Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Take Me Home for Christmas by Brenda Novak

Paperback400 pages
Published October 29th 2013 
by Harlequin MIRA 
(first published January 1st 2013)
Series: Whiskey Creek, #5
My Rating: 
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Christmas is a time for remembering….

Too bad all memories aren't pleasant. Everyone in Whiskey Creek remembers Sophia DeBussi as the town's Mean Girl. Especially Ted Dixon, whose love she once scorned.

But Sophia has paid the price for her youthful transgressions. The man she did marry was rich and powerful but abusive. So when he goes missing, she secretly hopes he'll never come back—until she learns that he died running from an FBI probe of his investment firm. Not only has he left Sophia penniless, he's left her to face all the townspeople he cheated….

Sophia is reduced to looking for any kind of work to pay the bills and support her daughter. With no other options, she becomes housekeeper for none other than Ted, now a successful suspense writer. He can't bring himself to turn his back on her, not at Christmas, but he refuses to get emotionally involved. He learned his lesson the last time.

Or will the season of love and forgiveness give them both another chance at happiness?

Let me begin by saying I really like Brenda Novak's novels. They drive me crazy, but I do enjoy them. Her writing is crisp, the stories are well told, and each one is original. But, as is beginning to become a pattern with me when I read a Whiskey Creek novel, there is always something that floors and frustrates me. 

I've always wondered about what sort of HEA Sophia could get. She married young, to a man she didn't really love after becoming pregnant and broke her true love's, Ted, heart. And she paid for it dearly. A controlled woman, who suffered abuse at the hands of her husband, I have long wondered how she'd get back together with Ted. And I have to say, I never pictured that her story would go quite this way. 

Skip, her husband, dies in an effort to fake his own death. He leaves Sophia and their daughter, Alexa without a penny. And everyone in Whiskey Creek wants money from Sophia that she doesn't have because they figure she was involved in Skip's swindle of them. I was disgusted by their attitude, and  treatment of Sophia. And Sophia really hits rock bottom. She has no money, a drinking problem, and no one to turn to. I don't think I've even seen a character in more pathetic circumstances, and yet somehow Sophia finds the strength to carry on for her daughter's sake. 

Ted, who's always been in love with Sophia, even though their break up was bad, decides to help Sophia out by giving her a job as his housekeeper. And Sophia is determined to prove that she can handle the job. Ted is equally determined to avoid becoming involved in with her. He takes an active interest in helping her, in helping her daughter, in finding them a safe place--in his own guesthouse--to stay when their own home is broken into and threatening notes are left for Sophia. And yet, a somehow intelligent man like Ted also makes the biggest asshat move ever by becoming involved with someone else, someone he's not even remotely attracted to in an effort to deny his true feelings for Sophia. It pissed me off and was really unsettling, and if you read the book, you'll understand exactly what I mean when I say unsettling. And I was equally disappointed with the woman he become involved with because that woman knew Ted had never stopped loving Sophia. 

The thing that killed me most about this plot point was that it detracted from Ted and Sophia's romance. Like, it big time detracted from page time I felt ought have been devoted to their romance. I was disappointed at how short the romance part of the novel was, and although I can walk away saying it was a good romantic story, I wouldn't say it's a solid romance. I enjoyed it, even when my eyes were bugging out of my head at the choices Ted made, but I was frustrated.

But the thing I most enjoyed about this novel was seeing Sophia really take charge of her life and fighting back. She picks herself up and takes it one day at time, becoming stronger for herself and her daughter, and even though Skip left with her nothing, and made her a huge social pariah, she never complains and even seeks to help those who her husband swindled out of thousands of dollars. I truly admired her in this book, and was very proud to see her come into her own. And I was glad to see Ted realize that she wasn't some spoiled princess and to come to accept his own feelings for her. I just wished it had happened a little sooner. 

I've no idea what to expect from book six, in this series, but I do know that Brenda Novak will make it an entertaining, and layered story and that's what keep me coming back to this romantic series.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: Worth the Risk by Claudia Connor

ebook272 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 
by Loveswept
Series: The McKinney Brothers, #2
My Rating: 
Genre: Contemporary Romance

When a McKinney brother falls in love, powerful emotion and overwhelming desire are never far behind.
Two hearts locked away . . . Hannah Walker spends her days coaching children through injury and trauma, one therapeutic horseback ride at a time. She knows all too well how violence can change a child and leave scars that never heal. It’s easy for her to relate to the kids; what isn’t easy is the thought of facing her own harrowing past.
Millionaire playboy Stephen McKinney could use a little coaching himself. Five years ago he encountered his most horrible nightmare—and the nightmare won. No matter what he achieves, nothing can make up for that awful night . . . or so he believes.
Both desperate for a second chance . . . Stephen is used to getting what he wants. And he wants Hannah. So when she turns him down, he’s intrigued. What he doesn’t know is that her secrets will lead him to a place he never wanted to go again . . . to a side of himself he’s tried to forget . . . a side that would scare Hannah away from ever loving him. Now his only chance to win her trust is to bare his soul, risking everything he tried so hard to protect.

