Review: Total Bravery by Piper J Drake + Giveaway

Review: Total Bravery by Piper J Drake + GiveawayTotal Bravery by Piper J. Drake
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: True Heroes #4
Pages: 304
Published by Forever on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

True heroes will do anything to protect the women they love...

As the newest recruit at Search and Protect, Raul has a lot to prove. Luckily, he's got the best friend and partner a man could ask for: a highly trained, fiercely loyal German Shepherd Dog named Taz. Together, Raul and Taz make an unbeatable team. But their first mission in Hawaii really puts them to the test when an international kidnapping ring sets its sights on the bravest woman Raul's ever met . . .

Mali knows her latest job has put one hell of a target on her back. And on this small island paradise, there's nowhere to hide. With a service dog like Taz, Mali feels safe. Sharing close quarters with a smoldering muscle-for-hire like Raul, she feels something else - an unexpected wave of desire. Raul feels it too. But when the kidnappers make their move, he's got to turn that slow-burning passion into hard-hitting action - and save the life of the woman he loves.

My Review:

Although I read the previous book in this series, Absolute Trust, this book does not feel like it followed from that one. At all.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a good time with the people and dogs of Total Bravery, but it does mean that if you want to get into this series and haven’t read the previous books – no problem at all. They are equally good (more on that later) but don’t seem to connect up.

There is one way in which Total Bravery is very much like the previous book in this series. In both cases, while the heroine is in jeopardy and needs the hero’s help to stay safe and alive, said heroine is not the victim of a stalker, or a evil ex (evilex™) or any man with a sexual agenda directed at her. Nor were either of them in danger merely because they are women.

In both cases, the suspense part of the plot revolves around what the heroine does, specifically what she does for a living. It’s her agency that gets her into trouble, and it’s her agency that helps get her out. Nor in either case is the heroine TSTL (that’s Too Stupid To Live) so that she puts herself in unnecessary trouble.

Mali in particular is smart and savvy and knows just what to do when her research partners are suddenly swept off the streets of Hawaii by overheated men in tailored suits. No one wears dark suits in Paradise – unless they are up to something no good and are willing to advertise that fact.

While Mali follows the safety protocols set up by her research team, but she also has an ace in the hole – her sister Arin is part of Search and Protect, a private security and investigation firm that does just what the name implies – and is located in Hawaii.

So Mali doesn’t just hide out – she calls for help from people she knows can definitely help her. In fact, they are experts at it. But with her sister Arin off the island, Mali’s rescue falls to the company’s newest recruits, Raul Sai and his German Shepherd Dog Taz. Once Raul and Taz meet Mali, the three of them form an almost instant team – even in the face of big sister Arin’s confused disapproval.

Arin still sees Mali as the little girl she once protected from bullies, while Mali still sees Arin as the scary big sister who took care of her by displaying her dark side to anyone who threatened little Mali.

Mali may still be a lot smaller than her big sis – but she’s a grown up now with a job that takes her into places as dark and dangerous in their own way as her sister’s military service. Mali and her team are researching human trafficking on the streets of Hawaii, and they’ve gotten into someone’s way.

It’s up to Search and Protect to find her missing team and rescue them, and protect Mali from bad people who want to kill or kidnap her, without trying to shove her into a tight little box the way that her sister wants.

And while Raul and Mali do their best to alternately ignore and explore the explosive chemistry between them – before they have to go their separate ways.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like the fact that Mali never loses her agency in this story. It’s refreshing, because so often in romantic suspense the heroine gives up her ability to act for herself in order to get rescued, and Mali never does.

I also loved the way that Raul and Taz, along with the other teams in Search and Protect, are so obviously a team. It is a joy to read the way that the two of them work together and are growing towards each other in a true partnership – and that both of them, in obviously different ways, see Mali as a part of their “pack”. Taz is possibly even more protective of Mali than Raul is, but then again, Taz has considerably less emotional baggage to deal with.

In spite of the obvious physical differences, one of the things that is emphasized in this romance is that Raul and Mali, if they pursue a relationship, can hurt each other. All too often it’s all about the woman getting hurt, and about her giving up essential pieces of herself to stay with the man. That doesn’t happen here.

