Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: The Queen's New Year Secret by Maisey Yates

I almost didn't read this book because I didn't like the first part of the Princes of Petras - A Christmas Vow of Seduction. But it was on my list of books to read for the year and I do usually like Yates' Presents stories, so I decided to give it a try.

I liked it a lot more than I liked Christmas Vow of Seduction. In this story the queen, Tabitha, has asked the king, Kairos, for a divorce on New Year's Eve. He's furious about this and doesn't understand why his wife is suddenly unhappy with the cold, convenient marriage on which they both initially agreed.

The story is about his attempt to win her back, and I enjoyed reading about how these two work through their issues. Toward the end, I did begin to think that Kairos was such a jerk that maybe Tabitha would be better off without him. But he does finally face his problems and try to move past them.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. Not by any means one of my favorites, but still enjoyable for a quick read.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Review: One Breathless Night by Jo Leigh

I liked this book a lot, but it certainly does make every other New Year's Eve celebration seem very dull. Rick and Jenna watch in horror as their significant others kiss at midnight and in retaliation, Rick turns to Jenna and kisses her in a way described later as "alarmingly amazing." The two run off to the apartment Rick is staying at in Boston. At first the two are consoling each other. Jenna was in the midst of planning a wedding - the dress was already bought and Rick had an engagement ring in his pocket, planning to propose at midnight.

But then they realize it's a new year and time to begin new lives and try new things. A snow storm forces them to spend the next few days together, and they make the most of their time in the very sophisticated, high tech, "smart" apartment Rick is staying at - testing it for a friend.

The weekend together leads to an attempt at a long distance relationship - Jenna's a school teacher in the Boston area and Rick is a storm chaser in Oklahoma. They're both forced to re-evaluate what they thought they wanted in a relationship, versus what they need.

These are great characters, with very real emotions and reactions to their situations as they struggle to figure out how to be involved in a real, though somewhat inconvenient relationship.

Enjoyable, fast paced story, great characters, great story, very steamy. I'd say perfect read for New Year's Eve, but it sort of makes me realize how pathetic my own New Year's Eve is going to be in a few hours. Oh well, good book anyway.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Christmas Vow of Seduction by Maisey Yates

I did not like this book very much at all. I've read several Harlequin Presents in the past few days, and loved them, which is why I kept reading them instead of doing other things I should be doing around the house. And I'm usually a fan of Maisey Yates, but this book bothered me quite a bit.

The story begins with Zara, who is given to a king as a gift, and to his credit, he's kind of horrified by this. But then decides she'd make a great wife for his brother, Andres. His brother though was such a creep. Something of a sociopath, wanna-be rapist. I could not get past the first few scenes in the story when Andres is with Zara. He's trying to make clear that she has to do what he says and if not he's threatening to rape her. What? Yuck. As readers, we're shown his thought process and told he would never do this to a woman, but the very fact that he's threatening her in this way is upsetting. Lots of, "well, I'll show you what I mean" as he towers over her, thrusting his hips against her. As the story progresses, his behavior only gets worse. We learn he's had control issues his whole life, he was so badly behaved his mother left. He does not need a wife, he needs an extended stay in a mental health facility.

As for the story line, after he gets angry with Zara, then has sex with her against the wall during a luncheon - her first time, how romantic - he suddenly decides he can't get enough of her. She feels the same about him, which I guess is supposed to make it all okay. They grow closer, ready to get married on Christmas, then all of sudden Andres wants to make clear he doesn't love her. The way the story is told, this came out of nowhere, didn't flow with the story at all. Then there's all this about him dealing with his mother not loving him and he thinks he doesn't deserve love.

Of course they end up together in the end, everyone loving each other. That's not a spoiler, that's simply how these books always end. But none of it felt convincing. I need more than the thoughts in his head to believe any of this.

I usually really like Harlequin Presents, with their over the top, rich, powerful, ruthless men. But what makes me love these books is that the men, despite their power and often times arrogance, still fall hard when they fall in love and even if they treat everyone else horribly, they treat the women they love like the best thing that has ever happened to them. I didn't feel that with this book. In fact, I felt like Zara needed to run as far away as possible from this guy.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Review: Angel by Victoria Dahl

I love just about anything written by Victoria Dahl, including this.

It's a short story - that might be my only complaint, I would have liked to have read more about these characters.

Melisande Angelle is a prostitute in New Orleans. She's been doing this work for a while and views sex as nothing more than a job. But then Bill meets her on Christmas day outside the brothel with a gift. This is when Melisande realizes being with Bill isn't work. Bill wants to take her away from New Orleans, away from her current profession. Melisande has never had anyone want to take care of her before.

Very sweet, sexy story.  I love that Dahl always sticks to her feminist principles. Melisande isn't ashamed of her work. She isn't searching for a man to rescue her. But she's also not going to deny herself a chance at love, a chance to be something other than a prostitute.

Perfect if you are in need of a quick read. And even better, when I got this it was free on amazon, So do yourself a favor and get a copy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: The Price of His Redemption by Carol Marinelli

I liked this a lot. If someone had described the story to me, I would have said it was a story line I don't like. But the characters are so well-written, and their chemistry seems so natural, and so very hot, that I ended up really enjoying this story.

Libby, trying to help out her dad, meets with very wealthy, powerful, Daniil Zverev, to try to persuade him to attend his parents' anniversary party - a party her father is in charge of planning. Daniil has no interest in attending, but he finds himself very interested in Libby. While Libby may not be able to convince him to attend the party (and honestly, she doesn't try that hard, she hates that her father put her in that position) Daniil is quite successful in convincing her to join him for dinner.

The chemistry between these two is sizzling. I usually roll my eyes at this kind of immediate attraction, but in this story it works.

Libby has recently ended her career as a ballerina and she's grieving the loss of her childhood dreams, while also trying to start her own dance studio. She's surprised when Daniil provides her with detailed business plan for her new business to present to the bank when she asks for her loan.  She thought her night was him was a one night stand, but they keep finding reasons to see each other.

Libby is emotional and bold, and she gets frustrated with Daniil's need to maintain full control of their encounters. After multiple dates, she doesn't even have his phone number.

This guy, Daniil, had the potential to be such a jerk, and I was bracing myself to hate him, but he always seemed to redeem himself, more aware of his flaws than anyone else. He didn't behave like a jerk because he was a jerk, but rather because he didn't know how to act any differently, but he makes great strides to change his behavior and be someone that Libby wants.

There is a scene toward the end of the book, when Libby has decided she's had enough of Daniil and retreats to her studio to get away from him, and he comes to find her and apologize for his earlier behavior - that might be one of my favorite scenes ever in a book like this. He says all the right things and completely redeems himself for any previous bad behavior. Made me sort of love this book and Daniil. I already liked Libby a lot.

I will definitely be looking to read more by this author. I received a copy of this via NetGalley

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: Christmas in Da Conti's Bed by Sharon Kendrick

For the most part I enjoyed this book.

Niccolo Da Conti is furious about his sister's choice of a bridesmaid - Alannah, a former school friend who made a name for herself by posing nude for a magazine. He's afraid her association with his sister will look bad for his sister.

Overall, I found his behavior a little silly. Yes, he wants what is best for his sister, but causing a scene seems to be more embarrassing. The two agree to a truce until after the wedding. But then when he needs an interior designer, he remembers that is Alannah's current profession and gives her a call.

We also learn that ten years earlier, the two met at a party and kissed, before Niccolo realized Alannah was his sister's school friend. Now that attraction between the two seems to still exist and is growing at they spend time together working.

I had something of a problem with Alannah thinking so little of herself that she seemed to have no problem giving into Niccolo after all the things he's said about her. Of course, he changes his mind when she tells him why she posed nude and why she needed money. But that also bothered me, the way her reasons excused what she'd done, but if she'd done it simply for money, then that would have been wrong? He just wasn't a guy I liked very much.

