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.

More SF Romance from Veronica Scott

Star Cruise: Outbreak continues Veronica Scott’s Sector Hub series with another tale of disaster on a cruise ship. Dr. Emily Shane, retired military surgeon with PTSD, has certainly never thought of working as a cruise Star Cruise Outbreakship doctor; she prefers keeping as busy as possible in the emergency rooms of her home planet, Harilon. But when an old friend of her father’s needs a replacement on short notice, Emily finds herself dragooned. It doesn’t hurt that Jake Dilon, the ship’s head of security who comes to escort her to the Nebula Zephyr, is a sympathetic fellow veteran.

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I’m not giving much away in saying that an unexpected, and unknown, disease strikes the ship, turning Emily’s near-vacation assignment into a struggle for survival. Emily works to solve the medical mystery with help from an assortment of passengers and crew, not the least of which is Maeve, the Ship’s Artificial Intelligence, herself a military veteran.

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I enjoy Scott’s novels because she delivers solid science fiction adventure with romance. Her characters develop their bonds while working together through tough situations. Star Cruise: Outbreak can certainly be read as a stand-alone story, but it also refers to events and characters from The Wreck of the Nebula Dream and Star Cruise: Marooned. (I enjoyed a few little genre references, too, including a chief engineer named Takkei, and Emily’s remark, “I’m a doctor, not a film agent.”)

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Hostage to the Stars can also be read as a stand-alone, as I just did, but it also brings back characters from Scott’s Mission to Mahjundar, which I haven’t read yet (but it’s waiting on my Kindle, along with Escape from Zulaire—can you tell I really enjoy Scott’s Sector Hub stories?). This tale begins on a freighter ship carrying aHostage to the Stars few passengers, including Sara Bridges, an archivist with little travel experience and no Kidnap & Ransom insurance. When pirates strike the ship, they carry Sara off, along with a high value hostage.

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Johnny Danvers, retired from the Sectors service, joins the rescue mission so that his cousin won’t have to; he has run missions to the pirate planet and expects that the worst he’ll have to deal with is the resentment of the rest of the team. But when the team retrieves the hostage and leaves Sara behind, Johnny stays behind to find her. And that’s only the beginning of their problems.

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I definitely recommended Veronica Scott’s fast-paced Sector Hub novels for anyone who enjoys science fiction romance toward the SF end of the spectrum.

Lark Brennan: Irresistibly Yours

Irresistibly Yours is the second installment in Lark Brennan’s fascinating Durand Chronicles (after Dangerously Yours), romantic suspense with more than a touch of the paranormal.

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Irresistibly YoursWhen Tate Fulbright wanders into a shop in Paris, looking for an entomological collection she’d heard about from her scientist mother, she finds instead an amazing collection of taxidermied animals, as well as Adrien Durand, who seems just as amazing to a girl from Indiana, in the City of Light for a pharmaceutical convention. But despite her inexperience with the high society and wealth that Durand represents, Tate isn’t just another tourist from Indianapolis. She communicates with animals at a deep level, hears voices in her head, feels the emotions of the crowds around her, and has no idea where these abilities—or disabilities—come from.

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Adrien Durand, head of the far-flung Durand clan and its many commercial and charitable interests, doesn’t know where Tate’s talents come from, either, and that worries him. Is she a wild talent, or someone sent to spy on the Durands by one of the other psychic clans, some shaky allies, some outright enemies. For the Durands and their counterparts fight a long and continuing battle to either protect or enslave the ordinaires of the world.

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Adrien finds himself increasingly attracted to Tate, but his responsibilities—and his family—throw barriers between them. Tate has her doubts, too, tossed as she is into a world she never suspected and doesn’t understand. But Adrien’s world may hold the answers to the mysteries in her head, and give her a new purpose in life—if they can both survive.

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The world of the Durands, with its wide array of psychic powers, Protectors and Dissemblers, and family connections—and secrets—going back generations, expands with each installment. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Sarah Andre: Tall, Dark, & Damaged

Tall, Dark & Damaged, Sarah Andre’s second romantic suspense novel (after Locked, Loaded, & Lying) is even better than her first. Her damaged hero, Devon Ashby, has returned to Chicago for the first time in twelve years, since he ran from his wealthy but highly dysfunctional family to build his own life—and his own successful real estate development firm—in New York City. He expects to sign for the trust fund left him by his long dead mother and return to his wealthy and socially active fiancee in short order.

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Tall Dark and DamagedHe doesn’t expect the shocking surprise his vengeful father has for him, which may spell the destruction of everything Devon has worked for.

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When Devon left Chicago, he left his high school sweetheart, Hannah Moore, behind, never quite understanding why she refused to go with him, cutting himself off from her as well as from his family, even dropping his father’s name, Wickham, for his mother’s, Ashby. Running into Hannah, now the owner of an art restoration firm, in his father’s house working to repair damage down by an unexplained fire, is as big a shock, and as disturbing, as anything his father has threatened.

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Tall, Dark & Damaged weaves the never-quite-forgotten relationship between Devon and Hannah with complicated business dealings and long buried family secrets. As Hannah fights to hold on to her business and provide a home for her aged and ailing aunt, Devon struggles to understand the feelings and reactions of Hannah, his siblings, and his father, both of them caught in a web of emotions anchored far in the past.

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Andre does a fine job of painting characters for whom the tragedies of the past and the struggles of the present combine to force them into situations that seem to have no solutions. Love may conquer all, but it has quite a fight to get there in Tall, Dark & Damaged.

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