When I look at my virtual bookshelf there are quite a few authors on my must-read favorite list. To list just a few: Jill Shalvis, Donna Kauffman, Beth Ciotta, Kristan Higgins, Laura Florand, Deborah Smith, Laura Kaye, Molly O'Keefe, Adrianne Lee, Pamela Claire, Jessica Scott, Rachel Grant, Lora Leigh, Lara Adrian, Laurann Dohner, Maya Banks, Mariah Stewart, Susan Mallery, the grand dame herself, Nora Roberts, and Ava Miles.
I’d never heard of Ava Miles before last year. Why? Because the first book she published was released on 2 July 2013.
Yes, just a little over a year ago. If you haven’t heard of Ava Miles yet, I’m going to tell you to go out and pick up one of her books. Yes, books. Since last July she’s published six books in her Dare Valley series and, as of Tuesday next week, two books in her spinoff Dare River series (I’m not counting the cookbook or songbook here). Yes, in just a little over a year, she has published eight titles that all should be on your must-read shelf.
In this review, I’m going to focus on her Dare Valley series, set in a small college town in Colorado. Miles has an open and easy style of writing that is truly inviting to readers. So inviting that the reader can just dive into her books and not want to leave. Ever.
In addition, her stories are imbued with an optimism, hopefulness, and faith - without being preachy. Reading them makes you happy. Yes, when you read an Ava Miles book your friends will know because you’ll probably be smiling and sharing the joy that the stores evoke with all of them.
That’s not to say that these romances aren’t sexy, passionate or complex. They’re HOT. However, these aren’t books that focus only on the bed chamber, but on all the dynamics that go into creating successful, long-term relationships.
Yes, these are romances that Ava Miles’ first book heroine would be able to read and find a hero to dream about, encouraging the belief that true love exists - just like in Nora Roberts titles.
THE DARE VALLEY SERIES, Books 1 - 6
Book 1 NORA ROBERTS LAND BY AVA MILES
CreateSpace ⎜ 978149052751 ⎜ $4.99 $0.00 ⎜ 2 July 2013
Last fall I fell in love with a book. It was by a new-to-me author, Ava Miles. I’ll admit this upfront, I picked the book up for the title. I mean, how could I resist reading a book called Nora Roberts Land. I dove into this book and from the acknowledgements and dedication section onward, I couldn’t put it down. Miles noted in the acknowledgements that she based a bit of the story on her sister’s own experiences. Knowing that, perhaps gave the story more depth, but truly it stands on its own.
Like its namesake’s books, Nora Roberts Land, is a sweeping story that will find a permanent home on romance lovers bookshelves. Why? Because of the land Miles introduces us to - Colorado’s Dare Valley; the protagonists - Meredith Hale, the newly-divorced heroine out to reclaim her identity and, Tanner McBride, a slightly burnt-out international journalist who might be Meredith’s second-chance at love or not, depending on his agenda; the inhabitants of Dare Valley including Meredith’s sister Jill and her grandfather Arthur, a Pulitzer-winning newspaper proprietor. Each of these elements engage us from the moment they’re introduced on the page.
Yes, Ava Miles breathes life into the characters so that when reading this book it is as though they are speaking directly to us. Ava Miles is a fabulous writer and Nora Roberts Land, her debut book, is just outstanding. In addition to the romance there is also quite a bit of intrigue. If you haven’t already read this bestselling title, you’re in luck. For a little while longer you may download it for free from many eRetailers, including Amazon.
Book 2 FRENCH ROAST BY AVA MILES
CreateSpace ⎜ 9781492110156 ⎜ $3.99 ⎜ 7 August 2013
I was really looking forward to reading the second book in the Dare Valley series, French Roast, but will admit to not being as engaged in this story as in Nora Roberts Land.
French Roast is the story of Meredith’s sister Jill, the proprietor of Dare Valley’s go-to coffee hangout, and her high school crush and boyfriend Brian McConnell. Brian, a chef, returns to Dare after making it big in Manhattan. His reasons are a bit sketchy (and you’ll find out why), but soon he and Jill are trying to reconnect as friends and plan a restaurant together.
As a foodie romance lover, you’d think this would be my favorite book of the series, but it’s not. Frankly, I think it’s because Ava Miles did just too good a job about creating the character of Brian. He has all the negative qualities of chefs I’ve worked with - arrogance, self-interest, slipping morality - and some of his actions, well I find them hard to understand. In contrast, Jill’s over-the-top enthusiasm is sometimes wearing.
By the conclusion of the book, both characters have evolved somewhat, but unlike Nora Roberts Land, I was able to put this book down several times.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t read it. You should.
Once again, Ava Miles’ beautiful and addictive prose overcame my angsty feeling with her protagonists. And as I could tell I was investing myself in the series, this book served as an introduction to characters and understanding of Dare that I knew would be helpful for understanding future books.
I’ll let you in on a secret. As the series has progressed, I’ve come to enjoy the characters of Jill and Brian as they mature. But this is very much a New Adult-themed romance, in contrast to the more evolved characters of Miles first book.
Book 3 THE GRAND OPENING BY AVA MILES
CreateSpace ⎜ 9781492271017 ⎜ $4.99 ⎜ 4 September 2013
The Grand Opening, the third book in Ava Miles’ Dare Valley series, was the first that I received to review (though I waited to read it until I finished books one and two) and is my absolute favorite of the series.
