by Serena Chase)
Beowulf: Explosives Detection Dog (A Breed Apart series, #3) by Ronie Kendig
What it's about (from publisher Barbour Books):
Beowulf — a hulky, brindle-coated bullmastiff — is the only "boy" for Timbrel Hogan. And she has a history to remind her why. But when Timbrel, a handler at A Breed Apart, embarks on a mission to detect WMDs in Afghanistan, she reunites with Tony "Candyman" VanAllen and her no-other-man philosophy is challenged. While tension mounts between Timbrel and Tony, the team comes under fire after Beowulf gets a "hit." When tragedy threatens Tony's career and Timbrel's courage, they must maneuver through an intricate plot and a mission like no other.
Why you should read it: I'm a big Ronie Kendig fan and I have devoured her "rapid-fire fiction," but this third offering in her action-packed A Breed Apart series, which honors military working dogs and their handlers, is my favorite so far.
Lead characters Tony and Timbrel are not strangers to fans of the series, having appeared as minor characters in previous tales. In the first two books, Tony, aka Candyman, was noteworthy due to his bushy beard and his cocky and flirtatious pursuit of Timbrel (and she was equally memorable for the brusque way she never failed to rebuff him!). Taking center stage as the romantic hero of this novel, Tony is charming and yummy and just plain ... heroic. He's exactly what the bristly Timbrel needs. (Not that she would ever admit it, of course.)
Kendig does an impressive job of allowing Timbrel's secret past feed her present romantic reluctance without allowing it to overtake the story. When Timbrel reveals her painful truths, the way she delivers them is a bit shocking, but characteristically blunt and ... perfect. But that's Timbrel. She's one scary lady. And she has the dog to match.
And speaking of her dog ... Beo hates Tony and feeds off Timbrel's antagonism toward him. The comic way the two "boys" in Timbrel's life growl at each other is both believable and hilarious. Tony is a big, Special Forces soldier who could kill a man three ways from Sunday — and six more on the way back — but his healthy fear of the drooling beast standing between him and the pursuit of his lady shows his intelligence — as well as Beo's! — in a humorous and humbling way.
If you are looking for high-adrenaline action and emotionally charged romance, grab this book! I will offer a word of caution for sensitive readers: Be prepared to gasp a few times (and possibly even cry — I did!) when terrorists and tragedy strike. Beowulf: Explosives Detective Dog is an excellent and pleasing romance with quick-witted characters and a big slobbery dog who will steal your heart.
Once Upon a Winter's Heart by Melody Carlson
What it's about (from publisher Center Street):
Emma Burcelli has suffered over a decade of dating disasters. But she concludes that love is officially dead when her grandfather Poppi suddenly passes, leaving her grandmother Nona devastated. To help out, Emma works in the family bookstore, which Nona insists must be decked out in sweetheart décor as Poppi would have done for Valentine's Day. Although she feels like a V-Day Scrooge, Emma quickly learns to enjoy the task with the help of a handsome family friend, Lane Forester, who shows her that hanging hearts is much more fun when done to the tune of Dean Martin. As Emma and Lane share time and memories of Poppi, she reconsiders the notion that romance is alive.
Just as Emma's heart begins to lift, however, she learns her sister has already staked a claim on Lane. Emma's mother and sister insist Lane only sees her as a future sister-in-law, but she can't help wondering if it could be something more.
Why you should read it: Readers don't often find Valentine's Day-based stories among inspirational romance publisher's offerings, so I was curious when this title surfaced from prolific author Melody Carlson. Her new novella features Emma, a romantically jaded thirtysomething whose family is less than helpful in the romance department, and Lane, a well-read Renaissance man determined to woo her. But with the love lives of Emma's family members self-destructing all around her, and her beautiful, divorcee sister rabidly pursuing Lane, the one man who seems as if he could conquer Emma's Valentine humbugs, romance is bound to be a little ... awk-ward!
Considering the short length of the story, I would have liked to have met love-interest Lane a little earlier in the story, but when he does come on scene, he truly is likable ... if a bit dense considering the biggest obstacle in his pursuit of Emma. If you're looking for a sweet, quick read that celebrates love's beginnings as well the spirit of Valentine's Day, you'll enjoy Melody Carlson's Once Upon a Winter's Heart.
Shadowed by Grace by Cara C. Putman
What it's about (courtesy of publisher B&H Books):
Shadowed by Grace is a dramatic story inspired by the Monuments Men of World War II by acclaimed author Cara C. Putman. Desperate to save her dying mother, Rachel accepts her newspaper's assignment to travel to Italy to capture images dangerously close to the front lines of WWII. Her real motive — to find the father she never knew -- an artist she hopes can offer the comfort and support both she and her mother need to survive. It's an unlikely situation for love and faith to flourish, but soon Rachel not only finds herself, but also her long-lost earthly father, and ultimately, the man her Heavenly father created to cherish and provide for her.
Why you should read it: For fans of historical romance, this WWII novel will bring a fresh perspective on this crucial time in our history — and one you may have not even known existed within the armed forces: the Monuments Men.
As a member of this new division, tasked with safeguarding Europe's endangered treasures, Scott is dedicated not only to his country, but to the preservation of the ancient art and architecture that helped to form and inform it. He is not a superhero soldier — and he has no illusions to that end. In fact, he might be what we modern girls would consider a hipster *wink* who has traded in the big plastic-framed glasses and skinny jeans for an Army uniform and a well-developed sense of chivalry. He is an endearing fellow with an artsy-nerdy heart/brain connection and a handsome face. In other words, Scott is the WWII version of "the whole package."
Rachel suffers from a deep distrust of romantic love and of repeating her mom's youthful mistakes to end up, like her mom, ruined and alone. But when gentle, chivalrous, art-appreciating Scott hits Rachel's radar, she finds herself reevaluating those fears.
The romance is sweet and several fan-worthy moments of just-restrained passion extend the story the *ahem* grace it needs to forgive a few "lucky coincidences" of random happenstance. Although the back cover copy doesn't seem to promise much in the way of romance, let me reassure you: the attraction and romance factors arrive very early on in the story and they never leave the page. Shadowed by Grace is a very enjoyable and romantically educational ride through WWII Italy that will please historical romance fans as well as inspirational romance readers.
A writer, performer and accomplished partaker of dark chocolate, Serena Chase lives in Iowa with her husband and two daughters. The first two books in her debut Eyes of E'veria series, The Ryn and The Remedy, are out now. You can find out more about her at serenachase.com.