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: The Cottage at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: The Cottage at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawayThe Cottage at Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #1) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Firefly Lake #1
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on January 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Some mistakes can never be fixed and some secrets never forgiven . . . but some loves can never be forgotten.
Charlotte Gibbs wants nothing more than to put the past behind her, once and for all. But now that she's back at Firefly Lake to sell her mother's cottage, the overwhelming flood of memories reminds her of what she's been missing. Sun-drenched days. Late-night kisses that still shake her to the core. The gentle breeze off the lake, the scent of pine in the air, and the promise of Sean's touch on her skin . . . True, she got her dream job traveling the world. But at what cost?
Sean Carmichael still doesn't know why Charlie disappeared that summer, but after eighteen years, a divorce, and a teenage son he loves more than anything in the world, he's still not over her. All this time and her body still fits against his like a glove. She walked away once when he needed her the most. How can he convince her to stay now?

My Review:

The Cottage at Firefly Lake is a book about second chances. Not just the second chance at love that forms the backbone of the story, but also a second chance at family, and a second chance at life. Or perhaps that last would be better referred to as a “do over” at life. You be the judge.

Charlotte and Mia Gibbs have returned to Firefly Lake to sell their late mother’s cottage. It’s the place where they spent their summers, and it’s all they have left of their mother. It’s also a place they both love and resent, and now it represents a chance for both of them to get some financial security at the cost of losing their last connection to their mother.

And possibly their last real connection to each other.

Charlotte and Mia were “summer people” in the community, but for Charlie it was much, much more. Charlie didn’t feel like she fit in with her family, with her perfect homemaker mother and her seemingly equally perfect sister Mia. Instead, Charlie wanted adventure, and she spent those childhood summers with her best friend, local boy Sean Carmichael.

Their intense childhood friendship matured into an equally intense teenage love. But Sean was tied to Firefly Lake and the boat crafting and marina business that had been in his family for generations. Charlie was off to college and a career as a foreign correspondent. And even though she didn’t know exactly where she would end up, she knew at 18 that what she wanted was to travel and explore, not tie herself to the tiny Vermont lake town, no matter how much she loved it, or Sean.

But instead of a natural breakup over time and diverging interests, Charlie left Sean suddenly and inexplicably, and neither of them ever got over it. They’ve never gotten past the intensity of that teenage love, even though Charlie has had a terrific and exciting career, and Sean has been married (now divorced) and has a son turning 16.

There’s too much unfinished business between them.

Charlie and Mia need to sell the cottage. Badly. Mia fears that her husband is about to leave her with their two daughters and no career to fall back on. And she’s right. Charlie recently survived an IED attack while on assignment, and her insurance didn’t cover all the resulting medical bills. Her savings are tapped, and she is all too aware that she has no one to rely on in a crisis except her current shaky self.

But the only offer on the table is one that will change Firefly Lake forever, and not in a way that anyone wants. It’s up to Charlie to find a way to make things work – for the town, for her sister, for herself, and most of all, for any possible future she might have with Sean.

If he can get his head out of his ass long enough to finally figure out that he has to meet her halfway – wherever that might be.

Escape Rating B+: It was terrific to read something a bit light and fluffy after yesterday’s much more serious book. The Cottage at Firefly Lake was a great little pick-me-up.

It also felt more than a bit familiar.

Separated by several states, Mary McNear’s Butternut Lake series (start with Up at Butternut Lake) has the same feel as Firefly Lake. It is also a small town with a lake at its center and heart. And it is also a place where people get a second chance at love, and where sisters get a second chance to find each other, particularly in the most recent book in the series, The Space Between Sisters. Anyone who loves Butternut Lake will also enjoy Firefly Lake, and very much vice versa.

Meanwhile, back in Vermont at Firefly Lake, this story is a lovely introduction to the place and to the series. It’s a story with several threads, and they blend together pretty well.

The big story isn’t the romance, it’s the relationship between sisters Charlie and Mia. They’re sisters, and they love each other, but they are also distant and don’t know each other. There’s also a whole lot of sisterly envy going on, as each of them believes that the other has the “perfect life” and each of them believes that the other had a happier, or at least easier, childhood and adolescence with their late parents.

And there’s a whole lot of family history bound up very interestingly in this story. Not just the Gibbs’ family, but also Sean’s family. And let’s just say that the late Dr. Gibbs was a real piece of work, with all of the negative connotations of that phrase. He’s still messing up everyone’s lives, even from the grave.

One of the great things about this story is the way that the romance develops. Even though Sean and Charlie never really got over each other, they also both recognize that they are not the same people they were half a lifetime ago. They don’t exactly take it slow, but they also don’t gloss over the fact that if they want to have a relationship, it has to be in this present and not the past. Nothing about this is easy.

There’s a lot to love at Firefly Lake. I’m looking forward to a return visit in Summer on Firefly Lake, appropriately scheduled for this summer.

