Review: The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London

Review: The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie LondonThe Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Paws in the City #1
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"London’s characters leap off the page... It’s a delightful start to a series that promises to be good fun."—Publishers Weekly
"This is the romcom Carrie Bradshaw would have written if she were a dog person, and I'm obsessed!"—Teri Wilson, USA Today bestselling author of 
A Spot of Trouble


How do you start over when the biggest mistake of your life has more than one million views?

Forget diamonds—the internet is forever. Social media consultant Isla Thompson learned that lesson the hard way when she went viral for all the wrong reasons. A month later, Isla is still having nightmares about the moment she ruined a young starlet’s career and made herself the most unemployable influencer in Manhattan. But she doesn’t have the luxury of hiding until she’s no longer Instagram poison. Not when her fourteen-year-old sister, Dani, needs Isla to keep a roof over their heads. So, she takes the first job she can get: caring for Camilla, a glossy-maned, foul-tempered hellhound.
After a week of ferrying Camilla from playdates to pet psychics, Isla starts to suspect that the dachshund’s bark is worse than her bite—just like her owner, Theo Garrison. Isla has spent her career working to make people likable and here’s Theo—happy to hide behind his reputation as a brutish recluse. But Theo isn’t a brute—he’s sweet and funny, and Isla should not see him as anything but the man who signs her paychecks. Because loving Theo would mean retreating to his world of secluded luxury, and Isla needs to show Dani that no matter the risk, dreams are always worth chasing.
Paws in the City

My Review:

Camilla the dachshund can wear anything she wants in this pawsitively delightful romantic comedy. She even has the opportunity to wear Prada for her photoshoot with Anna Wintour’s Vogue – whether her infamous dress-a-like is present at the time or not.

This romcom starts with both a meet cute and a meet ugly – and it’s the meet ugly, along with a whole lot of ugly crying – that happens first.

Camilla’s person is gone. After a long, extravagant, philanthropic and larger-than-life life, Etna Francois Garrison is dead, leaving behind a grieving grandson, an equally grieving dog – and leaving the two of them to each other.

Theo Garrison, the press-dubbed “Hermit of Fifth Avenue”, has lost the last person in the world that he loved. Who left him her spoiled little diva of a dog as a final consolation – or a final kick in the pants to let other people into his life. Or possibly both. His beloved grandmother always did know what was best for him – not that he’s even close to admitting that a month after her death, as Camilla has ruined his carefully ordered life, as many of his bespoke suits and imported silk ties as she can find – and driven off more than a dozen pet sitters along with an entire pet sitting agency.

Camilla has cut a wide swath through Theo’s formerly regimented life. He’s desperate.

So desperate that when Camilla escapes her leash in Central Park and runs to a woman that neither Camilla nor Theo have ever met and starts actually obeying commands and offering her belly for a scratch, Theo offers this miracle pet whisperer a job on the spot.

A job that Isla Thompson is desperate enough to take. Her formerly high-powered career as a social media consultant and influencer went up in flames after a disastrous video went viral. It was explosive. Well, her former client was exploding chunks down the front of a designer dress on a phone camera that had been off up until the fatal moment. Fatal to Isla’s career, that is.

Camilla needs a person. Isla needs a job. Theo needs to get out of his self-isolating rut. But when Isla invents an Instagram persona around Camilla as “The Dachshund Wears Prada”, Isla starts out having fun but finds herself receiving career validation and the seeds of success on her own terms.

A success that has the potential to break open the wall of obsessive privacy that Theo has been building around himself for years. A wall that he might be willing to open for Isla, if he can trust her enough.

But can he?

Escape Rating A-: I picked this one for the title. Not that the cover isn’t cute as well, but this is just one of those times when the title sucked me right in and I had to find out how the book lived up to it or even just explained it.

But it does. It absolutely does. And that part of the story is a hoot – or perhaps I should say that it justifies plenty of barks of laughter.

However, underneath that lighthearted fluff – and fluffy golden fur – there’s plenty to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. (Just don’t worry about Camilla – she comes out of the story happier and better dressed than she comes into it.)

There are serious issues aplenty dealt with and worked on in this story, which reads as if it were the book baby of Batman, the death of Princess Di, and the movie Maid in Manhattan.

And by Batman, I mean the original origin story created by Bob Kane back in 1939. The one where a young Bruce Wayne watches the murder of his wealthy parents on the streets of Gotham City. Young Theo Garrison watched his gorgeous, successful and wealthy parents die on the streets of New York City, being chased to death by paparazzi in the same way that Princess Di lost her life – complete with conspiracy theories.

Theo grew up isolated, raised by his grandmother with only a few people inside his circle of trust – because every time he lets someone in they betray that trust.

Isla’s side of the story is very Maid in Manhattan, in that she is a single pseudo-mother, raising her younger sister after their mother abandoned them both. She is desperate and blaming herself for the viral video that killed her career. Not that she did anything deliberately, but the series of unfortunate events has been laid at her door and she’s not just fired, she’s blacklisted from the industry. She’s running through her savings, is determined to keep her little sister not just fed, clothed, housed and schooled but also in the ballet shoes that represent her life and her dreams, when fate in the form of Camilla and Theo intervenes.

All three of them, Camilla, Isla and Theo, have issues. Camilla bites first to keep the world at bay. Theo is afraid to care about anyone because everyone he has ever loved; his parents, his grandmother; has died and left him. He’s afraid to be hurt again so he isolates himself as completely as possible. And he has the fortune to make that very possible indeed. Isla is just running as fast as she can, giving up as much as possible, to give her little sister the love and care and security that neither of them ever really had. She wants to give Dani her dreams because Isla’s got sidetracked at age 20 when their mother left her the responsibility of raising her sister.

The relationship that grows between Camilla and Isla is charming because it’s every loving, caring, pet-person doing their damndest to bring a scared or abused fur person out of their shattered shell. The ill-advised but life-giving relationship between Isla and Theo comes out of Isla’s care for Camilla. It’s kind of the reverse of “love me, love my dog”. The Insta account of The Dachshund Wears Prada is tongue in cheek, laugh out loud funny and sharply biting social commentary all rolled into one. But the more that Isla and Theo get involved, the clearer it is that it’s also going to be the breaking point for their relationship.

The redemption and resolution at the end was wonderful because it tied up the end of their fairytale romance with just the right amount of mutual groveling and HEA fairy dust with one big beautiful bow – made, of course, out of Prada scarves.

