Review: Pie Girls by Lauren Clark + Giveaway

pie girls by lauren clarkFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: women’s ficton
Length: 338 pages
Publisher: Camellia Press
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Princess, Southern belle, and spoiled-rotten social climber Searcy Roberts swore on a stack of Bibles she’d never return home to Fairhope, Alabama. After marrying her high school sweetheart and moving to Atlanta, Searcy embraces big-city life—Carrie Bradshaw style.

But now, Searcy has a teeny, tiny problem. Her husband’s had a mid-life crisis. He’s quit his job, cancelled her credit cards, and left her for another man.

Searcy returns to Fairhope, ready to lick her wounds. But when her mother falls ill, she’s is thrust into managing the family business—only to discover the beloved bakery is in danger of closing its doors forever.

Enlisting the help of the adorable bike store owner next door, an array of well-heeled customers, and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Searcy hatches the plan of the century to save Pie Girls.

My Review:

There are two completely opposite literary tropes about going home. One is the title of the Thomas Wolfe novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. The other is the quote from Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

For Searcy Roberts, home is definitely Frost’s version. She has to go back to tiny Fairhope, Alabama, and it has to take her in. Not initially because either she loves it or it loves her, but because they both love her mother Maggie, the owner of Pie Girls.

And Searcy has no place left to go. Considering the amount of glee she expressed on seeing Fairhope in her rearview mirror 10 years ago, there’s more than a little schadenfreude around town that she got stuck coming back.

The person Searcy is at the beginning of the story deserves every bit of that karmic payback, too. She’s vain, shallow and using conspicuous overconsumption to fill in the huge holes in her life and, frankly, her personality.

Searcy is a woman who not only can’t live without regular consultations with her personal shopper, but she expects champagne (her favorite and in her signature style) while she does her consultation. And then she feels fully justified in dropping $3,000 on “just a few things”.

Searcy isn’t mean or bad tempered, she’s just chosen to become high-maintenance to make up for everything lacking in her life. Like any relationship at all with her husband. Or much relations, ever.

When Alton finally does the very late but ultimately couragous thing and calls both their marriage and his advertising career, over and done, Searcy answers a call from her mother and realizes that her only option is to go home to Fairhope and regroup while she checks in on her mother’s health and on the family business, Pie Girls.

Both the shop and her mother are ailing. In fact, they are both terminally ill, and they need Searcy to give them both a new lease on life, every bit as much as Searcy needs to go back to her roots and find herself a new purpose.

it’s too late for Searcy to rescue her marriage (in fact, it was too late on her wedding day), but it isn’t too late for Searcy to make a fresh start on the rest of her life.

Escape Rating B: As a heroine, Searcy is a study in contrasts. The woman she is at the beginning of the story isn’t a person I liked very much. She felt like a caricature of one of the stars of Real Housewives, rich and pampered and completely shallow. She wasn’t bad or mean, she just wasn’t really there.

Then her marriage finally gives up its last ghost, and she’s depressed and desperate. And completely self-absorbed. She’s ashamed to let her friends know what happened, so she hides and covers up.

When her mother calls, it’s a rescue. Not in any financial way, but simply because it adds purpose to an otherwise purposeless life. It’s only when Searcy stops feeling sorry for herself and gets herself re-involved with Fairhope and Pie Girls that she becomes a person that you’d want to know.

Because of this, the first half of the book moves a bit slow. I wanted Searcy to see the clue-by-four way earlier than she did. It actually takes her soon-to-be-ex-husband bringing his boyfriend around to meet her that she finally gets that he’s gay, and has been all along. (The reader figures this out much, much earlier)

Although if I had to deal with his mother, I’d probably hide myself too. Possibly in Greenland. Or Antarctica. Far, far away from his mother and her badly behaved, spoiled rotten purse-dog.

But once Searcy starts taking care of her own mother, the store, and her old friends in town, her life perks up and her story gets much more interesting. And fun. I liked Searcy at the end, quite a lot, and I was rooting for her happy ending.


Lauren is kindly giving away a $20 gift card for Amazon. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below, and for more chances to win, visit the other stops on the tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Author Jael Wye + Giveaway

ladder to the red star by jael wyeAfter finally reading Ice Red for last week’s review (it was so much fun, what on Earth or Mars was I waiting for?) I was very glad to get the chance to ask Jael a few questions about her marvelous combinations of science fiction and fairy tales.  After the interview, check out her take on Jack and the Beanstalk (I found a bit of Pinocchio too!) in today’s featured review, Ladder to the Red Star.

1. Hello, Jael! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, thanks for having me today. A little about myself? Well, I grew up on the American Great Plains, went to school in the Midwest, and now live in beautiful New England with my family and my enormous collection of houseplants.

2. Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?

I am definitely a plotter. My books are all based on classic fairy tales, and so I have a plot laid out for me before I begin writing. My task each day is to figure out how my specific, individual characters are driven to enact this plot. For example, my new release Ladder to the Red Star is based on the tale of Jack and the beanstalk. Jacques, the hero, must ascend the space elevator cable to the space station floating high above the Earth in order to steal a valuable item from his greatest enemy. But what drives him to do such a thing? My challenge each day is to write my characters in a way that makes them real people as well as archetypes.

3. In your guest post last week, you talked about why you love science fiction romance. But what inspired you to combine Snow White and Mars for Ice Red?

I decided to combine fairy tales and science fiction because I wanted to use these mythic stories to explore what the powerful technology we humans have invented might mean for us culturally and as individuals. Arthur C. Clarke once said that advanced science is not much different from magic. Enchanted mirrors become video screens, golden eggs become valuable data spheres, but the human drama surrounding these artifacts remains the same. I began my Once Upon a Red World series with a retelling of Snow White because that was the first fairy tale I ever read, the one that dug deepest into my mind. With Book II, Ladder to the Red Star, I went with the tale of Jack and the beanstalk, a classic hero’s journey. With each new fairy tale I reinvent, I try to delve into what these stories have to tell us about our basic humanity, no matter how much science may change us.

4. Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

There are many more fairy tales to be retold in my Once Upon a Red World series. Next up is the story of Devi and Bianca’s father and his estranged lover Sita. This book, based on the tale of Patient Griselda, will look further into the Aurora project, the corrupt plot endangering the Solar system. Stay tuned.

5. Play the casting game; if one of your books were made into a movie, who would you want to play the characters?

This is a difficult challenge for me, because I try to write my characters to be so specific in looks and personality that it’s hard to picture them as any one else. But…I’d have to go with Chris Evans as Jacques, and the beautiful, blue-eyed Indian actress Aishwarya Rai as Devi.

6. And what’s your favorite scene in Ladder to the Red Star?

My favorite scene varies, but right now it is the scene in Devi’s flat when Jacques is recovering from an intensive medical treatment. He’s so wounded and yet so adorable, and Devi is striving so heroically not to pounce on him. I just love the tension between and within my hero and heroine in this passage.

7. Who first introduced you to the love of reading?

I loved reading from very early on, but the first author who really made an impression on me was C. S. Lewis. To this day I remember hanging out in my closet for hours, trying to get into Narnia.

8. What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

Seeing my books on the bookstore sites like Amazon and iBooks. It gives me a shiver every time I see it.

9. Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I think maybe Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. That book took me for a ride that was just so much fun.

10. Book you’ve faked reading:

Les Miserables. I got through three chapters before giving up and just watching the musical.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova11. Book you’ve bought for the cover:

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. That creepy half-face staring out at me sideways gave me the most delicious nightmares for months.

12. Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

Due to my martial arts classes, I can break a wooden board in half with my fist, elbow, heel, and forehead. If ever a wooden board attacks me in a dark alley, I’ll be prepared.

13. Morning person or night owl?

Night owl. I function best at two in the morning, enveloped in silence and vibrating with caffeine.

14. Coffee or tea? (because I couldn’t leave it at 13 questions!)

Coffee. It is the nectar of life, the font of creativity, and the reason I get up in the morning. However, all my Martian characters drink tea. Humph. Martians.

jael wyeJael Wye grew up on the American Great Plains, went to school in the Midwest, and now lives in beautiful New England with her family and her enormous collection of houseplants. For more of Jael’s unique blend of futurism and fairy tale, don’t miss her ongoing series Once Upon A Red World.

To learn more about Jael, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.



ice red by jael wyeJael will be awarding an eCopy of Ice Red to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

The more you comment, the better your chances of winning. So check out the rest of the tour at Goddess Fish Promotions!

Review: Ladder to the Red Star by Jael Wye

ladder to the red star by jael wyeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Once Upon a Red World #2
Length: 242 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: April 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Once upon a ruined Earth 300 years in the future…

Jacques Tallinn, biotech smuggler and thief, is after the cure for a brain disorder he’s suffered since childhood—a disorder inflicted by a powerful tyrant. To get the cure, Jacques will need to climb the space elevator to the new Zenith space station hovering above Earth and go undercover in the lab where it’s produced.

Martian head tech Devi Chandra is immediately intrigued by her sexy new lab assistant. Though she insists on keeping things professional, she finds herself charmed by Jacques. Until he betrays her trust, kidnapping her and spiriting her off to Earth.

All Jacques needed to do was steal the biotech and get back home. But when things go wrong, he can’t bring himself to leave Devi behind. Now she’s injured and a simple caper has become an intergalactic cause, endangering his life and the lives of millions of others. But the hardest part? Winning back Devi’s trust.