Yes, I wanted to know more about the new deputy sheriff in town, single mother and straight arrow, Peggy McBride. It was clear from their brief interactions in the previous stories that Mac Maven, whose plan to restore the old mountain hotel to its former glory includes top-level poker tournaments, and staunch anti-gambler Peggy have definite sparks flaring between them. So, I couldn’t wait to read “their” story.
Miles creates two wonderfully complicated and fascinating protagonists in Mac and Peggy. Long after I turned the last page and closed the book, I reflected on the challenges to their romance. The levels of trust and leaps of faith that each of them had to face. But most of all recalled the inspirational quality of their bond. This is the book, to me, that showcases Miles as a writer. If you were to read no other book by her, choose this one. (And I’ll guarantee you’ll read all the others too.)
After reading The Grand Opening, Ava Miles was added to my “must-buy” list and her books have a permanent home on my virtual shelf of treasured titles to reread. Yes, The Grand Opening resonated strongly for me. Not just for all the points I mentioned, but also for the tightness of the story, the added mystery and intrigue, and for creating the character of Mac Maven, who has to be one of my favorite book boyfriends.
Book 4 THE HOLIDAY SERENADE BY AVA MILES
Ava Miles, Inc. ⎜ 9781940565026 ⎜ $3.99 ⎜ 16 October 2013
The fourth Dare Valley book, The Holiday Serenade, is a novella focusing on Mac Maven’s best friend Rhett Butler Blaylock and Mac’s sister Abbie.
Professional gambler, Rhett, a larger-than-life character complete with poker babes, stole every scene when he appeared in The Grand Opening. Once again, Miles let us know that there would be a story to be told about Rhett and single mother, Abbie. So I was eagerly anticipating "their book."
Talk about book boyfriends, this Rhett would give Clark Gable a run for most charming gambler - ever! Abbie’s hesitance about trusting that charm is all too believable, but how could anyone not fall in love with him. (Yes, he’s Mac’s runner up in my book boyfriend list.)
I was totally involved in this story to the point that I turned the phone and wifi off, so I could just read it without any distractions.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the need to keep a box of Kleenex on hand when you read Ava Miles’ stories. Along with her wit that effervesces off the page, Miles also channels the deep emotional hurdles her characters face in a way that takes you along - every step - with them. I’ll find tears streaming down my face at points when I’m reading her books. Tears, I’m unaware of until my cheeks are damp.
The Holiday Serenade is a book that traverses emotional highs and lows and does so with sensitivity and humor. I know that I gave this book to a few friends at the holidays to introduce them to Ava Miles' work as it truly encapsulates her style perfectly.
Book 5 THE TOWN SQUARE BY AVA MILES
Ava Miles, Inc. ⎜ 9781940565033 ⎜ $3.99 ⎜ 17 December 2013
Ava Miles channeled Doctor Who for a bit of time travel back to the 1960s for her fifth book, The Town Square, telling the story of Merry and Jill’s grandfather, Arthur, and his true love, Harriet.
I’m always a bit nervous when authors revisit characters in the past as sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t - at all. This was a time when the time travel worked - and worked wonderfully.
The back story of Arthur and Harriet is a must-read - and fits beautifully in the series where placed. Truly at the time when readers needed and wanted to know more about this grandfather of ethical journalism.
For Miles it’s a fairly short book (about 160 pages), but that’s because it’s so tightly written. There’s a bit of suspense and don’t forget those Kleenex’s as you’ll need them as well. If you love the era of Mad Men and Sean Connery as 007, you’ll definitely delight in the journey back in time to The Town Square.
Book 6 THE PARK OF SUNSET DREAMS BY AVA MILES
Ava Miles, Inc. ⎜ 9781940565095 ⎜ $4.99 ⎜ 20 May 2014
This spring, Miles released the sixth Dare Valley book, The Park of Sunset Dreams, that focuses on one of Rhett’s former poker babes cum dog walker, Jane Wilcox, and Merry and Jill’s cousin Matt Hale.
Matt, who recently moved back to Dare after becoming disillusioned with his work in a Denver law firm, calls on Jane to help him with a misbehaving dog he inherited from a client. He knows Jane can help him as he watches her each evening at the dog park where she walks Rhett’s attention-getting, dress-up, accessory dog as well as her own chocolate lab.
I love the fact that Jane, who considers her non-poker babe self to be a “plain jane,” is considered by Matt to resemble a young Audrey Hepburn.
Once again, Ava Miles creates characters that we can both relate too and enjoy a bit of a crush on. Yes, Matt is a good guy, a really good guy, and Jane, well she speaks for every woman she feels insecure about her looks and appeal.
If The Park of Sunset Dreams only consisted of their romance and scenes with the three dogs, this would be a fabulous book. But Miles throws in some additional twists and turns, including the deep secret of the poker babes’ identities, and this becomes a fabulously, fantastic book!
Yes, once again, Ava Miles has written a cannot-put-it-down page turner that grabs you by your heart and soul and won’t let go. When you get to the end of the book, you’ll understand the title - and all its layers of meanings.
Look for my review of Ava Miles' Dare River series and mark your calendar and travel back to Dare this fall, as Ava Miles will be releasing THE PERFECT INGREDIENT, the seventh Dare Valley book that tells the story of former poker babe Elizabeth and The Grand's new chef, Trent.
In full disclosure, I received galleys of Nora Roberts Land and The Grand Opening from the publisher through NetGalley for use in the review. However, I also purchased each of these books to add to my permanent personal library.