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda Quick

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda QuickWhen She Dreams (Burning Cove, #6) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #6
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley Books on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Return to 1930s Burning Cove, California, the glamorous seaside playground for Hollywood stars, mobsters, spies, and a host of others who find more than they bargain for in this mysterious town.
Maggie Lodge, assistant to the reclusive advice columnist known only as Dear Aunt Cornelia to her readers, hires down-but-not-quite-out private eye Sam Sage to help track down the person who is blackmailing her employer. Maggie and Sam are a mismatched pair. As far as Sam is concerned, Maggie is reckless and in over her head. She is not what he had in mind for a client but he can't afford to be choosy. Maggie, on the other hand, is convinced that Sam is badly in need of guidance and good advice. She does not hesitate to give him both.
In spite of the verbal fireworks between them, they are fiercely attracted to each other, but each is convinced it would be a mistake to let passion take over. They are, after all, keeping secrets from each other. Sam is haunted by his past, which includes a marriage shattered by betrayal and violence. Maggie is troubled by intense and vivid dreams--dreams that she can sometimes control. There are those who want to run experiments on her and use her for their own purposes, while others think she should be committed to an asylum.
When the pair discovers someone is impersonating Aunt Cornelia at a conference on psychic dreaming and a woman dies at the conference, the door is opened to a dangerous web of blackmail and murder. Secrets from the past are revealed, leaving Maggie and Sam in the path of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to exact vengeance.

My Review:

When I first visited Burning Cove, back in The Girl Who Knew Too Much, I wasn’t expecting it to become a series – but I’m very glad that it did!

Burning Cove is kind of a liminal place, and the 1930s were a liminal time. Burning Cove is in California, a place where dreams are made and lost and found. It is an offshoot of Los Angeles and Hollywood, the heart of all that dream making machinery at a time when movies and their magic were blossoming into their heyday.

While the 1930s were a time when the world was holding its breath. WW1 was in the rearview mirror, but its avatars are men and women in their 30s – in the prime of their powers and their adulthood – no matter what shadows darken their pasts or their futures. But the world is also on the brink of war, at least for those with eyes to see, while the world’s economy is still in shambles, feeding the causes and hatreds of the war about to be born.

Among all those dreams, visions and nightmares, it seems fitting that Burning Cove has become a center of dream powers, dream research and possibly dream control. Or, in this particular entry in the series, fulfilling a couple of con artists’ dreams of avarice.

And onto that stage, in this 6th entry in the series, step Maggie Lodge and Sam Sage. Maggie is a lucid dreamer with a realistically cynical view of the pros and cons of her talent. In control, she can wield it like a weapon, out of control it can be used as a weapon against her. As too many in her past have already attempted.

Sam is a private detective, still reeling from the hard knocks of divorce from a woman he never should have married, and being fired from his job as an LA police detective for being too good and too incorruptible at his job. He also happens to be the only private detective in Maggie’s tiny California town who is sober at 9 in the morning. He’s sure the job, whatever it is, will be better than divorce work.

Maggie hires Sam to investigate the blackmail attempt directed at her employer, the advice columnist known as “Dear Aunt Cornelia” in newspapers all around the country. Cornelia is out of the country on an around the world cruise, leaving Maggie with her house, her column and her checkbook to take care of any business while Aunt Cornelia, AKA Lillian Dewherst, is away from home.

Sam, Maggie and the erstwhile blackmailer converge on Burning Cove, where a dream research conference – or con game – is being held under the auspices of the suspiciously glitzy Guilfoyle Institute.

Maggie’s suspicions are already heightened, as the scientific legitimacy of what is obviously a con game or even a pyramid scheme is being shored up by the participation of a real dream scientist who once attempted to drug Maggie and experiment on her talents under the guise of “therapy”.

Sam is just as suspicious, because the Guilfoyles are so obvious about their intentions to fleece the attendees – at least according to a hunch that is so strong that it might well be a talent on its own.

And because the would-be blackmailer is found dead of a drug injection on opening night.

Escape Rating B+: Burning Cove straddles a whole bunch of genre lines. In a nutshell it’s historical paranormal romantic suspense, with pretty much the entire kitchen sink encompassed by those genres in evidence.

When She Dreams is the 6th book in this series, but I don’t think you need to have read the previous books to get into this one. While a couple of main characters from previous entries in the series turn up as side characters in this book, they are far from the focus and are not an intimate part of any of the events. The true continuing element of this series is the location, and since it neither has any dialog nor participates in any romance, not having visited before isn’t a problem for first time visitors.

The paranormal element to this series, as it is to much of the Jayneverse as the author (Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz) calls it, revolves around Maggie’s dream talent. She’s not the first character in these interconnected worlds to manifest a psychic power related to dreams and nightmares, and I’d be willing to bet she won’t be the last, either.

It’s not like that particular talent isn’t hotly debated in real life, after all.

What makes Maggie, and the other women in Burning Cove so fascinating is her realistic grasp on what it means to be a woman in a man’s world at a time when it’s all too easy for a woman to be overlooked, ignored, or in Maggie’s case, locked up for “her own good” by people who claim to love her and have her best interests at heart.

Maggie is a fighter who comes by her distrust of the world in general and men in particular unflinchingly honestly. She has carved out an independent life for herself against the odds, and she’s determined to maintain that independence, and the reader likes her all the better for it.

Sam is not as interesting a character as Maggie is. Maggie sparkles, and it’s easy to see why Sam is attracted to her, even if we don’t see a whole lot of evidence of that attraction until fairly far into the book. But he is a worthy partner for her in the investigation, and not just because he’s able to reluctantly admit that they are partners whether that’s what he planned on or not.

What does sparkle is the way that Sam and Maggie close in on this case that did not originally look like a whole, entire case. It goes from blackmail to murder to fraud to murder to obsession and then reaches back into the past to yet more murder. Following in Maggie’s footsteps as she and Sam unravel the clues one dark and dangerous step at a time makes for a terrific, page-turning thriller, clinging to the edge of one nightmare after another.

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison BrennanThe Wrong Victim (Quinn & Costa, #3) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A bomb explodes on a sunset charter cruise out of Friday Harbor at the height of tourist season and kills everyone on board. Now this fishing and boating community is in shock and asking who would commit such a heinous crime—the largest act of mass murder in the history of the San Juan Islands.
Forensic profilers know there are two types of domestic terrorists: those who use violence to instill fear for political purposes but stop at murder because it detracts from the cause, and those who crave attention and are willing to maim and murder for their own agenda.
Accused of putting profits before people after leaking fuel that caused a massive fish kill, the West End Charter company may itself have been the target. But as special agent Matt Costa, detective Kara Quinn and the rest of the FBI team begin their investigation, they discover that plenty of people might have wanted someone dead on that yacht. Now they must track down who is responsible and stop them before they strike again.

My Review:

If this book went looking for a subtitle, let me suggest ‘Game of Queens’ as an alternative. Because that’s what this one is, the contention among three women who are used to taking control of whatever sphere in which they find themselves – no matter who or what stands in their way.

And it’s a contest that is only partly resolved when The Wrong Victim wraps up the case of its final – and ultimately correct in the end – victim.

The beginning of this one is literally explosive. A charter yacht explodes in the waters around San Juan Island leaving 9 people dead and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Big questions, like whodunnit, along with why and how. And the biggie – which of the 9 people on the boat was the real target?

