Review: Unmasking Juliet

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Unmasking Juliet
Author: Teri Wilson
Publisher: Green Darner Press
Release Date: May 2014
Length: 368 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Retelling, Contemporary

Ever since she was a little girl learning to make decadent truffles in her family’s chocolate shop, Juliet Arabella has been aware of the bitter feud between the Arabellas and the Mezzanottes. With their rival chocolate boutiques on the same street in Napa Valley, these families never mix. Until one night, when Juliet anonymously attends the annual masquerade ball. In a moonlit vineyard, she finds herself falling for a gorgeous stranger, a man who reminds her what passion is like outside of the kitchen. But her bliss is short-lived when she discovers her masked prince is actually Leo Mezzanotte, newly returned from Paris and the heir to her archenemy’s confection dynasty.

With her mind in a whirl, Juliet leaves for Italy to represent the Arabellas in a prestigious chocolate competition. The prize money will help her family’s struggling business, and Juliet figures it’s a perfect opportunity to forget Leo…only to find him already there and gunning for victory. As they compete head-to-head, Leo and Juliet’s fervent attraction boils over. But Juliet’s not sure whether to trust her adversary, or give up on the sweetest love she’s ever tasted…

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my review

My Thoughts 

This is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet set in a feuding chocolatier’s world. A decades-old disagreement and theft has put a rift between the Arabella and Mezzanotte families that has been fanned into flames just as much as the forbidden love between dutiful Juliet Arabella and newly returned Leo Mezzanotte.

There is a growing passion between the two that is sweet, endearing, tear-jerking, feisty. And forbidden.

The book is filled with personality! All of which were realistic but also binge-worthy. That awful behavior you just can’t stop watching – all because of the betrayal and hatred springing from the feud. Juliet Arabella is a dutiful daughter to her family and the family business, The Chocolate Boutique. The isolation is beginning to outweigh the love she has for her job. She is also manipulated by a controlling mother, to whom everyone in the family defers to and does her bidding, no matter how ludicrous. Her father and brother also add to the pressure like a couple of mob bosses. All of the conflict and hatred begins to boil over for Juliet’s saucepan. She wants to take a stand for herself and what she wants, but it is a hard task with her busybody, no-nonsense family.

Leo Mezzanotte is a very manly guy who has just come off of a plane from Paris and a broken engagement. Despite his mindset to reject any type of commitment – almost including to his family’s chocolate business  after the duplicity and deceitful means in which they tricked him there by – he is a man full of love, kindness, and compassion in addition to his masterful chocolate skills.

Leo seemed to struggle more with internal conflicts than Juliet did. From the beginning, he was a take-stand character. Whereas that is what Juliet said she wanted, but her actions didn’t really show it at all. The only real stand she took was at the very end of the book in Rome in the final pages.

The supporting cast of characters added depth, humor, and disbelief to this family-feuding story. There is Alegra, Juliet’s cousin taken in by her family who is like a sister, and a little more sympathetic to Juliet’s feelings. George Alcott III, the conceited gold digger heir to Royal Gourmet Distributors. Joe Mezzanotte, Leo’s almost-to-the-point-of-evil uncle. Gina, Leo’s mob wife-like sister and her husband Marco, who is just as much embroiled in the family feud he married into. All of these characters add to the mystifying family feud with their energy, passion and hatred.

The family rivalry was believable and engrossing. Juliet receives her grandmother’s recipe book, which also contained personal journal entries that detailed from her perspective how the feud began all those years ago with her best friend, the Mezzanotte grandmother. Leo does not believe in the feud. His attitude is “So what? It has nothing to do with us. We have no reason to hate each other.” Juliet shows him the recipe book and the entries. The final few entries take root in Leo’s heart. He does his best to make a concession and extend an olive branch to Juliet that she does not discover until the last few chapters of the book. It was incredibly sweet and a little tear-jerking, just like the ending.

Wilson is a master of the craft of detail. Some of the descriptions were so vivid and striking, especially those from the very beginning when Juliet and Leo meet in the sunflower garden at the masquerade ball. Such beauty! I almost want to buy a print copy of the book just to mark up those passages and keep around for the simple beauty of the carefully crafted writing.

