Flirting With the Beast

Flirting With the Beast by Jane Porter

Published Nov. 29, 2022 – Berkley

Review book courtesy of the publisher

Description:

It’s been five years since Andi McDermott lost her husband, and she’s finally starting to feel like herself again, ready to live fully—she’s even started dating again. But when her holiday plans with her stepson and his fiancée fall through, she refuses to spend another Christmas alone while everyone is celebrating with their families. Impulsively, she decides to go up to her cabin in Lake Arrowhead, a place she used to love to visit but hadn’t gone to in years, not since the feud started between her husband and their nearest neighbor.
 
Andi starts to rethink her decision when being alone at the cabin proves to be more challenging than she expected—a heavy snowstorm hits the area, and Andi finds herself trapped there with no one to help except for her neighbor, Wolf Enders. A military vet who lives full-time on Lake Arrowhead, Wolf is as grumpy and intimidating as Andi remembers. But he’s also unexpectedly kind and uncomfortably sexy—his presence reminds Andi that she may be older, but her body still works perfectly fine, thank you very much. But can this good girl tame this sexy beast of a man, and will this snowy fling turn into a love of a lifetime? (publisher)

My take:

Flirting With the Beast is the second book in Jane Porter’s Modern Love series. I enjoyed the first book, Flirting With Fifty and found this new book as good and maybe even better.

I like how Porter writes emotionally strong women and men. That said, there was a point where I was tempted to throw my book at the wall. No spoilers here but I will say I kept reading because I had faith that Porter would bring things around to the expected HEA. I wasn’t disappointed.

The older main characters (late 50s woman and 60ish man) were a real draw for me. As most people in that age demographic, they’ve experienced love, disappointments, tremendous loss which has shaped the people they’ve become. That made for interesting characters that were easy to cheer for. I  liked the mountain setting as well as the small town locale when they weren’t at their cabins. Between the two families there was plenty of drama to move the plot along all making for a book that I didn’t want to stop reading.

Fans of Women’s Fiction with a strong dose of Romance will want to grab a copy of Flirting With the Beast. It can stand alone but I recommend the first book as well. I look forward to the third book Flirting With Fire which is excerpted in this edition.


 

Spotlight: The Spice Master At Bistro Exotique

The Spice Master At Bistro Exotique by Samantha Vérant

Published:  December 6, 2022 – Berkley

Description:

A talented chef discovers how spices and scents can transport her—and, more importantly, how self-confidence can unlock the greatest magic of all: love—in this perfectly seasoned new novel by Samantha Vérant.

Kate Jenkins doesn’t believe in fate. She believes in a clear vision, meticulous planning, and hard work in order to achieve her culinary dreams. On the cusp of opening her own Parisian restaurant, Bistro Exotique, she isn’t even concerned when her standoffish—and annoyingly sexy—neighbor dismisses her as a crazy American tourist or when she meets the wildly eccentric Garrance, the self-proclaimed Spice Master of Paris, who ominously warns her of the previous owner’s failures.

Confident and optimistic, Kate keeps calm and cooks on. Until a series of unfortunate events derail her plans and her entire staff quits.
 
Kate is about to throw in the kitchen towel on her lifelong dream when Garrance offers to use her mastery of scents and spices to help her, but it comes at a price: Kate must work with Garrance’s son, Charles, a world-class chef and total jerk. After Kate hesitantly concedes to the deal, she slowly learns to open her heart and mind to new concepts, not quite sure if the magic she’s experiencing comes from Garrance’s spices, from within herself, or from the growing chemistry with Charles. One thing is certain, though: her kitchen is getting increasingly hot. (publisher)


About the author:

Samantha Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s able to explore all of her passions, and where she’s married to a sexy French rocket scientist she met in 1989, but ignored for twenty years.


 

The Key to My Heart

The Key to My Heart by Lia Louis

Expected publication: Dec. 6, 2022 – Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Review galley from the publisher and NetGalley

Description:

Sparkly and charming Natalie Fincher has it all—a handsome new husband, a fixer-upper cottage of her dreams, and the opportunity to tour with the musical she’s spent years writing. But when her husband suddenly dies, all her hopes and dreams instantly disappear.

Two and a half years later, Natalie is still lost. She works, sleeps (well, as much as the sexually frustrated village foxes will allow), and sees friends just often enough to allay their worries, but her life is empty. And she can only bring herself to play music at a London train station’s public piano where she can be anonymous. She’s lost motivation, faith in love, in happiness…in everything.

