Review: Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySugar Pine Trail (Haven Point, #7) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An unlikely attraction brings comfort, joy and unforgettable romance this holiday season!

Librarian Julia Winston is ready to ditch the quiet existence she's been living. She's made a list of new things to experience, but falling for Jamie Caine, her sexy military pilot neighbor, isn't one of them. Julia's looking to conquer life, not become the heartbreaker's latest conquest. But when two young brothers wind up in Julia's care for the holidays, she'll take any help she can get—even Jamie's.

Happy to step in, Jamie reveals a side of himself that's much harder to resist. Not only is he fantastic with kids, he provides the strength Julia needs to tackle her list. She knows their temporary family can't last beyond the holidays, but the closer she gets to Jamie, the more she wonders if things could be this merry and bright forever…

My Review:

It may only be September, but welcome to the first holiday book review of the year!

And we’re back in cozy Haven Point in this follow up to Serenity Harbor and my personal favorite in the series, Riverbend Road.

Sugar Pine Trail even ties up a bit of the story in Riverbend Road, right along with the series’ ongoing efforts to get all the Caine brothers of Caine Tech matched up with the women they’ve been waiting their whole lives for – even if they haven’t known it.

The hero this time around is Jamie Caine, the pilot. Jamie spends his days flying his brothers and the other executives of Caine Tech wherever and whenever they need to go. And his nights with a seemingly endless succession of beautiful but ultimately forgettable women who go in knowing that all they’ll get is a few good rides.

Jamie is a flirt and a charmer, and not in the least shy of using those charms to get whatever, or whoever he wants. While he’s not quite a player – he’s the closest thing that tiny Haven Point has ever seen.

Julia Winston, on that other hand, is the town librarian. And she seems to have bought into the stereotype just a bit too much, even though she’s only in her early 30s. Renting Jamie the upstairs apartment in her huge Victorian house is way outside her comfort zone – if only because Julia, along with more than a few women in town – has an unrequited crush on Jamie.

But Julia has also discovered within herself a desire to finally take charge of her own life, and to stop letting her fears hold her back from all the experiences that she once upon a time believed she wanted. Including an orgasm not brought about entirely by her own efforts.

Jamie’s not the only new male to enter her life. In an act of concern and charity, Julia follows home two little boys who seem to be living in the library – and who don’t seem to have an adult around. Once she discovers their true situation and brings social worker Wyn Emmett (the heroine of Riverbend Road) into the case, she learns that the only way that these two brothers can stay together for Christmas is if someone steps up and can foster them together while officials hunt for their missing.

To everyone’s surprise, including her own, Julia volunteers to step so far out of her comfort zone that there’s no looking back. She fosters them herself, knowing nothing about fostering and even less about take care of children.

Lucky for her, her new upstairs tenant comes to her rescue when she finds herself way, way over her head. Jamie not only takes the two boys under his wing, but manages to even charm her supercilious cats into purring under his hand.

And finds himself, in turn, charmed by the woman that Julia reveals as she opens her heart to the boys and lets her hair down, both metaphorically and physically with him. Once the starch is worn out of Julia, he discovers that the sweet, lovely and slightly flustered woman she is underneath is someone he can’t resist.

No matter how much he tells himself that he should.

Escape Rating B: I like Haven Point a lot. It’s a great place to visit, filled with lovely people that it is a joy to get to know.

On the one hand, the problem that pulls the lives of Julia and the two boys together is one that every library faces in some way, in both large and small places. At the end of the evening, it is not uncommon to discover one or two (or more) children who are too young to be left on their own but who don’t seem to have a responsible adult picking them up. Leaving them feels unsafe, but when it happens night after night, the staff who feel forced to stay overtime end up both worried and resentful. While calling the police seems heartless, it is often the only way to deal with the problem so that everyone, including the library staff, feel safe and protected.

Julia’s solution to this dilemma is unique, but the problem happens more often than people think, although usually not in such dire circumstances. As much as I applauded her in the book, at the same time, that she fostered the children herself made her feel like “not one of us” as did her continual harping on how she both fit and embraced the stereotype of librarian. As a group, we pretty much deride the stereotype whenever and wherever possible. It’s almost a game we play of complaining just how terrible and just plain wrong the old stereotype is.

Of course, readers who are not themselves librarians will not be bothered by this aspect. But I did want to shake her and drag her to a big library conference to see for herself.

The fears that held Julia back in so many ways, while they had nothing to do with being a librarian, felt all too real. She had created a shell around herself, for reasons that often made sense at the time. But her desire to break out of that shell and find out who she really wanted to be was well portrayed.

As a character, I liked Jamie and loved the way that he stepped in, stepped up and helped Julia figure out her sudden immersion in parenting. Not that he had any more experience as a parent, but he did have experience both as a sibling in a large family and in wrangling his nieces and nephews. As the only child of two only children, Julia’s life just hadn’t included much of those kinds of interactions. She needed his help, and as difficult as it was for her, accepting that help was necessary for her to grow up and to break out of that shell.

However, I’m not sure I really bought their romance. The relationship that Julia forged with the boys, and her heartbreak at the end, was sweet and crazy and just right. But I didn’t quite feel the chemistry between Julia and Jamie.

But I still had a great time visiting Haven Point for the holidays, and will be happy to make a return trip sometime soon. Maybe in the spring, when I won’t have to read about SNOW!

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

I am giving away a copy of Sugar Pine Trail to one lucky continental US winner

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Review: Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawayWild Ride Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #9) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Copper Ridge #9
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on August 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He's come back to Copper Ridge, Oregon, to keep a promise—even if it means losing his heart…

Putting down roots in Copper Ridge was never Alex Donnelly's intention. But if there's one thing the ex-military man knows, it's that life rarely unfolds as expected. If it did, his best friend and brother-in-arms would still be alive. And Alex wouldn't have inherited a ranch or responsibility for his late comrade's sister—a woman who, despite her inexperience, can bring tough-as-iron Alex to his knees.

Clara Campbell didn't ask for a hero to ride in and fix her ranch and her life. All she wants is the one thing stubborn, honorable Alex is reluctant to give: a chance to explore their intense chemistry. But Clara has a few lessons to teach him, too…about trusting his heart and his instincts, and letting love take him on the wildest adventure of all.

My Review:

It’s a wild but very satisfying ride to the angst factory in the latest book in Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series.

And there’s no one whose very angsty heroines I like better than the women in this series. The best books in this series, at least for this reader, have been Last Chance Rebel, Down Home Cowboy, and the latest, Wild Ride Cowboy, and they all feature heroines who have more than the average amount of really awful baggage to carry.

There’s just something about the way that this author creates heroines that have really, truly suffered, but still get up and keep on going, that just works for me. What I love is that the angst and heartbreak that these women suffer is not llama drama fodder, nor has some man done them wrong. It’s that life has hit them upside the head by stuff way beyond their control, and that while they may be temporarily down, they are never out.

