Sophie Fortune Robinson is on a mission. The word around the office watercooler is that the boss's youngest daughter is intent on landing Mr. Right by Valentine's Day--and that she has her eyes, and heart, set on a certain hunk in Marketing. But when she enlists her longtime pal and coworker Mason Montgomery to teach her how to get a man to notice her, little does she know she's already captured his attention!
Now Mason's in a real bind! He has just a few short weeks to fight his way out of the "friend zone." On his agenda: convincing sweet Sophie that he is the real man of her dreams! Will Fortune smile on true love's venture?
Guest Review by Amy:
Sophie Fortune Robinson has found her man, The One For Her. He must be! And she’s utterly certain that she’s the right catch for him. Only–well, see, there’s this guy from IT, and he’s been a good friend to her for a while now, and it doesn’t seem to matter to him that she’s part of the stunningly wealthy Fortune clan.
Escape Rating: A-. Stella Bagwell has written over ninety books for Harlequin, and this isn’t her first foray into the sprawling “Fortunes of Texas” arc of stories. Going in, it looks really predictable: it’s the “I Was Here All Along” trope, tried and true. But Bagwell is an experienced author, so I was counting on a surprise.
I had a little trouble understanding where our heroine was coming from, at the outset of this book. We know she’s the boss’s daughter, she’s interested in the flashy dude from marketing, and she’s only-recently been found to be a scion of the massive Fortune clan around which this group of stories revolve. But, to me at least, she came off a little…shallow. Think of Disney’s Gaston, from Beauty and the Beast:
“She’s the one, the lucky girl I’m going to marry!”
“The inventor’s daughter? But she’s…”
“The most beautiful girl in town! And that makes her the best! And don’t I deserve the best?”
The opening sequence of this book feels like a gender-swapped version of that, to me. He’s the hunkiest, and he’s high up in marketing, so he’s The One, and she’s set her cap to get him. Sure, that’s the formula at play here, but Sophie comes off as almost predatory. For me, it was a tiny sour note, right from the outset, but being the stubborn reader that I am, I powered on.
Once we see where this is heading, it’s easy to think that the end will write itself. But not so fast–it turns out that Sophie’s infatuation with the hunk ends much earlier in the book than I expected–she and her pal Mason, the IT guy, hit it off, and things are ticking along marvelously, before we’re even 2/3 of the way through the book. But what about the subplot that got Sophie into this “Fortunes of Texas” arc in the first place? Her father, you see, lived a double life for a long, long time, and it turns out that he’s a Fortune–and he has illegitimate kids here and there, to boot. Sophie’s brothers and sisters have discovered another one, and it’s stressing her. She withholds this from Mason, and also is keeping their relationship on the sly, to avoid gossip. Predictably, Mason’s not okay with this state of affairs for long, and only then do we see where the real ending of the story will be. Bagwell gave us two Harlequins in one, in a way, and it was cleverly done.
Stella Bagwell shows us her expertise as a writer in Her Sweetest Fortune, and it made for a lovely read for me. Like most Harlequins, this is not a book to dwell on and think over; it’s escapism, pure and clean and unadulterated. Other than the minor bobble with the opening, it’s a cute, fun story, and well worth a read.
Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery will be available Feb 20, 2018. Preorder your copy today!
The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…
Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.
Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.
Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.
I don’t normally do spotlight posts, but I was happy to make an exception in this case because I love Susan Mallery’s books, and I’m also part of the review tour for Sisters Like Us later this month. So I will be reviewing this book in a couple of weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it! So, while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story, here’s a bit of a teaser…
Excerpt from Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery
She finished sprinkling on a layer of grated cheese, then glanced at the clock. It was nearly three. She figured she could risk leaving the lasagna out on the counter until she popped it in the oven at four-fifteen. She’d made the bread days ago and had defrosted a loaf already. The garlic spread was done and the salad was in the refrigerator. She only had to pour on dressing and that was good to go. There was still the table to set. She returned her attention to Lucas.
“Are you bringing someone?”
One corner of his mouth turned up. “Persimmon.”
Harper wiped her hands on a towel. “You have got to be kidding. That’s her real name?”
“It’s on her driver’s license.”
“Which you saw because you check their ID before you date them?”
“I like to be sure.”
“That they’re not underage or that they’re not too old?”
“I get the biology,” she said, studying him across the kitchen island. “The young, healthy female should produce the best offspring. But we’re not living in caves anymore. You drive a Mercedes. If you’ve evolved enough to handle freeway driving, why can’t you date someone remotely close to your own age? I’m not suggesting an old lady, but maybe a woman in her thirties.” She walked to the pantry and got the small box of cookies she’d set aside for him.
“Never mind,” she told him as she handed him the decorated box. “You don’t have an answer and I have no right to question your personal life. I just work for you.”
“And give me cookies.” He studied the ribbon and appliques. “It’s beautiful, but I would have been happy with plastic wrap.”
“That’s not how we do things around here.”
“Which is part of your problem.”
“I know that. Unfortunately, knowing and doing something about it are two different things. Go wash your hands, then you can help me set the table.”
He did as she requested, then met her in the formal dining room. Harper remembered when she and Terence had been looking for a house in the area. They’d passed on several because the dining room wasn’t big enough. When he’d pointed out their family wasn’t that large, she’d reminded him that she had a huge table, a giant hutch and massive buffet to find room for. He’d grumbled about her having too many dishes—every now and then she thought maybe he was right. After the divorce she’d sold two full sets and still had more stock than the average department store.