Another thing that bothered me a lot was that right after, as in moments, after they have unprotected sex they discuss this as in, "Oh no, what if you're pregnant?" and the answer is, "I guess we wait and see." Are you serious? These are supposed to be fairly intelligent adults who run their own businesses. I get tired of women being portrayed as being so helpless and ignorant with regard to their reproductive decisions. The next few chapters of the book are underscored with the idea that they may as well spend time together and get to know each other because they might have a baby on the way. Story lines like this remind me that I am not the audience for which these stories are written.

Other than the things mentioned, I liked the story. Typical story of a man who thinks he isn't capable of loving anyone being proven wrong by the woman who loves him. I liked their Christmas in a cottage. I'm always a fan of a snowed in cottage for Christmas. Very steamy, sexy, fast-paced read.

I received a copy via NetGalley.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Review: Unwrapping the Castelli Secret by Caitlin Crews

I liked this book a lot.

Be warned, the characters are more than a little bit messed up.

While the rest of the world watched wealthy Rafael Castelli hook up with D-list celebrities, he was having sex with his college age step-sister, Lily, on the side. In public, he treated her as the awkward, brainy little sister, but in dark corners and hidden rooms, he couldn't get enough of her. And she couldn't seem to give him up either. She viewed this an addiction that was bound to destroy her.

When she's involved in a horrible car accident, she thinks she finally has an escape. People begin to assume she's dead, and she allows it.

Then she runs into Rafael five years later. He demands answers as she makes a weak attempt to pretend she doesn't know who he is. Then he catches sight of her son and knows he's the father.

Rafael has been consumed with guilt and grief for years, but now his main priority is his son. He may not be able to win Lily's heart, but he's not going to let her disappear with his son again. I liked the way Rafael and Lily worked through their issues. There isn't any immediate forgiveness. They both need to move past the people they were when they were younger and figure out how they're going to proceed with their future, for the sake of their son and for each other.

Their relationship isn't by any means healthy, and I appreciate that the author made no attempt to gloss over how twisted both characters are in some of their actions
. They're both deceptive and cruel to each other, with clear control issues. I also really liked that the end is not an immediate, "oh, I love you, let's get married" and everything becomes magically perfect.

One thing that bothered me though was the frequent and inconsistent mention of Lily's hair color. Sometimes isn't strawberry blonde and other times it's honey gold. I see those as two different colors. Maybe it wouldn't have bothered me so much if it hadn't been mentioned so often. But her hair color is mentioned every time she is looked at.

Other than the inconsistent hair color, I really liked this story. This story may not appeal to those seeking more traditional or fairy tale like stories, in which the good and bad guys are well defined and their transformations obvious. But for those wanting a story with complex characters and emotions, this works pretty well.

Highly recommend if you're wanting a sexy, steamy holiday read with a bit more (okay, a lot more) angst than a Hallmark holiday movie. These characters had a very rough beginning and have a lot to work through before getting their happy Christmas.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley

Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: Touch of Frost by Rhain Cahill

Nothing much happened in this story. A couple meets, they have sex for the weekend they really like each other. No conflict, not drama, nothing of much interest at all.

I have to admit, based on the title, I thought this would have some element of the paranormal, so was a little disappointed to discover there is nothing paranormal at all in this story. No magic Jack Frost or anything like that.

I read this because I was tend to like short stories around the holidays. I like to read a lot of them because there are a lot of well written novellas that manage to still create some emotional impact and character development. I didn't feel like there was much of that in this story.

It isn't that I disliked the story, there simply wasn't enough of a story to evoke any sort of strong feelings, good or bad.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Review: Christmas with the Laird by Scarlet Wilson

I'm always in search of romantic books set in Scotland and this one worked well. This story even includes a haunted mansion.

Juliette is getting ready to leave work and looking forward to spending a pleasant Christmas alone. But before she can make it out the door, she's informed there's something of an emergency, and hey, since she doesn't have a family, no big deal if she gives up her holiday. She's the host for a show that features haunted houses. They need to quickly film an episode that will be ready by the beginning of the new year. Andrew says he knows of the perfect place, and convinces her to accompany him.

Soon Juliette learns this place Andrew mentioned is his family home in Scotland. A huge, largely abandoned home that he only visits when he has to make repairs. He doesn't even believe it's haunted, but he admits he doesn't think any of the places they film are haunted so they can just make something up.

During their time together though, the setting seems to enhance their attraction for each other. What could have been a very dull, working Christmas turns into much more.

I liked the setting, liked the characters and enjoyed reading about the way they handled their increasing attraction for each other.

A very nice, romantic holiday story.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Humbugs and Heartstrings by Catherine Ferguson

I liked this story. It's a take on Christmas Carol, which is a favorite of mine.

It's around Christmas, and Bobbie is trying to save up money so her brother can have an operation. But her boss, Carol, is horrible. However, Carol is also her former best friend. In this version of the story, Carol is Scrooge and Bobbie is well, Bob Cratchit. There aren't any actual ghosts, but there is a woman who reads tea leaves, the appearance of a old DVD and some odd electric shortages in place of the spirits.

A man named Charlie is the catalyst who enters their lives. Bobbie meets him first, via email and the phone, and against her better judgment is developing a rather powerful crush on him. She thinks Carol also likes him, until it because clear she is trying so hard to impress him in hopes of some financial backing for her failing business.

The story is more about Bobbie and Carol's friendship than any sort of romance, which was fine with me. But some parts of the friendship didn't seem very realistic. If Carol was such a great friend, why did things fall apart so badly? The story goes back and forth and it's hard to tell what kind of person Carol really is.

Some of the situations were a little ridiculous and unbelievable. Set up a huge Christmas Fair with practically no experience. Huge absurd fights. This is something of a lighthearted story that avoids going into too much depth as to the underlying emotions and causes of their actions and behaviors. As terrible as things may be at one moment, they are as quickly and easily resolved in the next.

Overall an enjoyable, light, quick read focusing on friendship, set around the holidays.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review: A Viennese Christmas by Lynn Craig

I didn't like this story very much at all.

I read it because years ago, I visited Vienna and thought it was a beautiful city. I'd hoped for more of Vienna in this book. I assume when the city's name is somehow included in the title that the location will play a prominent role in the story. But other than a brief mention of the Belvedere and some Christmas Markets - no detail at all - this story could have taken place anywhere. There aren't even any locals involved in the story. It's an American who meets another American and turns out they work in the same place. Not interesting.

I didn't like the style in which it was written, the characters lacked depth. There just wasn't much of a story. Woman has lived in Vienna for a year but has made no attempt to learn anything about city. Meets a guy while at a Christmas market - her first attempt to explore city - they date, fall in love by Christmas, the end. I especially disliked the ending. The guy decides to invite her parents to Vienna for Christmas for his proposal - even though the character has explained she has no real relationship with her parents. I thought that was creepy. In this day and age a woman should be able to make big decisions without her parents' approval - especially if they aren't even a significant part of her life.

Disappointing story. I wouldn't recommend it.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt

This is the kind of holiday novella I love.

After having her heart broken, Claire is trying to escape and spend Christmas alone in her godmother's cottage in Yorkshire. She doesn't want to deal with all the perfect families and her own failures. All she wants is to be alone. But that first night, her car gets stuck in the snow and she meets Noah, who lives on the farm next door. Unexpectedly, while accompanying Claire to the store to stock up on supplies for her stay, Noah gets a phone call informing him he's going to be keeping his daughter for the holidays - his eight year old daughter who has never even visited his house. His relationship with his daughter's mother is complicated, and his relationship with his daughter tends to consist of meeting up on Saturdays. But never long visits.

He's clearly panicking and Claire offers to help, since he did help her when she was stranded. This ends up being a wonderful Christmas for all involved. Two lonely people discover what they've been missing in their lives. A family, a home, love.

Very sweet, very romantic. I liked this a lot. It's a quick read, just a little over a hundred pages. Perfect story to accompany the holidays.

 I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: Midnight Assignment by Victoria Dahl

New story from Victoria Dahl is an instant buy for me. This is a re-issue of one of her older stories - but it's new to me. And the gorgeous cover is certainly eye-catching.
During the month of December, I tend to only read holiday themed stories, so I thought I'd have to hold off on this. Then I saw that it takes place right around the holidays, so seemed like a good reason to include it.

