Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Team Red" series by T. Hammond

The "Team Red" series by T. Hammond is a series of 6 books, 5 of which have been published at the time of this post.  I have prepared a review for each book and the links to the reviews are below. I encourage you to read the reviews in book order to appreciate some of the nuances of the flow of the story line. Click on the title of each book to take you to the review

Blind Seduction: Team Red, Book 1
5 stars

Color Blind: Team Red, Book 2
4 stars

Blind Faith: Team Red Book 3
4 stars

Blind Rage: Team Red Book 4
5 stars

Blind-sided: Team Red, Book 5
4 stars

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Blue Wide Sky" by Inglath Cooper

Sixteen-year old Gabby Hayden wasn’t the kind of girl who gave a hoot about boys. She had a few real loves. Water-skiing, going out on Smith Mountain Lake with her dad and her dog. Anything else ranked a distant second. Until the summer she met smart, caring, gorgeous Sam Tatum and gave him her heart. It had been the most wonderful few months of her life, lazy days hanging out at the dock, skinny-dipping at midnight, staring up at the stars from the back of Sam’s truck. 
They are planning their future together when Sam’s father is transferred to South Africa. Devastated, Gabby and Sam promise to wait for each other during the two years before he returns for college. But lonely and angry, Sam makes a mistake that will change the course of both their lives.
Twenty years pass before an unexpected diagnosis brings Sam home to his parents’ house on the lake where he believes he can find peace and acceptance. What he finds, however, is the girl he once loved, now a woman unwilling to lose him again, a woman who will make him realize that both love and life are worth fighting for.

My review:
Blue Wide Sky is like coming home again.  Having grown up in Roanoke, Virginia and spent a fair amount of time at Smith Mountain Lake myself, the descriptions the author provided of the lake, the boats, the docks, the animals, and the mountains made me feel like home.  She wonderfully captured the feel of the lake as we are introduced to Sam and Gabby - twenty odd years after they last saw each other. Blue Wide Sky is about a first love given a second chance, although Sam and Gabby both realize that, "there aren't many things you can go back to that are pretty much the same as they are in your memories". (said by Sam)
This book is written in "diary style", with the chapters varying between which person is first person.  It is mostly Sam's and Gabby's point of view, but from time to time, a secondary character has the primary voice in a chapter.  Adjusting to the various points of view takes a little time but it doesn't take away from the story.  
Blue Wide Sky takes us through Sam's return to Virginia after living overseas for all of his adulthood, and his reconnecting with Gabby, who has spent her life at Smith Mountain Lake.  Each of them has lived a lifetime since last they saw each other, and each has families and obligations that make the chances of a reunion tenuous at best. Both Gabby and Sam struggle with the anger of the loss of a first love, and the kindling of feelings they both thought were dead and buried.  Through their reconciliation, they each realize there is a hole in their heart that was never filled. Just when they begin to forge a new relationship together, tragedy strikes and tests the bounds of their love. As they navigate the struggles in its aftermath, and the implications to their families, they come to realize that their love truly is a "forever love", (warning, bring along some tissues for the trip to Smith Mountain Lake)
While this is just the first book in a series set at Smith Mountain Lake, the author includes an epilogue to help give closure to the readers until the next story is provided.  I, for one, will be waiting anxiously for my next trip back to Smith Mountain Lake!
Disclosure: I received an free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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"Wyne and Chocolate" by Donna Michaels

Jill is a chocoholic with a big heart, a flair for baking and confection, and a knack for getting into predicaments, including the one where she was almost financially ruined by her ex. Now she’s in a new town, with a new business, and is determined to stay away from trouble. Especially, the gorgeous guardsman with the haunted gaze, brooding expression and miserable attitude. Her days of helping people were over. She was tired of being taken advantage of and was looking forward to getting back on her feet. Too bad her new business venture puts her in daily contact with the sexy man. 