My Review:

The concept of space elevators has always been one of the classics for a reason. Not only does it produce the high-tech/high-tension adventure of building the elevator itself, but the creation or existence of the elevator provides endless opportunities for comparing life at the two opposite ends of the vehicle.

ice red by jael wyeIn the universe of Jael Wye’s Ladder to the Red Star, even more so than in the first fascinating book, Ice Red (see last week’s review) there’s the contrast between the necessarily advanced technology world of the space station Zenith where the elevator terminates, and a post-Global Warming Earth, where people are weighed down not just by gravity, but also by grinding poverty and quickly diminishing resources.

Max Ross may be a great engineer, but he’s an absolutely lousy dad. The action/adventure in Ice Red is kicked off because he’s such a neglectful father that he married a murdering, thieving sociopathic bitch after his first wife died. His daughter Bianca spends the whole story dodging from her stepmother’s killer thugs while he’s off on Earth finalizing the building of his space elevator.

Devi Chandra is the daughter he doesn’t even know he has, which is a good trick considering that Mars inhabitants generally can’t conceive a child the good old-fashioned way. Devi got herself attached to the medical complex on Zenith Station just so she would have a chance to interact with her old man.

It all goes horribly wrong. Just as in the first book with stepmother Victoria, in Ladder to the Red Star Devi finds herself trying to stay one step out of the evil clutches (much too literally) of Enrique Kurtz, her bio-dad’s partner in the space elevator.

Kurtz wants to use Devi to blackmail her dad into continuing the slaving contracts that he had with the evil stepmother. Oh, and he wants to completely break her will and spirit with physical and sexual abuse. He’s a complete psychopath, but a successful one.

But instead of being trapped, Devi makes common cause with someone who is out to get her for less nefarious reasons, even if Jacques Tallin is using nefarious means.

Jacques lied and stole in order to get on the space station and into Devi’s lab. She is not merely a doctor, but a genius at the gene therapy called “Correction” that keeps the Mars inhabitants from dying of cosmic radiation, and cures just about everything from the common cold to old age.

Jacques needs it to cure deathly illnesses. Both his own and his mother’s. And for that, he has to keep Devi free and away from Kurtz. At least until he kidnaps her.

The question is whether Jacques is really saving her from Kurtz’ evil clutches, or whether he just wants to keep her in his own grasp.

Escape Rating B: Ladder to the Red Star is a love story that uses a science fictional setting to play out its romance. But this one is definitely all about the romance. The worldbuilding is just enough to tease the reader with the good (and bad) consequences of life in the future.

It also helps that this is an extension of the world in the previous book. There’s less heavy lifting involved (space elevator notwithstanding).

In some ways, this is a “kidnapped by a pirate” romance. It’s not just that Jacques is a smuggler, but that he takes her to his remote tropical island, and she falls for him anyway. Or maybe because.

One of the things that makes Ladder to the Red Star different from the typical pirate romance is Jacques. He was experimented on as a young teen in a prison owned and operated by Kurtz. The medical and psychological experiments removed his ability to feel anything; pain, pleasure or even touch. It makes him a formidable fighter, completely fearless, but he’s also losing his ability to fake being human. Nothing affects him.

Then Devi works her medical magic on him, and he’s suddenly alive. (Maybe there’s some Pinocchio in here too!) He falls for Devi, the first person who gave him back his life. There is mutual trust and the beginnings of a relationship. Then he kidnaps her and has to start the trust-building all over again.

There are two villains in this story; the sadistic Kurtz and the fanatical Eschaton cult. Kurtz looms like a giant monster over the entire story, but then barely figures in the climax. His economic motives made some sense, but he was more than a bit bwahaha crazy, more than necessary. It’s the anti-science, anti-medicine Eschatons who turn out to be the real enemy.

Max Ross’ relationships, or lack thereof, with his daughters almost makes him the true villain, depending on how you look at things. But his daughters, both Bianca and Devi, are terrific.

I hope we see more stories set in this world; the dichotomy between the spacers and the earthers definitely has more tales to tell.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Jael Wye on Love and Mars + Giveaway

ice red by jael wyeI had an absolute blast reading Ice Red (see review), so I’m thrilled to have Jael Wye as my guest today. And she’ll be back again next week when I review Ladder to the Red Star. The first installment in her Mars science fiction romance did an excellent job of combining romance with great science fiction and tons of adventure. 

Love Saves Planet Mars!
by Jael Wye 

Science fiction romance is the greatest escapist fiction imaginable. It features adventure, amazing gadgetry, and settings that can blow your mind. But what makes scifi romance such a fantastic read is not necessarily of the scifi, but the romance.

