Review: The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan

Review: The Summer Seekers by Sarah MorganThe Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Harlequin HQN on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

“The ultimate road-trippin’ beach read and just what we all need after the long lockdown.”Booklist

The Summer Seekers is the ultimate road trip book.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!
Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.
Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.
Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.
When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She's not the world's best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?
As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it's never too late to start over…

My Review:

We’re all the products of our families, in one way or another. For some, it’s by imitation. We learned what to do by observing the people around us. For others, it’s in opposition. We learned what not to do by observing the people around us.

It’s pretty clear at the beginning of The Summer Seekers that Liza and her mother Kathleen exist in opposition. Kathleen’s life has been filled with wanderlust, spending most of Liza’s growing up years on the road filming her travel show, titled, just as this book is, The Summer Seekers.

What Liza learned from that experience is that she absolutely did not want that life for herself. She attached herself to home and hearth pretty much as soon as she could. Kathleen craved adventure, leaving Liza to crave the security she never felt she had.

But time has marched on. Kathleen still craves adventure, but at 80 her adventures are not quite as easy to arrange. While 40ish Liza wants above all for her mother, and all of her other loved ones, to be safe. Even though “safe” is the last thing that Kathleen was EVER built for.

There’s that saying about a ship in harbor being safe, but that not being what ships are built for. Kathleen is the ship. Her daughter Liza is the harbor, attempting to keep every ship not just safe but her own definition of safe and worrying so much over every ship – meaning every member of her family and their every need – that she’s worrying herself all the way to a permanent panic attack – if not worse.

And Kathleen and Liza, no matter how much they love each other, manage to just push each other further and further away. Liza wants to keep her mother safe, and she desperately needs to talk about her feelings about her mother’s absences, both physical and emotional, as she was growing up. While Kathleen wants to live the remaining years of her life by wringing out every day until every last drop has been squeezed out – and by never talking about or touching on anything deeply emotional at all.

They are on an emotional collision course when Kathleen announces that she is planning to take the one trip she always intended to but never quite managed. She intends to fly from London to Chicago and take a ride on storied, scenic Route 66. With an unemployed former barista named Martha as her driver, personal assistant and companion.

Liza is practically out of her mind with worry. Because that’s the person she’s become.

But just as Kathleen is about to fly away, just as she did so often during Liza’s childhood, they have one of those moments when they see each other clearly. A moment that puts a shaky bridge across the emotional chasm between them.

And in that moment they throw each other an emotional lifeline. As the miles increase between them, the distance, paradoxically, closes.

But is it too late?

Escape Rating A-: The Summer Seekers begins as Kathleen and Liza are in the midst of a seemingly life-long failure to communicate. Kathleen is emotionally distant – not just with her daughter but with, generally, everyone in her life. Liza, in reaction to her mother’s emotional distance during her childhood, has turned into her mother’s opposite – a woman who has tried to be so present and so involved in the lives of everyone she loves that she does everything for them – and has lost herself in the process.

Into the middle of that gulf steps, or rather drives, Martha. Literally as well as figuratively. Because Martha has the emotional intelligence that both Kathleen and Liza lack. (It’s clearly not in their family DNA!) It’s kind of a surprise that it’s in Martha’s, because her own family can’t seem to appreciate anything she has or is or does – and it’s killing her spirit one hour at a time.

But on this journey, Martha becomes the bridge between Kathleen and Liza. At 25, she’s not quite young enough to be Liza’s daughter, but she’s definitely of an age to be Kathleen’s granddaughter. In the forced intimacy of a very long car trip in a small but fast sports car, they open up to each other in a way that neither has done with their families.

So technology-savvy Martha facilitates the smartphone, email and video chat communication that links Kathleen with her daughter Liza. They share more over the longer distance than they ever have when close.

At the point where the story becomes about Kathleen’s, Liza’s and Martha’s physical and emotional journeys forward and towards each other, it becomes an absolute delight to follow. But the beginning, when Kathleen and Liza are at such cross purposes they are not having the same conversation even when they are in the same conversation, was a painful read for me because it hit much too close to home.