My review:
The Citizen Soldier series has a fantastic new addition with Wyne and Chocolate.  The book had a great start.  I found myself laughing out loud right away - and that set the tone for a light-hearted, funny, and romantic read. I really enjoyed how the author described Jill, especially from Mason's point of view.  He comes across as a thoughtful man, and I was actually able to picture Jill in my mind from the description Mason gives us!
As we begin to get to know Jill, the author describes the struggles Jill has faced and how that makes her wary of getting involved with men.  At the beginning of the book, Jill is struggling on the road, literally having an accident due to potholes in the road during a storm.  As she begins to develop feelings for Mason, the author draws parallels between potholes in the road, and potholes in Jill's life, indicating that, "He [Mason] was the biggest one.  If she fell in, Jill knew instinctively she wouldn't get out".  I LOVED that analogy and it really summarized how Jill was feeling as she began to fall in love with Mason. Jill may have been burned in her previous relationship, but she still has an air of innocence that is sweet to see.
I've read a LOT of romance books, and Wyne and Chocolate has one of the best first kisses that I have read.  Mason drops Jill at home and with confidence, chooses to kiss her. The way the author wrote the kiss made my heart go a-flutter!
Mason and Jill have a fun relationship.  She is like a lovable klutz and he is confident but not cocky. They begin to get to know each other through fun and laughs, so there isn't a lot of pressure on them.  While their feelings are growing, the feelings don't feel overly intense and they are allowed to develop at their own rate.  Mason may be quick to assume, due to his past relationships, but he is also quick to discuss and admit his feelings and biases, and it makes for an open and honest relationship.  Jill needs that because in her experience, everyone leaves her and she spends most of the book waiting for that to happen.  In the end, it was Mason's show of faith in Jill that helped them overcome their worst challenge and head towards their happily every after.  
Disclosure: I received an free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Melting into You" by Tracey Alvarez

Love small-town romance with an unforgettable cast of characters? The Due South series will transport you to an unspoilt, wild island off the coast of New Zealand. Meet Kezia and Ben...

Big, sexy men who don’t relate well to kids need not apply…

Kezia Murphy plays her widow card well. When you don’t trust people not to let you down, it’s easier to not get involved—and getting involved with a man who makes her skin sizzle just by looking at him would be una pazzia—crazy! Four years ago while Kezia’s daughter, Zoe, battled leukemia, a tragic accident stole her husband’s life. Starting over in the little town of Oban where she’s adopted into the close knit community on Stewart Island, Kezia and her daughter are all the family the other needs. Except Zoe yearns for more.

New Zealand’s worst candidate for instant fatherhood…

Ben doesn't do gooey emotional stuff. He doesn't do cozy home and family. And he sure isn't the big teddy-bear Kezia Murphy, the woman he secretly fantasies about, thinks he is. So when Jade, his surprise eight-year-old daughter arrives on his doorstep, he’s a D-minus student struggling to pass a crash-course in parenting.

They’ll either melt or raze their lives to the ground…

When the sparks of attraction between Kezia and Ben fan into an inferno, Ben doesn't know how much longer the layers of resistance around his heart can resist melting into the gooey mess he fears. The more he fights it the harder it is to make the choice that will destroy the family he now longs to claim.

My review:
After meeting Ben in the first book in the Due South series, In Too Deep, and seeing how the book teased a relationship between Ben and Kezia, I was looking forward to reading Melting Into You.  The book didn't quite start as I expected.  Ben was gruff and onery in Due South, but I really didn't like him at the beginning of Melting Into You.  I've read many stories of instant fatherhood and I was really hating Ben as he was first introduced to Jade.  I felt like he was trying to prove everyone's opinion that he was a bastard with women and no business being with children.  Perhaps that was the author's intention and if so, she nailed it because I REALLY didn't like him.  But, he grew on you.  As he grew into his role as a father, he also grew into his role as a man.  While he may have been the "support system" and "fixer" for the family since his father's death, he hadn't really been emotionally part of his family. In addition to growing as a man and a father over time with Jade, he also demonstrated that he grew as a son and a brother and began to develop a better / deeper relationship with his sisters!
Kezia was definitely hesitant to get involved with someone again.  That was clearly understood.  I really enjoyed watching her struggle with her growing feelings for Ben warring with her desire to protect her heart, and her child.  I loved the little bits of Italian thrown into the story - it made me picture her showing these emotions very clearly in my head.
Another reason I struggled at the beginning of this book is that I felt that the writing and the dialog at the beginning was juvenile.  Ben may have been an emotionally challenged man, but the early parts of the book read like he was barely out of his teens, and we know that isn't true.  As the book progressed, the writing and dialog was definitely more mature and I felt the intimacy scenes were well written.  I loved it when Ben's ears would turn red when he was embarrassed! 
The addition of Jade's dyslexia was a nice addition to the story, but I wish the author would have teased us with that challenge in Ben prior to just springing it on us in a parent/teacher conference.  A few tips about Ben struggling with reading to Jade, or helping her with homework, or working with paperwork, etc, would have been a nice way to lead up to Jade's diagnosis - it would have given a bit of insight into part of why Ben is the way he is, because he "felt" dumb.
Despite Ben's challenges with his ability to emotionally connect with Kezia, in the end, I loved how the author allowed Ben to express his feelings to Kezia.  He didn't talk about the sex or her body - he said that he missed her voice.  He said that he liked to talk to her and he'd missed that - and he'd missed her.  Cue the tears - a very romantic declaration of love.  I also love that he knows enough about himself to warn Kezia about how it will be in their relationship.  About how he'll mess up and say stupid things, but that he'll never stop loving her and she'll never have to be alone again!  It showed that he was fully committed to his love with Kezia and Zoe. 
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Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Somewhere Only We Know" by Barbara Freethy

Firefighter Burke Callaway has been living in the shadows since the tragic death of his fiancée. He had no interest in coming out of the dark, until the beautiful and unpredictable Maddie came back to town. 

