Category Archives: Romance/Relationship

J. J. Murray. A Good Man. New York: Kensington Books, 2013.

goodmanSonya Richardson likes a quiet life.  After ten years in the WNBA and some wise investments, Sonya has a nice income stream and a lovely home in Charlotte. But she’s living in that big house by herself and feeling a bit lonely and bored.  Out of the blue, her publicist calls to ask her to star in  “Hunk or Punk,” a reality TV show in which a bachelorette must pick a partner from dozen men vying for her hand.  Sonya knows better than to get involved, but when her publicist signs the contract, Sonya has no choice but to be “the Nubian princess” at the center of the show.

But Sonya is her own person.  Her unscripted behavior–taking off her uncomfortable shoes in the first episode, the odd “challenges” she gives the men, her unwillingness to dump suitors on schedule–make for interesting viewing. And Sonya is not the only surprisingly element in the show.  John Bond, a widower from Burnt Corn, Alabama, is the token white suitor.  John is an assistant deacon at the AME church in Burnt Corn, a deeply religious man who has been mourning his late wife for fifteen years.  He and Sonya connect in ways that the producers could not anticipate.

A Good Man takes readers behind the scene of reality TV with funny situations and crisp dialogue. It’s clear that Sonya and John are strangers in that strange land, but their faith and their self-knowledge guide them, and even some of the people around them, to a true happily-ever-after.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mecklenburg, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

R. E. Bradshaw. Waking Up Gray. United States: R. E. Bradshaw Books, 2011.

waking At forty, Lizabeth is starting her life over.  Her marriage, to an inveterate philanderer, is finished and her daughter is grown.  Lizabeth has returned to school to study linguistic anthropology.  Her thesis topic is the Caroline Brogue, so she’ll be spending a few months on Ocracoke Island to do her research.

Lizabeth’s cousins have a cottage on the island, a place that Lizabeth used to visit as a child.  Lizabeth knows that she should call on Fanny O’Neal, the elderly woman who lives across the street.  Miss Fanny is an island treasure and almost kin.  But before Lizabeth can pay a call, she sees a brief romantic exchange between Miss Fanny’s granddaughter Gray and another woman.  Lizabeth is shocked by what she feels when she sees the two women, but that doesn’t keep her away from Miss Fanny’s.

Soon her visits across the street are matched by Gray’s visit to Lizabeth’s cottage and excursions around the island.  A same-sex attraction is new territory for Lizabeth, but even as she is exploring her feelings, Gray is struggling too.  Gray’s ex-wife, Dana, cheated on her and even after five years Gray is not ready to give her heart to anyone else.  Lizabeth, Gray, and Fanny survive a hurricane, but will the lovers’ budding relationship survive Dana’s unexpected visit to the island?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Bradshaw, R. E., Coast, Hyde, Romance/Relationship

Cooper West. Dawn in the Orchard. Miami, FL: Dreamspinner Press, 2011.

Dawn in the OrchardHolden, North Carolina is just about the last place Gary Winston ever wanted to be. He moved away from Insbrook, North Carolina, his own stifling hometown, as soon as possible, and college in Chicago was a convenient excuse. His great-aunt Harriet’s death has brought him back to North Carolina, begrudgingly. She named Gary as the heir to her pecan farm and ramshackle home. The housing market around Holden is poor, so Gary doesn’t stand much chance of selling the place, at least not quickly. And, at the present moment, he doesn’t have anywhere better to go.

Gary’s relationship with his boyfriend Roger has fizzled out. Roger couldn’t admit his sexuality openly and he kept their relationship hidden. Roger’s insecurities rubbed off on Gary and manifested as performance anxiety. A professional musician with a performance anxiety is, Gary recognizes, more than a little oxymoronic. Obviously, Gary’s inability to play in front of an audience has stalled his musical career. Since his anxiety surfaced, Gary has become relegated strictly to some spotty studio work. Broke, he’s been testing the patience of his friends through regular couch-surfing. Thankfully, his burdensome inheritance gives him a place to rest his head at night at the very least.

With the prospect of property taxes and his lack of income, Gary starts hitting pavement around Holden. But, small town that it is, there aren’t many job openings. Nobody around town wants to hire experienced barista from a big city up North. The best option left is the harvest from the pecan farm on Great-Aunt Harriet’s property. Turns out that Harriet had a contract with a local family to gather the harvest and one of the farmers looks quite familiar.