And that the entry of a good man, or a bad man trying to be good, into their lives does not magically solve all their problems – because their problems, like Clara’s in this particular story, are not ones that can really be solved. Only survived.

Not that Alex Donnelly’s belated re-introduction into Clara’s life doesn’t make things a bit easier for her, because it does. But the real story is the way that Alex’ insertion into Clara’s life and Clara’s ranch gives her the space she needs to get a grip on her own stuff. And that Clara’s advent into Alex’s life gives him the equal opportunity to finally deal with the heavy baggage that he’s been toting around his own life.

These are two people to whom a lot of shit has just plain happened, and neither of them have done the best job of shoveling it out of the way. In their own ways, they’ve spent more time wallowing in it than mucking it out.

Considering that Clara ends up with bison on her ranch, there’s going to be plenty of real manure to step around, without trucking in it from both of their pasts.

Clara has basically had a hard-knock life. She was 12 when her mother died, 16 when her dad went the same way. Now she’s 21, and her brother, her only remaining family, has been killed in action. Clara is all alone with her ranch and her grief, and not much else. There’s been too much death and not enough life in her life, and the accumulated mourning has finally beaten her to her knees. She may look like she’s coping on the outside, but she’s sunk in the morass and just can’t see her way out.

The ranch is all she has, but every corner of it is filled with memories of someone she lost. On her own, it’s going to take her a long time to come out of the dark, but there’s never a sense that she won’t get there one way or another. The problem is that in her grief she’s ignoring a whole lot of things that won’t let themselves be ignored for very long – like the bills she has to pay and the lawyers she needs to see. And it’s not even that she can’t pay the bills, it’s that she’s unwilling to open the envelopes and deal with the finality of her brother’s death.

Alex Donnelly has been ignoring his grief and his responsibilities for far too long. Clara’s brother was Alex’s best friend, and the man is dead because he stepped in front of a hail of bullets that was intended to kill them both. Now Alex is left to mourn, and to take care of the obligation that his friend left him with.

Alex is the executor of his friend’s estate, and the will has made him the “caretaker” of both the ranch and Clara for one year or until the ranch is self-supporting. Alex is in charge of the one thing that Clara believed was all her own. After all, she’s the only person who has been around to take care of it. And even though keeping the ranch has taken up her entire life, it is all she has.

But Alex has put off helping Clara so that he can get as settled in as he ever does at the Laughing Irish ranch that he has inherited along with his three brothers. The opening of that story is a big part of Slow Burn Cowboy. Now that Alex is as settled in as he ever gets, it’s time for him to take care of Clara.

So that he can move on again. Because that’s what he always does. He moves on before someone asks him to leave. Because they always do.

When Alex finds himself making a home with Clara, and wanting to make a real life with her, he doesn’t want to leave. But he knows it can’t last.

Or can it?

Escape Rating B+: Like the heroine in the marvelous Last Chance Rebel, Clara is a woman who has much too much real crap to deal with. She’s only 21, and everyone she’s ever loved has died. When we meet her she is still in the depths of her grief for her brother. She’s not despairing, she’s just beyond numb. It makes the earliest part of the book a hard read, because Clara is in such a dark place.

Alex becomes her light in the tunnel. But there’s an old joke about when you see a light in the tunnel, there’s a good chance that it’s an oncoming train. And that’s what Alex thinks of himself. His foundational experience is that he isn’t good enough for anyone to stay with, including, or perhaps especially, his own parents.

He’s certain that he’s not good enough for Clara, that he’s not worthy of her love or her trust. And he spends a whole lot of time being insulting about Clara’s age and agency, pretending that at 21 she’s not old enough to know her own mind and heart, and that at 31 he’s too old and too damaged for her.

Mostly, he’s just protecting himself. And Clara, rightfully, calls him on his bullshit. Because Alex is both stubborn and scared, there’s plenty of b.s. and she has to call him on it multiple times. It’s easy to wonder if he’s ever going to get the message, or whether she’s going to have to beat it into him with a clue-by-four.

The delivery of said clue-by-four in the hands of Alex’s equally dysfunctional brother Liam, makes for a satisfying ending to Wild Ride Cowboy, and sets things up nicely for Liam’s own story in Christmastime Cowboy. It looks like presents for everyone!

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

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Review: You Say it First by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: You Say it First by Susan Mallery + GiveawayYou Say It First (Happily Inc, #1) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Happily Inc #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 22nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool's Gold romances invites you to visit Happily Inc., a wedding destination founded on a fairy tale
Sculptor Nick Mitchell grew up in a family of artists and learned from his volatile father that passion only leads to pain. As he waits on a new commission, he takes a day job as a humble carpenter at a theme wedding venue. The job has its perks—mainly the venue's captivating owner, Pallas Saunders. Although he won't let love consume him, for ecstasy with an expiration date, he's all in.
Pallas adores Weddings in a Box. But if she can't turn the floundering business around, she'll have no choice but cave to her domineering mother and trade taffeta for trust funds working at the family's bank. Then when a desperate bride begs Pallas for something completely out of the box, her irresistible new hire inspires her. Nick knows she doesn't belong behind a desk, and she knows in her heart that he's right—where she really belongs is in his arms.

My Review:

If I were being mean, I’d say this story is set in a little town that was supported by a very big lie. But I had an absolutely marvelous time in Happily Inc., so instead I’ll say that the town was boosted by an absolutely fantastic public relations ploy.

Pallas Saunders is the proud and still surprised owner of Weddings in a Box, a little company that does theme weddings in the wedding destination town of Happily. As in “Happily Ever After”. Except that Pallas doesn’t have either the time or the inclination to look for her own happy ever after. So it has to come looking for her, in the handsome and downright hunky person of Nick Mitchell.

Pallas needs someone who can restore the huge, gorgeous wooden panels that she inherited as part of the business. Nick, an artist in wood sculpture, needs something to keep himself busy while he waits to see if he gets the overseas job that he assumes is already all his. Assumes in the sense that “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

The panels are beautiful beyond belief, Nick can’t resist the idea of restoring them to their full glory. He doesn’t care that the job pays minimum wage, because he doesn’t need the money. He just needs the work. And working for pretty, quirky Pallas is just the thing he needs to keep him busy while he waits.

Even though, or perhaps especially because, Pallas drafts him to be a palanquin bearer for a Roman-themed wedding the minute she sees him. She’s short one chair-carrier, and Nick looks like he’s up for the job.

That he looks absolutely delicious in a toga is just a fringe benefit. For Pallas, at least. Nick is left praying that his brothers never see a picture of him in this get-up. Or any of the many embarrassing outfits that Pallas talks him into when she needs an extra courtier, or cowboy, for a wedding.

Both Pallas and Nick are wary of relationships. Nick has seen the damage they can do when they go wrong, and just how far the emotional shrapnel can travel. Pallas doesn’t believe that love just happens, her entire life has been a lesson that love only comes when it’s earned. And Pallas’ mother has made sure that she always falls short of the goal – whatever it might be.