Science fiction on its own can be rather grim, certainly in its modern incarnations. Back in ye olde space age of the 1950’s and 60’s, scifi generally portrayed a bright and shiny future we could all look forward to, a la Star Trek. But as the decades wore on, scifi visions got darker, like the gritty world of Alien. Now dystopias are much in vogue, depicting a future not many people would want to live in. So what might make a reader want to immerse herself in a scifi world anyway? The healing power of love, of course.

In a romance, the hero and heroine’s world is out of balance when the story begins, and only their union can set it right. This is true for all the subgenres of romance, though usually on a small, intimate scale. But in scifi romance the stakes are usually galatically high, and the love of the hero and heroine can literally save a planet.

In my book Ice Red, the hero Cesare and the heroine Bianca are all that stands between the people of Mars and the cruel schemes of Bianca’s powerful stepmother. When first Bianca and then Cesare are attacked and captured, it is their love that impels them to fight for each other, to conquer the villain who was disrupting their world and put their lives and Mars itself to rights again.

In science fiction romance love can save the universe, and that makes for not only exciting and satisfying adventure but also a profoundly optimistic vision of the future.

jael wyeJael Wye grew up on the American Great Plains, went to school in the Midwest, and now lives in beautiful New England with her family and her enormous collection of houseplants. For more of Jael’s unique blend of futurism and fairy tale, don’t miss her ongoing series Once Upon A Red World.

To learn more about Jael, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.



ladder to the red star by jael wyeJael will be awarding an eCopy of Ladder to the Red Star to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

The more you comment, the better your chances of winning. So check out the rest of the tour at Goddess Fish Promotions!


Review: Ice Red by Jael Wye

ice red by jael wyeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Once Upon a Red World #1
Length: 230 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: September 30, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Mirror, mirror, full of stars,
Who will claim the throne of Mars?

The princess: Engineer Bianca Ross, heir to a megacorporation and the Mars elevator, needs to acquire a mine on the surface to secure her place in the company. All that stands in her way is the mine’s charming owner, Cesare Chan.

The evil stepmother: Victoria Ross is plotting to gain control of Mars. She plans to assassinate Bianca and seduce Cesare to further her goals, and Bianca’s trip is the perfect opportunity.

The charming prince: Cesare shouldn’t get involved. Bianca’s visit could reveal the escaped slaves he’s hiding at his mine, but he can’t ignore a damsel in distress—especially one as beautiful as Bianca.

Alone, neither would stand a chance against Victoria. But together, they could rewrite a tale that’s meant to end with Bianca’s blood.

My Review:

Mars, Cinderella, and for one brief hilarious moment, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While this sounds like a fairy tale, it’s actually surprisingly entertaining science fiction romance. I say surprising because those original three things shouldn’t go together in the first place. But somehow they do.

There may be a tiny bit of Romeo and Juliet mixed in too. Bianca and Cesare certainly start out on opposite sides of the corporate fence: her company is staging a hostile takeover of his company. But it’s not really them; his father sold out to her stepmother. The question is why.

The Space Elevator is a tried and true SF device, perhaps even more venerable than the use of faster-than-light travel. In Ice Red, Bianca’s father invented the space elevator. He’s a self-absorbed genius who lets other people run his company while he continues to invent more cool stuff.

Unfortunately for both Max and Bianca, the “other people” who are running his company is Victoria and her goon squad. And back to the Cinderella trope, Victoria is the classic evil stepmother, complete with her own sick version of “mirror, mirror”.

Bianca has been trying to prove that she is a capable manager and administrator, worthy of being given real responsibility in the company that her parents created before her mother’s death. Unfortunately for her, she keeps trying to prove herself to one person who sees her as the ultimate rival, and another who stopped paying attention to anything years ago.

Cesare is just trying to keep the mining company that his father built. It’s not about the money, it’s about the people. Cesare has been investing corporate profits in rescuing all the Earth colonists who were lured to Mars with promises of good jobs, and found themselves on the cargo end of human trafficking operations. Trafficking where stepmother Victoria operated the shipping.

So Bianca wants real responsibility and Cesare wants to save his company, and all the people he’s rescued. Victoria wants to eliminate Bianca and takeover RedIce Mining. It’s really (and very disgustingly) clear why Victoria wants to eliminate Bianca, but her reasons for going after RedIce are hidden until the very end.

Just like the feelings that Bianca and Cesare develop for each other as they try to stay one step ahead of everyone who is out to get them.

Escape Rating B+: Ice Red is rock solid science fiction romance entertainment! It’s set in a not-too-distant future where Mars has been developed through the construction of a space elevator, but these are all familiar concepts. Mars, Earth and the space station that controls the elevator, Eris, are easily imagined places.