Chuck Everett was born and bred in neighboring Cornerstone, another small Southern town. According to Holden’s resident lawyer, Fred George, the Everett’s have lived in Cornerstone “since before the War.” Chuck harvests Harriet Lee’s pecan crop with his father. He also operates one of the many antique shops in Hogan and plays the fiddle on the side. Gary is attracted to Chuck immediately, but he plays it cool. Chuck comes from an old-fashioned family that expects certain behavior and condemns non-traditional lifestyles, and Gary is not certain if Chuck is gay or straight. After Gary and Chuck safely discern each other’s intentions and interests, their relationship begins to blossom. Novelist Cooper West depicts their intimacy with vivid detail. Whether or not Gary and Chuck’s relationship will thrive, depends upon how well both men can compartmentalize and put aside their other problems.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Romance/Relationship, West, Cooper

Phyllis Whitney. Star Flight. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993.

In the midst of Asheville’s heyday in the 1930s, silver screen idols Victoria Frazer and Roger Brandt signed on to co-star in what was sure to be a wildly successful film, Blue Ridge Cowboy. During production, an attraction developed between the two stars. Unfortunately Brandt was already married. The affair was kept hushed for appearances. Things got messier though, when Frazer became pregnant. Her illegitimate daughter was handed off quietly to another family in California. However, when it was clear that Brandt had no intention of divorcing his wife, Camilla, Victoria committed suicide, supposedly drowning herself in Lake Lure. Her body was never recovered and Roger Brandt’s career was ruined when fans learned of the tragedy. After Victoria’s death, Brandt moved to Lake Lure in semi-seclusion, and forced Camilla to come along with him.

Lauren Castle has lived in the shadow of these legends. Her mother was Frazer and Brandt’s illicit child. Although Lauren’s mother never displayed any interest in finding out more about her parents, Lauren collected old magazines and photos of her grandmother in secret. As a child, she was mesmerized by Victoria and Roger’s scandal. For the most part, Lauren has kept her true parentage under wraps. Her husband, Jim, a documentary filmmaker was one of the few to know her family history. He was enthused to discover Lauren’s background, so much that he was eventually inspired to make a documentary on Roger Brandt, an interest that ultimately led to his death. Lauren refused to go with him while he worked on the documentary, and she instead remained behind in California. Early into the project, Jim was killed accidentally when a large beam fell on him during filming.

Even after Jim’s death, Lauren has little interest in venturing to North Carolina until she receives a cryptic note claiming that Jim’s death was quite intentional. When she arrives in Lake Lure, Lauren hides behind her identity as Jim Castle’s wife. Victoria was born in Asheville and her remaining family live around Lake Lure. Lauren meets Victoria’s siblings, Gretchen, an innkeeper and healer, and Ty, a mountain man, as well as Roger and Camilla Brandt and their children and grandchildren. She also encounters Gordon Heath, an old friend of Jim’s, with whom she had a short-lived tryst eleven years ago. By hiding her identity, Lauren learns some surprising details from Brandt family members. Soon she is inadvertently investigating the unresolved mysteries behind Jim’s death and Victoria’s suicide. Many contradictory accounts of Victoria’s character surface, some highly unflattering. Although Lauren feels a greater connection and allegiance to her deceased grandmother than her living grandfather, she starts to wonder if her facts are wrong. Who was Victoria Frazer – innocent victim or vindictive siren?

There’s a lot going on in Star Flight. Novelist Phyllis Whitney packed in two intriguing mysteries at once, fictional Old Hollywood stars, tangled family relationships, romance, a bit of the supernatural, and some surprising facts about kudzu. A prolific author, Whitney wrote the novel in 1993, and it was one of her last books before her death in 2008 at the age of 104. Whitney’s research into the North Carolina mountains is evident, and Star Flight promises readers plenty of suspense.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1993, Mountains, Mystery, Romance/Relationship, Rutherford, Whitney, Phyllis A.

Sherryl Woods. Ocean Breeze Novels.

  •  Sand Castle Bay. Don Mills, Ont.: Harlequin Mira, 2013.
  • Wind Chime Point. Don Mills, Ont.: Harlequin Mira, 2013.
  • Sea Glass Island. Don Mills, Ont.: Harlequin Mira, 2013.

The Castle sisters–Emily, Gabriella, and Samantha–are the focus of this short, romantic series.  The sisters love the coastal community of Sand Castle Bay, but each went out into the wider world to make a name for herself.  Emily is an interior designer, Samantha is an actor, and Gabi follower her father into the pharmaceutical industry.  But when they hit a patch of trouble–or when a family member needs them–they return to their little beach town.