Maddie Heller is the ultimate free spirit, her love of life and cooking taking her all over the globe, and only a few people know that her easy smile covers a personal tragedy. With a new job offer in San Francisco, Maddie thinks it might be time to stay in one place, especially when she runs into Burke again. 

Burke was the handsome, sexy hero of her youth who could do no wrong. Maddie was the pretty, fun-loving girl of his youth who loved to break the rules. They were opposites in every way, but there was always a connection. It was just never the right time or the right place—until maybe now. 

But their budding love story suddenly takes a dangerous turn, and a series of escalating incidents makes them realize that falling in love might not just be scary but also deadly. 

My review:
Barbara Freethy hit it out of the park again with her newest book in the Callaway Family series. Throughout all of the Callaway books, Burke has been a brooding and elusive character. Finally we get to dig deep into the depths of Burke and the burdens he carries.  And we meet Maddie - a free spirit who has spent her life travelling the world, meeting people, and having the experiences that she and her sister dreamed of before she lost her sister tragically.  Burke and Mattie were horrible - and perfect - for each other.  They just fit.
Burke's grief and guilt are deep rooted in the loss of his fiancee several years prior.  Relations with her family and her "friends" have made it difficult for him to move past his grief and guilt and find happiness.  Burke, as the oldest Callaway, had always possessed a maturity due to his role in the family, and the combination of that maturity and his grief made him nearly unreachable by his family - he was part, but at the same time not part, of his family during these recent years.
Maddie's grief over the loss of her sister drove her to ensure she lived the life her sister couldn't.  Her free spirit was set free around the world while she tried to honor her sister and find herself.  It took coming home for Maddie to find herself where she always belonged - with Burke.  It's like Burke and Maddie were just marking time and the experiences and the relationships they had were just preparing them for their great loves - each other.
As in most of her books, Barbara included a wonderfully suspenseful menacing story that was woven seamlessly into the lives and relationships of Burke and Maddie.  It left me wondering until the very end who was actually behind it - every clue, every turn sent you in a different direction and until the villain was finally revealed, it truly could have been several people.  Barbara never disappoints in her ability to weave romance and suspense so well. 
Probably the only reason this review wasn't 5 stars was due to a brief scene including Nicole, Burke's sister and the main character in Between Now and Forever.  In that book, it was made clear that Ryan and Nicole adopted Brandon (the foundation of the story line in that book) because she was unable to have children.  It was stated more than once that they started the process to adopt shortly after they married because she couldn't get pregnant.  Well, she showed up pregnant in this book.  I actually had to pull Between Now and Forever back out to ensure I wasn't remembering it wrong, and I wasn't.  The author and her editing staff should have referred back to story notes about the family to ensure this inconsistency wasn't perpetuated.
Aside from the story bit with Nicole, this book provided us a wonderful and suspenseful peek into the life of Burke, who has been an enigma throughout this series, and we see how the free spirit in Maddie gets tamed, and the free spirit in Burke gets released.  They just fit. 
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Playing for Love" (Summer Beach Vets 1) by H.Y. Hanna

Sara needs to escape—and an idyllic seaside town on the other side of the world seems like the perfect place. She’d always wanted to visit Australia, but the first thing she meets on the gorgeous, white sand beach is not a kangaroo but a wounded, lost Beagle!

Veterinarian, Dr Craig Murray, can’t get the beautiful, curvy American out of his mind. They might come from different cultures—and even speak different “English” sometimes—but he knows they could have a future together. Can he convince Sara that this is more than just a vacation fling?

