Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rec'd Romances: 'The Sweetheart Rules,' 'Perfect Pitch,' 'Beneath the Patchwork Moon'

by Kathy Altman)

(Photo: Berkley)

The Sweetheart Rules by Shirley Jump

What it's about (courtesy of Berkley):

Rescue Bay veterinarian Diana Tuttle is a great single mom, but she has a harder time taking care of herself. Having been burned in the past by her son's noncommittal father, the last thing she wants is a man who isn't in it for the long haul—until a foolish one-night stand from her past walks back into her life.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Mike Stark has never wanted to settle down. But when his ex-wife leaves their two small children on his doorstep, he is forced to become a family man in a hurry. His return to Rescue Bay, Florida and fatherhood isn't easy, but reconnecting with Diana makes the challenge all the more worthwhile. Except becoming the long-term lover she has in mind may be one commitment too many…

Luckily, when Diana's and Mike's pasts begin to threaten their future, the Sweetheart Sisters have the perfect scheme to make this second chance last a lifetime.

Why you should read it: I loved, loved, loved book one in Shirley Jump's Sweetheart Sisters series, The Sweetheart Bargain (read my HEA review from September). And book two? The Sweetheart Rules? Every bit the blissful read I knew it would be. As always, Jump's storytelling is a warm, irresistible invitation into a romance that will hold you rapt, and into a community you can't help but care deeply for. Her characters lure you in from line one, as does her clever, unassuming humor:

One toddler meltdown in the middle of Walmart and Lieutenant Mike Stark, who had battled raging winter storms in the violent, mercurial Bering Sea to pluck stranded boaters from the ocean's grip, had to admit he was in over his head. Mike stood between a display of "As Seen on TV" fruit dehydrators and a cardboard mock‑up of a NASCAR driver hawking shaving lather, and watched his own child dissolve into a screaming, sobbing, fist-pounding puddle of tantrum.

Equally evident is the core of the story — family. Finding one, rescuing one, building one. Or, as in the case of the sneaky Sweetheart Sisters, arranging one.

Mike is less than ecstatic when the long overdue, month-long visit with his two little girls becomes suddenly open-ended. What does he know about being a full-time father? He's barely a part-time dad. And he dreads the chaos a family will bring into his life — he's used to a world that's strict and rigid and spic-n-span. Still, he can't quite bring himself to leave his girls with their careless mother, which goes a long way toward reinstating his hero status. (His military-type manliness doesn't hurt, either.) Meanwhile our heroine Diana also has a desperate grip on control — without it she'd never be able to keep her secret under wraps. (Or behind closed doors.) But when her own family is threatened, so is her control, and something's gotta give. Something like her resolve to keep Mike at arm's length.

Fire flickered in his gaze, and before she could think twice, his arms were around her, she was molded against him, and he was kissing her. No, not kissing. They'd never just kissed, like some happy ending to a romantic comedy. Mike commandeered her mouth, and took her on a wild, frenzied, heated ride that sent fire through her veins, pooled liquid in her gut, and had her panting and arching against him, pressing her pelvis to his, begging for release.

And that was just the first three seconds.

Though Mike manages to make Diana lose control, he's not prepared to let her return the favor. It takes a long, stubborn while, but when these two finally reach an emotional understanding, the scene brought tears to my eyes. In fact, I got the weepies quite a bit while reading this story. I wept for Diana's troubled teenage son, for her prodigal father, and for Mike's daughters and their devotion to a stray dog. I also giggled a lot. The head matchmaker, Greta, is hilarious. She's sarcastic, bossy and mischievous bordering on meddling. She's also generous, well meaning and an absolute hoot.

In public, Esther ate with the dainty restraint of a debutante, but Greta knew Esther kept a stash of crackers and candy bars under her bathroom sink for in-private gorging. Behind closed doors, the woman could put back more in ten minutes than a shark in the shallow end of a crowded pool.

Better stop before I end up end up copying and pasting the entire book for you. The Sweetheart Rules is a superbly-written celebration of love, and includes plenty of surprises, both sad and sweet, shared by a community of characters that will charm your socks off. Keep me company, won't you, as I wait for the next book in the series, The Sweetheart Secret, set for release in September.

What Shirley Jump has to say:

Readers have asked why I featured a Golden Retriever in both book one, The Sweetheart Bargain, and in the sequel, The Sweetheart Rules.

We used to have a Golden Retriever named Heidi. Hands-down, she was the best dog we have ever owned. She was sweet, loyal, so good tempered and such a fabulous dog. When we had to put her down, it was a difficult, heartbreaking decision.