What makes this story is not the physical journey but rather the emotional journey. Martha, with just a bit of Kathleen’s help, learns to listen to the voice inside herself and not all of the naysayers that surround her at home. Kathleen, with a bit of help from Martha’s emotional intelligence, opens up to her daughter about the past Kathleen left behind long ago, and the betrayal that led to the emotional distance that affected both of their lives.

While Liza, with just a bit of prodding from her mother, finally snaps under the weight of all of the worries and obligations that she has buried herself under for so long. In the resounding echo of that snap she drops everything and takes back…herself. She puts herself, her own dreams and her own needs, back near the top of her gigantic to-do list. And every single person in her life is the better for it. Including, most especially Liza.

The “kicks on Route 66” in the Mustang convertible may be the thing that push the story forward, but it’s the emotional journeys that pull very successfully at the reader’s heart.

Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates

Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey YatesConfessions from the Quilting Circle: A Novel by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin HQN on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

"Yates weaves surprises and vivid descriptions into this moving tale about strong and nurturing female family bonds."—Booklist on Confessions from the Quilting Circle  
The Ashwood women don’t have much in common...except their ability to keep secrets.
When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?
Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away...
Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.
This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time...

My Review:

I usually say there are two variations on stories about home. One is the Thomas Wolfe version in the title of the book, You Can’t Go Home Again. One is the Robert Frost version, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Now I have a third version, Addie Dowell’s combination of hope, prayer and hard-lived experience, that “you can never go so far that you can’t come back home.”

This is a story about coming home. Not just about Mary Ashwood and her three daughters, Avery, Hannah and Lark, but also the journey of Mary’s mother, Addie, and all of the Dowell women that came before her, starting with Anabeth Snow Dowell, the widow who boarded a Conestoga wagon to make the long and arduous journey from Boston to Bear Creek Oregon after the loss of the husband who planned it – and who found love and hope along the way.

It’s also a story about starting over in the place where you began, whether you ever left it or not. Because as much as we all sometimes want to leave our pasts behind, we carry them with us wherever we go, with the weight of the things left unsaid and undone dragging us back at every turn.

Escape Rating A: I don’t often have a playlist for books, but I do this time. It’s Stevie Nicks’ Landslide on endless loop, because it feels like her story reflects all the journeys in this book. And now the damn thing is an earworm and I can’t get it out of my head.

The story here is on two tracks, although it isn’t time slip. It’s not about seeing the whole of the lives of the characters in the past, rather about the Ashwood women seeing the way that, in spite of how much the trappings of life have changed over the centuries, the experiences of the women who came before them have profound resonances in their lives in the present.

Which is a long way of saying that history repeats, specifically that history has repeated through the generations of the Dowell/Ashwood family. And that a big part of the history that keeps repeating is the way that each generation of the family – at least on the distaff side – does their best to keep what each believes are damning secrets to themselves. Even at times and places where the reveal would be the best thing for everyone involved.

It’s a lot of women hiding away their hurts and disappointments and sins in order to keep what is often a very dubious – and sometimes destructive – peace.

So Mary pretends to be stoic and Avery pretends to be perfect and Hannah pretends to be obsessed with her career while Lark pretends to be an irresponsible drifter. But even though there are aspects of truth in those pretenses, at the heart of them is a very big secret that each of them is forced to reveal to the others believing that the cost of stepping out of each other’s comfort zones will be too high to pay.

But none of them have gone so far that they can’t come back home to each other. Which is what makes this story such a lovely read.

Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne ThayneThe Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Cape Sanctuary #2
Pages: 336
Published by Harlequin HQN on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

With the emotional pull of Debbie Macomber, Barbara Delinsky and Susan Wiggs, RaeAnne Thayne brings readers an uplifting, brand new story told with her trademark charm and heart.

She knows what's best for everyone but herself...

With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She's made a career out of helping others downsize--because she's learned the hard way that the less "stuff," the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home...and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven't made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.
While Jess couldn't wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world--and her sister--to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child's disability, Rachel's marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she's learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn't do family, and she shouldn't count on her now.
Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached--to her sister and her family, even to her client's interfering son, Nate--and it's time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?