Her basic set of dishes were white, allowing her to use them as a base for any holiday or event. Now she studied her tablecloths and napkins, then thought about the bunny fest that would be tomorrow’s table.
“Becca likes pink,” Lucas offered. “Isn’t pink a spring color?”
“It is, and that would work. Thanks.”
She pulled out a pale rose tablecloth with matching napkins. She would use gold as the accent color, along with a little dark green. The dinner would be attended by Bunny, Becca, Lucas, fruit date, Kit and Stacey, and Harper, so seven.
She handed Lucas the tablecloth before digging out seven dark green place mats. The rest was easy: seven gold chargers, seven sets of gold flatware, her favorite crystal glasses, white plates. She had a collection of salad plates in different patterns, including eight that were edged in gold. She would make custom napkin rings by dressing up plain ones with clusters of silk flowers. She had three hurricane lamps with gold bases.
She left him to put the linens on the table, then hurried into her craft room to double-check supplies. Honestly, she should have planned her table a couple of days ago, in case she needed to go to the craft store. Now she was going to have to wing it.
She plugged in her glue gun, then dug through a large bag of silk flower pieces and found several tiny pink blossoms, along with some greens. She had glass beads, of course, and plenty of ribbon. Ten minutes later, she had secured the last of the flowers to the clear plastic napkin rings she bought in bulk. She picked up bags of colored glass beads and the ribbon, then turned and nearly ran into Lucas.
“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding more amused than concerned.
“Decorating the table. Can you get those hurricane lamps, please?”
“There’s something wrong with you,” he told her as he picked up the lamps and followed her back into the dining room. “Your crafts don’t make you a penny, yet you have that huge room for them. At the same time, you cram your office into that tiny bedroom in back.”
“Sometimes I have to use my craft room for work,” she said, trying not to sound defensive. “When I work for my party planner, I do.”
“Yeah, sell it somewhere else. Harper, no one’s going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.”
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.
Her name means “miracle” in Sanskrit, and to her parents, that’s exactly what Kimaya is. The first baby to survive after several miscarriages, Kimi grows up in a mansion at the top of Mumbai’s Pali Hill, surrounded by love and privilege. But at eleven years old, she develops a rare illness that requires her to be confined to a germ-free ivory tower in her home, with only the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company. . . . Until one person dares venture into her world.
Tasked at fourteen-years-old with supporting his family, Rahul Savant shows up to wash Kimi’s windows, and an unlikely friendship develops across the plastic curtain of her isolation room. As years pass, Rahul becomes Kimi’s eyes to the outside world—and she becomes his inspiration to better himself by enrolling in the police force. But when a life-saving heart transplant offers the chance of a real future, both must face all that ties them together and keeps them apart.
As Kimi anticipates a new life, Rahul struggles with loving someone he may yet lose. And when his investigation into a black market organ ring run by a sociopathic gang lord exposes dangerous secrets that cut too close to home, only Rahul's deep, abiding connection with Kimi can keep her safe—and reveal the true meaning of courage, loss, and second chances.
Infused with the rhythms of life in modern-day India, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s candid, rewarding novel beautifully evokes all the complexities of the human heart.
It’s all Kimi’s fault. Not just the events in A Distant Heart, but also everything that happened in A Change of Heart. Both the good and the bad. But especially the bad.
The problem is that Kimi doesn’t know it’s her fault, or that the people she trusted the most saved her life with a giant lie. All that she knows is that two years ago, a donor heart was mysteriously found, and she was able to finally emerge from the sterile bubble in which she had been forced to live her young life.
Kimi doesn’t know where her heart came from. Her rich and influential father has insisted on respecting the privacy of the donor and the donor’s family.
But there’s a black-market organ dealer who is determined to expose the truth that surrounds Kimi’s heart – right before he takes it out of her chest. Or at least ensures that it will never beat again – not for Kimi, not for anyone.
And there’s a police detective determined to bring that same criminal to justice before that happens. Detective Rahul Savant has put all the resources he has at his disposal to bring Asif Khan to justice, no matter what it costs. Not just in revenge for the death of his friend Jen, and for the deaths of all the lost souls whose body parts have been “harvested” by Khan’s organization, but really because Kimi is the love of his life. Even if he can’t admit that to himself. And even if he isn’t allowed to admit it to anyone else. Especially Kimi.
Escape Rating B+: A Distant Heart is the direct follow-up to A Change of Heart. While the friends-into-lovers romance between Kimi and Rahul is played out in this story only, the events that set everything in motion began in A Change of Heart. Because A Distant Heart is the shattering conclusion to a story begun in the earlier book, it is necessary to read both to get the full impact.
And what an impact it is.
Kimi’s life has been a miracle and a tragedy all in one. Her story has elements of the “poor little rich girl” trope, but the “poverty” in Kimi’s story is deeper. Yes, she’s a lonely, rich girl, but she’s lonely not because of distant or neglectful parents (at least not both of them), but because she has an autoimmune disease and must live in a sterile bubble. If her parents weren’t wealthy, the disease would have killed her long ago.
Rahul, on the other hand, began with a happy childhood that was invaded by tragedy of a different kind. His father, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty, taking a bullet for Kimi’s father. The lesson Rahul learned early, and that was repeated with the sudden death of his little sister, was that people he loved would be taken away without warning.
But the tragedy of his father’s death linked the two families. Kimi’s father felt duty-bound to provide for the family, and 14-year-old Rahul felt equally duty bound not to accept charity from the man who had gotten his father killed. The result was a long-standing arrangement for Rahul to work off the money that was contributed for his and his brother’s education at the estate where Kimi lived in her bubble.