CottageAtFireflyLake_LaunchDayBlitz

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jen and Forever are giving away 10 paperback copies of The Cottage at Firefly Lake to lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + GiveawayOn Second Thought by Kristan Higgins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 480
Published by HQN Books on January 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Following in the footsteps of her critically acclaimed novel
If You Only Knew
, multi-bestselling author Kristan Higgins returns with a pitch-perfect look at the affection—and the acrimony—that binds sisters together 
Ainsley O'Leary is so ready to get married—she's even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn't anticipate is for Eric to blindside her with a tactless breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her half sister, Kate, who's already struggling after the sudden loss of her new husband. 
Kate has always been so poised, so self-assured, but Nathan's death shatters everything she thought she knew—including her husband—and sometimes the people who step up aren't the ones you expect. With seven years and a murky blended-family dynamic between them, Ainsley and Kate have never been overly close, but their shared sorrow dovetails their faltering worlds into one. 
Despite the lifetime of history between them, the sisters must learn to put their differences aside and open their hearts to the inevitable imperfection of family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.

My Review:

This is a lovely story about second chances. Not just second chances at love, but also second chances at family, friendship and career fulfillment. And especially a second chance at being sisters.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Kate and Ainsley, half-sisters who have a lifetime of almost-but-not-quite closeness between them. And a really weird family dynamic. Their father, a Major League Baseball umpire, left Kate’s mother to marry Ainsley’s mother. Three years later, with the love of his life dead and a very young daughter to raise, their father begged his first wife to take him back. And she did, but she never completely lost her resentment of the whole situation. It’s hard to blame her.

But that left Kate and Ainsley in a bit of a bind, sister-wise. Kate was ten years older than Ainsley, and Ainsley was so obviously Daddy’s favorite, that they weren’t close growing up. Mutual tragedy brings them together, and they discover in each other the sister and best friend they never had, but always wanted.

Kate’s husband dies after four months of pretty blissful marriage. Unfortunately for Ainsley, Nathan’s death sends her long-term boyfriend Eric into a complete spin into assholishness, not that he was a prince to begin with. Eric doesn’t just break up with Ainsley, he does it publicly, on the blog he posts at her magazine, and in the worst terms imaginable. While Eric was never as good as Ainsley thought he was, his behavior dives to a whole new level of low.

Ainsley arrives on Kate’s doorstep with her adorable dog and her worldly goods, which aren’t all that much. Kate, still in the seemingly endless depths of her grief, is grateful to have the upbeat and perky Ainsley move into her echoing house. Ainsley is equally happy to have a place to stay while she regroups and recovers. Ollie is always happy. Period.

They help each other. And they find each other. And eventually, when the time is mostly right, they find a way to move past their respective grief. But even though they both finally move on, what they don’t do is move past each other.

Escape Rating B+: I read this in a single evening. I fell into the story and didn’t fall out until I turned the last page. Kate and Ainsley are women that I would love to know in real life, and I was happy to spend an evening with them.

I will say that the first chapter is very, very rough going. It is obvious from the first paragraph that Kate’s husband Nathan is about to die, because Kate is narrating their last evening together from the perspective of someone who knows what is about to happen. It was impossible not to feel for her. Kate’s profound grief made me keep looking over at my own snoring husband to make sure he was all right. But a big part of me wished that the story could have started after his death. Reading the “but I didn’t know” bits over and over was both sad and wearying. Also wearing.

if you only knew by kristan higginsAlthough there is a romantic element to this story, the romances don’t feel like point of the story, except as they symbolize both women finally able to move on. Which appropriately takes a while. The point of the story is the way that they reach towards each other in a way that will remind readers of the author’s previous book, If You Only Knew.

Kate feels both profound grief and a certain amount of anger. When Nathan died, they had known each other for less than a year, and had only been married for four months. As much as she misses him, she also misses the person she used to be before they met. She had been happy on her own, and if she hadn’t met Nathan she would have continued to be so. The difference that one year has made in her life is beyond heartbreaking.

Ainsley’s situation is a bit different. She met Eric in college, and they’ve been together for 11 years. Literally one-third of her life. She not only loves Eric, she loves his family, and she’s been dreaming of marrying him for almost a decade. He’s always been a bit of a selfish arsehole, but when he breaks up with her via his blog, he pulls out all the stops. Readers will want to shoot him. In the kneecaps, so he suffers longer.

In many ways, Ainsley has a lot more self-examination and reinventing to do, because she’s never been just her. She’s always been part of an “us”, and now that is blasted to smithereens. When she gets her own back, it is epic and awesome.

Both women do eventually find romance, and in the most unlikely places. And the way that they do, particularly the way they both approach that second chance, makes a marvelous conclusion to this story.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of On Second Thought to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen + GiveawayThose Texas Nights (Wrangler's Creek, #1) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Granger siblings thought they'd left their ranching days behind, until fate sends them home to Wrangler's Creek, Texas and into the passionate arms of those they'd least expect
It's some run of bad luck when Sophie Granger loses her business and gets left at the altar all in one day. Desperate to not appear jilted, Sophie begs Clay McKinnon, Wrangler's Creek's smoking-hot police chief, to pretend they're having an affair. But Clay refuses, leaving Sophie to retreat to the family ranch to lick her wounds.
Hoping to leave his disreputable past behind, Clay moved to Wrangler's Creek for a fresh start. But that looks unlikely when Sophie's ex-fiance shows up married to Clay's impulsive kid sister. Overcome, Sophie resuggests the affair but this time for real. Clay is hesitant. City-girl Sophie isn't usually his type. But he can't deny the desire she elicits or his yearning to have her plant her cowboy roots for good.

