Review: The Honeymoon Cottage by Lori Foster

Review: The Honeymoon Cottage by Lori FosterThe Honeymoon Cottage by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Cemetery Indiana #1
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on May 24, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

She was fine arranging other people’s weddings… But life had other plans.

When it comes to creating the perfect happily-ever-after, Yardley Belanger is a bona fide miracle worker. From bridal bouquets to matching cowboy boots, the quirky wedding planner’s country-chic affairs have caused quite a stir in the small town of Cemetery. But when it comes to her own love life? She’s clueless.

Completely clueless.

Perhaps it’s for the best. The thirty-one-year-old has poured her heart and soul into her business and doesn’t have time for anything—or anyone—else. And that’s something not even the gorgeous older brother of her newest client can change…right?

All Travis Long wanted was to give his little sister, Sheena, the wedding of her dreams. Ever since the tragic death of their parents, he’s done everything he can to make her feel loved and give her everything she needs. Still…a country wedding? In a place called Cemetery? But Yardley seems to know exactly what to do and how to do it—and Travis finds himself falling for her a little more each day.

Soon Yardley and Travis find themselves being nudged together by well-meaning locals who want to see the town’s favorite wedding planner get her own happy ending.

My Review:

If you love quirky romances set in equally eccentric small towns you’ll love The Honeymoon Cottage, set in the weirdly named Cemetery, Indiana, where every business in town is required to include the town’s name in their own.

Which is a bit of a problem for wedding planner Yardley Belanger. She is terrific at planning weddings – and she’s a bit of a genius at marketing her business. But it’s hard for Yardley – as well as people who are shopping for a wedding planner – to get past “Cemetery Weddings” as a concept. Those two words just don’t go together.

(I’ve seen this in real life. We drove through a town named Newborn several months ago. There’s a taxidermy shop in Newborn called “Newborn Taxidermy” and I have the pictures to prove it. Those are two words that should NEVER appear in the same sentence. I digress.)

So Yardley’s story begins with her regular agitation of the town council to remove the naming requirement. Cemetery weddings, Cemetery candy, Cemetery florist and Cemetery Pit Stop BBQ are all on Yardley’s side.

But the president of the town council, 84 year old Betty Cemetery, great-granddaughter of the town founder Henry Harrison Cemetery, fights Yardley – and every other business owner in town – at every turn.

Howsomever, The Honeymoon Cottage is a small town romance, so the battle between Yardley and Betty isn’t the main event. That’s reserved for Yardley and her latest client, Sheena Long. Well, not exactly them either.

Because when Sheena comes to visit Yardley and plan her wedding, Sheena is accompanied not by her soon-to-be-groom (also the father of her soon-to-be-child) but by her older brother Travis. Travis raised Sheena after their parents died in an accident when Travis was 20 and Sheena was only 5. He’s been big brother, father, mother, uncle and best friend to his little sister for nearly all of her life and he’s the one paying for the wedding – no matter how many doubts he has about the groom.

Sheena and Yardley hit it off instantly. Travis and Yardley draw sparks from each other just as instantly. The kind of sparks that 31-year-old Yardley had pretty much given up on ever feeling ever.

But Travis is wary of getting involved with someone who is rapidly becoming important to his sister. It’s happened before and the results were NOT GOOD. Yardley has spent her whole life being denigrated by the two women who raised her – her mother and her aunt. Aurora and Lilith Belanger have spent Yardley’s whole life telling her how awkward and unlovable she is and that she didn’t inherit any of the family beauty or charm and that she can never do anything quite right.

The only person who believes in Yardley is her lifelong bestie Mimi. Yardley doesn’t even believe in herself.

So at first she doesn’t believe that Travis is really interested in her. Or that all of her fellow business owners in town really, truly want her to run for president of the town council in opposition to the recalcitrant Betty.

But all is not as it seems, because we never know what’s in someone else’s heart.

Travis really is interested, and they really are falling for each other. And in spite of their actions and attitudes, her mother and her aunt really do love her – even if they have a terrible way of showing it. While Betty is fighting Yardley not because there’s any real animosity, but because she’s lonely and arguing with Yardley has put more spring in her step than anything in a very long time.

And all it takes is the love of one adorable scamp of a dog to help put the pieces of Yardley’s life and her heart together.

Escape Rating A-: Like so many of my recent reads, The Honeymoon Cottage sits right on that line between romance and relationship. It sits very comfortably on that line, because it has oodles of elements of both of those genres.

For this reader, the most interesting parts of the story wrapped around Yardley’s terrific relationship with her bestie Mimi, her supporting and supportive relationships with the other business owners in Cemetery, and her surprising frenemy-ship with Betty Cemetery. Along with her growing love for Travis Long and especially for the dog Dodger who scampers his way into pretty much everyone’s hearts.