This was my first book by Wilson, but it seems she has found her niche in carefully retelling classics in our contemporary world with her own flair and mark. I can’t wait to see which story she will re-spin next.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teri Wilson writes romance and women’s fiction for Harlequin and Gallery Books. Her novels UNLEASHING MR. DARCY and THE ART OF US are both now Hallmark Channel Original Movies, and her third Hallmark film, MARRYING MR. DARCY, is set to premiere on June 2.

Teri also writes an offbeat fashion column for the royal blog What Would Kate Do and is a frequent guest contributor for its sister site, Meghan’s Mirror. In 2017, she served as a national judge for the Miss United States pageant in Orlando, Florida, and has since judged in the Miss America system. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and good books.

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Review: A Devil in Scotland

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: A Devil in Scotland
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 311 pages
Series?: No Ordinary Hero #3
Genre: Historical, Romance

1806, Scotland: Wild, reckless Callum MacCreath is in no hurry to become someone’s husband. But when his responsible, steady older brother Ian announces his engagement to their childhood friend Rebecca, Callum makes a startling discovery: he wants the lovely young lass for himself. But it’s too late, and when Ian banishes him for his duplicity, he’s only too happy to leave Scotland forever.

1816: Marrying Ian was the practical, logical thing for Becca to do. But once Callum sailed away to America, she missed his rakish charm and lust for life. Now, ten years later, Becca is a widow when a much-changed Callum returns to his Scottish homeland. Will he remember their spirited, fiery connection, or does he blame her for his brother’s unexpected death? This time neither of them can deny their scorching attraction, but will their hearts be burned in the blazing heat of scandal?

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my review

My Thoughts 

This is the third book in the series and while it can be read as a stand alone, there will be confusion as to why in the prologue Callum threatens the Duke of Dunncraigh seemingly unprovoked. It is all made clear in the previous book, My One True Highlander. You can read my review here.

The prologue characterizes Callum MacCreath as a drunk womanizer. At the time, he was. Upon learning his childhood friend, Rebecca, is going to marry his older brother, he insists and then insults her to marry him. His behavior is so despicable that he is banished, at which time he threatens the Duke of Dunncraigh that if anything happens to his brother or Rebecca, he’d be coming for him. Callum makes his way to America, to Kentucky, and builds himself a whiskey empire in his decade-long absence. During this time, Ian MacCreath sends continuous letters to Callum that are ignored. Never hearing word from him, Rebecca accepts the help and friendship of the Duke and his son after her husband’s death, soon followed by the loss of her father. The Duke and his son have set their sites on the widow and her home.

Everything they thought would happen comes to an abrupt halt when Callum does return to claim his inheritance. Despite burning every unopened letter from Ian, Callum cannot ignore a news story about his brother’s death. His brother’s death that he finds highly suspicious.

With his return, Callum does find that his brother and Rebecca had an enjoyable life. The inquisitive Mags, their daughter, is just as determined as her newly discovered uncle. It takes Callum aback. He wants to do nothing but kill the murderers and avenge his brother, despite their disagreement and Callum’s long-held anger. Though she was the love of his childhood, Callum does not trust Rebecca or her innocent act and he treats her so. While he firmly believes he knows his brother was murdered, nobody else does. It appears that Callum is still the hot-headed, irrational young man he left Scotland as. Rebecca refuses to leave without her daughter, and Callum will not allow Mags to be taken away, so they have to find a way to live together. As Callum continues to be present in her home, the feelings they had both let go of a decade ago resurface. Callum knows he must convince her and protect her, and prove himself to her that he is not the impulsive, reckless idiot that he was before. She does concede that if Callum can find proof that Ian was murdered, she will support him.

Rebecca’s choices made sense. She chose the reliable older brother, rather than the brash younger brother. When he returns, Rebecca is also suspicious of him. Regardless of her suspicions of Callum, he wins the heart of not only Mags, but also several members of the household. He is tenderly attached to Mags, who adores him and his wolf Waya. The wolf pack have been together since he nursed Waya back to health as a pup. Like Callum, Waya is ferociously protective and loyal. Rebecca’s heart begins to warm to the prospect of having him around. At first she was stringently against levirate marriage – something Callum brings up a several times – but as their situation continues, her unease grows.