My Review:

For the reader, the actual path to Sunshine Cove is lovely, charming and very, very scenic, although for the characters proceeding along that path there are plenty of metaphorical pebbles stuck in the shoes they are walking it in, and a few outright boulders being smuggled in their baggage.

And yes, I meant baggage and not luggage, because this is a story about the baggage that sisters Jess Clayton and Rachel McBride have been carrying since their childhood.

Jess is about to turn 30, Rachel is not far behind her at 28, and that baggage lays between them like a deep rut on that path. It’s also weighing both of them down and keeping them from finding their true happy ever after – no matter how much each of them is pretending to have already found it.

There’s a famous quote about parents and their children, the one that goes, “There are two things we should give our children: one is roots, and the other is wings.” Jess and Rachel are struggling because their parents gave them neither, and as a consequence Rachel’s life has become rooted in their old baggage, while Jess has taken permanent wing in an ultimately vain attempt to fly away from it all.

But as another old saying goes, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

So, as The Path to Sunshine Cove begins, Jess is literally on the road to Sunshine Cove, on her way to help Eleanor Whitaker declutter the house that her late husband and his family have owned for generations. It’s Jess’ job and her calling, helping people go through decades of accumulated “stuff”, whether just as a grand spring cleaning, in preparation for downsizing, or as a way of moving on with life after a death in the family as Eleanor says she is.

That Eleanor’s house on the California coast is just down the road from Jess’ sister Rachel’s home with her husband and three children is both the reason that Jess took the job and a source of internal stress and conflict. Jess wants to see her sister and her family. She wishes they were close – like they used to be when they were girls and it was them against the world.

But they haven’t been close for years, and it seems like what little connection they have is brittle and ready to shatter at any moment. They talk, but they don’t say anything. They can’t manage to reach across the great divide between them, and aren’t sure whether to keep trying or to finally let go.

The thing is, all that Rachel lets Jess see is the picture-perfect life she presents to her Instagram followers. And all that Jess lets Rachel see is the footloose and fancy-free surface of her satisfying but sometimes emotionally-wrenching job.

But Rachel’s life is falling apart, and Jess’ life is emotionally empty, and it’s all a consequence of that heavy baggage they are both carrying from a childhood that caused more damage than anything else.

On their path to Sunshine Cove, it’s time to see if they can find each other again – or if they’re both too scared to let go of their baggage to reach for happiness – and sisterhood.

Escape Rating A-  was an absolutely lovely read for a lazy Sunday afternoon – which is when I started – and finished the book. The characters were absolutely charming, the setting sounded utterly gorgeous, and the story was heartwarming every step of the way.

This is one of those books that sits quite comfortably on the border between women’s fiction – or relationship fiction as my colleagues call it – and contemporary romance. The story here is really about the relationship – and the initial fumbling lack thereof – between sisters Jess and Rachel. It’s also about Rachel’s faltering relationship with her husband, and the way that those fumbles are rooted in Jess’ and Rachel’s childhood trauma.

And it’s about Jess’ growing relationship with the entire Whitaker family, and not just the romantic relationship she develops, pretty much in spite of herself, with her client’s son Nate. This is one of those stories where I like to say that “a romance occurs” rather than the story being centered on the romance. Because it’s not.

Instead, it’s centered on Jess and her developing relationships with everyone around her during her job at Sanctuary Cove, including the relationship with her sister. Because just as Jess and Rachel have taken the opposite ends of that “roots and wings” paradigm, they’ve also taken positions that are at opposite ends of the spectrum in how they deal with the damage left by their parents.

Rachel has turned into a people-pleasing perfectionist, making sure she’s part of every volunteer opportunity in town, and that her life at least appears perfect all the time. Not just for her Instagram followers, but because she needs that perfection – just as her mother did.

While Jess has arranged her life so that she never stays anywhere very long, never has a chance to develop connections with anyone, just dropping into people’s lives, doing her job, doing it very, very well, but keeping her distance and then moving on. She’s afraid to need anyone because her mother needed way too much.