These two children of tragedy connected in a lifelong bond. A bond that neither her illness nor her eventual recovery, or even Rahul’s obsession with the black market organ harvesting ring that led to his friend’s death, could truly break.
And neither could her father’s attempts to place restrictions and limitations on their friendship.
This is a story with multiple facets. The relationship between Rahul and Kimi careens between friendship, love, resentment and fear on an endless roller coaster ride. Rahul is afraid to love anyone, out of fear they will be taken from him. That’s a fear that is more than realistic in Kimi’s case as her life has always been on borrowed time. Kimi loves Rahul, but can also be somewhat of a spoiled brat about getting her own way. She’s never bad about it, but she is used to being indulged in a whole lot of ways because her illness made her precious to everyone around her.
There is also a central mystery to the story. The organ harvester is after Kimi for reasons that are obscure at first, but become clear over the course of the story. His pursuit is deadly, and forces Rahul and Kimi to stay together for safety, giving them the chance they need to work through how they really feel about each other as adults.
But that pursuit is an obsession, and it’s an obsession that gets the man killed. Not that he doesn’t deserve to die as the story goes, but more that it defies common sense. He could have, and should have, left Kimi alone and escaped to set up somewhere else. Not as interesting a story, but more logical. My two cents.
A Distant Heart is a love story where there is so much bitter mixed with the sweet, right until the very end, that you’ll need tissues to cope with the pangs of your own heart. If you are in the mood for sweetness mixed with angst (and a touch of crazy), this one will keep you tied to your chair until the final page.
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
Enter the giveaway for a prize pack from Sonali that includes a $50 Amazon gift card and print copies of A Bollywood Affair and A Change of Heart!
Leaving your fiancé at the altar on live television is a disaster. Lexie Kowalsky thought she was ready to get married in front of millions of people, but at the last minute she fled the set of television’s hottest reality show, Gettin’ Hitched. Wearing a poofy white dress and a pair of five-inch sparkly shoes, Lexie hopped a float plane for Sandspit, Canada. She figured no one would find her there. But she was wrong.
Sharing her flight was the Seattle Chinooks biggest star, Sean Knox. Lexie wasn’t just a reality-show runaway, she was his pain in the butt coach’s daughter. She was chaos and temptation and definitely off limits, but getting her luscious body out of that wedding gown, he couldn’t resist getting her in his bed for one amazing night.
Then a photo of Sean and Lexi breaks the internet—and suddenly they’re both swept up in a crazy plan to spin the whole story. But you can’t run from love—
Readers have begged Rachel Gibson to return to her popular Chinooks Hockey series, and now I know why. But consider this one as “Chinooks Hockey, the Next Generation”. The series started in 1998, and the couple who found their HEA in the first book, Simply Irresistible, are now the usually proud parents of Lexie Kowalski, the heroine of The Art of Running in Heels.
Where once upon a time John “the Wall” Kowalski was a terror on the ice, now he’s a terror in the locker room, as the respected and sometimes feared head coach of his former team, the Seattle Chinooks.
And it’s the surprise of his life to discover that his oldest daughter Lexie, who has made an even more surprising success of her dog clothing and accessories business on the internet, is one of the contestants on the slightly tacky reality TV show, Gettin’ Hitched.
It’s even more of a surprise when Lexie wins, because she has no desire to get hitched, at least not to a man she barely knows and doesn’t love.
But the train has left the station, the snowball is well down the hill (complete with ACME special effects), and Lexie doesn’t know how to get herself out of the mess she’s gotten herself into. So she runs, in heels just as the title says, wearing a deliberately slight tacky wedding dress, straight into the charter plane that a friend is holding for her.
And she dives in headfirst, landing just about in the lap of Sean Knox, the newest player on her dad’s team. But Lexie doesn’t recognize Sean, even though he definitely recognizes her. He’s on his way to tiny Sandspit, British Columbia to deal with his mother’s latest bout of death-defying hypochondria, and has no desire to get anywhere near Lexie’s crazy train.
His mother’s extreme hypochondria has added all the crazy-train drama he could ever need into his life. But Lexie, lost and alone in tiny Sandspit, is hard to avoid. Especially since she needs his help.
She expected to stay out of Seattle for a couple of days and let the fuss over her runaway bride act run its course. But the open maw of the 24-hour news cycle has swallowed her story whole, and now there are entire shows devoted to “Where’s Lexie?”.
Sean helps her hide. He helps her keep herself occupied in Sandspit, and she helps him deal with his mother’s latest round of craziness. Before their little interlude in Sandspit is over, they help each other into bed.
But when Lexie returns to Seattle, alone, she discovers that there’s a downside to becoming an internet sensation. She’s the villain of this piece, and her fledgling business is paying the price. She needs Sean to help her turn her runaway bride story into something sweet and romantic.
And Sean, as much as he refuses to admit it, just needs Lexie, crazy train and all.
Escape Rating A: This one is absolutely terrific crazysauce, and completely fun from beginning to end. It had me at Lexie’s headlong dive into the plane, pretty much at the same time that she has Sean, even if neither of them is admitting it at that point.
This is one of those stories where you love it either in spite of or because of the way it starts out crazy and just turns out to be layers and layers of crazy all the way down. Because Lexie and Sean (and her little dog Yum Yum) are irresistibly fun, even if, or especially because, of the way that they keep trying, and failing, to resist each other.
It’s marvelously obvious from the very beginning that Sean and Lexie have enough chemistry to melt the biggest hockey rink. Part of the fun in the story is watching them figure out that chemistry isn’t all they have.
