Best darn romance series I’ve ever known

Virgin River by Robyn Carr
Confession: Am completely hooked on romance audiobooks. No apologies. No Apologies!

After hearing a couple of people rave about the Virgin River series, I decided to give it a whirl. And since I’m more adventurous with audiobooks than with (printed) books, I checked out the audiobook of the first book in the series.
And then I fell completely in love with this book while commuting and did not want to leave my car. (For all you know, I may still be there now. I’m not telling.) Here’s why I’ve taken up habitation in my Honda…
First: There’s a tough guy as the romantic lead. Simply cannot resist.
Second: The female main character, Melinda, is a strong woman, so that’s all good.
Mel, a terribly young widow, takes a nurse practitioner job in the tiny town of Virgin River in an attempt to hit the re-set button on her life, and upon arrival, realizes she’s made a terrible mistake.
Or has she…?
In this small town, there is a bar/restaurant owned by a former Marine named Jack, who is nothing but hot. And kind. And good. And… why doesn’t Mel see this?!
Instead, Mel falls in love with the town and its people before she falls in love with the hot guy, and that seems OK, really.
Here’s the fascinating thing about this book: The pacing here feels pleasant, keeping pace with life in this small town and with the slowly developing relationship between Mel and Jack—yet there’s a lot going on in that town (some of it dramatic), which keeps the story moving right along.
The characters, including the secondary characters, are well-drawn and fairly realistic (though perhaps a little bit too-good-to-be-true except for those who are villainous; but I’m not complaining about that).
The result is a story that is pure comfort.
Therese Plummer’s narration of the audiobook is superb, to the point that when I read book 4 of the series (dear heaven, a Christmas-themed title) in actual book form, I was sort of let down. Of course, maybe that was just my reaction to the Christmas-y-ness of the thing. I am generally allergic to all such. Chalk one up for Robyn Carr for enticing me into reading such a thing.

The good news for me is that Virgin River is the first book in a growing series, and–having continued now with books 2 through 4, with more yet to read (listen to) –I think this series is romance novel perfection.

Time Travel Romance

Dreams of Stardust by Lynn Kurland
Amanda is a woman of modern sensibilities, born into the 13th century, which really had to suck for her. Luckily, Jake (of the year 2005) careens into her world when his car goes flying into a time warp that sucks him back into the Middle Ages, providing her with a man she actually could stomach marrying.
Despite Amanda’s family (read: her father) being adamant that she’s got to be getting married within months, this book shows us a family of the Middle Ages that makes that time period seem downright homey. They’re pretty delightful as a family, and it’s really no wonder that Jake decides to hang out there for the rest of his (un)natural life.
I’ve known for a long time that Lynn Kurland is one of the big names in time travel romance; I don’t know why I waited so long to read one of her books. In this one, she’s created a warm and wonderful family environment, a couple that we know belongs together in spite of the 8 centuries that divide them, and a story line that clips right along.
I began to get clues that this book was one of a series, and truly, it is one of a big honking series that includes oodles of books that all interconnect in ways displayed on a chart at the end of the book. (I had a Madeleine L’Engle flashback—remember that kick-a** chart in her books, that showed how the Murry family books and the Austin family books connected? I totally blissed out as a kid, seeing that. Anyway, the Murry books—also time travel. So we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming… See how I did that?)
The only reason that I won’t be reading more books in this series by Kurland is that life is short and my list of books-I-want-to-read is very long.

Historical Romance Bonanza!

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig
So this is a cool thing. I’ve been sort of reading (actually listening to) some historical fiction novels.
Sort of.
Because… the books in this series (which begins with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation) actually start in the present, but then launch back into the past via the coming-alive of the research done by Eloise, the main-character-in-the-present-day. (She’s having a conflict/flirtation with a guy named Colin, who’s a British chap descended from one of the spies she is researching. Lots of Romantic Tension.)
The story-in-the-past is thoroughly entertaining and is the main focus of the book. It’s all about British spies during that nasty war England had with France back during the Jane Austen days—and about the romance those spies each had with a strong-willed woman (each also a spy, kind of).
It’s light stuff, even though there are some moments where things get all action-packed. These puppies are heavier on the romance than on the espionage, and I think it’s good.
I think I liked this second book even better than the first in the series, which is always a wee thrill.
In the first book, I was certain I had the plot all figured out early on, but I Did Not. (Love that!) This, the second book, also has a who’s-the-secret-spy question, but it felt a bit more homey because it was set in England rather than France. I liked that.
So I’ve been getting in the car and hitting “Play” straightaway and then not driving too awful fast, because I didn’t want to have to leave the story behind. Not too shabby an endorsement, eh?
And I’ve got the third book (The Deception of the Emerald Ring [dear heaven, I love that title—it reminds me of my Nancy Drew days!]) all queued up and ready to go…