They both have way more emotional baggage than could possibly fit in Jess’ beloved Vera, the classic Airstream trailer that she lives in while she criss-crosses the country from one cluttered place to another.

Stopping in Sunshine Cove, letting herself become involved in the lives around her, not just her sister but also Eleanor Whitaker, Nate and Nate’s 13-year-old daughter Sophie, allows Jess to finally put down just enough roots to have a great – but not perfect – life. While Rachel, with just a bit of tough love from her sister, gives up on perfection in order to find the happiness she almost lost.

This is the second book that the author has set in and around beautiful Sanctuary Cove, after last year’s charming The Sea Glass Cottage. Although the two stories share the setting, and have similar themes, nothing happens in Sunshine Cove that will make a new reader think they missed something by not having read the other book. (I completely lost sight of this being a second book in series while I was reading it.) So if this story sounds like your cup of tea, feel free to start here, you won’t be disappointed.

But that also means you’ll love the first book, The Sea Glass Cottage, every bit as much as this one!

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (The Lady Travelers Society, #2) by Victoria Alexander
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Lady Travelers Society #2
Pages: 544
Published by Hqn on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Join the Lady Travelers Society in their latest romantic misadventure, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander

She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure—a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.

He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright—including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?

Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

My Review: 

This Lady Travelers Guide is a fitting successor to the first book in this delightful series, The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen, even though both the hero and the heroine are opposites from those in the first book.

Unlike India Prendergast, Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe is quite likeable, and more than a bit uncertain of herself. Which does not stop her from being absolutely determined to find a way to rescue her fortunes without resorting to marrying for money.

As a widow, Willie has a bit of latitude in her behavior. As the widow of a young man who seems to have had zero funds but was determined to have oodles of fun, Willie has few means at her disposal, particularly after she paid off her late husband’s many (many) debts.

She may have eloped with George in a cloud of scandal, but she’s discovered over the two years since his death that she doesn’t miss him very much. And she’s outgrown the constant thrill-seeking that used to be their existence. But she does miss all the friends she thought she had.

And where Derek Saunders certainly had lived up to being the “scoundrel” of the title in that first book, Dante Montague has become a bit too staid and respectable for his sister Rosalind’s comfort. Not that respectability isn’t a good thing, but it seems as if Dante has lost the spirit of fun that he used to have, between managing his investments and managing the down-at-heels art museum he inherited.

But Willie and Dante have something in common, something that is going to bring them together, and very nearly tear them apart.

Once upon a time, Dante’s grandfather owned a beautiful triptych of paintings by one of Titian’s students. And dear grandfather either gave the center painting in the set to Willie’s grandmother – or Willie’s grandmother stole it.

Willie’s late and less-and-less lamented husband pawned it to an Italian collector. She plans to go to Venice to pay back the loan and redeem her painting, so that she can sell it for enough to provide her with financial independence.

But Willie is pretty much flat broke, and the only way she can manage the trip to Venice is to take over as tour host for one of the tours arranged by her godmother’s little enterprise, the Lady Travelers Society.

Dante wants to take back what he believes is “his” painting, and the only way he can do that is to follow Willie to Venice. He contacts the brilliantly idiotic scheme to accompany his sister and her daughter on the Lady Travelers Society tour.

And that’s where everything goes terribly right and horribly wrong, all at the same time. Even before they are forced to flee Venice one step ahead of the polizia.

Escape Rating B+: As Dante discovers, it is impossible not to like Willie Bascombe. Her life was completely overthrown, but she is determined to make the best of the situation that she admits she stuck herself in. George was charming, but neither steady nor trustworthy. Sooner or later, they would have come to financial grief, with or without his death.

Willie is independent, whether she wants to be or not, and she is determined to make the most of it. Not by remarrying for money, but by finding a way to achieve independence on her own. She’s having a difficult time of it, and she’s finding out she has more inner strength and resources than she ever imagined. And that independence can be very, very hard.

One of the lovely bits of this story is the way that the women on Willie’s tour band together and develop a true and sincere friendship, in spite of their many differences. That they all end up first fostering Willie’s relationship with Dante and then uniting against the common enemy is a terrific testimonial to the power of real friendship.