My Review:

What happens to the bride after she gets left at the altar is an idea that has been done many times before. My most recent encounters with this trope that I can find were in Big Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller and The Best Man by Kristan Higgins. The story of how the jilted bride picks up the pieces of her life and manages to move on is one that is always ripe for drama, growth and redemption.

And sometimes more than a bit of melodrama as well. The situation is rife with possibilities for tragicomedy, as long as one is not the jilted bride oneself. And in fiction, she is always better off without the cowardly or asshat (or both) so and so.

So it proves for Sophie Granger. It would have been better all around if Brantley the ball-less wonder (I don’t like him much) had figured out a whole lot sooner that he was in love with someone other than Sophie, his bride-to-be. Especially since that other someone is already just a little bit pregnant with his baby.

But on the day of Sophie’s busted wedding, she has a whole lot of other crap to deal with. Not only is her wedding a bust, but it looks like the family company is too. For the Granger siblings, Sophie and her brothers Garrett and Roman, it looks like Sophie’s romantic woes are the least of their collective troubles.

Their trusted CFO, who is also their godfather, seems to have embezzled pretty much all of the company’s assets, Even worse, because he was apparently dealing with money launderers, the FBI wants its fingers in this pie as well. They have to investigate all the Grangers to make sure that no one was either involved in or profiting from what look like very illegal gains. Which can’t be found.

The company assets are frozen, including all their cars, all their apartments, and all their bank accounts. All that’s left is the quite substantial family ranch that their grandfather used to launch their cowboy outfitting business. Which means they all have to move in together, and with their mother.

Meanwhile, everyone in town has jumped on the “pity poor Sophie” bandwagon, when all she wants is to get on with her life. As soon as she gets most of it back.

But nothing fuels the town’s gossip mill more than Sophie’s choice of whom to get that life back together with. In a series of comic errors, everyone believes that Sophie has taken up with the new police chief. The good news is that Clay McKinnon is single. The bad news is that Sophie’s ex is now playing happy families with Clay’s sister.

Which doesn’t stop either Clay or Sophie from acting on an attraction that is oh-so-bad, but feels oh-so-good.

Escape Rating B: This is a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of small-town drama and small-town characters mixed into the romance in ways that make the reader smile, chuckle and occasionally laugh out loud. To say that Clay and Sophie have a ton of bad luck in their attempts to work their attraction out of their systems without the entire town commenting every step of the way fail miserably is an understatement.

They can’t catch a break, and they can’t manage to stay away from each other. But neither says they want a relationship. Sophie is dealing with too much crap, and Clay is carrying way too much baggage. Which, in the end, doesn’t matter a bit.

no getting over a cowboy by delores fossenThe town has its character, and its characters, both good and bad. The most fun of these is Vita, the local witch and the mother of Sophie’s best friend Mila. Clay’s ranch house is under assault by feral chickens, and a running gag in the story revolves around Vita’s various attempts to end the siege. A second, and even funnier running gag follows Mila’s attempts at a “fantasy date”, which usually end with Sophie and/or Clay witnessing something that they really, really, really wish they could un-see.

One of the less fun characters is unfortunately Sophie’s mother Belle. A little of Belle goes a very long way. She’s mean and bitter, and constantly rags on all her children and everyone in town pretty much all the time. She also doesn’t listen to anyone. Ever. Not seeing someone set her down and give her a piece of their mind left me with a bit of a bitter taste and a lack of resolution. She’s just not a stock character I like to see.
We also don’t get quite as much buildup for the romance as I would have liked. Once they are in, they are both all in, but we don’t really see how they get there. On that other hand, we do see a lot of the relationships that surround them, and with the exception of Sophie’s mother, I want to get to know everyone. There are oodles of fascinating future story possibilities here, just waiting to unfold.

And I’m looking forward to reading them all, starting with No Getting Over a Cowboy early in the spring.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Size Matters by Alison Bliss + Giveaway

Review: Size Matters by Alison Bliss + GiveawaySize Matters (A Perfect Fit #1) by Alison Bliss
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Perfect Fit #1
Pages: 336
Published by Forever on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The rules of (fake) engagement . . .Leah Martin has spent her life trying to avoid temptation. But she's sick of low-fat snacks, counting calories, and her hyper-critical mom. Fortunately, her popular new bakery keeps her good and distracted. But there aren't enough éclairs in the world to distract Leah from the hotness that is Sam Cooper - or the fact that he just told her mother that they're engaged . . . which is a big, fat lie.
Sam sometime speaks before he thinks. So what started out as defending Leah's date-ability to her judgmental mother soon turned into having a fiancee! Now the plan is to keep up the fake engagement, stay "just friends," and make Leah's family loathe him enough to just call the whole thing off . But Sam has an insatiable sweet tooth, not only for Leah's decadent desserts but her decadent curves. Her full lips. Her bright green eyes. Yep, things aren't going quite according to plan. Now Sam has to convince Leah that he's for real . . . before their little lie turns into one big, sweet disaster.

My Review:

This story may be the longest misunderstandammit ever. But it works. Mostly.

Sam and Leah spend most of this story talking past each other, and even past the best parts of their own selves. And they are stuck in a situation where just asking for what the other person meant just isn’t gonna happen.

