Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Double Cross" by DiAnn Mills

FBI Agent Laurel Evertson's investigation into a scam targeting the elderly takes an unexpected twist when key evidence leads her to Morton Wilmington, a felon she arrested five years ago on her first undercover assignment. That case has haunted her since, and though she's vowed to forget Wilmington--and what she sacrificed to put him away--he is now her best lead.  Houston Police Officer Daniel Hilton fears his grandparents may be the scammer's next targets, and he'll do anything to protect his family--even force interagency cooperation. But he's quickly drawn to Laurel's empathy and zeal and agrees to follow her lead . . . even if it means teaming up with a felon.  As the unlikely trio uncovers evidence suggesting the scam is more extensive and deadly than they imagined, both Laurel and Daniel find themselves in the crosshairs of a killer.  Together they must decide if they can trust Wilmington's claims of redemption, or if he's leading them straight into a double cross.

Genre: Christian Romantic Suspense

My review:
Double Cross is the second book in the FBI: Houston series, but it can be read stand-alone.  As a matter of fact, other than Laurel, there were few if any references to the previous book.  The book started with Laurel suffering a tremendous loss and redirecting her career as a result.  What we learn throughout the book, however, is that this is not her first loss - and the continued loss of those she loved in her life has made her unwilling to love, or be loved.  Laurel is a flawed character and I enjoyed how the author didn't make this a "bubble gum, feel good" Christian romance.  The author demonstrated that living your faith is hard, and you struggle, and sometimes you turn away - and those with the patience to see you through those times are the ones to grab hold of and hold on. Laurel's lack of faith in the beginning put her in a position that Daniel was "not for her". He lived his faith, and that was a problem for her because she had turned away from God, believing He had turned from her.
Daniel's life is content - going to work, caring for his grandparents, his faith in God.  He doesn't believe he needs a woman in his life.  But once he meets Laurel, his feelings begin to change.  While Daniel is comfortable in his faith, he is also not "in your face" about his faith with Laurel.  He admits freely that his faith is part of who he is, and he practices and demonstrates his faith comfortably (praying before his meal despite the fact that she was uncomfortable).  I liked that he believed that Laurel would see God through his life and didn't feel the need to proselytize or evangelize to her - he simply lived his life and allowed his faith to be demonstrated.  I enjoyed watching his feelings for Laurel develop over time although there were times I felt as though there were aspects of their relationship that were "glossed over" where they could have been developed a bit more.  
There were several times in the book where the characters "conveyed the story" (i.e. the author used the words conveyed the story) rather than repeating what had happened and I felt that a bit more details could have been included in those areas.  I also felt at the beginning of the book that the author overused the phrase "ended the call".  There was a whole lot of "ending the call" going on at the beginning - it either didn't continue as the book continued, or I became desensitized to its inclusion because I didn't feel that way as the book finished.  
 I loved Gram's character - she is spunky and fiesty and a perfect inclusion in the story. She kept Daniel grounded but chose to see what he could not see for himself. The story of her background was unexpected but I felt contributed to the development of the story and gave Laurel an opening to realize that she too could truly move forward from her tragedies. 
Without giving away the ending, I can say that I liked how the story ended with patience winning out in the end.  Daniel's surprise at Laurel's "work" over the past few months, and her growing relationship with Gram was refreshing and I could truly feel the anxiety he and Laurel felt as they were feeling their way through at the end. Despite my few critiques about the writing style listed above, I enjoyed reading this installment in the FBI: Houston series.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading Romantic Suspense - even if a Christian romance isn't your "cup of tea" - because the faith is there but doesn't overwhelm or monopolize the story, it enhances it and shows that people of faith can be flawed, have struggles, suffer tragedies, and have happiness in their life. 
Disclosure: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 30, 2015

"When Time Comes" by Cat Nicolaou

Athena can't avert her eyes. Alex Dane is back in Greece. Her mind wanders in time, six years ago, to the island of Rhodes. Three lustful days with him and a precious gift he left her with. All she needs is a leap of faith, but will he fly? Dare they dream again "When Time Comes"?

