Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The  Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Rehearsal Dinner (The Wedding From Hell #1) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.5
Pages: 63
Published by Gallery Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Don’t miss #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us back to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed’s storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner: It’s a classic recipe for disaster: Take one bridesmaid who thinks pink is the root of all evil, mix with a best man who’s hotter than a four-alarm fire, add in their explosive sexual attraction, a nightmare bridezilla, two cat fights, and an emergency call, and you have the wedding from hell.

Experience the sizzling start of Anne and Danny’s intense relationship. Is this the start of something good...or just an erotic one-night stand that rocks their world, but must never be repeated?

My Review:

Because this is a short teaser of a book, it’s going to be a short teaser of a review, too.

I got into this tour, and the prequel novellas, because my curiosity bump itched something fierce. I loved Black Dagger Brotherhood way back when, although I didn’t finish the series because they started to get a repetitive for me. But I enjoyed the hell out of the early books in the series.

Howsomever, I DNF’d The Bourbon Kings at about the halfway point. The only reason I didn’t throw it against the wall was that my iPad is WAY too expensive to throw at walls. But I was still tempted.

When I saw the info for The Wedding from Hell introductory novellas along with the blurb for the full-length Consumed, I decided to give this author another try.

And so far, I’m glad I did.

The Wedding from Hell, at least so far, combines some really terrific tropes. The romance, or at least the steamy and unresolved chemistry so far, is between two members of a small-town New England fire department. She’s the daughter of a local legend and the sister of a current commander. He’s the company man-whore. Or at least he used to be.

They work well together, seemingly able to sense what the other is thinking, and always managing to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.

But this assignment isn’t work. Not exactly.

A member of their company is getting married and he wants all of the “guys” from his station house to be his groomsmen. Including Anne Ashburn. That she’s not a guy pisses the bridezilla right off – not that that takes much. But Danny McGuire, the best man and Anne’s work-partner, knows that bridezilla should not be marrying one of his best friends. He won’t let Ann out of the wedding, because he needs the moral support.

And because he hasn’t been able to get Anne out of his head or his heart since the day she walked into the station. He’s got it really, really bad.

But no matter how much Anne is interested in him, she’s not interested in being another notch on his bedpost – especially once she figures out that bridezilla got there first.

Escape Rating B+: As a FREE teaser novella, this certainly does its job. I definitely feel teased, although I admit not nearly as teased as Ann and Danny are by each other.

I enjoy a good firefighter romance, I love to see the rake get reformed, and the wedding so far as produced oodles of cringeworthy scenes of epic bridezilla-dom, injecting just the right touch of sheer insanity into the story.

As short as this story is, we still get a good introduction to Anne and Danny and at least some of their crew. More than enough to want to find out just how long they manage to resist each other – and whether anyone else in the crew is running a betting pool on it.

I can wait to get to the next installment of The Wedding from Hell, The Reception.

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner

Thursday, October 29
T minus 48 hours ’til blastoff
College Row, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Because women are not frickin’ groomsmen! That’s why she can’t be in the goddamn wedding!”
As Anne Ashburn walked in the back door of the shotgun apartment, that happy little explosion was not only what she’d expected all along, it also offered her the out she’d been praying for. And it was probably the one and only time she was ever going to agree with the bride.
Not about the role of females in bridal parties, but that Anne wasn’t going to be in the “goddamn wedding.”
Everyone standing in the kitchen turned and looked at her: Deandra Cox, the impending wearer of the white dress; Robert “Moose” Miller, her exhausted fiancé and Anne’s fellow crew member down at the 499 fi rehouse; and . . . Dannyboy Maguire.
Who was the only one she really noticed and, for that reason, the person she refused to look at.
Too bad Danny always made an impression. Like most firefighters, he was in great physical shape, his big body thickly muscled and ready to snap into motion in an instant. With his heavy arms linked over that chest and his long legs crossed at the boots, he was leaning back against the chipped countertop, his too-blue stare missing nothing. He was fresh from a shower, his glossy black hair wet, and Anne tried not to picture him naked under the spray, his tattooed torso arching as he rinsed the shampoo out of his—
She put her hands up to stop herself as much as the argument. “Look, I don’t want to cause any problems. I’m happy to step aside—”
“And now I have one too many bridesmaids.” The bride-to-be refocused on her intended. “My count is wrong. You wait until two days before the wedding to tell me this when you know I’m not going to like it, and now my count is off!”
As the groom focused on the linoleum floor, it was impossible not to picture a wax version of the couple on a multi-tiered cake: Deandra in skinny jeans and that tight cashmere sweater, her dark hair streaked blond, her body cocked forward like she was going to throat-punch the man she was going to marry; Moose in his New Brunswick Fire Department T-shirt, all broad-shouldered and bearded around the face, easing back like someone with the flu was about to sneeze in his face.
Ah, true love.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Moose muttered. “Anne’s a member of the four-nine-nine crew, and everyone else is with me.”
“She’s a girl.” Deandra pointed at Anne. “It throws off everything.”
“I really don’t want to cause any problems.” Anne put her hands up again. “So I’ll just be in the congregation. It’s perfectly fine—”
Deandra’s glare swung Anne’s way. “The count is still wrong. And my friends have already paid for their dresses. They were a hundred and twenty dollars apiece.”
And that’s my cue to go, Anne thought. Moose may have volunteered for this, but no one else had or needed to—
“I think women can be whatever they want.”
As Danny spoke up, everyone looked at him—including Anne, who suddenly felt shades of what Deandra was throwing out.
Don’t you dare, she mouthed at him behind the bride’s back.
Danny just shrugged like he’d thrown on a pantsuit and was channeling Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton all at once. “I mean, Deandra, you’re above all that sexism, aren’t you? No one’s going to tell you what’s right and wrong for your own wedding. You’re more secure than that.”
I am going to kill you, Anne vowed. “I think Deandra wants things done properly for her only wedding.”
Danny frowned in pseudo-confusion. “So you’re saying it’s okay to have a double standard for men and women? That’s a shocker given how you are at the station. I thought you believed in equality.”
“I do,” Anne snapped. “But this isn’t about equality.”
“You sure? I don’t know how you can support traditional gender roles when it comes to a wedding ceremony at the same time you defend the right for women to be firefighters, cops, and on the front lines in the military.”
“Spare me someone who’s never been in a dress having an opinion about women’s issues, okay?”
“I’m just pointing out that you don’t want women out of dresses.”
“It’s her wedding.” Anne jabbed a finger at Deandra. “She’s the bride. She gets to say what’s right and wrong for her, and she does not need some man telling her what to do.”
“Even if I’m defending the rights of women?”
“Until you grow a set of ovaries, you can shut the hell up about our rights!”
As Anne’s voice ricocheted around the kitchen, she realized that she’d marched right up to Danny—and that Deandra and Moose were watching the two of them in total stillness.
She cleared her throat and took a step back. “Anyway, Deandra’s made up her mind. And I support her decision.”
Deandra’s eyes narrowed on Danny, and something about the way the woman looked at him didn’t seem right.
“Actually,” the bride said, “maybe she should be in the wedding party.”
Anne prayed her expression stayed neutral. “Don’t compromise your vision on my account.”
“I won’t.” The woman stared at Danny. “Fine. Let’s put her in a tuxedo like the rest of the men. She can walk my sister down the aisle, just like a man should. Her shoulders are too big for a gown, anyway, and that way my count stays the way it should.”
Anne rolled her eyes. Let’s hear it for girl power.
“So it’s settled,” Deandra said with a tight smile. “You need a tux. Unless you already own one.”
For a moment, Anne waited for somebody to argue with the woman. Like Moose. But he was clearly done falling on swords over the wedding details, and Danny had just gotten what he wanted so he wasn’t going to say a damn thing.
And the truth was, after how many years of fighting fires with these men, they were her brothers in all but blood. Even though she thought Moose had lost his ever-loving mind marrying this beautiful but sour woman after knowing her for a matter of months, Anne was still going to stand up for the guy if he wanted her to—and he did. He’d asked her down at the stationhouse specifically.
“Where did you guys rent your suits?” Anne said to him.
“Tuxedoes,” Deandra corrected.
The groom blinked like he’d forgotten how to speak English. Then again, he’d been doing that a lot at the firehouse lately. “You’re actually going to wear one?”
“What the hell do I care?”
“Yes, she is wearing one,” Deandra cut in.
Danny spoke up. “I’ll go with you. I know where the place is.”