Pallas finds herself on the horns of multiple dilemmas. Her overbearing mother wants her to sell the business and come work at the family-owned bank with her. Pallas needs the business to make enough money to support her, it and her employees, and she’s failing. Nick needs a place to wait for his next big thing, and Weddings in a Box looks like it.

But the more they become involved, with the business, with the weddings, and with each other, the more deeply emotionally involved they become – and the harder it is to let go.

Just as soon as they both figure out what they really need to let go of.

Escape Rating A-: I fell in love with Happily and with nearly all the people in it – Pallas’ mother Libby definitely excepted.

Happily is a really cute place. Although this series is a bit of a spinoff from the author’s Fool’s Gold series (which I have not read), the place it really reminds me of is Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts. Both are small towns which have used some really interesting PR tricks to make themselves into tourist destinations. Also both have residents that are oodles of fun to get to know.

Although Nick has some work to do, You Say it First is mostly Pallas’ story, and that feels right. She’s the person with the most on the line and with the biggest decisions to make about her future.

Pallas inherited Weddings in a Box from her friend and mentor, the previous owner. She loves the business, but, and it’s a very big but for Pallas, she doesn’t have the confidence needed to let it out of the box and grow. And that lack of confidence can be laid squarely at her mother’s door, as Libby belittles Pallas to the point of abuse at every possible turn. And even manufactures additional turns so she can heap more abuse on Pallas. It’s uncomfortable to read, as it should be. It takes Pallas a long time and more than a little bit of help from her friends to realize that the crap Libby’s dishing out isn’t really about Pallas – it’s really all about Libby. That revelation begins to unwind those ties that strangle.

A big part of the fun of this story belongs to Pallas’ circle of friends. Pallas may own Weddings in a Box, but it’s all of her friends in town who supply the business and its owner with moral support and very real business assistance. Everyone is ready to stretch their wings, so when an emergency wedding with very unusual requirements needs to be put together at short notice, everyone pulls together and pulls Weddings in a Box out of its safe little box and launches it into the stratosphere.

Along the way, Pallas learns to stand on her own two feet, to stand up to her abusive mother, and most importantly, to learn that love isn’t earned, it’s given. Whether Nick will figure out that same lesson in time is an open question until the very wonderful end.

I loved my trip to Happily, and am looking forward to going back, in Second Chance Girl. I can’t wait to see what happens next – and who it happens to!

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

Susan and Harlequin are giving away a $100 Amazon or Barnes and Noble Gift Card to one extremely lucky participant on this tour!

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Review: Down Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates + End of Summer Tour + Giveaway

Review: Down Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates + End of Summer Tour + GiveawayDown Home Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #8) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Copper Ridge #8
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This Texas cowboy has come home to Copper Ridge to put down roots…but will he risk his heart again?
Asked where he'd be at this point in life, Cain Donnelly would have said anywhere but Copper Ridge, Oregon, living with his estranged brothers. But since his wife abandoned them, both he and his daughter, Violet, are in need of a fresh start, so he's back to claim his share of the family ranch. Local baker Alison Davis is a delicious temptation, but she's also his daughter's mentor and new boss. That makes her off-limits…until she offers a no-strings deal that no red-blooded cowboy could resist.
Alison has worked tirelessly to rebuild her life, and she won't jeopardize her hard-won independence. Especially if it also complicates Cain's relationship with Violet. But with Cain offering a love she never thought was possible, Alison has to find the courage to let her past go…or watch her future ride away for good.

My Review:

Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I adored Last Chance Rebel, but let’s just say that I did not feel much love for Slow Burn Cowboy. On my other hand, my Guest Reviewer Amy clearly enjoyed Hold Me, Cowboy. So we were two out of three coming into Down Home Cowboy.

And we have another winner.

Neither Cain Donnelly nor Alison Davis are looking for a relationship. But they are both looking for sex. Four years is a long dry spell for anyone in their early-to-middle 30s, even coming out of their completely different but equally bad relationships.

Maybe not quite equally bad. Alison was abused by her ex-husband for eight years, and her four years post-divorce have been a journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. But her baggage is huge and painful, and she’s just reached the point where she is willing to dip her toe back into the waters of sex. But she is unwilling to cede an inch of her hard-won independence to any man for any reason. And it’s impossible to blame her.

Cain’s ex-wife left him four years ago, running off and leaving him with sole custody of their daughter Violet. Dealing with the fallout from that disaster, along with being a single father, has left Cain with little time, energy or inclination to get involved with anyone, until he meets Alison.

But they definitely start out on the same page. They both want sex, but neither of them is interested in the complication of a relationship. Things are already complicated enough – Alison is Violet’s boss at her bakery, and it seems like working for Alison is the first thing that Violet has even half enjoyed since Cain uprooted them from Texas and moved in with his half-brothers in the ranch they all inherited from their grandfather.

(The details of that particular SNAFU are in Slow Burn Cowboy. And while the romance in that book was a bit of a disappointment, the messy drama of the Donnelly boys making themselves into a functionally dysfunctional family was a load of fun. I’m happy to see more of them! Possibly not quite as happy as Alison is to see ALL of Cain, but that’s part of what makes Down Home Cowboy work.)

The problem that Cain and Alison have is that it is difficult to make love without feeling at least a little love (Which was also one of Finn’s issues in Slow Burn Cowboy. This may be a trend.) And no matter what fibs they told themselves about what they were expecting from their liaison, it’s pretty clear from the beginning that they are, quite definitely, making love and not just getting their ashes hauled. Not that they aren’t doing that, quite well, too.

But when Cain challenges Alison to admit that they both feel more for each other than they planned on, Alison lets her past fears ruin her present hopes. Unless she can finally drop the baggage that’s weighing her down for good.

Escape Rating B+: This one was fun. And it was way, way, way more fun than Slow Burn Cowboy, without quite rising to the level of angsty goodness that was Last Chance Rebel.

This is a story where everyone has baggage, and everyone needs to drop it. Or learn to carry it. Or both. And it’s a story where everyone is afraid, and with good reason.
Both Violet and Cain fear abandonment. His father abandoned him, his mother was an alcoholic, and her mother abandoned both her and Cain. Those fears are all real. Alison is afraid of losing herself again, the way she did in her abusive marriage. She’s not certain her new found strength and independence is strong enough to let her love someone without letting them take her over, even though she knows that her ex’s need to take her over and grind her down had way more to do with him than with her. That she let it happen haunts her to the point of preventing her from moving all the way forward, and we understand why.

Watching them all overcome the worst of what’s holding them back and learning to cope with the rest in a healthy and not destructive fashion is what makes this story work. At least, that’s what made the story work for this reader, and I hope for lots of others.

If this review, or any of the reviews, guest posts and spotlights in this End of Summer Blog Tour tickle your reading fancy, you can download a sampler of all the opening chapters from Harlequin.