Another fabulous read from the very talented Claudia Connor! I have read only two of her books, but I am very impressed with her work, and loving her style. In the second novel of the McKinney Brothers series, Stephan falls in love, and falls hard. But he's not sure it's worth the risk. 

I honestly felt for the characters in this novel. Stephan had been to hell and back when his fiancee was killed, and reading about those events was downright chilling. But how Stephan dealt with the loss was harder to read about, because it truly tore him apart. He simply wasn't the same man anymore, and he didn't trust that he was even a good man after what happened to Tracy. And yet, a chance encounter with Hannah makes him want to love again. He really struggles with himself on a lot of levels, and I thought the author did a marvelous job conveying the psychology of his mind. I don't think anyone but Hannah could have made Stephan realize the things that he did as this novel developed. 

Hannah. I just wanted to cry for her. It's difficult to talk about the horror she's lived through, but wow, I don't think I've ever read a character who's been through that and yet walked away not quite broken. She still had so much light in her. It was an interesting parallel considering Hannah thought of herself as broken in many respects. I absolutely adored her character and I honestly felt her struggle with the issues of the past, how they played into her understanding of herself and it wasn't always easy reading. It wasn't gut churning, but it was poignant. And then, just as her relationship is really cementing, and both she and Stephan are ready to commit, we get the monkey wrench.  And it hurt to see the wall come up between them, hurt to see how much more they had to struggle. Because they still had a lot to overcome. 

But they did overcome it, and it was a happily ever after truly earned. Stephan proves his love is unconditional, and he really, truly does something that lays to rest any ghosts between him and Hannah. It was amazing the way he set them on a path that was totally their own, and how they both accept that they might not ever be the same people they used to be, but that the people they are now aren't that badly broken after all. Wonderful story telling. I cannot wait to read more from this author.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley

Mass Market Paperback,
Published January 6th 2015 
by Signet Eclipse
Series: Prelude to a Kiss, #2
My Rating: 
Genre: Historical Romance

Sophie Wembley is about to discover two hard truths: When planning a rushed betrothal, one must not be picky; and when the perfect earl happens by, one must not be shy…

After receiving word that her sister has eloped, even ever-optimistic Sophie has trouble staying positive. She needs to secure her future before the scandal destroys her prospects, although she doesn’t relish the idea of a hasty marriage. But her longtime crush has just shown up for the summer festival in Bath. He may be the key to avoiding disgrace and getting a happily ever after…if she can bring herself to pursue him.

John “Evan” Fairfax, Earl of Evansleigh, is one of the most popular bachelors in the ton. However, his easygoing ways hide a dark past he’s determined to keep secret. Evan has always kept acquaintances at arm’s length for self-preservation, but there’s something irresistible about Sophie…and her seductive charms may well sway the confirmed bachelor to seize a chance at love.

Le sigh. That's how I felt reading this book. It was everything a good historical romance ought be. Funny, with compelling characters and romantic moments and a happily ever after that is properly earned. 

I love that this series is rich with music. It seems to be a romantic way to bring characters together, and Ms. Knightley has made music come alive in many moments in this novel. Not to mention, it's original. I don't think I've ever read a historical romance where music has been such a vital part of the plot. Sophie is a great musician. Admittedly, she's worked at her skill, but it's the passion and determination she's put into her music that makes her attractive to Evan. Among other things! Sophie's character is a chatter box, she doesn't always stand on ceremony, and her light hearted ways go a long way to capturing the earl in this romance. I enjoyed reading her thoughts and was amused by her little embarrassments and predicaments in this novel.
Expected Publication:
July 7, 2015

Evan was also a character that I loved reading. I knew he had some sort of arrangement with his sister not to marry, but for the life of me I couldn't understand why either of them would make such a promise to one another. Or why any peer would allow his title to pass to a cousin instead of a son. When more sinister things were hinted at, I became even more intrigued especially as it was obvious that Evan was falling in love with Sophie. He might have tried to merely be friends with her, but the man was clearly deluding himself since every single second he spent with her he enjoyed far, far too much for what they had to be considered mere friendship. I kinda liked that he was a dope that way. And I also liked that Evan was, in all senses of the word, a gentleman. He wasn't afraid to admit his mistakes, and he sought to correct them. And his foolish mistake in choosing to let Sophie go at the cost of her reputation and happiness, he certainly corrected most romantically.

I would love to say how he corrected that mistake, and why he and his sister Julia had decided never to marry, but that would just spoil the story for you, and I simply could not do that. But trust me, that scene was devastating. I simply cannot wait for more of this delightful series.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Review: Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep

Paperback357 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Pocket
Series: Elemental Assassin, #4
My Rating:
Genre: Urban Fantasy

I’d rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings.