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

My Review:

When We Found Home is an absolutely lovely story. In the same way that this author’s Daughters of the Bride was also a very lovely story. The two are not connected, but if you liked the one you’ll like the other and vice-versa.

When We Found Home is a story about family. The family in this book is a bit unusual, as they discover that they are family rather late into each of their lives.

To put it bluntly, the late Jerry Carlesso was a man-whore. He clearly could not keep it in his pants under any circumstances whatsoever. The only saving grace to the man was that he never married, so at least he wasn’t cheating on a wife while he traveled the country and left children behind in his wake.

Three of them, to be precise. And Jerry’s father, Alberto is determined to find them all and make them family.

Malcolm’s mother found them Alberto first, back when Malcolm was 12. Now he’s 34 and the heir to Alberto’s successful high-end mail-order Italian food empire, Alberto’s Alfresco. Alberto’s private detective found little Kiera a couple of months before the story opens. She’s 12 and her own mother is dead. Kiera was discovered in foster care.

Kiera’s adjustment from being lost in the foster system to being very nearly a fairy tale princess is not going well. She’s the only child in a houseful of adults, her world has shifted completely off its axis, and her big brother is keeping her at arm’s length because he doesn’t know what to do with this sudden influx of 12-year-old sister. And he doesn’t believe he’s any good at relationships.

The story begins with the introduction of the last sibling, 26-year-old Callie. Callie made a terrible mistake as a teenager, and took the fall for a very skanky boyfriend who committed armed robbery. Callie spent 5 years incarcerated, but in the three years since her release she has done her best to start a new life. A life that is sorta/kinda working when Alberto’s lawyer finally tracks her down in Houston.

It’s a very rough journey for this family-lost-at-birth to become a family-of-choice. While Keira and Callie bond fairly quickly, it takes a bit of work for Malcolm to work out his issues with their shared parent, get the stick out of his ass, and upgrade his original status from “asshole brother” to “jerky brother” to just “big brother”.

And they all need a little help along the way. Help that they manage to get, and eventually accept, from the second best thing that ever happens to any of them.

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

Escape Rating A-: Just like when I read Daughters of the Bride a couple of years ago, When We Found Home was absolutely the right book at the right time. While yesterday’s book was just about perfect, it did turn out to be a bit angstier (and meatier) than I was expecting. When We Found Home had just the right amount of fun and froth while having a bit of meat on its bonesand plenty of heart.

There are two romances in this story, but the romances are not the point of the story. Rather it’s the other way around. The healing that becoming a family brings to the lives of both Malcolm and Callie allows them to accept and cherish the romantic love that enters both of their lives.

All of the adults in this story have plenty of baggage that they need to work through before any of them are ready to become a family or reach anything close to an HEA.

Callie’s past seems the most difficult. She made a huge mistake – and she paid for it. But even though she has theoretically paid her debt to society, that same society makes her keep paying for that mistake over and over and over. As much as she needs the helping hand of her family and her grandfather, she’s afraid to trust it will last – because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

Kiera and Callie bond because they have some of the same fears. Not that 12-year-old Kiera is a convicted felon, but that she’s been abandoned before and is afraid that all this good fortune can’t possibly last.

Malcolm seems like he has it all, but he is still recovering from a heartbreaking betrayal by those he trusted. It’s difficult for him to reach out to anyone, and he nearly loses his sisters because of it.

It’s not so much that they all grow up, as that their hearts all grow three sizes in the course of the story. They do a lot of self-examination, they lift each other up, and they figure out that they are a family after all.

And that’s how they earn their happily ever after.

For a taste of When We Found Home, please check out this excerpt!

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

Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

Review: Between You and Me by Susan WiggsBetween You and Me by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Deep within the peaceful heart of Amish country, a life-or-death emergency shatters a quiet world to its core. Number-one New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs delivers a riveting story that challenges our deepest-held beliefs.

Caught between two worlds, Caleb Stoltz is bound by a deathbed promise to raise his orphaned niece and nephew in Middle Grove, where life revolves around family, farm, faith—and long-held suspicions about outsiders. When disaster strikes, Caleb is thrust into an urban environment of high-tech medicine and the relentless rush of modern life.

