Review: A Wedding at Two Love Lane

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: A Wedding at Two Love Lane
Author: Kieran Kramer
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 346 pages
Series?: Two Love Lane #2
Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Greer Jones has made a real name for herself at the elegant matchmaking agency Two Love Lane. For a lot of reasons–including a past engagement she broke off–practical tech expert Greer is more interested in the business of love than the experience of it, but she can’t help but covet a gorgeous wedding gown that’s the prize in an upcoming cocktail-party contest. In a moment of brazen inspiration, Greer asks a handsome Brit she’s only just met to accompany her to the party. He agrees–and Greer believes her date is a starving artist. Little does she know the truth. . .

Ford Smith, as he calls himself, is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. Fresh off a breakup with a money-grubbing siren who deceived him all the way to the altar, Ford has no desire to fall in love–especially with Greer who, like the desired wedding gown, is beautiful but only skin-deep. But soon Ford realizes that there’s more to Greer than meets the eye. Her professionalism is matched only by her passion for life and love. . .and, best of all, she has no idea that he’s to the manor born. Could it be that true love is priceless after all?

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

my review

My Thoughts 

I read the first book in the series and was on the fence, but decided to give the sequel a chance. I did really enjoy the setting and descriptions of Charleston from the first book. In that aspect, Kramer excelled and made me feel very much a part of the book. Given that, I went into this with a fresh set of eyes. 

And I was disappointed. This time there wasn’t even the beautiful Charleston descriptions to give it a lift. Right from the beginning I had a hard time connecting with Greer in that she works with her best friends but was keeping a couple major secrets from them. One being she kept these perfect wedding scrapbooks. Nearly two dozen. That secret is revealed when she goes to an auction to purchase the wedding dress of her dreams – which was also another thing she did in secret. It wasn’t even that the dress was so gorgeous to Greer, or that she’d been planning to purchase this exact dress. It just had an interesting royal history, thus called Royal Bliss. I didn’t mesh with Greer going against so many of her own personal stances and beliefs. No, Greer isn’t getting married. She is entirely single, which was also what made it odd to me.

At the auction, Greer meets Ford Smith, who is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. He is an artist who has traveled to the U.S. to dedicate himself to his art after his engagement ended when his fiancé sleeping with a groomsmen. Trying to recover and create pieces for an upcoming Manchester show, Ford is struck by Greer. Later it is revealed that he noticed Greer on the street prior to the auction. Basically he followed her in.

Greer and Ford both have ex drama, and it turns out Greer’s ex and new girlfriend know Ford! They all run into each other, once again on the street. Greer is floored to learn her ex is moving to town. Why her town, of all places?

Greer’s arch nemesis, Pierre, a local women’s shop owner, wins the dress at the auction and is quite ostentatious in rubbing it in Greer’s face. Knowing she desires it, he devises a bridal contest to launch his the bridal department he plans to add to his store. Five couples will wind up competing for Royal Bliss. Greer decides to enter – sans partner. In the face of disqualification, Ford agrees to be her sidekick through the events to ensure she has a fair shot at winning the dress. Meanwhile, he has his own issues to deal with with his ex across the ocean. At first I didn’t believe her news was actually true. I thought it was just a ruse and a ploy to get Ford back, given how nasty she was described. I was wrong, and by the end I was shocked at the sudden about-face that she makes. That was uncharacteristic and too neat to wrap up that sub-plot.

The second half or so of the book was predictable, unplausible, and too neat in general. It didn’t provide the luster I was hoping for or the second chance for me to find a redeeming quality in this series. There was also an upend with Greer’s ex, Wesley, and his fiancé. Something that turned the contest around and changed the outcome, as well as my own beliefs about some of the characters and their motivations. Again, things not aligning with everything we understand about a character and their beliefs. Not to mention Ford lies to Greer at every opportunity about who he really is.

However, there are several supporting characters, including the above mentioned villain (and his own henchman sidekick who is a hooker, for lack of better term), Greer’s ex and his fiancé who are super cute. Then there is another shop worker who turns traitor and helps Greer out in the end. The other ladies in the contest are (mostly) sweet and kind to Greer and they develop some true friendships. Of course, Miss Thing also steals the show every time she shows up. I do love that lady!