It's a short story about some FDIC agents who have to work around the holidays. Still a Christmas tree up in the lobby of the bank as they make their take-over.

The story focuses on two agents who have been attracted to each other for a while. Even for a fairly short novella, the characters are well-developed, interesting people. They've both struggled with balancing work and their personal lives. 

Finally after finding themselves together and giving into their attraction for each other, they're ready to try and figure out a way to put a bit more focus on their personal lives. 

Highly recommend this if you're wanting a quick read. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh

I loved this book.

The blurb that accompanies book makes is sound like some stupid story all about hipsters obsessed with social media with textspeak and hashtags. That's why I'd avoided this book. But fyi, this is not the case at all. In fact, there's even a mention of the characters not paying much attention to social media, being oblivious to memes. There's maybe one mention of the characters texting each other. So not sure what all that in the blurb is about other than a desperate attempt to attract a younger, "hipper" sort of reader. And if that's the sort of person they attracted - they probably disappointed a lot of people. No hashtags at all in this story.

Great story. Love the New York City setting.
Loved the characters so much. Aubrey is on deadline, trying to put together a *window display for a lingerie story on Broadway in New York City.  It has to be great, her career depends on it. She's overwhelmingly stressed out, steps outside and a "hot guy" trading card lands in her hand. It has been part of some sort of dating club in which friends submit photos and info of guys they trust. Aubrey is certain this is fate, a gift from the gods, sending her a muse. So she calls up the guy and arranges a date.

Liam is a police detective, someone who takes his job very seriously. At first, he thinks this is a joke - his cousin Mary had submitted his info for the card, but then promised to destroy it. Then he thinks maybe Aubrey is a little insane. But he's also very intrigued by her and very attracted to her. So he goes along with her plan.

After some crazy hot sex at his place, he can't stop thinking about her. The two begin spending more and more time together, as Aubrey continues to stress about the window display. What was supposed to be a few nights of fun, inspirational sex, begins to turn into something much more than either of them expected. This freaks Aubrey out. In her opinion, she's just a window dresser who didn't even get her college degree. She has a tendency to run when things get serious (hence the lack of a degree.) She's terrified by her feelings for Liam. He's dedicated to his work, with big plans for advancing his career and Aubrey doesn't think she fits in with those plans.

This couple is so great and so sweet and so real. I liked that Aubrey was so bold and willing to go after what she wanted, and yet was real enough to fall apart when she wasn't sure she could handle having what she wanted. And Liam, if only there were guys in the real world who were like this. Attractive, sexy, committed, feminist, completely okay with being with a strong woman and okay with letting his date - who did ask him out on the date, so completely fair - pay for the drinks and meal, not an insecure ass who constantly needs to prove his masculinity. He wants to help her anytime he notices she's upset, but also knows when to step back.

If you want a sexy, fun, holiday read, also with a nice story about a couple having to come to terms with some very real, somewhat scary feelings, I highly recommend this book.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

* This was my one negative issue with the story - why would a store put together a window display to be revealed the day before Christmas Eve? Most windows go up around Thanksgiving. By Christmas Eve, they're getting ready for the after Christmas clearance.

Review: Cold Feet at Christmas by Debbie Johnson

I really liked the way this book started. Leah is on the run on what was supposed to be her wedding day after she finds her soon-to-be husband shagging a bridesmaid. The wedding was supposed to be the perfect fairy tale, set at a Scottish castle. She takes off in the snow and her car breaks down. So, at risk of freezing to death, she begins to walk to the nearest building - all while still in her wedding dress.
The door is answered by a handsome American who Leah is certain must be a god. Rob is hiding out in Scotland to avoid his family during the Christmas holidays. He takes Leah in, where she promptly passes out from her walk through the cold. He warms her up and she recovers, and because of the weather, the two are trapped together for a while.

During this time, they give into their attraction to each other, both assuming it's just a holiday thing from which they will both soon walk away. But after Rob learns why Leah ran, he offers her a new beginning in Chicago. He's wealthy and can afford to help her out, but he's very clear about not wanting to continue having any sort of physical relationship with her, that part of their relationship is over.

Leah takes him up on the offer, but later has regrets. The fun Rob she spent Christmas with in Scotland is gone, replaced by a workaholic serious, angry man.

This is when I began to like the book a bit less. What started out as fun and cute, took on a much darker shade as the characters begin to deal with some nightmares from their past. And yet, the writing continued to provide this information in the same, light-hearted style which felt odd to me.  Though, at one point, Leah is described as always handing serious issues by making light of them and trying to remain humorous - and that's how this story was written.

Leah and Rob are still drawn to each other, but Rob is avoiding relationships - he has his reasons. Leah is heartbroken. They go back and forth for a while and then Leah moves out.

I'm not going to spoil what happens next. But it's the sort of thing that tends to put me off a book. One of my least favorite twists to a story. For a moment, I began to really regret the time I'd spent with this story. It's not necessarily something most people dislike, in fact, a lot of romance readers probably love this sort of storyline. I hated it for a while, but in the end, I hated it less and even sort of liked it. To be clear, the author handled a story line I usually hate in such a way that I still enjoyed the book.

Overall, it's a fun, light-hearted story, despite some serious issues with which the characters are dealing. A nice, happy ending most people will enjoy.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Review: Christmas in Venice by Joanne Walsh

I enjoyed this quite a bit. Exactly what I want in a quick holiday romance. It's short, nice, descriptive setting, with just the right amount of emotion, romance and steam. I sometimes feel like Goldilocks in my quest for holiday romances - too sappy, not romantic enough, not enough or too much drama, too much or not enough sex,  But this one was just right.

Ashlynne's plane is routed to Venice during a snow storm near Christmas. She was on her way to London to spend the holiday with her family. Instead, she runs into her ex-husband, Lorenzo, who she hasn't seen in five years. He offers to let her stay with him, in the home they once shared, until the airport re-opens.

Their marriage ended bitterly, with Ashlynne heartbroken and grieving, convinced her husband was cheating on her. During their five years apart, the two have both matured some and learned more about themselves and what they did wrong during their time together. What they think at first is nothing more than lingering sexual chemistry eventually turns into emotional breakthroughs for each of them. Together they begin to realize that he hid his feelings while she clung to her anger causing their marriage to fall apart.

I enjoyed the way the characters finally learned to communicate with each other and forgive the misunderstandings of their past, all while strolling along the beautiful alleyways of Venice or riding along the canals.

Very nice story with a happy ending.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley. 

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Review: Oh, Naughty Night! by Leslie Kelly

I selected this book because my last few holiday reads have been fairly tame and I wanted something a bit steamier. This sounded perfect.

But from the beginning, the story seemed a bit absurd. Halloween night and Lulu is at a bar with friends when she sees Chaz, a guy she's known since childhood. She's new in town, and the two communicated via email, she used his realtor to find a place. He sees her, smiles and walks over to her. She thinks it's to catch up, as they've not seen each other in years. Midway through the conversation, after they're on the dance floor together, when he introduces himself, she realizes he doesn't recognize her with her mask and hair colored red. Rather than point out his error, she plays along. This part, I could sort of believe, he'd not seen her in a while, she was in costume for Halloween. The two are very attracted to each other, decide to take off to his place and have sex. There are a few stops along the way and then, they get to his place, and find his little sister waiting for him. Lulu disappears while he's talking to his little sister.

The next day, she runs into him again, and this time he realizes who she is, but does not realize she's the woman he was getting all hot and bothered with the night before. That part, I found a little odd. They were quite intimate that night and he doesn't have a clue that this is the same person when he sees her only hours later? He's in search of a gorgeous sexy redhead.