Dr. Reese Powell is poised to join the medical dynasty of her wealthy, successful parents. Bold, assertive, and quick-thinking, she lives for the addictive rush of saving lives. When a shocking accident brings Caleb Stoltz into her life, Reese is forced to deal with a situation that challenges everything she thinks she knows—and ultimately emboldens her to question her most powerful beliefs.

Then one impulsive act brings about a clash of cultures in a tug-of-war that plays out in a courtroom, challenging the very nature of justice and reverberating through generations, straining the fragile threads of faith and family.

Deeply moving and unforgettable, Between You and Me is an emotionally complex story of love and loss, family and friendship, and the arduous road to discovering the heart’s true path.

My Review:

Between You and Me is not quite what I was expecting. Much in the same way that neither Reese Powell’s nor Caleb Stoltz’ lives turn out quite the way that they – or anyone around them – expected.

The unexpected can turn out to be wonderful.

Reese Powell and Caleb Stoltz don’t seem to have much in common, at least not on the surface, and they certainly live lives that should never have intersected. But life is funny that way, and sometimes we meet the people we really need to when we really need them.

Even if, or especially because, they challenge us and everything we thought we believed. The best laid plans of mice, men and especially parents go oft astray.

Caleb’s nephew is injured in a tragic accident, and his tiny Amish farming community does not have the resources needed to keep the boy from bleeding out. His nearly severed arm is a lost cause, but the boy’s life isn’t – at least not yet. When the life flight helicopter comes to take Jonah Stoltz from Middle Grove to Philadelphia, Caleb rides along.

His first ride in a helicopter, something that he has always longed to do.

While Caleb may be Amish, his heart has always yearned for the wider world. When he went on his rumspringa, his version of going wild was to attend college. He had no plans to return to Middle Grove and his abusive father.

But when his older brother and sister-in-law were murdered, Caleb took up his duty and returned to care for his niece and nephew. Not just because he made a promise to his brother as he lay dying, but to prevent his father from abusing the two children who would otherwise be left in his care.

Jonah’s tragic accident gives Caleb a tiny, tempting chance to break away from his life for a brief moment, and in his care for the boy he lets himself take it.

Reese Powell is a fourth-year resident at the hospital where Jonah is taken. She’s part of the trauma team that preps the boy for surgery. And something in her heart reaches out to the boy whose life has just irrevocably changed, and to the lost, lonely man who is truly a stranger in a strange land in the urban setting.

Just as Caleb takes this brief opportunity to break free of the life he is expected to lead, in her friendship with him Reese discovers an opportunity to examine what she wants for herself, and to break free of the heavy weight of her parents’ expectation.

They expect her to become a pediatric surgeon so that she can become a partner in their high powered and highly successful OB/GYN IVF practice. A practice that produced Reese herself. But what they want for her is not what she wants for herself. Not that Reese does not want to be a doctor, but that she wants to be a different kind of doctor than her parents, or than her parents have planned for her to be.

And even though their attempts at any relationship beyond friendship seem doomed to failure, that they try gives both of them the courage to discover what they are truly searching for in life.

It might even lead them back to each other.

Escape Rating A+: Upon reflection, I don’t think that the blurb matches the book all that much, except for its final paragraph. Between You and Me is deeply moving and unforgettable, and it is an emotionally complex story of love, loss, family, friendship and just how difficult it can be to find your own true path and the people who you need to have walking that path beside you.

But this isn’t a story about faith, except possibly faith in oneself. It also is not a story about beliefs, at least not in the religious sense that feels implied in the blurb. Instead, it feels a story about the intersection of duty and commitment, about the weight of promises made and the guilt of promises broken. And how sometimes it’s necessary to break the literal meaning of a promise in order to keep the spirit of it.

Caleb is Amish, but he has never been baptised in the faith. In other words, he has always had plenty of doubts, and those doubts have kept him from becoming a full member of the community. He promised his brother that he would raise his children in Middle Grove, but he did not promise to make any religious commitments of his own to the community.

Caleb has always had a foot in both camps. He lives in Middle Grove, but he works for the English in nearby Grantham Park, as the lead horse trainer for the Budweiser Clydesdales as well as other big, beautiful horses. And he does accounting on the side.

Much of the clash of cultures in the story is about the clash within Caleb’s heart. He wants to leave. He’s always wanted to leave. A big part of this story comprises the circumstances that finally make him realize that he needs to leave, both for his niece and nephew’s sake and for his own.

It’s often a hard choice, and it’s one that we see Caleb struggle with every step of the way.

Reese’s problem often seem much easier, but that doesn’t mean that her difficulties aren’t real or that we don’t feel for her as well. Because we do.

There is a romance at the heart of Between You and Me, but this is not a romance in the genre sense. The story here revolves around Caleb’s and Reese’s separate journeys to find themselves and the truth of their own hearts – not in the romantic sense but in the finding true purpose sense.

The happy ending is their reward for taking the difficult path. And it’s the reader’s reward for following them on their journey.

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Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann MahThe Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, family saga, historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II

To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner and her first love.

At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation.

As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?

My Review:

This book is every bit as delicious as the wines produced by the region that it celebrates. And the history that it uncovers has just as many top notes, undertones and hidden flavors as the wine.

The Lost Vintage combines two different fictional varietals, the contemporary second-chance at love story with a heartfelt exploration of the history of the Burgundy region under the Nazi Occupation, along with the excesses enacted after liberation. And it is a story about one family finally coming to terms with all the beautiful and terrible secrets hidden in its past.

This is Kate’s story. The present we watch is her present, and it is her determination and blind luck that uncovers the hidden past.

Kate’s family are wine growers in the Burgundy region of France. Kate has always planned to have a career in the wine industry, but not as a grower. Her plan was to study, become a sommelier and eventually take the prestigious Master of Wine test.

And that’s where she’s stuck.

She’s failed the test twice, and is preparing herself to tackle the test for the third and final time. (It’s a three-strikes and you’re out kind of test). But Kate has a blind spot that is ruining her chances of achieving her dream. She just can’t seem to taste the wines from the region that her family calls home.

A place that she once, almost, made her life.