When it becomes clear that Callum is on to something and his notion of murder is not as far-fetched as everyone believes, he must choose between building a life with her over his striking vengeance. It is not an easy choice, and Callum struggles heavily under the weight of what he must do. The evidence has finally been uncovered and things seem to fall into place. Until a desperate Dunncraigh inserts himself and takes drastic measures to steal the hope for their future.

I loved the way Callum and Rebecca fell into love together, despite (or maybe in spite of?) the surrounding circumstances. I adored Mags and her delightful “wolf pack”. They all fell into family life so easily and naturally. A fast-paced, conflict-filled story that is hard to pass up!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne was born in Southern California sometime in the latter half of the 20th century. In the way that some people are born knowing they want to be astronauts or cellists, Suzanne always knew she wanted to be a writer. Early dreams of becoming a zoologist and writing true stories about her adventures in Africa were crushed, however, after she viewed a television special about the world’s most poisonous snakes; she did NOT want to write about how she’d been bitten and lost a limb to a cobra. Thankfully at the same time the movie “Star Wars” premiered, and she realized that she could make up adventures and write about them, and not be eaten by deadly predators while doing research.

She dabbled in romantic fantasy writing for a year or two after graduating with a degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, until her affection for traditional Regency romances led her to write one for fun. After several encouraging rejections from publishers, she snared the interest of the world’s best and most patient literary agent, who advised her to revise the manuscript. This ultimately led to the publication of her first book, The Black Duke’s Prize, from Avon Books in the Spring of 1995.

Suzanne is known for her humorous characters, sexy bad boys, and whip-sharp, witty dialogue. She currently resides in Placentia, California with several hundred guppies and various other tropical fish, and handful of very loud, spinach-loving finches. And her collection of action figures and statues from “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings”, “X-Men”, and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Everybody needs some inspiration, after all.

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Review: Wallflower Most Wanted

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Wallflower Most Wanted
Author: Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 307 pages
Series?: Studies in Scandal #3
Genre: Historical, Romance

A dedicated painter, Miss Sophia Hastings is far more concerned with finding the right slant of light than in finding Mr. Right. But when an overhead conversation hints at danger for another local artist, Sophia is determined to get involved. Even it means accepting help from an impossibly good-looking vicar who insists on joining her investigation—and threatens to capture her heart…

Reverend Lord Benedick Lisle knows that Sophia is no damsel in distress. But he won’t allow her to venture into peril alone, either. . .especially since he finds Sophia’s curious, free-spirited nature so alluring. But protecting her from harm is becoming more difficult than the vicar could have expected as he and Sophia confront their fiery mutual passion. Who could have known that the art of love would prove so irresistible?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Sophia Hastings is one of four bluestocking women who inherit Lady Celeste Beauchamp’s home. She leaves behind a letter and clues for each woman in the vein of their strengths. For Sophia, it is artwork. Sophia is a talented painter, as was Lady Celeste. Unfortunately, Sophia’s letter is delayed in reaching her until well into the story.

One unusually early morning Sophia is on the cliffside painting. She gets so engrossed in her work, she tumbles off the cliff to the beach below. Reverend Lord Benedick Lisle, the local vicar, is walking on the beach when he sees Miss Hastings plummet. The two overhear an indiscreet conversation about killing off an artist in some nefarious undertakings. Determined to collectively get to the bottom of the matter, the two spend more time together to puzzle things out.

Being the second son of a duke, Ben knew he was destined for the army or the church. Having no penchant for war, and visiting the properties with his mother as a child, Ben enjoys helping others, so the church was the best choice. While he leads his flock and offers comfort, he takes no interest in the politics of the church. While I don’t typically think of men of the cloth as men to be desired, I suppose a good-looking man can be.