I was impressed with the character growth of the villain, and I thought Ford’s assistance (errr, pressure) in the matter really helped him a lot. For a foreigner and virtually a stranger, Ford was uncanny in being able to understand Pierre’s hidden feelings and conceptions about himself and his role in life.

I am pretty sure the next book will feature the third employee of Two Love Lane, Ella Mancini. I hope the series doesn’t end there, though. I would love for Jill’s story to be fully featured. We got some insight into that in this book, but it was a glossy sub-plot and I’m not sure why it was even included. I also want to see Miss Thing get her own book, even if she doesn’t find a new love. If it is only about her life now, I’d be happy with that. And now, with the introduction of the La Di Da store, I want to see Henny get her own story as well as see Pierre get his own story. I hope he will now be added to the series, even if it is just as a side-character in the future books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer currently writes fun contemporary romance with a Southern flair for St. Martin’s Press. She lives where she grew up–in the Lowcountry of South Carolina–with her family.

Find the author: Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Review: One True Pairing

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: One True Pairing
Author: Cathy Yardley
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: July 2017
Length: 200 pages
Series?: Fandom Hearts #2
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance

They couldn’t be more opposite, the Hollywood actor and the hometown girl, but all they need is a little convention magic to become the perfect ship in Cathy Yardley’s One True Pairing.

Jake Reese needs a decoy girlfriend. Fast. The lead actor of the popular TV show, Mystics, is tired of losing his shirt to overeager fans. Literally. Which is why a chance meeting with gothabilly bookworm-slash-barista Hailey Frost seems almost too perfect to be true. Hailey is not impressed with his TV fame and is desperate to save her family’s bookstore. It’s a match made in Hollywood, but as the two pretend to date, fan fiction becomes reality. Can this OTP become canon?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Jake Reese is the (illegitimate) son of  Hollywood (Lothario) legend. Unlike his famous father staring on the big screen, Jake plays Rick on the cable TV sci-fi show Mystics, featuring Knights Templar. The contract negotiations are upcoming, and Jake is attending his first convention with his costars Simon and Miles. To boost his Q Score and have his contract renewed, he agrees to a VIP event. Just him and a gaggle of grown women fangirling like no tomorrow. Unfortunately, Jake went in solo. No costars, no bodyguards, and ends up running for his life after the group of women turn into an attack pack and begin ripping clothes. On the run, Jake detours into a coffee shop and dives behind the counter.

A startled Hailey Frost isn’t given any time to react when the pack runs into the shop. Playing along, she covers for Jake and sends the crazies on their way. Working two jobs at the shop and casino to support her sisters and the family’s struggling bookstore, Hailey isn’t a nondescript barista to forget easily. She’s an ex-grifter with the pinup body decked out in rockabilly goth.

The attraction is instantaneous, and Jake is in another bind. There are no hotel rooms available anywhere nearby. Working at the casino, Hailey gets a room every so often for her own pleasurable escapades. Strictly against relationships, connections, and feelings, she only invests in white-hot nights. About to have one with the famous star, they are interrupted when Hailey’s sister Cressida has an episode.

Suffering from acute agoraphobia, Cressida needs the family’s bookstore to feel secure and support herself. In the red consistently, the Frost sisters are in danger of being kicked out of their beloved home if the bookstore doesn’t get a major influx soon. With this in mind and the convention in town, Hailey proposes a fake relationship between a hot star and a fan. It will boost his Q Score and garner media attention, putting pressure on producers to renew his contract, and in exchange Hailey’s bookstore gets a Jake Reese appearance while the convention fans are still in town. The promo works for the both of them…until issues crop up.

The bookstore’s success rides on Jake’s appearance, and their hallway tete-a-tete doesn’t make the splash they had hoped. With a rocking body, Hailey’s hallway make-out session isn’t seen as a sweet couple. Jake’s agent and his dad both have other plans for his career. Things start to go south quickly, except for the mutual attraction.