And it’s both that Mali will have to deal with Raul’s focused and deadly military side, as well as the things he has to do and the acts that he has committed to stay alive, and that Raul will have to deal with the fact that Mali will put herself in danger for her work. It’s also that they live as far apart in the U.S. as possible (Boston vs. Hawaii) and that they will have to compromise to be together, but without giving up anything essential to either of them. The author makes it work.

Another thing that worked for me in this story is that Raul never minimizes or discounts anything that Mali says. Not only does that happen too often in fiction, it happens entirely too damn often in real life, where women’s words, intelligence, warnings and gut instincts are ignored or discounted because they are women. He takes her seriously every step of the way, and by example makes sure that the rest of the team does too.

The romance in this story takes a bit of a back burner to finding and rescuing Mali’s teammates, and that’s as it should be. That both sides of the story do resolve happily is what made this one so much fun.

As much as I am a cat person in real life, I love this trend of smart, protective dogs as characters in military romance and romantic suspense. Bring on the puppies!

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

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Review: A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev + Giveaway

Review: A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev + GiveawayA Distant Heart by Sonali Dev
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Bollywood #4
Pages: 352
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp. on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her name means “miracle” in Sanskrit, and to her parents, that’s exactly what Kimaya is. The first baby to survive after several miscarriages, Kimi grows up in a mansion at the top of Mumbai’s Pali Hill, surrounded by love and privilege. But at eleven years old, she develops a rare illness that requires her to be confined to a germ-free ivory tower in her home, with only the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company. . . . Until one person dares venture into her world.

Tasked at fourteen-years-old with supporting his family, Rahul Savant shows up to wash Kimi’s windows, and an unlikely friendship develops across the plastic curtain of her isolation room. As years pass, Rahul becomes Kimi’s eyes to the outside world—and she becomes his inspiration to better himself by enrolling in the police force. But when a life-saving heart transplant offers the chance of a real future, both must face all that ties them together and keeps them apart.

As Kimi anticipates a new life, Rahul struggles with loving someone he may yet lose. And when his investigation into a black market organ ring run by a sociopathic gang lord exposes dangerous secrets that cut too close to home, only Rahul's deep, abiding connection with Kimi can keep her safe—and reveal the true meaning of courage, loss, and second chances.

Infused with the rhythms of life in modern-day India, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s candid, rewarding novel beautifully evokes all the complexities of the human heart.

My Review:

It’s all Kimi’s fault. Not just the events in A Distant Heart, but also everything that happened in A Change of Heart. Both the good and the bad. But especially the bad.

The problem is that Kimi doesn’t know it’s her fault, or that the people she trusted the most saved her life with a giant lie. All that she knows is that two years ago, a donor heart was mysteriously found, and she was able to finally emerge from the sterile bubble in which she had been forced to live her young life.

Kimi doesn’t know where her heart came from. Her rich and influential father has insisted on respecting the privacy of the donor and the donor’s family.

But there’s a black-market organ dealer who is determined to expose the truth that surrounds Kimi’s heart – right before he takes it out of her chest. Or at least ensures that it will never beat again – not for Kimi, not for anyone.

And there’s a police detective determined to bring that same criminal to justice before that happens. Detective Rahul Savant has put all the resources he has at his disposal to bring Asif Khan to justice, no matter what it costs. Not just in revenge for the death of his friend Jen, and for the deaths of all the lost souls whose body parts have been “harvested” by Khan’s organization, but really because Kimi is the love of his life. Even if he can’t admit that to himself. And even if he isn’t allowed to admit it to anyone else. Especially Kimi.

Escape Rating B+: A Distant Heart is the direct follow-up to A Change of Heart. While the friends-into-lovers romance between Kimi and Rahul is played out in this story only, the events that set everything in motion began in A Change of Heart. Because A Distant Heart is the shattering conclusion to a story begun in the earlier book, it is necessary to read both to get the full impact.

And what an impact it is.

Kimi’s life has been a miracle and a tragedy all in one. Her story has elements of the “poor little rich girl” trope, but the “poverty” in Kimi’s story is deeper. Yes, she’s a lonely, rich girl, but she’s lonely not because of distant or neglectful parents (at least not both of them), but because she has an autoimmune disease and must live in a sterile bubble. If her parents weren’t wealthy, the disease would have killed her long ago.