Genre: Contemporary Romance

My review:
This is the first time I have been asked by an author to review a book.  When Time Comes is the first book from author Cat Nicolaou. I read this novella with the knowledge that this was her first publication and she was likely not a native "American English" speaker.  As a matter of fact, I rarely read internationally set or authored books because I typically find that I struggle with the language barriers and terminology.  But, because I was asked, I went into this book with an open mind and truly interested to see what I would find.
For a first novella, this was a pretty good read.  The premise of the book is a woman who meets someone she has idolized for many years and ends up having a brief relationship with him.  While this story could have easily been a "been there, done that" story, it wasn't.  Because it was set in Greece, it put a fresh perspective on this story that I wasn't familiar with. I enjoyed the glimpses I was given of Greece and what life may be like living there.  The writer didn't include a lot of "pop culture" types references which makes this story more timeless rather than "set in the moment".  I also liked that the characters in this story weren't young - the heroine was 34 and the hero was 44. As someone in that age range, it was nice to see a love story that wasn't just about young "twenty-somethings".
When it came to writing style, it felt as though the author was almost "trying too hard". There are times when I read a book that it feels like the author has attempted to mix up the sentence openers and sentence style to ensure it isn't repetitive, and this was one of those times.  The writing style sometimes "tripped me up" but all in all, it didn't hinder my progress and my ability to relate to the story line. The author could have fleshed out the story a bit more in several sections and brought it to a more "complete" end prior to ending the scene rather than leaving the reader with a feeling of "abrupt ending".  I also felt that there were a bit too many "cliches" used.  In some cases, the abruptness of the writing or the use of cliches could be a result of an author who doesn't speak American English as a native and the "translation" into a book for American English readers is difficult.
Despite my feedback regarding the writing style, for a novella length book I felt the story was well thought out, and the story line brought to a realistic conclusion with the right level of emotional investment in the characters.  This novella could really be made fantastic if it were expanded into a full-length novel and some of the details that were otherwise glossed over were included.
Disclosure: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Against the Sky" by Kat Martin

In America's last wilderness, there are no limits to what a man can do.

For detective Nick Brodie, that means keeping the perps off the streets of Anchorage 24/7. Nick has never backed down from danger, but after the horrors he's seen, he's definitely in need of a break.

Samantha Hollis never thought she'd meet anyone like Nick, especially in a place like Las Vegas. But after one reckless, passionate night, she discovers the charismatic stranger is everything she wants in a man. But can he ever be anything more than a one-night stand?

When Nick invites her to Alaska, Samantha decides to find out, never guessing the depths she'll discover in him or the tangle of murder, kidnapping, and danger about to engulf them both.

Genre: Contemporary Romantic Suspense

My review:
I struggled with the rating for this book.  I have really enjoyed Kat Martin's previous romantic suspense novels.  I was looking forward to Against the Sky after her previous "Brodies of Alaska" installment.  However, I struggled more with this book.  The writing style and dialog were well done, as always, and that's why I gave Against the Sky 3 1/2 stars instead of 3.  But there were other aspects of this book that I just really didn't like.
Nick.  I really wanted to like Nick.  He began the story as an alpha male, rescuing Samantha from what could be a dangerous situation.  As he and Samantha got to know each other in Vegas, I really grew to like him.  He seemed sensitive, yet still very alpha. But, as soon as Nick got home, and Samantha eventually came to visit, he turned into a cave man that I really didn't like.  His reactions to her announcement, her attempts to brighten his home, and every time she did anything that went against his controlled life were completely offensive to someone he supposedly loved - and Samantha just took it. Every time I thought Nick was going to redeem himself, he again showed his cave-man tendencies and I again didn't like him.
For the most part, I liked Samantha as a character.  When she arrived in Alaska to visit Nick, I didn't like how she handled the conversation she and Nick needed to have.  I liked that she knew who she was and was realistic in her expectations with regards to her relationship with Nick, but I didn't like that she continued to grow and develop her relationship with Nick each time he treated her as though her feelings and her actions didn't matter. I wished she had a bit more backbone in her dealings with Nick.
There were several aspects of the story line that just didn't resonate with me.  The extent to which he "performed like a cop" although he wasn't, yet that was completely allowed by the local police, just didn't seem realistic. And then as things continued to spiral out of control, the extent to which Samantha got involved with her "hacking" skills, which as we know, every good marketing researcher has (insert sarcasm emoji here), just again didn't seem realistic.  It almost felt as though the suspenseful aspects of this story were forced a bit in order to create the drama. There were parts that were realistic but others that just defied the "sniff test".
Because I have read Kat Martin's books before and have been pleased with them, I will likely read subsequent books from her; chalking this one up to just not being one of her better ones.  Because the writing style was enrapturing and the dialog was well done and the story was tightly written, I felt this book deserved a bit higher rating than I would have otherwise given.  The aspects of the story that I disliked or didn't feel realistic contributed to the rating.  Overall, an OK book but not one of Kat Martin's better ones.  I look forward to future books in the series as redeeming my enjoyment of this series. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Make It A Double" by Sawyer Bennett