And on the other hand there’s her bizarre, toxic relationship with her mother and her aunt. Like Mimi, I wanted Yardley to blast those two for the way they treated her. The degree to which they’ve been negging her all of her life, to the point where her mother continually reminds her that getting pregnant with Yardley ruined her life, deserved a good blast or ten. In those circumstances, that Yardley turned out to be such a terrific person is beyond surprising all the way into practically unbelievable. It’s pretty clear that Mimi’s friendship and support saved Yardley’s sanity, and kept her self-esteem from being any lower and sinking straight into clinical depression.

That Yardley’s willingness to listen and empathize results in bringing Betty Cemetery out of her self-imposed shell and turns the two from potential enemies to very good friends worked beautifully. Something about the way the situation with her mother and aunt resolved didn’t quite feel real – but then it didn’t feel real to Mimi either.

The romance between Yardley and Travis is wonderful, it just didn’t feel like the center of the story, hence my wavering over whether this is romance or relationship. And again, falling on the relationship side, that both Yardley and Mimi develop strong friendships with Sheena, that Mimi’s husband and Sheena’s fiance become friends, and that Travis even comes to understand and approve of Sheena’s fiance and their relationship just adds to that feeling.

Whichever side you fall on, romance or relationships, The Honeymoon Cottage is a lovely story. The romance is heart melting, the relationships are, for the most part, heartwarming, and the dog naturally steals more than a few of the scenes. And the scenes that Dodger doesn’t steal are hilariously capped by the town’s mannequin mascot Kathleen – who somehow manages to be present for ALL of the town’s big events.

I confess I am a bit surprised that this is the first book in a series set in Cemetery because the story seemed complete. However, I look forward to seeing how Dodger and his humans are doing, and I can’t wait to see who will find their HEA next!

 

Review: The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London

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

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


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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But can he?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery

Review: The Summer Getaway by Susan MalleryThe Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Hqn on March 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"The perfect escape for readers wanting to get away."—Booklist
One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery.
Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future.  She has always put her family first.  Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?
Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.
But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.

My Review:

No matter where you go, there you are. But when Robyn Caldwell decided to take a break from, well, her life, she didn’t expect for all of the people in her life to end up there with her.

While a part of me wants to say that Robyn is at a crossroads, it feels a lot more like Robyn has let herself be sucked into a whirlpool – and now she’s drowning. She’s in over her head and sinking fast under the weight of everyone’s expectations, including her own.

She’s just been hit upside the head with the realization that she’s the person who allowed it to happen. And that her circumstances changed – not recently but four whole years ago. That she literally can’t afford to continue drifting through her own life while giving in to all the demands that everyone around her seems to dump on her with abandon – knowing full well that she won’t abandon them.

Even though she needs to abandon something before her own personal ship sinks without a trace.

Robyn, for better and often for worse, is a fixer. She tries to make everyone around her happy. This means that she puts herself last – if she considers herself at all. And she has finally come to the realization that she has to stop.

Robyn is 42. She’s been divorced for four years and she’s glad she stopped forgiving her ex-husband for his lack of consistency, lack of commitment, and absolutely total lack of fidelity. Although she’s still been making up for his shortcomings when it comes to their two adult-ish children.

And that’s where Robyn’s life turns into an entire herd of drama llamas. A herd that she has finally decided not to keep feeding, caring for and especially not cleaning up the poop.

Her son has just graduated high school. According to the terms of her divorce, she has six months to either sell the house or buy her ex-husband out. To the tune of $2 MILLION DOLLARS or thereabouts. And that’s the reckoning that has come due. She hasn’t saved money from her settlement since her divorce. That settlement only has six years left to run. She has a part time job that doesn’t pay nearly enough for the lifestyle she became accustomed to.

She has to sell the house. She’s fine with selling the house. She never did like the damn house. But her daughter, planning to get married next year, has her spoiled little heart set on getting married in the backyard of the house – and throws a temper tantrum worthy of a two year old about it.

Robyn’s already ready to tear her hair out along with her heart when she learns that her ex-husband’s new girlfriend is – wait for it – the sister of THEIR daughter’s fiancé. Meaning that her ex-husband might possibly end up being their daughter’s father AND her brother-in-law!

Just thinking about how weird her daughter’s wedding is going to be – no matter where it’s held – along with her daughter’s drama, her son’s seeming failure to launch, her ex-husband still expecting her to clean up his messes, and her own looming financial crisis gives Robyn the urge to run away from it all.

So she does. Only to have all of it follow her across the country from Naples Florida to Santa Barbara California – dragging every single one of their drama llamas behind them.

Escape Rating B+: It’s hard not to start any description of Robyn’s trials and tribulations without wanting to end it with “and a partridge in a pear tree.” Not because this is a Christmas story, but because of the way the drama llamas keep piling on. And on. And ON.