I have not read the rest of the Chinooks Hockey series, but it doesn’t seem necessary to enjoy The Art of Running in Heels. This book really is a fresh start to the series. I’ll also confess I’m not sure whether I will. As much as I enjoyed this one, the first book in the series revolves around a “secret baby” and that is one of my least favorite tropes ever.
But Lexie is the secret baby from that first book, all grown up. And her story is a hoot (and a holler) from beginning to end.
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the entire Chinooks Romance series by Rachel Gibson. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 1/5/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.
One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.
Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There's only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn't necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.
With a tough islander mother who's always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter--a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was--Nora has her work cut out for her if she's going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.
But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise...and the chance to begin again.
Robert Frost said that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” He said nothing about them having to like it. Or you.
Nora Stuart feels like she has to return home, to tiny Scupper Island, to see if she can get her life back on track after an accident. And a wake up call.
Nora’s life has been gray for a while now. She’s been going through the motions after something she refers to cryptically as the “Big Bad Event”. She figures that she’ll snap out of it eventually, and go back to being bright, sparkling, electric Nora, who escaped her tiny island home, her broken family, and her history as the high school “troll” to become a successful doctor.
But when the Beantown Bug Killers van mows her down and nearly kills her outside the hospital, it’s kind of a cosmic kick in the pants. As is waking up in recovery to see her boyfriend telling her nurse that he was planning to break up with her but now can’t as she’ll need help after her accident.
Nora decides she doesn’t need his help THAT bad. She can always go home to her mother on Scupper Island, and face all the demons she left behind. And while that might seem a bit melodramatic, the fact is that in high school, the other students pretty much were demons in the way they tormented fat, lonely, miserable Nora.
Going back will give her the chance to mend fences with her extremely capable but emotionally distant mother, reconnect with the niece that she has been ruthlessly pushed away from, and hopefully discover what really happened the day her father left the island and his family forever, and seemingly took all the bright happiness of her childhood with him.
But Nora left Scupper Island 17 years ago with the town scholarship to Tufts University, and no one seems to have forgotten that Nora “stole” the scholarship that should have gone to the town’s golden boy, That scholarship was given to the high school senior with the highest GPA, and Nora won fair and square. Not that anyone believes that, not even Nora.
Even though small towns have long memories, Nora discovers that some things (and people) have changed. A lot. And some not at all.
The question is whether Nora has changed enough to let herself be, not the miserable child she was, nor the bright, sparkly person she chose to be, but the person she really is. And to discover the best life to make that person, her real self, happy.
Escape Rating A-: Kristan Higgins writes quintessential “women’s fiction”, and as much as I hate the term, I love her storytelling.
The story of Now That You Mention It is all about Nora and her relationships with the women in her life; her unapproachable mother, her lost sister, and her disaffected niece, but it’s also about Nora’s relationship with the person she used to be. Part of her journey is for Boston-Nora-the-Doctor to make peace with Scupper-Island-Nora, formerly known as the troll. And it’s not going to be easy for those two people to meet in the mushy middle and make up Nora-who-is-just-Nora.
There is a romance as part of Nora’s journey, but it’s not the focus of the story. The focus is on Nora making peace with her own past and taking charge of her own present.
Her past has a lot of crap in it that needs to be uncovered and worked through. Nora’s memories of life on Scupper Island after her father left are as painful to read as they would have been to experience. In the wake of that unresolved tragedy, Nora threw herself into academic overachievement and self-comforting overeating, while her sister turned into a bitchy member of the in-crowd of Nora’s tormentors and her mother just kept things together as best as she could.
Now it’s up to Nora and her mother to make some kind of peace, and for the town to make its peace with Nora. And for her to do for her niece what she was never able to do for her sister, and to find out why.
In the end, this is the story of a healing journey for those who can be healed, like Nora and her mother Sharon and niece Poe. It’s also about the acceptance of the things that can’t be changed. Like the past. And her sister.
Nora’s memories of her past on the island make for hard reading. Anyone who remembers being bullied at school may also find them triggering, and I’ll confess I skipped a bit through those parts. But they add depth and poignancy to Nora’s difficult but ultimately rewarding journey.
~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
I’m giving away a copy of Now That You Mention It to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter.
Major Emily Beale struggles to excel in her new role as both mother and wife.
Colonel Michael Gibson’s career reaches a crisis, not that he’s talking about it.
Trainee military war dog Rip naps—he was named for Rip van Winkle, after all—while awaiting inspiration.
Film student turned cowboy Patrick Gallagher just keeps riding through life...until the woman of his dreams threatens to ride off into the sunset without him.
Recently retired war dog handler for Delta Force, Lauren Foster sets herself a simple mission: forget about the Army, get back to New York City, and try to be a civilian.
But first, Lauren must escape Montana before she gets caught by the Big Sky and a loyal heart.
Big Sky, Loyal Heart may be the fifth book in the author’s Henderson’s Ranch series, but it calls all the way back to the first book of this author’s that I ever read, The Night is Mine, all the way back in 2012.
Not that one has to have read the entire oeuvre, or even all of the Henderson’s Ranch series to really fall in love with this one, but a little background might help.
As the long, overarching story stands in 2017, Mark Henderson and Emily Beale, the hero and heroine of the military suspense romance The Night is Mine, have moved on, not merely to the second chapter in their lives, but actually the third. In their second chapter, they flew firefighting hotshot crews to wherever the fires were hottest (and conducted a few secret quasi-military operations on the side) in the Firehawks series.
After that chapter, they have moved back to Mark’s family ranch in Montana, where they provide cabins, horses, and guides for guests, as well as jobs for some of their fellow special operations veterans.