The End of Summer – Guest Post by Maisey Yates

I love Summer. When it’s not burning hot (which is when I end up hiding in the AC) it takes me right back to being a kid. Our schedule is relaxed, the days are long, the evenings cool and blue, and the mornings…perfect for laying in bed just a little bit longer.

But days like that can all blur together, and then Summer can end up flying by before you know it.

I find that changes in scenery help a little bit with that. We live in Oregon, and it’s an amazing state with totally diverse landscapes that make for some amazing road trips. Or even just glorious back yard hangouts.

We’ve spent our share of time out on the lake paddle boarding this year, and hiking on the trails behind the historic town we live close to, making the most of what we have nearby.

In early July, we took our kids way up in the mountains and lay in the back of the pickup truck and looked at the stars. It makes a huge difference when you can escape the light pollution. We could see the Milky Way and (for the most part) the kids even got along.

Then we went on a big road trip to the eastern part of the state, where we got to enjoy the high desert.

We’re used to a lot of green in the state. I’ve lived in Oregon all my life, and I don’t think I had an adequate appreciation for just how unique the Eastern part of the state is. The red mountains and volcanic rock are a pretty sharp contrast to the evergreen mountains that surround our house.

From there we continued up to Portland, Oregon, which is our major city. (You might know it from the TV show Portlandia. I can’t dispute the accuracy of that show. At all.)

We got to enjoy the museum of science, and Oregon Zoo and some other more urban things that we don’t get a chance to take in very often seeing as we live very, very not urban.

So far this summer we haven’t had the chance to make it over to the coast, which is my other favorite Oregon locale. My husband and I honeymooned in Bandon, Oregon twelve years ago, and it has a special place in my heart. Which, if you’ve read my books your can probably tell, since Bandon served as major inspiration for my Copper Ridge series!

Getting out and enjoying Oregon is one of my favorite summer pastimes. And staying in writing love letters to Oregon in my Copper Ridge books is my favorite thing to do all year long.

I love to write books set everywhere, and I love to travel all over, but Oregon is my home, and that’s where my heart is — when it comes to life and fiction.

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

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Review: Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawaySummer on Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #2) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefly Lake #2
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Firefly Lake Novel
Sometimes love is better the second time around . . .
Mia Gibbs spent her marriage putting her husband's needs before her own. And now, after a painful divorce, she's building a new life for herself and her two daughters back home at Firefly Lake. The last thing she needs is a man to complicate things. But former bad boy turned friend Nick McGuire-and the one kiss they've shared-has turned everything upside down . . .
Attorney Nick McGuire wasn't meant to be a family man. His career has always been his focus and after taking time out to help his mother, he's ready to get back to the city . . . until Mia and her daughters arrive at Firefly Lake. Mia is beautiful and intriguing, and it doesn't take long to realize being "just friends" will never be enough. As the summer nights turn colder, Nick will have to choose between the life he's always wanted . . . and the woman he can't live without.

My Review:

Firefly Lake is clearly a lovely place to live. It also seems to be just down the road from Mary McNear’s Butternut Lake, in spirit if not in miles. And both of these little towns seem to be perfect places to find a second chance at love, and a second chance at being sisters.

The first book in this series, The Cottage at Firefly Lake, focused on Charlie Gibbs, her teetering relationship with her sister Mia, and her rekindled romance with local resident Sean Carmichael It was a lovely story, with happy endings almost all around at the end. It also feels like it leads directly into this second book in the series.

In this Summer on Firefly Lake the focus shifts from Charlie to her older sister Mia, and Mia’s long-ago crush on Sean’s best friend, the former town bad boy Nick McGuire. Except that Nick has changed from the town rebel to a workaholic lawyer with a failed marriage behind him and a strong desire to leave Firefly Lake again as fast as he can.

He just needs to get his mother settled first. And that’s where Mia comes in.

Nick is absolutely certain about what his mother should do. Gabrielle McGuire is widowed, 62, and has just survived a bout of cancer. Nick is sure that her big rambling house is just too much for her. And while he may be right, it’s not what Gabrielle wants and moving to a retirement bungalow is not what she’s ready for. It’s also not the only possible solution – it’s just the only that Nick can see in his rather desperate tunnel vision.

Nick needs someone to help his mother clean out all the old closets and attics and storage rooms and cabinets and cubby holes at Harbor House that are filled with over a century of family junk. Mia, recently divorced and looking for work, is happy to step in and help. Her daughters will be spending the summer with their dad, her house is currently under renovation, and she needs both a place to stay and the money the job will bring her.

And Mia loves Gabrielle almost as much as Nick does. She’d help Gabrielle anyway, so it’s nice to get paid much more than the job is worth for something that would be a labor of love.

It also provides a reason for Nick and Mia to spend time together. They are friends now, but once upon a time she was the town princess and he was the local bad boy, and of course they had the teenage hots for each other. Nothing ever came of it, but those feelings are still there, down deep. But at the moment, each of them is convinced that their friendship is too important to risk, that neither of them has the time or inclination for a relationship, and that the other is only interested in being “just friends”. And they’re both certain that they are too damaged to be capable or worthy of being loved.

But as the summer goes on, many, many issues, not just between Nick and Mia, but also Gabrielle’s health, Sean and Charlie’s impending baby, and most especially Mia’s relationship with her pre-teen and teenage daughters and the mess that her ex has already made of their lives and wants to make again, change the dynamic.

Nick and Mia both agree that all they want is friendship “with benefits”. But the closer they get, the harder it is to keep their hearts behind that line. Even if only one of them is able to admit it.

Escape Rating B: At heart, this feels like a story about lessons. And not just lessons in love.

Nick needs to learn to let go, which may seem a bit contradictory for the hero of a romance, but really isn’t in his case. Nick is holding onto a whole lot of things that he shouldn’t, as well as trying to hold onto something that he simply can’t.

His mother’s health scare reminded him just how fragile life is. He’s not ready to lose her, so he’s trying his level best to wrap her in cotton wool and protect her however he can. But life happens, and bad things happen in it, and there’s no way to protect someone you love from cancer. It takes Nick a lot of the book, along with a lot of help from Mia, to stop arguing with his mother over what he thinks is best and listen to what she really wants.

He also needs to let go of his resentment at and anger with his father. Not because the man doesn’t deserve every scrap of opprobrium Nick has in his heart, but because the negativity is hurting Nick way, way more than it could ever hurt his old man. Mia, on the other hand, needs to learn to stand on her own two feet and advocate for what she wants and what she needs, instead of placating the strongest voice in the room – usually her ex-husband.

Speaking of Jay, he’s a douchecanoe. And saying that is actually kind of an insult to douchecanoes. He’s not evil, he’s just awful. It’s also ironic but so often true that women see their father’s big flaws (and did her late, unlamented father ever have a ton of them) and say that they won’t marry a man like dad. Then they end up marrying a man just like dad, and he’s just as awful and in just the same ways.