When newcomer Peter Morgan, an industrialist, begins making big waves in Little Seaford, quickly followed by personal and professional attacks against Sophia Hastings. Her artwork is reputed to be obscene and unfit for sensible ladies, even those not of the nobility, too look upon…much less Sophia paint. She is a woman who cares about the social issues that run rampant in society, and she depicts such contrasts in social class in her art.

The sexism is very much alive in this installment in the series, and Peter Morgan calls in everyone up the line he can think of. When Ben will not aid him in his cause to have Sophia’s work removed from the upcoming art exhibit, he then pulls political strings and has the Bishop of Chichester to threaten Ben’s future.

One of Ben’s brothers pays a visit to Little Seaford and enlists Ben to assist the Home Office in investigating a forgery ring that’s operating in the are. With Sophia’s lifework revolving around art, and her contact with the local artist colony, she becomes an integral part of the investigation. As the investigation wears on, Ben and Sophia grow increasingly close and uncover a few key clues.

The mystery and suspense of the forgery and all involved kept me turning pages. I thought I had the forger pegged and I was adamant that I was right (just like Sophia). Then the possibility of two forgers surfaced and my theories all went downhill from there. The pacing of the book was just right and the cast of characters were interesting and gave some more insight into both Sophia and Ben’s relationships with their families.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Manda Collins spent her teen years wishing she’d been born a couple of centuries earlier, preferably in the English countryside. Time travel being what it is, she resigned herself to life with electricity and indoor plumbing, and read lots of books. An affinity for books led to a graduate degree in English, followed by another in Librarianship. By day, she works as an academic librarian at a small liberal arts college, where she teaches college students how to navigate the tangled world of academic research. A native of coastal Alabama, Manda lives in the house her mother grew up in with two cats, sometimes a dog, sometimes her sister, and always lots of books.

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Review: The Rogue is Back in Town

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Rogue is Back in Town
Author: Anna Bennett
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 352 pages
Series?: The Wayward Wallflowers #3
Genre: Historical, Romance

Equal parts scoundrel and seducer, he’s returned to London determined to mend the rift with his older brother. All Sam must do is take possession of a tumbledown town house. A seemingly simple task, except the house is occupied—by an infuriating, whip-smart beauty who refuses to do his bidding.

Miss Juliette Lacey’s wallflower days are over. She has a plan to turn her eccentric family into the toast of the ton—but the devilishly handsome rake trying to oust them from their home thwarts her at every turn. How can one man be so vexing andmake her simmer with desire?

As her attraction to Sam deepens, Julie’s problems grow—she may have, once upon a time, secretly shared a kiss with his honorable older brother. Suddenly, Julie’s caught between a rogue and a marquess, between passion and respectability. Torn between two brothers, what’s a girl to do?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Juliette Lacey is the final Wilting Wallflower, thus dubbed by her now brother-in-law. Surprisingly, that title didn’t come up too much in this final book in the series. Julie is not in a rush, trot, or even a meandering walk to find a husband for herself, in strike contrast to her uncle’s wishes. For now, she lives with her uncle (purported by the ton to be mad)  in his late wife’s townhouse and she cares for him and encourages him with his scientific work. To provide her uncle with a long-standing social interest for the rest of his life, she strikes a deal with him and helps him to that end. She will look for a husband after he has submitted his research to the Royal Society.

Little does she know love comes knocking so soon after that conversation when Lord Samuel Travis arrives on the doorstep to evict her and her uncle from the residence. Sam has recently returned from the continent in hopes of repairing his relationship with his older brother, Nigel. In the time since their father’s passing, who was the buffer between them, their relationship has been exceedingly rocky. Now to the point that Sam is turned out of every family property and no funds as a means to survive. Nigel orders him to remove the occupants of a property in town he discovered their father owned. Given no alternatives or resources, Sam tends to his task and is set on doing it.

Faced with this flustering news, Juliette refused to inform her uncle and refuses to leave. Sam decides to play a game and merely wait her out. Intent on proving the ownership belongs to her family, Juliette also behests Sam to request the deed from his brother to settle the matter. In the meantime, Juliette explains “Cousin Samuel’s” presence to every one in the household as coming to assist her uncle with his research. It is a new position that stupefies Sam, but ultimately he warms to the task and becomes an admirable assistant to “crazy” Alistair Wiltmore. At the same time, it warms Juliette’s heart to see her uncle interact in such positive ways.