But when someone begins to mysteriously leave the sheet music for her husband’s favorite songs at the station’s piano, Natalie begins to feel a sense of hope and excitement for the first time. As she investigates just who could be doing this, Natalie finds herself on an unexpected journey toward newfound love for herself, for life, and maybe, for a special someone. (publisher)

My brief take:

The Key to My Heart needs to be made into a movie. ASAP. I loved the characters, the struggles they dealt with, their families and friends, and the setting(s). Its a story about loss, grief and loneliness and the people who help one get through it all. Some sad parts, some laugh out loud parts, and the final scenes felt like a warm hug. Recommended to fans of Rom/Com novels.
4.5 stars


About the author:

Lia Louis lives in the United Kingdom with her partner and three young children. Before raising a family, she worked as a freelance copywriter and proofreader. She was the 2015 winner of Elle magazine’s annual writing competition and has been a contributor for Bloomsbury’s Writers and Artist’s blog for aspiring writers. She is the author of Somewhere Close to Happy and Dear Emmie Blue. (from her Amazon author page)


 

A Novel Proposal

A Novel Proposal by Denise Hunter

Expected publication: March 21, 2023 – Thomas Nelson

Review book courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

My take:

When novelist Sadie Goodwin’s latest Western book is rejected by her publisher she’s directed to change genres and, adding insult to injury, return the advance for the rejected book. She’s in financial dire straits so when she is offered a place to live free of charge while she writes in a new direction she accepts. Did I mention the house is on the North Carolina shore? Her neighbor Sam is an attractive man who seems a bit gruff yet intriguing. Turns out he’s licking some emotional wounds and just wants to be left alone for a while. These two eventually get to know each other and bond over trying to find the owner of a found object from a Little Free Library book. Add in a road trip to a destination wedding, some emotional drama, and a satisfying HEA and you have a romantic story that is exactly the kind I love to read.


Publisher’s description:

When novelist Sadie Goodwin is forced to stop writing westerns and charged with penning a contemporary romance novel to rescue her lackluster sales, there’s only one tiny problem: She’s never been in love.

Desperate to salvage her career, Sadie begins devouring romance novels. Knowing she must devote herself to this confounding genre, she accepts an invitation to hole up at her friend’s beach duplex for the summer. Where better to witness love in bloom than on the beautiful North Carolina shore?

However, once ensconced in the charming ocean-front home with her sweet maltipoo Rio, she finds many ways to procrastinate. First there’s the beach, right outside her backdoor, with all its interesting visitors (research). Then there’s the free library she decides to build and set up by the back deck (She has to do something with all those romance novels). To say nothing of Sam Ford, the grumpy neighbor on the other side of the duplex . . . who she can’t seem to stop annoying.

A social butterfly by nature, Sadie soon gets to know all the beach regulars—sunbathers, walkers, and surfers alike. The free books draw a crowd right up to the house for nice little book chats, which further irritates her reclusive neighbor, to break up her “writing.” But things take an unexpected turn when Sadie opens a recently-placed novel to find a secret compartment—and tucked inside is a beautiful engagement ring. To whom does the ring belong? Sadie is convinced she needs to find the owner and save the man’s proposal from certain doom.

She draws a reluctant Sam into the project, and slowly their connection begins to develop. Are these weird fluttery feelings the first stirrings of love? Has Sadie managed to stumble upon the very subject about which she must write—and wouldn’t Sam make the perfect alpha hero?

Will Sadie find the ring’s rightful owner? And will she manage to pen a career-saving romance novel by summer’s end?


 

The Bookshop by the Bay

The Bookshop by the Bay by Pamela Kelley

Expected publication date:  June 6, 2023 – St. Martin’s Griffin

Review galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Description:

Jess loves her work as a high-profile lawyer in the respectable and austere city of Charleston. But when she finds her husband, Parker, has been cheating on her with his assistant, she retreats, with her thirty year-old daughter Caitlin for support, to her childhood home on Cape Cod, in Chatham. Caitlin has always been bright but directionless, looking for her passion but keeps coming up blank. And Jess needs to regroup with the help of good food and wine, the company of her best friend, Allison, and come up with a plan for the future.

Allison’s career has hit a low. After twenty years as an editor for the Chatham magazine, circulation is dwindling and though her boss and long-time friend, Jim, does everything to keep her, she has no choice but to take a step back. With a career on hiatus and her main relationship being with Chris, her ex-husband who is still a good friend, Allison is at a pivotal point in life. Her daughter Julia opened her own artisanal jewelry shop a year prior, and she has the kind of day-to-day fulfillment Allison yearns for.

