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.

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~~~~~~ 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: Absolute Trust by Piper J Drake + Giveaway

Review: Absolute Trust by Piper J Drake + GiveawayAbsolute Trust (True Heroes, #3) by Piper J. Drake
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: True Heroes #3
Pages: 320
Published by Forever on December 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

LOVE IS THE GREATEST RISK OF ALLAfter multiple tours of duty, Brandon Forte returns to his hometown on a personal mission: to open a facility for military service dogs like Haydn, a German shepherd who's seen his share of combat and loss. It also brings him back to Sophie Kim, a beacon of light in his life . . . and the one woman he can't have. But Forte's success means he's made enemies in high places. Enemies who are now after Sophie . . .
When Forte enlisted and left without saying goodbye, Sophie did her best to move on. But with her first love back in town, looking sexier than ever, she's constantly reminded of what they could have had. Then after he risks himself for her, Sophie realizes she'll have to put her life in the hands of the man who broke her heart, knowing the danger -and the sparks between them- could consume them both.

My Review:

This was a case of the right book at the right time for me. I really needed a straightforward romance suspense, and with its terrific combination of hot romance and nail-biting tension, Absolute Trust completely filled that need.

With a tiny bit of quibble at the very end. We’ll get there.

The story is all about Sophie and Brandon (and Haydn and Tessa) and getting out of the “friend zone” and moving towards the future. If everyone survives, that is.

Brandon and Sophie were friends in high school. And they are friends now. In the middle, there was a giant rough spot that Brandon wants to paper over and Sophie needs to just get over. But first she has to know what happened way back then.

Sophie has always loved Brandon. And seemingly vice-versa. But Brandon never believed he was good enough for Sophie, and her father certainly agreed with that assessment. So instead of sticking around and pursuing a relationship, Brandon joined the military the night of their high school prom.

Sophie never even got to say goodbye. And she never got over him. She also never managed to get past that her first lover dumped her without a word, turning all the dreams they shared that one night into dust. Brandon may have bravely run into the fight, but he also rather cowardly ran away from Sophie.

Brandon comes home after his deployments, and opens Hope’s Crossing Kennels. And Sophie steps up to be his friend, because that’s all she believes they can ever have. And she believes it’s worth staying in the “friend zone” just to keep Brandon in her life.

Until someone plants a bomb under her car, and she barely escapes certain death through sheer luck. Brandon just happened to be out walking Haydn, a new “recruit” at the Kennels. The big German Shepherd dog has a prosthetic leg, and a nose for sniffing out explosives. It’s Haydn’s alert that saves all their lives.

And plunges Sophie’s entire world into chaos, leaving her with her life in tatters and only Brandon to hang onto. Hiding from Sophie’s would-be killers, on the run for their lives, Brandon and Sophie finally manage to open all the cans of worms they’ve been stepping around for years.

Once all the baggage is finally dropped, can they have a future together? Do they have a future at all?

Escape Rating B: I picked up Absolute Trust after I discovered that Piper J. Drake is also PJ Schnyder. I loved her science fiction romance series, both London Undead and The Triton Experiment, so I was thrilled to see that she was still writing in a different space.

From her SFR, I knew she was good at mixing romance with suspense. The worlds of both series are not exactly safe or sane. And that she was good at throwing her hero and heroine together in the midst of life-threatening danger.

So it proves in Absolute Trust. Whatever they were before, the relationship between Brandon and Sophie in this story has to survive a crucible of fire, as do they. And whatever baggage they have hanging around, and it’s a ton. They also have to figure out if they have a chance as the people they are now. Brandon in particular has been tried by fire, under fire, and the compartmentalization necessary to be a military operative is still very much a part of him. He is scared, and rightfully so, that the deadly side of his nature might frighten Sophie away.

But because he has managed to paper over all the issues that made him leave Sophie the first time, he has difficulty understanding that the biggest problems between them aren’t in the present, but in the past. He left her once without a word. How can she ever trust that he won’t do it again?

True Heroes SeriesAbsolute Trust is the third book in the author’s True Heroes series. Although this is the first book in the series that I have read, I did not feel lost at all. The previous heroes and heroines appear just enough to provide a sense of continuity and the feel of a working community, without being so much a part of the story that the reader needs more than the background provided. This story isn’t about the past of the group, it’s about the past between Brandon and Sophie, and that’s all here.

I also liked Brandon and Sophie as the hero and heroine quite a bit. Absolute Trust is a twist on the friends-into-lovers trope, and its done well. The very real dilemma of whether it is worth risking their solid friendship to grab for more is handled well on both sides. As is Sophie’s intense realization that she has been taking the easy, non-conflict path her entire life, instead of doing the hard work of sticking up for what she truly wants. I loved the way she figured out that she needed to make some serious changes, whether or not Brandon remained a part of her life.

Something I particularly enjoyed about this story is that the danger to Sophie was caused by her work. She didn’t have a stalker or a vicious ex. She wasn’t a victim in need of a rescue. Her difficulties were the result of her own actions rather than her inactions, in spite of the fact that her epiphany about her life did have to do with taking a too easy path. There are too many suspense stories where men become endangered because they did something, where women become endangered merely because they are women. I liked this trip to the danger zone much better.

The one issue I had with Absolute Trust is that it didn’t quite stick the dismount. The story is completely absorbing from beginning to end, but it doesn’t seem to end with complete resolution. Sophie and Brandon are still trying to work things out. They need a bit more time for the ending to feel like an HEA. At the same time the bad guys that they are fighting against don’t seem unequivocally gone. Probably gone, but not quite certain. If there is a fourth book in the series I hope that some of these issues get resolved.