Jake’s costars, Simon and Miles, are a humorous pair. They are great friends to Jake, whom they want to keep around on the show. Even as side characters, they were genuine and real. I enjoyed the characters and the ending, bringing more depth and breadth to Jake’s character.

The pacing was well-timed and kept the plot moving along. The classic trope of star and nobody was the central driving force that propelled both Jake and Hailey to obtain their goals, even with other issues that cropped up. There is a surprising double-crossing was the only unpredictable element to the novel. Overall, the story was enjoyable but I was expecting something a little more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cathy Yardley needs to get out more. When not writing, she is probably cruising the Internet, sleeping or watching D-list movies and adding to her unnatural mental store of character-actor trivia. She is a closet fangirl for Supernatural, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and too many others to name. Her family is considering performing an intervention for her addiction to pop culture. Want to read more of her writing? Sign up for her notification list, and get a free novella, Hooked, from the Fandom Hearts series!

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Saturdays at Sweeney’s

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Saturdays at Sweeney’s
Author: Ashley Farley
Publisher: Kindle Press
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 250 pages
Series?: Sweeney Sisters #5
Genre: Women’s Fiction

When the seafood business Lovie Sweeney established sixty years ago is destroyed by fire, she finds herself at the center of an arson investigation. What really happened that night? Is Lovie responsible for starting the fire or is her family under attack from a sworn enemy?

The loss of their family business leaves the Sweeney clan in flux. Samantha faces the challenges of rebuilding the market while her son, Jamie, on track to graduate from college in six months, must decide whether to make his permanent home in Prospect or move to Charleston where a new special someone resides. At age forty-five, Faith, who has never fully recovered from an abusive marriage, is on a quest to find her true passion? Jackie is distraught when her son, Sean, flunks out of college and struggles to find direction in his life without his twin brother to guide him. A medical diagnosis brings the sisters closer together and threatens to change family dynamics forever.

The Sweeney women remind us that it’s never too late to begin a new endeavor and to never stop chasing your dreams until you draw your last breath.

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my review

My Thoughts 

I thought this would be a great book to start the off the year. I was shocked to realize it’s the final book in the series and the first one I’ve read! The author brings readers up to speed, though. Reading about the Sweeney sisters and their families in Prospect made me think this is the perfect kind of small town dysfunctional heaven. There were a wide range of events happening and packaged all in this book with the cute cover: a family’s battle living with Alzheimer’s, the family business being destroyed, family secrets, alcoholism and recovery, drug abuse and therapy, younger generations starting their college pathways, a strange mystery of occurrences, and a sleazy tabloid writer. It didn’t shy away from those hard topics – it faced them head-on.

Each family member has his or her own spotlight throughout the book to continue the narration and plot.Each of the Sweeney sisters had their own secret to hide and each of those things continued to build up the tension and draw out the suspense, while their children are also struggling to move forward in their lives.

The book begins with Sweeney’s Seafood Market on fire. The preliminary report points to a lightning strike, but further investigation reveals arson. The fire department is reluctant to point fingers, but it must be noted that Lovie Sweeney was at the scene before the fire department arrived. She couldn’t answer their questions and becomes the lone suspect.

As Faith planned to step away from the business and leave it to Sam, she and her son Jamie must decide what their next move with the family business will be. Is this a total loss or a new beginning? Jaimie’s entire summer plan was to work at Sweeney’s. It is looking dismal with Lovie being the center of the fire investigation. The insurance won’t pay out in the event of arson.

Sam’s husband Eli must recuse himself from the investigation, but is right there alongside it every step of the way to ensure it is executed properly. From day one, it is not. It results in further disorientation from Lovie, who doesn’t seem to know who Eli is. She is living in the past, and Sam is still with Allen. Concerned for her well-being, the sisters remove their mother from her townhouse and install her in Faith’s home. With no job to report to every day, and stuck in limbo with the direction her life should now take, Faith readily volunteers to be caretaker extraordinaire for their mother. Lovie’s mental faculties continue to decline, and soon she is becoming combative and hard to care for.

