Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper. Kate Morton. Atria Books. October 2012. 496 pages paperback. Also sold at all e-book retail online sites. ISBN#: 9781439152805.

Author of The Distant Hours, and other bestsellers, Kate Morton again draws the reader into the years around WWII in England where turmoil reigns and the future of the country and personal lives seems so very unsure. It all begins when Laurel Nicholson is sitting in her tree house as a young girl and is debating whether or not to run into the kitchen of her house to get the "birthday knife" the family uses to cut all celebratory cakes. Instead she sees a man approach the house, followed by her mother coming outside, sharing words with the man who seems to know her, and then an action that haunts Laurel up to the time of her recounting this story to the reader.  That scene is never spoken of by Laurel, her mother, or her much younger brother who was also present but dramatically affects their lives. Now Laurel wants to know the truth about the mystery behind the secret and sets to finding out what really happened that life-changing day so long ago!

Now it's time for Laurel's mother, Dorothy's 90th birthday party.  Dorothy is not always so lucid and she occasionally mutters names that none of the family seem to know but which Laurel cannot get her to expand on in conversation. Laurel is a famous actress now and has a hard time doing interviews about her past because of her previous memories. It also turns out her baby brother remembers more than she thinks he does, but she doesn't want to traumatize him by revealing more, at least at first. As she begins to look a bit deeper by tracking down the people or acquaintances of the main players in this mystery, she finds that her mother had a secret life in London during WWII when she was deeply in love with a boy named Jimmy Metcalfe, someone who later became a famous photographer in Europe during the war.  She was also good friends with a woman named Vivien Jenkins.  Somehow something occurred that caused a break in their friendship.  Who was the betrayer and why?  How was that associated with her mother's devastating act seen by Laurel.

Kate Morton portrays war-torn England and the "desperate" nature of relationships with style and gripping tension that immediately snare the reader into rapidly flipping pages to find out the answer to numerous questions.  It's an era many young readers might not relate to yet one that is intriguing for its private wars that mirror the global battles of this second "war to end all wars." Great writing and a riveting historical fiction read!

Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane

Hunk for the Holidays. Katie Lane. Grand Central Publishing. September 2012. 352 pp. ISBN#: 9781455522361.

Cassie McPherson come from tough stock, a family who have become successful in commercial building and who watch out for each other, sometimes a bit too much.  Cassie always wanted to be an architect in the family business but need comes first and she's more of a family accountant for the business.  Right now she's extremely ticked off because another company seems to be outbidding her family on jobs and taking away customers.  Her Dad is recovering from a heart attack and she's determined to find out who this upstart guy in this new company in town is.  Her philosophy is to meet the enemy before you figure out how to deal with the competitor!

Before that can happen, however, she has to show up at a company Christmas party and hires an escort who will act like he's her date and current boyfriend as her family also wants to see her settle down and marry, sooner rather than later! That she's not buying at all.  The chemistry between her and her escort, who initially is nameless, is electric and snappy!  Cassie's in "boss" mode mentally but her body is reacting to this "hunk" of a sexy male that seems created to be kissed, etc!

The "Hunk" as well is not used to being bossed around but refuses to reveal who he is; add to it he normally chooses, loves and dumps the ladies he meets but is magnetically struck by this feisty woman.  Little by little, he realizes she's got him thinking about his past affairs and if that's really all he wants out of a relationship.  

So as both readjust their thinking, they begin to get to know each other, that is when they're not hopping into hot, hot, hot bedroom action!  The pain each has known from the loss of a family member begins to wane as they realize what a holiday gift they truly are for each other. No, it's not without some turmoil and some fast aced action about the business, but it's a lovely holiday romance sure to delight romance fans who will be attracted by this sexy cover and not disappointed inside its pages! Hunk for the Holidays is a must romance fiction read for the holidays!

Last Chance Christmas by Hope Ramsay

Last Chance Christmas. Hope Ramsay. Grand Central Publishing. September 2012. 352 pp.  ISBN #: 9780446576079.

Lark Chaikin has just arrived in the small town of Last Chance, South Carolina where she intends to leave her father's ashes on a "Golfing for God" mini-golf course per his last wishes.  She's still grieving and totally shocked when she meets the town's Chief of Police, Stonewall ("Stone") Rhodes. Before he tells her she can't leave the ashes, he makes some comments that indicate she will not at all be welcome in this town since it's believed that her father caused the death of Stone's grandfather.  No, there's no proof but Lark's father left town on the same day Zeke Rhodes died. Stone proceeds to inform her she will have to get permission from the group that now is in control of this mini-golf course.

Lark is obviously upset but determined to honor her father's last wishes. It turns out that won't happen so quickly; in the meantime the town begins to take sides, with some believing the "assumption" about Lark's Dad and others now wondering and questioning what the precise facts are about the rumors that have been accepted as fact for years.  Lark sets her sights on finding out as she knows her father only as the most gentle and kindest of souls.  In the process she and Stone begin to get used to each other and she learns he is grieving still over the loss of his wife.  While they discuss and seek answers for the death of Lark's father, the town matchmakers are also making their future plans for this unsuspecting couple.  Lark isn't interested at all at first as her track record with romance is a bummer and full of trouble.

But there's something reasonable, something soft, something truly manly about Stone that begins to become quite appealing to Lark.  As the romantic side of the plot heats up, the tension heats up as well when the background town plans and characters connected to Zeke Rhodes' death come to light.  

So get ready for some Southern comfort food and hospitality mixed with small town thinking and attitudes that might not be so welcoming - all of which blend into a blooming holiday romance that sifts out the garbage, solves a mystery, and leads to what you can predict between this couple.  However, because the reader knows where the plot is going on the romance side only increases the pleasure from sharing their story.  Very nicely done, Hope Ramsay!