Brody Markham has endured a nightmare, spending the last five years in prison and losing everything that was dear to him. Now he’s back home, trying to survive in a world he doesn't recognize anymore. While his family and friends desperately try to reach through to him, he shelters himself further and further away from their love.

Alyssa Myers has worked her entire life to distance herself from the luxurious and privileged lifestyle in which she was raised. Running her non-profit agency, The Haven, she is content to spend her days helping abused animals find sanctuary, which fulfills her in a way that money just can’t buy.

Maybe it’s that she recognizes in Brody some of the same characteristics she sees in her homeless wards, but Alyssa is powerless to stop her personal quest to make Brody whole again.

While Brody struggles to surface from the darkness, Alyssa tries to protect her heart in case he’s not willing to accept the light that she offers him.

Genre: Contemporary Romance

My review:
Make it a Double is an emotional look into a man broken by circumstances out of his control, and a woman who has dedicated her life to helping those that are broken.  I doubt Alyssa knew that her life's work of helping broken animals would give her the tools and the opportunity to help and fall in love with a broken man. Through the author's masterful development of Brody's personality as he struggles to re-enter his life after 5 years in prison, I found myself truly feeling his anguish right along with him throughout the story. It was clear from the Brody we met briefly at the beginning of the book that he had a happy personality and the brooding, introspective man that returned from prison was a far cry from the one who went in.  Brody was a well-developed character and his inner dialog gave us insight into the turmoil he faced.
Alyssa had struggles of her own, with a violent ex-boyfriend and a status-seeking mother whose image was more important than her daughter's happiness or safety. By turning away from a life of "privilege" and using her considerable funds to run a no-kill shelter and animal sanctuary, Alyssa has insight into the lives of the entitled and privileged, as well as the downtrodden.  I think her upbringing in that life has given her unique insight into what Brody is experiencing.
I really enjoyed watching the relationship develop between Brody and Alyssa, especially as he continued to fight his feelings for her because he felt it best for her.  But, as Alyssa came to know Brody in a way that no one else does, Brody accepts that he's unable to fight his feelings for Alyssa any longer.  Through her support of Brody and the life he has been destined to live, she shows Brody a level of acceptance he didn't realize he needed.  They each demonstrated their love for the other in ways much more powerful than words, and in the end, those demonstrations of love are what gave Brody the strength to allow his family and friends to be part of the anguish he was living.  That was his final step towards acceptance of himself and what his life had become, and gave him the ability to move forward with his love for Alyssa.
The book was well written, the dialog meaningful and the balance of "inner dialog" and actual story was well done. While Make It A Double is the 2nd book in the Last Call series, its a stand-alone book and can be read independently.  However, Brody's twin brother Hunter, who has a recurring role in Make It A Double book, is featured in On the Rocks, the first book in the Last Call series, and I'm sure his story is equally powerful!

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Yours to Hold" by Darcy Burke

Years ago, golden-boy Kyle Archer left Ribbon Ridge without a word. Now, with heartbreak on the verge of tearing his family apart, the black sheep is back and he’s determined to earn their trust by uncovering the truth behind Alex’s death. But the moment he confronts Maggie Trent—the therapist his parents blame for the tragedy—Kyle is stunned by his powerful attraction to the beautiful doctor… and drawn to her like no woman he’s ever met before. 