I was about 40% into this book before I realized it was Peanuts fan fiction/erotica. The mention of the kite-eating tree, adults always sounding like "mwah mwah mwah", Chaz having a tattoo of a beagle in memory of the dog he had as a child. Then I started paying attention to the names. Lulu Vandenberg, Chaz Browning, the musician named Schaer (or something like that). Lulu's little brother Lawrence dating Chaz's little sister Sarah. The there are the lesbian neighbors Peggy and Marcia and the African American friend named Frankie. And, of course, Chaz is in search of a mysterious redhead.

I could not take this story seriously after that. In my head the characters became their cartoon selves and it really kind of grossed me out. And maybe it was because of that awareness that the story took on a cartoon-like feel. The author stuck too close to their cartoon characters - Thanksgiving dinner around a ping pong table, Chaz wearing a yellow shirt that made him look like a bumblebee, and then end with the Christmas pageant. To stick so close to their cartoon, childlike characters and throw in explicit sex - and lots of it - felt so very wrong, and not in a good way.

So much for wanting a sexy book. This one didn't work for me at all. I feel a little traumatized after reading this.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Review: Our First Christmas by Lisa Jackson

This book contains four stories set around Christmas. Very different stories. Overall, they were decent reads, but I wouldn't say I loved any of them.

I really liked one story - A Ranger for Christmas by Mary Burton and will probably look for more by this author. The characters were interesting and there was a bit of suspense as well as romance in the story. Of the four, this was easily my favorite.

I liked A Southern Christmas by Mary Carter quite a bit also. The characters were cute and funny. Dani returns home, on assignment for the magazine she writes for in New York, hoping to do a story about a Southern Christmas, as well as win back the man she left years ago (she rejected his marriage proposal on Christmas Eve). The story had a nice twist to it, making Dani realize that maybe she wasn't so certain as to what she wanted.

Christmas in Montana by Cathy Lamb was okay. I didn't really like how it was written, the story jumped around too much, and there were too many strange characters for a such a short story. The romance seemed fairly weak also. I didn't find the couple's story line very convincing.

I didn't like Lisa Jackson's Our First Christmas at all. I didn't find the story to be at all romantic. Megan's getting ready to hand her husband divorce papers and he's in a life threatening car accident. While in the waiting room, she remembers how they met and decides she no longer wants a divorce. That was pretty much the story. That wasn't romantic, that was guilt and nostalgia. Just because they were happy when they were teenagers doesn't mean everything is okay twenty years later. Her deciding to set aside the divorce was more out of obligation than love.

The collection of stories is okay, but I tend to want more romance and something a bit steamier in my holiday reads.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Once Upon a Christmas Kiss by Manda Collins

I enjoyed this book. Nice, quick holiday romance. For some reason I tend to really like Christmas historicals - something about the big house party, the fancy clothes and food and it all seems so grand and formal. Makes modern day Christmas seem a little blah.

I like that in this story, the couple had a bit of history and were previously attracted to each other - not a case of "oh, I just met you, now will you marry me." Lucien already had his eye on Winifred when she asks if he'll pretend to be her fiance to protect her from a man who previously threatened her. Lucien agrees, on the condition that she'll at least consider taking the proposal seriously.

There's a bit of a mystery, as several people seem angered by Winifred's presence at the party. Lots of single ladies hoping for a chance with Sir Lucien and they don't this Winifred is of the proper social class for a man like him. But with Lucien's protection, Winifred is never really in any danger. I liked these characters a lot. Winifred is strong and not afraid to speak her mind. I'm especially a fan of the big, strong guy, who isn't a jerk and respects women.

Very nice story. Will be looking to read more by this author. Also, beautiful cover. That's what first drew me to the book.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: Make a Christmas Wish by Julia Williams

This book is sort of twist on Christmas Carol or a reverse It's a Wonderful Life.

The main character, Livvy, is dead. She died one Christmas in a parking lot after sending her husband an angry text letting him know she hated him after she learned he was having an affair.

At first you may be tempted to feel sorry for Livvy, neglected wife who works so hard to care for her autistic son. But as she goes about haunting her husband and attempting to make life miserable for him and his new girlfriend (same woman he was cheating with while married to Livvy) it becomes clear that Livvy was kind of a nightmare to live with. A mean alcoholic. She wasn't nearly as great of a mother as she seemed to think she was she was an even worse wife.

Livvy is informed by her guide in the after life - a black cat - that she has to make things right before she can move on. In her mind, making things right means continuing to make her husband miserable. But as she begins to see her past actions she gradually realizes it's time she shoulders some of the blame for her failed marriage.

I'm not sure how I felt about this story. It held my interest, but I don't feel like I enjoyed it very much. I didn't like any of the characters. I felt bad for a few of them, I completed disliked Livvy. And I felt like a lot of the story involving the after life was confusing. The parts involving the medium and the underground club got a little too weird.

When I picked this up, I was hoping for a good ghost story, but this wasn't it. The book didn't leave me feeling enlightened or entertained. There was very little joy in this story. I think holiday stories should be a little more heartwarming or even heartbreaking. This was neither. This may appeal more to people with families and children, as a big part of the story was Livvy's connection with her son - and I'm not one of those people.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

I loved this book, absolutely loved it!

Maybe This Christmas is Tyler O'Neil's story. He's a former competitive skier, now at home helping run the family resort in Vermont following an injury that ended his career. He also now has custody of his teenage daughter, Jess, being that her mother has started a new family.

This is also Brenna's story. Brenna has been close to the O'Neil family her whole life. Now she works at the resort, working closely with Tyler as one of the ski instructors. And she's been in love with Tyler her whole life. After confessing this to her friends, they attempt to help her out, by forcing her out of her cabin at the resort (they're completely booked, they need the room) and into Tyler's house.

Her friends feel hopeful that if the two could just find themselves in the right situation, the inevitable will happen, and for the most part they're right.  Also helps that Tyler's daughter is trying to play matchmaker.

I enjoyed the way the relationship developed between the two characters. While Brenna always knew she loved Tyler, Tyler never wanted to damage his relationship with her and forced himself to view her only as a friend. But all along, he knew he thought of her as more than that, he was protective of her and he never got involved with women in a way that was meant to last, so of course he would never put Brenna in that position. Now though, with all these added responsibilities of caring for his daughter and working for his family, he's realizing it's time to grow up.

This book, as well as the others in this trilogy, makes me wish I could spend my holidays on a resort in Vermont in a log cabin with a big family - and I hate snow and big families, that's how well these stories are told. I love all the characters and the setting and romance is so great. Plenty of emotion and heart ache and happiness, as well as being very sexy.

Last year, one of my favorite holiday reads was Sarah Morgan's Sleigh Bells in the Snow. That's the first in the O'Neil Brothers trilogy, and I was glad to see plenty of that couple mentioned in this book. Because I liked that book so much, I was tempted to go ahead and read Maybe This Christmas last year also, but it's the third book in the trilogy and I felt I should read the second book in the series first - which was called Suddenly Last Summer. Didn't seem like something I wanted to read in December or January. So I read it this summer, and Maybe This Christmas was my first holiday read of the season.  (If you find yourself in a similar situation, it isn't necessary to read the second book before reading the third. The couple from that book are barely mentioned in the third book. If you want some really great holiday romances, go ahead and get yourself Sleigh Bells in the Snow and Maybe This Christmas - you will be glad you did.)

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

I had no idea what this book was about when I started it. Was not at all what I was expecting.

Following a nuclear meltdown, which kills both of her parents who worked at the nuclear plant, Emily Shepard is on the run. She feels that she has no where to go because people blame her parents for what happened.

Her life is horrible. The things she does to survive are so disturbing. But Emily is tough. She figures out how to get by, no matter the circumstances.  Her behavior is frighteningly self destructive until she takes in a homeless boy named Cameron. She realizes she has to get her act together in order to take care of him.

I liked this book. It's dark, but not nearly as dark as it could have been or I thought it was going to end up being. There's hope at the end.

This author wrote one of my favorite books, Midwives, which is why I wanted to read this. I'm glad I did read it.

I find myself wanting to recommend this book to my high school students. I think it's something a few of them would like a lot. It has a hint of dystopia, but set very much in the current world.