Suddenly dead animals begin showing up on the sisters’ doorsteps, with their mother’s hand-written recipes attached. Whoever set the fire is taunting the Sweeney girls. Faith quickly discovers who the true culprit is, but she never shares that information with her sisters or even her husband. Instead, she does what she wants to and ultimately puts her mother and daughter at risk.

The oldest sister, Jackie, is busy running her interior design business and looking to expand. Spending much of the week out of town, she is disconnected with the family. After trying to convince her sisters to place their mother in an amazing care facility, she is kind of on the outs. She is struggling to keep customers happy, sell her current location, and purchase a new showroom. Meanwhile, one of her sons is arrested on drug charges. Additionally, he is kicked out of Jackie’s alma matter for straight failing grades his freshman year. He is brought back home and everything about it is kept a secret.

Jamie is tasked with babysitting Sean and they both get jobs at a local restaurant. In the time the boys aren’t working the restaurant, they are out catching crabs and selling on the site of their burned family business on Saturdays. Soon, Jamie connects with his half-sister and goes to work with her catering company.

This is the story of real life that real families face every day. It was eye-opening to family, loyalty, love, motivation, distrust, secrets, fear. It is also a wonderful example of how important it is to be understanding and supportive of your loved ones going through tough trying situations. I connected so well with this family and fell in love with them. I definitely want to go back and read the first four books in the series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley is a wife and mother of two young adult children. While she’s lived in Richmond, Virginia for the past 21 years, part of her heart remains in the salty marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry where she grew up. Through the eyes of her characters, she’s able to experience the moss-draped trees, delectable cuisine, and kind-hearted folks with lazy drawls that make the area so unique.

Ashley Farley writes books about women for women. Her characters are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives facing real-life issues. Her goal is to keep you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning. If her story stays with you long after you’ve read the last word, then she’s done her job.

After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshipped, the man she could not save.

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Review: Hope at Christmas

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Hope at Christmas
Author: Nancy Naigle
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 342 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

A recently divorced woman and her daughter look for a fresh start by moving to a small town that embraces them in ways that only fate and the magic of Christmas can explain.

Sydney Ragsdale is divorced, but her husband is still calling the shots. In an attempt to shake free from his hold, she and her daughter, Ray Anne, head for tiny Hopewell, NC to the only asset her ex has no control over – a decaying farmhouse that once belonged to her grandparents. She finds solace at The Book Bea, the bookstore she’d loved as a child during her summer stays.

Kevin MacAlea, Mac to his friends, is the local high school history teacher and baseball coach. Father of a twelve-year-old son, he’s Hopewell, North Carolina’s most sought-after bachelor. His young bride abandoned him and his son just before Christmas and has never come back. It has left his son bitter about Christmas which is hard for Mac who loves the magic of the season. He’s been the Santa here in Hopewell since the year Seth was born.

But when catastrophe forces The Book Bea to close before the end of the year, everyone in the small town is feeling the loss. While Sydney is already off-balance by the bad news, her ex-husband breaks a promise to their daughter that sends Ray Anne running away. As Sydney tries to figure out what her next steps are she discovers all of the answers are right here in Hopewell.

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my review

My Thoughts 

This is a sweet, clean holiday romance read. Reeling from her husband’s infidelity and request for a divorce, Sydney Ragsdale packs up what is left of her Atlanta life and takes her daughter to Hopewell, North Carolina. The old farmhouse where she spent her summers with her grandparents was never a vacation option on her husband’s list, and the inherited property has been ignored for years. Making the move means giving up a lot of luxuries and also facing the full force of her daughter’s anger.

RayAnne Ragsdale is the classic daddy’s girl and she is not happy with her parents splitting up. Moving to smalltown Hopewell means leaving her dad and his money and extravagant gifts behind. She wheedles every chance she can to just get her mother to go back home, not knowing the full ramifications of her parent’s separation.

Sydney does everything she can to protect her daughter while maintaining the meager funds she has until her new job starts in the new year. Meanwhile, she will spend the holidays alone in Hopewell once RayAnne goes with her dad on a ski trip, a newfound interest of his after years of never wanting to travel anywhere.