When gorgeous, charismatic Kyle approaches Maggie about his brother’s death, she agrees to help him search for answers. And as they piece together Alex’s last days, their undeniable chemistry turns too hot to ignore. After their relationship becomes more serious than either anticipated, Kyle may be forced to choose between the woman he’s desperate to hold on to and the family he almost let slip away.
My review: 
Yours to Hold, the 2nd book in the Ribbon Ridge story, continues delving into the lives of the Archer family.  We are introduced to Kyle in a previous book, but in Yours to Hold, the author provides us a deep look into the demons that Kyle has been fighting, long before Alex's death.  Kyle's demons have a tight hold on Kyle, and he continues to fight them, even as he returns home. We see Kyle begin to heal through his relationship with Maggie, and she helps him to heal his relationships with other members of his family.  These relationships are important to Kyle and while his shame kept him away from them, his deeply held love for his family is what ultimately drove him to see how their actions reflected their love for him.  He eventually found himself worthy of that love. In getting to know Kyle in this story, the reader also gets possibly the deepest look into the lives and emotions of the entire Archer family. The author writes an emotionally-deep, heart-wrenching story of a son estranged from his family, and how love for Maggie also returns him to the love of his family.
We meet Maggie as Alex's former therapist.  She is like no therapist I've known or heard of.  Maggie is as much a mental mess as the patients she is treating.  She has internalized her guilt over Alex's death and has not been able to move forward.  She continues to take her patient's emotions on herself and, perhaps because of Alex's death, can't separate herself from her patients.  She also has violence, or the threat of violence, in her past and that also jades her perspective and reactions to her patients, and to Kyle as she gets to know them. I would say the best way to describe Maggie is that she is a "hot mess."  
Maggie's parents are a riot, but they love her deeply.  She may not be able to deal with their choice of lifestyle but its clear they live by their convictions and they love Maggie with their whole heart. Ultimately, Maggie realizes that while her "convictions" may be different than her parents, living by those convictions is the easiest way to a happy life.  I was happy to see that she finally came to the conclusion of where her life should lead.
Yours to Hold is a book about love, grief, guilt, and healing.  Maggie and Kyle help each other to heal, and each helps bring the other closer together with their respective families.  This healing helps Maggie find her ultimate "happily ever after", both in life and in love.  It also guides Kyle to a reunion with his estranged family and a recognition of what how family love and romantic love, can really help a person feel truly complete in life.  
Disclosure: I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cover Reveal: "Losing an Edge" by Catherine Gayle

In any other family, Levi “501” Babcock would have been the golden boy. Instead, he’s lived his entire life in the shadow of his almost-perfect older brother. They both play for the NHL’s Portland Storm, but Levi is tired of being the second-best Babcock brother. He’s determined to find at least one thing he can do better. He thinks he’s found it when Cadence Johnson, Canada’s darling at the last Olympic Games, shows up in Portland; he’s going to land a girlfriend who’s more famous than his brother’s Hollywood-starlet wife. Gold medals don’t mean much when every day is a living nightmare. Figure skater Cadence Johnson just did the unthinkable; she left her partner and her coach, and she’s starting over from scratch. New partner. New coach. New choreographer. New hair color. New city. She’s looking forward, not behind, keeping her secrets firmly locked up tight. Her bubbly personality and perpetual smiles conceal a world of hurt she can’t let anyone see. After Levi charms his way into Cadence’s life, hope that it’s all been laid to rest blooms within her. But even the darkest of secrets eventually seek the light. Soon, Levi comes to realize that life with Cadence might not be all sunshine and roses, and attraction isn’t going to be enough to her. Now being the man she needs in her life seems a lot more important than finally besting his brother, but with every step, he feels like he’s Losing an Edge.

Author Bio:
Catherine Gayle is a USA Today bestselling author of Regency-set historical romance and contemporary hockey romance with a New Adult feel. She’s a transplanted Texan living in North Carolina with two extremely spoiled felines. In her spare time, she watches way too much hockey and reality TV, plans fun things to do for the Nephew Monster’s next visit, and performs experiments in the kitchen which are rarely toxic.