San Juan Island is just barely part of the U.S., one of over 400 islands in an archipelago that sits between Bellingham Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. The island has a population of 7,000, most of whom live in the town of Friday Harbor. The small police department knows everyone in town, and everyone knows them. Most issues are property crimes or tourists getting rowdy. They are neither prepared for nor objective enough to deal with a crime of this magnitude.

The FBI sends Mathias Costa and his Mobile Response Team, including LAPD Detective Kara Quinn, seconded to the MRT at the end of the second book in the series, Tell No Lies. Not that that was the first time Costa and Quinn met – that would be the case of the ‘Triple Killer’ in The Third to Die (which I have yet to read and really, really WANT to. I didn’t need to in order to have gotten into Tell No Lies, but that was great and so is this and now I want to very much indeed.)

Kara isn’t sure exactly where she fits in Costa’s team. Being a cop is her core identity, and the mess in LA that has forced her to leave her city to outrun the people – and contracts – that are after her. Her tenuous situation has made her question a lot about herself and how well she’s doing her job. Along with what happens next depending on how everything works out.

In Tell No Lies, the one thing that Kara was sure about was that Matt Costa trusted her judgment and was in her corner, that he respected her skills and opinions as an experienced cop and undercover detective. But all of that confidence is shaken with the return of FBI profiler Catherine Jones, who has profiled Kara and believes that she is a loose cannon who is insubordinate, takes unnecessary risks, makes snap judgments and is sure to endanger both the case and the team.

Catherine and Matt are old and dear friends, he’s even the godfather of her daughter. Kara and Matt, at least in their off-duty hours, have become friends with benefits, although Matt wants more. The conflict between the two women, who are both important to his life but in totally different ways, is messing with his head and his heart, making him a less than effective leader of a team that must produce results and solve the explosion before anyone else gets killed.

Which leads back to the question of who the real target among the 9 victims was. There are plenty of possibilities. With environmentalists making trouble for the charter company, the bomb might not have been meant for anyone in particular, but to make trouble for the ship’s owners.

Too many victims, too many possible motives, and too many ways for Kara and Catherine to butt heads. But as much as Catherine believes that Kara’s lack of formal education makes her less capable and her skills less trustworthy, it’s Kara’s instinct for people’s behavior, rather than Catherine’s careful analysis, that ultimately leads to whodunnit.

And it’s Catherine’s lack of trust in Kara that nearly gets both of them killed.

Escape Rating A+: I made a terrible mistake with this book. I started reading it when I went to bed, and absolutely could not put it down until I finished at 3:30 in the morning. I cursed my alarm when it woke me in the morning, but it was SO worth it. I needed a book to suck me into its pages, and The Wrong Victim did a fantastic job of taking me to the San Juan Islands and spinning me all around this compelling story.

This book, and this series, seem to sit at the crossroads between mystery, thriller and romantic suspense. Although again, there’s more suspense than romance – and that’s probably a good thing. The relationship between Quinn and Costa is not really healthy for either of them or their careers – a fact that profiler Catherine weaponizes during this entry in the series. They can’t be openly together as long as Kara is part of Matt’s team, no matter how temporary that might be. And yet they can’t manage to stay away from each other no matter how much of a mess it might make in the long term. I expect the horns of this particular dilemma are going to be sharp and pointy for much of the series. We’ll see.

But what makes this story so compelling is the combination of the sheer number of possible motives and the determined way that the team works through them. Out of the 9 people on the boat, there’s a wealthy man whose much younger wife left the boat just before it left the dock, a retired FBI agent still investigating a cold case he can’t let go of, a man dating one of the owners of the charter company, a slimy businessman and his equally slimy wife and four tech geniuses. All that’s needed is a partridge in a pear tree to make a very bad song.

And it could have been none of them. It could be a strike against the charter company. It could even have been an accident, the result of negligence, or even pilot error, but those possibilities get nixed very early on. As does terrorism.

So it’s murder. The FBI team are outsiders that no one trusts, but the local P.D. are much too close to every single possible suspect to be remotely objective.

For this reader, it was the investigation that fascinated. Not just looking into each of the victims, but also the town, the environmentalists, the charter company, and then the intricate work of fitting all the puzzle pieces together.

Also that the story breaks one of the unwritten rules of mystery, in that this is a rare occasion where there is more than one perpetrator, and more than one set of linkages to the crimes committed.

The team hasn’t quite gelled yet, although the process is ongoing. The way that the team is working – and occasionally not – reminded me a lot of Andrea Kane’s Forensic Instincts series, which gets involved in the same types of crimes and had the same feel of being competence porn conducted as a high-wire act.

So in addition to throwing that first book in the Quinn & Costa series, The Third to Die, onto the upper and more accessible reaches of the towering TBR pile, I need to go pick up where I left off with Forensic Instincts. So many books, so little time.

In spite of just how tall that towering TBR pile is, I’ll be looking for the next Quinn & Costa book whenever it appears – hopefully this time next year if not sooner.

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz BoweryLove, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Politics is shaking hands and kissing coworkers
Cutthroat political consultant Thom Morgan is thriving, working on the governor of California’s presidential campaign. If only he didn’t have to deal with Clay Parker, the infuriatingly smug data analyst who gets under Thom’s skin like it’s his job. In the midst of one of their heated and very public arguments, a journalist snaps a photo, but the image makes it look like they’re kissing. As if that weren’t already worst-nightmare territory, the photo goes viral—and in a bid to secure the liberal vote, the governor asks them to lean into it. Hard.
Thom knows all about damage control—he practically invented it. Ever the professional, he’ll grin and bear this challenge as he does all others. But as the loyal staffers push the boundaries of “giving the people what they want,” the animosity between them blooms into something deeper and far more dangerous: desire. Soon their fake relationship is hurtling toward something very real, which could derail the campaign and cost them both their jobs…and their hearts.

My Review:

“Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much” as he’s tripping over that infinitely (and infamously) fine line between love and hate. Pardon me for mangling Shakespeare and mixing metaphors in the same sentence, but if the shoe fits – or in this case both shoes fit – I’m wearing them.

All three of the titular events happen in this enemies-to-lovers in a fake relationship romance. As the story begins, campaign operative Thom Morgan and pro-level geek Clay Parker are office enemies working on California governor Lennie Westwood’s pre-campaign campaign to become the next president of these United States.

Thom and Clay are office rivals because they are completely opposites. Not that either of them start out exactly likable, but they’re on totally different ends of pretty much any workplace spectrum, and they rub each other the wrong way pretty much just by breathing in each other’s vicinity.

Clay pretty much lets his geek flag fly all the time. He’s a refugee from Silicon Valley and is used to that kind of workstyle – meaning one that may be “working” 24/7 but sometimes that work looks like play and everyone is out to be the biggest nerd.. But he’s also the child of a family that loves him unconditionally and celebrated ALL of his accomplishments ALL the time. So he toots his own horn a lot. Too much. To the point of cringing absurdity – at least as far as Thom is concerned.