Rahul, on the other hand, began with a happy childhood that was invaded by tragedy of a different kind. His father, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty, taking a bullet for Kimi’s father. The lesson Rahul learned early, and that was repeated with the sudden death of his little sister, was that people he loved would be taken away without warning.

But the tragedy of his father’s death linked the two families. Kimi’s father felt duty-bound to provide for the family, and 14-year-old Rahul felt equally duty bound not to accept charity from the man who had gotten his father killed. The result was a long-standing arrangement for Rahul to work off the money that was contributed for his and his brother’s education at the estate where Kimi lived in her bubble.

These two children of tragedy connected in a lifelong bond. A bond that neither her illness nor her eventual recovery, or even Rahul’s obsession with the black market organ harvesting ring that led to his friend’s death, could truly break.

And neither could her father’s attempts to place restrictions and limitations on their friendship.

This is a story with multiple facets. The relationship between Rahul and Kimi careens between friendship, love, resentment and fear on an endless roller coaster ride. Rahul is afraid to love anyone, out of fear they will be taken from him. That’s a fear that is more than realistic in Kimi’s case as her life has always been on borrowed time. Kimi loves Rahul, but can also be somewhat of a spoiled brat about getting her own way. She’s never bad about it, but she is used to being indulged in a whole lot of ways because her illness made her precious to everyone around her.

There is also a central mystery to the story. The organ harvester is after Kimi for reasons that are obscure at first, but become clear over the course of the story. His pursuit is deadly, and forces Rahul and Kimi to stay together for safety, giving them the chance they need to work through how they really feel about each other as adults.

But that pursuit is an obsession, and it’s an obsession that gets the man killed. Not that he doesn’t deserve to die as the story goes, but more that it defies common sense. He could have, and should have, left Kimi alone and escaped to set up somewhere else. Not as interesting a story, but more logical. My two cents.

A Distant Heart is a love story where there is so much bitter mixed with the sweet, right until the very end, that you’ll need tissues to cope with the pangs of your own heart. If you are in the mood for sweetness mixed with angst (and a touch of crazy), this one will keep you tied to your chair until the final page.

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

Enter the giveaway for a prize pack from Sonali that includes a $50 Amazon gift card and print copies of A Bollywood Affair and A Change of Heart!

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Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawayBack Home at Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #3) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Firefly Lake #3
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A heartwarming small-town romance that will make you believe in love and second chances.

She has a million reasons to leave. Can he give her the one she needs to stay?
Cat McGuire's return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is--and more like the awkward teen who never fit in. It doesn't help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.

Luc's homecoming has been bittersweet. He's lost his wife and his career, but there's no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids' hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete--until Cat arrives. The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who's stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances. But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?

In the tradition of New York Times bestselling authors Susan Wiggs and RaeAnne Thayne comes an emotional story about finding love in the most unexpected of places from Jen Gilroy.

My Review:

Second chance lake strikes again!

Firefly Lake really does deserve to be renamed “Second Chance Lake” because it seems like everyone who goes there, especially those who go back home there, discover a second chance at love, and sometimes even a second chance at life.

Cat McGuire needs a do-over. Or a restart. Or at least enough time to consider what her next step in life should be. As the sister of Nick McGuire (hero of Summer on Firefly Lake) she has some of the same baggage that Nick did. Their dad didn’t just leave their mother when they were kids, he ran out of town just ahead of everyone finding out that he’d cheated a whole lot of people out of their money. Think of him as a small time Bernie Madoff who faced fewer consequences.

But Cat, already considered the town oddball as an intellectual whiz kid, found herself the center of more attention than any child could reasonably cope with. Which she, of course, avoided by retreating even further into her books, making her stand out even more.

The one person who stood up for her against all the bullies was budding hockey star Luc Simard. So of course Luc became her hero, and her first crush, and her big brother’s best friend all rolled into one.

Cat comes back to town to look after her mother a bit, after the cancer scare, but also to use a research grant to work on a book about women’s sports in Vermont history. She hopes that getting the book published will finally put her on track for a tenure-track teaching position – something that is really hard to come by for history Ph. D.s, even when they get that Ph. D. from Harvard.