Given the time, this would have been a highly improper and scandalous situation. For Nigel to even ask Sam to reside in the household with a young woman – married or not – seen over only by an elderly uncle is not something that would have likely have occurred. There are solicitors for that sort of business. The pretense of neither parties breathing a word of Sam’s stay is also unlikely, given Sam’s rakish nature.

The story is not without a villain, who is not one you would readily suspect. As the plot regarding the house moves further along, Sam begins to suspect he was sent merely to stir up trouble and create conflict in Juliette’s life. I was disappointed that this manipulative man wasn’t exposed and his reputation marred, especially considering the stark contrast between him and Sam.

I loved Julie’s uncle and all the places he shows up in the book. Alistair is an interesting character in many aspects. His love, devotion, and dedication to his wife even after all these years is something to be cherished and revered. While she may not grace their home anymore, she is still very much a part of his life. He keeps her memory alive. His research is also interesting, and he is a strong advocate against pollution of the Thames, which I feel was a novel concept of the time. Not something that was addressed, nor paid much heed. His elderly behavior and propensity for producing the wrong word at times makes him endearing and comical.

Juliette is a strong, independent woman. She is determined to solve problems on her own and vehemently refuses to call on her sisters or their husbands for assistance in the matter of the house. She is also pitted against and torn between the two brothers, Nigel and Sam. It seems her previous fancy of love isn’t love at all, and now she sees qualities in Sam that stir her emotions.

The plot is motivated by Nigel regarding the house, and through the course of the book the brothers are brought in stark contrast. They are incredible foils of one another. The perceptions of their personality and reputation by society and their true natures are in opposition, which Juliette discovers herself first-hand.

I enjoyed the conflict in the story, but I didn’t feel a burning love between Juliette and Sam. I think the circumstances and close quarters created a togetherness that otherwise wouldn’t have existed if Sam was lodging elsewhere and only visiting in the daytime to keep up the ruse of being Alistair’s assistant. In the end, the matter of home ownership is resolved, but there were a couple of dicey moments where I did think all was going to be lost and Juliette and Alistair would be living with one of her sisters.

Overall, a story with high conflict that is plot-driven. The two main characters are volatile in their reactions to one another, and Alistair provides humor and that hint of love that he so desperately wants for Juliette.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided historicals (with their balls, dukes, and gowns) were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.

Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® for Regency Historical Romance. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Her weaknesses include reality TV, cute shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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Review: The Scandalous Flirt

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Scandalous Flirt
Author: Olivia Drake
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 352 pages
Series?: Cinderella Sisterhood #6
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Aurora Paxton was once the belle of the ball, the most sought-after debutante of the season―until a scandalous mistake ruined her. Shunned by her family, Rory was banished to the country to live in disgrace. Now she’s been summoned back to London by her stepmother, who is being blackmailed by the least likely person Rory can imagine: Lucas Vale, Marquess of Dashell.

Lucas is someone Rory’s known for years―a man as devastatingly handsome as he is coldly disapproving of her. What in the world could he want from her or her family? Rory intends to find out as soon as she comes face to face with her old foe. What she never expects, however, is that the icy aristocrat has a soft spot for her―and a secret plan to redeem her status. Could it be that Lucas has been in love with Rory all along. . .and has finally found a way to win her heart?

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my review

My Thoughts 

This novel tries to imitate Sleeping Beauty, although soon the references disseminate within a few chapters. The main character is Aurora Paxton, Rory for short. She pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and lives in the country away from society. After being exiled eight years ago following a scandal that near ruined her family, Rory is now tricked into returning to London after learning her stepmother is being blackmailed and her younger sister is engaged to an old codger of a duke. Rory receives ruby red slippers from Lady Milford, the bearer of the bad news.