Then Sara discovers that Craig isn’t quite what he seems and the past that she was running away from comes back to haunt her. Now she needs to decide if she can risk it all again for another chance at love…

My review:
This book has a sweet story line and premise - a woman needs a chance to get away from the stressors in her life, so she visits her cousin in Australia.  I've read a number of books set in Australia and/or written by an Australian.  While the lingo is different than American English, I typically find it easy to catch on.  This author made it fun for the reader because the main character, Sara, had never traveled to Australia before and she herself didn't understand the colloquialisms.  Every time the author introduced a term that the reader didn't understand, it was often followed by the main character's confusion and need to ask for interpretation herself.  It added a nice comic feel to the cultural differences and helped the reader understand at the same time!
The author did a fantastic job of drawing a picture with her words.  I felt I could see the beach in my mind from her detailed description near the beginning of the book.
That said, I had a hard time with the character development. It was clear that Sara suffered some emotional trauma due to tabloid coverage of her relationship with a Hollywood star.  But she went from enraptured to enraged in 60 seconds flat when she found out that Craig was a TV star.  It wasn't as though he hid it - it was evident in her dealings with him that it wasn't the same as in her previous relationship.  She had spent time with Craig without issue or fuss.  So, it frustrated me that Sara painted Craig with Jeff's paintbrush and grouped him in with the likes of her ex-boyfriend. Then, for Sara's anger to just dissolve because she spent time with the sick beagle seemed unrealistic.  If her feelings were so deeply held, they would not disappear so easily.
And then for the beagle to go from critical to "good as new" in just an overnight is an unrealistic scenario which seems crafted solely to create a transition in the story line. I also felt it unrealistic when Craig, after knowing Sara only 2 weeks, offers to walk away from all TV and related activities - cold turkey.  While Sara ultimately accepted his role, the offer of "all or nothing" just didn't seem to fit with the depth of the development of their relationship to date.
Lastly, I felt attempting to draw parallels between the specter of a large Great Dane to the throngs of paparazzi was an unusual parallel that I just didn't relate to. Sara went from holding deep-seeded feelings regarding a relationship with a TV personality - enough to send her home without a second thought - to rethinking her relationship and accepting of Craig's role simply because a man told her about how his Great Dane draws attention when they are out.  Those aspects of the story just didn't ring true to me.
Overall it was a sweet story with a happy ending.  The story kept me interested enough to feel that I "liked" it enough to overcome the character and story development flaws.
And how cute is that puppy on the cover - it appears every cover in the series is going to feature another sweet looking dog on the cover! 
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Book Recommendation: "All You Need is Love" by Marie Force

I've decided to add a few strategically timed book suggestions to my blog.  The first is one of my favorite authors, Marie Force.  Marie has several series that she writes and her next book release is part of the "Green Mountain" series.

And I Love Her, book 4 in this series, is on my pre-order list from Amazon and I expect that I will be a bit MIA on March 3rd, when it hits my Kindle.  I will surely be reviewing it here.

In the meantime, for those looking for a great series to sink their teeth into, or who want to get caught up on all the Abbott's of Vermont before her newest release, the price of All You Need is Love, the first book in the series, has been reduced.  The price is only in effect until Feb 22, so now's the time to start the series. After reading Marie's Gansett Island series, I knew Green Mountain would not disappoint, but it's so much more than that.  This series features strong and sensitive men, caring and loving (and sometimes a bit crazy) women, and a wonderful moose named Fred who makes an appearance (or two) in every book.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"The Color of Joy" by Julianne MacLean

The Color of Joy is USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean’s eighth installment in her popular Color of Heaven series, which has delivered many happy sighs to thousands of readers worldwide and left them clamoring for more. Bring tissues and prepare to be up all night reading this fast-paced, emotionally charged tale about the obstacles we encounter in everyday life and the real life magic that helps us to triumph over them.

After rushing to the hospital for the birth of their third child, Riley and Lois James anticipate one of the most joyful days of their lives. But things take a dark turn when their newborn daughter vanishes from the hospital. Is this payback for something in Riley’s troubled past? Or is it something even more mysterious?

As the search intensifies and the police close in, strange and unbelievable clues about the whereabouts of the newborn begin to emerge, and Riley soon finds himself at the center of a surprising turn of events that will challenge everything he once believed about life, love, and the existence of miracles.

My review:
I think each of Julianne MacLean's books in The Color of Heaven series should come standard with a package of tissues.  The Color of Joy is no exception.  MacLean delivered another emotional, edge-of-your-seat, deeply felt story.  I intended to start the book at night and then finish it the next day, but the story flowed so easily and the suspense was so riveting that I found myself finishing it in one sitting.
We met the hero Riley briefly in The Color of the Season, when he reunited with his sister, Holly, and his mother.  This is his story - which picks up with his wife in labor with their third child. The majority of the primary story line takes place during a single day, but you almost don't realize it with the flow of the action and the flash backs to previous times.  This story shows the parallel lives of two mothers-to-be and the heartbreak the mothers, and couples, faces.
The Color of Joy introduces Jenn and her sister Sylvie (remember Sylvie, because we get her story next).  After deciding as a couple not to have kids, Jenn and her husband, Jake, find themselves pregnant.  This couple experiences an extremely emotional journey, including twists and turns you just don't expect, and an ending that no one saw coming. There was no villan in the end, only victims and heroes! And several happy endings!
The extreme elation, anger, and fear felt by the characters in this story kept this reader enraptured from beginning to end.  And true to every Color of Heaven book, circumstances that reaffirm your faith in a higher power are woven throughout the story. What a beautiful tie back to Josh and Holly's story from Color of the Season. All I can say is, "out of the mouths of babes."
In the end, a story of fear transforms into a story of faith and forgiveness, strength and courage, and love.
Disclosure: I received an free copy in exchange for an honest review. 