Dante is used to being in control. His investments are successful because he does his research and controls his emotions. While he may have done his research on Willie, he is never, ever in charge of his emotions. Part of what makes the story so much fun is the way that Dante’s sister Rosalind manages to burst his bubble at every turn. She’s his older sister, he’s being a complete idiot, and she relishes calling him on it, while still making it clear that she loves him in his idiocy, even though she refuses to save him from the folly of his own actions.

This is my second book in a row to feature Paris as a setting. In this case, a big chunk of the tour is set in Paris during the time of the 1889 World’s Fair, when the Eiffel Tower was new and a marvel of the world. The descriptions of Paris in general and the Tower in particular are lyrical and moving. It’s astonishing to think that the icon of Paris was originally intended to be a temporary structure.

At the end, this story surprisingly reminded me of the famous short story, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Each tries to give the other something that they once wanted desperately but no longer need. The little bit of mystery at the end is the icing on a very fine cake.

There’s one more book in this series at least so far. The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl will be published next May. And it looks like another treat!

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter + Giveaway

Review: The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter  + GiveawayThe Darkest Touch (Lords of the Underworld #11) by Gena Showalter
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Lords of the Underworld #11
Pages: 489
Published by Harlequin HQN on November 25th 2014
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From New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter comes the long-awaited story of Torin, the most dangerous Lord of the Underworld yet…
Fierce immortal warrior. Host to the demon of Disease. Torin’s every touch causes sickness and death—and a worldwide plague. Carnal pleasure is utterly forbidden, and though he has always overcome temptation with an iron will, his control is about to shatter.
She is Keeley Cael. The Red Queen. When the powerful beauty with shocking vulnerabilities escapes from a centuries-long imprisonment, the desire that simmers between her and Torin is scorching. His touch could mean the end for her, but resisting her is the hardest battle he’s ever fought—and the only battle he fears he can’t win.

My Review:

I read the first several books in this series when they came out. The series has a pretty neat premise, all to do with Pandora, her box, and all the demons that were trapped inside. While the myth says that the demons all escaped and went out to wreck havoc among humanity, that myth doesn’t get into the details of exactly how they went out. Flying seems to be assumed, at least in the versions I remember.

But what if, and don’t most interesting stories start with “what if?”, what if instead of just disembodied evil spirits flying around, those demons took over bodies, specifically in this case the bodies of the warriors who mistakenly opened the box. Those are the Lords of the Underworld, the 12 now immortal warriors who are each sharing a body and a consciousness with an extremely malevolent demon.

In the series, it is now the 21st century, and those warriors have been around for centuries. Even being an immortal badass gets tiresome if you do it long enough. The humans who are hosting those demons are sick and tired of causing death and destruction wherever they go. They are holed up in a castle outside of Budapest, trying to avoid messing with humanity as much as they possibly can.

Because this series is paranormal romance, the stories do have a pattern. Probably why I stopped reading in the middle, as much as I enjoyed the individual books, the pattern becomes fairly obvious and more than a bit repetitious six books in.

The pattern is fairly simple. The immortal warrior finds the one person who can deal with his particular demon. While the warriors are mostly male, there are a few females in the bunch, and their pattern is the same, with the genders reversed.

darkest surrender by gena showalterFor example, in The Darkest Surrender the demon of Defeat finds a warrior-woman who is stronger than he is, so that she can give him the defeats that he craves. While it is a BDSM relationship, it works for them. It’s actually the only thing that could work for them.

There is also an overarching theme to the whole series. The Lords are hunting for Pandora’s old box. They believe they have a way to extricate the demons from their bodies, if they can only get together all of the correct tools and find the way to make them work. Both Hades and Lucifer make a bad habit of interfering with that plan, for nefarious reasons of their own. That Hades and Lucifer exist in the same time-stream is bizarrely fascinating.