But I was reading this – several other books – during a 12-hour layover in a rather small airport and it was diverting and absorbing and took me very far away from the extremely uncomfortable seat I was stuck in. So while The Summer Getaway does make its way a bit into farce – it’s a very enjoyable one – particularly as it’s happening to somebody else.

The idea of getting a do-over at midlife, which is essentially what Robyn is considering, is a compelling one. Her children are mostly grown. She’ll always have a place for them, but they’re moving out into their own lives – whether or not she believes their choices are the right ones. She’s finally reached a point where she acknowledges that their choices are theirs – and that hers are HERS.

Her great-aunt in Santa Barbara, the woman who has always been her rock and her safe space, is 94. Aunt Lillian may be a healthy 94, but she’s all too aware that her time is running out. She needs to finalize arrangements for what happens after – to her palatial but extremely quirky house, to her beautiful collections of so many priceless things – including her 15 cats. And to the people that she loves, especially Robyn and her children.

Along with making sure that the house will be in good hands with her husband’s chosen heir for the place, a great nephew that she’s been corresponding with for over a decade but never met. It turns out that Mason is a wonderful person to care for her late husband’s legacy. He might just be perfect for Robyn as well – if they can both manage to get out of their own way.

The Summer Getaway is the story of a summer when everything changes. For Robyn, for her children Harlow and Austin, for Mason, and for all the people attached to all the drama that invite themselves to follow Robyn along her way.

Everybody manages to grow up – at least a bit. Except the cats, because cats are always perfect just as they are. Just ask all 15 of them!

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan MalleryThe Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Hqn on March 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery.
Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future.  She has always put her family first.  Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?
Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.
But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery. I’ll be reviewing this book next month as part of another tour, but in the meantime, here’s a teaser to whet ALL of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery (continued from Monday’s Excerpt at Books, Cooks, Looks)

“She also found a couple of early Dutch strongboxes,” Mindy added. “Those sell for at least thirty K.”

Mindy, along with her three sisters, owned an exclusive antique shop in Naples. None of the other sisters lived in Florida, so Mindy was in charge of retail. Her sisters traveled extensively, keeping the shop well-stocked with unique and expensive items.

Robyn and Mindy had met in the store. Robyn was a frequent client, although her taste was slightly less upscale than much of Mindy’s inventory. They’d quickly moved to having lunch every month. When a part-time position had opened up, Robyn had applied. It was only a few hours a week, but Robyn enjoyed working with the other clients, as well as checking out whatever was new in the store. The selling wasn’t her favorite, but learning about different eras and the history of each piece enthralled her.

Mindy set down her glass. “How goes the wedding?”

Robyn did her best not to grimace. “So far we’re just talking generalities.”

“You’re still not happy they’re engaged?”

Robyn again resisted the urge to chug her wine. “Kip’s great. He adores Harlow, and doesn’t every mother want that in a future son-in-law? I just wish…”

She placed her hands flat on the table. “She’s barely twenty-two. They’ve known each other less than a year, and getting married is such a big step. Why can’t they live together for a few years? Take off for Paris or go hiking in Chile? Why get married so quickly?”

Mindy tried to hide her amusement. “And how old were you when you married Cord?”

“Nineteen.” Robyn sighed. “Which is my point. I had a two-year-old when I was Harlow’s age. Sure, I had my kids early, but what if I hadn’t? What if I’d gone to college or spent six months in Australia or done something other than what I did?”

“So is your concern about what Harlow might miss out on or what you gave up?”

A very valid question, Robyn thought. “How can you be insightful? That’s your third glass of champagne.”

“Liquor brings out my best qualities.”

“I don’t regret my life. I love my kids. I wouldn’t wish them away.”

“But?”

“I want her to have options.” She picked up her fork. “Not a conversation my daughter wants to have with me.” She and Harlow had managed to survive the teen years with hardly a cross word, but lately, they seemed to be fighting all the time.

“Would you have listened to your mother?” Mindy asked.

“I’m not sure. She died when I was eleven.”

Mindy’s brown eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay. As for talking to her when I was Harlow’s age, I probably wouldn’t have listened, either. I want to say I would have been mature and interested in her opinion, but it seems unlikely.”

Mindy touched her hand. “It’s your past, Robyn. You rewrite it however you’d like.”

“Thanks. The last time Harlow mentioned the wedding, she said something about wanting to dye the pool to match the bridesmaids’ dresses.”

“Can you even do that?”

“No idea, and I really don’t want to know.” She could only hope that her daughter’s wedding plans became a little more normal as time passed. Or that she decided to elope. Or hey, postpone.

“Want to play tennis next week?” Mindy asked brightly.

Robyn eyed her. “I’m not interested in meeting your fantasy guy.”

“Why not? Once you see him, you’ll have to admit he’s totally worth the risk.”