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Tempting Love - Haley & Eddie" by Melanie Shawn

Independent, talented, and beautiful–inside and out–Haley Sloan knew exactly what she wanted out of life. With her designer lingerie business booming, her career was moving forward, but her heart stayed in the same place it had for four years…hopelessly in love with the single father across the street.

Former wild boy turned responsible adoring father, Eddie Thomas always made sure that the needs of his little girl Emily were his top priority. Being a single father meant sacrificing his wants and needs for that of his little girl and that meant sacrificing his want and need for Haley…no matter how tempting.

Will the oldest of the Sloan girls finally be able to break through to the heart of the man who has had hers prisoner for years? Will this single father finally realize that accepting his love for Haley may be just what his little girl needs to get the family they both deserve?

One choice. Three lives. All tempting.

*Intended for Adults 18+*

My review:
I've  read many, but not all, of the books in the Crossroads series and they never disappoint.  In Tempting Love Melanie Shawn shows us what true love really is.  Haley demonstrates throughout this book that the love you have for someone can be independent of circumstances or other relationships.  Haley's love for Emily and Haley's love for Eddie, each different but related, shows through in her words and her actions. Haley is a very likable character and it was easy to get to know and love her quickly in this book.  She stated her love for Eddie as a mere fact - not a huge declaration but a fact of life, like the sun rising and the sky being blue.  For her, it was as much as part of her life as the sun and the sky.
Eddie is a tougher nut to crack.  I really wanted to pummel him early on when he went on a booty call while Haley babysat his daughter.  As Krista said later in the book, "Eddie needed to get his head out of his a$$".  He never saw what was in front of him. What Eddie thought was noble, "not having a relationship while Emily was young," was no such thing - he was in a relationship and he just didn't know it.  Thus the "head out of his a$$" comment.  I did appreciate, at the end, his realization of the relationship he'd been having all along, and acknowledged that to Haley.  I laughed when Eddie asked Haley what her answer was, like he was uncertain as to her feelings. She indicated she hadn't answered because she didn't realize it was a question - her love for him was never in doubt.
Lacey is the woman you love to hate.  I really liked the dynamic that the author showed between Lacey and Emily.  It demonstrated that kids are more insightful than we give them credit for and many times, what they really need is just an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. 
All in all, another great installment in the "Crossroads" series and with Haley's sisters all back in town, I'm sure there are more great ones to come!
Goodreads - Amazon - Barnes and Noble

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Comeback" by Catherine Gayle

Nicklas Ericsson is an addict. He’s also a star goaltender with the NHL’s Portland Storm, or he was until his addiction changed everything. Now he’s throwing himself into doing all the necessary things to pave his path to a comeback, both in his personal life and on the ice. Nicky’s run out of options, and now his sister and her children are in Portland. They need help he has no clue how to provide, though, and figuring it out might derail all the progress he’s made.

For a few years now, Jessica Lynch has been running the Portland office for the Light the Lamp Foundation. Between her work and several people from her past, she knows more than she’d like about addicts. One lesson she’s learned is that even when addicts try to turn their lives around, more often than not, they fail. That’s why she takes a hands off approach, keeping her heart well away from the addicts she works with, like Nicky Ericsson.

Nicky’s recovery efforts put him directly in Jessica’s path, and she can’t ignore his very real need for help. Where Nicky is concerned, she can’t separate her emotions. His niece and nephews further complicate her efforts to guard her heart. The attraction between Nicky and Jessica is instant and mutual, but she’s misplaced her trust too many times before. Can he prove that he won't fall back into old habits in time to complete the perfect comeback?