Considering the actions of Bianca’s stepmother, Victoria, I find the name of the space station to be particularly appropriate. Eris was the Greek goddess of chaos, strife and discord; all things that Victoria creates as a matter of business. And pleasure.

We get to know both Bianca and Cesare pretty well as the story progresses; it’s just long enough for good character development without letting up the break-neck pace. It was particularly easy for me to identify with Bianca’s desire to carve a place for herself in her father’s company, and her continued frustration with the way that Victoria and her father Max kept pushing her away. But she’s also been lonely and protected from the hard knocks of the world, and she needs to get out of the cocoon she’s been swaddled in.

Cesare has been hiding his heroism under the cover of being a wild cowboy. He needs to step into the light, and she needs someone to shake her up. They have terrific chemistry.

The villainy of Victoria was just a bit over the top. It reminded me of B Movie space operas, in a very fun way. She would have made a great cartoon baddie.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes next. Ladder to the Red Star, here I come!


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post from Sheila Roberts about the REAL Icicle Falls + Giveaway

cottage on juniper ridge by sheila robertsMy special guest today is Sheila Roberts, the author of the Icicle Falls series, including today’s featured review book, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge. Because this series is so lovely, and the town of Icicle Falls seems like such a marvelous place, I wanted to learn more about it, especially since it is based on a town very near my current homebase of Seattle.

Here’s Sheila to tell us all about her Icicle Falls and the real-life version you can visit!

The Real Icicle Falls
by Sheila Roberts

Readers often tell me that they wish my town of Icicle Falls was a real place. Well, here’s the good news. It is! Well, at least it’s based on one.

My imaginary town of Icicle Falls is based on the town of Leavenworth, Washington, one of my favorite places to visit. Granted Leavenworth doesn’t have it’s own chocolate factory like Icicle Falls does (and it probably doesn’t have some of the squirelly characters, either), but it has the wonderful views, the friendly people and the great spirit of determination. And, just like in Icicle Falls, the people of Leavenworth sure know how to celebrate a holiday. One of my favorite times to visit is during Christmas when they have their town tree-lighting ceremony. (And yes, Icicle Falls has one, too!)

Leavenworth_WashingtonLeavenworth is a popular destination town with a healthy economy but it wasn’t always so. In the early sixties, after The Great Northern Railway pulled out, choosing a different route through the mountains, this town nestled in the Cascades was in danger of becoming a ghost town. But the town leaders put their heads together and decided that, with its beautiful mountain setting, Leavenworth could be as charming as any alpine village. And they set about transforming the town from a typical western town into something truly special. Everyone pulled together to make this happen. “And we did it all without any government help,” says one of the older residents. In this day and age that’s really something to brag about.

In addition to changing the look of their shops and stores, the people of Leavenworth came up with a series of festivals designed to draw visitors. Today these festivals bring in over a million visitors a year.

I love the fact that a little imagination coupled with determination and hard work of the townspeople literally transformed this place. It’s a charming town filled with wonderful people, and I try to convey a little of their town spirit in my Icicle Falls books. I hope my characters are people that readers will enjoy and want to spend time with.
And, if you ever visit Washington I hope you’ll stop by Leavnworth, stay in one of its charming B & B’s, enjoy the scenery and the shopping and the great people who live there. I hope you’ll visit Icicle Falls, too!

Sheila RobertsAbout Sheila Roberts

Sheila Roberts is married and has three children. She lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have appeared in Readers Digest Condensed books and have been published in several languages. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her her novel The Nine Lives of Christmas has been optioned for film. When she’s not writing songs, hanging out with her girlfriends or trying to beat her husband at tennis, she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

To learn more about Sheila, please visit her website or blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.



Sheila will be awarding a $25 B & N gift card and an eCopy of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and a $25 B & N gift card to a randomly drawn host.

To enter, leave a comment on this post. For more chances to win, follow the other stops on Sheila’s tour.

Review: The Cottage on Juniper Ridge by Sheila Roberts

cottage on juniper ridge by sheila robertsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #4
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: February 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

How to Change Your Life…

Can a book change your life? Yes, when it’s Simplicity, Muriel Sterling’s guide to plain living. In fact, it inspires Jen Heath to leave her stressful, overcommitted life in Seattle and move to Icicle Falls, where she rents a lovely little cottage on Juniper Ridge. And where she can enjoy simple pleasures—like joining the local book club—and complicated ones, like falling in love with her sexy landlord, Garrett Armstrong.

Her sister Toni is ready for a change, too. She’s got a teenage daughter who’s constantly texting her friends, a husband who’s more involved with his computer than he is with her, and a son who’s consumed by video games. Toni wants her family to grow closer—to return to a simpler way of life.