Robyn gave in to the inevitable and swallowed the rest of her wine. “Mindy, you make me crazy. You have a perfectly good penis at home. One is enough. Forget about Derrick.”

“Dimitri.”

“Whatever. Don’t risk your marriage and your family. He’s not worth it.”

“But I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me.” She smiled dreamily. “At least let me see him naked.”

“See a therapist instead.”

Mindy assumed Robyn was kidding and burst out laughing. Robyn faked a smile, even as she told herself to stop trying to convince her friend of anything. Based on how her children were behaving lately, she had no skills at persuasion. Oh, for the days when she could bribe them with a Popsicle.

Excerpt Tour continues tomorrow at Susan Loves Books) Follow the tour for more exciting excerpts:

Excerpt tour:

Monday, February 21st: Books Cooks Looks

Tuesday, February 22nd: Reading Reality

Wednesday, February 23rd: SusanLovesBooks

Thursday, February 24th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, February 25th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, February 25th: View from the Birdhouse

Sunday, February 27th: Subakka.bookstuff

Monday, February 28th: Laura’s Reviews

Tuesday, March 1st: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, March 2nd: The Bookish Dilettante

Thursday, March 3rd: What is That Book About

Friday, March 4th: The Romance Dish

Sunday, March 6th: The Cozy Book Blog

Monday, March 7th: Girl Who Reads

Tuesday, March 8th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 9th: Helen’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 10th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Friday, March 11th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Sunday, March 13th: Novel Gossip

Monday, March 14th: Books and Bindings

About the Author:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives: family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

Review: Happily this Christmas by Susan Mallery

Review: Happily this Christmas by Susan MalleryHappily This Christmas by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance, women's fiction
Series: Happily Inc #6
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on September 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Mallery, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s no place like Happily Inc for the holidays…

There’s no place like Happily Inc for the holidays…

Wynn Beauchene has a thriving business, a great kid and a mildly embarrassing crush on the guy next door—local cop Garrick McCabe. She’s a strong, independent woman who can’t help dreaming what-if about a man she barely knows. Until he needs her help…
Garrick’s pregnant daughter will be home for Christmas, and his house needs a woman’s touch. Garrick and his little girl were tight once and he’s hoping a small-town Christmas will bring her back to him. But thawing his daughter’s frosty attitude will take more than a few twinkle lights. Maybe sharing the holiday with Wynn and her son will remind her of the joy of family.
As the season works its magic on these wounded souls, Wynn realizes it’s time to stop punishing herself for a painful secret, while Garrick remains haunted by the ghosts of past mistakes. Will he allow Wynn to open the only gift she truly wants—his heart?
Read more in the reader-favorite Happily Inc series:Book 1: You Say It FirstBook 2: Second Chance GirlBook 3: Why Not TonightBook 4: Not Quite Over YouBook 5: Meant to Be YoursBook 6: Happily This Christmas

My Review:

I decided I wanted a happier book in the middle of this week, and it doesn’t get much happier than a trip to Happily, Inc., the little town that makes big wedding dreams come true.

But the situation that opens Happily this Christmas isn’t all that happy. And as much as Garrick McCabe wants it to change, he’s far from sure that it can. Not that he isn’t going to try his level best to make it happen.

His 21-year-old, 8-months pregnant daughter is coming to stay with him in Happily for a few weeks before Christmas, when her baby is due to be born and her husband is scheduled to return from his military deployment in Afghanistan.

Hopefully not in that order.

Garrick’s daughter Joylyn used to be his best girl, his buddy, his partner in crime and the light of his life. And those feelings used to be mutual. But somewhere in the middle of her teenage years Joylyn withdrew from him. Completely, utterly and extremely bitchily into the bargain.

He’s sure he must have done something wrong – but he doesn’t know what that something was. Joylyn refuses to tell him. She also refuses to act like a decent human being in his presence.

This visit is a chance to make things right. Of course, it could also cement the estrangement in stone.

But Garrick has a secret weapon. He enlists the help of his next door neighbor, the single-mother, business-owner and generally put-together Wynn Beauchene to help him welcome Joylyn to Happily and get her visit off to the best start possible.

Only to find himself charmed by Wynn – a feeling that is definitely mutual.

It’s a good thing that Garrick has Wynn and her teenaged son Hunter in his corner, giving Joylyn people to meet, things to do and something to think about besides missing her husband, brooding over her mistakes and continuing to treat her completely confused Dad like he’s the scum of the earth.

Which he definitely isn’t.

Joylyn has a chance to make things right, if only she’s willing to take it. Garrick and Wynn have a chance at the happy ending neither of them ever managed to have – if they’re willing to take a chance on each other – and give themselves a second chance at not just love, but life itself.

Escape Rating B+: I was definitely in the mood for a happy book this week. I’ve read nearly all of the Happily series and really enjoyed them. The portrait of the wedding destination town, all the people who are part of the town’s primary industry, and everything that goes into pulling off those dream weddings has always been good for a smile or ten, along with the HEAs of the individual characters in each book.