Thom, on the other hand, is a shark. Every relationship is calculated for the maximum benefit to him. He’s always dressed to the nines in a style appropriate to the event. He’s all about making his candidate look good so that he can make himself look good. But he’s from a family that treated him like a cuckoo in their cozy suburban nest. It’s not that anyone hated him, it’s that no one truly saw him or was there for him because he was just so different. He’s a version of Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties, but one that was neither supported nor even accepted by his family. He’s used to taking on protective coloration, not to blend in but just to get by.

The campaign that Thom and Clay are working on is in trouble, seemingly constantly, by huge gaffes committed by both the governor/candidate and her dysfunctional family. When Lennie is recorded making an off-the-cuff remark that the reason her hair isn’t properly styled is because there are no gays on her campaign staff, the liberal voters that her campaign is courting are up in arms.

The campaign’s answer is to have Thom and Clay pose as a gay couple working for the campaign. A candid video of them has been posted having an ugly argument that looks like it’s about to morph into throwing each other on the ground for sex instead of the kicking and punching that nearly happened for real. Twitter and Insta are both loving the picture, to the point where OMG fanfic is starting up.

With their jobs on the line, the enemies reluctantly agree to not just a temporary truce, but a fake relationship for the inevitable cameras. From both their perspectives, the whole thing is so implausible they can’t imagine it will work.

But it has to. And surprisingly, it does – at least as far as social media is concerned. Whether it can possibly save the campaign is an entirely other matter…

Escape Rating C+: This is a story that threatens to go completely off the rails at multiple points. It never quite does, but it toes that line awfully, awfully hard in multiple ways and multiple directions.

As unlikable as both Thom and Clay are in the beginning, once I got into the story it became clear that Clay’s behavior was a result of not knowing the work culture and feeling out of his depth and a bit insecure. Once he got a bit more settled the things that made him annoying smoothed out quite a bit. So I ended up feeling FOR him considerably more than I did Thom – not that in the beginning Thom seems to have any feelings whatsoever.

OTOH, Thom is both cold-blooded and narcissistic from jump, and it takes a long time for him to change and for the reader to see what is really motivating his shark-like behavior. While it was easy to see that Clay, for all his faults, was the kind of person who could give themselves in a relationship. With Thom I had to wonder if he was capable of having a real relationship of any kind with anyone but himself. He starts out with no real friends, no family (either birth or found) and no real romantic interests.

That the campaign required them to fake a romantic relationship, and that they agreed to do so, may be the trope that powers the story, but it crossed so far over so many lines that it was hard to take even though agreeing to the pretense felt very much in Thom’s wheelhouse if not Clay’s. Even though Thom is the one that has ALL the objections, mostly because he isn’t shy about pointing out that he’s “lowering his standards” to date someone like Clay.

I could see Clay falling for Thom if he was willing to let his heart sliced into bloody chunks, but that happens. People fall in love with all sorts of people who they either know or refuse to admit are either bad for them or just plain terrible.

What was harder to believe was the way that Thom slowly – very slowly – let some of his walls down. Even if he couldn’t admit to himself he was doing it. Thom’s in denial until the very end, and even then he’s more than a bit of a douche about it. Which fits his personality to a T. Even as much as Thom is dragged, kicking and screaming, into being a real human being, his redemption was a bit too pat.

But the hardest part of this story is the political shark tank they operate in. We all know that politics is a dirty business and is the epitome of the old joke about not wanting to see how the sausage is made. In fiction, especially in a romance, I think we want to see a few less of the warts that surround the process. Or more consequences for those warts. Or we want our heroes to be heroes and our villains to be villains and that’s not what happens here. Or, perhaps, all of the above.

Lennie Westwood is a piece of work, for all the negative connotations of that phrase. Thom’s colleague Felicia seems to still think that politics can do some good for people, but she’s generally a realist and a pragmatist. That Felicia sees the excesses of Westwood’s behavior and STILL thinks that getting the woman elected POTUS is her best chance at making a positive difference in people’s lives feels disingenuous at best and self-sabotage at worst. Or Felicia is playing everyone for a fool, including, quite possibly, herself.

To make a rather long story short, I ended up with extremely mixed feelings about Love, Hate & Clickbait. As much as I love both enemies-to-lovers and fake relationship romances, this one didn’t quite gel for me. As always, your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Sand Dollar Lane by Sheila Roberts

Review: Sand Dollar Lane by Sheila RobertsSand Dollar Lane (Moonlight Harbor, #6) by Sheila Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Moonlight Harbor #6
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts will have readers laughing and swooning in turn as two rival business owners compete for the homes and hearts of Moonlight Harbor.
Brody Green is finding it hard to recover after being dumped by his fiancée, Jenna Jones, then watching her walk down the aisle with someone else. Jenna is determined to make up for her love defection and find him the perfect woman, but Brody is done with love. First a divorce, then a broken engagement. From now on he’s keeping things light, no commitments. Luckily Brody’s business is booming. Beach Dreams Realty is the best real estate company in town. And the only one. Until…
Lucy Holmes needs a new start. In business, in love, in…everything. If ever there was a cliché, it was her life back in Seattle. She was a real estate broker working with her husband until she caught him trying out the walk-in shower in a luxury condo—with another agent. She’s always been the more successful of the two, and with him gone, she’s determined to build a business even bigger than what she had. Moonlight Harbor is a charming town and it has only one real estate agency. Surely there’s room for a little competition.
Or not. Looks like it’s going to be a hot market in Moonlight Harbor. And maybe these two competitors will make some heat of their own.

My Review:

“If you’re lucky enough to live at the beach, you’re lucky enough,” or so the saying goes on so many cute signs – particularly at beachfront communities.

But neither Lucy Holmes or Brody Green are feeling particularly lucky when this story begins – even though Brody already has his own house at the beach in Moonlight Harbor. Brody’s either heartbroken or cheesed off – or honestly a bit of both – that his fiancée Jenna Jones broke up with him in the previous book in this series, Sunset on Moonlight Beach, and married someone else.

Jenna owns The Driftwood Inn, a homey little B&B that seems to be the emotional if not the physical heart of tiny Moonlight Harbor. Brody, the only real estate agent in town and the head of the chamber of commerce, has no choice but to keep running into his ex and her new husband everywhere he turns.

It’s not making the hurt heal any faster, particularly since Jenna is determined to make it up to Brody for following HER heart by finding the perfect person for him to lose his to.

Lucy Holmes left her lucrative real estate business in Seattle behind – along with her marriage – after finding her husband in a cliché – and a naked clinch – with one of their junior real estate agents in a condo that Lucy was showing to prospective buyers. She gets half of everything they built together, both their marital property and their real estate business – but she needs a fresh start.

She discovers Moonlight Harbor, a little town on the Washington coast that looks like its on the cusp of discovery – and only seems to have one real estate agency in position to take advantage of the coming boom. There’s plenty of room in this growing community for two real estate agents. Or there should be. But Brody’s feeling sensitive about everything after losing Jenna, and Lucy is not only feeling sensitive about plenty herself, but NEEDS that fresh start in the worst way to get past, well, her past.

