Category Archives: Harlequin

Review: The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox

Title: The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Historical (70s & 80s), Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Hollywood, 1978

Tragedy sends troubled film star Vivien Lockhart into the arms of Giovanni Moretti—and it seems her fortunes have finally changed. Until she meets his sister and learns that her new husband’s past holds dark secrets…

Tuscany, Present day

Lucy Whittaker needs to disappear. But her new home, the crumbling Castillo Barbarossa, is far from the secluded paradise it seemed. Strange sounds come from the attic. The owner of the house will never meet her in person.

The fountain in the courtyard is silent—but has never run dry.

Across the decades, Vivien and Lucy find themselves trapped in the idyllic Italian villa.

And if they are ever to truly escape its walls, they must first unearth its secrets…

Review:

Seamlessly weaving back and forth in time, The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox is a vaguely sinister mystery which takes place in an isolated Tuscan mansion.

Needing to escape from London, Lucy Whittaker is hired to work for reclusive former actress, Vivien Lockhart in Italy. With no internet or cell service at the spooky mansion, Castillo Barbarossa, she is blissfully unaware of whether or not the mistakes from her past have been exposed. Instead of dwelling on her own problems, Lucy is instead extremely curious about what happened to Vivien and why she lives such a solitary life with no company other than her maid, Adalina and groundskeeper, Salvatore.  After experiencing a few strange events she cannot explain, Lucy tries researching the history of Castillo Barbarossa and Vivien’s past. Finding little information, she teams up with Max Conti, Vivien’s former housekeeper’s nephew. When her personal life begins to implode, Lucy becomes more determined than ever to unearth the truth about Vivien and what happened at Castillo Barbarossa.

In the mid seventies, Vivien escaped her abusive father and fled to Hollywood where she discovered she had to a pay a pretty steep price for fame and fortune.  Just as her life was spiraling out of control, she unexpectedly finds romance with Italian doctor, Giovanni “Gio” Moretti.  Deliriously happy yet wary of his younger sister, Isabella, Vivien eagerly accepts his wedding proposal.  Her dream wedding is marred by a vindictive act by Isabella and soon the three are ensconced at Castillo Barbarossa.  Their initially happy marriage soon falters as Gio works long hours on a secret research project while Vivien grows increasingly frustrated by his refusal to believe Isabella is trying to drive Vivien away. As the years pass, Vivien and Isabella are locked in a battle of wills that culminates in tragedy.

Lucy has not had an easy life and once she is on her own, she makes a terrible decision when she puts her trust her boss, James Calloway. Now that things have gone horribly wrong, she feels incredibly guilty for her perceived role in what happened.  The job in Italy is the perfect opportunity for her to leave the past behind, but she is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with some of the inexplicable and eerie phenomena at  Castillo Barbarossa. While at first curious about the history of the Castillo and what happened to Vivien, Lucy’s quest for answers eventually turns urgent amid her fears about the increasingly disturbing incidents she is experiencing. At the same time, her past is beginning to catch up with her and Lucy is soon facing an inescapable decision about how to handle the situation.

The Silent Fountain is an atmospheric mystery with increasingly ominous overtones.  While Lucy’s story is interesting, readers will most likely find Vivien’s story arc the most compelling.  With the chapters flipping back and forth between past and present, Victoria Fox ratchets up the tension as Vivien’s secrets are slowly revealed. With numerous twists, turns and shocking revelations, the novel comes to a an poignant yet satisfying conclusion. A truly spell-binding, suspenseful mystery that I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Historical, Historical (70s), Historical (80s), Mira, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Suspense, The Silent Fountain, Victoria Fox

Review: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra

Title: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside..

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t nearly enough to cover rent. Rose needs a story—a big one.

Little dolls full of secrets

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, precise porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbor turns on neighbor and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.

Review:

Set in a slowly dying town in Australia, Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra is an intriguing mystery that begins with arson and quickly moves to the creepy porcelain dolls being left for the townspeople’s children.