When Allison stops into her beloved local bookstore one day and learns that the owner wants to sell, a long-held dream turns into a reality, thanks to Jess. Allison and Jess set a plan in motion and what was once a place that held warm childhood memories is now theirs to run. As the two friends, along with the help of their daughters, reopen the doors of the cherished bookstore and adjacent coffee shop to the community, they also open themselves up to the possibility of romance, the bonds of mothers and daughters, and the magic of second chances. (publisher)

My take: 

I’m not going to rehash the publisher’s synopsis so I hope you’ll read it (above). The Bookshop by the Bay is my kind of beach read. It’s women’s fiction and involves longtime friends and their daughters – all going through personal dramas.

Jess has lived in Charleston for most of her adult life. Her daughter Caitlin is grown and at loose ends so the timing couldn’t be better for the two of them to visit Jess’s mother on Cape Cod for the summer. Having found out her husband was unfaithful and clearly heading in a different direction from Jess the time away from Charleston will give her space and time to think and make some decisions.

Jess’s best friend from childhood is Allison. She has always dreamed of owning a bookstore and when the opportunity arises she can only hope to make that happen. When Jess agrees to being a business partner suddenly the future looks brighter in many ways. Allison’s daughter is a local jewelry designer whose business is taking off. She wishes her love life looked as bright.

If you’ve read enough romantic women’s fiction you’ll predict the ending and probably be right. I enjoyed it all and look forward to reading more by Pamela Kelley.


About the author:

Pamela M. Kelley is a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of women’s fiction, family sagas, and suspense. Readers often describe her books as feel-good reads with people you’d want as friends.

She lives in a historic seaside town near Cape Cod and just south of Boston. She has always been an avid reader of women’s fiction, romance, mysteries, thrillers and cook books. There’s also a good chance you might get hungry when you read her books as she is a foodie, and occasionally shares a recipe or two. (from Goodreads)


 

The Color Storm

The Color Storm by Damian Dibben

Published: September 2022 – Hanover Square Press

Review book courtesy of the publisher

Description:

Artists flock here, not just for wealth and fame, but for revolutionary color. Yet artist Giorgione “Zorzo” Barbarelli’s career hangs in the balance. Competition is fierce, and his debts are piling up. When Zorzo hears a rumor of a mysterious new pigment, brought to Venice by the richest man in Europe, he sets out to acquire the color and secure his name in history.

Winning a commission to paint a portrait of the man’s wife, Sybille, Zorzo thinks he has found a way into the merchant’s favor. Instead he finds himself caught up in a conspiracy that stretches across Europe and a marriage coming apart inside one of the floating city’s most illustrious palazzi.

As the water levels rise and the plague creeps ever closer, an increasingly desperate Zorzo isn’t sure whom he can trust. Will Sybille prove to be the key to Zorzo’s success or the reason for his downfall(publisher)

My take:

I’m a fan of historical fiction but especially books based on the life of artists. I love to do computer searches for their works of art which adds a layer of enjoyment to the story. I learned so much about artist Giorgione Barbarelli, one of the founders of the Venetian school of the Renaissance era.

This is a story of intrigue, survival, and the quest for color. The scene was set in the first half of the novel which slowed the pace for me but when the drama picked up I felt rewarded for hanging in there. There were times I wished for more developed characters because a few of the primary ones felt a bit one dimensional. I don’t often wish for more pages but I think this is a time when they could have been put to good use.

So that’s a qualified recommendation. Art fans and HF fans might want to add it to their reading list. I’m glad I had the chance to read The Color Storm and would love to see Giorgione’s paintings in person one day.


About the author:

Damian Dibben is the creator of the internationally acclaimed children’s book series the History Keepers, translated into 26 languages in over 40 countries. Previously, he worked as a screenwriter, and actor, on projects as diverse as The Phantom of the Opera and Puss in Boots and Young Indiana Jones. He lives, facing St Paul’s Cathedral, on London’s Southbank with his partner Ali and dog Dudley.


Bleeding Heart Yard

Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

Expected publication:  November 15, 2022 – Mariner Books

Review galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Description:

Is it possible to forget that you’ve committed a murder?

When Cassie Fitzgerald was at school in the late 90s, she and her friends killed a fellow student. Almost twenty years later, Cassie is a happily married mother who loves her job—as a police officer. She closely guards the secret she has all but erased from her memory.