It’s not exactly a meet cute. Sam and his friend Max meet Leah and her friend Valerie at one of the local dives. Max wants to hit on Valerie, and asks Sam to keep Leah occupied while he dances with her friend and tries to talk her into a whole lot more.

But Max and Valerie are not the couple who end up going home together. Just not in the way that anyone expected.

Leah is not exactly a size 2. She’s may be bigger than average, which in the US these days is more like a size 14 or 16 than anywhere near a size 2. She never actually says what size she wears, and that’s really not the point. The point is that Leah has absolutely terrible body-image problems. It’s not just that society keeps pushing the stick-thin model as the ideal, but that Leah’s conventional and uptight mother picks at Leah about her weight every single minute every time she’s with her family. Oh, and her ex-fiance broke up with her in favor of a Barbie-doll Leah calls Miss Anorexia.

Her mother’s harping and carping would be enough to give ANYONE a complex of one kind or another.

So when Sam starts dancing with her at the bar, and then blows hot and cold in turns, Leah is just sure it’s all about her size. Sam, on the other hand, finds her curvy body incredibly hot. But he’s decided to take a break from relationships after his last girlfriend got more than a bit psycho.

It really isn’t her, it’s him. But he’s such a complete doofus about it that Leah easily slips into her go-to response, that the problem is all her. That there’s just too much of her. So she tries to drink away her pain and Sam ends up taking her home.

The problem is that Sam really likes Leah, and also seriously has the hots for her. He just keeps telling himself that he doesn’t and that he shouldn’t. But his inner conflict means that every time they run into each other, he puts both his feet in his mouth up to the knees, and gets both of them further and further into hot water.

And that’s how their fake engagement comes about. He keeps saying he’ll help Leah find a halfway graceful way to end it, but every time he thinks he’s going to try, he just lands them both deeper in the soup. And he keeps hurting Leah over and over, which is the last thing he wants to do.

It takes a big man to admit he’s made a terrible mistake. Especially when he keeps making it over and over. And over. It’s time for Sam to finally tell his head to STFU, and listen to his heart. Before he breaks Leah’s.

Escape Rating B: Misunderstandammits don’t normally work for me. This one pretty much did, because it’s not so much about the heroine and hero not listening to each other as the hero and heroine (particularly the hero) not listening to themselves. It’s difficult to be upfront with another person when you’re that messed up inside.

I liked Sam, but I felt for Leah. Those messages that a woman can never be too thin (or too rich) are very hard for all of us to ignore. We’ve all told ourselves the same terrible self-talk messages that often spout out of Leah’s mother, or in her own head. But the way that her mother constantly cut her down, not just in private but also in public, made my blood boil. When Leah finally tells her to stuff it, I wanted to stand up and cheer for her. Even if the book didn’t end in a romantic HEA, that scene made the story for me. By that point I was beyond sick and tired of her mother’s crap, and it needed to end. As much as I felt for Leah in this regard, the vicious backbiting went on far too long.

The fake engagement trope is always a fun one to play with. This time was a bit different. Yes, the fake fiances turn the fake into real, as expected. But before the end, Leah was the one who stood with her head held high, and Sam was the one who had to seriously grovel to make up for his many, many shortcomings. There are too many romances where the hero is forgiven everything with very little effort on his part. Sam grovels both sufficiently and well. As he should.

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Guest Review: Hold Me, Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Guest Review: Hold Me, Cowboy by Maisey YatesHold Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire #2) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #2
Pages: 224
Published by Harlequin on November 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Stranded with a cowboy for Christmas…from
New York Times
bestselling author Maisey Yates! 
Oil and water have nothing on Sam McCormack and Madison West. The wealthy rancher has never met a haughtier—or more appealing—woman in his life. And when they're snowed in, he's forced to admit this ice queen can scorch him with one touch… 
Madison had plans for the weekend! Instead she's stranded with a man who drives her wild. A night of no-strings fun leaves both of them wanting more when they return to Copper Ridge. His proposal: twelve days of hot sex before Christmas! But will it ever be enough?

Guest review by Amy:

Madison West just needs to get laid. It’s been a decade, because, well, reasons, and she’s determined it’s about time to shake off the cobwebs. She’s arranged to have a fling with a friendly traveling salesman (I kid you not!) at a nearby rental cabin, up in the mountains. As a snowstorm rolls in, the power goes out. Maddy can see another cabin close by, and their lights are on, so she goes to knock, and finds… Sam.

Sam McCormack, whom she’s been difficult and downright bitchy with for years and years. She calls her fling, only to discover that he can’t get up the mountain. Sam can’t fix the power in her cabin easily, so they’re stuck together for the night. So Maddy fulfills her plan with Sam, who conveniently has been a little hard up in the romantic department for a while, too. They walk away after their fun weekend together, with no strings attached.

It’s not that easy, of course; it never is, or Hold Me, Cowboy would be a really short book. Our lovers see that they got away with their fling slick as a pickpocket. After a dose of their long-practiced sniping at each other, they decide to have more fun. Sam is a farrier and artist, with most of his business savvy coming from his brother Chase; Maddy is part of the aristocracy of Copper Ridge, a horse trainer on her father’s ranch.

