contemporary romance

Snow Deer and Cocoa Cheer by Joanne DeMaio

by Casee Marie on December 21, 2015

in Fiction, Reviews

      To Wes, the moment becomes almost magical as she looks up at her tree again. The only sound – if it’s a sound at all – is the hush of the December night.
Joanne DeMaio, Snow Deer and Cocoa Cheer

Returning her readers to the idyllic New England world of her novels, Joanne DeMaio whips up a charming love story that captures all the magic of the holidays and reminds us of the small joys of the season. The fictional village of Addison, with all its friendly neighbors and quaint charm, is the ideal setting for a heart-warming Christmas romance, and the perfect recipe includes two endearing protagonists – mailman Wesley and greeting card designer Jane – thrown together with a precocious puppy, a festive scavenger hunt, and a dose of the magic that only the holidays can deliver.

In Snow Deer and Cocoa Cheer, Wes is picking up the pieces after his fiance leaves him jilted just before their wedding, while Jane is nursing a broken wrist and an equally broken creative spirit. Determined to create a stunning new collection of holiday cards – or risk losing her job – Jane is on the hunt for holiday cheer, finding inspiration in her mother’s beautiful winter paintings. When her path crosses with Wesley’s, she finds herself on a mission to lift his holiday spirits as well as her own. Communicating through notes in her mailbox, Jane and Wes slowly begin to take solace in each other’s company, and when Jane’s mother gives her a list of tasks to help imbue her with some Christmas cheer, Jane decides to take Wes along for the ride. Between Jane’s hunt for holiday spirit and the mischievous antics of his accidental new co-pilot, an orphaned puppy named Comet, Wesley’s plans for a solo, brooding Christmas are well on their way to being kicked out from under the mistletoe.

      He shifts in his chair to face her. “And if you need anything from me, well…” There it is, that smile of hers. Though it’s not on her lips, as though she’s keeping a personal secret between them; it’s all in her eyes. He also notices the brushed-gold ball earrings, and a hint of blush on her cheeks, until he realizes he’s noticing too much. So he reaches in front of her and picks up the red marker. “Well, you know what to do.” After a brief hesitation, he carefully finishes his cast drawing, adding a prominent flipped-up red flag to his mailbox sketch. “Just flag me. Okay?”
Joanne DeMaio, Snow Deer and Cocoa Cheer

Aptly capturing Jane’s journey to create the perfect Christmas greeting card series, the novel’s narrative is warm, cheerful, and ringing with sentiment at every turn. Familiar faces return to the pages as Addison comes to life, including Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes’s Vera, Greg (Wesley’s brother), and even, working tirelessly in the background, Vera’s weatherman father Leo Sterling. New characters and old become entwined equally within the cozy familiarity that seems to encompass all of DeMaio’s past books, and which is in no short supply here.

      Walking across the red covered bridge in her shearling-lined suede boots, it feels like she could very well be in the nineteenth century when a horse and buggy might clip-cop through the planked overpass.
      Once she turns onto Olde Addison’s Main Street, her mind is in full card-designing mode, picturing flickering white candles in the paned windows along the way, and maybe a small skating rink on the town green, the ice skaters leaning forward and swooshing across the ice, with a dusting of snow sprinkled everywhere.
Joanne DeMaio, Snow Deer and Cocoa Cheer

Over the course of her past five novels, DeMaio has explored the deep emotional caverns of many relationships as they are put to the ultimate test, but here she gives her readers a sweet novel that’s light on drama, devoting itself entirely to the simply joys that the holiday season and small-town life can bring, and the special way love looks all the more magical under the gleam of twinkling Christmas lights.

As enchanting as a season’s first snowfall and with all the warmth of an open fire, Snow Deer and Cocoa Cheer is a worthy gift from a writer who loves to give her readers stories to fall in love with.

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Keep Dancing by Leslie Wells

by Casee Marie on May 7, 2015

in Fiction, Reviews

In Keep Dancing Leslie Wells continues the story of New York book editor Julia Nash and her whirlwind relationship with British rock star Jack Kipling in the early 1980s.

When last readers met with Jack and Julia in Leslie Wells’s Come Dancing they were deep in the throes of a rollercoaster love affair after misunderstandings and meddling enemies had threatened to tear them apart. In her new follow-up novel, Keep Dancing, the author takes readers back to the tumultuous world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll in New York’s glittering 1980s. We follow Jack and Julia through the end of 1981, when the British rocker sweeps Julia away to England to meet his imposing family; but as 1982 dawns, new challenges and old adversaries once again test Jack and Julia’s relationship. British rock star Jack is set for a multi-city tour across the States while book editor Julia is on the rise at a fabulous new job, but as their newly-minted living situation seems to be paving the way for a lasting relationship, the stresses from both of their jobs will put them to the test. Add to the mix a screaming nephew, a screeching smoke detector, a wily puppy, and a penthouse full of praying mantises and Julia will find herself at wit’s end. Struggling to balance her career aspirations with her newly-domesticated home life, she’ll also have to face her uncertain trust as Jack flies off on a star-studded, drug-laden rock tour with his raucous bandmates and a raving horde of devoted groupies at their disposal.