Mystery? Romance? Mystery?

East of Peculiar by Suzann Ledbetter
Stop the presses!
I’ve read a fiction book!
Right here in the middle of this fiction drought of mine. (Or shall we look on the bright side and call it a nonfiction feast/frenzy/mania/addiction?)
And I liked it, liked it, liked it. So much that I didn’t want to get out of my comfy chair except to refill my coffee mug. (Though, truly, this ain’t all that unusual.)
Lots of mystery series seem to start out with the thing where the main character (often a woman) is starting over after some big life change—divorce, being widowed, retirement, etc. Here, Hannah decides her high-stress Chicago advertising job is for the birds and takes a job managing a retirement community in the Ozarks.
And there’s a handsome sheriff in that county, so there’s sure to be a murder that will bring them together.
And yes, indeed: a murder occurs! (Don’t worry – we either never really know or never really like the victim in these cozy mysteries. You won’t even miss her.)
The neat-o thing about this mystery is that it’s very much a romance, too. And this is a good thing. Also, the characters are believably quirky, and that’s always a bonus, I think.
And now, as I write this, I’m impatiently waiting for the second book in the series to arrive to fill the hold I placed when I hit the last page of this book and was bummed it was over. It was a good kind of bummed.

True Confessions…

Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Evidence (proof positive?) that I’m not a truly liberated reader: I’ll preface this review by stating that I read this book as part of a study of the romance genre. It’s professional development, and it’s good for you!

Yet I find, every time I read a romance novel, that I actually like them more than I care to admit. And this one, I liked even more than the usual. Here’s what made it stand out:
Of course, it features a strong woman and a strong man, and they despise each other from the get-go. Naturally. The thing that stood out for me is that the woman here is the down-on-her-luck widow of a crooked televangelist and mother of a timid young boy. On the face of it, it’s not the stuff romances are made of. Rachel’s desperate for work so she can earn money to take care of her son, and when she returns to the small southern town where she and her ex-husband resided (in the hopes of finding the fortune he left behind), she meets Gabe, a surly (but gorgeous) man who is attempting to revamp an old drive-in theater. She connives her way into a job, assisting him with the renovation. And sparks fly…

One other surprisingly delightful element of this novel is the rich and engaging cast of secondary characters. These folks are warm, realistically flawed, and—my gold standard: likeable.
This would explain why I found myself, more than once, standing and reading this book, truly intending to set it down—and completely incapable of doing so. Yes, I’ll be reading more of the books in the Chicago Stars series Ms. Phillips has created. And yes, you’ve just witnessed the newly-hatched addiction of a brand new romance reader.

Those Quilt Shops Can Be Just Deadly

The Lover’s Knot by Clare O’Donohue

A cozy mystery that doubles as a romance novel. I don’t mean this in a bad way. The book opens with Nell, newly stricken by her fiancé Ryan’s decision to postpone their wedding, decamping for her grandmother’s house in a small town where everybody knows everything about everybody. So naturally everybody already knows her business when she shows up on the scene. Humiliating? Yeah, just a bit. But when her quilt-shop-owning grandmother falls on the stairs and breaks her leg, Nell decides to stay in this small town, at least for a while. She takes a leave of absence from her job and tries to figure out whether she wants to reconcile with Ryan— who is making noises about getting married after all. Then it turns out her grandmother’s fall was no accident, and before long, someone ends up murdered right there in the quilt shop. And the police chief is a handsome, brooding young widower… A fine debut in the Someday Quilts mystery series.