Review: Staying for Good by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway

Review: Staying for Good by Catherine Bybee + GiveawayStaying For Good by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Most Likely To #2
Pages: 320
Published by Montlake Romance on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Zoe Brown may have been voted Most Likely to Never Leave River Bend, but the paper-thin walls and suffocating air of her family’s double-wide trailer were not what she wanted for her life. Other than BFFs Melanie and Jo, the only thing that kept Zoe sane during high school was her boyfriend, Luke.
She didn’t just leave, she escaped—turning her back on the shame of her black-sheep siblings and imprisoned dad. Now a celebrity chef in Dallas, she can afford all the things she never could have growing up. But when she returns to rustic, ruggedly beautiful River Bend, Zoe has to face all that she abandoned—including Luke.
While Luke was a refuge for Zoe in the past, he knows they inhabit totally different worlds now. Anchored by his parents and his job as a mechanic in his father’s shop, Luke never felt the urge to leave River Bend—until Zoe’s return.
But when the two rekindle their old flame, Zoe is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: remain in River Bend and confront her past before it destroys her, or say good-bye to everyone she’s ever loved…again, this time for good.

My Review:

doing it over by catherine bybeeIn a lot of ways, Staying for Good has more in common with yesterday’s book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake, than it does with the first book in its own series, Doing It Over.

These are all small-town romances that have at their heart a sisterly relationship. And it doesn’t matter a bit that the women in Cottage are sisters-by-blood while the women in the Most Likely To series are sisters-of-the-heart. The relationships are equally deep and equally lasting.

Also equally life-changing.

Unlike Doing it Over, the love stories in both The Cottage at Firefly Lake and Staying for Good are second chance romances. And they are second chances of the same type. Just as in Cottage, heroine Zoe Brown in Staying for Good gave up the love of her life when she left her small town after high school, and became a big star in a demanding field.

The causes were similar in both cases. Zoe absolutely had to leave River Bend, while Luke had always planned to stay. They didn’t fall out of love, they just went in completely separate directions. But they broke up before they had a chance to discover whether they could work long-distance, and never got past the loss.

Zoe has become a famous chef, both on TV and in restaurant gigs around the country. She’s come far from her origins in River Bend as the daughter of a violent abusive convict and his co-dependent victim. She came back to River Bend in Doing It Over, and discovered that not nearly enough had changed.

She still felt much too much for Luke, and her birth family was still much too much of a messy drama. She had tried to help as best she could, but her mother seems to be beyond help, and her brother and sister seem set to follow all the bad family patterns.

There’s nothing left in River Bend for Zoe except her sisters-of-the-heart, Jo and Mel, her surrogate mother Gina, and, of course, Luke. Who she shouldn’t want but still does.

Zoe is back again to help plan Mel’s wedding (see Doing it Over for deets) and steps right back into the family mess when her not-so-dear-old-dad gets parole, and immediately returns to his destructive ways.

But Zoe isn’t a child anymore. This time, she fights back. With Luke at her side, every step of the way.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of how many times I mentioned it above, you don’t actually have to read Doing it Over to enjoy Staying for Good. But it’s a terrific story, and if you enjoy small-town romances mixed with stories of deep women’s friendships, it’s a lovely book.

Back to Staying for Good. This is a story with three separate branches. One is, of course, the second chance at love between Zoe and Luke. They’ve spent years avoiding each other, and have both tried to move on. But it has been over 10 years, and neither of them has found anyone to replace the other in their lives. Not only has neither of them even flirted with the idea of a serious relationship with anyone else, but neither of them has found anyone who simply “gets” them the way the other does. They were best friends as well as lovers, and neither of them has found anyone who can fill both pairs of those shoes.

They’ve also both reached crossroads in their lives. Luke has been content in River Bend, running the local car repair garage with his father. But the small town is starting to feel a bit stifling. Or perhaps boring. He’s nearly 30 and hasn’t been anywhere or done much of anything with his life. Whether it’s his feet that are itchy or just his heart is a question he needs to answer.

