Love Ain’t Nothing But Love | Romance Picks

This week has dragged a bit, hasn’t it? I’m blaming it on the very warm weather we’ve been having. Nothing like some sticky weather to get you in the mood for a romance novel, am I right? Okay. Maybe that transition sucks, but here I am. It’s been a summer of love for me. My reading routine is generally all about romance as a palette cleanser, a dependable mood booster but I find myself craving them more than ever lately. (It’s true. I came home from seeing Magan last week, after finishing Bad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates on the plane and all I wanted to do was pick up another one.) Here’s to falling in love with love – ♥

The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan WiggsThe Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs (Harlequin MIRA; 6/24/14) — I don’t read a TON of historical romance but I would like to think a series like Bella Vista Chronicles is the perfect entry into this book category. Isobel is in the midst of building a cooking school on the property of her childhood home when journalist/writer Cormac turns up to write the biography of Isobel’s grandfather, Magnus. While Isobel and Cormac’s story serve as one part of The Beekeeper’s Ball, Magnus’s memories from WWII (retold for that biography) fulfill the second as his colorful and heartbreaking past link past and present. I love the idea of a family learning about their history. With an enchanting setting and an emphasis on second chances, this book is definitely sweeter than honey. (As of right now, I don’t see any announcements for another book in this series but I hope there will be one. The Apple Orchard was great too.)

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Never Too Late by Robyn CarrNever Too Late by Robyn Carr (Harlequin MIRA; 4/1/15) – Clare (a recent divorcee starting over), Maggie (currently in a rut within her marriage), and Sarah (the single sister in the shadows) are the main gals starring in this reboot of Never Too Late (originally published in 2006). When Clare ends up seriously hurt in a car accident, her “seize the moment” mentality intensifies and she finds herself dating, making amends with old friends, and diving into new work. Her bond is her sisters is key to moving forward, especially when life continues to be bumpy. Never Too Late suffers from feeling a bit old-fashioned and drags in some places but Clare’s story is well-supported with tales of her sisters trying to refresh their own lives as best they can.

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Kiss Me by Susan MalleryKiss Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN; 6/30/15) — Admittedly, it was strange to read a Fool’s Gold love that doesn’t spend much time there but it was also refreshing and a reminder that FG is more about the kind community and not about the town. City girl, Phoebe, as a help to her best friend, agrees to attend an accidentally planned cattle drive in the wilderness with absolutely no experience. She finds herself in the company of brooding, quiet Zane and suddenly this whole trip has gotten a bit interesting. Zane is not easy to get to know and Phoebe is unable to hold back her quirks — talking to wild animals, making up funny stories, and pretty much being all kids of adorable. It’s been so long since Zane has had fun that it takes him some time to warm up to Phoebe, especially since this time in nature is meant to be a lesson for his ex-stepbrother, not alter his own life. You can always expect sexy and sweet with a sprinkling of lively supporting characters from  Mallery. Kiss Me was no exception.

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Bad News Cowboy by Maisey YatesBad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates (Harlequin HQN; 7/28/15) — Every since I read Part Time Cowboy, I’ve found myself a little bit obsessed with Yates. You know it’s good when you’re practically drooling before you start a book. Kate has always been more into riding horses than falling for guys but it’s like one day she just turned around and Jack — best friend to both her brothers and someone who’s always treated her like a little sister — is looking pretty good. Pretty good enough to be very curious about. And Jack, for his part, never wanted to cross Kate’s brothers and certainly never thought he would be fantasizing about Kate. Hello, forbidden romance! Both Kate and Jack discover they not only have common histories (and insecurities) but insane, insane chemistry. I loved this too because Kate is a virgin but she’s not afraid to say what she wants, and watching as she became more confident with this side of herself was such a bonus. Best of all — nothing about Yates’ stories feels formulaic, and the gender roles that have certainly been exhausted in this genre don’t seem to exist — resulting in one refreshing romance novel. (Can we have more independent ladies in these books, please?) It was also, quite possibly, the sexiest.

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Estelle: Until We Touch by Susan Mallery

Until We Touch by Susan MalleryUntil We Touch by Susan Mallery ( web | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold Series.
Publication Date: June 24, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 384
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: PR company, small town, best friends, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Larissa relocated to Fool’s Gold from Los Angeles, it was for her job as a personal assistant/ company masseuse at an up and coming PR agency. She hangs out, lives near, and works with her best friends. When her mom plants the seed that she is in love with her boss a.k.a. best friend, she denies it to everyone, especially herself … until she can’t anymore.