It’s a tiny town. They keep running into each other – and running after anyone in town who looks like they’re planning to buy or sell a house. Their college-age children, Brody’s son Declan and Lucy’s daughter Hannah, can’t seem to get enough of each other – enough of a worry for their parents without adding the Montague and Capulet vibes their respective parents are spreading all over town.

But the sparks that Brody and Lucy throw off every time they lock horns or glances puts the truth in another old saying about what three things kissing and real estate have in common. The guiding principles for both endeavors are “Location, location, location.”

Escape Rating B: Sand Dollar Lane is the sixth book in the author’s Moonlight Harbor series, which began with the fittingly titled Welcome to Moonlight Harbor. I haven’t read the previous books in the series – as much as I loved this author’s Life in Icicle Falls series (my favorite is Merry Ex-Mas) I think this one fell down the “so many books, so little time” conundrum.

I didn’t feel like I was missing any of the plot by not having visited this little town before – there are plenty of hints to catch a new reader right up embedded into the current action. What I think I did miss was being previously invested in Brody Green’s relationship with Jenna Jones. Her ‘torn between two lovers’ dilemma stretches over the first five books and finally ends with her marrying Seth Waters at the end of the fifth book.

So here we are in the sixth book, Jenna is happily married and Brody is miserable. (She seems to be a great person and he really did love her so his misery is completely understandable.) But, and this is where I think I missed something, I didn’t know them so I didn’t feel FOR them when this book started.

So Brody comes off as a bit of a self-absorbed jerk, and Jenna’s continuous attempts to assuage her own guilt over their breakup by awkwardly and obviously trying to match Brody up with every unattached female in their age bracket comes off as weird and intrusive. On the other hand, I’m an introvert and would want to lick my wounds in private, thankyouverymuch. Brody, Jenna and Lucy for that matter are all extroverts. So they might feel differently. Jenna certainly does, but Brody, not so much.

Lucy is every bit as salty about men and relationships as Brody is about women, but she earned it more. At the same time, she really is doing her best – and it turns out to be damn good – to wash that man right out of her hair and move forward with her own life and a fresh start.

That she turns into the Wicked Witch of the West whenever Brody gets when spitting distance is not her usual, but she’s having some trust issues about men who seem to be smooth and charming because that was her ex all over. And Brody seems to be able to turn it on and off at a moment’s notice.

In other words, this is a romance where the adults are squabbling like children on a playground and not actually adulting. It’s their newly adult children who are much closer to adulting. Not that Hannah doesn’t fall off that wagon once or twice in a really big way, but then, she’s at the age where that’s expected behavior.

But very much on my other hand, Moonlight Harbor is a lovely, close-knit community, and the people who live there seem to be utterly charming. While the romance in this particular entry in the series turned out to be not quite my cuppa, I did enjoy visiting here and I really liked the way that Lucy ‘put on her big girl panties’ and moved forward with her life. That part was terrific – even with her occasional partial transformations into Maleficent. (Although I loved the time when she had nightmares about it – not for the nightmare but because the invasion of Disney into her dreamscape was just so well done AND on point.)

To make this long story short, while I may not have fallen in love with the romance between Lucy and Brody, I did fall hard for Moonlight Harbor and would love to come back. And probably will the next time I’m in the mood for life in a lovely place that isn’t that far distant in either miles or mood from my beloved Icicle Falls.

Review: Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne ThayneSummer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on April 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the beloved bestselling author of Season of Wonder and The Cliff House
 comes a poignant and uplifting novel about forgiveness, family and all the complications—and joy
that come with it

As the older sibling to identical twins Violet and Lily, Cami Porter was always the odd sister out. The divide grew even wider when their parents split up—while the twins stayed in Cape Sanctuary with their free-spirited mother, Rosemary, fourteen-year-old Cami moved to LA with her attorney father. Nearly twenty years later, when Cami gets the terrible news that Lily has drowned saving a child’s life, her mother begs her to return home to help untangle the complicated estate issues her sister left behind.
Navigating their own strained relationship, Cami readjusts to the family and community she hasn’t known for decades, including the neighbor who stands in the way of her late sister’s dream, while Violet grieves the loss of her twin and struggles to figure out who she is now, without her other half, as the little girl Lily saved pulls her back into the orbit of the man she once loved.
With poignancy and heart, RaeAnne Thayne once again delivers her charming signature blend of warmth, wit and wisdom.

My Review:

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” at least according to a quote attributed to Samuel Goldwyn. It is also sad but true that even a written contract isn’t worth that paper if one of the people who signed it can be easily proven to not be in their right mind at the time they signed.

And that’s just the situation that the owner of the Wild Hearts Glampground finds herself in when the story opens. Rosemary Porter is doing her best to make her late daughter Lily’s dream a reality, by opening the glampground that her daughter gave her heart and soul to in the months before she died saving two little girls from drowning.

But Lily was a “big picture” dreamer, who marched ahead with the glampground based on a verbal agreement to lease the land from her mother’s next-door (for certainly long distance definitions of “next-door”) neighbor, but never actually got Franklin Rafferty to sign on the dotted line as agreed.

Lily thought the lonely old man was just enjoying her frequent visits – and he probably was.

But Lily is dead and Franklin’s estranged son is returning home to take care of his father. A father who sometimes believes that his late wife is just in the other room and forgets to put his trousers back on after going to the bathroom. Jon Rafferty thinks that Lily took advantage of an old man who would have been exhibiting obvious signs of dementia for several months at the least.

He plans to evict the glampground as soon as he can get power-of-attorney awarded by the courts – which he’ll have no problem doing and he knows it.

But Rosemary put a second mortgage on her house/B&B/Yoga Retreat in order to make Lily’s dreams a reality. She needs help fighting this battle that she needs to win. And that’s where her older daughter Cami comes in. Cami is an attorney dealing with contract law. She knows exactly what she’s up against – and she’s surprised and annoyed that her mother, once the wife of a high-powered attorney, would ever have gotten herself into this fix.

That Lily went off half-cocked isn’t a surprise at all, but that her mother went even further makes this mess a potential catastrophe. One that Cami doesn’t have the time or inclination to deal with for reasons both personal and professional. But mostly personal.

So she does what she knows she has to, whether she wants to or not. She decides to take this chance to help her mother – and to connect with the woman who took herself and her twin daughters away from both the husband she was divorcing AND the daughter she thought didn’t need her.

In finally sticking herself into Sanctuary Cove, Cami finds all the things that have been missing from her life for so long. Her mother. Her remaining sister, mourning the loss of her twin at a depth even greater than the loss grieving both Cami and their mother, and who needs to make a connection to the sister she has left.

And in her “negotiations” with Jon Rafferty she finds a kindred spirit she never believed existed. She just has to decide whether what she’s found – in a place she never expected to find much of anything at all – is worth hanging on to.

