Monday, January 20, 2014

Recommended Reads: 'Hidden Riches,' 'Harmony Cabins'

by Michelle Monko)

(Photo: Kensington Books)

Hidden Riches by Felicia Mason

Raise your hands if you haven't read a Felicia Mason book. Don't worry, I won't rap your knuckles with a ruler. But make this goal a top priority in the new year because you do not want to miss out on reading one of the pioneers in African-American romance/women's fiction. I missed paying tribute to her in my June 3 blog post — mea culpa.

And if you're a writer, and Felicia is facilitating a workshop, take it. I've attended her packed workshops at Romance Writers of America and at the local chapter level at Washington Romance Writers. You will not be disappointed and will gain so much knowledge about the craft.

Now, on to Hidden Riches … Loved, loved, loved it.

A funeral, a will, family and drama — ingredients that Mason took and ran with to create Hidden Riches. With an easygoing, take-a-seat-and-sit-for-a-while style, you drift into these lives and watch the grief, secrets, lies, and greed unfold with unexpected twists and turns.

Rich prose throughout the story, top-notch humor, and loveable characters (even those who are bad apples) harnessed my attention for a non-stop reading experience. Ana Mae Futrell lived a full life and left a lasting legacy in death, and in a masterful way, Mason invites us to reflect on these characters' lives and what pulled them apart but ultimately what brings them together.

Women's fiction at its best. A definite book club recommend.

Here's the blurb (courtesy of publisher Kensington):

After a lifetime spent scrubbing and mending for others, Ana Mae Futrell has passed away. Her siblings have reluctantly returned to their North Carolina hometown to bury the older sister they never really bothered to know. For instance, they didn't know she'd won big on a lottery ticket. Or that she had a son. But back to the money--Ana Mae's millions will go only to the person who can interpret the clues she's left behind in a quilt. Should they all fail, the fortune goes to Diamond Jim and Baby Sue--Ana Mae's cats--and a Reverend with whom Ana Mae shared a "special" relationship. . .

Ana Mae's two sisters and brother hadn't really thought about Ana Mae in years, but now, with bills to pay, marriages on the line, and secrets ready to spill, she's all they can think about. And as the race to win begins, everyone involved finds there's more to gain than money. Because they're each going to learn a little something about Ana Mae--and a whole lot more about themselves.

"Harmony Cabins" by Regina Hart.(Photo: Kensington Books)

Harmony Cabins by Regina Hart

Harmony Cabins by Regina Hart

If you haven't read any of the Finding Home stories by Regina Hart, now is your chance to get on board with Harmony Cabins. From the first page, you know that you're in for a treat with a warm, cozy romance.

I equally liked Audra Lane, a burned-out songwriter, and Jackson Sansbury, a grumpy cabin resort owner. They are a perfect match with great chemistry and without the usual predictability. I loved the humor, the dialogue, and their motivations to get through life and its disappointments.

Hart drops enough intriguing bits throughout the story to keep me turning the pages. While the romance between Audra and Jack heats up, there is the upcoming mayoral election that promises to be entertaining.

Again, Hart continues to showcase this small town in Ohio with enough glimpses of its residents, their stories, and its popular hangouts. Starting with Trinity Falls to Harmony Cabins, each book in the Finding Home series serves an invitation to visit and stay awhile.

Here's the blurb (courtesy of Kensington):

After a series of shattering losses, all Jackson Sansbury wants is solitude. Hoping to escape his tiny hometown of Trinity Falls, Ohio, with its concerned neighbors and painful memories, he's purchased a secluded cabin resort and thrown himself into renovating the property. He doesn't expect any distractions--until an unlikely guest arrives--a woman who hasn't roughed it a day in her life, yet whose fearlessness just might be contagious.

A successful songwriter, Los Angeles native Audra Lane has come to Harmony Cabins to recharge her creativity. She's not looking for company, but she does need a guide--and she can't help noticing the sexy, albeit grumpy, Jackson. Soon she discovers that this insightful, private man has more to teach her than how to hike and fish. And as Audra inspires Jackson to express his emotions, the two find themselves falling in love. But neither can hide in the woods forever--and when the past brings challenges, their newfound strengths will be put to the test.

Authors Maureen Smith and Angie Daniels celebrate their friendship

"Do Me Baby" by Angie Daniels.(Photo: Caramel Kisses Publishing)

Michelle: How did you become friends?