If you enjoyed this book and want to know when more like it will be available, be sure to sign up for Catherine’s mailing list. You can find out more on her website, her blog, at Red Door Reads, at Hockey Romance, at Facebook, on Twitter, and at Goodreads. If you want to see some of her cats’ antics and possibly the occasional video update from Catherine, visit her YouTube account.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: "Smoke Signals" by Catherine Gayle

Growing up poor with a mother who would do anything—even sell her body—to help him get ahead in life had a profound impact on Ray “Razor” Chambers. Now he’s a defenseman for the NHL’s Tulsa Thunderbirds, which allows him the means to make sure his mother never needs to do anything like that again. He’s in Vegas because his best buddy is about to get hitched, but not before Razor and the guys throw him a bachelor party. Viktoriya Dubrovskaya had been studying ballet in California, but money is tight and there’s no help coming from home in Russia. She started out making some extra money as a dancer in a club, and that eventually led her to the adult film industry. Porn may have paid her well, but it stripped her of everything she was and all she wanted. She’s left the business behind, but too late. Now she’s out of time, money, and options. In desperation, Viktoriya makes herself available to Razor on the casino floor. There’s no chance he’ll take her up on what she’s selling, but he offers a counter-proposal—one involving a ring, a green card, and the chance to reclaim her body. It’s an opportunity she can’t pass up. For Viktoriya and Razor, learning to live together as husband and wife is as foreign as interpreting Smoke Signals, but where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

Author Bio:
Catherine Gayle is a USA Today bestselling author of Regency-set historical romance and contemporary hockey romance with a New Adult feel. She’s a transplanted Texan living in North Carolina with two extremely spoiled felines. In her spare time, she watches way too much hockey and reality TV, plans fun things to do for the Nephew Monster’s next visit, and performs experiments in the kitchen which are rarely toxic.

If you enjoyed this book and want to know when more like it will be available, be sure to sign up for Catherine’s mailing list. You can find out more on her website, her blog, at Red Door Reads, at Hockey Romance, at Facebook, on Twitter, and at Goodreads. If you want to see some of her cats’ antics and possibly the occasional video update from Catherine, visit her YouTube account.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

"And I Love Her" by Marie Force

As the oldest of the ten Abbott siblings, Hunter prides himself on his ability to solve other people’s problems, but now he has a problem of his own—how to convince the woman of his dreams that his love is for keeps.

As the chief financial officer, Hunter Abbott manages the family’s various business interests while “fixing” things for the people he loves. But the one thing he can’t fix is his undeniable attraction to Megan Kane. Instead, Hunter is prepared to do whatever it takes to show Megan that he’s the man for her.

Megan’s sister rocks her with the news that she and her husband are moving overseas, leaving Megan truly alone. With her sister—and her job at the diner—going away, Megan finds herself leaning on the sexy, button-down accountant who isn’t afraid to lay it all on the line for her. But Megan has watched too many people she loves leave her. Can she risk her heart on Hunter?

My review:
And I Love Her gives us a story of unrequited feelings developing into true love.  As a reader, I really enjoyed how Marie Force took the "straight-laced" Hunter and through Megan, showed him loosening up and embracing life more fully.  I believe that Hunter has felt the pressure of being the oldest son and bearing the burden, with his parents, of helping to raise his siblings.  He also has a very special relationship with his twin Hannah, and we see the depths of his special relationship with her throughout this book. Hunter's feelings for his family run deep and I believe much of his emotional energy has been spent on his family, leaving him little to invest in much more than fleeting romantic relationships.
I really loved seeing Hunter come completely unglued as he began dating Megan. The author showed us how even the most serious of personalities can be shaken with just the slightest bit of emotional turmoil - and Hunter had it in spades.  His relationship with Megan begins at a time when she is struggling with decisions about her future, and while Hunter doesn't want her to feel the pressure of making a decision about her future based on his feelings for her, he also doesn't want to miss his opportunity with Megan - an opportunity he has been waiting years for. 
I really appreciated the opportunity to also stay in touch with Will and Cameron, who had continuing roles in this book.  In And I Love Her, it became clear that Will is not the only one vying for Cameron's affections.  While Cameron believes that Fred doesn't like her, I firmly believe that Fred has a serious crush on Cameron and is taking every opportunity to demonstrate his feelings for her.  I felt his trapping her and ultimately letting her go, after Will talked to him, was representative of Fred finally letting Cameron go.  I have really enjoyed the comic relief that Fred provides in each book and I look forward to seeing how Ms. Force chooses to keep Fred a prominent character in each book of the Green Mountain Series. 
Each book in the Green Mountain series has been an emotional look into a member of the Abbott family, and And I Love Her was no different.  Ms. Force continues to touch into different aspects of our emotions - family love, romantic love, sibling love, friendly love - in each of her books and I enjoyed the varying emotional aspects of love she demonstrated with Hunter and Megan in this book. Hunter has quickly become my favorite member of the Abbott family.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Dating Daisy" by Joanne Hill