Haydn and Tessa were the secondary stars of this show, and provided heroism and comic relief at the appropriate moments. As a tiny feline, Tessa seems to just embody “cat”. Brandon’s description of her pointedly washing ALL her bits right in front of him as the equivalent of a cat giving him the finger was perfectly hilarious. Also perfectly true.

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

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Piper and Forever Romance are giving away 10 copies of Absolute Trust to lucky winners on this tour.

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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.

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

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Review: Last Kiss of Summer by Marina Adair + Giveaway

Review: Last Kiss of Summer by Marina Adair + GiveawayLast Kiss of Summer (Destiny Bay, #1) by Marina Adair
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Destiny Bay #1
Pages: 336
Published by Forever on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He's one bad apple she just can't resist . . .
Kennedy Sinclair never dreamed she'd own a pie shop and an orchard in a small town like Destiny Bay. But nestled between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, it's the perfect place to cross something off her "Life's short so eat the icing first" list and start her life over from scratch. Her shop, Sweetie Pies, is famous for its hot, flaky apple turnovers and sinfully delicious deep dish pie. For Kennedy though, nothing is more enticing than the tall, strapping slice of temptation who keeps coming back for more.
Luke Callahan is determined to make his hard cider business a success. With his beloved father's cider recipe and the opportunity of a lifetime in his grasp, he'll stop at nothing to get this deal done. There's just one catch: he needs Kennedy's apples. At first, he thinks it'll be as easy as pie to charm those apples right off her trees. But Kennedy isn't falling for his tender charms or his wicked ways. When the negotiations start heating up, so do the feelings they have for each other. And it takes just one kiss to seal the deal . . .

My Review:

What could be a more appropriate book for the last days before the unofficial end of summer than one with a title that perfectly captures the feeling, that Last Kiss of Summer before the fall sets in?

Our story begins in a way that is not atypical for contemporary romance. Our heroine discovers her about-to-be-ex-fiancee in flagrante delicto with someone other than herself. In the midst of his “it’s not me, it’s you” speech, the heroine takes her life into her own hands.

Unfortunately that means leaving behind the life she currently has. She works at the same place as Mr. Ex., they live together, and they share a circle of friends. It’s all gone, and Kennedy returns home to her grandmother. Grandma Edna has always taken her girls back in, whether it’s Kennedy’s flighty mother who abandoned Kennedy when she was 12, or Kennedy herself, now that she has to start over again.

Unlike so many times when this happens, Kennedy doesn’t stay with her family. Instead, Grandma pushes her out of the nest, and into the life that Kennedy has always dreamed of, if she can just manage to hang onto it. And remember to “eat the icing first”, because life is way too short to abandon your dreams.

Kennedy has always wanted to own a bakery shop. Edna’s best friends are ready to sell theirs – all the way across the country. All Kennedy has to do is put all of her hard earned savings into Sweetie’s Pies, trek alone from Atlanta to the Oregon coast, and begin her life again.

The deal on Sweetie Pies is a bit too good to be true, but it takes Kennedy a while to figure out what the catch is. The catch, both literally and figuratively, is Luke Callahan. His mother and his aunt are the now-former owners of Sweetie’s Pies. And as part of the deal on the shop, his mother gave Kennedy three acres of prime heirloom apples at cost in perpetuity.

Kennedy needs those apples to make the shop’s award winning pie recipes. But Luke needs those apples too – to use in his signature hard cider and take it to the next level of distribution all over the west coast.

Luke will do anything to get his hands on those apples. Only to discover that the only apples he really needs are Kennedy’s. But after everything he’s done, she may never let him touch those apples again.

Escape Rating B-: I enjoyed my first trip to Destiny Bay. It’s a friendly place, and the people are pretty nice. I liked our heroine, Kennedy Sinclair, quite a bit. She has a lot of grit and determination, and she’s stubborn in the right kind of way. But our hero, Luke Callahan, not so much.

There’s a point about halfway through the story where the hero’s mother calls him a horse’s ass. I would say that she was right, but that’s an insult to the horse.

Kennedy, unfortunately, is used to being abandoned. After all, it’s what her mother did, and Kennedy has never gotten over that feeling that she isn’t good enough for someone to want to hang onto for the long term. She also has the feeling that she will never make a home for herself or really put down roots. So when she comes to Destiny Bay and discovers a place that might take her in, she jumps in with both feet and fights every step of the way to realize her dream.

Luke is all too used to being the golden boy. Obstacles have always fallen before his charm. And he comes off as extremely smug and smarmy about it. He’s just sure he can find a lever to pry Kennedy away from “his” apples, and he never denies that he’ll use any underhanded means he can find to get them.

Which he eventually does.

There are two misunderstandammits in this story. One is understandable and somewhat forgivable, while the other is ALL on Luke. The previous owners of Sweetie Pies got all their apples for free, and those free supplies are what made the place profitable. Kennedy didn’t ask and Paula and Fi forgot to tell. When Paula figures out the problem, she does her best to straighten things out, only her son Luke is the biggest roadblock.

But Luke charms his way into bed with Kennedy on the one hand, and does his best to undermine her on the other. So much of the conflict in the story comes from him not being upfront about exactly why he needs the apples and working out a way that he and Kennedy can both get what their businesses need. He begins their relationship by trying to charm and smarm a woman who has been burned too many times, and he never stops trying.

So while I liked the town and loved the heroine, I didn’t buy their romance. Luke always seemed so fake that I didn’t buy their chemistry. But I did love the way that the whole town took Kennedy into their hearts. That relationship is a winner.

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

10 copies of Last Kiss of Summer will be given to lucky entrants on this tour:

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