Conventional spoiled-rich-girl-falls-for-hired-hand romance, right? Not so fast.

Escape Rating: A-. Over the course of their affair, we learn why Madison had gone so long alone–as a 17-year-old, she’d had a crush on, and been badly treated by, her dressage instructor, and her father and pretty much the whole town had sided against her in the matter. It’s a classic case of victim-blaming, when they were discovered. It’s a frustrating case of art echoing life, as author Maisey Yates shows us the inside of Maddy’s thoughts, and the long-term impact this too-common problem can have on women. She’s understandably gun-shy about getting in a relationship with Sam, fearing the same abandonment will happen again.

For Sam’s part, he’s had a tragedy in his life too: a former lover, who had dumped him, then died of a hemorrhage from an ectopic pregnancy with his child. She’d called out for him, and he’d rushed to the hospital, but her family was not having him near her, and then she was gone. Sam has not allowed himself to grieve; he seems stuck on the fact that her family lost so much more than he did, and that means he hasn’t the right to grieve his own loss.

Over the course of their falling for each other, both of them reveal this–for the first time–to each other, and they give each other much-needed comfort, and permission to let down the guards of fear and loss that they have both held up for so long. In the denouement, this lets Sam free himself as an artist, and not do just the to-him boring works he’d been turning out, but art that expresses what is going on in his heart.

I enjoyed this story thoroughly; it’s an easy read, with a well-executed sense of place and time, and believable characters that I could really identify with. Hold Me, Cowboy explores the headspace of two very broken individuals, who manage to find the peace they need, not just in (very) plentiful wicked sex, but in each other’s hearts. There was one slightly sour note for me, in the unfinished business between Maddy and her father; Nathan West clearly needs a good talking-to, and he never gets it, nor is it alluded to that Sam is intending to help her settle that lingering stress in her life. It’s the only downbeat I can give an otherwise fantastic story. I strongly recommend this book and intend to hunt up other of Yates’ works for my reading list.

Review: Love, Literary Style by Karin Gillespie + Giveaway

Review: Love, Literary Style by Karin Gillespie + GiveawayLove Literary Style by Karin Gillespie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 280
Published by Henery Press on November 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

They say opposites attract, and what could be more opposite than a stuffy literary writer falling in love with a self-published romance writer?Meet novelist Aaron Mite. He lives in a flea-infested rented alcove, and his girlfriend Emma, a combative bookstore owner, has just dumped him. He meets Laurie Lee at a writers’ colony and mistakenly believes her to be a renowned writer of important fiction. When he discovers she’s a self-published romance author, he’s already fallen in love with her.
Aaron thinks genre fiction is an affront to the fiction-writing craft. He likes to quotes the essayist, Arthur Krystal who claims literary fiction “melts the frozen sea inside of us.” Ironically Aaron doesn’t seem to realize that, despite his lofty literary aspirations, he’s emotionally frozen, due, in part, to a childhood tragedy. The vivacious Laurie, lover of flamingo-patterned attire and all things hot pink, is the one person who might be capable of melting him.
Their relationship is initially made in literary heaven but when Aaron loses his contract with a prestigious press, and Laurie’s novel is optioned by a major film studio, the differences in their literary sensibilities and temperaments drive them apart.
In a clumsy attempt to win Laurie back, Aaron employs the tropes of romance novels. Too late. She’s already taken up with Ross, a prolific author of Nicholas Sparks-like love stories. Initially Laurie is more comfortable with the slick and superficial Ross, but circumstances force her to go deeper with her writing and confront a painful past. Maybe Aaron and Laurie have more in common than they imagined.In the tradition of the Rosie Project, Love Literary Style is a sparkling romantic comedy which pokes fun at the divide between so-called low and high brow fiction.

My Review:

This was a very interesting story. Not just the romance, but the way that it was written. I’m still thinking about that part.

The story is a romance between an aspiring literary novelist and an aspiring romance novelist. She finds his litfic dreary, and he thinks her romance is purely drivel. Of course, they are both wrong.

As the book begins we are following the literary fiction author, the unfortunately named Aaron Mite. Because frankly, his ego, his confidence and his spirit are all about the size of mite. Awfully tiny.

Aaron’s part of the story also reads like the worst conventions of literary fiction. The hero is a hapless, hopeless everyman, his life is going nowhere, his dreams are dying, and his life story seems formless, vague and plotless. Also pointless, except where it heaps more angst upon him through the agencies of his equally abusive father and girlfriend.

But when Aaron takes himself to a literary authors’ retreat outside the city, he finds himself falling into a romantic comedy that he never even thought of.

Laurie Lee is an aspiring romance writer with a couple of self-published books under her belt. She is astonished to receive a scholarship to the elite writers retreat, but vows to make use of the time on her next novel.

Laurie and Aaron are occupying opposite sides of a duplex at the retreat. Laurie thinks Aaron is kind of cute in a bookish sort of way, and she is in the market for a fling after a long and sad dry spell. But it takes a lot of effort for her to get Aaron to respond to her, because he’s not just painfully withdrawn, but also simply can’t believe that a famous novelist would possibly even want to talk to him.