But the story in The Darkest Touch is the story of someone who must absolutely be the universe’s oldest virgin. Torin is the host to the demon of Disease, and anyone he touches catches something painfully deadly and dies within hours. The few who survive his deadly touch become carriers themselves. All the big documented disease outbreaks in history, from the Black Death of the 1400s to the Spanish Flu of 1916, can all be traced back to Torin.

Finding a woman who can survive his demon is a major challenge. In the darkest cell of an interdimensional prison, Torin finds Keeleycael, the Red Queen, when he accidentally kills her best friend and fellow prisoner, Mari.

Keeley is a Curator, and her species is one of the few that is strong enough to survive Torin’s demon, not just once, but over and painfully over again. At first they are enemies, as Keeley vows to destroy Torin for killing her friend. But as they are forced to band together to defeat their mutual enemies, particularly Hades, they discover that they are perfect for each other – if they can just find a way around his little demon problem.

Hades holds the key to their happy for now. But he loved and lost Keeley once, and he is determined to win her back. At any cost.

Escape Rating B: This was fun. I enjoyed reading The Darkest Touch quite a bit. At the same time it made me remember why I stopped reading the series a few years ago. One book in a pattern is fun and even refreshing. This was a light read and I had a good time doing it. At the same time, because it had been a few years since I last dipped into this series, I didn’t see every path coming a mile away. More like two or three miles away.

On that other hand, by having skipped all the books between 5 and 10, I missed the relationships of some of the couples who are part of the larger “family”. When this series began the 12 Lords are all living together in the castle, isolated, unhappy, and often fighting with each other just to keep their demons happy and their doldrums at bay. By this point in the series, 10 and now 11 of those Lords have found their destined mates, some are married and a couple have babies on the way. Things are more than a bit different on the home front. Most of them are much happier, but they also have much more to lose when they get caught in a showdown between Hades and Lucifer.

And yes, it does make the head spin to have Hades and Lucifer, with their historical backstories intact, co-exist in the same universe. Cool but weird.

darkest night lords of the underworldBut all of the above gives me a headache about recommending whether The Darkest Touch can be read as a standalone or whether you need to read the rest of the series first. I think the answer is yes. I wouldn’t recommend reading them all, particularly not all at once, but it probably helps a bit with understanding the whole setup if one reads at least the first book, The Darkest Night.

This story stands or falls on the strength of the two main characters. This is true for every book in this series, because those two main characters, and how their relationship does or doesn’t work is the one element that changes from book to book.

The interesting thing about both Torin and Keeley is that they both have deep issues revolving around acceptance and inclusion. For very different reasons, neither of them has ever been fully part of any group.

While the Lords see Torin as one of their own, they also keep him literally at arm’s length in everything they do. He’s always on the outside of every gathering, because no one can touch him. And they can’t take him with them when they fight, because in combat, well, everybody touches everybody sooner or later, and anyone who didn’t end up immediately dead would spread Torin’s plagues.

Keeley seems to be the last of her kind. And it’s a kind that rejected her at every turn. Keeley’s people, the Curators, seem to be invented specifically for this mythology, but Keeley’s story is unfortunately all too familiar. Her family gave her away as a child bride to a powerful and abusive leader. When she finally killed him, she was rejected by her people. Then she threw herself at the first man who paid her any attention. Unfortunately, Hades was even more abusive and manipulative than the bastard she had been married to. He imprisoned and tortured her for centuries, all because he was afraid that she might be more powerful than he was. And he was so very right about that.

That Keeley and Torin find each other seems almost inevitable. They are perfect for each other. The way that they banter and flirt, is both fun and sad at the same time. They fall for each other in spite of their rocky start, because in the end they understand each other better than anyone else ever could.