Daisy Miller needs to save her book shop from going under, and she needs a plan fast. Her solution? Try out for TV's new Mystery Date show to get some free promotion. She just hadn't counted on winning a "date" with hot historian, Dr Joel Benjamin - or that Joel would be the tubby teen she'd commiserated with years ago after a blind date gone wrong. 

Joel has put those painful teenage years behind him, throwing himself into his work, where he isn't judged by his looks. But meeting Daisy Miller is about to change his life in ways he never thought possible. But will Daisy ever believe that Joel can really, truly love her, when she's spent a lifetime feeling second best?
My review:
I had a hard time relating to the characters in Dating Daisy.  We initially meet Joel in an academic setting and it appears that he's a fairly normal, typical, academic-type.  But once he walks into Daisy's store, he spends much of the rest of the book coming across like much of a bumbling idiot.  He can't remember Daisy's name for the next two or three times he's asked.  He demonstrates clear disdain for her store, and most things about her.  Even after Daisy and Joel become closer, he's quick to criticize and demean Daisy, even while he professes to be falling in love with her.  A little bit of bumbling I would chalk up to a bit of social awkwardness, but his lack of empathy or ability to demonstrate basic tact and social aptitude just made his character a bit unbelievable.
I enjoyed getting to know Daisy and the struggles she was facing with her business.  She has spent most of her life feeling second best - to her sisters, to her husbands, to everyone.  So she has major self-esteem issues that, honestly, are not going to be addressed by the aforementioned socially-inept Joel.  Yet off she goes to an island vacation with him.  While I believe the author was trying to continue Daisy's issues with self-esteem and her struggles with social norms, I felt it completely unfathomable that she would be attending a fancy dinner on the island, with Hollywood types in formal gowns, while only wearing a t-shirt and jeans skirt.  It just wouldn't be happening.  Those types of scenarios just make the book seem unrealistic in many of its depictions of scenes.
I did like the story line and how it progressed, using the reality show as the impetus for much of what is happening to Joel and Daisy.  Although the title of the book is a bit of a misnomer, as Joel doesn't really "date" Daisy, I was able to continue reading the story and enjoying aspects of it due to the story line - even when I wanted to smack Joel upside his head and bring him back to the reality of his social awkwardness.  This was a short, easy read and if you can handle a male lead who sometimes makes you want to pull your fingernails out from the roots, you'll enjoy reading Dating Daisy.
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Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Where the Heart Is" by Darcy Burke

Home is more than a place . . .

Breaking free from her structured life, Chloe English quits her high-powered job and moves across the country to work as an art teacher. The simple life is all she hoped it would be until her house burns down, leaving her homeless. When a handsome firefighter swoops in to save the day, she can’t believe her luck. He’s laid-back and unassuming, everything she’s looking for in a man—or so he seems. It turns out he’s as ambitious as her ex, comes with a family who could be more stifling than hers, and harbors dark secrets he may never be able to share.

Orphaned as a teenager, Derek Sumner has found a place in his best friend’s family. However, the love and support of his surrogate parents and siblings can’t erase the grief and loss he struggles every Christmas to banish. But this year he meets the fun and sexy Chloe, whose optimism and sense of joy are incredibly contagious. Can she help him face his bleak past so they can forge a happy future?