Other women in town, like Stacy Thomas, are also inspired to unload their excess stuff and some of the extra responsibilities they’ve taken on.

But as they all discover, sometimes life simply happens. It doesn’t always happen simply!

My Review:

This is a sweet treat of a book, and not just because all the characters discuss their problems with regular applications of Sweet Dreams Chocolate from the local chocolatier.

Speaking of Sweet Dreams Chocolate, it is terrific to see how all the lovely people who starred in the previous books in the Icicle Falls series, (Better Than Chocolate, Merry Ex-Mas and What She Wants) are doing now that they have their own HEAs.

Better than Chocolate by Sheila RobertsBut the main characters of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge are Jen Heath, who rents the titular cottage, her sister Toni, and local resident Stacy. They are each, in their various ways, influenced by Muriel Sterling’s latest book, Simplicity. (We also know Muriel from Better Than Chocolate, and why she needed to get some simplicity in her life.)

Jen reads Muriel’s book, and decides that it is time she got some of her own simplicity back. Her life in Seattle has become so busy with the drudgery of two jobs to pay for a condo she can’t afford that she hates her life. So she buys into the siren song of Muriel’s book to the point where she rents a cottage in Muriel’s home town of Icicle Falls and puts her condo in Seattle on the market.

Jen is reaching for a simpler life where she has time to do things she enjoys and kindle some new friendships. She wants to find the joy that she used to have.

What she finds is a hunky landlord who is also a firefighter. She falls into insta-lust, but he thinks she’s a complete flake for turning her life over so irresponsibly. He’s already been in love with one irresistible but irresponsible ditz, and he’s not interested in doing it again, even though he adores the child that came out of his impulsive first marriage.

Jen creates a new life for herself, and hopes that her landlord will eventually get the stick out of his ass and see that the sparks they generate could lead to a real relationship. Garrett, in turn, tries to force himself into a relationship with someone steady and solid. It takes him a long time to realize that the heart wants what it wants, and that looking for the fun in life does not necessarily make Jen selfish, childish or even remotely flakey.

While Jen is getting her new life together, her sister Toni is searching for someplace where her family can not just get away from it all, but disconnect from the electronic gizmos that are always distracting them from each other. It turns out that the little Washington town that her sister moved to on a whim may be the perfect place to find her family again.

Icicle Falls resident Stacy just needs to declutter her life. It takes a cosmic push for her to realize that she doesn’t own her stuff, she has so much stuff that it owns her. It takes a lot of effort, and some whole new ways of thinking, for Stacy to find a channel for her love of finding beautiful things.

Icicle Falls sustains and supports them all.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the Icicle Falls series, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge is primarily a story about the supportiveness of strong friendships. In this case, the friends are the members of the Icicle Falls Book Club, a group of women who share books, chocolate, and a chance to unwind in a place where everyone understands what the others are going through. It’s their once-a-month break for some “me time” with the BFFs who will be there for them, no matter what.

Jen Heath comes in from the outside, but her shared love of books and the general friendliness of the town is enough to get her adopted by this tight-knit bunch of marvelous women. They help each other through whatever needs to be shared and/or listened to. We all need a group like this in our lives, but it’s hard to find!

The tying element of Muriel’s book, Simplicity, resonates with each of them differently. They are all over-worked or over-committed, and the book makes them stop and think about ways they can de-stress their lives, just a bit.

While it is the story of Jen’s journey of self-discovery that drives the book, Stacy’s story had a tremendous amount of resonance. It’s not just that she has been letting her hunt for beautiful bargains fill her empty nest, but how many memories she has invested in what to other people looks like “stuff”. At the same time, it was great in Stacy’s story to see a long-term marriage that is happy, where the husband is supportive and generally terrific and the couple feels lucky to be together.

Where so many stories ignore women who have achieved their happily ever after, in The Cottage at Juniper Ridge we see a whole range of experiences, from Jen’s search for true love to Toni’s need to reconnect to Stacy’s search for her own purpose within the context of a continuingly happy marriage.

Icicle Falls continues to be a marvelous place to visit, filled with people you’d love to meet. I can’t wait for the next book!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Zoastra Affair by Victoria Pinder + Giveaway

zoastra affair by victoria pinderFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Length: 283 pages
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Date Released: December 23, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon

A hundred years from now, Earth has trading partners with alien beings, mostly humanoid. However, going into space has brought forth an unknown enemy who attacks Earth at will.

The Zoastra are part of the Earthseekers, an organization originally designed to go into space. Its new mission is to find Earth’s enemies.

Ariel, stuck on a Victorian planet, steals Grace’s body in order to get off the planet. Now Grace must get her body back before Ariel bonds with Grace’s husband, Peter. Then there is Cross, the man on a mission to find those who killed his family. Ariel is attracted to Cross, but she’s stolen someone’s life. What can she do?