Maureen: Angie and I met while attending Romance Slam Jam in New York in 2004. We shared a cab to the hotel, got to talking about our publishing careers, and discovered how much we had in common. Even though we have totally different personalities, our friendship works because we understand and respect each other. Angie accepts my quirks, but she also won't hesitate to let me know when I'm being too pessimistic or neurotic. I admire her spontaneity, her indomitable spirit, and the way she marches to the beat of her own drum. One of the many things I appreciate about our friendship is that even if we haven't talked in a while, it doesn't cause a rift between us. We're always able to pick up right where we left off, and I truly cherish that.

Angie: Maureen and I have been friends for so long I can't remember when we actually met. However, my earliest memory is attending Romance Slam Jam in New York. After that we seemed to have always been in similar circles, especially since we were writing for the same publishers, Dafina Books and Harlequin. Then one year we attended a workshop in Texas, and I dragged Maureen out one night to do a little research, and that's when our friendship really kicked off. I think we balance each other. I leap into ideas head first, while Maureen takes time to analyze them. I have a wicked, dry sense of humor, while she is level-headed and serious, yet somehow it happened, besties for life.

Michelle: What is a fun memorable event as writer buddies?

Maureen: Angie and I live in different states, so we don't get to see each other very often. But I always enjoy hanging out with her every chance we get. My first visit to a strip club was with Angie, and I had a blast. I'm a serious introvert, and she knows how to coax me out of my shell. We had fun rooming together at Romance Slam Jam in 2012, where we taught a workshop on e-publishing and stayed up one night giggling about everything and nothing. I seem to recall confessing my obsession with Dwight Howard's amazingly broad shoulders (I have a serious shoulder fetish — don't judge me).

Angie: A few years ago Maureen and I stepped out of our comfort zones and started writing an urban book together that I hope we can get around to finishing someday. While pushing each other, we had a lot of fun plotting and brainstorming, especially the suspense. Our writing styles are so different, yet we are equally passionate about our work. We both love mysteries, creating strong women and gorgeous alpha men that it made the project phenomenal.

Michelle: How important is a writer friend in the writing business?

Maureen: I think it's very important to have friends in the writing business. No one understands a writer better than another writer. Angie has been my sounding board and a welcome voice of reason when things have gone haywire. She also motivates, encourages, and looks out for me. Without Angie, I wouldn't have known about the opportunity to write Whatever You Like, so I'll always be grateful to her for ushering me through that door.

Angie: I think it's very important to have a friend in the industry because they understand what you're going through. Maureen and I have pretty much followed similar paths so she understands. Not to mention, I have a great deal of respect for Maureen, so her opinion really matters. As an author I need that. I can call Maureen on the phone to rant and rave about anything from marketing to deadlines, or just to bounce off ideas. I'm risky and spontaneous so I need Maureen to keep me grounded. Otherwise, I'll be bouncing all over the place.

Michelle: Pick a book by the other that you would personally recommend.

Maureen: I have always admired Angie's distinct voice and storytelling abilities. No one does juicy drama better, and she writes characters that are flawed, compelling, and totally relatable. Her romance heroes are delicious alpha males with enough swag and sex appeal to make you swoon. But I must say that my all-time favorite book by Angie is one of her women's fiction novels, In the Company of My Sistahs. I love books that celebrate and explore the complexities of friendships. In the Company of My Sistahs made me laugh, cry, and yell at the characters, and there were two particular sex scenes that still make me shiver to this day. Wowsa. I love that book.

Angie: I am a HUGE fan of her Wolf Pack Series. Recipe for Temptation was one of my favorites, but like so many of Maureen's fans, I am anxiously awaiting the release of her upcoming book, Seducing the Wolf. She writes these characters in a way that makes you feel like you're right there in the story, and you never want the book to end. The writing is so detailed she leaves you anxious for more. I'm sure Maureen's upcoming release will not disappoint her fans.

Michelle: What is your 2014 wish?

Maureen: I wish for a peaceful and productive year of writing and completing projects in 2014.

Angie: With all the projects I have lined up for 2014, my wish for the new year is simply having the peace of mind. My plan is to work smarter not harder. I hope to do a lot of traveling and to enjoy the simple things in life.

"Seducing the Wolf" by Maureen Smith.(Photo: Wordsmith Enterprises)

Michelle Monkou celebrates her upcoming Kimani February release, One Of A Kind, available for pre-order at major retailers and online. Her website is You can also connect with her on Facebook.