If the day is just too humid and you are in a grumpy mood, I suggest picking up a Fool’s Gold book. It’s a scientific fact that it raises your spirits!

Truthfully, Until We Touch isn’t my favorite Fool’s Gold book. It was far too repetitive with some of the details and I thought our main man, Jack, had to step up his penance game at the end of the book. (This is the first time I’ve seen a hero in one of these books act like a total asshole. Fact.) But, despite that, I definitely enjoyed getting caught up in all the happenings in the town (a new football program at a nearby college!) and reuniting with some of the characters I’ve met in past books.

And there’s nothing like two best friends not realizing they have the hots for each other when they, indeed, have the hots for each other.

Larissa is a gal who is generous with her time and her ability to help people, and I had to laugh out loud at so many of the causes she roped Jack into just because she could not say no. (An owl, people! An owl.) Even though, Jack makes it known he’s not an emotional guy (tragic past) he can’t help but give into her. She finds the cause, and he fronts the money (or the space). These two have an interesting dynamic, and proclamations of love were a bit anti-climatic but I still found their “courtship” super sweet and sexy and fueled by other surprises.

I can’t pick up a Fool’s Gold book without daydreaming about moving to a similar town. Sure, it’s small and there’s a ton of meddling but everyone looks out for each other and it always seems the possibilities for happiness (career, friendship, love) are aplenty.

Until We Touch plucked me from my unhappy place and welcomed me into a MUCH better one.

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Estelle: Three Little Words by Susan Mallery

Three Little Words by Susan MalleryThree Little Words by Susan Mallery ( web | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold series.
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 360
Target audience: Adult; romance fans
Keywords: childhood love, opposites attract, post-military life, small towns
Format read: eBook received from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Isabel was heartbroken when her sister broke off her relationship with Ford and he ran off to join the military. At 14, she was utterly in love with him and while he was gone, sent him letters for years and years without any response. Years later, the two are reunited in their hometown (he’s living in her parent’s apartment) and he recruits her for a little help.

When I was 14, I was totally in love with this older boy (a family friend) and thinking back, I did some really cringe worthy things to get/not get his attention. (Does that make sense?) There was this one time I sent him a picture of me blowing him a kiss! For real. (I tried to unsend it but that function did not exist then.) Reading Isabel’s young letters to Ford in Three Little Words really transported me back to that very young me, hoping beyond hope that this amazing/almost off-limits guy felt the same way.

I absolutely love the “reunion” storyline in romance novels. People with a history, seeing each other again. Will old feelings come zipping back? Can they fall for each other despite the experience and years between them?

For Isabel and Ford, there isn’t much standing in their way. Just themselves. After years in the military, Ford just feels like he could never fall in love, and Isabel is reeling from a divorce that left her feeling like it was kind of her own fault. Back in Fool’s Gold to sell her family’s bridal shop and report back to New York to start a new fashion venture, she finds out that Ford will be occupying her family’s apartment a.k.a. living in her house. In the mean time, Ford is trying to adjust to being around people again, including his mother who is desperate for him to get married and start a family of his own.

This is where Isabel comes in. Ford asks her if she can be his pretend girlfriend for awhile so his mom will finally calm down. I’m sure you can see where this is all heading.

I’ve read a bunch of Fool’s Gold books since I started last year, and I can say with confidence that Three Little Words is my favorite. I loved how Ford teased Isabel about her letters, how Isabel wasn’t the most comfortable in her body and wasn’t an immediate sex goddess in bed, the bridal shop setting, and especially how all the ladies of Fool’s Gold came around to support her with friendship and drinks when she needed them most.

Three Little Words is sexy, sweet, and probably one of the more relatable books in this series. (There’s also a second romantic storyline between a tough lady and a very nice math teacher. Loved watching barriers come down for this one.) Plus football players are moving into town. Even more reason to check into Fool’s Gold if you ask me!

Did I mention this was probably the hottest Fool’s Gold book I ever read? Major heat wave, hot. Prepare yourself. Hydrate. You will need it.