My review:
This review of "Comeback" is best described as a "4 Kleenex review"!  All of the previous books in the Portland Storm series have had intense emotions woven into the story, and several of them have dealt with some serious emotional issues (rape, child sex abuse, etc) but nothing could have prepared me for the emotions of this book.  I found myself actually having to put it down and stop reading for a time when the tears made it difficult for me to continue!
They say "you can't go home again", but that's not true for Nicky.  After finally kicking the addiction he had, and spending a year proving himself with the Seattle farm club, Nicky finally get his chance to reprove himself - to himself, to his teammates, to everyone.  The fortitude of his character is continuously demonstrated throughout this story. He doesn't deny his history as an addict. He is aware every day of the struggles he faces, and we quickly come to realize he is a very introspective personality - perhaps that is WHY he was such a candidate for addiction.  He is a man of few words and deep thoughts which he usually keeps to himself and honestly, it was a bit of a struggle for me to connect with him at the beginning of the book because even his thoughts were as quiet as he was. This fortitude is tested over and over throughout the book and so was his commitment to sobriety, but the author demonstrated the continued "family feeling" of the Portland Storm, who rallied in support of Nicky when he needed it most.
Jessica is a strong woman who has spent most of her life dealing with the affects of living with or knowing an addict.  Her work with "Light the Lamp" is her way to help others when she felt she couldn't help the addicts in her own life, and a constant reminder of where she never wanted to find herself again. But Nicky's commitment to staying clean and Jessica's commitment to remaining free of relationships with addicts were at opposing purposes and both quickly realized that their friends was becoming so much more. But Jessica's long-held, and not wholly unwarranted, belief that Nicky would behave as all other former addicts in her life because a stumbling block for me as the story progressed.  For a long time, nothing that Nicky did mattered, Jessica always treated him as though he was bearing the burden of all the previous addicts in her life. And the ONE time he had a major challenge to his sobriety, she blamed him for not telling her (yet telling his teammates) and used that as an excuse to push him away. Rather than celebrating his strength in staying sober, she punished him for not telling her his struggles and that bothered me about Jessica.
The introduction of Nicky's sister, Emma, and her family was an emotional firestorm I didn't expect.  It only took a few paragraphs to realize the implications of her introduction to the story, right as Nicky realized why she'd come.  Her arrival pushed Nicky into a deeper relationship with Jessica.  I wish the author has spent a bit more time delving into the specifics of their relationship development during the time Emma was struggling.  The author indicated that they spoke every day but without an inclusion of the aspects of their interactions, I had a hard time feeling as though their relationship was a deep as it apparently was.  This was also felt when Nicky took an accident as a means of treating Jessica like less than she supposedly was based on the relationship progression in the story. I felt that the author almost "manufactured" this new struggle for the couple to face before they could have their "happily ever ever"  These dynamics of the development of their relationship was probably the only reason this book received 4 instead of 5 stars. I still recommend this installment in the Portland Storm series - just have your tissues handy!
Disclosure: I received an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

"The Wreck" by Marie Force

Carly Holbrook and Brian Westbury are weeks away from their high school graduation. The young couple plans to marry before they head to college, and their future seems bright with promise.

Everything changes one spring night when their six closest friends, including Brian's younger brother, are killed in a fiery car accident that Carly and Brian witness. The trauma leaves Carly unable to speak, and Brian is forced to make unimaginable decisions about a future that once seemed so certain. With Carly incapable of going forward with their plans, Brian leaves home—and Carly—for good. Fifteen years later, disturbing new clues indicate the accident that wrecked so many lives wasn't an accident at all, bringing Brian home to face a past—and a love—he's never forgotten

I recently re-read Marie Force's The Wreck.  I've read a lot of what Marie has written and The Wreck was one of the first books of hers that I read.  But it shook me.  While I had read and re-read many of her other books, I hadn't mustered the fortitude to re-read this book.  But after reading a less than satisfying book, I wanted to re-read one I knew was well written.  So, I picked it up.  And I wasn't disappointed.

My review:
Marie Force's "The Wreck" takes you on a journey with two people, Brian and Carly, as they are forced to grow up way too soon due to tragedy. The effects of that tragedy are far reaching for Brian, Carly, and their extended families. The Wreck takes us through their lives before and after "the wreck" to their ultimate reunion due to further tragic events.
The Wreck is an emotional read. I was struck early on at Brian's emotional maturity dealing with the tragedy in his life. His ultimatum may have appeared unfeeling and immature towards Carly, but I actually believed it was a mature reaction - understanding that he needed to do what was necessary to move on with his life.
Carly's reaction to "the wreck" was severe. Little did we know the full impact of the repercussions of the wreck until later in the book. Carly shows an enormous strength, despite her loss of the ability to speak. While it took her longer to begin to move on with her life, she might have demonstrated more strength than Brian. Brian may have moved on with his life, but his life was shallow and empty. He didn't form relationships - he was just going through the motions of life.
Until he came home.
A subsequent tragedy was a turning point for Carly, and ultimately for Brian. Their reunion when Brian came home was really and truly the point at which they both began to heal.