Mia couldn’t stand up to her father, and she didn’t stand up to Jay as he cut her down at every turn, tried to erase her personality, was a constant cheater who in the end got one of his many, many side-pieces pregnant and finally divorced Mia to marry her. As I said, Jay is a douchecanoe. And Mia was his doormat, but she isn’t any longer.

Mia is way better off without him, and she knows it. But when he threatens her custody of their daughters, both covertly and overtly, Mia has to steel herself for the challenge. Not just because she can never be with the asshat again, but because seeing her cave in to him when they all know he’s a lying, cheating, selfish scumbag is bad for her daughters.

It’s terrific watching Mia take charge of her life, even if she does dither a bit about the past at times. She finally learns to go after what she wants. And if Nick is too stuck in the past to see what’s right in front of him, she’ll manage. It will hurt, a lot, but she’ll manage. And that’s just the example he needs to kick him where it hurts enough for him to finally see the light.

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

Jen is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a paperback copy of both The Cottage at Firefly Lake (the first book in the series) and Summer on Firefly Lake. Five (5) runner-up winners will receive a paperback copy of Summer on Firefly Lake! This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

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Review: Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen + GiveawayBranded as Trouble (Wrangler's Creek, #3) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Every town needs a bad boy, and Wrangler's Creek's has been gone far too long
Getting his high school girlfriend pregnant was just one square in Roman Granger's checkered past, but it changed him forever. When his son's mother skipped town after the birth, Roman decided to do the same, baby Tate in tow, hoping for a fresh start.
Now Roman fears his teenage son is following in his wayward footsteps, so he returns home to Wrangler's Creek, aiming to set him straight. It's there he encounters Tate's aunt, Mila Banchini, the good-girl opposite of Roman who's had a crush on him since childhood. The old spark between them undeniably never died, though Roman worries it'll only lead to heartache. But if falling for Mila is such a bad idea, why does everything about holding her feel so right?
"

My Review:

This book, and this entire series, feels like a “train wreck” read for me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, the reason why gazer block is such a problem after a highway accident is that we can’t turn our eyes away from the disaster.

And so it is for me with the Wrangler’s Creek series. The entire thing is so overrun with stampeding drama llamas, in so many coats and stripes and colors, that even as it drives me absolutely bananas I can’t turn my eyes away. I have to keep going to see what other brand of crazy happens next.

Branded as Trouble is plenty crazy, and plenty entertaining.

This series has been the story of the Granger siblings of Wrangler’s Creek. Or rather, the story of the Granger siblings coming back to Wrangler’s Creek. In Those Texas Nights, sister Sophie comes home to stay. No Getting Over a Cowboy was her brother Garrett’s story, and now it’s bad-boy older brother Roman’s chance to find his own happy. If only he can only get out of his own way.

(I have mixed feelings about whether one needs to read the series from the beginning to “get” what’s going on. I think not. The siblings obviously appear in each other’s stories, as do many of the background characters. But the individual books stand mostly alone.)

Roman doesn’t want to come back to Wrangler’s Creek. He doesn’t want to live anywhere near his mother Belle, and while I can’t blame him, it was good to find out the cause of all the bad blood between them. And there was plenty of cause, and knowing what it was makes a whole lot of their past and present interactions make a lot more sense.

It’s also clear that Roman needs to get past a lot of the bad stuff in his past, not because it wasn’t bad, not because his feelings aren’t justified, but because hanging on to all that old baggage is hurting him more than the people he throws it at – and it’s really hurting his teenage son Tate, who needs Roman to get his head out of his own ass and do what’s best for both of them.

Not that Tate doesn’t have plenty of growing up of his own to do. And his own share of baggage to lose.

Mila is there for both of them. She’s loved Roman since forever, but is all too aware that the feeling is not returned. And she’s mostly made her peace with that. Until Roman comes back to Wrangler’s Creek for the summer, and they find themselves thrown together over and over. Tate needs their help. And they need each other.

Escape Rating B: A great writer, probably several of them, have said that one of the differences between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction has to be plausible, while nonfiction merely has to be true. Branded as Trouble may be the point where the Wrangler’s Creek series fell over the line between crazy-fun and too crazy to be plausible. At least for me. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t still have a good time, but the amount of eye-rolling I did as I read it was starting to hurt!

I have never liked the character of Belle, Roman’s mother. She’s slightly less offensive in Branded as Trouble, but no less crazy. And she’s not crazy in a fun way, she’s crazy in an annoying and overbearing way. (If no one has guessed, yes, some of her characteristics remind me a bit too much of my own mother. It just doesn’t make a comfortable read for me. Your mileage on this probably does vary).

Mila’s mother Vita is just plain nuts. She’s out there, marching to the beat of her own drummer – and it’s probably some kind of spirit drummer, because Vita seems like a caricature of a practicing witch. Or she’s listening to the voices in her head, or a bit of both. Surprisingly, Vita’s wacky pronouncements do usually make sense in the end, but her method of getting there makes her, as her daughter Mila describes her, into the “ultimate person repellant”, no one wants to get near her. Being Vita’s daughter in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business must have been absolutely hell.

Where things past plausibility for this reader was in both the hero and the heroine have mothers who are way out there in different left fields of cray-cray land. This did pass “over-the-top” for me. Which does not mean that I didn’t like both Roman and Mila, because I certainly did.

Mila owns the local bookstore, which of course makes her my heroine. But the other thing I really like about her character is the way that she makes her own happy. She’s always loved Roman, but has no expectations that it will ever work out. That she’s come to the realization that she has to move on because he won’t make a move on her makes her brave, even if some of her efforts involve more drama llamas than the possibility of actual romance.

But she’s not pining. She keeps moving forward. And that’s what eventually makes her dreams come true.

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

I am giving away a copy of Branded as Trouble to one lucky US/Canadian commenter:

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Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery

Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan MallerySecrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Harlequin Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The relationship of sisters Kelly and Olivia Van Gilder has been, well… complicated ever since their mother left them as teens, though it's the secrets they have been keeping from each other as adults that have unwittingly widened the chasm. But one thing they do share is the not-so-secret torch they carry for the Martin brothers.
In the small enclave of New Holland, Washington, Griffith and Ryan Martin were demigods. While Griffith was the object of Kelly's high school crush and witness to her mortal teenage humiliation, Ryan was for Olivia the boy who got away-something she's never forgiven Kelly for-and the only person since her mother who appreciated her wild streak.
Now, ten years later, both brothers are newly returned to town. Believing they're destined to be together, Olivia's determined to get Ryan back, until she discovers that she's not the only one keeping secrets…and that perhaps he's not the handsome prince she remembered. And even though Griffith has grown up to be more irresistible than ever, Kelly's impulse is to avoid him and the painful memory he represents, despite his resolve to right the wrong he caused her long ago-and her desire to let him.