Escape Rating B: Summer at the Cape is relationship fiction more than it is romance. Not that a romance doesn’t occur – actually three romances – but the romances are not the center of the story.

The heart of this story is the sometimes rocky, somewhat distant relationships between Cami, her twin sisters Violet and Lily, and their mother Rosemary. And, as it turns out at the end of the story, the relationship between their divorced parents Rosemary and Ted.

It’s also about the distant, fractured relationship between Franklin Rafferty and his son Jon.

Both families are in mourning in different ways. For the Porters, it’s pretty obvious that they are grieving Lily’s loss. But Lily was not the glue holding the family together – because it hasn’t been together in years.

When Ted and Rosemary divorced, the split the girls geographically, even though they were already somewhat split emotionally. Lily and Violet were twins, a unit unto themselves. Cami wasn’t just older, she was also extremely intelligent (think Hermione Granger) and very driven. Both parents thought that Cami needed the intellectual stimulation of living with her father in LA and going to “the best” schools. But that split became a chasm, leaving Cami to navigate the cutthroat social scene of prep school, college and law school pretty much alone while her dad continued to pour his heart and soul into his work and the twins developed an even closer knit relationship with their mother that involved a lot of shared activities and fun.

The relationship between Jon and his father fractured after his mother was killed in an automobile accident. Jon blamed his father for being too busy to have been with his mother – who then wouldn’t have been driving and wouldn’t have had the accident that killed her. They haven’t spoken in three years. Jon coming home is a chance for them to reconnect, even as he’s forced to realize that their break cost him time with the dad who is losing himself right in front of his eyes.

That Jon and Cami – from their separate places of career and distance and hurt – connect with each other is not a surprise – although it is a revelation for both of them. The second-chance at love romances of between Violet and her high school sweetheart and between Rosemary and her ex, Ted, are also part of the weave of the story.

But it’s the community that shines in this one. Not just the way that Sanctuary Cove comes together to honor Lily’s sacrifice, but also the way that the townies AND the guests of the glampground all pitch in to help Jon and save Franklin when the older man gets lost in a storm.

So, the romances may be a bit understated (Rosemary and Ted’s renewed relationship comes a bit out of left field) but if you’re looking for a heartwarming story of family and community, Summer at the Cape is a charming place to visit and you might even want to live there.

Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’Fallon

Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’FallonTough Justice (K-9 Special Ops #1) by Tee O'Fallon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: K-9 Special Ops #1
Pages: 368
Published by Entangled: Amara on March 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

It should have been a routine investigation. Instead, DEA K-9 agent Adam “Deck” Decker watches in horror as one Denver hospital seems to be Ground Zero for overdoses of a new drug. Now Deck can only hope a certain icy, green-eyed ER doctor will help him and his canine partner track down the deadly source.

Dr. Tori Sampson has her reasons for not trusting federal agents, especially ones working for the DEA. But the rash of overdoses―including a heartbreaking case involving a teen―is alarmingly high. And the new opioid is not only extremely dangerous, it defies all the usual medical treatments. So Tori has a choice: work with the big, brawny, and annoyingly hot DEA agent…or watch more innocent people die.

Tori’s the only person who can help Deck break the case, and they’ll need to trust each other, no matter how high the tension and attraction sizzling between them runs. But with every question answered, they realize there’s something more behind these typical teen overdoses. There’s a pattern here, and a pattern can only suggest one thing. There’s a killer on the loose.

My Review:

First, and most important to a whole lot of people in my reading circle, the dog is fine at the end of the story. Actually Thor is more than fine. He seems to be the only person in this romantic suspense thriller who survives this case pretty much unscathed. Quite a few of the central humans in this story are a bit worse for wear by the time they reach their HEA.

But the dog is just fine. So rest easy and hang on for this wild ride of a case.

There’s a temptation to call Tough Justice an enemies to lovers romance, but that just doesn’t feel right. Enemies to lovers implies that the protagonists have met before and rubbed each other the wrong way, and that’s just not the case here.

When Deck (along with Thor) and Tori first collide in the story, it’s the first time they’ve ever met. The baggage they pretty much immediately start flinging at each other is not about either of them personally. It’s about what they – or rather their professions – represent.

Deck distrusts doctors – in the extreme – because his younger sister died of a drug overdose. She got hooked on opioids after an accident, when a doctor – either overworked, irresponsible, or both – prescribed pain-killers for her very real pain and injuries but didn’t pay attention to her growing dependence on the drugs.

Tori has no love for the DEA or its agents, because they used her father to make a case against a much bigger fish. But what put her pharmacist dad in their sights in the first place were corners that he shaved and mistakes that he made – both in giving away meds without prescriptions to people who needed them but couldn’t afford them – and for helping in assisted suicides before it was legal in Colorado.

Tori blames the DEA for promising her dad to help him if he testified – but they hung him out to dry when their case was made and he lost the family savings, his pharmacist’s license and spent several months in jail. Tori attributes her mother’s death to the stress of the situation.

That Deck and Tori meet in a face-off over the care of Deck’s partner agent who has OD’d on a new super-heroin through incidental contact as part of a takedown has Deck on edge. While Tori just needed to get the behemoth out of her ER so she can save his friend’s life without literally bumping into him every time she turns around in the small, frantic treatment room.

You would not think that opening scene, especially when coupled with their past history and mutual distrust, would turn into anything positive at all – let alone a romance.

But Tori has seen too many people, especially kids, die as a result of this new heroin compound. She NEEDS to do something proactive and not just reactive to help stem this tide. Deck needs Tori’s skills, first as a doctor who knows how to treat this new and deadly epidemic, and second for her contacts with patients.

He doesn’t want to violate the laws about patient privacy, but anyone who manages to survive – already a much too small percentage – and who is willing to talk to the DEA about where they bought the drug and who they got it from will get them one step closer to figuring out who is creating and dealing this particular form of death.

That they are both looking for an excuse to see each other again isn’t something that either of them is able to admit. At least not until it is very nearly too late for more than they’d ever thought they’d want.

Escape Rating B+: Tough Justice manages to combine a downright combustible romance with a deadly twisted thriller that feels so close to real you can practically feel the heat of the literally explosive climax right through your fingers as you’re holding the book.

(Even if you’re reading an ebook, which is actually kinda dangerous!)

So, on that one hand, we have a romance between two people who start out not really knowing each other and almost hating what they do know. On the other hand, once they let each other in, just a little bit, they realize that they are more alike than would first appear.

Because they’re both scared of risking their hearts, and they both cover that fear with by letting their work consume their entire lives so they don’t have to think about what might be missing. That both of them have jobs that both require intense focus AND are all about saving people just adds to the constant pressure to be the best, do the best, and forget about anything that might distract from those goals.

Like romance. Or hobbies. Or even taking the occasional vacation that isn’t mandated one way or another.

And on the other side of the equation, there’s this big, huge, deadly case that turns out to be a mission for both of them. Someone is selling a new, “improved”, even more addictive and more deadly formula of heroin called “Gray Death” because that’s what it looks like and that’s what it delivers.