Upon her arrival in London, Rory discovers her stepmother hasn’t changed a lick, despite the years that have passed and the death of Rory’s father. Her stepmother is steadfast that Lucas Vale, the Marquess of Dashell, is the blackmailer, holding a packet of secret love letters between his father and Rory’s stepmother. Rory strikes a deal – if she can return the stolen items that are the source of frantic scandal – Rory will receive a third of her dowry, money she desperately needs to sustain her and her aunt in their cottage in the country.

Rory immediately sets out to become the companion to the Marchioness, reputed to be incorrigible and going through companions like fresh knickers due to her horrendous nature and behavior.  It will be easy to recover the scandalous letters if she’s under the same roof where they are hidden. During her search for the mysterious letters and to stop the impending blackmail, Rory finds herself embroiled in a bitter battle with Lucas Vale.

I found Rory fascinating. She was innocent and naive eight years ago, blindly believing the rushed and heated words. Now she is a renowned cynic despite her innocence. Her wild and sassy nature, though, hasn’t disappeared. Her relationship with her aunt is very heartwarming and redeeming. Her sister and her aunt are the two most important people in her life and she wants nothing but their happiness, even at her own expense.

Lucas was an enigma. From the beginning, he acts like the stone cold heartless jerk whenever Rory is around. He treats her like she is beneath him and throws her embarrassing past in her face. He does not present gentlemanly manners. Under his tough exterior, Lucas is drowning in family debts. His father’s debts, to be precise. He needs to marry a rich heiress to keep his family properties. He will take up his marriage with faithful fidelity for his family’s needs despite his own feelings for another. Another who is just trouble.

Rory and Lucas wind up pairing up to discover the blackmailer. They share some great moments of camaraderie and Lucas treats her like an equal in those moments. They have witty banter and interaction beyond frivolities, for Rory isn’t a frivolous woman. While there may have been inconsistencies with the time period, I enjoyed the book despite the misunderstandings that crop up.

Lucas’s mother and Rory’s aunt, as well as Lucas’s brother and Rory’s sister, are all wonderful characters that add quite a bit of comedic relief.

There are two things I need to clarify:

  1. The cover is VERY misleading. The shoes are about the only accurate representation of the book. Rory has indeed learned her lesson from all those years ago.
  2. The cover is so misleading because there is only ONE sex scene in the entire book – within the last 10% of it. Honestly, I was expecting that there never would be one based on the relationship development.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shortly after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism, Olivia Drake sold her first novel two weeks after sending it to a publisher. She now lives in Texas in a cozy cottage with a feisty cat, a loving husband, and two wonderful daughters who still come back whenever they want a home-cooked meal.

Many of you already know Olivia as Barbara Dawson Smith, author of 24 historical romance novels. She is a New York Times bestseller and winner of numerous honors, including the Golden Heart Award and the coveted Rita Award for excellence in the historical romance genre.

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Review: The Scot Beds His Wife

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Scot Beds His Wife
Author: Kerrigan Byrne
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 394 pages
Series?: Victorian Rebels #5
Genre: Historical, Romance 

Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, is a notorious Highlander and an unrelenting Lothario who uses his slightly menacing charm to get what he wants—including too many women married to other men. But now, Gavin wants to put his shady past behind him…more or less. When a fiery lass who is the heiress to the land he wishes to possess drops into his lap, he sees a perfectly delicious opportunity…

A marriage most convenient

Samantha Masters has come back to Scotland, in a pair of trousers, and with a whole world of dangerous secrets from her time spent in the Wild West trailing behind her. Her only hope of protection is to marry—and to do so quickly. Gavin is only too willing to provide that service for someone he finds so disturbingly irresistible. But even as danger approaches, what begins as a scandalous proposition slowly turns into an all-consuming passion. And Gavin discovers that he will do whatever is necessary to keep the woman he has claimed as his own…

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my review

My Thoughts

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure what was what. The first chapter, the prologue, was extremely strange. I was wondering if the publishing house attached the wrong cover to the book. The contents of the prologue didn’t match a historical romance book. It was quite gruesome.