The audio version of this is really good also. It's read by the author's daughter, and he says he thought of her as her wrote the story - but also that there were parts of the story that he couldn't hear his daughter read because of the events happening in the book to the character.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Review: Harlot by Victoria Dahl

A new book by Victoria Dahl is always cause for excitement as far as I'm concerned. This one being labeled as an erotic historical western, I was a little bit apprehensive. I do like historicals, but am not usually a fan of westerns, though I did enjoy the cowboys in her contemporary novels. And sometimes I find myself a little put off by books labeled erotica - I need a good story and some real romance in order to enjoy the steamy sex. But my worries were absolutely and completely unnecessary.

This book is so good. The story, the romance, the tough heroine who refuses to be a victim. Very good stuff.

The title and the description of the book are a little misleading. I mention this only because it almost scared me off. I was picturing some sassy, tough as nails whore, a Miss Kitty sort of character who was now an expert in all things sex-related. I'm not saying that would be a bad thing, but maybe not the type of story I would want to read.

Jessica isn't running a whore house nor is she a working whore. She had to do something in order to survive - but it isn't like she took it on as a profession. I don't think I'm giving anything away by mentioning that. While Jessica's former boyfriend thinks this is the case, it's pretty clear from the beginning that it isn't.

But nonetheless, Jessica feels guilty about what she did. She feels like nothing more than a whore. She can't show her face in town and everyone talks about her. And when Caleb, the only man she's ever loved returns, he's disgusted by the stories about her and furious that she didn't wait for him. He shows up at her home, angry with her, and in an attempt to punish her, offers her money in exchange for sex.

Because she's desperate and in need of money, and knows that she at least doesn't have to be afraid of Caleb, she takes him up on the offer. Also, there's part of her that wants to know what it would be like to be with him. She spent so much of her life imagining that someday she'd share a bed with him as his wife, but now she believes that chance is gone, so she may as well take what she can get.

What makes this story stand out as something much more than erotica, and makes it something I love, is the way Dahl handles the emotions and thoughts facing Jessica. She's conflicted because in a way she enjoys the sex she's having with Caleb, even if he did pay for it. On the other hand, she's furious with him for treating her as a whore when all she did was survive when placed in a position in which she felt she had no alternative.

Even better than the dirty/hot sex happening in this book is Jessica confronting Caleb about his opinions of her. While, sure, this is erotica and the sex is wow, for me, this is more importantly a story about a woman who is tired of people - especially people she thought she could trust - treating her like she's worthless and finally having the courage to demand that she get the respect she deserves.

Really good story. Liked it a lot. Highly recommend.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I started reading this story when it was released in parts a while back. A serial I guess you might call it. I don't usually like things like that, but Margaret Atwood is a favorite author of mine, so I was willing do something I normally wouldn't.

But then the parts stopped and a few years later, this book came out.

I decided to read it from the beginning because it had been so long since I'd read those first few chapters. And I heard it had been re-written. Not sure if that's true, but no harm in re-reading.

I enjoyed this story. While this is a startling futuristic scenario, it isn't quite as terrifying as some of Atwood's other futuristic novels. I found Oryx and Crake so disturbing, I can't even read the other books in the series.

The world in Heart Goes Last is plenty scary, but the story told in this setting is a actually kind of humorous. Atwood seems to be having a lot of fun with this story. The characters, in their attempts to get some enjoyment out of their lives end up in some pretty bizarre situations.  It's very weird, with teddy bears and Elvis costumes and sex robots.

Interesting story. Not really earth shattering or mind blowing, but still good.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

I liked Jojo Moyes' Me Before You so much. I don't know that a book has ever made me cry quite like that one did. The emotional impact was intense. I was so excited when I found out she was writing a sequel.

I was very excited to read After You, but my expectation might have been too high.

I enjoyed that book for the most part, but the emotional intensity of Me Before You wasn't there. Lou seemed to change so much in Me Before You, becoming a stronger, more confident person. I had looked forward to seeing how she utilized that new found awareness.

But instead we learn that Lou didn't really continue on the path she'd been on. It makes sense that she's still sad, but she's struggling and in many ways still clinging to Will.

I was especially bothered by the story line involving the teenager who enters Lou's life. It seems to be another excuse for Lou to not move on and not take care of herself. She's more concerned with this teenager who really is not her responsibility at all. I work with teenagers on a daily basis and this characters behavior didn't make much sense to me at all. I disliked her so much and the whole bit about her feeling pressured to behave the way she did because of something caught on video. I'm not in any way saying bad things deserved to happen to her, but she wasn't the type who had previously cared about people's opinions and took pride in behaving badly. So why now all of sudden she felt ashamed and willing to commit criminal acts to hide what she'd done? Also, teenagers grow up in a world now where their idols are people made famous by sex tapes, most of them are not that upset by being caught performing sexual acts. That Lou was having to deal with all of this just upset me a lot.

On the plus side, this is a book written by Jojo Moyes and she writes in such a way that even if you don't like the characters or what they're doing, you still care because they feel real.

I'm glad the story was written, I'm glad to see where Lou is in her life, but I'm sad that her situation isn't a little better. In the end of the book, things are looking up for her considerably, and I'm going to choose to believe it continues it that upward direction because she's such a great character, she deserves a good life with people who love her and don't take advantage of her.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: To Kiss a Mermaid by Michele Hauf

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. This is the first mermaid book I've read, and I liked the history and mythology associated with the mermaids.

James Morgan grew up believing he was the descendant of a mermaid, and his whole life he's yearned for a mermaid to love. One day, when retrieving his fishing nets, there's a mermaid tangled in the nets and he believes that finally all he's ever wanted has become his.

James is a kind, good man, and as much as he loves the mermaid who he has named Molly, he begins to feel guilty as he sees her struggling with life on dry land.  And Molly very much loves James, she has for years as she watched him from the sea, but adapting to a life outside of the sea is more difficult than she imagined it would be.

I liked the characters quite a bit, they were people I cared about and felt emotionally invested in their lives. I also, liked the setting, a seaside Welsh village during a historical time period (1800s?).

I didn't like the way the story ended. This is a romance, so rest assured that there is a Happily Ever After, but it wasn't the one I had hoped they would get. I read this book this morning and have been thinking about the ending all day, which I figure is the sign of a well-written book. But there was something so sad about James and Molly and I'd hoped they would find the happiness they wanted. Maybe what they got instead was better, I'm sure that's what readers are supposed to assume, but it still made me sad. But probably won't have the same effect on other readers.

Overall though, this is a very good book. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in mermaid stories.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Review: Enchanted by the Wolf by Michele Hauf

I liked this book so much. I've been in something of a reading slump lately, not liking anything I've tried to read for the past couple of weeks. So I tossed aside those other books and decided to read something by an author I trust. Since the book doesn't come out until October, I'd been planning to read it sometime in September, but it was very much needed this past week. I started reading after I went to bed last night and kept reading until I finished the book, sometime around 6 a.m.

In the beginning, the story line felt very similar to Her Vampire Husband, which is not really a bad thing because that's one of my favorite books. Like Her Vampire Husband, the story begins with an arranged marriage to strengthen relations between different creatures. In this case, Kir, a werewolf has been asked by his pack leader to marry the daughter of the faery king. Their first meeting is the day of the wedding,and shortly after, they have to "bond" in front of a witness. Something of an awkward beginning to a marriage.

I loved the couple in this book. Early in the story, I didn't think I was going to like Bea. She seemed a little too spoiled and immature, while Kir is so nice. Nice in a sincere way, not a boring "nice guy" way. He's kind and honorable.  Eventually it becomes clear that Bea doesn't know how else to act. She's never known "nice" or any sort of affection. This is a brand new experience for her. She begins to appreciate this husband of hers, who would do anything to make her happy. Bea's never had anyone care about her feelings or her comfort.

Though neither of them were especially pleased with being forced into the marriage, they quickly realize it isn't such a bad arrangement. They have a lot of adjusting to do - to married life, and for Bea, living in a whole new realm. But the more time they spend together and the more they get to know each other, the more they begin to truly care about each other. Kir didn't think it possible to care so much about someone who had so recently been a complete stranger and the only feeling with which Bea is familiar is hate. Seeing how they move past this creates a very nice, very romantic and sexy love story.