As part of the tour, Gena is giving away a complete signed set of the entire Lords of the Underworld series!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: An Improper Arrangement by Kasey Michaels

Review: An Improper Arrangement by Kasey MichaelsAn Improper Arrangement (The Little Season, #1) by Kasey Michaels
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Little Season #1
Pages: 380
Published by Harlequin HQN on December 29th 2015
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Experience the drama of the Little Season in the first of a new series by USA Today bestselling author Kasey Michaels, in which three dashing war heroes have finally met their matches…
Gabriel Sinclair has returned from battle as reluctant heir to a dukedom. As if his new responsibilities weren't enough, Gabriel's aunt enlists him to sponsor a young heiress through London's Little Season. Yet Miss Thea Neville is hardly the tedious obligation he expected. She's exotic and enchanting—and utterly unaware of the secret poised to destroy her family's reputation.
After ten years in America, Thea is ready to do her duty and marry well. Deportment lessons, modistes, balls—the ton is a minefield she could scarcely navigate without Gabriel's help. By rights, she should accept the first bachelor who offers for her. Instead, she's succumbing to a dangerous attraction to her wickedly handsome chaperone—one that could unhinge her plans in the most delicious way.

My Review:

This story is for the birds. Not in the slightly pejorative sense that the phrase is usually used, but literally. This historical romance pretty much gets its story stolen by a flock of birds. That the ton gets its collective pocketbook emptied by those same birds, and the nobleman who is, ahem, hawking them, just adds to the fun.

An Improper Arrangement also rides, or flies, on the strength of the witty banter between its two protagonists, Lord Gabriel Sinclair and Miss Dorothea Neville. For a historical romance in the Regency period, the relationship between Gabe and Thea is surprisingly equal. They seem to have both thrown off the expectations of their class and positions and become openly and honestly friends, which inevitably leads them to romance as it leaves them unsuited to the kind of spouse that they would normally find.

Thea may be English, but she was raised in America. She is also, as she often says, “two and twenty”. She is not a simpering miss fresh from the schoolroom, and she is used to saying what she means and doing a good bit of what she likes. She’s also a skilled fisherman (fisherwoman) and excellent with a bow. She competes with Gabe, and she often wins.

In the battle of wits that ensues, they are equally matched.

But what seems to be the central plot here is an actual plot. Gabe and his friends want their bit of revenge against Henry Neville. Why? Because his very wet-behind-the-ears son left them in Napoleon’s clutches instead of carrying a warning to the British and Russian armies. And after the war, while Gabe and his friends languished in a French military prison, the aforementioned Henry Neville arranged for his cowardly little boy to get a medal, for bravery of all things.

Thea wants her own bit of revenge against Henry Neville. He’s her father. The father that she thought was dead, while he deposited herself and her mother in America and returned to England to remarry (without benefit of divorce) and father the aforementioned “wet behind the ears” son. In other words, Henry Neville is a bigamist and his be-medalled son Myles is a bastard and not heir to Henry’s earldom.

A lot of the story is about Gabe and Thea each planning their separate revenge while they draw closer and closer together with a huge secret wedged in between them. Except that the secret isn’t really that secret. The secret is that they know each other’s secret. Yes, there is sometimes an element of farce to this story, but the banter usually carries it off.

Can they each give up their desire for revenge in favor of a future together?

Escape Rating B: While the story of Gabe and Thea’s secrets and counter-secrets is fun, it is also a bit predictable. What makes this story is the game that Gabe pulls on the entire ton. That’s where the birds come in.

When Gabe’s great-uncle Basil was merely the fifth son of the previous duke, Basil and his wife travelled the world on his generous allowance and brought back exotic birds from every place they visited. There are now over 100 exotic birds in Basil’s makeshift aviary at one of his estates. Basil seems to be roosting there too, right along with the birds.

Basil became Duke by accident. Actually, by four accidents, and he doesn’t want the title or the job. He’s confined himself to his rooms, waiting for death to overtake him just before his 60th birthday. Thea convinces him to get out again by having Gabe threaten the birds.

So all the while that Gabe and Thea are driving each other crazy, the birds are a constant source of tension and humor. Gabe takes all the birds to London and runs a giant con on the ton, making the birds the most fashionable thing ever, so that he can get rid of them and make a profit. And then skip town as the bird dropping pile up.

All the while, he keeps his best friend, a cockatoo named Caspar who imitates the sounds that Gabe made as a boy, crying all alone. Gabe’s scenes with Caspar, and Thea’s reaction to them, are quite touching.

But while the birds often steal the show in this slight tale, the story as a whole is just a lark.