Keep Dancing hits many of the same notes as Wells’s terrific first novel, with a full cast of charming characters, steamy romance, and writing that strikes as both humorous and poignant. While it could certainly be read as a standalone novel, Keep Dancing reads at its best following up the story of Jack and Julia’s first meeting. The duo get caught in some of the same dangerous webs this time around as high tempers and fragile trust threaten to derail their relationship, while Jack’s meddlesome manager Mary Jo and the band’s conniving lead singer Patrick both try to sabotage what Jack and Julia have built together. Through this novel, though, Jack and Julia have had a chance to grow through their past challenges. As a result, they’re both looking at their relationship – and Julia her career – with mature new eyes. Jack wants to start a family, a sentiment readers see brought to life through his devoted interactions with his sweet-but-destructive nephew Oliver; Julia, meanwhile, sees a glimmer of her own fame in the distance as she strives to take on a posh literary author in her new editing job. As Jack’s want of domestic bliss and Julia’s craving for career achievements draw tension between them, Wells once again allows her characters to grow through the ups and downs of their love for each other.

One of the highlights of the novel is Julia’s alternately fabulous and heartbreaking experience as she accompanies Jack and the band on a leg of their cross-country tour. In these scenes, Wells is able to fully utilize her skill for capturing all the opulence and scandal of the 1980s rock scene, complete with devious gossip headlines and outrageous backstage antics. The other members of Jack’s entourage – southern boy Sammy, unpredictable Mark, and Mark’s patience wife Suzanne – come to life with renewed vigor, entertaining the reader at every turn of the page.

Meanwhile, Wells turns from the glitz of the rock star life to more serious, heartfelt matters as Julia’s search for her father takes her into all manner of uncharted emotional territory. And for Julia, an altogether new feeling of vulnerability befalls her when her rocky relationship with Jack leaves her feeling particularly isolated from everything she thought she knew. With grace, humor, and sparkling imagination, Keep Dancing is a worthy second chapter in a smart new adult series.

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KeepDancing_Giveaway_FINAL

In celebration of the launch of Keep Dancing, Leslie Wells is giving readers a chance to win a diamond ring between now and June 30th. Share your favorite line from the novel and you’re in the running! (Please note, I’m not hosting/co-hosting this giveaway so I can’t answer any questions entrants may have; I’m just helping to spread the word.) Good luck!

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Thank-you to Leslie Wells for providing a copy of Keep Dancing for me to read!

True Blend by Joanne DeMaio

by Casee Marie on April 30, 2014

in Fiction, Reviews

Joanne DeMaio’s fourth book, True Blend, brings her readers back to the quaint town of Addison, Connecticut, to meet new characters and even catch a glimpse of some familiar faces. Young widow Amy Trewist is finally beginning to recover from the loss of her husband when her daughter Grace is stolen from her in the midst of a bank robbery; in a mere three minutes her life is uprooted, and when her daughter is finally returned she knows their lives will never be the same. All she can remember of the scene is a compassionate promise from a masked assailant and the feel of a hand over hers. Local market owner George Carbone has always been aware of the distance between him and his brother Nate, a rift driven between them by their father’s death; one that Nate tries futilely to avoid. Their only connection now is their penchant for casinos and card games, but when Nate raises the stakes George finds himself drawn into a new sort of gamble, and he’ll be faced with a choice that could cost people their lives: especially two year-old Grace Trewist. As George and Amy’s lives entwine, powerful feelings will war with a plague of secrets as their lives spiral into unforeseen change.

True Blend marks a unique turning point in DeMaio’s evolution as a writer. While her previous novels explore her ability to capture all the complex nuances of personal relationships, True Blend’s story reaches additionally into elements of crime, suspense, and mistaken identity. While the nature of the novel’s plot is decidedly new territory, DeMaio’s reliable narrative style and her talent for crafting memorable characters manage to draw True Blend comfortably into the family of her previous work. Readers will be at home in the fictional town of Addison while discovering new layers of DeMaio’s ability as a storyteller. Proving herself to be particularly adept at relating the intricate depth of romantic relationships in her writing, it’s interesting to see different circumstances used as a new device here. While DeMaio’s previous stories casts her characters’ relationships against the search for personal identity and the lingering impact of complex romantic history, True Blend examines the fight to overcome – whether it’s possible – the repercussions of immoral actions in the face of love. This avenue presents an opportunity for an exploration of human nature, to question whether one can be driven to commit one crime for the sake of preventing another, and whether love and truth can ultimately triumph over perceived betrayal; it’s all captured beautifully in DeMaio’s confident prose, set amid a dreamlike world of authentic New England charm.