While falling in love with each other happens easily enough, everything else in their world seems to be conspiring against them. There's the issue of Bea being only half faery and not knowing what her other half is, or who her mother is. Then there's Kir's mother, or as Bea calls her, the monster-in-law, and she truly is horrible. Also, Kir is struggling with his feelings regarding his relationship with his father, and uncovering some disturbing information about his own pack, causing him to question his beliefs about family.

There's so much happening in this book, once I got started reading it, I couldn't put it down.  It's a fast paced story, with a lot of action and some powerful emotion. Parts of this story broke my heart, but that made the resolution that much sweeter as the characters worked through their obstacles.

Really great book. Highly recommend for fans of paranormal romance. This has got a bit of everything: werewolves, faeries, demons, vampires and a couple of witches.

Expected publication date October 1.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Review: Bound to the Warrior King by Maisey Yates

I wanted to read this book because I'm a big fan of Maisey Yates' Presents books and I thought the cover was gorgeous. In this case, completely safe to judge the book by its cover as the story was equally gorgeous - hmm, can you call a story gorgeous?

On a different day, in a different mood, I might have been rolling my eyes at parts of this modern day, grown-up version of Beauty and the Beast with a bit of Lion King. (I'm not going to explain it, but it will make sense if you read the book). However, today, as I spent my third consecutive day sick in bed, realizing that if I succumb to this fever, it will be at least nine days before anyone even thinks to look for my body, this story of two people who felt completely alone in the world finding each other and falling in love through a somewhat arranged marriage was a really beautiful story.  If I wasn't so dehydrated, I probably would have cried through parts of it.

There were a few parts of the story that I didn't like all that much. Parts in which the characters behavior didn't seem to fit with their previous behavior.  A few too many times they went from so wrapped up in each other to a strange, nope, don't want you. It was as if the conflict was obligatory and not natural to the story. I won't go into detail because I don't want to spoil the story, and it's probably not something that would bother other people that much. But anyway. All that being said, I still really liked this book. The great parts of this book totally make up for any parts I didn't like.

Two years after Olivia's husband - a king of a Scandinavian country - dies, she agrees to meet with Tarek. the new leader of an oil rich Middle Eastern country, in hopes of procuring a marriage. Her husband's brother is now king and he thinks it would be a good way to strengthen ties between the two nations, and Olivia no longer feels at home at the palace she once shared with her husband, so she's completely willing to go.

At first there seemed to be something a little pathetic about Olivia, seeking out a marriage to "find her place" as if a woman can't do that without a husband. But seeing her move beyond that kind of thinking added to my interest in this story. Olivia felt neglected as a child, and her marriage had been happy, but after her husband's death, she found herself alone again, an outsider in the palace she'd once called home. Tarek also has some issues. He's spent the last fifteen years living in the desert, acting as a warrior for his brother and their country. He knew nothing of palace life or running a country when he suddenly found himself in that position following his brother's death. He's very focused on his new job and views marriage as nothing more than a way to produce an heir. He's not very impressed with Olivia at their first meeting, but she convinces him that he needs her to help figure out all the details of running a country and living in a palace - something she knows a bit about.

I very much enjoyed reading about how these two fell for each other. As I said in the beginning, it's quite reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast (one of my favorite movies). And it's very, very romantic. I don't just mean the sex is good - it is, of course - but it's so much more than that. It's the thoughts running through their heads as they discover each other and in turn, themselves and become aware of these feelings they didn't even think were possible. This is two people who weren't at all sure about each other who gradually reach a point in which they can't bear to be away from each other. Two people who had nothing and no one who find everything in each other. I know that's what all romances are to some extent, but this is so good. Yates does a great job of showing just how alone these two people were before meeting each other.  You aren't just told they were alone, you can feel their emptiness as well as feel them finally moving away from that. As I warned in the beginning, I'm running a fever and I'm taking all kinds of cold medicine, so maybe I'm feeling a little extra sappy today, but some of these scenes rank among the best I've ever read with regard to pure, indulgent romance.  Swoon-worthy. The scene out in the desert when Tarek takes Olivia to show her the place he lived for the fifteen years he was away. Wow.

It's a quick read, perfect for a brief escape from reality. Highly recommend this book if sexy, romantic modern day fairy tales are your thing.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: The Ones We Trust by Kimberly Belle

This was a good book. It held my interest. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started the story. Takes place in DC, involving a former journalist. I saw one review compare it to an episode of Scandal, which I've never seen, but have some idea as to what it is about.

In the beginning, we're told about a story Abigail wrote - the one that ended her career. After exposing someone, the person committed suicide and Abigail left journalism due to her guilt. Initially, I thought the story would be about this particular case, but it gets mentioned a little bit, and then the focus of the story is on something completely different.

I felt like maybe there were too many "ripped from the headlines" issues happening in this book. Every time something else was mentioned, I thought of an actual news story that was similar.  I think maybe this book would have worked better if there had been more focus on one particular story line.

After receiving a mysterious envelope on her doorstep, Abigail finds herself doing research again and getting involved with the Armstrong family. Gabe Armstrong lost a brother in Afghanistan and he doesn't believe the story being told by the army. Coincidentally, Abigail's dad is the general involved in what appears to be a cover-up.

I guess I expected something more sinister and dramatic. The truth was certainly intense and a pretty big surprise, but not what I thought it was going to be.

Rather than a mystery/suspense story about a journalist uncovering government scandals, which is what I assumed this book was leading up to be, it turned out to be more about families and guilt and forgiveness and most importantly, trust.  There's also a bit of a romance happening in the story, but it's not at all the main point of the story.

I think I wanted more shocking scandal, more journalist in action and less family drama. Overall, it's a good book. I didn't love it but I also didn't dislike it.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Review: Beware of Me by Cynthia Eden

I liked this book a lot. This is the fourth book in Cynthia Eden's Dark Obsession series and it was as entertaining as the other books in the series. As expected from this series, lots of action and danger, plenty of surprise twists in the story that keep you guessing and a very steamy romance.

Ethan Barclay has had a fairly significant role in all the books in this series. He's something of a crime boss - maybe - sort of a shadowy character, involved with a lot of bad people. But there's always been something about him - in each book we got to see a little more of him, always realizing he wasn't quite as bad as he seems.

I was so glad that he got a story of his own in Beware of Me. Ethan's the first to point out that he's a bad guy. But this bad guy would do anything for the woman he loves, the woman he feels he owes his life to. Carly was just a teenager when she saved Ethan's life. Afterwards, he thought the best thing he could do for her was keep her far away from him. But in Carly's eyes, he abandoned her when she needed him the most. Now, years later, he wants back in her life and knowing what he's become, she wants nothing to do with him.

Someone is after Carly though, and it's connected to what happened in their past, and Ethan isn't going to let Carly get hurt.

I like that Eden's heroines are always tough and independent. Even when her life is in danger, Carly's determined to not depend entirely on Ethan. She's not stupid, she figures out fairly quickly that she does need his help, but that doesn't mean she's going to let him control her. No matter what, she needs to be in control of her own life. And I loved how Ethan was so careful with Carly, taking into account what she'd been through in the past and making sure she never felt threatened by him, even if it meant having to exhibit some serious willpower. That's my favorite kind of hero - the guy who has all the potential to be bad but he refuses to give into his dark tendencies because that's how much he cares about the woman he's with.  That describes a lot of the guys Eden writes about and that's why I really love reading her books.

The story is very fast paced, which I usually like because I do tend to read these while traveling and like to finish the book before the plane lands - but maybe because I read this one at home, I found myself kind of wishing there was more to the story. That's not a complaint about the story, I just really liked these characters and didn't want their story to end so quickly.

