Robert Carrington, who has recently come home to ask his brother for permission to marry a woman he met in Spain.

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Domineering mother Lady Catherine de Bourgh unwittingly arranges The Liberation of Miss de Bourgh when she arranges a marriage for her sickly daughter Anne. Charles St. John, the cash-strapped Earl of Seaton, needs the wherewithal to launch his sisters into society, so he agrees to a marriage of convenience with Anne, who isn’t expected to live past Christmas, in exchange for becoming the heir to the de Bourgh fortune. But when he takes Anne away from her mother, everything changes.

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If you’re a Jane Austen devotee, you’ll find much to appreciate in these novellas. If not (like me), you’ll still find much to enjoy, sweet romance with social commentary and humor.

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