My Review:

The Zoastra Affair is science fiction romance at the space opera end of the spectrum, but the emphasis is squarely on the romantic aspects of this story.

It also feels like there is a certain amount of wish-fulfillment fantasy mixed in, but that’s not a bad thing. The Zoastra Affair is the kind of mind-candy that is worth getting into, just for the fun.

The Zoastra is a ship. It’s an Earthseekers space ship, and the Earthseekers are heading out into deep space to put some hurt on the aliens who did a fly-by and carved up a whole chunk of North America. They’re out for payback, but they aren’t exactly sure who they are paying back.

Their last stop before they go “where no Earthseeker has gone before” is a hospitality planet populated by the Sheratons. Yes, like the hotel chain. The Sheratons look human but aren’t, and that where the weird gets into the romance.

Sheratons mate for life. Females have a biological imperative to mate at age 18, and once mated, the relationship between husbands and wives is symbiotic–they must have sex every week, or they will die.. (It’s fair that the compulsion hits both sexes, but not the way that females are forced to marry someone, anyone, at maturity).

The officers of the Zoastra include Peter Newman and his wife Grace. Peter is on the command track and Grace is a scientist. Their marriage is suffering a strain because they are both working way too many hours and not making time for each other.

Trouble arrives (it actually flies away with them) when Grace goes with the females of the greeting party to take part in a spa day and massage. There is one detail about the Sheratons that everyone believes is a myth; a small percentage of the population can switch bodies.

Ariel is inhabiting the body of a teenaged Sheraton because said Sheraton switched bodies with her against her will four years ago. She just wants to get back to her home society, to be of use rather than ornamentation, and before the hinted at mating bond is forced on her.

So she forces a body-switch with Grace, abandoning her on Sheraton in the body of a pink-haired 18 year old.

While Ariel is pretending to be Grace on the ship and with Grace’s husband, Grace is back on Sheraton, stealing a shuttle so she can get back home.

Grace’s return in the wrong body sets off a whole chain of events, which not only reveal Ariel’s subterfuge, but ultimately provide Earthforce with a whole new array of weapons against their enemies.

But first, Ariel has to give Grace her life (and her body) back. And Ariel has to find a mate she can bond with, because she is with Earthforce for good.

Escape Rating B-: There is quite of bit of highly improbable fun in this story. Sheraton females are tiny and pink-haired, so both Ariel and Grace are disgusted with the body they have to inhabit.

Ariel is endlessly guilty (and so she should be) for stealing Grace’s life in the same way that hers was stolen. Grace quite rightly points out that Ariel could have stolen a ship the way Grace did, rather than wait for an unsuspecting victim.

But it’s once the bodies are switched back that the real fun begins. It’s not just that Ariel needs to find a mate, but that whatever is compelling her to do so is also affecting the one man on the ship who swore that he would never remarry. Ariel spends a lot of her off-duty time in the processing of training the least civilized man on the ship.

She spends the rest of her time revamping the engines, and trying to gain (or regain) the trust of everyone around her.

The plot of this romance is completely frothy, and as sweet in its way as the bubble gum that Ariel’s hair reminds me of. If you like your science fiction romance very light on the SF and coming to a love conquers all conclusion, The Zoastra Affair may be just your cotton candy.


Zoastra Affair Tour Banner

Victoria is giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to one random commenter on this tour. To enter, just fill out the rafflecopter below:

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Lesley Young on the First Person + Giveaway

skys end by lesley youngToday’s guest is Lesley Young, the author of the fascinating science fiction/space opera romance Sky’s End (see today’s review). In her guest post, she goes into the reasons why she wrote Sky’s End as first-person from her heroine’s point-of-view.

Since that first-person perspective was a big part of what made this story work for me, I enjoyed this glimpse into her writer’s process of what made it work.

The First-Person Perspective
by Lesley Young

Three reasons why first-person was the right— albeit selfish perspective—for Sky’s End;

Not for one moment did I even consider writing Sky’s End: Book One in the Cassiel Winters Series in third-person perspective. This story, which chronicles the journey of a young woman in earth’s fledging space military, demanded fast-paced, urgent and visceral telling. Wheedling a third-person narrator between Cassiel Winters and the reader would have dragged down the experience for readers. . .  and for me!

As the author, I wanted to get in Cassiel’s head, react in each moment as she would, and yes, admittedly, live vicariously through her. Here are three more reasons why first-person worked so well for this story (which is also in written in present tense).

*Connection. Readers get “inside” Cassiel’s head from the moment they begin reading. They get to know her intimately, and she confides openly with them. You can’t beat this kind of connection. It’s why so many reviewers are in love with her and rooting for her, yet also want to smack once or twice (she’s stubborn!).