This book is considered a stand alone, but I highly recommend you read the entire series, especially for this book because the other books add so much to who Ethan is. Also the books are good and worth reading.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl

Dear friends, fellow readers, and/or anyone who thinks they may enjoy a fun, sexy, summer romance, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Victoria Dahl’s Taking the Heat. Pour yourself a drink, locate a spot by the pool – or a comfy chair in the air conditioning – whatever works, and block out a few hours for yourself and enjoy.
The title is appropriate because this book is so hot. So very hot. Perfect summer escape. 

This is the third book in Dahl’s Girls’ Night Out
series, but no worries if you’ve not read the others.  (Though I guarantee you’ll want to read them all after you read this, and while you’re at it, go ahead and read her first three books connected to this town of Jackson Hole.)

Veronica has returned to her hometown after having to admit to herself that New York City wasn’t working for her.  (On a side note, reading about Veronica and her decision to leave New York City is maybe the first time I felt okay with my own decision to not stick it out in New York City. That’s always been this big disappointment of mine, that I didn’t try harder when I was younger, but I read this and thought, hey, NYC isn’t for everyone and it’s okay to admit that.)  She’s also the judge’s daughter and she doesn’t have the best relationship with her dad so returning home wasn’t the easiest of decisions. But she’s doing what’s best for her. She has a job writing an advice column at the local paper, but she feels like something of a fake because truth is, she isn’t nearly as experienced as she seems to be.  She’s not the typical virgin heroine. This wasn't really intentional on her part. She was just sort of busy with life, focused on school and work, and by the time she got around to dating, well, guys get a little freaked out when they learn someone has reached adult age without well, you know.

Enter Gabe. Hot new librarian in town. Hot guy who reads. Enough said. Like sighting a unicorn. He’s kind of perfect. (Okay, not entirely perfect, he’s got his issues, as you’ll find out later, but completely manageable issues.)  He’s from New York City and he’s escaped the city to enjoy the outdoors offered by Wyoming. At first, when learning Veronica once lived in New York City, he thinks he wants to avoid her, because he had enough of New York women. But he gets over that quick enough. And when he finds out about Veronica’s little “secret” – he’s not freaked out. Not at all. 

This book is so hot. So damn hot. I don’t know how else to describe it. You’ll just have to read it for yourself to understand.

Unlike several of Dahl’s other books, this one didn’t break my heart before putting it back together, and there was no sobbing. There weren't any devastating betrayals or anything like that. This is a fun book. This was a case of even if the relationship didn’t work out, Veronica would be just fine.

Veronica isn’t simply learning about what she wants in the bedroom. We see her become more involved in her career, taking her advice column to another level as well as working on her relationship with her father.

My favorite thing about Dahl’s book are her heroines.  They’re real. They’re people to which I can relate, I understand why they do and say the things they do. They’re a little quirky, a bit nerdy, flawed and confused, and yet, they still manage to find love, as well as some sort of purpose to their life – if they don’t already have one.  I read these books and think, oh wow, people like that really can find someone who will want them. And then I remember it’s fiction, but whatever. I love these books. They make me happy. When I can’t deal with work or people or I’m overwhelmed with oh-my-god-what-am-I- going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life – I escape to my room, I clear my calendar, I tell everyone I’m much too busy for ______ whatever it is I’ve been asked to do – and I dive into these books.  There is no happiness quite like knowing there’s a brand new, unread Victoria Dahl book waiting for me on my kindle.

So I repeat, do yourself a favor, and get a copy of this book.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Bad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates

This book was okay. I didn't dislike the story quite as much as I disliked the second book in the series.  But I still had issues with it.  Time to accept that cowboy stories and small town, family stories are really not my thing.  I think I'm probably a little too picky about romances, I seem to like certain ones a lot and others not much at all.  There's rarely any in-between with me. This one didn't fit into my "type."

This story is about the Garrett's little sister, Kate. She's in her early twenties and has never even been kissed.  She was raised by her brothers after her mother left and her father was too drunk to be of much help. I'm usually a fan of awkward characters, but this character wasn't a sort of awkward to which I could relate. I grew up around rodeo people, spent many weekends at rodeos.  I kept picturing some of the rodeo girls I knew and well, Yates captured the character fairly accurately. But at the same time, I never much liked those people, because of their awkwardness and weird clothes - the big hair and the starched shirts.  There's a scene in which Kate attempts to get dressed up for a date and I cringed picturing the clothes she put on.

Anyway, after a lifetime of never giving boys much thought, suddenly Kate is lusting after her brothers' friend Jack, who she has known since she was a small child.  That isn't completely strange - he was a familiar, attractive presence in her life and it isn't like she knew many other men. He seems like an obvious choice for her.

My biggest problem with the story though was Jack. Over and over again, we're told that he helped Eli and Connor Garrett raise their little sister Katie.  So he's sort of a big brother to her, in spirit if not in blood.  Again, this made me think of people I know, family friends who were like family. The idea of there being any sort of relationship really creeped me out.  He knew her as a small child and helped care for her.  Maybe if Katie had gone away to college or been out riding the rodeo circuit for a while and then returned and he realized she was all grown up, I would have be more okay with the relationship. But that isn't the case. He sees her on a regular basis, having dinner and playing poker at her brother's house, always thinking of her as a little sister. Then she makes clear she wants more and without much hesitation, he goes for it.

I didn't find their relationship very realistic or convincing. The jump from seeing her as his best friends' little sister to his lover was a bit too abrupt.  And him deciding he loved her seemed to be more a case of simply wanting something stable for once in his life and being flattered that she wanted him.

Overall, I just didn't like this book much.  Simply not my kind of story.  I need to be able to relate to the characters somehow in order to fully enjoy a book like this, and nothing these characters did made sense to me.

I did enjoy reading about the wedding of Eli and Sadie (from Part Time Cowboy, the first book in this series, which I liked quite a bit.)  Some of my favorite scenes though were not between Jack and Kate, but rather the interactions with Connor, or Jack dealing with his own family.  I continue to strongly dislike Connor's wife, Liss. She may have been even more annoying in this book.  Even though the story didn't resonate with me, the writing is still strong. And even though I wasn't convinced by the romance, the sex scenes are still pretty hot.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Last Summer on Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff

I devoted a significant portion of my day to reading this book - when I really needed to be doing other things - and in the end, I didn't even like it very much.

It did hold my attention, but the main character and her frequent running away got to be a bit much, and she sounds so meek and plain and yet these wonderful men are crazy in love with her. (To the author's credit, at one point a character does very bluntly say to her that she can't quite figure out why it is two great guys are falling all over themselves for her.)

I would have liked the book much better if it had ended before part three. I could have handled the book ending with the conclusion of part 2, it was sad, but it made sense to me and made Addie seem like a stronger character. But part 3 is what sort of ruined the rest of the story for me. It just made me angry.

What I did enjoy about this book was the London setting during WWII and the characters' involvement in the war. That's what kept me reading. The writing really brought this era to life. Overall the story is okay. Other people may not feel the same sort of disappointment I felt at the way the story ended.

**** possible spoiler ****

In the acknowledgments, the author mentions this story being somewhat influenced by Little Women and it figures because even though I love Little Women, it's one of my favorite books, I get so angry about Jo not ending up with Laurie and him marrying Amy and Jo settling for some boring old man. The romance twist in this story created very similar feelings of anger within me. I dislike the ending so much. Parts of this book were leading up to being a great love story. I would have been okay with the love story not ending well and Addie going off on her own, but instead she ends up in a relationship that to me, seemed very much like settling for damaged leftovers. It was like she'd learned nothing from all of her experiences. So disappointing.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Past Encounters by Davina Blake

I enjoyed this book. Parts of it were slow and bits of the story seemed to drag on for a little too long, but overall, it was a good book.

The backdrop for the story is the filming of the movie Brief Encounter - a really beautiful movie about a couple who meet on the train on a regular basis, gradually fall for each other, consider having an affair, but don't. If you're familiar with that story - and now that I think about it, the movie is never thoroughly explained in the book and is only mentioned by name in the beginning when one of the characters is watching it - the story of that movie sort of echoes throughout the lives of the characters.