So she goes back to confront the family history, and her own. She goes back to help her cousin bring in the harvest, and to avoid as much as possible the man she almost married.

And get to the heart of everything that is holding her back from her dream. In the process, she discovers the secrets that her family has buried for 70 years – along with more than enough wine to recover their fortunes.

But first they have to resurrect the past, and begin to forgive while consciously choosing not to forget. And so does Kate.

Escape Rating A: This is an absolutely marvelous book, whether you love family sagas, wine culture, French history, World War II history or even second chances at love stories, because The Lost Vintage is all of the above.

It’s so easy to fall into this book, and especially to feel for Kate on the horns of her many, many dilemmas. She’s been driven to pursue her dreams, and she’s unconsciously following the example of her mother, a woman who pursued her own dreams at the cost of her family.

At the same time, the history that Kate uncovers eats her up, and consumes her family on multiple levels. The Burgundy region was infamous for its collaborators during the Occupation. The young woman who Kate first discovers through a yellowing high school diploma and a box of old science textbooks seems like a woman Kate would like to have met – until she discovers that her great-aunt was punished as a collaborator after the war. Sickened by the discovery of her family’s history of bigotry, at the same time she uncovers the fruits of their lost labor – a hidden collection of famous pre-war vintages, enough to save the family fortunes several times over.

But the discovery comes at too high a cost, as her Jewish cousin discovers that she has married into a family that sent others just like her to the concentration camps. And as their great-uncle creates rifts in the family by refusing to discuss the history that his own parents made him promise never to reveal.

Kate is caught between her need to learn the truth about her family, her need to learn as much as she can to pass her test, and her desire to avoid at all costs the man she almost married. A man whose family holdings are next door to her own, and whose life is interwoven with those of her cousins in France.

There’s history, mystery and romance woven into this story. We feel both for the characters in the present who desperately need to know, and those in the past who just as desperately need to conceal that knowledge.

Even though I guessed some of the history, I was still surprised by the twist at the end. And pleased to be so surprised.

The Lost Vintage is a story to savor. Preferably with a glass of wine. Or several. And some tissues.

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Review: Whiskey Sharp: Torn by Lauren Dane

Review: Whiskey Sharp: Torn by Lauren DaneTorn (Whiskey Sharp, #3) by Lauren Dane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: pqperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Whiskey Sharp #3
Pages: 352
Published by Harlequin Books on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes what you find isn’t what you were searching for...

Beau Petty has been searching his whole life. Searching for a place that fills all the empty spaces in him. Searching for a way to tame the restlessness. Searching for answers to the secret he’s never stopped trying to solve. What he wasn’t searching for was a woman to claim all of him, but when Cora Silvera walks back into his life, he’s ready to search out all the ways he can make her his.

Cora has spent her life as the family nurturer, taking care of others. But now she’s ready to pass that job on to someone else. It’s time to make some changes and live for herself. It’s in that moment that her former teenage crush reappears and the draw and the heat of their instant connection is like nothing either of them has experienced. He craves being around her. She accepts him, dark corners and all.

Beau thinks Cora’s had enough drama in her life. He wants to protect her from the secrets of his past, even if it means holding back the last pieces of himself. But Cora is no pushover and she means to claim all those pieces.

My Review:

On the one hand, this was a terrific airplane book. I mean that literally, as I read most of it while on an airplane between New Orleans and Atlanta. (And it’s GREAT to be home!)

On that other hand, I feel a bit like I got into this story in the middle. Torn is the third book in the Whiskey Sharp series, after Unraveled and Jagged. And while I have both of those books, I haven’t found the round tuit to actually read them – at least not yet.

As the first two books feature the Dolan sisters, and the heroine of Torn is their bestie but not another sister (at least not by birth), I’m not completely sure how much I missed by not having read the first books first. I liked what I got, I liked it a lot, but I wonder how much of Cora’s weird family dynamic was explored in the earlier books since they both feature people other than Cora’s weird family.

As Torn opens, Cora finds herself torn, hence the title, between her continue her role as the family nurturer and quite honestly peacekeeper, and her desire to make a life for herself. Until now, Cora has been handling two high-stress jobs. The one she loves, being the manager of the family art gallery, and the one that needs her, being their uber-demanding mother’s professional keeper.

Cora’s mother Walda is a celebrated artiste who still travels the world creating her art. She’s also a high-maintenance manipulator who wants Cora to be at her beck and call every minute of every day, and basically throws a temper tantrum when she isn’t. The entire family, all of Cora’s siblings and her dad, have left Cora to pick up all of their slack in this department – and its a lot of slack.

It’s time for everybody to grow up and step up, including Cora. Her own peacemaking tendencies make it difficult for her to say no, but this time she must if she’s to ever have a life of her own, not to mention keep her own sanity.

Into Cora’s bid for independence walks Beau Petty. Strictly speaking, Beau walks back in. Beau met Cora and Walda several years ago, when he lived in the same apartment building. At that time, Cora was 15 and had a massive crush on Beau. Beau was 21, barely an adult, but already well on his way in his twin careers of being a model and celebrity chef.

(Personally I’m still having a hard time fitting those two careers together.)

While Cora has a demanding family, Beau has a tormenting and sometimes literally demanding past. But when then meet after all those years, their chemistry is instantaneous. So in spite of all the reasons why neither of them has ever been in a serious relationship before, they suddenly find themselves all in, with no desire to step back.

Only a desperate need to keep their respective demons from bringing an end to the best thing that has ever happened to either of them.

Escape Rating B+: I loved the romance between Cora and Beau. They were terrific together, and I really bought their quick attraction and almost instant falling together. That they had known each other before kept the romance from falling completely into insta-love territory. They were great characters and they really clicked together.

I also enjoyed the family of choice that they had gathered around themselves separately, and how easily their worlds blended together. It was even better when the bouncy and beautiful Jezzy-dog entered their lives.

Cora’s family brought a lot of drama llamas – technically her mother is a whole herd of drama-llamas all by herself. At the same time, Walda is a great portrait of the artist as a complex and complicated pain in the ass. Walda needs to be the center of attention, she’s incredibly and often obnoxiously manipulative, but at the same time she manages not to be the villain.