So I fell into Happily this Christmas pretty quickly, even if I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around holiday romances this early in the year. On my other hand, perhaps wishing the rest of this year away is the best idea in the universe. 2020 has been pretty epic on the awful scale.

But this one wasn’t quite as happy as I was expecting. It was fascinating, but not happy. Because for the first half of the story, Joylyn feels like the main character and she is frankly a bitch. And it feels like that’s all on her.

As the story evolves, it turns out it isn’t ALL on her, but a lot of it is. Her reasons for cutting her dad out of her life are only partly her fault. And her current levels of extreme bitchiness are, while not excused, at least understandable as she’s extremely pregnant, her husband is deployed and quite honestly she’s scared about being a new mother.

But she’s also a spoiled, privileged little princess taking all of her problems out on everyone around her. When Wynn contrasts her own young motherhood, single, completely alone and utterly broke but still gamely trying to keep it together, that privilege becomes pretty clear and Joylyn starts to get over herself a bit.

Then the town, through Wynn and all of her friends, starts to take Joylyn to their hearts and her attitude finally gets better. She starts to grow up – and did she ever need to!

For a lot of the story, Joylyn and her issues overshadow the budding romance between Garrick and Wynn. But that’s also part of the story, as between Joylyn, Wynn’s son Hunter, all the holiday preparations and planning for both Thanksgiving AND Xmas, and the circle of friends and family-of-choice that Wynn gets Joylyn involved in, there are a lot of people around ALL of the time, and a lot of busy that needs to be worked through and handled.

While that handling is something that Wynn is very good at, the whole thing turns into the kind of three-ring circus that keeps its central participants, in this case Garrick and Wynn, so busy that they have enough time to acknowledge their attraction to each other, plenty of need to spend time together dealing with stuff, but not a lot of time just being together without at least part of the crowd to see if they have what it takes to turn that attraction into a real relationship.

Of course they do, but it nearly takes a village to help them figure it out.

So this entry in the series was bigger on the family and friendship aspects of living in Happily than it was the romance, but it was still – as always – a lovely read.

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne ThayneThe Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Cape Sanctuary #1
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on March 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured in a car accident, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.

My Review:

One of the great things about being part of, let’s call it pre-Millennial Generation is that all of our youthful embarrassments and peccadilloes were thankfully NOT recorded and posted on the interwebs for all to see – and for all to resurrect from the dusty vaults of the Internet Archive or the Wayback Machine if we become even semi-famous, whether accidentally or on purpose.

However, some of us wrote in diaries made out of dead-tree stuff. In other words, paper. And paper is a fantastic way of preserving the thoughts and feelings of the past – whether those thoughts and feelings deserve preservation or not.

The things that Olivia Harper and her late sister Natalie wrote in their high school diaries creep out of the dusty past to bedevil and haunt not just the still-surviving – and still wounded – Olivia after all these years, but also Natalie’s daughter Caitlin, now 15 and searching for the baby daddy that her mother never revealed to a soul. Not her daughter, not her mother, not her sister, not her best friend – not even the baby daddy himself.

There’s also a feeling that this story is about self-protection and self-preservation, especially of the variety where we lie to someone in a way that is supposed to protect them, but is really all about covering our own broken places and protecting ourselves.

At the heart of this story, of the Sea Glass Cottage itself, is a circle of those kinds of social – and emotionally distancing – lies.

Olivia’s ability to continue telling herself she is absolutely fine is shaken when she witnesses a senseless attack in her favorite coffee shop. Her emotional and physical distance from her mother is shattered when her mother’s fall from a ladder puts Juliet into the hospital and rehab, forcing Juliet to acknowledge that she needs her daughter’s help – and that she’s in love with her friend and neighbor, Henry.

Olivia’s return to Cape Sanctuary makes her re-examine her life, her relationships, and the job that keeps her well-paid but prevents her from fulfilling her dreams.

And Caitlin’s compulsive reading of both her mother’s and her aunt’s teenage diaries brings all of the secrets that have been hidden out into the open, surprising everyone with just how much they’ve all been hiding in the vain attempt to keep each other “safe”.

The kind of safety they are all trying to maintain is an illusion, but love, on the other hand, is very, very real. If you let it in.

Escape Rating B+: The Sea Glass Cottage isn’t really a romance, in spite of the number of romances that take place within its pages. And not that two of its heroines don’t find their HEA by the time the story ends.

But the heart of this story is the relationship between three generations of Harper women, grandmother Juliet, daughter Olivia, and granddaughter Caitlin. And even 15-year-old Caitlin’s HEA is hinted at being somewhere in her future, just not yet.