Samantha Masters grew up in America’s Wild West. After her parents’ death, she was taken in by a family that worked her hard. She married to escape that life and dreamed of the coast of Oregon. That’s what her husband has promised her…after the Masters Gang pulls their last train heist. When her husband steps into her car and shoots a man dead, Sam makes a decision to save a life and is thrust an opportunity to start over and lay low in Scotland at the behest of Alison Ross. She is to live and work the family land for one year so that Alison can legally retain. Only thing is, Sam enters Scotland as Alison Ross. She is to under no circumstances sell the land or let it fall into the hands of a Mackenzie. Alison agreed she would offer Sam the chance to buy her out so Sam could stay in Scotland.

Gavin St. James is determined to separate himself from his laird brother and his father’s name, Mackenzie. He is divorcing himself from the family name, intending to purchase the Ross lands for cattle business and sell his portion of the distillery back to his brother to cut all ties. He wants to be entirely separate, change his name to his mother’s maiden name, and not be indebted to his laird clansmen. Since his impromptu meeting at the train station didn’t win Alison Ross over to straight out purchase her lands for a godly sum, he sets his sights on wooing her. He is, after all, a more prolific lover across all of England than Casanova and Lord Byron together.

This isn’t your typical Highland read. There’s cussing and LOTS of it. Particularly the f word, used mostly by Sam but also others. When used in conversation as an adjective, it was quite funny dialogue. Otherwise, it was quite a turn-off. As one reviewer put it: “I don’t fuck my husband, and I don’t talk about people fucking each other. It is not a turn-on for me.”  I could say the same.

Sam is so confounded and put off by Gavin St. James, or Lord Thorne as he insists. She puts her skills to good use to make something of Alison’s land and scattered herd. She makes it quite clear that Gavin should stay clear off her land, being very handy with her pistols and a better shot than any man. She rallies three local men, all quite different. Two argue and bicker like a married couple, and the third lives in a cave and is Gavin’s friend.

Despite Sam’s equal determination to keep Alison’s land and make something of it, her deceit starts catching up with her. She should be a heroine you dislike or maybe even hate, but it was impossible to dislike Sam. Soon she must make a choice, a choice she readily said she wouldn’t have made if circumstances had been different. Meanwhile, Gavin’s beef with his brother Liam continues to pop up throughout the book and comes to some very heated scenes. Speaking of heated, the Masters Gang sure is heated themselves over the death of one of their own during the train heist. Soon Sam realizes she may have escaped to the ends of the earth where no one will go looking for her…except the Masters. Life becomes dangerous in the Highlands.

This was a very sensuous read – more so than others. Byrne can write with true emotion and realism in steam scenes – and they are steam scenes! The fire and determination that Sam and Gavin both face off with over the Ross property sparks chemistry between them. Just as Sam’s past is catching up with her, so is the present and her deceit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

If you’re anything like me, the best night is one spent with a brawny highlander, a mysterious werewolf, a conflicted vampire, or a hot-headed Irishman. My stories span the spectrum of romantic fiction from historical, to paranormal, to romantic suspense. But I can always promise my readers one thing: memorable and sexy Celtic heroes who are guaranteed to heat your blood before they steal your heart. Lose yourself in the enchanted Celtic Isles, you never know who, or what, will find you…

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Review: The Master of Strathburn

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Master of Strathburn
Author: Amy Rose Bennett
Publisher: Escape Publishing
Release Date: May 2017
Length: 260 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Robert Grant has returned home to Lochrose Castle in the Highlands to reconcile with his long-estranged father, the Earl of Strathburn. But there is a price on Robert’s head, and his avaricious younger half-brother, Simon, doesn’t want him reclaiming his birthright. And it’s not only Simon and the redcoats that threaten to destroy Robert’s plans after a flame-haired complication of the feminine kind enters the scene…

Jessie Munroe is forced to flee Lochrose Castle after the dissolute Simon Grant tries to coerce her into becoming his mistress. After a fateful encounter with a mysterious and handsome hunter, Robert, in a remote Highland glen, she throws her lot in with the stranger—even though she suspects he is a fugitive. She soon realizes that this man is dangerous in an entirely different way to Simon…