Marie Force's writing made it easy for me to connect with the characters at an emotional level and feel the love and fear and anxiety that they were feeling. It flowed very well and it made it easy for me to turn the pages as quickly as I needed to because I REALLY wanted to know how it ended.
I'm always happy when I read one of Marie's book, and this one is no different.  It is a stand-alone novel, and one of her first, I believe.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Love, Chocolate and Beer" by Violet Duke

Romance has met its most unlikely match-up…
Luke Bradford is a chocolatier on a mission. After moving his chocolate shop, and newly single life, to the quirky town of Cactus Creek, Luke wants nothing more than to devote all his energy into making his business a success—by taking the romance market by storm. But his grand plans get thrown for a loop when he locks horns with the feisty beer-brewing beauty next door who calls his ‘romantic idealism’ a load of fairytale bull. Soon, driving the woman sparking nuts becomes another wickedly fun priority he simply can’t get enough of. 
In his defense, she’s addictively easy to incite…and plain impossible to resist.
Beloved local brewmaster Dani Dobson is beyond riled up. It’s bad enough the new shop owner in town comes locked and loaded with both a distractingly rugged charm and sexy flashing dimples, but the whole only-in-the-movies variety of romance he’s selling—the kind her world has been crushed by before—is really doing a number on her allergy to unrealistic clichés. What’s worse, he’s created an annoyingly clever ad campaign that dubs ‘beer joints’ like hers as the “cave where romance goes to hibernate.” The nerve of that man.
Combustible chemistry or not, damn it, this means war. The stakes…very likely, her heart.

This was my first book by Violet Duke, but I doubt it will be my last.

My review:
Lots of Love for "Love, Chocolate, and Beer". I was thankful that the author has included the prequel - which was a good length - in this book. I feel certain I would have been lost had I not had the background from the prequel.
I loved Luke as a strong, masculine, sensitive hero. He was clearly in touch with his feelings and was confident in his ability to express them to Dani. I loved how Dani and Luke met and it set an interesting context for the development of their relationship.

Dani was a bit of a tougher character to crack. There were so many complex situations that made her who she was and it took most of the book to peel the onion to the real Dani - her ex, her father, her business, her brother, her secrets, etc.
There were several times I felt the author had addressed what needed to be addressed with the characters and could get them to the point of moving forward, and then she'd throw something else at it. There were probably a couple more plot twists and turns than necessary to tell the story but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
I loved the little looks into the relationships that were developing among their friends and family. And the fact that the author wrote the marriage between Dani's brother and his husband as matter-of-fact as an author would write a heterosexual marriage. It wasn't focused on as a "cause" or tried to be "explained away" - it just was and it fit comfortably into the book because of it.
The book was well written and it flowed well. It had the right amount of dialogue vs. "hearing thoughts" statements to keep the reader engaged with the storyline but understanding of the backstory. 
Amazon:Amazon Listing
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"Protecting Caroline" by Susan Stoker

Matthew “Wolf” Steel hated flying commercial. Luckily his job as a Navy SEAL meant he didn’t have to do it very often. He’d been unlucky enough to be assigned a middle seat on the cramped jet, but fortunately for him, the woman next to him was willing to switch seats with him. Hoping for a relaxing flight, Wolf was pleasantly surprised at the good conversation and sense of humor the woman had as they flew 36,000 feet over the countryside.

When Caroline boarded the plane to Virginia to move across the country for her new job she never expected to be seated next to the hottest guy she’d ever seen. She also never expected he’d be so easy to talk to. She knew he’d never be interested in talking to her if he hadn’t been trapped in the seat next to her, but it was a nice way to spend a long plane ride.

Neither Wolf nor Caroline were prepared for a terrorist hijacking of their plane, but if Caroline thought that would be the last time she’d see, or need, Wolf, she’d be sorely mistaken.

Start the SEAL of Protection Series with Caroline and Wolf's story
My review:
With a storyline description that sounded intriguing - a civilian getting caught up in a hijacking - I expected a compelling, romantic suspense story. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the result. There was so much potential in the story but the writing just fell flat.