Zoe, on the other hand, has been at the top of the chef’s world for several years. She can work where she wants, when she wants, and is a frequent guest chef at top restaurants and on big-name TV cooking shows. But she doesn’t really have a life. And while she doesn’t miss her parents much, she is worried about her younger brother and sister and misses her circle of friends a great deal.

She’s ready to put down roots, but not sure where to sink them. And she’s starting to realize that her heart is back in River Bend, even if her work is elsewhere.

Into the middle of Zoe and Luke’s romantic dilemma, Zoe is also in the middle of her own family drama. Her father fits the classic portrait of an abuser. He beat his wife, he beat his kids, he was worse when he drank, and he was just a mean bastard all the way around. He was also an expert manipulator. And when he returns from prisoner, he goes right back to manipulating the family. Since Zoe is not only out, but willing to throw a lifeline to any of her family members who are willing to grab it, he does his level best (and worst) to alienate the family from her. And he nearly succeeds.

making it right by catherine bybee(I will say that the way that this part of the story is resolved reminds me a bit too much of Doing it Over. Without spoiling the story, let me say that this particular method of resolution veers into deus ex machina territory when repeated, so I hope that the budding suspense angle in the third book in the series doesn’t resolve quite the same way.)

The final thread to the story, of course, is the sisterly bond between Zoe, Mel and Jo. This isn’t just Zoe’s story, it’s also all of theirs. The portrayal of the friendship between these women is always marvelous. Because all three of these women are fantastic characters, I’m really looking forward to Jo’s story in Making it Right.

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Review; Not Quite Perfect by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway

Review; Not Quite Perfect by Catherine Bybee + GiveawayNot Quite Perfect by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Not Quite #5
Pages: 314
Published by Montlake Romance on September 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Catherine Bybee delivers the fifth heartwarming, flirty novel in the wildly popular Not Quite series.
Mary Kildare knows how to read people. It’s both why she makes a great therapist and why she refuses to trust the average bachelor. Staying fiercely independent has been her primary relationship strategy—until wealthy playboy pilot (and commitmentphobe) Glen Fairchild reappears in her life. After a yearlong teasing tug-of-war, Mary and Glen test the waters of attraction, only to find that their physical chemistry runs deeper than flirtation.
At first, a bicoastal romance suits them both—especially since Glen can swoop in and whisk Mary away on one of his company’s planes. But no matter how close they get, they’re still three thousand miles apart. And when Mary’s life is threatened, Glen realizes the one luxury he doesn’t have is time. Can he close the distance between them before it’s too late?

My Review:

I was first introduced to Catherine Bybee’s books via her MacCoinnich Time Travel series. I absolutely adored them, and wish there were a few more.

Since then, I have dipped or dived into her contemporary romance series, have found them to be just as much fun as time travel. But I seldom seem to catch them from the beginning. Her Not Quite series is no exception. I have them all, I just haven’t managed to find a round tuit yet.

not quite forever by catherine bybeeI started on this series with book 4, Not Quite Forever, which shows that it is not necessary to read this series from the beginning to enjoy whichever book is before you at the moment. This is certainly true with book 5, Not Quite Perfect. While it isn’t quite perfect, it is quite a lot of fun.

For those of us who have read Not Quite Forever, we’ve met these characters before. Mary Kildare is Dakota Laurens’ BFF. Her husband Walt is best buds with the Fairchild family, and Glen Fairchild and Mary Kildare struck sparks off of each other every time they met in that earlier story.

But Not Quite Perfect is their story. And they are not quite perfect for each other. Glen Fairchild is just what the blurb calls him – a handsome player. He’s not even looking for Ms. Right Now, more like Ms. Right Tonight. But he can’t get Mary out of his head.

And Mary is not looking for a commitphobe like Glen, while not admitting that she really isn’t willing to let anyone into her life. Mary is used to people letting her down, and she is afraid to let anyone get close enough that she begins to rely on that person. She was abandoned at a Catholic church as an infant, and is sure that anyone else she needs will abandon her as well.