Laurie is at the retreat as the beneficiary of a case of mistaken identity. The retreat intended to invite award winning author Laura Leer, but instead sent the acceptance to Laurie Lee. Laurie is determined to make lemonade out of the lemons, but Aaron begins looking down on her from that moment forward.

In spite of the fact that they have been spending most of the retreat together, having the best sex that either of them has ever had.

Even though their mistaken identity meet cute still manages to lead to real romance, it always seems like the HEA that Laurie longs for is always just a bit out of reach. Aaron’s attitude towards her writing is pretty obvious, and even more so after her next book is picked up by a big name actress and a Hollywood studio.

Their break up seems inevitable. Their getting back together seems impossible, especially with fate conspiring with his old girlfriend and Hollywood to keep them apart. But an assist from a couple of very surprising guardian angels gives them one more chance at happiness.

Because Aaron and Laurie’s story has changed from dreary litfic to HEA rom com!

Escape Rating B: As someone who has occasionally been forced to read literary fiction, generally at gunpoint, the commentary about the publishing business in general and literary fiction conventions in particular was always spot on.

Which doesn’t stop Aaron’s sections from being a bit dreary to read, because Aaron has been leading a very dreary life. The point of the story is to inject some romance, some comedy, and some just plain life into that otherwise angsty story. It’s fun watching things turn around.

A comparison has been made between Laurie Lee and the heroine of Legally Blond. Laurie is a character who doesn’t even realize that her incredible good looks often get her much further ahead than her brains, although she has plenty of those, too. She’s also a bit of a pollyanna, always seeing the best of things and people.

The tragedy in her background doesn’t seem to have gotten her down one little bit. But the revelation that the Hollywood studio has bought her story for the plot she contrived and not for her mediocre writing skills is a blow. But she gets right up again and goes after what she wants, which is to be a real writer and not just a name on the cover.

That Aaron’s rather Scrooge-like father becomes her mentor and guardian angel in her quest to improve her writing seems like a surprising twist, but is also adds a lovely redemption arc to the book.

In the end, the story comes to its inevitable HEA, but does so in a way that feels fresh. And at the same time, firmly in the rom-com “tradition”.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Love, Literary Style to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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Review: A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev + Giveaway

Review: A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev + GiveawayA Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 352
Published by Kensington on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“A rising talent.” —Booklist
Dr. Nikhil 'Nic' Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.
Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.
Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy.  She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.
Delving beyond the surface of modern Indian-American life, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s page-turning novel is both riveting and emotionally rewarding—an extraordinary story of human connection, bravery, and hope.

My Review:

This may possibly be the angstiest romance I have ever read. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing – it just is. Be prepared to have your nerves jangled and your heartstrings jerked while reading.

Speaking of heartstrings, this is a story about hearts. Transplanted ones, that is. Also livers, kidneys and lungs, but mostly hearts. It’s also about finding ways to move past the most horrible things that life can possibly throw at you, and learning to live again.

But mostly hearts.

Dr. Nikhil Joshi is drinking himself into a very early grave. He used to be a hot-shot doctor with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres – MSF) until his wife and fellow MSF doctor Jennifer Joshi was raped and murdered in front of him.

That was two years ago, and he’s been pickling himself ever since. He’s stuck somewhere in that anger and denial stage of grief, and it’s slowly killing him. He’s angry with himself for being forced to watch her die but surviving, and he’s also just plain angry at Jen for all the secrets she kept from him – the same secrets that got her killed.

Jen was investigating illegal organ trafficking, with the assistance of the Mumbai Police. Someone was using her organ registry to find poor people and cutting them up for the cash value of their parts. It’s sick and disgusting. It’s also a very, very profitable business. Jen got in their way and got killed for it.

Nic can’t forgive her secrets, and he can’t forgive himself.

Somewhere out there is the evidence that Jen died for. There are a whole host of people who have been waiting for Nic to get his head out of his alcohol-soaked ass and start hunting for it. Some of those people need the evidence to make sure it gets buried along with Jen. Some people need it to finally get out from under being blackmailed by the first set of people.

Jess Koirala needs it because someone is threatening her seven-year-old son. She’ll do anything to protect little Joy, including convincing Nic that she is in contact with Jen’s spirit because she received Jen’s transplanted heart. Finding Jen’s evidence will set Jess free. And Joy.

But when she starts her twisted mission, Jess has no idea that unearthing the past will bring Nic back to the present. And falling in love was definitely not part of her mission plan. Or his.

Escape Rating B+: This story is a roller-coaster ride for the emotions from its stormy beginning to its cathartic end. After everything we go through with Nic and Jess, we need to experience not just the romantic happy ever after, but the wrapping up of all the loose ends as good mostly triumphs and evil gets a big slice of its just desserts.

bollywood affair by sonali devThis story is a very loose follow up to the author’s first two books, A Bollywood Affair and The Bollywood Bride (both group reviewed over at The Book Pushers). It is not, however, necessary to have read those to get all the characters in A Change of Heart. But they are both a lot of fun, and A Bollywood Affair in particular is utterly joyous and highly recommended.

However, while the reader would not be missing much by not having read the first two books, it does sometimes feels like the suspenseful part of A Change of Heart is lost somewhere in the murky darkness. Some of that is necessary. Jess doesn’t know who is pulling her strings, or why. Only that the person is very dangerous and seriously threatening. This figure remains in the shadows all the way through. We think we know who it might be, but are never positive.