Each novel focuses on a particular sister who is at a turning point in her life: Emily in Sand Castle Bay, Gabi in Wind Chime Point, and the eldest sister, Samantha, in Sea Glass Island.  Their grandmother, Cora Jane, is a presence in each novel–not quite needing the sisters’ help, but eliciting the sisters’ concern.  But Cora Jane gives much more than she receives, as she offers advice and engages in matchmaking.  Although the Ocean Breeze novels contain contemporary elements such as age discrimination, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and the war in Afghanistan, at heart these are traditional novels.  Unrequited love, the desire to marry and have children, and the impulse to protect family members–and to meddle in their affairs–drive the action in these nicely linked novels.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Novels in Series, Romance/Relationship, Series, Woods, Sherryl

Robin Ford Wallace. The Woman Who Loved the Sea. United States: CreateSpace, 2013.

Piney Point Island is home for Claire.  Claire’s mother, a volatile, unstable person had trouble putting down roots.  She didn’t plan to stay on the island, and every few years threatened to leave, but then her mood would blow over and stay they did.  Their neighbors, the Flannerys, became a second family to Claire.  Mr. Flannery, a high school teacher, charmed Claire and his own daughters, Juliet and Cordelia, by quoting Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and the other masters of English poetry.  But Mr. Flannery wasn’t just a romantic dreamer, he was good about money too.  Over time, he bought up property at one end of the island and built houses for his daughters.  When he built a new house for himself, he sold his original house, just a cottage, to Claire.

Claire, barely twenty and a waitress, was proud to have the money for a down-payment, and she was determined to make the little cottage her home for life.  But then into her life walked Richard Danthe, a rich boy doing penance for bad behavior by working as a pizza delivery man.  Claire fell for Richard and after they married, she helped him develop his career.  But once Richard’s business grew, they moved to Charlotte, far from the island and the sea that Claire loves so much.

Claire’s marriage to Richard, which had been stale for years, is finally undone by Richard’s dalliances with two high school girls.  As The Woman Who Loved the Sea opens, Claire is back on Piney Point Island.  Claire has no plans, except to watch the sea, paint, and renew her friendship with the Flannerys.  Cordelia and Juliet are the same as ever, but they are worried about their father who is drinking too much and appears to be under the spell of Leslie Orange, an ambitious realtor.  Ms. Orange want to develop Piney Point, and she has allies, including a boorish artist whom she is playing off against Mr. Flannery.  Claire aligns herself with Cordelia and Juliet, but what help can she be when her vengeful husband Richard is intent on compelling her to come back to Charlotte?  And then, there is that new mystery man in her life–a beachcomber who admires her paintings and excites her passion–and who comes and goes like the tide.

In The Woman Who Loved the Sea, Robin Ford Wallace mixes the familiar elements coastal development and a vengeful spouse with fantasy and a bit of Shakespeare.  It makes for an interesting read.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Romance/Relationship, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Wallace, Robin Ford

Courtney Giardina. Tear Stained Beaches. Florham Park, NJ: Take Two Publishing, 2013.

Haylie met Chase when she was a senior in college.  Chase, then a law student, had been captain of the college soccer team and was known around campus for his good looks and good character. When Haylie and Chase become a couple and eventually marry, Haylie feels that her life is truly blessed.

But trouble enters their life after Chase takes a job in Charlotte. Haylie has difficulty finding a job, and she finds little support from the women in her upscale neighborhood, who think that her career aspirations are a bit odd. Meanwhile, Chase becomes ever more absorbed in his work–staying late, bringing home paperwork, and being inattentive and short with Haylie.  Just when Haylie thinks she can come to terms with this, it gets worse.  Chase texts at all hours of the day and night, and he starts taking many more trips–without Haylie. Haylie fears that Chase is having an affair. When her suspicions are confirmed, she flees to a small island on the Carolina coast. There she finds a woman she can confide in–someone who offers sisterhood in a way that Haylie’s Charlotte neighbors did not. But this friendship brings with it unexpected pain.