Upon her return, Sydney steps into The Book Bea, the local and longtime bookstore run by Bea. Sydney remembers Bea from her own childhood spent in The Book Bea where Sydney met and befriended Diane. On her first visit back, Bea reveals she could use some assistance in the store. Having nothing but time on her hands until her new job after the holidays, Sydney volunteers to help out. Being in the bookstore with Bea brings out so many of the good qualities in Sydney that I admired about her.

Bea is the little old lady in town that is adored by all. I found such strength and wisdom in Bea’s character, who found joy in finding just the right book for all of the readers who happened upon The Book Bea. While Bea is busy finding books, she is also astute in the language of love. While Sydney is looking for a soft place to land, Bea knows Kein MacAlea, known as Mac, is where Sydney needs to end up.

Mac is a divorced teacher and coach with his own teen boy, Seth, who has a hate relationship with Christmas. Residual side effects of his mother’s abandonment. What few in town know is Mac plays the local Santa every year and he has quite a knack for it.

Just as Sydney fell in love with Hopewell and its smalltown feel and community, so did I as a reader. Her childhood friend Diane is still in town, married with two kids, and their daughters bond as Sydney and Diane reconnect. RayAnne and Seth also find themselves to be two peas in a pod and their friendship was adorable to watch blossom. RayAnne’s anger and emotional yo-yo-ing from her dad lead her into some situations and Seth is the best of friends and doesn’t turn his back on her. It was a great testament to another strong friendship.

As Sydney and RayAnne settle into Hopewell and the holidays look, Mac and Seth continue to make them welcome in town. As Sydney and Mac spend more and more time together, she fights the doubts and staggers on the realization she is not ready for a new relationship. Seeing the great things in front of Sydney and her denying them was frustrating, especially lying to her daughter about not seeing Mac and Seth.

Sydney was a mix of a character. At times, I did not like her at all because she seemed she didn’t have a backbone when it came to her husband or her daughter’s whiny rants. It definitely gave credence to her last name because they both ragged on her more than she should have put up with considering how strong she really is.

There was some manufactured drama toward the end that allowed things to be tied up nice and neat and smooth. It kind of felt like a betrayal a reader after falling in love with the town and characters. I think the ending still could have happened without one particular event. The following chain of events and reactions didn’t seem genuine to the magnitude of what happened. It seemed like a disservice on behalf of all the characters involved, and that was disappointing.

Overall a great Christmas read I definitely recommend!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

With a career spent on the cutting edge of technology in the banking industry, she never let go of her dream to write. Now she works full-time writing stories that are a calming blend of community, family, and the simple things in life. She writes the kind of stories she hopes will provide an escape from the hectic day-to-day in the make-believe worlds she creates.

Aside from writing she enjoys hunting for treasures in junk and antique shops, and getting crafty no matter what the medium from painting and digitizing embroidery designs, to weaving pine needle baskets.

A Virginia native, and spending most of her life in the Tidewater area, she now calls North Carolina home.

Find the author: GoodreadsWebsite | Facebook | Twitter 

Review: No Place Like You

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: No Place Like You
Author: Emma Douglas
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: December 2017
Length: 304 pages
Series?: Cloud Bay #3
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Home–in the island village of Cloud Bay–is where the heart is. . .

Leah Santelli always knew that Zach Harper, son of a rock legend and her best friend’s brother, was painfully out of reach. Then, on the night of her eighteenth birthday, Leah shocked herself by asking for–and receiving–the gift she wanted: one night of passion with Zach before he left town to pursue his rock star dreams. Now, years later, Zach is back in Cloud Bay to record his first solo album. His return could also be Leah’s big chance to step up her own music career. But getting the producing credit she needs means spending long hours with Zach in the recording studio…and falling back into the habit of longing for him, for better or worse.