My review:
Where the Heart Is is an introductory novella to the Ribbon Ridge series. While each book in the series can be read separately, and in any order, I wish I had read this novella prior to reading Only In My Dreams (the first book in the series).  While called a novella, this book was a good length and the story was as deep and full as many books deemed a "novel".  It provided a wonderful introduction to the Archer family - one that probably would have helped me relate to and understand the family better when reading the first book.  Derek is an honorary member of the Archer family and what we learn in this book is that the Archer family has room for everyone.  Derek loves the Archers as his own but has real trouble believing that there is a woman - a family - out there waiting for him.  Chloe has a family but has moved across the country to gain her independence from them.  Their diverging emotions regarding family present an interesting dynamic in the development of their relationship, but the one family they have in common is the Archers.  Derek introduces Chloe to the Archers and she is immediately part of the family!
Derek presents so many "images" to Chloe, it's no surprise that she finds it hard to believe he's an executive in the Archer organization - and her reaction solidifies that.  I was thankful it didn't take her long to overcome her concern for Derek's profession and to know that she was wrong to compare him to her past relationship.  However, Derek's inability to overcome his feelings regarding his house almost ended his relationship with Chloe and I really appreciated how the Archer's helped Derek work through his emotions regarding the loss of his father and his mother, and what his house symbolized about those relationships.  I thought the author did a great job of depicting Derek's conclusion about the house.  It was a realistic interpretation of what many people feel about childhood homes, or any nostalgic items they have that tie them to loved ones lost.
I really enjoyed the development of Derek and Chloe's relationship and how it developed throughout the story.  The story establishes a good foundation of Derek and the entire Archer family, which is important as these relationships are woven into each book of the Ribbon Ridge story.  While each story can be read alone, I strongly recommend the reader start with Where the Heart Is as it sets the stage for the future books and introduces us to the Archer family. 
Disclosure: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Only in My Dreams" by Darcy Burke

Fed up with her self-imposed single life, successful event planner Sara Archer heads to a bar for a night of dancing … and bumps into Dylan Wescott, the high school crush she hasn’t seen in years. A little harmless flirting leads to a hot, completely uncharacteristic one-night stand; but when she wakes up alone, Sara knows her life is too complicated for a relationship and there can’t be a repeat.

Dylan, a divorced, ex-military construction contractor, limits himself to casual flings—his failed marriage proves he’s better off alone anyway—but he can’t stop dreaming about Sara. And when his firm is hired to oversee the renovation project run by the Archer siblings, Dylan and Sara are unable to resist their explosive chemistry.

But when their secret affair grows beyond “friends with benefits” and neither is willing to admit they want more, family drama and emotional scars may ruin their chance at a love they believed was only in their dreams.

My review:
Darcy Burke's first book in the "Ribbon Ridge" series gives us an introductory glimpse into the lives of the Archer family.  Only in My Dreams provides an emotional glimpse into a family reeling from tragedy and rising from the ashes, slowly, to reclaim their lives. The healing begins in Only in My Dreams, facilitated in the aftermath of the tragedy but I'm confident we will continue to see the healing through the subsequent books in the series.  In this introductory book, the emotions are raw and running high and the family appears on the brink of splintering due to the stresses.  The author does a wonderful  job of depicting a family in the throes of grief and working to dig themselves out, each manifesting their grief in their own way.
It felt as though the author threw the reader into the deep end of the tragedy.  After a first chapter, which felt more like a prologue by setting the stage for the future situation, we are brought together by family tragedy with little to no background on the family members or the background which led them to where they were.  I would have liked a bit more background woven into the beginning to help understand this family - I felt the tragedy would have resonated a bit more emotionally if we had felt a bit more invested in the characters first. 
Sara is the Archer featured in this story.  Sara has a strong personality but lives with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which causes her to get a bit spun out of control when she is feeling stress or her environment is overwhelming.  I could sympathize and relate to Sara's struggles, but felt the author went a bit overboard with the continued references to SPD.  Every time there was anything other than "unicorns and rainbows" in Sara's life, we were hearing about another "coping with SPD" moment - so I felt it was a bit overdone.  Had those references been introduced early on and then reserved for the especially stressful situations, it wouldn't have been quite as frustrating to always hear about her SPD.
Dylan's character was very easy to relate to and realistic in this story because he was depicted as being the "forgotten child"; the one child of two divorced parents who each went on to remarry and have children with their respective new spouses.  Dylan's experiences were insightful and I don't doubt that many children find themselves lost between two families like Dylan did.  Dylan felt, because of that, that he was incapable of being loved and lived his life accordingly - until Sara. It was clear that he felt his emotions deeply but that he also had deeply held beliefs that he was not destined for love.
I liked that the Archer's were not depicted as an "All American family." They fought. They yelled.  They stormed out on each other.  They had plenty of dysfunction to go around, but they also had a lot of love. The tragedy that struck the Archer family shook it to its foundation and we see the repercussions rippling through the family in this book - repercussions that will continue, I'm confident, into the subsequent books in this series.
As Dylan and Sara's relationship develops, Dylan begins to realize that not all families are like his, and Sara comes to realize that she is stronger than she believes; and stronger than her siblings treat her.  Through their relationship with each other, the find what they felt was missing in their relationships with their families, and with former loves, and realize that what was intended to be a brief affair was really true love.  
All in all I felt this was a powerful introduction to the Ribbon Ridge series and I look forward to subsequent books about the Archer sextuplets and their baby brother! 
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