But it’s the way that the relationships among the three women are changed by Juliet’s accident and Olivia’s return to Sanctuary Cove that create the beating heart of this story. And at the center of their story – and their estrangements – are a series of lies and half-truths that have kept them apart and in some ways kept them broken for most of Caitlin’s life.

What reshapes their story and their lives is the unraveling of the truth about the events that took Steve Harper’s life all those years ago. Juliet’s husband Steve was the chief of the volunteer fire department, and he died in a fire that he should never have entered, alone and unequipped, because he believed his daughter’s best friend was inside the burning house.

And that’s a burden that Cooper Vance, the best friend in question, has been shouldering alone for all these years. He feels like he’s the reason his friend and mentor died, and indirectly the reason that the Harper family fell to shreds – as well as the reason that Natalie fell into addiction until it killed her.

Caitlin’s discovery of her mother’s and her aunt’s diaries has opened all of the old wounds, but Caitlin, like Cooper, like Juliet and like Olivia, tries to bear the weight of those secrets alone. Until they all come spilling out, all the ugly truths are finally revealed, and healing can finally begin.

At the beginning of the story, Caitlin is, quite honestly, a bitch all the way around. She’s 15 and trying to hold a terrible secret. She lashes out at pretty much everyone around her, and her parts are difficult to read for quite a while into the story. She does get less abrasive as the story goes on and the reveals start coming, but it takes a while.

She’s holding her aunt Olivia responsible for crap she said when she was hurting, oddly enough around the age that Caitlin is now. But Caitlin isn’t able to make the leap from her own hurt feelings to the idea that an adult in her life, one that she loved and respected, was once a whiny teenage girl – just like her.

The romances are of the extremely slow burn variety. A burn that catches its fire off-screen, but the slow progression of the romances feels right for the way that the story works. I found it particularly poignant that one of those romances featured 50something Olivia, and was with her younger friend and neighbor at that! Her hesitance and the reasons for it felt very real.

Although the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, setting up the relationships, the crises, the family background and all the secrets. Once this one gets going, it reads really fast as the hits come thick and fast and all of the burning issues get resolved. So when you start this one, have a little patience and hang on for a lovely read!

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + Excerpt

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + ExcerptAn Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Wild River #1
Pages: 379
Published by Hqn on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…

If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.

Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…

My Review:

This holiday romance combines a frenemies into lovers romance with a bit of a second chance at love romance, and wraps it all up in a sparkly bow.

A bow that occasionally seems to be pulled in two directions (and tied in a strangled knot) by two strong-willed workaholics, neither of whom are good at stopping to smell the candy canes and hot cocoa. But then, both Ericka and Reed have spent years working all the hours available in order to keep them too busy to let any of their griefs and fears catch up to them even for a second.

Until Ericka is forced to take a two week vacation – and decides to spend it in Wild River where she grew up with her childhood best friend Cassie – and Cassie’s very hot but exceedingly annoying brother Reed. Ericka and Reed have always seen the worst – and brought out the worst – in each other at every turn. But the sudden sexual chemistry between them adds a new and frustrating aspect to their rocky relationship – in more ways than one.

What at first seems to Ericka as an interminable stretch of time to be away from her high-pressure life as a surgeon at one of Anchorage’s big hospitals turns out to be much, much too short as she and Reed manage to get past their stubborn animosity to explore their intense chemistry.

Only to have her two week vacation abruptly cut in half, just as they figure out that under all that heat – was a whole lot more heat along with an emotional connection that neither of them has found with anyone else – not that either of them left much time in their lives for looking.

But once Ericka is back at work – and under the constantly disapproving eye of her emotionally distant father – who also happens to be her boss – Ericka falls back into her old patterns and lets Reed go – no matter how much she misses him, the connection they share and the much more balanced life she discovered in Wild River.

It takes a crisis of epic proportions – and very nearly a re-enactment of that famous Christmas story The Gift of the Magi – to bring Ericka and Reed to their holiday happy ever after – with just a bit of an assist from her dad the Grinch.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book because I lived in Anchorage for three years, leaving me with a fount of Alaska stories that I’m still telling 15 years later and a love for books set in “The Last Frontier” that persists to this day. That love is at least partially fueled by an equally endless need to figure out what matches the Alaska I remember – and what feels as far off the unbeaten path as Cicely was in the TV series Northern Exposure. (There is no Cicely AK, but local collective wisdom decided that Cicely was meant to stand in for Tok.)

So, I have a few quibbles. There is no Alaska General Hospital in Anchorage or anywhere else. The three “general” hospitals in Anchorage are Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital.

Only two rail lines run all winter and one only runs once a month – the other and more likely runs once a week, the Aurora Winter Train, beginning in Anchorage and stopping in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Hurricane Flagstop Area (Chase, Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Canyon, Twin Bridges, Chulitna, Hurricane, Denali), Healy, Nenana and Fairbanks. Based on the description of Wild River, it’s likely between Wasilla and Talkeetna – or would be if it existed..