And Cat is hoping that Firefly Lake will give her daughter a chance for a do-over at school. At 12, all Amy wants to do is play hockey. But her dyslexia has held her back academically, and her Boston team was ready to kick her out for not meeting academic standards. The Firefly Lake team is a community team and not a school team, so her grades are not an issue. But Cat worries just as much, because there is no separate girls hockey team in tiny Firefly Lake. Amy will have to play with the boys. And while she’s plenty good enough, if not better, than the other players on the team, as puberty kicks in she just isn’t as big.

But Luc Simard has retired from the NHL and come home. As the new head coach of the team, he sees something in Amy that he doesn’t often see. She can feel the ice in a way that only great players can. It’s a talent he’s happy to nurture. not just for the joy of coaching but also as a way to “pay forward” to the sport that he loves and that has given him so much, even though it has also taken so much away.

Like it took his late wife, who was  herself a women’s hockey star. But now Maggie is gone, two years dead after a brain aneurysm burst. He wasn’t there because he was on the road with his team. And he can’t manage to let go of his grief or his guilt.

So when he discovers that Cat, the little girl he used to protect, is all grown up, he discovers that she touches a part of his heart that he thought he had buried with Maggie. He feels even more guilty.

But the ice has melted, and he can’t stop feeling. Even if he doesn’t know what to do about it. And even as he mucks things up again. Second chances are rare. Third chances are almost – but not quite – impossible.

Escape Rating B+: This series, heartwarming from its beginning in The Cottage at Firefly Lake to its end with this book, with its small town centered around a lake and its second chance at love stories reads a lot like Mary McNear’s equally lovely Butternut Lake series. Although the two are several states apart, these little lake towns and the people who populate them have a very similar feel. If you like one, you’ll like the other – even if Firefly Lake in Vermont sounds BRRRRR cold this time of year!

Although both Luc and Cat need the second chances offered by a return to Firefly Lake, the second chances that they each need are different.

In some ways, Luc’s story is a bit more obvious. In his mid-30s, Luc has been a widower for two years. His wife died suddenly and tragically, while carrying their child. Her aneurysm may have been caused by her high-risk pregnancy. He feels guilty, both about persuading her to try again after a series of heartbreaking miscarriages, and because he wasn’t there when she died. He’s grieving the loss of his soulmate, their child and the future that they had planned together.

And he’s grieving the loss of his career in the NHL, after an illegal hit took out his shoulder. And even though the reality is that if he had not retired when he did, he hadn’t had many years left at the top of his sport, and if he weren’t retired by now, it would be coming soon. Which doesn’t make that loss any easier to deal with.

Cat’s circumstances are different. She isn’t eligible for a second chance at love because she’s never let herself be vulnerable enough for a first chance. Her beloved daughter Amy is the result of a leaky condom and what she thought might be the beginning of a relationship while the guy in question was trying to win a bet. That circumstance, on top of her dad’s betrayal, has left Cat understandably gunshy about men and relationships.

But she does need to step back and do a re-think of her choices and her options. She’s been so focused on achieving her academic goals that she hasn’t been able to look at the big picture. A picture that makes the future look a lot like the past and present, stringing together enough temporary teaching gigs to make barely enough to keep Amy and herself fed and clothed by working 16 hours a day for too little pay. Liberal arts Ph. D.s are unfortunately on the wrong end of a buyer’s market. There are too many candidates and not nearly enough tenure-track jobs.

Both Luc and Cat are back in Firefly Lake at the point of a kind of “time-out” in both of their lives. Even though neither of them is looking for it, both of them are in a position where they need to re-think both their pasts and their futures.

And what they discover is that the affection that they’ve always had for each other is still there, but that now they have the possibility of more – if they can get past the baggage that they are both tripping over on the way there. As their chemistry heats up but the roadblocks multiply, their HEA looks like it might derail before it even leaves the station. It’s only when they all (including Amy) finally decide to go for it anyway that they are able to reach for the future, together.

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

Jen is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a paperback copy of Back Home at Firefly Lake. Five (5) runner-up winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice from the Firefly Lake series! This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

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Review: Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or can it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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