As the story begins, Tori is treating the victims and Deck is hunting the perpetrator. Then they join forces and suddenly it seems like someone is after them. Only because someone IS after them. And that’s where the case ramps up and goes just a bit over the top.

I did figure out who the villain was long before Deck and Tori – although it didn’t make sense at first. (This is one of this times when I paged to the end to see if I was right because it was driving me nuts! Also, the villain was nuts!)

The casework was painstaking in just the way I like. Linking one clue to another with a bit of luck but not too much. But once they got there, I have to say that the villain and his villainy read as more than a bit “out there”. YMMV. I expected him to be awful – after all, he is the villain. I just didn’t expect him to be “bwahaha” insane on top.

On the whole, I loved the romantic heat between Deck and Tori and the come-here-go-away progress of their romance. I found the case they were investigating to be absolutely riveting along the way, and the ending was an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride, albeit with a villain who flew off that thrill-ride and went over the top.

Still, this was a fun, absorbing read from beginning to end, and I absolutely could not put it down. It was made even better because the dog was the only character to emerge from the story without even a scratch on him – even though he helped save the day in the absolute nick of time!

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Review: Sweet Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden, Caitlin Crews

Review: Sweet Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden, Caitlin CrewsSweet Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates, Caitlin Crews, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Jasper Creek #3
Pages: 448
Published by Hqn on March 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Four half sisters create the family they’ve always dreamed of in this enchanting quartet from bestselling authors Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden and Caitlin Crews.
The Hathaway sisters might have grown up apart, but when they agree to move to Jasper Creek, Oregon, to revitalize their grandfather’s farm, it seems a straightforward decision. Until they meet their neighborhood cowboys…
Sweet-natured Teddy has never met a man worth taking a risk on, until now. Tomboy Joey has more affinity with farm equipment than men, until a brooding cowboy changes her mind. Prickly baker Georgie can’t resist the temptation of the most forbidden cowboy of all, and sparks fly between ceramicist Elliot and the grumpy single-dad rancher next door.
The sisters’ feelings are anything but simple, but with the love and support of each other, they discover that a cowboy might be the sweetest thing of all about coming home.

My Review:

The best thing that Mickey Hathaway ever did for his four daughters was to leave before any of them were ever born – although some of their mothers would disagree. And not that his absence from their lives didn’t leave a “Dad” sized hole in all of their hearts. But that’s a hole that Mickey wasn’t capable of filling – whether he was around or not.

Teddy, Joey, Georgie and Elliott, in spite of being raised all over the country by four different women, share more than their gender-obscuring names, their violet eyes and their sperm donor. They are also all the same age, 25, as their deadbeat dad impregnated all of their mothers the same year.

(There’s a story there I wish we knew a bit more of, but it’s a humdinger all the same.)

They share a heart, a yearning to make a home together, and a curmudgeonly grandfather in tiny Jasper Creek, Oregon who has just had a heart attack but claims not to want their assistance or their presence. But grumpy is Jack Hathaway’s love language, so he might just be lying.

Whether he is or not, his health scare gives his girls the impetus they need to pull up stakes from wherever they’ve been and gather at the place their hearts all call home. The place where they have always wanted to put down roots and build the life together, as sisters, that they never had growing up.

Thus Four Sisters Farm is born. The four of them, pitching together with their creative skills and boundless love to fix the old ranch house that Jack has refused to live in for over a decade, work the land that has become a bit much for the old man, and build a self-sustaining set of businesses that will keep the farm afloat and in the hands of the Hathaway family even as it brings people and money to their little town.

Along the way, each of the sisters finds their own way to a Happy Ever After that none of them ever dreamed of when their journeys began.

Escape Rating A-: The stories in Sweet Home Cowboy are all stories of love and loss. The losses come first. It’s not just that “Dad” shaped hole in all of the girls’ hearts, it’s also the messages and the messes that each inherited from the mothers – the women that Mickey Hathaway left behind.

But it’s not just the sisters. The men that get swept into their lives – or sucked into the vortex they create – have also been through emotional wringers. The individual love stories in this four-leaf clover of a book are all about finding the person who makes you stronger in your broken places.

That his girls have come home to build their futures also helps to heal Grandpa Jack, which turns out to be the icing on this very sweet and lovely cake.

My favorite story of the four was Joey’s, written by Maisey Yates, who was is the organizer for this  Jasper Creek series. Joey was the hard-nosed, practical, fix-it, “tomboy” of the sisters. She’s kind of a blunt object, and that object is usually a hammer – whether figuratively or literally. She the one who learned to stand alone and be self-sufficient at all costs, lest she be thought weak OR be let down by relying on someone who can’t be relied upon. Learning to let go enough to let someone else in is hard, but watching Joey finally figure that out was lovely. And, just as in so many of the author’s previous works, and the reason why I picked this book up in the first place, Joey’s perspective and her issues with the cowboy she falls in love with feel real and do not require a misunderstandammit to reach that HEA.

I also enjoyed Teddy’s and Elliot’s stories, although they were different in tone to Joey’s, because they were different people and occupy different places in the kaleidoscope of the Hathaway sisters. I have to say that Georgie’s story didn’t quite work for me as well as the others did.

When I started Sweet Home Cowboy I had no idea that this was book three in a series, although that didn’t impact my reading and I didn’t feel like I needed to know what happened in the earlier books in order to get stuck right into this one. All the books in the series are written by the same group of friends that wrote Sweet Home Cowboy, and are about groups of four women returning to Jasper Creek, which is near both Copper Ridge and Gold Valley, the sites of Maisey Yates’ other long-running cowboy romance series(es). So far, Jasper Creek has featured four cousins (A Cowboy for All Seasons), four friends (A Good Old-Fashioned Cowboy), and now four half-sisters. Sweet Home Cowboy turned out to be a delicious treat of a read, so now I want to go back and see what else has happened!

Review: The Lying Club by Annie Ward

Review: The Lying Club by Annie WardThe Lying Club by Annie Ward
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by Park Row on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"If you loved Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere, allow me to introduce you to your next obsession. Kim Liggett, New York Times bestselling author of The Grace Year
A tangled web of lies draws together three women in this explosive thriller of revenge, murder and shocking secrets

At an elite private school nestled in the Colorado mountains, Natalie, an office assistant, dreams of having a life like the school moms she deals with every day. Women like Brooke—a gorgeous heiress, ferociously loving mother and serial cheater—and Asha, an overprotective mom who suspects her husband of having an affair. Their fates are bound by the handsome assistant athletic director Nicholas, whom Natalie loves, Brooke wants and Asha needs.
But when two bodies are carried out of the school one morning, it seems the tension between mothers and daughters, rival lovers, and the haves and have-nots has shattered the surface of this isolated, affluent town—where people stop at nothing to get what they want.
Don't miss Annie Ward's other twisty and utterly original thriller, Beautiful Bad!  