Rose Blakey’s mom and stepfather are forcing her to move out of the family home and she is counting on a cadetship with a newspaper to help her realize her dream of becoming a journalist. In the meantime, her hometown of Colmstock is plagued by a series of fires and unfortunately, the latest fire claimed the life of thirteen year old Ben Riley.  When a porcelain doll is delivered to her home that bears an eerie resemblance to her younger sister Laura, Rose is shocked to discover a few other children have also received similar gifts.  In an order to jumpstart her journalist career, Rose writes a sensational story that is published by a tabloid. Under intense pressure, the police investigation fails to uncover any leads. Rose’s subsequent articles ratchet up the town’s fears but they lead to unintended consequences.

Rose and her best friend Mia are working dead end jobs at the local tavern. While Mia seems resigned to remaining in Colmstock and marrying a local, Rose is ambitious and cannot wait to leave the economically depressed town behind. Growing desperate following numerous rejections for her articles, she eagerly takes advantage of the uneasiness of the town’s residents following young Ben’s death and the deliveries of the frightening dolls. Rose also exploits the cops who visit the tavern to get insider information for her titillating articles. As events begin to spiral out of control, how far is Rose willing to go in her pursuit of her ambitions? How many people will suffer the consequences of her actions?

Little Secrets is a rather slow-moving novel and quite frankly, none of the characters, including Rose, are particularly likable.  The storyline is interesting and the town’s decay, the townspeople’s fears for their safety and their economic struggles are palpable. Despite the unlikable characters, the bleak setting and the story’s slow pace, Anna Snoekstra brings the novel to a twist-filled conclusion that very neatly ties up all the various story arcs loose threads.

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Filed under Anna Snoekstra, Contemporary, Harlequin, Little Secrets, Mira, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

Title: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods
Chesapeake Shores Series Book 14
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!

At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancé suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens.

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

You won’t want to miss this epic return to Chesapeake Shores, a place we’re betting you’ll want to stay forever.

Review:

Featuring a heartwarming romance, close family ties and delightful friendships, Lilac Lane is an endearing addition to Sherryl Woods’ Chesapeake Shores series.

Following the sudden death of her mother Keira Malone’s fiancé, Moira O’Brien is worried about her mom so she comes up with a foolproof plan to lure her to the US from Ireland. She convinces her mom that her husband Luke could use her help in his pub and she could use a helping hand with their baby.  Keira readily agrees to visit temporarily and while waiting for her visa issues to be fully worked out, she is working at the pub as a consultant. Keira has not had an easy life and she is not one to mince words or hold back from voicing her opinions. Needless to say, she immediately gets on the pub’s chef Bryan Laramie’s nerves, who is not always amenable to her suggestions.

Bryan is haunted by the fact that he has not seen his daughter since his wife walked out on him years ago and he has never stopped looking for her. Although he is always pleasant, he is a bit of a loner who is devoted to his job. He wants to get along with Luke’s mother-in-law, but Keira always manages to irritate him with her unsolicited advice. However, when she moves in next door to him, the unlikely pair end up spending a lot of time in each other’s company.  After his daughter unexpectedly re-enters his life, Keira is instrumental in smoothing over the rough spots in their reunion.

The relationship between Bryan and Keira is originally a little antagonistic as they bicker back and forth at the pub. Their peaceful moments are often short-lived due to their respective baggage.  Their surprising friendship paves the way for their unlikely yet incredibly sweet romance but Keira’s fears come between them on more than one occasion.  She is quick to put obstacles in their path since she is afraid of risking her heart again. Until Bryan meets Keira, his unsettled past with his wife makes him hesitant to become seriously involved but his growing feelings for the feisty Irishwoman are the catalyst he needs to take steps to resolve these issues.

Lilac Lane is an engaging novel with a fantastic cast of characters and a slow moving but heartfelt romance.  Readers who enjoy close-knit families, small town settings and clean romances are sure to love this newest installment in Sherryl Woods’ homespun Chesapeake Shores series.

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Filed under Chesapeake Shores Series, Contemporary, Harlequin, Lilac Lane, Mira, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sherryl Woods

Review: Second Chance Girl by Susan Mallery

Title: Second Chance Girl by Susan Mallery
Happily Inc. Series Book Two
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Susan Mallery, read the second irresistible installment in the Happily Inc series!

Mathias Mitchell’s easy smile hides a world of hurt. After the worst kind of family betrayal, he moves to Happily Inc., California—the wedding destination town supplies a steady stream of bridesmaids, perfect for his “no promises, no pain” lifestyle. Yet he can’t stop watching for his beautiful, elusive neighbor on the animal preserve behind their homes.