Which doesn’t mean that she hasn’t managed to let some people into her life. The ex-nun who raised her, the former Sister Mary Frances, is her mother in everything but name. And BFF Dakota is the sister she never had.

But Mary is a psychologist who tends to diagnose first and ask questions later. She knows that Glen is a player, which means he can’t be relied upon. Until he proves that he can. If she will let him.

Escape Rating B+: This series is just plain good mind-candy. If you want to be swept away for a few hours, this is a great place to start.

In some ways, this is a typical contemporary romance – serious woman meets player, and sparks fly everywhere. Glen isn’t a bad guy, but Mary is certain he is bad for her. She doesn’t do casual. The problem is that right now, she isn’t doing anyone at all.

Glen decides to pursue Mary for real, because he can’t get her out of his head. And Mary decides to let him, because she can’t seem to forget him, either, not even after a year of trying.

We don’t really see Glen deal with whatever his issues might have been about commitments and avoiding them like the plague. Mary is the woman he has been waiting for, and once he figures that out, he’s all in – even before he recognizes that it’s already happened.

Mary’s story is more complicated, both because we see more of her internal dilemma, and because her external dilemma takes center stage. Someone is stalking her and she doesn’t have a clue who it might be. She doesn’t have an ex, possessive or otherwise, or at least not since college several years ago.

If one of her patients has gone off the deep end, she can’t pinpoint who it might be. If some of her marriage counseling patients went after each other, it wouldn’t be a total surprise, but she can’t see who might feel so personally betrayed by her that they would break into her house and trash it, while stealing nothing at all.

Whatever it is, it’s personal.

But as bad as the stalking is, it makes her change her life. As Glen sticks by her through thick, thin and a cross-country relationship, she learns that she can lean on him when she needs to, and that he’ll be there. It’s a lovely surprise for both of them, in the midst of a mess that nearly claims her life.

What makes the story special is that even when the chips are very, very down, Glen doesn’t ride to the rescue. It’s Mary’s story and Mary’s agency. Mary rescues herself. But she is finally ready to let Glen help her pick up the pieces – after the mess is over.

And that’s awesome.

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Review: Doing it Over by Catherine Bybee

Review: Doing it Over by Catherine BybeeDoing It Over by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Most Likely To #1
Pages: 332
Published by Montlake Romance on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Voted Most Likely to Succeed, Melanie Bartlett ended up anything but. The down-on-her-luck single mom wants a complete do-over—is that too much to ask? With her family long gone from River Bend, strong, independent Mel is as surprised as anyone to end up in the quaint small town she once called home. But with her friends, Jo and Zoe, by her side, and a comfortable room at Miss Gina’s quirky bed-and-breakfast, she just might have turned the corner on a new life.
Wyatt Gibson never liked the big city. River Bend suits the ruggedly handsome builder just fine. Wyatt knows he’s home, even if that means being charmed by the appearance of Melanie and her spunky, adorable daughter. Is Wyatt’s calm devotion—even amid a coming storm—enough to convince Mel she may have found a home to call her own, a family that never leaves, and a true love to last a lifetime?

My Review:

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. I say that no bad ex fails to show up in a romance novel. Once they and their badness are introduced, the reader just knows that they are going to show up as soon as the hero or heroine finally starts getting their life together, just so that they can mess up their life all over again.

In Doing It Over, that dastardly ex added a suspense element that kept on giving chills right up to the very end of the story.

But the story doesn’t start with the evil ex (there should be a word, “evilex”) it starts with three sisters-of-the-heart and their small-town high school graduation. As they chew over the infuriating comments left in their yearbooks, they vow that, no matter what happens in their lives, they will all come back to tiny River Bend, Oregon, for their tenth high school reunion. (It feels like River Bend is just down the road from Thunder Point, and that’s a good thing!)