Big Sky, Loyal Heart is all about one of those veterans, and the cowboy she falls for. Right after he falls into a mud puddle.
Lauren Foster has mustered out of Delta after 15 years. She left with a dog-sized hole in her heart that she doesn’t know if she can ever fill, a humvee-sized load of guilt and whole lot of confusion.
Jupiter was killed by enemy action. But it was action that he should never have been in. The order was wrong. Lauren knew it. Even the dog knew it. But Lauren followed orders, and Jupiter followed orders and now he’s dead. And Lauren has had enough.
But as she stands on the tarmac at Ft. Bragg with no clear direction for her return to civilian status, Colonel Michael Gibson swoops her up and tells her to follow him. He was her commanding officer in Delta, so she follows in his wake, all the way to Montana and Henderson’s Ranch.
She has no idea why she’s there. She has no idea why Gibson is there. And less than no idea why he brought her with him.
Lauren Foster expects to go home to New York City and surf her brother’s couch until she figures out what her civilian life is supposed to be.
It turns out that she’s already found it. She just doesn’t know it yet.
Escape Rating A-: This is just a terrific romance. I loved every minute of it, as I have pretty much everything I’ve ever read by this author, starting with The Night is Mine all those years ago.
This story rides on the backs of its two leads, Lauren Foster and her film student turned cowboy, Patrick Gallagher. While they both hail from New York City, they have found their respective ways to Montana by completely different roads.
Lauren is fascinating because she is one of this author’s trademark military women. She’s tough and strong and has spent years not showing weakness, trying to make everyone around her lose as much sight as possible of the fact that she’s female. She’s had to be “one of the boys” to earn the respect she’s needed to do her job, and it’s never been easy.
And yet she’s never a caricature or the stock character of the”strong heroine” that so often appears these days. She has her weaknesses and her flaws, she’s just used to hiding them. And she’s properly confused about why she’s at the Ranch and what she’s supposed to do with her suddenly open future.
Patrick is, in many ways, her opposite. He’s certainly her perfect foil. Where Lauren has been forced to tamp down all of her emotions, Patrick is charming and wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see. He also has a strong whimsical side. His background in film makes him see life, even his own life, as a movie, and he’s usually been cast as the comic sidekick in his own life. When Lauren drops into Montana, the ranch, and his heart, he has the chance to play the romantic hero, if he can just find a way to make the role fit for him.
Part of what makes this story, and so many of this author’s romances, work so well is that while Patrick is not anything like a ‘beta-hero’ he recognizes that Lauren is going to be the ‘alpha’ in their relationship – and he’s fine with that. There aren’t nearly enough heroines like Lauren, nor are there nearly enough heroes like Patrick. A romance where a strong woman finds a man who loves and respects her exactly as she is always appeals to this reader.
Although I have not read any of the previous books in the Henderson’s Ranch series, I have read most of the Night Stalkers and Firehawks books that came before it. It is marvelous to continue following Mark and Emily through their lives as they transition (more or less) from being elite soldiers to a still very active, but different, civilian life. And it was interesting to see Colonel Gibson, a background character throughout the Night Stalkers series and the hero of Bring on the Dusk, start changing directions in his life.
It’s always good to visit old friends.
Even if you haven’t dipped into the previous series (but do, they are all awesome) Big Sky, Loyal Heart is a lovely contemporary romance all on its own, and is complete in itself. But it will give you a yen to read the backgrounds of the marvelous crew that you will meet within its pages.
For those of us who have followed Mark and Emily through multiple series, there’s a hint at the end of Big Sky, Loyal Heart that their saga not only continues but moves into a new phase. I can hardly wait!
A heartwarming small-town romance that will make you believe in love and second chances.
She has a million reasons to leave. Can he give her the one she needs to stay? Cat McGuire's return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is--and more like the awkward teen who never fit in. It doesn't help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.
Luc's homecoming has been bittersweet. He's lost his wife and his career, but there's no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids' hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete--until Cat arrives. The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who's stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances. But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?
In the tradition of New York Times bestselling authors Susan Wiggs and RaeAnne Thayne comes an emotional story about finding love in the most unexpected of places from Jen Gilroy.
Second chance lake strikes again!
Firefly Lake really does deserve to be renamed “Second Chance Lake” because it seems like everyone who goes there, especially those who go back home there, discover a second chance at love, and sometimes even a second chance at life.
Cat McGuire needs a do-over. Or a restart. Or at least enough time to consider what her next step in life should be. As the sister of Nick McGuire (hero of Summer on Firefly Lake) she has some of the same baggage that Nick did. Their dad didn’t just leave their mother when they were kids, he ran out of town just ahead of everyone finding out that he’d cheated a whole lot of people out of their money. Think of him as a small time Bernie Madoff who faced fewer consequences.
But Cat, already considered the town oddball as an intellectual whiz kid, found herself the center of more attention than any child could reasonably cope with. Which she, of course, avoided by retreating even further into her books, making her stand out even more.
The one person who stood up for her against all the bullies was budding hockey star Luc Simard. So of course Luc became her hero, and her first crush, and her big brother’s best friend all rolled into one.
Cat comes back to town to look after her mother a bit, after the cancer scare, but also to use a research grant to work on a book about women’s sports in Vermont history. She hopes that getting the book published will finally put her on track for a tenure-track teaching position – something that is really hard to come by for history Ph. D.s, even when they get that Ph. D. from Harvard.