My Review:

I want to say that the Murphy family puts the fun back in dysfunctional – but too many of the relationships within this family are all dysfunction and damn little fun. Of course, those dysfunctions add to the drama of the story – and there is plenty of fun outside these very messy family dynamics.

This is a story about three women, Kelly Murphy, her sister Olivia, and her best friend Helen, in their little small town of Tulpen Crossing, Washington. Tulpen Crossing is a lot closer to Spokane than Seattle, on the eastern side of the Cascades – a location that matters a lot in Washington state. Tulpen Crossing, and nearly everything in town, is named for it’s annual tulip crop, the economic engine of the entire town.

The Murphy family have been growing tulips in Tulpen for generations. Kelly Murphy and her dad Jeff are continuing the family tradition. They also still share the Murphy family house, in spite of Kelly being well-past the age where most young adults fly out of the family nest – Kelly is 28. And seems to not think that love and marriage are for her. She watched her parents’ marriage implode, explode and every other ‘plode when she was in her early teens, and wants to stay as far away from that kind of mess as possible.

Until it comes looking for her.

Griffin Burnett is the prodigal son – he returned to Tulpen Crossing to set up his very successful Tiny House business. He’s had his eye on Kelly for a long time. He likes her no-nonsense no-games attitude, and he thinks her no-fuss, no muss style is beautiful, as is she. But he’s not interested in love and marriage either, just a long-term relationship of friendship, respect and, of course, benefits.

Kelly, whose self-esteem issues know very few bounds, thinks he’s nuts. But she’s willing to try.

And that’s where all the dysfunction in the Murphy family comes home to roost – and to stir up trouble. First Olivia comes back, after over a decade of absence. She got sent to boarding school when she was 15, not long after their mother abandoned the family – after seducing every single post-pubescent male for about 100 miles around Tulpen Crossing – and being far from discreet about it.

Just as Olivia and Kelly begin to rebuild their very strained sibling relationship, Marilee returns to Tulpen Crossing in Olivia’s wake, not because she’s missed either of her daughters, but because she wants to stir up as much trouble as possible.

She nearly succeeds beyond even her wildest expectations.

Escape Rating B+: As much as I hate the label, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters falls squarely into that category so awfully named “women’s fiction”. While there are not just one but three romances in this story, it’s really about the relationships between Kelly, Olivia and Helen, how they support each other and sometimes how they sabotage each other, and their relationships with the town and the way that all of them step forward, sometimes hesitantly and sometimes boldly, into their own futures.

One of the themes of the story is about the keeping of secrets. Olivia arrives in Tulpen Crossing with a huge secret. Every time she and Kelly begin to get their relationship back on track, a piece of that secret gets let out of its bag and derails their relationship. That the derailment is intended makes it all that much more heartbreaking.

Kelly also has plenty of secrets. A whole lot of it is self-blame – she has persisted in the belief that it is all her fault that her mother left, and even more damning, all her fault that Olivia was sent to boarding school. She was 15 when she and her mother had the supposedly fateful argument, and 18 when she convinced her father to send Olivia to boarding school. As much as she needs to tell Olivia about her part in some of the worst parts of Olivia’s life – Kelly was not the adult in either situation. Her mother was always going to leave – and it was her father’s choice to send Olivia to boarding school. It helps a lot that, in retrospect, Olivia realizes that Kelly was probably right, no matter how selfish her motivations seemed at the time.

And then there’s Helen. She too, has a secret that impacts the Murphy family. Helen, who is a few years older than her best friend Kelly, owns the local diner. And she’s been in love with Kelly’s dad for years. Jeff Murphy is clueless about Helen’s feelings, but well aware of his own – and can’t imagine that Helen, 16 years his junior, could possibly be interested in him.

Of course he’s wrong. He’s wrong about a whole lot of things, as we discover when Marilee breezes back into Tulpen Crossing to screw with everyone’s heads and screw up everyone’s life. She’s irredeemable. But everyone else, learning to cope with the crises she leaves in her wake, finally rise to the challenge to find their happy and boot her out of their lives, and especially out of the headspace she’s taken from all of them over the years.

At the end, everybody stands taller and stronger. And it’s wonderful.

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Review: Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySerenity Harbor (Haven Point, #6) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Haven Point #6
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the town of Haven Point, love can be just a wish — and one magical kiss — away…
Computer-tech millionaire Bowie Callahan is about the last person that schoolteacher Katrina Bailey wants to work for. As far as she can see, he’s arrogant, entitled and not up to the task of caring for his young half brother, Milo. But Kat is, especially if it brings her closer to her goal of adopting an orphaned little girl. And as her kindness and patience work wonders with Milo, she realises there’s more to sexy, wary Bo.
Bo never imagined he’d be tasked with caring for a sibling he didn’t know existed. Then again, he never pictured himself impulsively kissing vibrant, compassionate Katrina in the moonlight. Now he’s ready to make her dream of family come true…and hoping there’s room in it for him, too…

My Review:

I really enjoyed my first trip to Haven Point with Riverbend Road. I liked it so much that I went back again to experience Snowfall on Haven Point. So when this one popped up at Serenity Harbor, it seemed like a great time to go back!

I haven’t managed to go back and read the first four books in the series, but I’ll probably get around to it sooner or later – this is a nice place with terrific people. It also feels like it’s right next door to Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point, even if the geography doesn’t work out. But you don’t have to read them all to get right into the action of this one.

That being said, I’m kind of glad I had read Riverbend Road, because the wedding that all of the Baileys are back in town for is the one that is set up in Riverbend Road, the wedding between Wyn Bailey and her former boss, Haven Point Police Chief Cade Emmett. The story in Serenity Harbor is not really dependent on the previous book, but it is nice to see Wyn get all of her happy.

Serenity Harbor is Wyn’s sister Kat’s story. Katrina Bailey is back in town for her sister’s wedding. She’s spent the past year in Colombia, teaching English and helping out at a local orphanage, where she’s fallen hard for Gabi, a special needs child who has become her daughter in everything but blood. And paperwork. Endless, endless, EXPENSIVE amounts of paperwork.

And Wyn seems to be the only member of her family who really, really gets that Kat will do anything to take care of 4-year-old Gabi, even if that means moving to Colombia permanently. Kat’s overbearing mother is just certain that if the right man comes along, Kat will forget all about little Gabi.

Because that’s the way Kat used to be. She ended up in Colombia because she was following the wrong man. That’s what Kat used to do, fall for whoever was handy, without thinking. But since she found herself in Colombia, alone and broke with Gabi depending on her, Kat has been determined to become a different, better and more responsible person.

And that’s where Bowie Callahan steps into the picture, along with his little brother Milo. Milo, like Gabi, is a special needs child. But where Gabi has Down Syndrome, Milo is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and Bowie, chief technical wizard at Caine Technology, has no idea how to cope.

But then again, until about a month ago, Bowie had no idea he had a little brother. It was only upon the death of their mother that Bowie learned that she had had another child long after he cut ties – ties that he desperately needed to cut for his own survival.