We've owned many rescue pets over the years, too. Right now, one of our dogs and one of our cats are rescues. The cat is a literal rescue — we found him in a drainpipe outside our house. For a cat who was found outside, he's super picky about his food and litter, which cracks me up. But he's a good, curious and entertaining cat. Our rescue dog is definitely my husband's dog — a big baby who gets depressed every time my husband travels. Maybe it's just his total gratitude toward us for rescuing him from the animal shelter.

(Photo: Book View Cafe)

Perfect Pitch by Mindy Klasky

What it's about (copy courtesy of Book View Cafe):

Reigning beauty queen Samantha Winger is launching her pet project, a music program for kids. All she has to do is follow the pageant's rules—no smoking, drinking, or "cavorting" in public.

That's fine, until D.J. Thomas—God's gift to baseball—throws her a wild pitch. He slams her in an interview, and the video goes viral. Sam's no shrinking violet. She parlays D.J.'s apology into a national T.V. appearance—and a very unexpected, very public kiss.

Soon, paparazzi catch the couple in a steamy make-out session, and Sam's music program is on the block. The blazing hot relationship is threatened even more when D.J.'s son begs to trade in Little League for music class.

Can Sam and D.J. sizzle past the sour notes and find their perfect pitch?

Why you should read it: This introduction to Mindy Klasky's Diamond Brides series is a heartfelt, conflict-ridden story as irresistible as its characters. It's also a whole lot of sexy, savvy fun.

"Excuse me," D.J. said, and his voice was smoother than she expected, a rich baritone that flooded her senses like the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. She felt herself pulled forward one step, two, then three, even though she hadn't made a conscious decision to move. The man turned toward her. "Miss Winger?"

She couldn't have made a sound if the building were crashing down around her. All she could see was D.J. Thomas. D.J. Thomas and a massive bouquet of sweetheart roses, three dozen at least. The flowers cascaded over the ballplayer's hands, yellow and peach and a pale pink that tugged at her heart, all cradled between lush ferns and wrapped with a bow.

They weren't the type of flowers a baseball player would ever choose to deliver. They were the flowers a marketing department would order—a public relations crew that was determined to redeem one of its players from his own faux pas.

D.J. took a step toward her, offering up the bouquet with all the charm of a small boy making amends for stealing from a cookie jar. She wouldn't have been surprised to see the toe of his well-worn boots digging into the conference room floor.

Then those amazing eyes locked on hers, and she knew she would never think of him as a little boy again.

But getting involved with DJ is simply not an option for Sam — she's worked far too hard and sacrificed far too much to surrender it all for the sake of a little sports hero lust. I enjoyed how single-minded she is, how determined she is to enrich the lives of children through music. I also appreciated how the right temptation — i.e., the cocky yet down home DJ — manages to alternately strengthen and weaken her resolve. And when she champions his son? So endearing. Now about DJ — I admire the strength of his love for his son and at the same time I want to thump his head. He believes he's securing the boy's future when the truth is, he's sabotaging it. It's easy to forgive him, though, because he's trying to save his son the misery he himself endured growing up. And, OK, it doesn't hurt that the man is H-O-T hot.

Super-strong conflict, a naughty, tongue-in-cheek tone and the occasional sweet surprise all put Perfect Pitch firmly in the you gotta read this category. Klasky's writing is top-notch, her pacing swift and sure. The resolution is a bit more rushed than the story deserves but I freely admit that I did not want to leave these characters.

Watch for the second in the series, Catching Hell, out now, followed soon by Reaching First. I'm loving these titles! And I look forward to learning so much more about baseball … and Klasky's players … and all of those intriguing positions, too …

What Mindy Klasky has to say:

"Write what you know." That's standard advice for new authors.

Alas, when the idea for Perfect Pitch came to me, I threw that excellent suggestion out the window. I've never been a beauty pageant contestant. I can only sing about three notes, and two of them can only be heard by dogs. I've never been mortified by a man's offhand insult on national TV. (And don't even get me started on how my life differs from that of a star pitcher on a major league baseball team!)

But when I started to write Perfect Pitch, I realized that I did know my main characters. I understood what it's like to have a passion for something — I feel that emotion every day that I sit down at my computer to write. I understood what it's like to have a passion for someone — I felt that hopeless, helpless, breathless spark the moment I sat across the table from my now-husband on our first blind date.