And Cat is hoping that Firefly Lake will give her daughter a chance for a do-over at school. At 12, all Amy wants to do is play hockey. But her dyslexia has held her back academically, and her Boston team was ready to kick her out for not meeting academic standards. The Firefly Lake team is a community team and not a school team, so her grades are not an issue. But Cat worries just as much, because there is no separate girls hockey team in tiny Firefly Lake. Amy will have to play with the boys. And while she’s plenty good enough, if not better, than the other players on the team, as puberty kicks in she just isn’t as big.
But Luc Simard has retired from the NHL and come home. As the new head coach of the team, he sees something in Amy that he doesn’t often see. She can feel the ice in a way that only great players can. It’s a talent he’s happy to nurture. not just for the joy of coaching but also as a way to “pay forward” to the sport that he loves and that has given him so much, even though it has also taken so much away.
Like it took his late wife, who was herself a women’s hockey star. But now Maggie is gone, two years dead after a brain aneurysm burst. He wasn’t there because he was on the road with his team. And he can’t manage to let go of his grief or his guilt.
So when he discovers that Cat, the little girl he used to protect, is all grown up, he discovers that she touches a part of his heart that he thought he had buried with Maggie. He feels even more guilty.
But the ice has melted, and he can’t stop feeling. Even if he doesn’t know what to do about it. And even as he mucks things up again. Second chances are rare. Third chances are almost – but not quite – impossible.
Escape Rating B+: This series, heartwarming from its beginning in The Cottage at Firefly Lake to its end with this book, with its small town centered around a lake and its second chance at love stories reads a lot like Mary McNear’s equally lovely Butternut Lake series. Although the two are several states apart, these little lake towns and the people who populate them have a very similar feel. If you like one, you’ll like the other – even if Firefly Lake in Vermont sounds BRRRRR cold this time of year!
Although both Luc and Cat need the second chances offered by a return to Firefly Lake, the second chances that they each need are different.
In some ways, Luc’s story is a bit more obvious. In his mid-30s, Luc has been a widower for two years. His wife died suddenly and tragically, while carrying their child. Her aneurysm may have been caused by her high-risk pregnancy. He feels guilty, both about persuading her to try again after a series of heartbreaking miscarriages, and because he wasn’t there when she died. He’s grieving the loss of his soulmate, their child and the future that they had planned together.
And he’s grieving the loss of his career in the NHL, after an illegal hit took out his shoulder. And even though the reality is that if he had not retired when he did, he hadn’t had many years left at the top of his sport, and if he weren’t retired by now, it would be coming soon. Which doesn’t make that loss any easier to deal with.
Cat’s circumstances are different. She isn’t eligible for a second chance at love because she’s never let herself be vulnerable enough for a first chance. Her beloved daughter Amy is the result of a leaky condom and what she thought might be the beginning of a relationship while the guy in question was trying to win a bet. That circumstance, on top of her dad’s betrayal, has left Cat understandably gunshy about men and relationships.
But she does need to step back and do a re-think of her choices and her options. She’s been so focused on achieving her academic goals that she hasn’t been able to look at the big picture. A picture that makes the future look a lot like the past and present, stringing together enough temporary teaching gigs to make barely enough to keep Amy and herself fed and clothed by working 16 hours a day for too little pay. Liberal arts Ph. D.s are unfortunately on the wrong end of a buyer’s market. There are too many candidates and not nearly enough tenure-track jobs.
Both Luc and Cat are back in Firefly Lake at the point of a kind of “time-out” in both of their lives. Even though neither of them is looking for it, both of them are in a position where they need to re-think both their pasts and their futures.
And what they discover is that the affection that they’ve always had for each other is still there, but that now they have the possibility of more – if they can get past the baggage that they are both tripping over on the way there. As their chemistry heats up but the roadblocks multiply, their HEA looks like it might derail before it even leaves the station. It’s only when they all (including Amy) finally decide to go for it anyway that they are able to reach for the future, together.
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
Jen is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a paperback copy of Back Home at Firefly Lake. Five (5) runner-up winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice from the Firefly Lake series! This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:
Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.
High-flying Fine Art Agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to asses these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and just who has concealed them for so long.
Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?
This is not the first book to fictionalize the history of the very real Parisian Time Capsule apartment, or even the first book using this apartment that I have read. That would be Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey – and the fictionalization of its history hews a bit closer to the actual history than does The Paris Secret.
But in spite of the similarity of their origins, the stories are completely different. And also a bit the same, but not so much the same that The Paris Secret does not stand on its own – because it does.
In this version, the “lost” apartment belongs to the wealthy and philanthropic Vermeil family, and they are as surprised as anyone else when their lawyer informs them that someone has broken into this apartment that they never knew they owned. It’s even more surprising that the apartment turns out to be a virtual treasure-trove of modernist art, including paintings and sketches by Renoir, Picasso and others. These art treasures have not seen the light of day since the apartment was closed up during the dark days of the Nazis occupation of Paris during WW2.
Our heroine, Flora Sykes, is the art history expert who is tasked with cataloging the vast collection and researching its provenance for the Vermeil family. But her involvement with the family gets off to a rocky start, and stays rocky throughout the book. Sometimes because of the family, but mostly because of what Flora discovers about them.
Their present is gossip-worthy enough on its own. The two adult children of the family, Xavier and Natascha. They are at the top of every gossip site – their exploits and tantrums are legendary. And something about Flora seems to rub both of them absolutely the wrong way, to the point where they both act out every time they are around her.
But it’s the past of the family that Flora uncovers, and that is where history comes in. In order to sell the treasure trove, or even to donate it to museums, Flora must determine its provenance, in other words just how all those paintings came to be in that apartment in the first place.