After noticing her husband's strange behavior - this usually very calm man puts his fist through the window - Rhoda becomes suspicious and starts going through his letters.  She finds a note thanking him for flowers. Thinking her husband of almost ten years is having an affair she decides to confront the woman who sent the note.  When she does, she learns that this woman, is actually the wife of her husband's best friend, Archie, who recently died. From this man's wife Rhoda learns that Archie and her husband, Peter, were in a Prisoner of War camp together for five years.

Rhoda begins meeting with this woman in an attempt to learn more about her husband's past. She doesn't understand why he's never shared any of this information, and yet, at the same time, we learn that Rhoda has been keeping her own secrets about the years when Peter was away.

She was only 18 when she said she'd marry him, moments before he left for war.  The next time she saw him, she was 24.  Both of them suffered through life altering experiences during their time apart.

The story is told in flashbacks, revealing the details of Rhoda's life at home as she waited and Peter's life as a prisoner.  My only complaint about the story is it felt very choppy, a few moments of Peter at war, then a couple of pages about Rhoda. I wish there hadn't been so much back and forth.

I really liked Rhoda's story, though it broke my heart. (I'm not sure why I seem to be reading all these tragic love stories lately, but whatever, I do seem to be drawn to them.) And Peter's experience was harrowing. It hurt to read those parts, but I suppose that was necessary to show why Peter acted the way he did.

I liked the book, it showed the horrors of war and the lasting effects on the individuals who went through it at home and in battle.  But it was also very much about a marriage and communication and learning to accept each and understand each other and move forward when necessary.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: The River Witch by Kimberly Brock

I bought this book for my kindle a while back, but never got around to reading it. I bought it thinking it was more "witchy" than it appeared when I read the description later.

But I needed an audio book for a road trip from Dallas to Austin, and I wanted something different from what I've been reading.  And this sounded about right.  I got the audible version for only a few dollars because I already had the kindle version.

So I listened to this on the way to Austin and then while driving to and from class during my stay in Austin.

I really liked this book. It is different from what I usually listen to, it's contemporary and it's very Southern. I'm more a based in London/France, historical type of person. I really loved the character of Rosalyn. She was a successful dancer, thought she had her life together, and then it all fell apart. She got involved with a married man, got pregnant, was in a terrible car accident and while recovering from the accident at her mother's home, delivered a still born baby.  She's hit rock bottom. Her injury is too severe for her to return to dancing at her age - around 30, I believe.

She rents a place at an island, hoping to be alone for a few months to find some peace and figure out what she's going to do with the rest of her life now that all her dreams and plans have died.  The career she's worked on for most of her life is over, the child she thought she would have is gone. She's a lost soul.

But what she finds at the island is far from solitude. There's a child in search of a mother who is growing pumpkins near her house and there's the child's aunt and her strange, eccentric father. Without wanting to, Rosalyn becomes entangled in their lives. Along the way, as she's trying to help everyone around her, she begins to realize she's also saving herself.  She has to put her old life behind her because there's nothing she can do to bring it back and she has to figure out her next move in life.

She makes connections through music and dance and nature and developing an understanding of the old magic that inhabits the area.  While there wasn't quite the element of magic I'd hoped for when buying this book, it was there nonetheless.

Also because I was not reading, but rather listening while driving - and sometimes having to pay attention to the road and not the story - there were a few parts I'm not quite sure I understood, so I have every intention of going back and reading some sections.

Overall though, I liked this book. Very powerful story about learning to save yourself and forgive yourself and letting go of the expectations you have about life, and that others have about your life and doing what's right for you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Stealing Venice by Heather Redding

This is one of my new favorite books.  I loved this book. I have been talking about this book to anyone who will listen to me. It's such a good story, so interesting and complex and I want people to read it. For the past few weeks, anytime someone says, I'm looking for a book to read, I mention this one.

This book is about Venice and love and art and history and heartbreak and figuring out what you want in life and getting older and accepting what you have and what you can and can't change and it is just so very, very good.

Also, there's a bit of a Susanna Kearsley time slip happening throughout the story, so I think this book will appeal to fans of hers (and everyone I know is a fan of hers because her books are amazing.)  There are two story lines happening. In present time, Anna goes to Venice to visit her more adventurous friend.  Anna's taken the safe route, gotten a job in finance and a flat in London, remaining close to her family, while her two best friends have taken risks, one living with a boyfriend in Venice while teaching English and the other in Paris, writing crime novels.  After a series of events - a death and a breakup and the realization that her job isn't her whole life - Anna decides to take her father's advice and travel, beginning with an extended stay in Venice.

In another story line, Ginerva who lived centuries before Anna, during a time when women had much less freedom.  She's struggling to pursue her interests. Despite the many years separating their lives, we see similarities in their lives and the two are connected by a painting. The painting will play an important role in both their lives, as it ties them to their loved ones, and reflects their losses and they both try to preserve this work of art, in different ways for different reasons.

The author does a wonderful job of bringing Venice to life, both past and present.  I recently returned from a trip to Italy, which included a stop in Venice, which is why I wanted to read this book. I was happy with how vividly the city is described and it felt as if I was allowed to extend my trip beyond the three days I spent wandering around this beautiful city. I was also impressed with the depth of art history included in this book, I kept my iPad next to me, looking up paintings as I read.

Along with the history and art though are some very real, heartbreaking stories about love and friendship. These characters don't have neatly tied up happily ever afters. This book has a very harsh element of real life to it. It made me angry and sad, but then hopeful. There's something powerful about the way these characters overcome the heartaches and put their lives back together and move on.  In the end, it all returns to art, and as artist an an art teacher, I very much appreciated that.

I will admit, my one qualm about the story, I thought Anna forgave a bit too easily at one point, I didn't feel as if the extent of her forgiveness was deserved - because I'm the type who stays angry forever. But upon further reflection realized she was in a position in which she didn't have anything to lose. Even if it ended up not working out, she'd still probably be right back where she began, not any worse off than before and she'd made sure she was in a pretty good place to begin with.

I highly recommend this book. It has everything a great story needs - art, history, love and heartbreak.

And the ebook is only 99 cents on amazon at the moment. I like this book so much, I'd seriously consider buying copies for all my friends if I could be certain they'd read it.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Review: Playing by the Greek's Rules by Sarah Morgan

I liked this book well enough. Quick, cute, nice little romance.

The main character, Lily, irritated me some. She was so very perfect. This even with the awareness that she'd had an affair with a married man - but even then, she had no idea he was married and she was so upset about what she'd done. (Obviously, that's not the romance in the story, it's something that happened right before the story begins and she's feeling so guilty about this.) We find out later that she had this horrible childhood, but she's still so very optimistic and full of sunshine. There's only so much of that I can tolerate.

She's never been one for casual relationships. She gets too involved and she falls in love and then she gets hurt. She decides she's going to stop that and have sex with someone simply for the pleasure of having sex. Rebound sex, even though this is not something she's ever done before and doesn't really know how to go about behaving this way.

She's working on a archaeological dig in Greece, but because it pays so little she has two other jobs. While doing her house cleaning job, she runs into Nik, the owner of the house, who also happens to be her boss at her office job. He ends up needing a date for the night, because he's attending some important event involving the archaeological dig and just so happens, that he needs someone who knows about Greek pottery.

This is a Harlequin Presents, so of course there are some convenient coincidences and a few absurd situations. These books are like modern day fairy tales - handsome, wealthy, successful men who didn't realize they needed love in their lives and beautiful, kind-hearted women to show them the way, and exotic settings.  Nothing wrong with that. I like these stories quite a bit. Perfect choice when you want something fun and quick and romantic, something you know will have problems solved quickly and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Lily thinks she can have a casual fling with Nik, but the more time they spend together, the more they realize they care about each other. You can guess how it ends.  I could have done without all the story about Nik's dad and his half-sister. They seemed to be added for mush factor and it irritated me. I want more sexy, less sweet.  But that's just me.

Overall though, I liked the book. Very fast paced, nice, beautiful Greek setting, allowed me to avoid the world for a while so served its purpose quite well.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.