Gamekeeper Carol Lund knows she’s not special enough to attract an alpha male like Mathias, so his offer to help her adopt a herd for her lonely giraffe is surprising—and his determined seduction, even more so. But just as she finally welcomes him into her bed, his careless actions crush her heart. Will she give him a second chance to prove she’ll always come first in his heart?

Don’t miss You Say It First, the first book in the Happily Inc series.

Review:

Set in a small town that caters to destination weddings, Second Chance Girl is an endearing addition to Susan Mallery’s Happily Inc. series. In this second outing, the Lund sisters, Carol and Violet, embark on romances that have their own set of obstacles to overcome on their way to happily ever after.

Carol is a gamekeeper on the town’s animal preserve and although she knows it will not go anywhere, she is crushing on her man-whore neighbor Mathias Mitchell, who favors one-night stands with visiting bridesmaids.  She knows she is not beautiful or special enough to attract Mathias so she ignores her attraction when they unexpectedly become friends.  When an evening of drinking culminates with a surprising admission from Mathias, Carol is delighted to indulge her fantasies about her sexy neighbor. However, the next day reinforces her insecurities and their once easygoing friendship becomes strained.

After a stunning revelation from his famous and temperamental artist father, Mathias feels doubly betrayed when his brother Ronan retreats both emotionally and physically. Needless to say, Mathias is unwilling to risk another emotional betrayal so he ignores his unanticipated attraction to his quiet and unassuming neighbor.  He also plays it safe when it comes to career and he confines his glasswork to creating  stunning dishware.  However, his creativity is reawakened after Mathias observes Carol’s tender interactions with her lonely giraffe, Millie.

Spending quiet evenings with Carol is a balm to Mathias wounded soul but their mutual attraction is becoming impossible to resist.  However, when things between them go awry, Carol is afraid to ask too many questions about what went wrong. At the same time, Mathias is garnering his courage to explore his sizzling desire for his lovely neighbor. Just when things are finally heating up between them, Mathias gets another reminder that love equals betrayal and he unequivocally  shuts down their budding romance. Will Carol find the confidence and courage she needs to challenge Mathias’s assumption that their relationship will eventually result in heartache?

Carol’s sister Violet also unexpectedly finds herself in a new relationship when Ulrich Sherwood, the Duke of Sherwood, arrives in town to confront her about her friendship with his grandmother. Although Ulrich has no recollection of having met Violet before, Violet has very fond memories of his kind words helping her feel better about herself when she was going through an ugly duckling stage as a teenager. Circumstances force Ulrich to remain in town and to both of their surprise, romance blooms between them. Is their relationship destined to be more than just a vacation fling?

Second Chance Girl is an enchanting romance between an emotionally damaged yet sexy man and an insecure but adorable woman.  This charming couple gradually transitions from friends to lovers but their respective emotional baggage quickly threatens to derail their relationship when an unpleasant family visit brings painful reminders of past betrayals. Despite the all too realistic problems that Carol and Mathias must overcome, this latest installment Susan Mallery’s Happily Inc. series is a light-hearted and witty read that old and new fans are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Happily Inc Series, Harlequin, HQN Books, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Second Chance Girl, Susan Mallery

Review: A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller

Title: A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller
Carsons of Mustang Creek Series Book Four
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 256 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

It’s a Christmas affair to remember as a Hollywood mogul discovers his inner cowboy—and the woman of his dreams—amid the rugged beauty of Wyoming. 

Raine McCall would take snow-covered mountains over a star-studded premiere any day. But when hotshot movie executive Mick Branson arranges dinner on Christmas Eve to discuss a work opportunity, she’s intrigued—by the offer and the man. She’s a no-makeup, no-frills single mom, who’s happy with her quiet life. Sharing chili cheeseburgers and sizzling kisses with Mick is sure heating up her holiday, but country girl and power player don’t mix…

It’s not just work that’s brought Mick back to Mustang Creek. Since he first visited to oversee a documentary, free-spirited graphic designer Raine has been in his head. Her approach to life is as unconventional as her quirky holiday ornaments. Their attraction is undeniable—and so are their differences. Putting down roots in the Wild West wasn’t in the script. But there are some Christmas gifts you can’t walk away from, even when they turn your whole world upside down…

Review:

A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller is a light-hearted, conflict-free holiday romance. Starring secondary characters from previous novels in the Carsons of Mustang Creek series, this fourth installment can easily be read as a standalone.

