It’s time for summer romance (books)

Posted Sunday, Jun. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

The Beekeeper’s Ball

by Susan Wiggs

Harlequin MIRA, $24.95

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The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs, Harlequin MIRA, $24.95

* * * * *  The Beekeeper’s Ball, Susan Wiggs’ follow-up to last year’s The Apple Orchard, is a rich tale built around memories of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. There is a strong romance in the story, but at times it’s secondary to the familial and community relationships that are the fabric of Bella Vista, a working orchard in Sonoma, Calif.

The Beekeeper’s Ball picks up The Apple Orchard storyline with plans for Tess Delaney’s wedding. Her half-sister, Isabel, is the wedding planner and this is her story. Isabel is involved in life at Bella Vista and the surrounding community, but she’s also in hiding emotionally, having never recovered from an abusive relationship.

Tess and Isabel share a father. Their paternal grandfather, Magnus Johansen, owns Bella Vista. Magnus was active in the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Denmark.

Tess arranges for Cormac O’Neill, a noted author, to write Magnus’ biography. The narrative is interwoven with Magnus’ memories and the attraction between Isabel and Mac. Their romance builds slowly, naturally. There’s nothing contrived or forced.

Each is old enough to have failed-relationship baggage, and that’s the conflict between them.

The story, which never drags, time shifts between Magnus’ memories about the resistance and the persecution of Danish Jews, and Isabel’s efforts to transform Bella Vista into a destination cooking school.

The cast of characters is entertaining and the stories of fighting the Nazis are engaging. The dialogue is strong and authentic. From the food to the rooms and everything in-between, Wiggs’ descriptions of Bella Vista are sumptuous. (I couldn’t resist Googling recipes for bee sting cake.)

Here’s a look at some other titles that might catch your eye this summer:

The Right Wife, by Beverly Barton, Kensington Trade, $15

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Kensington is offering a posthumous publication of The Right Wife by Beverly Barton, who died in 2011. The historical romance is set in Alabama after the Civil War. Fans of Barton, whose writing focused on romantic suspense, may be disappointed with this offering.

It’s a campy B-movie with an over-the-top, yet underdeveloped, villain, and a hero and heroine who are just this side of annoying. Although wealthy, Aaron Stone is illegitimate — not that anyone knows it. Still, he is determined to solidify his standing in the community by marrying well.

The only problem is he meets and falls in love with Maggie Campbell, who is responsible for her younger brother and sister.

The story revolves around Aaron’s plan to marry well — Maggie’s late father was a poor farmer — even though he and Maggie love each other. It is set in Barton’s hometown of Tuscumbia, Ala. This is a period piece, but except for Phineas and Daisy, the noble slaves who work for Aaron and Maggie, respectively, there’s not a strong sense of history in the story.

The Promise, by Robyn Carr, Harlequin MIRA, $7.99

* * * * * Robyn Carr returns to her “Thunder Point” series with the story of Dr. Scott Grant, a widower with two young children. Scott set up a one-man practice in Thunder Point, which is otherwise miles from medical care, to get away from his children’s grandmothers and to establish a lifestyle that gives him time to parent.

He’s in search of a physician’s assistant, and Peyton Lacoumette comes to town driving a $100,000 Lexus with way too many qualifications for a job that can only pay $40,000. The price points are important to the story, which challenges modern-day notions of success and wealth.

Peyton winds up in Thunder Point after leaving the cardiac surgeon who was her boyfriend/boss. She lived with him for nearly three years and took care of his three children, whose divorced parents have emotionally abandoned them.

Scott and his two children should be anathema; instead they are irresistible. There’s a strong and believable chemistry between Peyton and Scott that is developed well. Scott, however, doubts that he has enough materially to offer Peyton and that sets up the conflict that must be resolved between them.

The Promise lets readers of the series catch up on the happenings of previous characters without getting weighed down with backstory. Thunder Point is still a great place to escape to.

For Once in My Life, by Marianne Kavanagh, Atria Books (division of Simon & Schuster), $16

* * * * Marianne Kavanagh’s For Once in My Life is a tale of fate, love and the travails of young adulthood. Tess loves vintage clothes from the ’40s. Meanwhile, George is a gifted jazz musician. Their lives crisscross through mutual friends even before they meet.

The book spans a decade. During the course of which they, and their friends, fumble through bad relationships, marry, divorce, have children and launch careers. Their conversations range from mundane to heartbreaking and hilarious as they go from the early years after college to full-fledged adulthood.

It’s Tess and George’s story, but Kavanagh does a good job of developing the secondary characters who support them through the years. Kavanagh’s writing is filled with rich detail. I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of vintage clothing.

Up in Flames, by Lori Foster, Harlequin HQN, $14.95

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Lori Foster’s Up in Flames is a re-release of two previously published titles — Body Heat and Caught in the Act. (I have no objections to republications, except when there isn’t anything obvious to tell you this is a repackage, which isn’t the case with this book.)

Body Heat, first published in 1999, features Melanie Tucker and Adam Stone. Mel is the golden girl from their small Ohio hometown and Adam is the poor kid who was always looked down upon.

They liked/loathed each other throughout childhood. They meet again on a party boat charter — animosity still intact, at least on Mel’s part. They get tossed overboard and find themselves on an uninhabited island and, of course, the romance begins.

Caught in the Act, first published in 2001, may be more familiar to fans of Foster. The romance between undercover police officer Mick Dawson and mystery writer Delilah Pipah is priceless. She’s being stalked by baddies who want to kill her, and Mick is determined to keep her safe from harm.

This story is filled with the sassy banter that Foster writes so well.

An easy vacation read.

For All Time, by Jude Deveraux, Ballantine Books, $27 (out July 1)

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Alix Madsen and Jared Montgomery get married in the second book of Jude Deveraux’s “Nantucket Brides” trilogy.

But the storyline in For All Time belongs to Graydon Montgomery and bridesmaid Toby Windham. Toby may just be Jared’s true love — she can tell Graydon apart from his identical twin, Rory — but Jared’s already fated for an arranged marriage to a woman worthy of his noble blood.

This being a magical island, however, all things are possible. Jared and Toby are paired together when she helps him hide from his royal duties and he helps her plan Alix’s and Jared’s nuptials.

Great escape.

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