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Estelle: Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery

Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery: Fool's Gold seriesTwo of a Kind by Susan Mallery ( web | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold series.
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 379
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: romance, new jobs, surprises
Format read: eBook from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Felicia and Gideon had one night together many moons ago. And Felicia has never forgotten it. When the two reunite in Fool’s Gold, much has changed: Felicia is making her home there, recruited for a huge job linked to the town’s traditions and Gideon is still reeling from his capture and torturing. He can’t promise Felicia much but when she asks him a favor, he’s glad they have each other’s back because life isn’t done surprising the two.

The Fool’s Gold series continues to suck me in!

What you need to know about Felicia: She is so book smart and so sheltered that she talks in such technicalities and sounds like a walking textbook. Even when it comes to sex. While I sometimes felt embarrassed for her, this quality also made her genuinely honest and straightforward. (Fun fact: instead of putting leaves or hearts on top of lattes she wants to make pi symbols. Does that not explain everything?)

What you need to know about Gideon: He’s reeling from post-tramautic stress disorder after being held captive for two years and watching his fellow captives die one by one. Known as the sexy voice behind Fool’s Gold’s radio station, he tends to keep people at a distance and doesn’t want to ever get emotionally involved.

So what’s their deal?: After a wild night together years ago, Felicia still finds that Gideon is the only guy she thinks about being with. Especially now that she feels ready to settle down and have a family. Meeting again in Fool’s Gold is such a perfect coincidence and their chemistry is still red hot, but Gideon isn’t looking for forever and tells her so. Instead Gideon agrees to help Felicia out: she’s never been on a date, doesn’t understand what it’s like, and she wants him to guide her. Will Gideon’s mind be changed? Will Felicia fall for him completely?

Two of a Kind starts out a little slow but I think that has to do with getting used to how Felicia communicates with people. She’s been forced to be a loner most of her life, found comfort in her studies, and sounds a little like a robot. But lucky for her she has many great girlfriends and Gideon to teach her how to be “normal”. (Something she so desperately wants to feel.) Her new job — organizing the town’s many themed festivals — throws her out of her comfort zone, gets her in touch with the Fool’s Gold community, and makes her feel at home (despite her insecurites).

But in her personal life, things are heating up up up with Gideon. (Two words: the deck.) As much as she tries to, she can’t control her feelings for him and as a reader you wonder when Gideon is going to just let go and see what happens with her. It is one sexy ride filled with a twist that brings its own little charms into the story. I really liked how Felicia and Gideon’s lives mirrored one another even if their circumstances were substantially different; they are both so used to depending on themselves that they weren’t so confident in their feelings and teaming up with someone else.

Two of a Kind is sweet, sexy, and fun just like a romance novel should be but it also has some great girlfriend moments, matchmaking little kids, and a sincere town mayor that really does have eyes behind her head. And in true Mallery style, she makes some new character introductions that made me even more enthused to pick up the next couple of books.

The obsession grows…

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Estelle: Just One Kiss (Fool’s Gold) by Susan Mallery

Just One Kiss by Susan Mallery: Part of the Fool's Gold seriesJust One Kiss by Susan Mallery ( tweet | web )
Part of the Fool’s Gold series.
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 376
Target audience: Adult / romance / fiction
Keywords: childhood friends, single parents, family secrets
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: When she was a teenager Patience’s crush disappears without a trace. Fifteen years later, Justice returns to Fool’s Gold, to the only place has ever felt at home to find Patience and see if he can repair their friendship. Can Justice move on from his past? Can their old feelings bring on something meaningful now that they are adults?

Very few love stories can top the FRIENDS REUNITED SPARKS FLYING approach for me.

From the very minute Justice walks back into Patience’s life in Just One Kiss, the chemistry is alive and swirly; time after time, I couldn’t wait to get back to reading to see if these two characters could finally get it together.

It’s kind of a given in these novels that the characters come with a good amount of baggage. While Patience is wondering if she can trust Justice to stick around, Justice is having his own inner struggle. Is he a violent, heartless man like his father was? Is he capable of being in a loving relationship after the things that he has done? But, friends, how sweet and romantical is it that he cannot stay away from Fool’s Gold because of the Patience he grew up with? Swoon!

Even though Patience’s story is a little more prominent in this one and we get a little too much of Justice’s work partner when we could have had more kissing, I really liked the idea of Justice seeking solace in a place he was ripped from too suddenly as a kid. He’s so comfortable with Patience’s mom, and even Patience’s young daughter warms up to him and asks him if he can “protect” her from a boy at school. (Don’t worry; it’s an adorable little storyline.)