When Melanie Bartlett returns to River Bend for that reunion, all of those yearbook predictions have been turned on their heads. Jo, voted most likely to end up in jail, is now the local sheriff. Zoe, voted most likely to stay in River Bend, is a jet-setting, world-renowned chef who lives in Dallas, far, far from River Bend.

And Melanie, voted most likely to succeed, is a flat broke single-mother whose crappy car dies its final death less than 20 miles from River Bend. Mel has had only one success in her post-high school life, her seven year old daughter Hope. Who has not been happy cooped up in the car for several days on the road from Bakersfield to River Bend.

But when they all come home for that reunion, everyone’s life starts to look up. Jo has her BFFs back, and finally has someone she can tell the truth about her father’s death. Zoe finds herself drawn back to the life, and the man, she left behind in River Bend ten years ago.

And Melanie finds out that you can go home again. In River Bend, she has friends and a support network to help her raise Hope. She makes a job at Miss Gina’s very quirky Bed and Breakfast, and finds again that Gina is her surrogate mother, and is thrilled to be a surrogate granddaughter for little Hope.

She reaches out again. The man who tried to rescue her and her broken-down car turns out to be a man who will stand beside her, and who falls in love with her daughter every bit as much as he does with Melanie.

Of course, her nasty dastardly ex shows up just as Melanie is getting her life back on track. He says he just wants to take care of the daughter he once denied might even be his. And he wants a divorce – which surprises the hell out of Melanie, because she never married the bastard. Getting to the bottom of what smarmy, weaselly Nathan really wants gets the whole town behind Melanie and Hope. It’s a good thing that Melanie came back to River Bend, because she needs all the protection she can get!

Escape Rating A-: There are two completely opposite sayings about going home. One is the Thomas Wolfe version, “You can’t go home again.” The other is the Robert Frost version, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Although the women all experience a bit of that first version, in that all the places they remember from their childhood all seem much smaller now, what Mel does is definitely that second version – she has to go home, and the town she called home takes her back in and calls her their own.

The irony in this story is that none of these women go home to their birth families. Mel’s parents divorced and left River Bend the minute she graduated high school. Jo’s parents are dead. Zoe’s dad is in prison and her mother is still codependent. So instead, the home that Mel goes back to is Miss Gina’s B-and-B. Miss Gina was always a surrogate mother, always the favorite “cool” aunt to these three girls who had no one but each other.

And the old lady is still “cool”. But she’s also ready to hand the reins of her B-and-B over to younger and more energetic hands – when the right hands come along in the person of Melanie.

We see enough of Melanie’s perspective to understand why she is extremely leery of Wyatt Gibson when his truck pulls up beside her very dead car on the road to River Bend. But once one of her friends vouches for Wyatt, Melanie finds it difficult to resist the attraction she’s been feeling ever since the tall, dark stranger offered her a rescue.

The great thing about this story is that while Wyatt offered her a rescue from her broken-down car, he doesn’t try to rescue her from her life. Melanie comes back to River Bend to stand on her own two feet. She’s grateful for the support, and can’t help falling in love when Wyatt rescues her fearless daughter from falling off a roof, but he doesn’t “save” her. He just makes the life she has saved brighter.

The suspense element in this story kept me guessing until the end. When slimy ex Nathan shows up, Melanie knows him more than well enough to recognize that the bastard is up to something. While it is mostly possible that he is just up to messing up Melanie’s life by threatening to take Hope, there’s too much smoke for that to be the only source of the fire. Nathan is so obviously playing a much bigger game, but Melanie doesn’t know enough about Nathan’s current life to figure out what he is really after and why he is after it.

Set a thief to catch a thief. Wyatt’s dad comes to the rescue. In order to ferret out the motives of a lawyer, get another (and better) lawyer. As the case unravels piece by piece, we find out just what a slime her ex really is, and what he was really after. And what is after him.

The solution to the mystery was a surprise until nearly the very end. And the way that the situation is finally brought to a close is a lovely bit of poetic justice. If you are looking for a new contemporary romance series to get lost in, Doing It Over, and River Bend are a terrific read.

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