In front, we have almost a caricature of a thug. While he is the prime suspect for Jen’s murder, he is not the prime mover for Jess’ journey. So we are left with a bit of a puzzle, even at the end. As is Jess.

Jess is an amazing character. As her layers slowly get peeled back, we see the events that made her who she is, and just how much she has had to overcome. Even though there is much weighing her down, she still struggles towards the light. And in much of her slow revelation to Nic, we hear the voice of so many women who have been victimized and abused merely because they are female. Jess keeps trying, and circumstances that are outside her control keep beating her down – and then blaming her for everything that is done to her. We hear the voice of every institution that blames victims, “she asked for it”, “it’s all her fault”, “what can she expect when she looks like that” and more. And worse.

Nic blames Jen for her death. She was fighting a terrible evil. And yes, she should have told her husband she was working with the police. But it wasn’t her fault she was killed. It was the fault of the man who murdered her. And the system that covered up for him. But never hers. This is just one of many things that Nic needs to get past, if not over, so that he can live again.

The surprising thing is that a romance grows out of the circumstances that throw Jess and Nic together. There are so many lies at the beginning. Jess is, of necessity, holding so much back. That they manage to reach past all of that for healing and love is amazing. And makes for a very powerful story.

Change of heart tour graphic

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Sonali is giving away 2 copies of A Bollywood Affair & The Bollywood Bride to lucky entrants on this tour.

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Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Life She Wants by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an emotional and uplifting ensemble of characters in this rags-to-riches-to-rags novel about women, friendship and the complex path to happiness
In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.
Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.

My Review:

The roots of this story will sound familiar to readers. If Bernie Madoff had been the kind of silver fox portrayed in Mad Men, and if he’d had a trophy wife instead of his original wife (I keep looking for a better way to put that and coming up short), you might get a story like Emma Shay Compton’s.

Her late husband seems to have been second only to Madoff in the size and chutzpah of his Ponzi scheme. And if it hadn’t been for the bursting of the real-estate bubble that leads up to the Recession, he might not have been caught.

But Emma Shay is innocent of his crimes. She was chosen to be Richard Compton’s trophy wife (by his mistress!) because she was young, beautiful, naive and vulnerable. Emma was completely cut off from any support network before she married the late and unlamented bastard.

Her job was to look pretty and ask no questions. Now that the whole rotten mess has been exposed, and over-exposed, she can look back and see all the questions that she should have asked, but didn’t. And maybe she bears a tiny amount of guilt there. But the fact is that she didn’t know and her wealthy and powerful husband deliberately kept her in the dark. And he was very, very good at deceiving people.

But now it’s all over. When his last stash was finally discovered, Richard Compton committed suicide and left his young widow to deal with the mess. Both literally and figuratively.

The bones of his estate have been picked clean, and all of his ill-gotten gains that could be found have been returned to as many of his bilked investors as possible. Emma, feeling horribly guilty leaves the marriage with not much more than she brought into it. A couple of boxes of dishes, linens and towels, just enough clothes to get by, and the $9,000 in savings she started with.

So Emma goes home. Not to her parents’ home, because they are both long dead. But to the town where she grew up. Everyone already knows her there, and the scandal, she hopes, has been long chewed over. After all, she left in scandal 16 years ago, so this isn’t new. Just bigger.

Emma goes home to face the scene of her biggest betrayal, and the mistake that set her on the course she is desperately trying to get off of. Only to discover that nothing has been forgotten, and nothing has been gotten over.

Before she can move on in the present, she has to face the past. The former best friend who betrayed their friendship by getting pregnant with Emma’s boyfriend’s baby. Emma has to face not just that betrayal, but the child that might have been hers, and everyone she left behind.

Patching up that old, deep hurt is the first step to the future, not just for Emma, but for all of them. But lancing the pain of that wound may be more agony than any of them can bear to face.

Escape Rating B+: If the Madoff scandal had a love child with Nickel and Dimed, you might get some of the struggle in this book. Emma is a mostly innocent victim in all of this, but the people who are desperate to get a piece of something back from her dead husband don’t see her that way. And the stink of scandal that follows her makes her unemployable. She isn’t getting by on minimum wage at, let’s call it Burger Thing.

Her only salvation is her old friend Riley, the girl who betrayed her so horribly way back when. They both have to eat a lot of crow to make that even possible, but it’s a serving of crow that heals them both.

Although there is a romance in The Life She Wants, the “she” in that title applies to both Emma and Riley. Emma is looking for an authentic life, after years of dreams and denial amidst the jet set high-life. Riley needs to find peace. There is no question that she betrayed Emma all those years ago – but she’s spent her life turning her anger at herself outward, and blaming everyone around her – most of all Jock, the boy they both loved.

Jock, like Emma and Riley, has grown up but can’t move on. The difference is that Jock is willing to admit his part in the whole mess. But over the years of co-parenting his and Riley’s daughter Maddie, Jock has realized that his biggest mistake was with Riley. He’s loved her all along, and keeps hoping for a second chance. Riley hasn’t forgiven him for what was admittedly a whole lot of cowardly behavior when he was all of 18, and refuses to see the person he is now.