It’s not just that Cora understands why Walda is the way she is and does what she does. Cora does an excellent job of not giving in while still being both supportive and loving to her mother. And as the story continues, we see that Walda does actually love her family and can be very supportive. It’s not a one-dimensional portrait.

Beau’s situation is the part that I found a bit frustrating. Beau was raised as the heir-apparent of a quasi-religious cult. When he got old enough to start questioning things, he was ex-communicated and abandoned, but his father and the ringleaders managed to escape a couple of steps ahead of the FBI. There are LOTS of charges against the group, including kidnapping, child endangerment, child abuse and rape. But the entire group has been successfully hiding for years now. Beau is determined to find them because they hold his children, even though those children are now adults. Beau wants contact – the cult wants money, and every so often those two wants coincide, as they do in this story. I found the results of the encounter unsatisfying, and there was no definitive conclusion.

While I realize that might be true-to-life, this is fiction and I want to see things worked out – and for the best. I hope that there is a firmer resolution at some point later in the series.

Even with the very indefinite ending to Beau’s long search, I still found the romance between Beau and Cora to be lots of fun and a great distraction on a rather bumpy ride. I’ll be back to read the rest of the series.

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Spotlight + Excerpt: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Spotlight + Excerpt: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by HQN Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

As I’ve said before, I don’t normally do posts without a review, whether they are spotlight or excerpt posts or whatever. But I’m always happy to make an exception for one of Susan Mallery’s books because I always love them. And because I’m always going to review the book sooner or later – in this case, sooner, as I’m part of the review tour, scheduled for mid-July. So while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story when it comes out on July 10, here’s a bit of a teaser to whet our appetites…

Excerpt from When We Found Home by Susan Mallery

Blowing ten grand on a five-year-old’s birthday party was beyond the definition of insane, Callie Smith thought as she positioned the car-shaped cookie cutter over the sandwich and pressed down as evenly as she could. When she carefully peeled away the excess bread, she was left with a perfect car-shaped PB&J sandwich—sans crust, of course.

The menu for the event was fairly simple, and all based on the Disney movie Cars. Small cups contained carrot, celery and cucumber sticks—aka dipsticks. Two kinds of organic punch along with organic apple juice were at the refueling station. The catering firm’s famous mac and cheese had been remade with pasta in the shape of wheels, and there were car-inspired mini hot dogs ready to go. Callie had already put half a cherry tomato and slice of cucumber to simulate wheels onto one hundred toothpicks, ready to be shoved into place when the mini hot dogs were heated and put in the buns.

The cake was an incredible work of art—a stylized twelve-inch-high modified layer cake shaped to look like a mountain with a road circling up to the top where a small car sat, along with a banner reading Happy Birthday Jonathan.

The previous afternoon Callie had filled the loot bags with Cars-related toys, and had carefully rolled all twenty-five Pit Crew T-shirts with the names facing up. Yes, each boy would get a personalized T-shirt to wear for the party and then take home with him.

Janice, her boss and the owner of the catering company, hurried into the kitchen. “I already have a knot in my stomach. The rest of the staff has a pool going on how long it takes the first kid to throw up, but I’m hoping we can get through this one without any disasters. How are you doing?”

Callie pointed to the tray with the PB&J sandwiches. “All ready. I’ll cover them with plastic wrap to keep them fresh. The hot dog wheels are done. Just have someone stick them on before putting in the hot dogs. Veggies are finished, the cake is in place and I’ve put out the loot bags. Oh, and the T-shirts are by the front door to be handed out as the guests arrive. Just so you know, there are three Brandons.”

Janice groaned. “Of course there are.” She looked around their client’s massive kitchen. “You’ve done it again, Callie. You took this idea and ran with it. I would still be trying to figure out how to pull it all together.”

Callie did her best to offer a sincere smile—one without a hint of bitterness. What was going to happen next wasn’t Janice’s fault. Instead, the blame lay squarely on Callie’s shoulders. She could whine and stomp her feet all she wanted. She could point to her ex-boyfriend, but in the end, the decision had been hers and so were the consequences.

Rather than make Janice say it, Callie untied her apron. “I need to get going. The first guests will be arriving and I shouldn’t be here.”

Janice’s mouth twisted as guilt flashed in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I just can’t risk it.”

Callie nodded. “Do you want me back at the shop to help with cleanup later?”

“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? We have to prep for the Gilman wedding Tuesday morning. I’ll see you then.”

Callie nodded, doing her best not to calculate how much she would have made if she’d been able to stay and work the party. Being an hourly employee meant every penny mattered, but there was no way. She got that…sort of.

“Have fun today.”

Janice gave a strangled laugh. “With twenty-five little boys? I don’t think so.”

Callie got her backpack from the utility room closet, then walked out the back door. She dug out her phone, opened her Uber app and requested a car.

Normally she would just take the bus back home but this part of River Oaks didn’t have a whole lot of public transportation—especially not on a Sunday morning. So she would splurge.

Ten minutes later she was in the silver Ford Focus and heading for her more modest neighborhood. It wasn’t close to work, but it was inexpensive and safe—two priorities for her.

She had the Uber driver drop her off at the H-E-B grocery store so she could get a few things. Only what she could carry home and consume in the next couple of days. The room she rented came with kitchen privileges, but Callie preferred to use the small refrigerator and microwave she kept in her room. She’d learned that storing anything in the main kitchen was a risky proposition. House rules were clear—don’t take food belonging to someone else. Unfortunately enforcement was haphazard and Callie didn’t want to chance someone taking her food.

She heated soup—the dented can had been 50 percent off!—then got out a four-month-old copy of Vogue that she’d fished out of a recycling bin to read while she ate. Janice only took day jobs on Sundays and the caterer was closed on Monday, giving Callie almost thirty-four hours off. At ten on Monday night she would start her other job, cleaning offices in the financial district.

She finished her lunch, then loaded her biggest tote with clothes, sheets and towels before heading to the local Laundromat. The afternoon had warmed up and gotten more humid—fairly typical for Houston in early spring, or any time of year.

The temperature inside the Laundromat had to be in the upper nineties. The crowded, noisy space was filled with families completing chores before the grind of the new week began again.

Callie found two free washers together, loaded her belongings and inserted a ridiculous number of quarters. She was lucky—she had to take care of only herself. Her bed was a twin, so the sheets were small. She could get away with two loads every two weeks, but how did people with kids make ends meet when it was three dollars to wash a load of clothes?