"Firewall (FBI: Houston Book 1) by DiAnn Mills

After a whirlwind romance, Taryn Young is preparing to board a plane at Houston International Airport, bound for a dream honeymoon, when a bomb decimates the terminal. Injured but still alive, she awakens to discover her husband is missing and they're both considered prime suspects in the attack. Further, the FBI is convinced her husband isn't who he appears to be.Agent Grayson Hall's number-one priority is to catch those responsible for the day's act of terror. All evidence is pointing to Taryn and her new husband. But his instinct tells him her pleas of innocence are genuine. Is her naivete just for show, or could she truly be another victim of a master scheme, possibly linked to the software she recently developed for her company?With both their lives and reputations on the line, and the media outcry for justice increasing with each passing minute, Taryn and Grayson have no choice but to trust one another . . . and pray they can uncover the truth before they become two more casualties.

My review:
I began reading Firewall with no specific information about the author or the premise of the story.  It had been featured as a free book on one of my MANY email newsletters I get a day with book offers, and it looked interesting.  I must have opened and started the first two pages of the book 3 or 4 times before I was really able to sit down and enjoy the book - and enjoy I did.  Firewall is a suspense novel first and foremost, but has romantic undertones and a Christian foundation.  I have read many Christian novels and some are more emphatic about their Christian faith and the Christian emphasis of the novel, but not this book.  I didn't realize until about 2-3 chapters into the book that it actually is a Christian novel.  I felt the Christian aspects of the novel were introduced seamlessly and enhanced but didn't overwhelm the story.  Throughout the novel, Taryn uses the tragedies she is suffering, of which there are MANY, to rediscover and strengthen her faith that had gone untended in recent years.  She had been leading a good life but hadn't put her faith in a prominent position in her life; through her experiences in this story, her faith took a larger role in her life.  I appreciated that Taryn's journey was woven throughout the story well and enhanced the aspects of the story within which they were discussed.  Taryn is a strong personality and like many strong personalities, she felt that she alone had what she needed to control her success and her happiness, so coming back to her faith was difficult for her.  Also, recovering from the trust she had bestowed in the wrong person  was a challenge for her throughout her ordeal.
Grayson was also a strong character in this story, but his strength manifested itself in different ways.  Whereas Taryn used her strength to control her surroundings and her happiness and her success, Grayson has come to a point in his life where he has a peace with his life because he knows his success and his happiness is ultimately in God's hands.  His feelings for Taryn grow throughout their trials and tribulations and he makes no secret of that, and informs Taryn that as soon as the situation was resolved, that he wanted to discuss a future with her.  He demonstrated a quiet and deeply insightful strength, where he decided what he wanted and what he believed was his future, and he took the steps to bring that about in his life.  Taryn and Grayson both have strength, but because their strengths manifest themselves in different ways, they compliment each other well.  I think each of them learns how the other feels and thinks and they are able to work well together and support each other as a result.
I felt the suspenseful aspects of the story line were well written - poor Taryn just COULD NOT CATCH A BREAK.  The poor girl was bombed, shot at, assaulted, thrown from a vehicle, and involved in an accident, and I'm sure I missed some.  But through it all, she continued to work towards solving the mystery of the bombing and how it impacts and affects her life's work.   I felt the suspense story line was plausible (in many novels, it just isn't) and felt on the edge of my seat until the very end.  I did NOT see the villain coming until he was revealed!
All in all, a well thought out and well developed suspenseful story with romantic and Christian undertones that were seamlessly included in the story.  Definitely an author I will look for again!
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