That’s where Kat steps in. Literally. She’s an elementary education teacher who specializes in kids with special needs, so when she sees Milo about to have a meltdown at the grocery store, she steps in and deflects him until he calms down.

Bowie offers Kat an absolutely outrageous salary to become Milo’s live-in nanny, baby-sitter, caretaker and teacher while she’s in town for her sister’s wedding. Kat, partially against her better judgment and partially to get away from her overbearing mother, takes the job, reasoning that the outrageous salary will help fund her quest to adopt Gabi.

What she doesn’t count on is falling in love with both of the Callahans. By the time she’s ready to go back to Colombia, she breaks both Milo’s and Bowie’s hearts, and very much vice versa. But Gabi needs Kat. And Kat needs to stand on her own two feet, for the first time in her life.

No matter what it costs.

Escape Rating B: The ending of this one seriously got me in the feels. So much so that it raised the grade from the Cs to the Bs in one single pang of my heart.

I also really liked Bowie and his relationship with Milo. He loves his little brother and manages not to resent all the changes that Milo has made in his life. He’s frustrated a whole lot of the time, and with good reason, but he never resents Milo himself. But his life is completely out of control, and he has no idea how to get it back on track. Not that he hasn’t tried, but Milo defeats anyone who doesn’t know how to care for him. There’s a specialist on the way, but she’s tied up for another three weeks, and Bowie has a gap he can’t fill. He’s tried. He loves Milo, but love is not enough.

Bowie is a computer programmer, and a damn good one. Also very successful at it. But I recognized his habit of losing all track of time when he’s “in the zone” because it’s a very familiar pattern to anyone who has a programmer in their life. When they’re coding, they are just gone. So I smiled every time Bowie did this, because it was so familiar.

I liked Kat as a person. She was a great heroine for this story, and the author did an excellent job of introducing the challenges and the joys of parenting a special needs child through Kat’s and Bowie’s relationships with Milo and Gabi. This story did a great job of making me feel for this situation, in spite of my not usually enjoying stories that center around difficulties with child-raising.

But, and it turned out to be a very big but, I had a difficult time understanding why Kat refused to let Bowie in. I didn’t feel as if I got enough of Kat’s past trauma to really buy into her belief that what she felt for Bowie, and what he felt for her, was just another one of her bad decisions about men, which don’t seem all that bad in retrospect. They seemed like typical high school, college and early 20s experiments.

I understood why she wanted to stand on her own two feet in regards to Gabi’s adoption, but she walled everyone out to the point of not discussing her her hopes, or her quite reasonable concerns about the process, with anyone who might help her think things through or even provide a sounding board. Every time she dithered about it, the story sagged a bit. At least for this reader.

But that ending made me tear up. Happy tears, but an intense reaction for a book that I struggled with a bit in the middle. I’ll be back to Haven Point this winter with Sugar Pine Trail. I want to see how they’re all doing! And the heroine is a librarian, which makes this one doubly irresistible!

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

I am giving away a copy of Serenity Harbor to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: The Nanny Arrangement by Rachel Harris

Review: The Nanny Arrangement by Rachel HarrisThe Nanny Arrangement by Rachel Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, new adult romance
Series: Country Blues #2
Pages: 266
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 22nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Soft-spoken and shy Hannah Fisher is determined to make the man she’s loved her entire life finally see her as a woman. With the help of a makeover, a new mission—Operation Find My Happy—and the convenient forced proximity of a tour bus, she vows to win her best friend Deacon’s heart.

Former bad boy and current fiddle player Deacon Latrell has the world at his fingertips: a new gig with a famous band, plus his best friend on tour as his son’s nanny. Life couldn’t get much sweeter. Now if only he could stop imagining kissing the daylights out of his childhood BFF...

With one friend set on pushing the boundaries and the other afraid to rock the boat, one thing’s for certain—their story would make one heck of a country song.

My Review:

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Nanny Arrangement. As much as I love the friends-to-lovers trope, there are a whole lot of other factors in this story that generally drive me crazy, and certainly did this time. And I liked the damn thing anyway!

The Nanny Arrangement is right on the cusp between New Adult and Contemporary Romance. The protagonists are both 20-somethings, and are still figuring out what they want out of life. They also fumble quite a bit along their way.

This is really Hannah’s story. She has come back from a year-long stay in Paris as an au pair to initiate Operation Find My Happy. It’s not that Hannah doesn’t know where her happy is, it’s that she isn’t sure she can manage to grab it. Because Hannah has been in love with Deacon Lattrell for ten years now, and he doesn’t seem to see her as anything more than a friend. Admittedly his best friend in the whole universe, but still, firmly and seemingly irrevocably, stuck in the dreaded friend zone.

But as much as Hannah loves being Deke’s friend, as well as the surrogate mother to his young son Max, Hannah just plain loves Deke, and always has. But Hannah has always hidden herself away in baggy clothes and in the fringes of any group, and it is possible that Deke simply hasn’t seen her as she really is. And that he never got past spending high school defending Hannah from all the schoolyard cruelty inflicted on her as a red-headed girl with a stutter who wore slightly old-fashioned clothes. She was the class freak, and Deke was her lone defender.

There’s plenty of love there, but it isn’t exactly the kind of love that Hannah wants or needs. Running away to Paris didn’t cure her of her embarrassingly unrequited love for Deke, so putting herself out there and making him see her may not work either, but she has to try before she has a chance at moving on.

That’s where the fun begins. Deke is the latest member of the country rock group Blue. The band has been established for years, but they needed a new fiddle-player and Deke has turned out to be it. But Deke doesn’t travel without little Max, and that’s where Hannah steps in. The band needs a live-in nanny on tour, not just for Max but also for the lead singer’s little girl Stella. So just as Deke is on a trial contract as their fiddler for the length of their US tour, Hannah is on a trial contract as their nanny.

In the enforced intimacy of a small group on tour in not-nearly-big-enough buses, Hannah has the chance to open Deke’s eyes. It’s not her fault that as soon as he opens them, the idiot slams them shut again. He wants only the absolute best for Hannah, and he’s sure that’s not him. Not that he’s actually asked her what she wants. Of course not.

He’s an idiot, but while plumbing the vast depths of his idiocy he finally gets smart enough to put on some really excellent grovel to get back the girl he’s always loved.

Escape Rating B+: Throw the tropes New Adult Romance, Rock Star Romance, Friends-to-Lovers, I’m Not Worthy, and Misunderstandammit into a blender, mix with Operation Find My Happy, and come up with a story that in spite of its flaws still makes the reader finish with a big smile.

I say this because I find that I’m hit or miss with New Adult, and very much down on both I’m Not Worthy and the Misunderstandammit. Combining the trope where the hero kicks the heroine to the curb because he’s certain she’s too good for him, and mixing it with the trope where so many of their issues could be solved if they just talked with each other instead of past each other once in awhile does not make for this reader’s favorite frustration.