But here I am. Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson’s front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn’t shy away from my past—or my present. And right now I have a bull’s-eye on my forehead.

Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers. Which means there’s a fifty-fifty chance one of us won’t survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur—or die trying—because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too.

The only problem is, Bria has no idea I’m her long-lost sibling . . . or that I’m the murderer she’s been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn’t know just might get us both dead. . . .

So, another awesome installment to this series. Where to start...I'll start off by saying there was a lot of growth in this book. Gin grows to accept her feelings for Owen, and the fact that he's sticking around. She's really going to take a chance on him, and I'm so happy for her! If that sounds a little silly, considering she's fictional, well that's because I'm a lover of a good romance story. So deal

Now, to get down to the ugly bits. There's always a horrible person Gin has to kill. And I've never been so glad to see a character go down as I was LaFleur. It felt like the prelude to Mab's own bloody demise. But honestly, LaFleur was a terrible person. She was a killer. And I don't just mean an assassin like Gin. I mean the kind of killer who kills because they like to. LaFleur got her jollies by killing, and that really disgusted me. 

I'm loving this series more with each book, and now that Mab has the hit on Gin, and that Bria knows Gin is her sister, I'm expecting this series to get more interesting. Especially since Gin's Ice power continues to grow. I mean, I was very worried she was dead meat in this book (well, as much as you can worry about the heroine of the entire series being dead meat) when she took that trip into the river. But what she did with her Ice powers was just amazing. 

What dangers will Gin face next? Who is her next target? The series is leading us to Mab herself, and I'm itching to see how that plays out. But on a more emotional level, I want to see how Bria decides to carry out her relationship with Gin. It's clear she's struggling with what Gin does, but I also see potential for acceptance there. I'm hoping that these two sisters can come back together and really become a family again. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Review: Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak

Paperback416 pages
Published July 30th 2013 
by Harlequin MIRA 
(first published January 1st 2013)
Series: Whiskey Creek, #4
My Rating: 
Genre: Contemporary Romance 

Sometimes home is the refuge you need-and sometimes it isn't.  Adelaide Davies, who's been living in Sacramento, returns to Whiskey Creek, the place she once called home. She's there to take care of her aging grandmother and to help with Gran's restaurant, Just Like Mom's. But Adelaide isn't happy to be back. There are too many people here she'd rather avoid, people who were involved in that terrible June night fifteen years ago. 

Ever since the graduation party that changed her life, she's wanted to go to the police and make sure the boys responsible-men now-are punished. But she can't, not without revealing an even darker secret. So it's better to pretend.... 

Noah Rackham, popular, attractive, successful, is shocked when Adelaide won't have anything to do with him. He has no idea that his very presence reminds her of something she'd rather forget. He only knows that he's finally met a woman he could love.

This is a difficult book for me to review. I am not conflicted about my feelings for it, but rather, it's hard to put them into words objectively. 

I enjoyed the book. But it drove me nuts. 

Addy's character is determined that no one ever find out that she was ganged raped at the age of sixteen. She's afraid of re-living the experience, of what it would do to the town of Whiskey Creek, and she's even afraid of no one believing her considering the ring leader of the assault, Cody, died that night and is well loved and fondly remembered by the townspeople. Since Addy hasn't lived in Whiskey Creek for fifteen years, I can understand why she's kept it all quiet. But the minute she arrives back in town, her life is danger. Someone abducts hers and throws her down into the mind where she was raped, leaving her seemingly to die. Luckily Noah arrives on the scene and saves her. This is how the novel opens. And shockingly, Addy refuses to pursue what happened to her. She's not cooperative with teh police, covers up what she thinks happens (that one of the men who raped her is behind this) and essentially down plays everything. 

I struggled with this. I understood her reluctance to come forward at such a late date, to relive that experience, but I wasn't sure how smart keeping it all under wraps was considering that Addy was being threatened. It made no sense to me as she was putting her life on the line. So throughout the book I kept hoping Addy would tell someone...but she seemed determined not to since she had no plans to stay in Whiskey Creek permanently. 

Let me talk about the romance. Addy and Noah's romance was...lackluster in my opinion. Addy isn't interested in building anything long term with Noah, and keeps trying to pull away from him or keep things as friends with benefits. Why she was even attracted to him I wasn't entirely sure, nor was I clear on what the attraction was for Noah as well. Honestly, their romance felt way too pushed in that Addy was always pushing Noah away, and these two didn't click for me as a romantic item. When Addy finally confesses to Noah what his brother Cody did to her, it occurred all off page which infuriated me. I can understand how this is a delicate topic and why the author might want it all to happen off page, especially since we as readers didn't really need the re-cap, but I had been hoping that this scene would cinche the romance for me. Alas, it didn't turn out that way. 

This is a suspenseful read, more than the other Whiskey Creek novels I've read, and tells a complex story. I enjoyed reading this novel even though I was disappointed with it as a whole. I feel as though I would have enjoyed it more if the romance was more well developed.

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