Zach used to believe that a man must put his past behind him. But coming back home for Cloud Bay’s famed music festival has allowed him to finally make amends with his family and, much to his surprise, reunite with Leah. He might have left her once but now it seems he can’t stay away. Trouble is, even though the heat between them burns hotter than ever, Leah has old wounds in need of healing before she can give Zach a real chance. Can he find a way to convince her that they can make more than just great music together–and that she’s the one that he wants for all time?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Zach Harper, son of the late Gery Harper and leader of the rock band Blacklight, is working hard to establish his own way in the world. After his band leader breaks the band up to “find himself,” Zach returns home to Lansing Island and Cloud Bay. With at least a year off, he plans to make his own music and launch a solo album. Returning home won’t be an easy landing after his six years away. Six years in which he ditched his sister and their musical career when his father fell ill, joined another band to continue moving his career forward, and being a no-show with no word at the family music festival, Cloud Fest, on the island the year before. Essentially, Zach has done everything he could to ignore his family and advance his own musical career.

While making amends with his sisters, Faith and Mina, and stepmother Lou, Zach also finds himself being a jerk to the Grey studio sound engineer, Leah. The girl-next-door type of girl, Leah grew up on the island living on the fringes of the Grey Harper family. Her father served as his sound engineer and she spent many days on at the Harper studio.  Now she is following in her own father’s footsteps while Zach is trying to make his name and his own way, no matter who he has to use or step over or leave out to make it happen.

Just like he did 10 years ago when he loved and left Leah on her 18th birthday. Not that she is holding a grudge – she knew he was leaving but she wanted her night with him anyway. Since then Leah Santelli has lived her own life. She married and later divorced, and she is happy with her life. Now she is trying to get her own music career as a producer off the ground. Zach’s return home and solo album is the perfect project to launch her own career.

First, Zach totally rebuffs the idea of Leah the unknown nobody making his album. Despite knowing him well and knowing his music well, Zach wants a big wig to produce his music. After being turned down by his dream producer and having another mangle his vision, he slinks back to Leah, who is doing some amazing work with one of Faith’s newfound female artists.

As their professional career flourishes, Leah and Zach find themselves in the conundrum of the personal creeping in. Once again, Leah proposes a liaison. This time, though, a friends with benefits relationship. She knows once the album is finished he’ll be leaving again, but she’ll spend her time with him while she can.

I loved Leah’s character. She is strong and spunky and has an equal measure of compassion for others and also herself. She has her own dreams that aren’t shadowed by a relationship. I didn’t like that Zach called most of the shots. He makes himself look like a huge jerk. While Leah is in charge of the studio, she is also doing her best work as a producer and has her sights set on a bigger project after Zach’ album.

With Cloud Fest, the music fest his father started decades ago, on the horizon for Lansing Island and Cloud Bay, Zach is betting on the secret slot to launch his new music and create some buzz and publicity. Suddenly, one of his father’s bandmates and father of his best friend, swoops in and steals the secret slot from under him. There is lots of drama revolving around those issues that throw Zach out of kilter. In some form of retribution, Zach is offered the producer of a lifetime.

Zach has continually put his desires for his career above his family and friends for years and years. He has everything at his fingertips, but can only pick one dream.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emma Douglas has read like a wild thing since she was small. She discovered romance novels at an age that way probably way too young but she survived unscathed. When she realized you could make up stories as well as read them, she started taking notes about what the characters wandering through her head were telling her and then, eventually, books happened.

Before the books happened she did the usual things (was a band geek (and a geek generally), had crushes on rock stars and fictional characters, spent chunks of her summers on an island beach, got a degree in something sensible that doesn’t involve writing about kissing, became a black belt in internet procrastination, fell down the rabbit-hole of craft, traveled a bit, indulged her love of baked goods, got bossed around by cats, began a quest for the perfect margarita, and napped to recover from all of the above.

She still does most of that plus the writing thing from a tiny house which her feline overlords have kindly agreed to share with her.