That search takes her back to the war, and unearths a terrible secret that everyone wishes had never come to light. But once it does, there is no going back. Only forwards. Because the whole truth has been buried under layer after layer of lies and deceits, and it is past time for everything to finally be revealed.
Not in black or white, but in terrible shades of gray.
Escape Rating B: It was fascinating to read a book that used the exact same premise as something I’d already read, and see where this author used the inspiration in an entirely different way.
Paris Time Capsule focused more on uncovering the history. The Paris Secret revolves around the art. History gets uncovered, but it uses the art as a focus in a way that made the two stories very different.
The Paris Secret also illuminates one of the murkier (and often nastier) facets of the Nazi occupation of Paris. The ownership of the paintings traces back to an art dealer who was reviled for his cooperation with the Nazis. He was instrumental in the forcing of many Jewish families to sell their precious collections at gunpoint for bargain-basement prices in the families’ belief that they were buying freedom for themselves – when all they received was betrayal while the dealer made a fortune.
The betrayal was even more heinous because the dealer himself was a Jew. If he hadn’t died in 1942, after the war he would certainly have been tried as a collaborateur and ultimately convicted.
But of course this is not the whole story, and the revelation of all the truths involved adds depth to the contemporary parts of the book. Not that there are not plenty of revelations there as well.
Because the more that Flora interacts with the family, the more she sees beneath the surface. The tragic events in Natascha’s own past have bearing both on her present and on the current real-life revelations of the sexual misconduct of prominent figures in the entertainment world today. That resonance is more profound than might even have been intended at the time this book was first published over a year ago in Britain.
Layered on top of the history and the present-day traumas there is a romance between Flora and the Vermeil’s adult son and all-around bad boy, Xavier Vermeil. For this reader, the romance fell just a bit flat, as did Flora’s own family drama. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
There is at least one other book that revolves around the discovery of the real-life apartment, appropriately titled A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. And it looks worth checking out too. The story of the lost apartment is just so fascinating that more interpretations seem irresistible!
MMA fighter Miles Dartman’s casual arrangement with personal shopper Maxi Nevar would be many men’s fantasy. She seeks him out, they have mindblowing sex, she leaves. Rinse, repeat. Yet lately, Miles wants more. And when Maxi requests his services via the Body Armor security agency, he’s ready to finally break through her defenses—and protect her day and night.
Receiving a large inheritance has brought chaos and uncertainty into Maxi’s life. Her ex has resurfaced, along with lots of former “friends,” and someone is making mysterious threats. Then there’s Miles, who doesn’t ask for anything…except her trust. Pleasure is easy. Now Maxi has to give her heart as well as her body…or risk losing a man who could be everything she needs.
The Body Armor Agency needs a new motto. Perhaps something on the order of “We’ll protect your body, and we’ll steal your heart.” Because this series, so far, is all wrapped in the trope of the bodyguard and his protectee falling for each other while dodging whatever is after her.
The start of Close Contact is a bit different from the other books, because MMA fighter turned bodyguard Miles Dartmann and personal shopper Maxi Nevar already know each other, in the Biblical sense, before the book begins.
That Maxi is the one who cut and run from their no-strings-attached fling still bothers Miles. A lot. And not just because he’s usually the one who leaves. It felt like they were really starting to get somewhere, and not just between the sheets, when Maxi disappeared without a trace.
But when she wakes up in the middle of the night, out in the middle of the field next to the house she inherited from her grandmother, with no recollection of how she got there, she remembers that Miles was about to start his new job as a bodyguard when they hooked up.
Because Maxi needs a bodyguard. She’s not sure who she needs guarding from, or even why, but someone keeps messing with her, her house, her stuff, and her life. At first, she chalked up the tiny incidents as misremembering or accidents, but waking up by the pond could only have happened the way it did if someone put her there.
The question is why. And for answers, she turns to Miles, his boss Sahara Silver, and Body Armor.
At first, only Sahara believes Maxi. Miles, still stinging a bit from Maxi’s rejection, is certain that there’s another jilted lover in there someplace who decided to get some payback. It’s not until he comes out to Maxi’s rather remote little farmhouse and witnesses things for himself that he finally gets on board.
And just as he does, the incidents ramp up. Whatever is happening is escalating, and Maxi still doesn’t know why.
It could have to do with her inheritance of the farmhouse and her grandmother’s surprisingly large assets. After all, her brother and sister both believe that they should have gotten a bigger share, and that Maxi should sell the property and just give it to them.
It could be her cheating ex-fiance, who suddenly seems to want her back now that she’s come into her inheritance, and won’t take no for an answer.
It could be the local law enforcement officer who seems to be waiting for Maxi to fall into his arms. A plan that is definitely thwarted by Miles’ presence in Maxi’s life – and eventually her bed.
But the longer that Miles spends with Maxi, the more of the potential suspects he is able to eliminate. And the closer that he gets to the woman who has staked out a place in his heart.
The hotter their romance gets, the more the suspense ratchets up. When the villain is finally revealed, it’s a surprise to everyone involved. Very nearly a deadly one.
Escape Rating A-: Close Contact is every bit as much fun as Hard Justice, the previous book in the series. And I absolutely loved that one.
One of the things I enjoyed about Close Contact was definitely Maxi. And not just because she feels not merely duty-bound, but actually enjoys taking care of all of her grandmother’s many, many (many) cats.
Don’t worry, she’s not a hoarder. The cats live outside, and mostly in the barn. But her grandmother loved them and Maxi cares for them – especially after one of them sticks by her the night she wakes up by the pond.