 

Author Info:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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

Susan is giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
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Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayThe Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Haven Point #8
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Years after betraying her, he’s back in Haven Point…and ready to learn the truth.

Megan Hamilton never really liked Elliot Bailey. He turned his back on her family when they needed him the most and it almost tore them all apart. So she’s shocked when Elliot arrives at her family’s inn, needing a place to stay and asking questions that dredge up the past. Megan will rent him a cottage, but that’s where it ends—no matter how gorgeous Elliot has become.

Coming back home to Haven Point was the last thing bestselling writer Elliot Bailey thought he’d ever do. But the book he’s writing now is his most personal one yet and it’s drawn him back to the woman he can’t get out of his mind. Seeing Megan again is harder than he expected and it brings up feelings he’d thought were long buried. Could this be his chance to win over his first love?

My Review:

First of all, the story bears almost no resemblance to the blurb. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story or a lovely romance, because it’s both. But the story as written is only tangentially similar to the blurb.

The romance is between Megan Hamilton and Elliot Bailey. And he does come to stay at her family’s inn. But does the story ever diverge from those points!

Once upon a time, Megan Hamilton was dating Elliot’s younger brother Wayne. We’ve met the rest of the Bailey family in the course of the Haven Point series. But Megan and Wayne’s romance never went anywhere because Wayne was killed while helping a stranded motorist during a blizzard.

So she never officially became part of the Bailey family, but in tiny Haven Point, where everyone’s lives are intertwined, the Hamiltons and the Baileys have remained close. Then again, pretty much everyone in Haven Point is close.

Megan and Elliot also remember each other from growing up in Haven Point. Megan and her friends called Elliot, Mr. Roboto. The name was not intended to flatter. Elliot was a bit older, very, very serious, and did everything by the book.

Those tendencies have made him an absolutely stellar FBI agent. But are a bit ironic for the other side of Elliot’s life, because he is also a best-selling true-crime author. And he seems to invest all of his caring and understanding into his books.

Megan is even a fan of his writing – in spite of the fact that she never believed that Elliot thought she was good enough for his brother. And particularly in spite of the fact that when her brother’s wife disappeared 7 years ago, leaving him to raise their two children, Elliot was one of many people in Haven Point who believed that Luke Hamilton had murdered his wife and hidden her body.

When Elliot returns to Haven Point, he’s on leave from the FBI. He disobeyed orders, got himself shot, killed an informant, messed up a DEA case and is now on suspension while he heals from the bullet wound.

He’s also working on his next book. And he’s booked himself into Megan’s inn to work on it. He’s not quite willing to admit to himself that he’s staying at the inn in the hopes of running into Megan – and he’s surprised to discover that she’s living in the cabin next to his.

And that the undercurrents between them are as strong as ever – in spite of all the skeletons in their respective closets.. The question is whether they can lay those bones to rest, or whether the past will continue to stand between them and the future they might have – together.

Escape Rating B+: The Cottages on Silver Beach feels like its about two things. One is trust, and the other is about just how much the baggage of the past holds you back from your brightest future.

The baggage that both Megan and Elliot carry from their birth families is pretty heavy. Megan’s father was both physically and emotionally abusive. While he reserved his physical abuse for his wife, he doled out the emotional abuse to everyone in the house. All Megan ever heard from her dad was that she was plain, dumb and useless. The bastard is long dead, and good riddance to bad rubbish, but she still hears his voice in her head whenever she steps outside her comfort zone.

And it’s that disparaging voice that has kept her from realizing her dream of being an art photographer. She has the skill, but lacks the confidence to put her work out there.

Elliot, on the other hand, is hyper-responsible. In a big family of drama kings and queens, Elliot was expected to take care of everyone and everything – and he’s internalized that message to the point where he suppresses his own emotions and personality.

They can help each other get past their fears, but only if they can get rid of the elephant-sized baggage that’s always in the room with them. Seven years ago Megan’s sister-in-law disappeared after a fight with her husband, Megan’s brother Luke. Neither she nor her body were ever found, and there are many in town who believe that Luke got away with murder.

As a law enforcement officer, Elliot feels duty-bound to admit that it is entirely possible that Luke killed his wife. He may not want to believe it, but it is possible as far as the evidence shows. Megan believes in her brother unconditionally, and as long as they are on opposite sides of this fence, they have no future. Even though they can’t seem to trust themselves when they’re together, as long as Elliot has even a glimmer of an idea that Luke might be guilty, Megan can’t trust him with her heart.

But resolving the issue may reveal Luke’s guilt. Or it may reveal that the previous police chief, Elliot’s late father, mishandled his last big case. That’s a lot of real, painful stuff to get in the way of a romance.

It’s up to Elliot to find a way for all of them to move forward, not just his romance with Megan, but his former friendship with Luke, closure for Luke’s kids, and finally removing the dark cloud over the town. If he can. If he should.

In the end, it’s that dilemma that drives the story much more than the romance. And it felt right.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Cottages on Silver Beach to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

Review: Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne BuistTwo Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion, Anne Buist
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, travel
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project comes a story of taking chances and learning to love again as two people, one mourning her husband and the other recovering from divorce, cross paths on the centuries-old Camino pilgrimage from France to Spain.

“The Chemin will change you. It changes everyone…”

The Chemin, also known as the Camino de Santiago, is a centuries-old pilgrim route that ends in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Every year, thousands of walkers—some devout, many not—follow the route that wends through quaint small villages and along busy highways alike, a journey unlike any other.

Zoe, an artist from California who’s still reeling from her husband’s sudden death, has impulsively decided to walk the Camino, hoping to find solace and direction. Martin, an engineer from England, is road-testing a cart of his own design…and recovering from a messy divorce. They begin in the same French town, each uncertain of what the future holds. Zoe has anticipated the physical difficulties of her trek, but she is less prepared for other challenges, as strangers and circumstances force her to confront not just recent loss, but long-held beliefs. For Martin, the pilgrimage is a test of his skills and endurance but also, as he and Zoe grow closer, of his willingness to trust others—and himself—again.

Smart and funny, insightful and romantic, Two Steps Forward reveals that the most important journeys we make aren’t measured in miles, but in the strength, wisdom, and love found along the way. Fans of The Rosie Project will recognize Graeme Simsion’s uniquely quirky and charming writing style.