Beyond its taut romantic drama, True Blend draws on the other plights of its characters to broaden its story. The many struggles Amy faces after Grace’s abduction become a crucial element of the story, and DeMaio’s superb research brings them to vivid life: we see Amy’s struggle with anxiety and PTSD following the attack, as well as the means she takes to recover, and perhaps the most heart-wrenching of all, we witness little Grace’s prolonged silence following her abduction. The bond between mother and daughter is as strongly portrayed as the complex relationship between brothers, allowing readers to feel deeply engrossed in the varying degrees of family dynamics. As George grapples with the role his brother played in a shocking crime he must also come to terms with what influence he may have had on Nate’s decisions. Combing the vastness of emotional complexity and the sweet, simple charm of a quiet New England village, True Blend takes readers on a journey to determine the strength of love, the power of hope, and the endurance of the soul.


Title: True Blend

Author: Joanne DeMaio

Genre: contemporary, romance, drama

Publisher: Joanne DeMaio

Release date: March 4, 2014

Source: Mary DeMaio (c/o)

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Vera Sterling is reeling from the loss of her job as a journalist in the city when she returns to her small Connecticut hometown of Addison for her sister’s wedding. Jolted by her unsteady new circumstances, Vera finds herself making a decision to take a chance and do something truly unexpected: namely, purchasing an old Colonial home complete with a neglected barn. Once the famed and beloved Christmas Barn of her youth, the old timber building is run down and the house is in need of a host of repairs; but Vera finds encouragement when she stumbles across a treasure hidden in the barn, left behind by the Christmas Barn’s proprietor with the wish of hope that can only come from one special holiday. As she begins to chip away at her new life, Vera gets reacquainted with the town nestled into Addison Cove, particularly handsome hardware store owner Derek Cooper whose history of tragic loss brings the town together every year to remember a young girl lost at Christmas. But when Derek’s yearly tribute festival is threatened by an unstoppable snowstorm, it’s up to Vera to commemorate a tragic event while trying to heal the heart of a father still steeped in unfathomable grief.

Joanne DeMaio’s third novel, Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes, marks the author’s return to the fictional town of Addison, Connecticut, this time with all the magic and warmth of a New England Christmas. DeMaio’s celebrated talent for crafting memorable small-town stories blossoms under the light of the holiday season and gives readers an endearing look at how enchanting the festivity of Christmas can be, whether by lights strung up in an old barn or by the natural beauty of snowflakes. A collection of charming new characters are presented here, but not without a few cameos from DeMaio’s previous books, Whole Latte Life and Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans. The trio of standalone novels is tied together through DeMaio’s delightful writing style and the unforgettable enchantment of her fictional Connecticut world.

There’s a sense of simplicity to Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes that contrasts particularly with the more complexly woven story of DeMaio’s second novel, Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans; the departure is well-suited and calls to mind the simple joy of the season, countering the story of Derek’s sad history with all the lightness and merriment that Christmas can offer. DeMaio’s transition from summer stories to holiday tales is beautifully handled, drawing as heartfelt a story with the canvas of the winter months and evoking the pure fun of the Christmas excitement that touches all our hearts. Derek’s struggle to come to terms with his loss and Vera’s search to find a place in his life add a layer of depth to the sweetness of the setting as the complexity of their relationship tugs successfully on the reader’s heartstrings. Full of warmth and joy, Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes delivers a story that reminds us that wishes come true and that love is around us if we’ll only look for it – at Christmastime, and always.


Title: Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes
Author: Joanne DeMaio
Genre: drama, romance, holiday
Publisher: Joanne DeMaio
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: October 15, 2013
Provided by: Mary DeMaio (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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Review: The Disillusioned by D.J. Williams

April 9, 2013

Brothers Danny and Sam Armstrong grew apart after an unconventional childhood. Their distant father and unstable mother were different people in the spotlight; together they worked to create one of the biggest evangelical ministries in America, with an impressive array of books, sermons, and a tremendous California church to their name. After their father’s death […]

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Review: Afterthought by Janet Clare

March 7, 2013

At forty-five years old, Lilly’s life as a divorcee in Manhattan is far from what she expected. Haunted and unfulfilled by the memory of her ex-husband, a torrid artist with more passion for drinking than painting, Lilly lives day to day, contented by her tepid relationship with a stoic businessman. When her mother Ida calls […]

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Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

January 8, 2013

When Duncan Meade enters his senior year at the esteemed Irving School his spirits are low and his expectations are lower. After an entire summer away, he still can’t manage to sway his thoughts from the disastrous events of the cold February night of his junior year when a traditional secret party went from harmless […]

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Review: I Kill Me: Tales of a Jilted Hypochondriac by Tracy H. Tucker

November 30, 2012

Christine Bacon lives a normal life; a high school English teacher, she’s married to her high school sweetheart with two children and a duo of pets. The abnormality of her life comes from her penchant for death: Christine is a hypochondriac, and a committed one. In the age of technology Christine’s fearful conclusion-jumping is given […]

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