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Review: A Season of You

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: A Season of You
Author: Emma Douglas
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 293 pages
Series?: Cloud Bay #2
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

It’s Christmastime in the quaint island town of Cloud Bay, where love is always in season…

Will Fraser has believed in love at first sight since the day he first laid eyes on Mina Harper five years ago. There was only one problem: She was happily married. Then, when Mina’s husband was killed by a drunk driver, Will figured she’d want nothing to do with a guy who owns a whiskey distillery. So he’s kept his feelings locked away, knowing that not even a Christmas miracle would be enough to melt Mina’s heart. . . Mina believes her days of true love are behind her. Since losing her husband she’s kept to herself, content to do her own painting and stay out of the limelight that comes with her famous family. But when, after a freak accident, Will comes to her rescue, Mina can’t quite get him out of her mind. As curiosity turns into a fling during Cloud Bay’s first Christmas Festival, she finds it harder to convince herself that her feelings for Will are just mistletoe-inspired. Could Mina be ready to lay the past to rest and finally admit that what she really wants for Christmas–and forever–is Will?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Ever since seeing Mina Harper waiting for the ferry five years ago, Will Fraser has believed in love at first sight. Will’s dreams with his dream girl were dashed when he discovered Mina was happily married. He set Mina out of his sights, but she was never far from mind. He continues to build his whiskey distillery business with his brother, Stefan, on Lansing Island. The Salt Devil is waiting for its first barrels to ready, and run a bar to ensure continual capital in the meantime.

Fast forward five years and Mina has experienced more loss than someone her age should. She lost her infamous and legendary rock star father to cancer, and shortly after she lost her beloved husband to a drunk driver. A drunk driver leaving Will and Stefan’s bar. While Will is responsible for all the accounting of the distillery and bar, those numbers just don’t add up in his favor. He’d never even stand a chance of getting more than a perfunctory greeting in passing from Mina Harper.

With winter weather settling in, Mina is cursing her bad fortune with a flat tire late one night. With a mishap and misstep, Mina goes down hard. With Will’s late nights, he notices the car pulled to the side of the road and then the sudden wild wielding of a flashlight slicing through the dark and takes himself out to investigate. He discovers Mina lying on the ground with a gash on her head. Bundling her and her lab Stewie into his rebuilt Mustang, he takes her to the hospital. Being discharged, Will is tasked with taking care of Mina throughout the night.

Lansing Island is home to the Harper family and her father’s Blacklight bandmates. They basically have their own compounds on the island, monitored by high tech security and everything. Her older brother Zach is off touring and her older sister Faith is still on the island and newly married. Lou, her father’s second wife and Lou’s mother, is the self-proclaimed mother to all three of the Harper kids.

Like Rapunzel in her tower, Mina hardens her heart and locks herself in her lighthouse when the storms of life are too much. Trying just to cope and survive the day to day, for the last few years Mina has been serving as the night shift for the island’s search and rescue operations. While it is an unpaid, voluntary position, Mina doesn’t need the money after her inheritance. She does it to serve a purpose and to chase away her own demons. She enjoys the solitude of the night, it keeps her from fighting her PTSD and sleeping at night, and she can take her dog Stewie. Every morning she returns to the lighthouse on the Harper compound and spends the morning hours using the fabulous light to paint by. She has an upcoming art show in LA that she is furiously working to finish paintings for. It is the first thing she will do on her own – out from her father’s famous name. She is set to send 30 ocean seascapes to the gallery, but that night with Will has her doing nothing but thinking of drawing his face, his hands. Him. It is a distraction she can’t afford right now, and a risk she can’t take.

When Mina’s boss tasks her with attending and aiding in the annual Christmas Festival, Mina is in weekly contact with the mayor, Angie, and Will. The mayor has set her sights on belittling the Harper family after her father starts dating Lou, Mina’s step-mom. While I feel there is much more to Angie’s anger, I enjoyed Mina and Angie’s own father setting her straight from her witchy words.

But mistlefoes change sides when the mistletoe is hung, and soon Will finds himself getting the opening he’s always been hoping for. Mina sets the boundaries that this relationship is only temporary. Will bets on Mina letting her self-imposed parameters fall away as the days and nights go on. Will understands Mina’s insecurities and also respects her feelings, doing everything he can to help her. In their time together, Mina learns there is so much more to Will than whiskey. Despite living on the island, he has a terrible fear of the water. But it’s not the water that destroys his relationship with Mina. The differences in their lives – Will working for everything he has, putting everything into The Salt Devil and Mina having everything at her fingertip’s courtesy of her daddy’s millions – rend a tear in the fabric of what they were building together.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emma Douglas has read like a wild thing since she was small. She discovered romance novels at an age that way probably way too young but she survived unscathed. When she realized you could make up stories as well as read them, she started taking notes about what the characters wandering through her head were telling her and then, eventually, books happened.