Also, contrary to the blurb, Anchorage is no one’s definition of a big-city, except in Alaskan terms. The current population of Anchorage is 380,000. It’s actually one of the smallest cities I’ve ever lived in. It only seems large compared to places like Wild River because it is the largest relatively “big” place that’s closer than Seattle WA or Vancouver BC which are about 700 miles away – basically a 3.5 hour flight.

Setting all that aside – no matter how much it drove me crazy during the story – An Alaskan Christmas is a lovely holiday romance that has a bit more to it than just the romance.

The romance happens fairly quickly, as is often the case in holiday romances. But it doesn’t feel rushed this time around, as Ericka and Reed had known each other for years – although admittedly they didn’t seem to like each other very much. But they were tied together not just by growing up together, but by an important moment that they shared, and a special bond over their lost parents.

Ericka’s mother died at about the same time when Reed and Cassie’s father disappeared. Ericka’s dad retreated into his work and left 15-year-old Ericka to grieve alone with the help of her friends.

Something else they share is missing fathers. Reed and Cassie’s dad is still missing, and Reed is still searching for him. Ericka’s dad, even though he is her boss – or perhaps especially because he is her boss – is a distant and disapproving figure in her life. She runs herself ragged trying to both please and emulate him – and she fails at every turn. Not because she’s not capable – because she’s actually excellent and any parent would be proud to have her as a daughter – but because the man has become so emotionally disconnected that he’s incapable of approving of anything or anyone but especially his own daughter. It IS his way of coping with the loss of his wife but it’s left Ericka quite literally out in the emotional cold. Ericka’s journey in this holiday tale is to finally figure out what SHE wants out of her own life – before she finds herself trapped in her work just like her father. That part of her story was heartbreaking. Ericka deserved better for herself and a big part of her happy ending is that she finally reached out and grabbed that better with both hands.

And like the Grinch, her dad’s heart did seem to grow three sizes at the end – but he still has a long way to go. Ericka, with Reed’s help, has made it.

Excerpt from AN ALASKAN CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Snow

He tossed the blanket over her quickly and stood. “Okay, so you’re all good?”

She nodded, but her gaze was on his midsection. And her unblinking stare was full of unconcealed attraction. The same way she’d checked out his biceps in the bar.

He glanced down to see that his T-shirt had risen slightly on the right side, exposing his stomach.

Obviously his abs were to her liking.

“Erika.”

“Huh?” Still staring.

“It’s been a while, huh?”

She frowned, finally pulling her gaze back to his. “For what?

“Since you’ve had sex.”

Her mouth gaped.

“I mean, that’s why you’re staring at my stomach like I’m a piece of chocolate.”

“I was not,” she said, but her cheeks flushed. “And I’ll have you know, I have plenty of sex…all the time. Men beating down my door for it…” she mumbled.

That he wouldn’t doubt, except he knew from Cassie that she was a reclusive workaholic and he was willing to bet the only penises she saw were her naked patients.

“And anyway, even if that was the case, you’d be the last guy I’d want to break my dry spell.”

Okay, now he was intrigued. Especially since he’d made no motion to fix his shirt and her eyes were glued on his abs again, betraying her words. He crossed his arms, making sure to flex his biceps for her viewing pleasure, as well. She wasn’t going to get him, but all of a sudden, he wanted her to want him. “Oh yeah, why’s that?”

“Because I don’t think you’d be any good.”

What?

“Hot guys are rarely good in bed. They don’t think they need to be. They are selfish and rarely leave a woman satisfied.”

She’d obviously been with the wrong dudes. “In your expert opinion?”

She nodded. “As a doctor and woman. Yes.”

Damn, he’d like to kiss that smug expression right off her face, but the voice in his head told him to leave her drunk ass alone. “Okay, then. Good night.”

“What? Not even going to try to prove me wrong?”

In two strides, he’d reached her. Pulling back the blanket, he lifted her and, seating himself on the couch, he set her down on his lap. A leg on either side, she straddled him. “You sure you want to eat your words?”

Instead of answering, she gripped his face and kissed him. Hard. His surprise faded fast as his mouth suddenly craved hers. The taste of tequila mingled with her cherry lip gloss and he forgot he was the one teaching her a lesson. Her legs gripped his and she pressed her chest against him, the feel of her breasts beneath the soft cashmere making his heart pound against them.

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Review: All Fired Up by Lori Foster

Review: All Fired Up by Lori FosterAll Fired Up by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Road to Love #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s tantalizing trouble she can’t resist…

Charlotte Parrish has always wanted a certain kind of man: someone responsible, settled, boring. Bad boys need not apply. But when her car leaves her stranded and a mysterious stranger with brooding eyes and a protective streak comes to her rescue, she can’t deny how drawn she is to him. In town searching for family he’s never met, Mitch is everything she never thought she wanted—and suddenly everything she craves.