I wrote what I knew for the first volume of the Diamond Brides Series — a story about true love helping two people to grow and become the best individuals they can be. And along the way, I learned a lot about all sorts of things I never knew before — beauty pageants, music education, and baseball!

(Photo: Montlake Romance)

Beneath the Patchwork Moon by Alison Kent

What it's about (courtesy of Montlake):

Luna Meadows wove a successful career out of creating the sumptuous, richly hued scarves that adorn Hollywood's elite. Now she wants to give back to her hometown of Hope Springs, Texas, by creating a community arts center on the property that once belonged to her best friend: a talented musician named Sierra who perished in a car crash at age eighteen. As Luna sorts through the personal belongings left in the Caffey family's former home, she confronts her own guilt and memories. But when Angelo Caffey—Sierra's brother and Luna's first love—returns unexpectedly, Luna must also face the pain of their long-ago relationship.

Headstrong, handsome Angelo walked away from Hope Springs—and Luna—eight years ago. But this time, he's staying until he gets his answers. Still haunted by Sierra's mysterious accident, he demands to know the secrets Luna has harbored all these years. But will revealing the truth leave Luna heartbroken? Or can she finally bury the past and help Angelo come home for good?

Why you should read it: Beneath the Patchwork Moon is also a long-awaited sophomore book in a series holding readers enthralled — and sending anticipation soaring for future installments. (By the way, the first book in Alison Kent's Hope Springs series, The Second Chance Café, recently earned a RITA nomination in the Contemporary Romance category. Yay, Alison!)

After meeting Luna Meadows in The Second Chance Café, I was both tickled and relieved to finally discover her story. It's an intense and tragic one, and Angelo Caffey's history is even more tormented. He copes — or tries to — by cutting himself off from any reminder of his past, while Luna deals with her pain and regret by weaving her coveted scarves. Yet her artistry does little to ease her guilt, a guilt that has kept her in emotional stasis — a powerful parallel to the physical stasis of another character in the story.

Family is a recurring theme, and the author effectively explores differing dynamics by creating a supportive community for Luna and a careless, self-absorbed foundation for Angelo. Loss is a theme as well, but it's more than countered by the characters' triumphs, and the slow, sexy pull that brings Luna and Angelo closer and closer together, despite their resentments and secrets and fears.

What she didn't know was how sharp to the touch his hip bones would be, how rough the soles of his feet. Silly, maybe, but she wanted to know these things as well as the more obvious… the pressure of his lips, the texture of his beard, the curve of his ear and the lobe. They needed a bed, and more time, and no clothing. They needed aeons to discover each other, and she feared even now the blocks between them were being mortared back into place.

And another example of Kent's gorgeous prose:

The lawn, in the past always lush and verdant, was dried to straw and littered with rotting leaves and acorns. The dark wood of the structure was a victim of creeping moss and clinging mold and ground cover crawling above its station.

The slow reveal of the mystery surrounding the events that changed Luna's life — and the lives of so many others in Hope Springs — seemed a tad too slow, though the suspense does heighten the characters' emotional byplay, and allows the reader time to adjust to the realistic rebuild of Luna and Angelo's bond. Kent writes with a silky, understated finesse, and her story craft yields an engaging, layered read. Beneath the Patchwork Moon is lingering and lyrical, a heartrending yet hope-filled story of everlasting loss and love.

What Alison Kent has to say:

Once in a while when working on a book, I'll toss in a reference to a particular event that happened in a character's past without having any idea what actually went on because it's not important in the moment. This happened when I wrote The Second Chance Café. I knew Luna Meadows, who appeared in that book as a secondary character, had a big secret that involved her best friend from high school and said friend's brother who was her first love. When I got to Beneath the Patchwork Moon, I had to figure out the details, rather than giving it a passing mention as I had before.

Little did I know that I'd nearly bitten off more than I could chew. Luna's secret was huge, the details tragic, and writing through all of that was emotionally exhausting. I'm not one who cries while writing dark, painful scenes. I'll laugh from time to time over bits of dialogue I enjoy, but I'm a very analytical writer, so I don't fall into scenes and let them sweep me away. But when I read through Beneath the Patchwork Moon's galleys and hit the tree-house scene, I actually teared up and got all sniffly. The book was a beast to write, and when I shared this reaction with my editor, she chuckled. She'd known of the story's emotional impact, but I couldn't see it until reading it with a fresh eye.

Kathy Altman's latest contemporary romance novel is Staying at Joe's. Kathy prefers her chocolate with nuts, her Friday afternoons with wine and her love stories with happy ever afters. Her website is

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