I think the most frustrating thing about the story was the constant change in point of view. Typically whole chapters, or major sections of chapters will be from a single character's point of view and then there may be a space or a divided that clearly demarcates a change in POV. Instead, I would finish a paragraph and get to the next one and all of a sudden it was in the other character's POV. Its one thing to write dialog and have a conversation - but this was going back and forth with their thoughts and their points of view. And typically in a book like this, it will stick with two points of view - the hero and the heroine. Not with this book. Once new characters were introduced, every once in a while it would jump to one of their points of view for a paragraph and then jump back. It made for a very disjointed read and made it difficult to connect with the characters because you weren't with them.
And Woah is not a word. Whoa is!
Caroline's character was incredibly frustrating for me. She explained how she was "invisible" to other people and I actually like how she explained how she had actually met the 3 SEALs on the plane prior to boarding, when they didn't remember. But the entire "theme" of "I'm a nobody, nobody cares about me, nobody notices me, nobody loves me" got extremely old. She said that she understood where she was in her life and was happy by it, but her words and actions didn't convey that. It turned into a "pity party" for Caroline at the end of "woe is me, nobody loves me" and it was tired by that point.
The author overused superlatives. She sat "so quickly". He liked her "very much". The author kept using the "superlative adjectives" to try and convey emphasis on the feelings but it just didn't work - it is a better technique to find a more emphatic emotion word to convey the feelings. That would help the reader connect with the characters.
Then there were scenes that were "trite" and felt more like the author was "restating a bad movie" instead of actually doing research and writing a scene that felt realistic. For example, "'You're coming with us, bitch,' the man smirked and backhanded her hard across the face". He had just walked up to her and they hadn't even interacted. That IS like a scene from a bad movie. Another example was when Bennie went "undercover" by being a fisherman. Again, this smacks of someone who has watched too many movies but doesn't quite get it. A typical SEAL or special ops mission will likely include members of the operation in different areas of the operating zone, BLENDING IN so they aren't noticed. But they aren't "undercover". Undercover is when an operative infiltrates an organization as a member as a means of ferreting information and/or bringing down the organization.
I only finished the book because I just wanted to see how it finished but I just didn't relate to the characters enough and was disappointed because it was a story / series that I had WANTED to like but just didn't. I read many authors who have books in a series and in many of them, reading one book has left me craving the next book because I can't wait to see what's going to happen with the characters. I unfortunately don't feel that way here and won't be spending the money on the subsequent books in the series. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

"Delay of Game" by Catherine Gayle

With her father’s health in question, Sara Thomas is focused on reducing his anxiety. That’s no small feat considering his high-stress job, not to mention her own distractions. Everyone knows Sara’s single; no one knows she’s pregnant. There’s never a good time to unexpectedly get knocked up, but now is definitely not it. Regardless, she doesn’t want anyone to know—especially not her father—until she has a game plan in place. But when Jonny, one of her father’s players, seeks vigilante justice on the ice, everything gets tossed out the window.

Cam Johnson’s role as a fourth-line winger with the NHL’s Portland Storm entails more than scoring goals. He has to ensure other teams don’t take liberties with the Storm’s star players. The way Cam sees it, that’s the most important aspect of his job. His teammates call him Jonny; opposing fans call him a goon; the media calls him an enforcer. The title’s unimportant. Cam will always fight for his team—even if he has to break the rules. He’s used to taking penalties, but he never meant for anyone else to suffer from his choices.

When Cam’s actions cause Sara’s worst fears to be realized, he blames himself. He’s screwed everything up; now he has to set things right. Mutual attraction leads to lust, and suddenly Cam is taking penalties at every turn…at least where Sara is concerned. He’s got to think on his feet or he’ll end up with a Delay of Game.

My review:
I can't say enough about Catherine Gayle's "Delay of Game" book, part of the Seattle Storm series. We met Jonny (Cam) in a couple of previous books. His gentleness and sensitivity with Dana in Breakaway gave us a hint of how he would be in his own relationships. You wouldn't think someone known as "The Enforcer" on his hockey team would really be a sensitive man, but he is! After throwing punches on the ice, his personal interactions are nothing but caring. He refuses to argue and fight because that's the environment he grew up in with his parents. I loved how he was always able to diffuse Sara's arguments because he didn't give them wind. If she said one thing, he supported her because he felt it was more important to have harmony in the relationship than force someone into something they don't want to do! But, he didn't let that stop him from fighting for what was important to him - Sara!
Sara measures every relationship based on her mother - who left her father (and her) for another man in the hockey world. Sara decided that this meant everyone would leave her - so she stopped them from leaving her by leaving them first. But not Cam! He wouldn't leave her no matter what she tried to do to push him away. She tried to start arguments but he just diffused them. He saw through her pushes as just her pain speaking and pushed back to get what he wanted - her! I did feel that she was holding on to her pain from childhood a bit too hard and her father should have realized sooner what she was doing and addressed it with her instead of enabling her, which her father did.
I continued to love Jamie in this book. He always seems to know exactly what to do and have the quiet self-confidence to make it happen. I love how he has managed to be important in every book even as the characters have shifted - he's almost like the series mascot but I can't wait for his complete story. There is no way its not going to be awesome!
Amazon: Amazon Listing
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