Finding his half brothers after all these years is more than Mitch Crews has allowed himself to wish for. Finding love never even crossed his mind…until he meets Charlotte. She’s sweet, warmhearted, sexier than she knows—and too damn good for an ex-con like him. But when his past comes back to haunt him, putting Charlotte—and the family he’s come to care for—in danger, Mitch isn’t playing by the rules. He’s already surrendered his heart, but now he’ll risk his life.

My Review:

Once upon a time I used to read ALL of Lori Foster’s books, but it’s been a while. Actually, I just looked and it’s been over a year and a half, so quite a while, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled the last time.

So I took a little break.

All Fired Up reminded me of just why I read so many of her books. So it looks like I’ll be back for the first two books in this series, Driven to Distraction and Slow Ride. Which I have not read, yet, and the lack of which did not detract from my enjoyment of All Fired Up one little bit.

In other words, feel free to start the series here, because it works as a standalone – not that it doesn’t tease interesting things about the previous two.

There are three story threads in All Fired Up. The first two threads are immediately tied together as the story opens, while the third does its level best – and absolute worst – to cut those first two threads into ribbons.

Mitch Crews comes to town because he wants to go home, even if it’s a home he’s never had with people he’s never met – people who don’t even know he exists. But he’s heard stories about Elliott Crews’ perfect family life with his wife and sons so many times that when he needs to put down roots after five years in prison, he goes to find them.

At least to find his two half-brothers. He can’t imagine that the woman his dad was cheating on will possibly want anything to do with him, a living reminder that her husband cheated on her at pretty much every turn.

But Elliott’s descriptions of his “real” family sounded so much better than Mitch’s childhood in a crime-riddled and poverty-stricken area, left in the neglectful care of his addict mother and her psychopathic dealer/boyfriend.

He wants to be close to his family, even if he’s not sure they are exactly his, or that they will want to have anything to do with him. Nothing surprises him more than their instant acceptance, not just on the part of his two older brothers, but especially the instant love and acceptance from their mother Ros. A woman who should hate him for where he came from but instead loves him as just another one of her boys.

There is one other thing that knocks him for six. His instant attraction to Charlotte Parrish, the Crews brothers’ office manager, assistant, and adopted sister. Brodie and Jack Crews may treat Charlotte like a little sister, but Mitch’s feelings for her are far from brotherly.

Mitch tries to ease his way cautiously into the kind of family that he’s never dreamed of, only to see those dreams come crashing down when the trouble that has trailed him all his life tails him back to his new-found family.

He’s ready to run, sure that they will want to cut their losses and cut him loose – only to discover that he’s theirs and they are his, through thick or thin or any trouble that might come their way.

Escape Rating B: There are, as I said, three threads to this story. One I loved, one I liked, and one didn’t quite work for me. Hence the B rating.

The part of the story that I really enjoyed was the relationship between Mitch and the family that turns out to be his after all. There’s a bit of a fairy tale element to his instant acceptance, but it adds to the joy of the story. The Crews family, with the exception of dear-old-philandering-dad, are all absolute gems. Even dad manages to grow up, at least a bit, by the end of the story – surprising the heck out of absolutely everyone.

But the best parts of this book are the interactions between Mitch and his brothers, and the way that the family accepts him, and the way that he learns to let them – in spite of his own issues and complete lack of experience in the way that a reasonably functional family should function.

That part of the story was particularly strong and it just plain worked.

Mitch’s budding romance with Charlotte had its ups and downs in a number of ways. Charlotte at 25 does seem rather innocent when it comes to men. (Charlotte’s actual awesomeness seems to have been a big part of the previous stories – this may be the one thing I missed by not having read the other books.) The men in their small town don’t seem to be worth the gas it would take for one of her brothers’ Mustangs to drive over them – and Brodie and Jack have done an entirely too excellent job of making sure that no one unworthy touches their little sister.

They think that Mitch “might” be worthy, if he decides to stay, so they don’t so much warn him off as warn him to take it slow and be damn sure of his intentions first. So the romance in this one consists of mostly heated thoughts and longing looks for a good bit of the story. Once they do get there, though, they do burn up the sheets – but it takes longer than normal for them to reach that point.

The psychopath following Mitch, the arsehole who was his mother’s drug dealer and her boyfriend, well, he drove me a bit batty. He’s disgusting slime and when the story switched to his perspective and his actions, let’s just say that it was not a head I wanted to spend any time in whatsoever. Also he seemed to be a cliched villain and, in the end, a bit of a paper tiger. The fear of him turned out to be greater than the reality – or he was just too damn good at picking his victims.

But I loved the way that Mitch, his family and friends took care of that disgusting piece of baggage from his past so that he and Charlotte and their extended family could have a much brighter future!