Written in the first person, Tear Stained Beaches, takes us inside Haylie’s mind. Happy memories are interspersed with an linear plot that takes Haylie from the first moments of attraction through betrayal and to a life that she builds on her own. This realistic, generous novel comes with book club discussion questions and a Q and A with the author at the end.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Giardina, Courtney, Mecklenburg, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship

Robert G. Edwards. An Image of Us. United States: 1st Ride Publishing, 2013.

image ofSam Fenton and Kathryn Ackart were high school sweethearts in the small coastal town of Meylor, North Carolina.  Sam’s dad ran a scrap metal business in town and battled a drinking problem, but that didn’t stop Kathryn and her family from welcoming Sam into their hearts.  After high school, Sam got on as a reporter with the local paper, while Kathryn left for UNC to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.  The distance between the coast and Chapel Hill did not dampen the young couple’s love.  When Kathryn began to apply to medical schools, she and Sam discussed where they wanted to live–their life together was assumed.

All that changed when Sam received a phone call from family in Arizona.  Decades earlier, his mother’s family founded a store in the small town of Sterling.  That business was now failing–could Sam come and help save it?  Sam’s decision to go to Arizona led to a break with Kathryn.  For Kathryn, it wasn’t so much the decision itself, but how quickly Sam made it.  The life that Kathryn thought they were building was put aside in an instant.  Even as Kathryn moved on with her life–becoming a doctor, then a surgeon, marrying–she harbored bitterness and sadness about the breakup.

As An Image of Us opens, it is dozen years later.  The Meylor high school has undergone a major renovation and alums have been invited back for a tour and celebration.  Sam’s family business has failed due to the competition from big-box stores, and he is at loose ends.  Kathryn has just started her first vacation in two years, and what better way to spend it than with her family and old friends?  Sam hopes that he will see Kathryn at the celebration; Kathryn is not sure what she wants.  An Image of Us follows these two as they consider what they once had and what might still be possible for them.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Edwards, Robert G, Romance/Relationship

Nicholas Sparks. The Longest Ride. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013.

The Longest RideNicholas Sparks returns with another solid effort that is sure to have readers everywhere reaching for Kleenex. The Longest Ride, Sparks’ seventeenth novel, weaves together two seemingly disparate love stories. Readers might not immediately spot any connections, however, by the conclusion of the novel, Sparks stitches the two stories together with surprising poignancy.

The first story concerns 91-year old Ira Levinson and his beloved and deceased wife, Ruth. As the novel opens, the combination of Ira’s failing eyesight and a snowstorm has caused him to run his car off the road and down a steep embankment. The front of his car has smashed into a tree, and Ira is lodged tight in his damaged car. From what Ira can tell, he has sustained several possible injuries. If he tries to climb out, with his age, his wounds, and the icy slope, he would never be able to make it back to the road. So Ira has no choice but to wait in his car until someone discovers him. While Ira bides his time, he imagines that his late wife, Ruth has materialized in the passenger seat of the car.

She and Ira reminisce about their marriage. Their story starts in Greensboro. They met through their families. Ruth’s parents recently immigrated from the threat of Hitler’s burgeoning regime and Ira’s parents owned a local haberdashery. The courtship was slow and managed to endure through World War II. Ira revisits all the unexpected twists in their lives, some good and others bad. Ruth, or at least the fantasy of her, helps keep Ira conscious as he struggles to hold onto life. Sparks drums up a great depth of emotion and convincing detail with Ira and Ruth’s romance. Readers will feel invested in this plot line and will wonder what will happen to Ira. Will someone rescue him in time?

Meanwhile, in the second story, Sophia, an art history major and senior at Wake Forest, has called it quits with her unfaithful boyfriend Brian.  She has discovered that Brian has cheated on her once again. She insists to herself that this will be the last time–she is done with him. But slipping away from Brian’s clutches is easier said than done – as evidenced by her past failed attempts to break it off. As Sophia’s best friend Marcia puts it, Brian “is funny, good-looking and rich” plus he’s the most popular guy in his fraternity. Essentially, he possesses all the characteristics of a perfect catch (minus the infidelities, of course).  Brian can’t accept that the relationship is over. He has followed Sophia around campus since the break up and she’s sick and a little bit scared of his stalking.

During a weekend trip to a bull-riding competition with her sorority sisters, Brian approaches Sophia. Just before the confrontation escalates into something nasty, one of the cowboys intercedes and diffuses the situation. After the awkward incident Sophia and the cowboy, named Luke, become acquainted. Luke lives with his mother on a ranch near King. He competes in bull-riding competitions partially out of love of riding and partially to help pay the bills. Soon Sophia is spending all her free time with Luke. Marcia warns her against leaping so quickly into another long-term relationship and predicts that Sophia and Luke’s lives are headed in different paths. For a while, the pair is blissfully happy. Then the real world intervenes–Luke withholds a serious secret, and Sophia feels pressured about finding a job after she graduates in the spring. Can the new couple brave the strain from the outside world, or will the hard realities of life crush their relationship?