The past is holding all of them back, but Riley most of all. When she finally admits her part of what went wrong, they can all start to heal. The happy ever afters all around are very definitely earned.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Life She Wants to one lucky US commenter:

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Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySnowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Haven Point #5
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


There's no place like Haven Point for the holidays, where the snow conspires to bring two wary hearts together for a Christmas to remember 

It's been two rough years since Andrea Montgomery lost her husband, and all she wants is for her children to enjoy their first Christmas in Haven Point. But then Andie's friend asks a favor—to keep an eye on her brother, Sheriff Marshall Bailey, who's recovering from a hit and run. Andie will do anything for Wyn, even park her own misgivings to check on her grouchy, wounded bear of a brother. 
Marshall hates feeling defenseless and resents the protective impulses that Andie brings out in him. But when a blizzard forces them together for the holidays, something in Marshall begins to thaw. Andie's gentle nature is a salve, and her kids' excitement for the holidays makes him forget why he never wanted a family. If only he and Andie can admit what they really want—each other—their Christmas wishes might come true after all.

My Review:

riverbend road by raeanne thayneHaven Point just feels like a lovely little place, and this is a lovely little story.

For those of us who have read Riverbend Road, the romance in Snowfall on Haven Point is foreshadowed a bit. But only a bit. It’s not necessary to read the rest of the Haven Point series to enjoy Snowfall on Haven Point. But I have liked my visits to this little town so much that I’m planning to catch up with I get the chance.

As the snow is falling in little Haven Point, Idaho, most of the Bailey family is away from home. Wyn Bailey, the heroine of Riverbend Road, is in Boise finishing up her master’s degree in social work. Charlene Bailey is away on her honeymoon with her new husband Mike – who just happens to be the brother of her late husband. It’s an interesting family.

All of his family seems to be temporarily out of town when Sheriff Marshall Bailey is struck by a hit and run driver, shattering his leg and putting him on 3-weeks medical leave from his all-consuming job. When he gets home he can barely get from his couch to his bathroom on his crutches – but he claims he doesn’t need any help.

His sister Wyn, even long distance, knows him much better than that. She sends their neighbor Andie over to make sure her wounded bear of a brother has at least enough food to keep body and soul together until he can get around a bit better.

Marshall was the witness to one of the worst nights of Andie’s life, when her stalker tracked her down in Haven Point to beat her and hold a gun to her head – in front of her children. Andie is a young widow, and her late husband’s police partner raped and terrorized her until she ran away. When he found her, Marshall helped take him down.

But Marshall makes Andie nervous. Not just because he’s big and grouchy, but because he knows way too much about her and saw her at the lowest point of her life. But in that clusterfuck, Wyn Bailey took a bullet for Andie, so when Wyn calls and maneuvers Andie into checking on Marshall, Andie feels obligated to bite the bullet and do what Wyn asks.

It doesn’t remain an obligation for long.

Hobbling around painfully with a cast and crutches, Marshall has a terrible time admitting that he needs the help. Actually, he has a terrible time admitting that he needs any help any time whatsoever, so being helpless is particularly galling, even though it is temporary.

He has a hot case on his hands – his own. The hit and run accident that took him down was no accident. Someone was gunning for him. But investigating the incident is hard to do from home with no police help. And he’s suspicious that it was an inside job. A couple of his deputies are all too happy to see him out of commission, and there’s a thief in his office that he is closing in on.

But while he’s laid up, he needs help. It’s not just that he needs Andie to bring meals, although he does. But he discovers that while she’s around, along with her two adorable kids, he’s starting to think that there might be more to life than just endless hours of policing.

It’s too bad for Marshall that Andie has decided that after losing one cop husband in the line of duty, she’s not willing to risk her heart falling for another. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and their hearts are firmly set on each other.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this sweet romance. Andie is determined to put her own past behind her, at least up to a point. Now that her stalker is behind bars, she is determined to live her life without fear. And although she misses her late husband, it’s been two years and a lot has happened. She’s learned to stand on her own two feet and run her own life. She misses him, but the grief is no longer sharp. She’s ready to move on.

It’s ironic in this story that just as Andie is ready to put the past mostly behind her, Marshall’s past has come back to bite him in the ass. He struggles throughout the story to deal with a mistake he made almost 15 years ago, and doesn’t know how to put right. Back then, he was young, dumb and on his way to a deployment in Iraq. Now he’s older and hopefully a bit wiser. And he has a second chance.

Andie and Marshall’s relationship has a lot of push/pull, come-here/go-away to it. As it should. Marshall is a pain in the ass at the beginning. He hates being helpless, and he keeps shooting the messenger. And serious pain makes all of us a bit grouchy.

While he needs her help, and learns to grudgingly accept it, the change is the way that he slowly comes to realize that Andie is everything he wants. Not just desire, but that he cares deeply for her and her kids and misses all of them when he pushes them away. He’s ready to make a family and have something to live for besides his work, even if he’s the last person to realize it.

Andie thinks she’s let go of her past, only to finally realize that it is still holding her back. And the crisis that resolves the hit and run case comes all too close to home, but makes both of them finally reach for the future.

As I said at the beginning, this is a lovely little story set in a lovely little town. I’m looking forward to going back.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Snowfall on Haven Point to one lucky US commenter:

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