But what I really liked about Maxi was the way that she takes her life by the horns and learns to stand up for herself. She’s always felt like a bit of a failure, because she isn’t as ambitious and hard-driving as her siblings. But even though she’s used to jumping when they say jump, she still doesn’t give in or change what she believes is right, although she tries to keep the peace between them. It’s interesting watching that dynamic change over the course of the story.
Also, Maxi is right, at least about who isn’t her tormentor. Miles wants to suspect both her siblings and her ex, and they do all have reasons that foster that suspicion. But Maxi knows it isn’t them. I’m also glad it isn’t the ex, because that trope has been done to death.
And something else that was really well done was the forthright way that Miles dealt with the end of his MMA career and the reasons for that ending. I wish that the real-life NFL was half so honest about the risks of concussions and CTE.
The suspense part of this story ratchets up nicely. Or chillingly. It’s done well. The perpetrator is the person everyone least suspects, and the reasons for the whole mess are utterly tragic but at least began from a place that is easy to empathize with, even if the current results are well beyond the pale.
The romance in Close Contact is a bit fast, but it makes sense in context. They were already on their way to falling for each other when Maxi disappeared, so it makes sense that once they are forced into each other’s company, things eventually pick up where they left off. And it is right that they do.
If you like bodyguard romances, the Body Armor series is a winner. And you don’t have to read them all to get into them, but they’re fun, so why not?
We also get a chance to see hints of the next book in the series. It looks like Body Armor owner Sahara Silver may have finally met her match. And I can’t wait to read all about it in Fast Burn.
He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…
Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.
Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.
An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past...and step into a future together.
I picked this book for the cover. I mean that. There’s something about the cover that just drew me in when I saw it on Edelweiss. My friends at the Book Pushers had raved about the author, but sometimes I’m perverse about books that “everyone” tells me to read. The cover of Wrong to Need You grabbed me and sucked me in, and before I knew it I was downloading the eARCs of both Wrong to Need You and Hate to Want You.
After reading Hate to Want You a couple of weeks ago I discovered that all those people who told me to run out and grab this series were absolutely right. It was awesome.
It was so awesome that I couldn’t stop myself from diving right back into the author’s world with Wrong To Need You, even though I had a couple of weeks to spare before my stop on this tour was scheduled. That didn’t matter, I needed to read more RIGHT NOW. And I’m really glad I did, even if I now have a couple of months to wait until the eARCs for Hurts to Love You pop up in Edelweiss.
But about this book, Wrong to Need You…
The overarching story of this book extends from Hate to Want You to Wrong to Need You, and it looks like the long-buried issues between the Chandlers and the Oka-Kanes won’t finally be resolved until the end of Hurts to Love You. And there are plenty of big messy issues that seriously need resolution.
Which means that you should read this series in order. Not that it will exactly be a chore. Like I said, absolute awesomesauce. But the crap pile that these two families have dug for themselves needs a lot of explanation and exploration. While the romance in Wrong to Need You has plenty of fire and all the sweetness of forbidden fruit all on its own, the depth is in the “big picture” story.
In the first book, the forbidden-ness of the fruit was in the family feud. The Chandlers were on one side, the Oka-Kanes on the other, and the once-a-year hookup between Nico Chandler and Livvy Kane was a secret that desperately needed to be kept from both of their feuding families.
In Wrong to Need You, the forbidden nature of the fruit is much closer to home. Sadia Ahmed is Paul Kane’s widow. Jackson Kane is Paul’s brother. If Paul had lived, anything beyond friendship between Sadia and Jackson would have been verboten. And possibly a bit squicky.
But Paul is dead, and Sadia and Jackson are both very much alive. They were best friends before all of the family insanity went down, and Sadia misses her best friend. But Jackson has always had a secret. He’s always loved Sadia, and that is a secret that his brother Paul once exploited, with devastating results.
But Paul is dead, his twin sister Livvy is involved with the Chandlers again, and Jackson is back in town to see if he can fix any of the messes he left behind. And Sadia needs him, a siren song he simply can’t resist, even though he knows that he should.
Once Jackson inserts himself into Sadia’s life and her failing cafe, he discovers that the place he couldn’t wait to see behind him is the only place that he can ever truly belong. And that Sadia is the only woman he can ever love.
But love may not be enough to fix everything that’s gone wrong in his life, her life, or their whole town. And once he discovers the truth behind a long-held secret, Jackson is no longer certain whether the best thing he can do for Sadia, for his family, or for himself, is to disappear again just like he did before.
Or if it’s finally time to make a stand for what he wants, what he needs, and what he loves.
Escape Rating A: Wrong to Need You is every bit as much, well, everything, as Hate to Want You. Sadia and Jackson are fascinating characters, and their romance has every bit as much heat and naughty and sweet as Nico and Livvy’s. And yet, theirs is a completely different type of romance and this is a completely different version of that forbidden fruit.
In addition to the panty-melting romance, I also really loved the other part of this story. The family crap. The deeper we get into the mess that is the Chandler-Oka-Kane feud, and the events that led to it. the less able or willing I am to turn my eyes away from the tire fire. One of the big (huge, gigantic) secrets about the ten-year-old crap pile comes to light in Wrong. And it was so, so wrong, both at the time and even in the present.
Not that revelation of that particular secret would make things better, or at least it won’t now. It might have then. It might have just done more damage. The point is that the characters will never know if it would have been better to have let that particular cat out of the bag at the time. Now it’s just too late.
But it still matters to everyone involved. Because these are not just hot romances, they are also stories of two families in crisis that need to get back to being one family, before its too late.
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 12/8/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.