My Review:

Everybody lies, particularly when their ex has just been murdered and they can’t remember whether or not they did it. In fact, Natalie Bellman goes into her interview with the police deciding that she’s going to be the best liar on Earth to cover up the missing bits of her memory.

And that’s where this story begins, with Natalie waking up – or coming to – in the school parking lot in the middle of a snowy night, trying to remember what she did and didn’t do. Because she had plenty of motive to push the man over a balcony.

At first, the case seems cut and dried, a case of hell having no fury like a woman scorned. Nick was respected and popular, while Natalie’s history is checkered at best.

But, as Natalie’s police interview proceeds, the reader gets a look back at Natalie’s memories of the past several months and just how things reached this particular bloody end. Initially, she still looks guilty, between her out-of-control jealousy and her alcohol and pill-induced blackouts.

The thing is, she’s not the only one lying, and hers are not the only shady goings on in town. What Natalie remembers are a lot of wealthy people who are not used to taking no for an answer and completely unacquainted with having to deal with the consequences of their actions. Along with their over-scheduled, over-indulged and spoiled children.

So for quite a bit of the story, this seems like a “rich people acting badly” story and the reader starts hoping that they are all going to get their just desserts. And there’s more than a bit of anticipated schadenfreude in that reading.

As Natalie’s memories wind their way towards the present, towards her sitting with those two cops being questioned and lying her ass off, the story shifts from Natalie’s perspectives and Natalie’s memories, to that final day that she doesn’t remember – but others certainly do.

They’re all lying, but in the middle of all those lies a truth emerges and the darkness and rot at the heart of this supposedly idyllic community is exposed for all to see.

Escape Rating B: The final third of this book certainly brings on the thrills and chills as all the lies start creeping out of the shadows and getting even creepier as they go. Because what fascinates about this case wasn’t so much whodunnit as why it was done in the first place – also in the second, third and fourth places as it turns out.

The setup took a bit too long to get itself up. The portrait of the wealthy community and the rich people in it, their overindulgences and petty rivalries, went on just a bit too long, to the point where it seemed like that WAS the story and poor Natalie just went off the rails.

Which she did, over the rails, over the top and overdone. Her observations of the bad behavior all around her were way more interesting than her reflection on a relationship where she was so obviously being used in ways that seemed more typical than interesting.

Little did we, or she, know as it turned out in the end.

But that’s where the story finally went into high gear. Not just the way that Natalie, who was victimized before, ended up being victimized again, but in the way that this group, this lying club, got together even though they planned nothing together, or separately or even at all.

So this is a slow burn thriller that’s on simmer for 2/3rds of the story as the pieces are slowly and painstakingly edged together. Then the heat is turned up high and the right person gets roasted at the end.

Review: Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoy

Review: Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoySavvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A delicious debut rom-com about a plus-size sweetheart who gets a full-life makeover after a brutal breakup.
Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around the cracks in her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma—who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. But when Savvy’s world starts to crash down around her, she knows it’s time for some renovations.
Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her relationship with her body, her work–life balance (or lack thereof) and, last but not least, her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of friends. But as any home-reno-show junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest "upgrade." Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around: beginning with how she sees herself before building a love that lasts.

My Review:

Living well may be the best revenge, but that’s not exactly what Savvy Sheldon has in mind when she hatches her “Revenge Plan” after her asshat boyfriend of six years dumps her and dumps on her – but only after he finishes the delicious dinner that she lovingly cooked for him.

(There are asshats and then there are TOTAL asshats, but this dude is in a class not exactly by himself but dropped in a metaphorical vat of acid along with the douchecanoe ex-boyfriend from yesterday’s book.)

When we first meet Savvy her romantic life and her self-esteem are pretty much in freefall. It’s not just that ex leaves her, it’s not even that he was pissed that she was home late from work to cook the dinner she was making for him so that he could finish it before he walked out, but it was the way he blamed everything wrong in their relationship on her. Because she’s been neglecting everything, including herself, to put in long hours at work AND attempt to keep this bastard happy.

So on his way out the door – I wish someone had told him not to let it hit him in the ass on the way out because he just so completely deserved it – he nagged and ragged and negged on the fact that she had “let herself go” and that he deserved a better looking girlfriend and planned to trade up to someone with a supermodel body.

Savvy feels heartbroken AND a little bit guilty. So she calls her fantastic crew of loyal, true blue, ride or die girlfriends to come and help her get her head on straight and figure out what her next steps are going to be.

Her initial plan is to get a “Revenge Body” and make him regret leaving her. That plan has more than a few flaws, because he’s just not worth the effort. But Savvy is – and her friends help her to see that.

Savvy’s plan, with the help and support of her besties, is to work out that thing we all have difficulty finding – a work life balance. Because she has been putting in WAY too many hours at work chasing a promotion and neglecting HERSELF. Taking care of herself by eating better, getting back to exercising, and making time to do things with her friends and her family will make her feel better about herself.

If she manages to make Mr. Wrong jealous and snag Mr. Right along the way – well, that’s icing on the cake. A cake that Savvy will bake herself, thankyouverymuch.

Escape Rating B: The total douchiness of their exes isn’t the only thing that Savvy Sheldon and Tam Doan – or at least their stories – have in common. Both stories are straddling the fence between romance and relationship fiction, although it felt like Gouda Friends was just a bit stronger on the romance side, while Savvy Sheldon’s story is just that bit stronger on the relationship – as in relationships with people other than the love interest – side.

It’s a fun read either way. They both are. Although Savvy’s story is not a romantic comedy – in spite of the publisher’s marketing campaign. Not that it doesn’t have both funny moments and a meet cute – but the emphasis in this one is just not on the romance. It’s on the friendships.

They also both center on self-care stories. Savvy has been so focused on getting ahead at work – thanks to a lifetime of lessons from her mother on making sure that she’s financially secure and stable – that she’s lived her job and dropped the ball on self-care. She’s hasn’t been making a whole lot of healthy choices in any part of her life and that’s something she needs to get a handle on.

That the initial focus of that journey is on losing weight, and that a lot of attention gets paid to how much better she looks is my one quibble with the story. It’s an understandable impulse from Sassy’s initial perspective, but it’s not any healthier than her recent lack of self-care. The more the focus shifts from how she looks to how she FEELS the better the story feels as well. (And some readers will find Savvy’s initially constant negative reflections on her body and her weight to be triggering. Some will find it entirely too familiar and probably quite a few of us – BOTH)

As much as I was happy to see Savvy find her HEA with Spencer, for me the romance felt like the icing on that cake. The cake of this story was all wrapped around Savvy’s close relationship with her friends, the loving details of the way that they supported each other’s journeys, and the fantastic way that Savvy figured out how to nurture her dreams AND have a job she loved without sacrificing her entire life to her job. She created that magical, mystical work-life balance and that part was glorious!

Her friends were all terrific and I’d love to see everyone again in another book. After all, only Joan managed to discover her HEA along Savvy’s journey. Maggie still needs to find hers!