I swear, life just knows when I need a little bit of Fool’s Gold. There’s such a great sense of community there (even if everyone knows the other’s business) and it does truly sound like the perfect place to live. Even more so when Patience gets the capital to start her dream: a coffee shop called Brew-ha-ha. (How adorable is that?) There’s even talk of a Christmas stop opening up in the near future. (I love how I’m always trying to guess if this character will star in the next book.)

Again, I was totally charmed and I can pretty much call Just One Kiss my favorite Mallery book so far. A delicious couple that can’t keep their hands off each other, strong female bonds, a little suspense, and a celebration of small town living. With the warmer weather on its way, I can’t imagine a better pairing than a vacation and a Mallery romance.

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(Two notes: 1) Even though this is book 11, feel free to start anywhere in the series. It’s definitely easy enough to catch on. 2) The characters in this book are in their late 20s and early 30s. In case you were curious!)

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Estelle: A Fool’s Gold Christmas by Susan Mallery

A Fool’s Gold Christmas by Susan Mallery ( website | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold Series
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 350
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: holidays, small town, Christmas, family drama, dance!
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: The town of Fool’s Gold will not let you forget the holidays are here — the events, the charity work, the cheer — it’s everywhere you turn around. But Evie and Dante refuse to fall into the Christmas trap, and instead, intend to get through the holidays together. (But you know… it’s not serious between them… not at all.)

I’m willing to bet I’m one of the biggest Christmas enthusiasts you will ever meet. I know I complain about fall clothes being out before summer is even half done, or the Halloween decorations jam-packing the aisles before school even starts… but I get a secret thrill when I see my first bit of Christmas merchandise or get my first email that tells me tickets for the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall will be going on sale soon.

What I’m trying to say is… why not read a Christmas novel in October?

Susan Mallery’s latest, set in the adorable, California town of Fool’s Gold, focuses on two people who resemble Scrooge more than Buddy the Elf. (What?! I refuse to understand this behavior!) Evie has unwillingly returned to FG after an unfortunate injury ended her cheerleading career, and Dante has no choice but to relocate to FG after his business partner (and Evie’s brother) settles down there.

While the novel switches between the two, the story mainly focuses on Evie as she struggles to come to terms with a mother who never seemed to want her around. Evie’s background resembles a Lifetime movie – the product of a one-night stand, a father she never knew, and a mom and brothers who never made her feel very welcome in her home. Obviously these factors have had lasting effects on her own life (she went off on her own pretty young) and also her relationships (never let anyone get too close!).

…I’ll be honest: I’ve heard a little about Evie in the other books in the series and I never bought her background story. It seems so far-fetched but hey, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

Dante, on the other hand, loves how Evie looks in her dance teacher gear and has his own secret childhood challenges as well. They bond over their lack of love for the holidays, how Fool’s Gold turns into its own version of the North Pole, and even the different relationships they’ve had with their families.

A Fool’s Gold Christmas is a sweet romance sprinkled with just enough holiday cheer that it didn’t seem crazy to be reading it in the fall but could be equally fun when the snow is falling and you’re nursing a cup of hot chocolate. More than any of the other novels in this series, Fool’s Gold shines for all its merriment and the supportive and good-natured people of this town. I could absolutely picture all the antics in my head, and I wished I lived in a similar place.

Out of the three leading ladies I’ve met in Mallery’s books, Evie is hands down my favorite. She’s sarcastic, no nonsense, and she totally made me chuckle a few times. She was more than a caricature and more like your favorite down-to-earth friend. While Dante’s storyline was thin, he was no doubt super sexy and surprisingly thoughtful. I really liked watching these two get together and start to let their guard down for one another. (But beware, like any romance novel… something will come between them!)  The author also does a better job of incorporating past characters… it felt more natural in this setting and not as overwhelming. (Although, Evie’s mother, May, came off too mopey and emotional and instead of her monologues feeling sincere, they felt annoying.)

I think the smaller details in this particular book – a cat with personality, the big dance performance, and how the women come together time and time again – make this a favorite in the Fool’s Gold series for me. While it was just as addicting as the others, Christmas played a great supporting role and the characters felt more than just sugarplums dancing in my head.

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