Raine McCall is a little surprised by the out of the blue dinner invitation from Mick Branson. The two have crossed paths before while he was in town working on a film project with her ex-boyfriend and daughter Daisy’s father, Slater Carson. Since it is Christmas Eve and Daisy is spending the night with Slater and his extended family, Raine asks Mick to join her for a simple meal.  Their enjoyment in each other’s company leads to a whirlwind romance but Raine is a little concerned about fully committing to Mick since they lead very different lives.

Raine is a bit of a free spirit so working from home as a graphic designer is a perfect fit for her. She is a straight shooter who speaks her mind and lives a quiet life with Daisy. While she has dated off and on since her split from Slater, she is quite cautious when it comes to relationships.  However, with Mick, Raine is a little more open to romance but she is concerned they might not be a good fit for a permanent relationship due to their different lifestyles.

With a high powered career and a privileged background, Mick is used to the finer things in life but he is ready to settle down and simply his life.  While he has a few handy excuses to explain why he is in Mustang Creek, the real reason is quite simple. Mick is interested in pursuing a romance with Raine but is she interested in dating him?

With a beautiful snow-covered setting, Snow Country Christmas is a whimsical, low-key love story.  Raine and Mick are well-developed, likable protagonists. Their relationship is easygoing and free from any angst or drama.  Linda Lael Miller’s latest addition to the Carsons of Mustang Creek series is lovely holiday romance that old and new fans are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under A Snow Country Christmas, Carsons of Mustang Creek Series, Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Linda Lael Miller, Rated B, Review, Romance

Review: The Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr

Title: The Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The brand-new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr that Kirkus calls “a blissful beach read.” The Summer That Made Us is an unforgettable story about a family learning to accept the past, to forgive and to love each other again.

That was then… 

For the Hempsteads, summers were idyllic. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.

This is now…

After an accident turned the lake house into a site of tragedy and grief, it was closed up. None of the Hempstead women speak of what happened, and relationships between them are uneasy at best to hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth.

Robyn Carr has crafted another beautifully woven story about the complexities of family dynamics and the value of strong female relationships.

Review:

The Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr is a multi-layered novel about a once close-knit family that was torn apart by tragedy.

Once upon a time, sisters Louise and Josephine, along with their daughters, spent idyllic summers together at the family’s lake house.  They each had three daughters and the cousins were just as close as their mothers. However, in the aftermath of  a tragic accident, Lou and Jo become somewhat estranged and their daughters’ lives take very troubling turns. Fast forward to the present and Lou’s daughter Meg decides it is time for the family to reconcile and she invites everyone back to the lake house for the summer.  There is never any doubt Meg’s sister Charley will agree to her sister’s plan but will cousins Hope, Krista and Beverly accept her invitation? And is it too late for Lou and Jo to repair their long strained relationship?

Alternating between the various characters’ perspectives, Robyn Carr’s newest release is not a light or happy read and quite frankly, it is a bit of a chore to even like many of the characters. Meg is the most sympathetic, and while she sets the reunion into motion, she remains firmly in the background as the story unfolds. Her sister Charley is probably the least likable as she alienates her long-term partner, Michael, after she loses her job. On the other end of the spectrum is their cousin Krista whose life took a dramatically wrong turn but she is incredibly appealing as she faces each challenge with a positive and cheery attitude. Krista’s sister Hope makes a couple of very memorable guest appearances that will leave readers shaking their head in disbelief. Their other sister Beverly remains on the periphery of the unfolding drama. Jo is an utterly fantastic character and she never hesitates to do whatever is necessary to help her daughters.  Her sister Lou is nowhere near as personable and well, it is not easy to feel much sympathy for her even though she has endured some very painful losses.

Despite a somewhat slow start, The Summer That Made Us is an engaging novel with an interesting (but sometimes overly busy) storyline.  While not a particularly joyful read, it is easy to become swept up into the various characters’ story arcs.  Robyn Carr brings the novel to a bittersweet yet uplifting conclusion.  

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Mira, Rated B, Review, Robyn Carr, The Summer That Made Us, Women's Fiction