What redeemed a whole lot of these two issues was that, unusual for romance, Deke put on very good grovel to make up for his errors. Not that Hannah wasn’t going to take him back anyway, but not just Deke but all the guys in the story were conscious that Deke had screwed up big time and needed to make up for it even bigger time.

It was great not to see the guy get a hall pass on this.

But it was Hannah’s Operation Find My Happy that made the story for me. She’s not sure how to get what she wants, and she’s certainly not sure that she’ll get what she wants, but she has internalized the mantra about only getting a different result by taking a different action. Along with the realization that the whole unrequited longing thing just wasn’t working for her. She needed to get on or get over, and she hadn’t found a way to get over so it was time to get on with pursuing what she wanted, even if she lost.

I also loved the way that both the friendships among the women and the friendships among the men developed organically over the story. Expanding their respective circles was something that both Deke and Hannah desperately needed to do, even if neither of them saw it.

And we do see where Deke and Hannah came from, and just how and why they ended up in the pickle that they are in. And we’re thrilled when Hannah’s courage and Deke’s excellent grovel finally locate Hannah’s (and Deke’s and Max’s) happy.

Review: Making it Right by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway

Review: Making it Right by Catherine Bybee + GiveawayMaking It Right by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Most Likely To #3
Pages: 348
Published by Montlake Romance on May 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In the final book in bestselling author Catherine Bybee’s Most Likely To trilogy, River Bend’s rebel follows in her father’s footsteps to become sheriff. But it might be time to forge her own path…
Some kids inherit a family business; Jo Ward inherited a badge. Once voted Most Likely to End Up in Jail, the town wild child has become sheriff—hell-bent on uncovering the truth about her father’s mysterious death. Life is quiet in rustic River Bend, but Jo longs for something beyond her small hometown and the painful memories it holds. All that keeps her sane is the support of her best friends, Melanie and Zoe.
But when Jo signs up for an expert law enforcement training seminar, she meets Gill Clausen, whose haunting eyes and dangerously sexy vibe just may challenge her single-minded focus. Commitment-phobic Jo can’t deny her attraction to the arrogant federal agent, and when odd things start happening around River Bend and danger surrounds her, she realizes she’ll need his help to discover who’s out to remove her from River Bend…permanently.
As Jo and Gill work together, it’s clear they make a great team. But can Jo loosen her grip on the past enough to let love in and reach for the future?

My Review:

Ten years before the beginning of Doing it Over, the first book in this absolutely marvelous series, Mel, Zoe and Jo, who truly are BFFs forever, vow that no matter where life takes them, they will meet up in River Bend for their tenth high school reunion. The ten-year reunion is a very big deal, not just for River Bend High School but also for the entire small town. And so are those cheesy predictions that end up in every senior’s yearbook.

Mel was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”, but in Doing it Over we discover that she did anything but. She returns to River Bend to pick up her pieces. Zoe, in her turn, was voted “Most Likely to Stay in River Bend”, so she, too, did anything but. In Staying for Good Zoe returns to River Bend on what she believes will be a temporary hiatus from her career as a jet-setting celebrity chef.

Now it’s Jo’s turn. Jo was voted “Most Likely to End up in Jail”, and she actually fulfilled that prophecy. Well sort of. Jo is on the opposite side of the bars than her high school classmates predicted. Jo is the Sheriff of River Bend, following in her father’s unexpectedly echoing footsteps.

And after nearly ten years as Sheriff, the job has turned into a straitjacket.

Jo pursued the job because she always believed that her dad’s supposedly accidental death was really homicide. And she thought that the best place to discover his killer was from inside his life.

But she didn’t think she’d still be there ten years later, with all her questions still unanswered. In the intervening years, she’s discovered a knack for law enforcement, but she’s less and less willing to live every minute of her life at the town’s beck and call and under the heavy thumb of its expectations.

She’d like some off-time, dammit. She’d like a life. And she’d really, really like to get laid.

Jo would also like to get further than she has so far with her off-the-books investigation into her father’s death. And for that she needs more skills and more contacts. Her quest takes her to the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, not to become an FBI agent herself, but to attend a week-long special training session that the FBI regularly holds for local law enforcement officers from all over the country.

She expects to learn a lot. She doesn’t expect to feel small and embarrassed every minute, because River Bend is a tiny town, she only has one full-time deputy, and certain kinds of crime are still blissfully absent.

She doesn’t expect that her pre-training one-night stand with a hot badass will turn into anything more. At least not until the same guy shows up at her training class as one of the FBI instructors. She’s both embarrassed and turned on, and just a bit sorry that Agent McHottie lives in DC while she’s in Oregon.

Until she finally remembers that he’s stationed not at Quantico, but at the field office in Eugene Oregon, only two hours from River Bend.

Jo and Gill (that’s Agent McHottie’s real name) actually do have a chance to make something of their almost-relationship. But there’s someone in River Bend out to get Jo. Or just the sheriff. Or perhaps there was a lot more going on with Jo’s dad’s murder than anyone counted on.

Or all of the above.

Escape Rating A: I’ve really enjoyed this series (a LOT) but I think that Making it Right is my favorite. And while you don’t have to read the first two books to get what is happening in this one, the whole series really is a lot of fun. If you enjoy small-town romances, and if you like stories about women’s long-lasting friendships, the entire series is a winner.

As much as I liked both Mel and Zoe, I think that part of the reason that I liked this one the best is that Jo felt like the easiest one for me to identify with. I fell into her thoughts and feelings about being a woman in a man’s job, needing to be taken seriously, always knowing that one misstep was all it would take to knock her off the pedestal, and feeling strangled by everyone else’s expectations.

Along with that big slice of regret she can’t manage to swallow, that her dad would have loved to have seen her turn her life around, but that it came too late for them to reconcile.

There are, as there often are in this series, three threads to this story. One is that Jo needs to find some of that elusive work-life balance. The town is eating her alive – not by doing anything wrong, but by dumping everything on Jo’s shoulders. She’s near a breaking point, and something is going to have to give, because Jo just can’t keep giving.

Jo is also stuck, or in a stuck-place, investigating her dad’s murder. She’s right that the whole thing is too pat, something stinks. She’s also equally right that someone doesn’t want her poking into that ten-year-old incident, because that sixth sense we all have that says someone in watching her is on overdrive. She just doesn’t know exactly who or exactly why, and neither do we.

The solution to this particular thread isn’t anything that the reader or Jo expects, which is awesome. Once everything is all laid out, it is obvious where the clues were, but we all miss them as they happen, and that makes the suspense part of this story even more suspenseful.

And of course there’s the romance. Which is perfect. Read Making it Right for yourself and you’ll see just how right Gill and Jo are for each other. Because they definitely are.

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

Giveaway: (1) $100 Amazon Gift Card and (4) prints of winner’s choice from the Most Likely series.
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