Despite their searing attraction, Robert and Jessie struggle to trust each other as they both seek a place to call home. The stakes are high and only one thing is certain: Simon Grant is in pursuit of them both…

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my review

Jessie Munroe has had a fall from nobility. For years her uncle ruthlessly whiled away the family fortune while her father tried to save it. Despite the delays, the day came when they were homeless. Her father has accepted a position at Lochrose Castle. Jessie takes a liking to the elderly Earl of Strathburn, although his wife and half-son, Simon, are not cut from the same cloth. They are snobbish and devious. The Earl pines for his long-lost son, Robert, who took part in the Jacobite uprising. With a price on his head, a near fatal injury, and his brother hounding the Dragoons to steal him away to the gaol, Robert was secreted away to a ship and never seen again. 

After a decade during which he is presumed dead, word makes it halfway ’round the world of the troubles of his father and the estate. Robert plots to return to have a clandestine meeting with his father. He is a different man now and is pained by the lives lost following him into battle. He regrets his hot-headed ways, but fears there is no redemption for a man like him. After all, he is a wanted man. The castle is filled with caring, helpful servants who understand the bounds of their duties and follow the Earl at all cost. It is how Robert escaped with his life, and it is why hiding out in the Highlands, awaiting the right moment, Jessie flees the castle to protect herself against the wretched and lecherous Simon Grant. He is an ugly, vengeful, borderline demented young man. He will not let Jessie, his Jezebel, get away. He hunts her to the ends of the earth, which is how she winds up with a foot injury traipsing to the Earl’s abandoned hunting lodge. Her plan is to get to the nearby coach station and travel to a relative’s home for safety.

The castle is filled with caring, helpful servants who understand the bounds of their duties and follow the Earl at all cost. It is how Robert escaped with his life, and it is why hiding out in the Highlands, awaiting the right moment, Jessie flees the castle to protect herself against the wretched and lecherous Simon Grant. He is an ugly, vengeful, borderline demented, young man. He will not let Jessie, his Jezebel, get away. He hunts her to the ends of the earth, which is how she winds up with a foot injury traipsing to the Earl’s abandoned hunting lodge. She plans to get to the nearby coach station and travel to a relative’s home for safety.

Her plan is quickly foiled when she awakens to a searing pain in her arm, and soon a strange man presiding over her. While transported here and there, she quickly gathers he is not quite who he says he is. To protect her virtue, she fictionalizes an engagement to Simon. Beautiful as a siren Jessie may be, but anything attached to Simon is tainted in Robert’s eyes. As Jessie helps Robert accomplish his task of reuniting, Robert promises to help her escape.

Once inside the castle, all bets are off. A series of unfortunate events occur, leading Robert and Jessie down an entirely different path while they both struggle with the unquestionable attraction to one another and their desire to protect each other.

Despite her moments of indecision and innocence, Jessie is a strong, determined young woman. She uses her quick wit and intelligence to get out of a scrape or two, and Robert’s warrior instinct vows to shield her. He has grown since that young man he was, and is a stark contrast to his villainous brother, Simon. He and his mother play large parts in moving the plot onward,  and it is utterly despicable. The gooseflesh will rise on your arms. I wanted to wrap Jessie up in bubble wrap and hide her away somewhere.

I loved the Earl. He is wise beyond his semi-senile appearance. The servants served as a supporting cast of characters and were an asset to the family name. Heart and loyalty abound within the walls of Lochrose Castle, and it was wonderful to see all of these individuals cheering Robert on from the sidelines.

I thought the ending would lead into another book, and I was disappointed that there was an epilogue, considering the events that had just transpired. In the writing world, it was the easy way out to slither out of truly unfolding that final event. I could have done without the epilogue entirely in exchange for a well-crafted chapter that brings all the pieces to a proper ending.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Rose Bennett has always wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. An avid reader with a particular love for historical romance, it seemed only natural to write stories in her favorite genre. She has a passion for creating emotion-packed—and sometimes a little racy—stories set in the Georgian and Regency periods. Of course, her strong-willed heroines and rakish heroes always find their happily ever after.

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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.

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