 

My Review:

Two Steps Forward, which begins as kind of the ultimate road trip journey of self-discovery and ends with a romance between two mature adults is absolutely charming from its beginning in Cluny, France to its ending in Santiago, Spain. It will remind readers of Eat, Pray, Love, but with a bit less self-indulgence.

And so are all of the places, and most of the people, that Zoe and Martin meet along the way, whether they are travelling separately, together, or a bit of both.

Their separate roads to that self-discovery, as well as their journey along the pilgrim’s path variously known as the Carmino de Santiago, the Chemin, or simply the Way, is definitely a story of two steps forward and one step back – and sometimes the other way around.

Both Zoe and Martin are at very loose ends in their mid-lives. It would be a cliche to say that either of them is having a mid-life crisis, and that’s not really the case. They are both in crises that have been thrust upon them. The story of Two Steps Forward is about coming to terms with those crises, the effects on their lives and hearts, and figuring out how to move forward.

They say that the Chemin changes everyone. That, at least, is Zoe’s purpose for taking her first ill-prepared steps along the Way. She is in her mid-40s, and has unexpectedly been widowed. Her daughters are adults, and don’t seem to need her much anymore. And after two marriages, one ending in divorce and one ending in death, she’s not quite sure who she is anymore. Only that the identities that she has crafted for herself – or compromised herself into – no longer fit.

So she walks.

Martin, on the other hand, is flat broke after a messy divorce, and an ill-considered dare. His ex had an affair with his boss, so he’s also out of a job. As he puts it, he’s 52 and skint. And British.

He’s not traveling the Chemin to find himself. Instead, he’s an engineer testing a prototype for a rolling cart that hikers could possibly use to travel the Chemin without either carrying a backpack, the traditional mode, or hiring the service that portages one’s bag(s) from one stop to another. Of course, the purists consider that to be cheating.

But just because he isn’t looking to find himself or resolve any of the many, many issues he’s running, well, walking, away from, doesn’t mean that those issues don’t follow him along the road. And it equally does not mean that he does not, after all, learn the lessons that the Chemin needs to teach him.

Along the way, they keep running into each other. And occasionally from each other. And it is absolutely charming, every step of the way.

Escape Rating B+: Your feet will hurt after reading this book, or at least mine did. In sympathy with their incredible journey. It’s a 2,000 kilometer walk, in other words, over 1,200 miles. On foot. Walking.

The description of the route, the places they stop or pass, and just the effects of the sheer volume of time, distance and effort, are lyrical, and they feel real, as they should. The authors of Two Steps Forward have themselves walked the Chemin, including the particular route taken by Martin in this book, and have traveled other trails along this pilgrim’s path in the years since.

The blisters in particular sound downright painful.

But as fascinating as the sheer volume of the mechanics of the journey are, what makes this story so charming are the characters of Zoe, Martin and everyone they meet along the way.

The story is told from alternating points of view, with one chapter seen from Martin’s perspective, and the other from Zoe’s. While we do read what they think and feel about each other, it’s more important that we also get to look at what brought them on this journey, what they discover about themselves along the way – and just what baggage they leave behind.

That they also find each other gives the story its happy ending, but this is one where the journey, and its fellow travelers, are infinitely more fascinating, may I even say moving, than the destination.

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Review: Path of Love: Cinque Terre, Italy by M.L. Buchman

Review: Path of Love: Cinque Terre, Italy by M.L. BuchmanPath of Love: Cinque Terre, Italy Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Love Abroad B&B #2
Pages: 282
Published by Buchman Bookworks on April 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

-a Love Abroad B&B romance-

Welcome to the Cinque Terre, the jewel of the Italian Coast. In shades of warm gold, apricot, and peach, these remote stone villages face the Mediterranean. Their narrow cobbled streets are car-free. Instead they’re filled with soft sunlight and hope.

Erica Barnett always dreamed of visiting Italy. But she never planned to arrive alone and devastated. Putting her life back together ranks as a distant second to the priority of fixing her heart.

Ridley Claremont III, wealthy son of a Californian vintner and his trophy wife, discovers the shallowness of his life when his parents are killed in a car wreck. Seeking forgetfulness on a motorcycle driving the European backroads, he stumbles into the tiny cliffside town of Corniglia. Vibrant life greets him around every corner: food and flowers, gelato and friendship. And the wine, most especially the wine.

A man who never faced himself and a woman who finally has, meet in the only place they can. Along the Via dell’Amore, the Path of Love, in Cinque Terre, Italy.

My Review:

I was still looking for light and fluffy after those two epic grimdarks earlier this week, and while M.L. Buchman’s military romances don’t quite qualify as “light and fluffy”, with their HEAs they are still lighter and fluffier than my week began. And this isn’t a military romance, it’s a contemporary. I’ve only read one of his contemporary romances (so far) and that was a real treat. It was Off the Leash if you are in the mood for a light and fluffy romance with just a hint of suspense.

Today’s little gem, in spite of its absolute mouthful of a title, is indeed a light and fluffy little treat, with just a tiny bit of serious mixed in to give it just the right hint of bittersweet to make the HEA feel earned. And it ends with a teensy bit of Brigadoon-type magic.

The story here is about two lost people finding themselves on the Via dell’Amore (that’s Path of Love in English)  in the area of Italy known as Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera. In other words, the places named in this book really exist, except for one, the little Bed and Breakfast and attached bar called Il Cane, named for a dog named Snoop. Not Snoopy, just Snoop.

Erica Barnett and Ridley Claremont III are both on voyages of discovery – even if neither of them thinks of their Italian peregrinations quite that way. Erica is fleeing the loss of her job and the breakup of her relationship with her boss. Her married boss. Ridley is running away from his grief over the unexpected death of his much-beloved mother. Both of them are convinced that they are running away, and it’s only after their separate journeys collide in the tiny village of Corniglia that they both stop running long enough to figure out that maybe all that running away has put them in the place where they belong.

Whether they belong there separately or together is just another part of that journey – the part that will be either the most heartbreaking, or the most rewarding, or even a little bit of both.

Escape Rating B: I was looking for light and fluffy, and I certainly found it, along with loving descriptions of the Cinque Terre region that made me want to book a vacation there immediamente!