One day her husband finally persuades her to go to a school reunion. Cassie catches up with her high-achieving old friends from the Manor Park School—among them two politicians, a rock star, and a famous actress. But then, shockingly, one of them, Garfield Rice, is found dead in the school bathroom, supposedly from a drug overdose. As Garfield was an eminent—and controversial—MP and the investigation is high profile, it’s headed by Cassie’s new boss, DI Harbinder Kaur, freshly promoted and newly arrived in London. The trouble is, Cassie can’t shake the feeling that one of them has killed again.

Is Cassie right, or was Garfield murdered by one of his political cronies? It’s in Cassie’s interest to skew the investigation so that it looks like it has nothing to do with Manor Park and she seems to be succeeding.

Until someone else from the reunion is found dead in Bleeding Heart Yard… (publisher)

My take:

I’m jumping into the Harbinder Kaur series in book three (it was pitched as a stand alone). Even though I don’t know a lot about her experiences in the first two books I felt that Elly Griffiths revealed enough important details. I really like DI Kaur and her team. She’s got her first big case at her new job in London and hopes to show everyone she deserves to be there.

I liked the class reunion at a posh school setting and all the trappings you’d expect. There were some surprises along the way but midway through the pace slowed for me and I grew a bit bored. What kept me reading, though, was DI Kaur and her team – and of course wanting to find out whodunnit. Will I read more in the series? If there’s another book I’ll definitely make time to read it.


About the author:

Elly Griffiths is the author of the Ruth Galloway and Magic Men mystery series, as well as the standalone novels THE STRANGER DIARIES, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, and THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS. She is the recipient of the CWA Dagger in the Library Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She lives in Brighton, England.


 

The Direction of the Wind

The Direction of the Wind by Mansi Shah

Expected publication:  Feb. 1, 2023 – Lake Union Publishing

Review copy from Blankenship PR, Lake Union and NetGalley

Description:

Sophie Shah was six when she learned her mother, Nita, had died. For twenty-two years, she shouldered the burden of that loss. But when her father passes away, Sophie discovers a cache of hidden letters revealing a shattering truth: her mother didn’t die. She left.

Nita Shah had everything most women dreamed of in her hometown of Ahmedabad, India—a loving husband, a doting daughter, financial security—but in her heart, she felt like she was living a lie. Fueled by her creative ambitions, Nita moved to Paris, the artists’ capital of the world—even though it meant leaving her family behind. But once in Paris, Nita’s decision and its consequences would haunt her in ways she never expected.

Now that Sophie knows the truth, she’s determined to find the mother who abandoned her. Sophie jets off to Paris, even though the impulsive trip may risk her impending arranged marriage. In the City of Light, she chases lead after lead that help her piece together a startling portrait of her mother. Though Sophie goes to Paris to find Nita, she may just also discover parts of herself she never knew. (publisher)

My take:

The Direction of the Wind is an emotional journey of one young woman’s search for the truth. Having lived her early life believing one thing and then learning something completely different upon the death of her father has sent her life in a tailspin. She is reminded of the proverb her father often quoted:

The direction of the wind cannot be changed, but we can change the direction of our sails.

With themes of depression, anxiety, substance abuse (to list a few) author Mansi Shah kept me turning the pages hopeful for a positive outcome for Sophie. There were a few places where I thought things played out a bit conveniently and times where I wished for more character development. Overall, not an easy read in places but a good story.


About the author:

Mansi Shah lives in Los Angeles. She was born in Toronto, Canada; was raised in the midwestern region of the United States; and studied at universities in Australia, England, and America. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling and exploring different cultures near and far, experimenting on a new culinary creation, or working on her tennis game. She is also the author of The Taste of Ginger. For more information, visit her online at www.mansikshah.com.


Early praise for The Direction of the Wind

THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND will grab your heart from the first page. Beautifully written, this haunting story about a young woman searching for her mother is heartbreaking and uplifting as it immerses you in both Ahmedabad, India, and Paris, France. Mansi Shah is now a must-read author for me.”

―Lyn Liao Butler, author of Red Thread of Fate

 

A poignant and heart-wrenching story that explores the footsteps of the past as well as the ties of family and the bravery needed to break free. Mansi Shah’s latest novel takes the reader on a journey of love, risk, betrayal, and forgiveness.”

―Gian Sardar, author of Take What You Can Carry

 

The Direction of the Wind is an unexpected and compelling exploration of the way culture shapes us. This is a gritty, lyrical,heartbreaking, and deeply moving novel. I found myself reading far into the night, unable to leave behind the quest of these two women, a generation apart. Mansi Shah writes with a fresh voice and clear eyes.”