Before the books happened she did the usual things (was a band geek (and a geek generally), had crushes on rock stars and fictional characters, spent chunks of her summers on an island beach, got a degree in something sensible that doesn’t involve writing about kissing, became a black belt in internet procrastination, fell down the rabbit-hole of craft, traveled a bit, indulged her love of baked goods, got bossed around by cats, began a quest for the perfect margarita, and napped to recover from all of the above.

She still does most of that plus the writing thing from a tiny house which her feline overlords have kindly agreed to share with her.

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Review: Deck the Halls

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Deck the Halls
Author: Donna Alward
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 128 pages
Series?: Darling, VT #3.5
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

In the last year, George’s life has drastically changed. The formerly homeless veteran now has a job he likes, a family in the residents of Darling, VT, and for the first time in years, a home. But while his present is good, he’s still haunted by the past, a past that appears shortly before Christmas when the older sister of his brother-in-arms hunts him down and finds him in Darling, working at the Ladybug Garden Center.

Amy’s looking for closure for her family after her brother’s death in the Middle East, but the serious man she finds working in Vermont doesn’t resemble the soldier she remembers from years before. This man is hardened and yet somehow fragile, too, and in her desire to find out what really happened to her brother, she learns more about George than she ever expected.

With a little Christmas magic and the whole town supporting them, can these two bruised hearts make a future together?

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my review

My Thoughts 

This installment in the Darling, VT series focuses on George. Homeless and a vagrant when helped by Aiden and Laurel, he has been working at The Ladybug Garden Center for a while now. With the help of his new friends and a compassionate town, he now has his own little apartment. Despite his good fortune, he still suffers from his past that landed him on the streets. Like many veterans today, George lost his best friend in combat. Returning home to face his friend’s family was impossible. He didn’t keep his friend safe, and he lost his life because of George. Instead, George returned home and followed a few different paths before landing on the streets.

Fifteen years later, the twin sister of George’s friend finds him at The Ladybug. Amy shows up just weeks before Christmas following her own disaster of a divorce. George isn’t ready to face Amy – or the nightmares she brings back. While Amy is looking for closure for herself and her family, George cannot go back to that dark place. The guilt and PTSD kept George from contacting Amy’s family all these years. Amy is not leaving town until she can get George to share her brother’s final days and minutes of his life.

I loved the Christmas setting! Amy is installed in a rented farmhouse for her visit, and she does her best to spruce it and make it ready for the holiday away from home. George is making holiday wreaths at the Garden Center. Together they go shopping and decorate George’s apartment for Christmas, including a little tree. The cheer and moments that reminded me of the season helped to alleviate some of the pain you felt for George and Amy and all they lost.

I applaud Donna Alward for writing about the reality that many veterans face when they return to the United States after serving a hard deployment. This is just a touch of what it is like to live with the horrors they have seen while serving their country. PTSD is the silent killer of 22 veterans per day who take their own lives. Coming home from war, a six-month deployment on a ship, or simply transitioning from a life in uniform to a life without one, can be difficult and the various state and federal systems set up to deal with this transition and life after military services are unable to meet the need. The challenges of adjustment and transition, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and physical disabilities, all need to be addressed especially as these things result in barriers to education, employment, healthcare, and overall individual well-being. There are just too many gaps in the system and our veterans suffer.

With George and Amy having a shared past and connection, it was easy to see they would be drawn to one another. While there is no moving on from a veteran’s past, they are able to move forward with their lives. Amy found herself wanting to be part of George’s moving forward.

The running theme throughout the book is second chances, and the heartwarming love and friendship from Amy really made those second chances possible beyond what George already had.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

marti-corn-photography-donna-alward-h-r-1600While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers!

Donna lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict.

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