Despite the surface differences, the two love stories mirror each other in several respects. Ruth and Sophia are both immigrants with who have an affinity for art and date rich, important men. Ira and Luke are the men who stand on the sidelines and come to marvel that such special women could fall for them instead of the obvious choice. Ira and Ruth’s tale is expansive in its recollection, but the actual story within the span of the novel is compacted given the parameters of the car accident in terms of time and space. Luke and Sophia’s romance is more spread out and has a longer time frame to develop. Sparks alternates between the two stories, told from the point-of-view of Ira, Sophia, and Luke. Together they play off each other nicely – one love story at its end and the other at its beginning.

Check out this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Forsyth, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Rebecca Lee Smith. A Dance to Die For. Adams Basin, NY: Wild Rose Press, 2012.

Annabel Maitland is a dedicated ballet dancer. So dedicated that she chokes down handfuls of ibuprofen to numb her pounding hip for practices and performances.  Since Annabel is older than most of the other ballerinas (she’s 34), she strives to work twice as hard to compensate for her age. When the novel begins, she is dancing in an off-Broadway production called Moondance.  During one of the performances, Annabel and her friend, Quinn Wolcott, break into a stash of pain relievers to heavily medicate their aches and pains before the show. As Annabel waits for the ballet to begin, her head is spinning and she feels unsteady on her feet; she’s woozy rather than relaxed.

Despite concerned comments from the stage manager and her dance partner Byron, Annabel insists she is well enough to dance. Not long after the performance begins, Quinn experiences anaphylactic shock. The other dancers continue the piece, ignoring Quinn as she gasps for air. Annabel, the only dancer not callously concerned with maintaining a professional veneer, breaks formation and grabs Quinn just before she topples off the stage. Quinn falls on top of Annabel, seriously injuring Annabel’s weak hip. Quinn’s dying words are a cryptic jumble of names and a request to find her killer.

Two months later, Annabel departs New York and journeys to Asheville under the pretense of establishing and managing a dinner theater at the Sheffield Inn. Her dancing career is finished. Annabel’s age was enough of a detriment, but her wounded hip guarantees that she is permanently out of commission. She can teach for the Sheffield Inn, but it’s doubtful if she can dance for a professional company again. The worn-out mountain inn, a little ways outside of town, is in Annabel’s words, “a rundown, miniature version of Tara.” Annabel sought out the position to fulfill her promise to Quinn to investigate her murder. Quinn lived in nearby Black Mountain, but she was romantically linked to the owners of the inn, brothers Trent and Gil Sheffield. Gil was Quinn’s fiancé and Trent was Quinn’s former boyfriend.

Gil welcomes Annabel warmly and shows her around the inn. He sets her to work immediately on preparing the space with two carpenters. Midway through hanging lights, Trent interrupts the crew. Evidently he was out of town and not privy to Gil’s dinner theater plans. Trent fires Annabel on the spot. The brothers already have invested in repairs to restore the building so they, according to Trent, shouldn’t throw extra money toward a harebrained non-necessity that Gil cooked up. Trent is stable and orderly while Gil is impractical and affable. After some finagling, Gil and Annabel persuade Trent the dinner theater is a lucrative opportunity.

Trent is not convinced that he can trust Annabel and her connections to Quinn. But the show goes on and Annabel’s investigation continues. She doesn’t have to snoop around for long before she discovers that Quinn had plenty of enemies who are much happier now that she’s dead. Yet regardless of Quinn’s negative reputation, as the evidence stacks up Annabel starts to wonder if Quinn’s death was a mistake and if she was the original target all along. If her suspicions are right, then Annabel might be searching for her own killer.

Novelist Rebecca Lee Smith’s case is hard to crack until the final twist is revealed. Smith provides intrigue through the romance triangle backstory between Trent, Gil and Quinn. Her portrayal of the competitive New York dancing world feels believable in its heartlessness. A Dance to Die For is a mystery readers could easily lose themselves in for a few hours.

Check out this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Buncombe, Mountains, Romance/Relationship, Smith, Rebecca Lee, Suspense/Thriller