―Barbara O’Neal, USA Today bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids

 

“Mansi Shah’s second novel, The Direction of the Wind, is an absorbing exploration of the price of passion and blazing one’s own path despite the weight of convention, family obligations, even motherhood. Using interlocking mother-daughter perspectives spanning decades and continents, Shah gives an unflinching portrayal of lost innocence, addiction, and misplaced romance. Despite heavy losses, thisis a hopeful novel set in the city of light, where love prevails in unlikely frienfdships and the unbreakable bond of chosen family. Perfect reading

for travelers and journeys of the heart.”

―Yoojin Grace Wuertz, author of Everything Belongs to Us


Spotlight: That Summer in Berlin

Happy Release Day to Lecia Cornwall!

That Summer in Berlin by Lecia Cornwall

Berkley Trade Paperback Original; October 11, 2022

Description:

In the summer of 1936, while the Nazis make secret plans for World War II, a courageous and daring young woman struggles to expose the lies behind the dazzling spectacle of the Berlin Olympics. 

German power is rising again, threatening a war that will be even worse than the last one. The English aristocracy turns to an age-old institution to stave off war and strengthen political bonds—marriage. Debutantes flock to Germany, including Viviane Alden. On holiday with her sister during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Viviane’s true purpose is more clandestine. While many in England want to appease Hitler, others seek to prove Germany is rearming. But they need evidence, photographs to tell the tale, and Viviane is a genius with her trusty Leica. And who would suspect a pretty, young tourist taking holiday snaps of being a spy?
 
Viviane expects to find hatred and injustice, but during the Olympics, with the world watching, Germany is on its best behavior, graciously welcoming tourists to a festival of peace and goodwill. But first impressions can be deceiving, and it’s up to Viviane and the journalist she’s paired with—a daring man with a guarded heart—to reveal the truth.
 
But others have their own reasons for befriending Viviane, and her adventure takes a darker turn. Suddenly Viviane finds herself caught in a web of far more deadly games—and closer than she ever imagined to the brink of war. (publisher)

About the author:

Lecia Cornwall writes historical romance and historical fiction. She lives and writes in Alberta, Canada, amid the beautiful foothills of the Canadian Rockies, with five cats, two adult children, a crazy chocolate Lab, and one very patient husband. She is hard at work on her next book.


 

Once Upon a December

Once Upon a December by Amy E. Reichert

Published: October 4, 2022 – Berkley

Review galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Description:

With a name like Astra Noel Snow, holiday spirit isn’t just a seasonal specialty—it’s a way of life. But after a stinging divorce, Astra’s yearly trip to the Milwaukee Christmas market takes on a whole new meaning. She’s ready to eat, drink, and be merry, especially with the handsome stranger who saves the best kringle for her at his family bakery.
 
For Jack Clausen, the Julemarked with its snowy lights and charming shops stays the same, while the world outside the joyful street changes, magically leaping from one December to the next every four weeks. He’s never minded living this charmed existence until Astra shows him the life he’s been missing outside of the festive red brick alley.
 
After a swoon-worthy series of dates, some Yuletide magic, and the unexpected glow of new love, Astra and Jack must decide whether this relationship can weather all seasons, or if what they’re feeling is as ephemeral as marshmallows in a mug of hot cocoa. (publisher)

My take:

Amy Reichert’s Once Upon a December is a sweet romance filled with hot cocoa (sometimes spiked), yummy kringle and an intriguing hero and heroine. It is a magical story and especially enticing to me because it’s set in my area with mentions of familiar landmarks which made it even more fun to read. Astra and Jack live their lives separately each year until their paths intersect at the annual Christmas Market. They seem to enjoy their lives but also experience a certain loneliness that disappears at this special time of year when they meet up again. They definitely have a special attraction to each other but can they overcome the obstacles that could prevent a HEA? You’ll have to read to find out! Now is when I tell you that there were moments when I was pulled out of the story by having to figure out logistics. That’s could be just my issue but I felt I needed to give a heads up. It was a bit distracting. Ultimately I found Once Upon a December to be a frothy, magical story that takes a few unexpected turns making it quite different from others I’ve read in the Christmas Romance genre.


About the author:

Amy E. Reichert is an author, wife, mom, Wisconsinite, amateur chef, and cider enthusiast. She earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her library’s board of directors. She is a member of Tall Poppy Writers. Learn more at: www.amyereichert.com.