Both Erica and Ridley ran away to Italy to lose themselves, although for much different reasons. Erica is at loose ends in so many ways. To a significant extent, she is angry with herself. She’s always seen herself as a smart and capable person, but she let herself be used and now she’s second guessing herself and trying to figure out where she missed the signs. She’s letting her doubts and her fears control her life, and she’s mad at herself for letting it happen and the self-doubt cycle is pretty vicious. Then she wrecks her rental car, gets stuck in Corniglia and runs right into Ridley Claremont III pretending to be a badass.

But Erica is the only person who seems to recognize it as a pretense. Not that Ridley doesn’t have bad-boy playboy written all over him, but the act doesn’t seem to reflect the man she keeps running into. He keeps telling himself that he’s the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, but can’t manage to leave either Erica or the welcoming little town. And can’t even think to himself that he might have found a love, or loves worth staying for.

But while Ridley flounders around emotionally, Erica gets over the self-defeat that brought her to Corniglia and emerges from her shell. Part of that emergence is due to her love affair with Ridley, but Ridley is the catalyst and not the real reason for the change.

So even when Ridley can’t admit to himself what they are to each other, and makes emotional hash out of both of them, Erica picks up the pieces and moves on with the life she’s figured out she wants.

It takes Ridley a lot of heartache as well as a significant amount of backbreaking labor to finally get on the same page. But it’s lovely when they reach it. Together.

If you’re interested in my little hint about Brigadoon, you’ll need to get the book for yourself. Or reach back to the first book in this series, Heart of the Cotswolds. That’s certainly my plan for the next time I need a bit of fluff!

 

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayHot Response (Boston Fire, #4) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #4
Pages: 288
Published by Carina Press on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The men of Boston Fire are back and hotter than ever! Don’t miss this brand-new novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey.

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

My Review:

Hot Response is the fourth book in the Boston Fire series. I read the first book, Heat Exchange and was not nearly as impressed as I expected to be. But I’m happy to say that Hot Response reminded me of all the reasons that I loved this author’s earlier series. Multiples of them. To the point where I’m thinking about going back and seeing where I left off.

The Boston Fire series, unsurprisingly considering the title, is centered around the men and women who make up one shift at one particular firehouse in Boston, as well as the people who are part of their lives, usually in multiple ways, between the firehouse and their regular bar, Kincaid’s. After all, Kincaid’s is owned by a retired member of their company and the owner’s son is a member of their team. There are a lot of ties, including family ones.

The tension that makes this particular romance so fraught and so realistic at the same time is also about family ties. Particularly about the difference between the ties that bind and the ties that strangle.

Our hero, Gavin Boudreau, is a member of Ladder 37. He grew up in the neighborhood and is regularly on call for his parents and his nearby siblings. But for Gavin, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes they need him, and sometimes he needs them, and what goes around definitely comes around, all of it good.

Cait Tasker, on the other hand, seems to be on a one-way street with her family. She gives, and they take, and take, and take. The reasons for it make complete sense, but the result isn’t actually working for anyone, and particularly not for Cait. Her stepfather died suddenly, her mother couldn’t get herself out of the well of depression after losing a husband to early death for the second time, and Cait’s 16-year-old half brother is rightfully frightened but not able to keep his mother going on his own. And he has his own grief to process along with all the normal teenage angst and hormones and attitudes. Cait came home to help out, and she’s still helping. But she’s also helping to keep her mom and her brother from learning to stand on their own two feet. Or their own four feet together. Meanwhile, Cait’s older sister is far away and wants absolutely nothing to do with this mess until it’s fixed. And I can’t blame her. In this scenario, I’d probably BE her.

The last thing Cait needs in her life is a relationship. But it’s also the thing she needs most. Getting involved with Gavin is the first time since she came home that she’s done anything besides work, mediate between her mom and her brother, and crash. Especially since as an EMT she really can’t afford to crash.

The deeper Cait and Gavin get into their relationship, the happier they both are. At least until Gavin delivers some home truths that Cait just isn’t ready to hear. He may not want to make her choose between her family and their relationship, but he’s right that she needs to make some choices of her own. Is she propping up her family because they need her to keep doing it, or is she propping up her family because she’s afraid of what will happen if she lets go?

And is Gavin willing to wait for her to figure it out?

Escape Rating B+: First of all, I liked Hot Response a whole lot more than I did the first book in the series, Heat Exchange, a few weeks ago. You could say I had a much hotter response to this one, especially considering that my feelings about Heat Exchange were lukewarm at best.

One of the things I always loved about this author’s earlier series, something that was missing in Heat Exchange, was the way that the dramatic tension in her romances felt real and not contrived, and that was also true in Hot Response.

Cait and Gavin have chemistry together from the very beginning, even if Cait is trying to pretend it isn’t there.

But as strong as their pull towards each other are the forces that are keeping them apart – even when they’re together. It’s unfortunately all too realistic that the issue between them isn’t really between them so much as it is between Cait and her family and Gavin’s eventual loss of patience with the way things are. And not because anyone is a terrible person or because of anything evil, but just because Cait as well as her mother and brother, are just plain too scared to let go of each other – even when they should.

Both Gavin and Cait are interesting characters with high-pressure and occasionally dangerous jobs who are fun to watch and certainly deserve their fair share of happiness. I think it’s fair to say that they are likeable people who would be fun to hang out with, and we want to see them get their HEA. The things standing between them and that HEA feel all too real, situations that could happen in anyone’s life no matter how much they might wish differently.

Cait’s fear for her mother is understandable, as is Gavin’s decreasing level of patience in the way that Cait deals with that fear. This is one of those stories where the real-life answer is probably counseling for everyone, but that can’t happen until the “everyone” in question is ready for it. And Gavin is correct that they all seem to be holding each other back from reaching for the future by holding on too tightly.

In short, I really liked the hero and heroine, I “bought into” both their relationship and the reasons they had problems in their relationship, and was happy for their HEA. I’ll be looking forward after all to the next book in this series, Under Control, because I bet the situation will be far from under anyone’s control. That always makes for great reading!

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

LINK:   https://goo.gl/tm4d11

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR.  Giveaway ends 4/30/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per person. Duplicates will be deleted.