*Believability. The story is set in the future. By writing it in Cassiel’s voice, readers get the sense of a direct account. There’s an authority there that I felt was especially important to establish because she’s a female protagonist in space. I also wanted to engage readers who wouldn’t normally science fiction and felt that Cassiel’s first-person voice would help handhold them through the new world-building they’d experience.

*Character development. First-person voice allows for character development opportunities you just can’t get with third-person, like showcasing Cassiel’s unique sense of humor, or her philosophy toward the universe, or what she really thinks of the alien’s who are chasing after her. In first-person, readers spend the whole book listening to Cassiel’s voice, ‘hearing’ her diction, and thus remembering her like they might a close friend. And that was my end goal: I wanted to create a memorable character who impacted readers’ lives.

I’d love to hear who your favorite kick-ass female characters are! Thanks for the opportunity.

Lesley Young author picAbout Lesley:
Journalist Lesley Young never thought she would delve into the world of writing fiction, but when she sat down for the first time to put pen to paper, ideas for what would become her first novel just poured out naturally. Young’s first book, “Sky’s End,” is a multi-genre tale that showcases her unique style of weaving romance, action and wit into one page-burning story.Young was born in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. She holds an arts degree from the University of Alberta and a journalism degree from the University of Victoria.Young now lives in Loretto, Ontario where she works as a journalist, freelance writer and editor for health, décor and business magazines. Since 2008, Young has written more than 300 articles for print and online media including Profit, Toronto Life, MSN Green, and Elle Canada among others. She is a regular contributor to Reader’s Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living and House and Home Magazine.Young has won three gold honors for feature stories from the National Business Magazine Awards and another top media award from the Canadian Dermatology Association.

Soul Mate Publishing released “Sky’s End” on July 15 in paperback and e-book and since its launch, it has remained an Amazon Best Seller. The novel is Young’s first installment in a series about Cassiel Winters, a futuristic heroine, and her outer space escapades.
Sky’s End is available on Amazon:



Lesley will be awarding print copies of Sky’s End to ten randomly drawn winners, and a grand prize of one $50 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn winner during the tour.
To enter the giveaway, just fill out the Rafflecopter below. For more chances to win, be sure to visit other stops on her tour.
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Review: Sky’s End by Lesley Young

skys end by lesley youngFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Cassiel Winters #1
Length: 430 pages
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Date Released: June 15, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

A secret she must never share. A secret that two warring species are determined to control. A universe’s future at stake. Twenty-year-old Cassiel Winters joins Earth’s new space academy in hopes of finding her brother, one of Command’s top pilots and her only family, who’s been reported MIA. But she quickly realizes she may not be cut out for life in space, where female cadets are outnumbered, competition’s fierce, and she’s already failed her hand-to-hand combat test once. Even the station’s most respected officer, Lt. Damian King, probably can’t help Cassiel pass the second time around-so why is he so interested in her progress? If only one of her freaky deja vu visions would offer an answer instead of mysterious messages like hide. When Cassiel’s manipulated into a perilous mission, she encounters a warrior species bred to protect the universe from an even greater threat. And she learns that her secret visions are at the heart of it all. Now Cassiel must fight to control her own destiny and race to save her brother-even if it means pretending to be the pawn of Prime Or’ic, the cold-as-steel Thell’eon leader. Even if it means risking her life, facing hard truths, and making the ultimate sacrifice.

My Review:

I have to say that Cassiel’s first person point-of-view really sold the story for me. First person is hard to do well, but in this case, being in her head and experiencing her confusion about the world and her naivete is what made the story work. Even when I knew that I should roll my eyes, seeing things through Cassiel’s eyes worked. Her lack of experience with the world and it’s betrayals made the otherwise incredible story make sense.

What am I talking about? Sky’s End is science fiction of the space opera school, and it’s also very definitely science fiction romance. And it’s the story of a very young woman who has an unfortunate tendency to leap before she looks, even though she can often see the results of the leap before she takes it.

Cassiel has a secret–sometimes she experiences the future just a few seconds or few hours before it happens. Then she changes it. She thinks of it as an extreme form of deja vu, but she’s also aware that most people will think she’s crazy.

In her future world, Earth, under the auspices of ESE (Earth Space Exploration) is engaged in a long-running interstellar war with the Thell’eons. Her brother Daz is missing in action, after leaving for a mission that no one is willing to admit he’s on. But then, he is in ESE’s equivalent of the spook squad.

So Cassie joins the ESE Academy to make sure that she can hunt her brother down personally, since the ESE doesn’t seem willing to admit he’s lost.

And that’s where the story really begins. Because after Cassie fails her end-of-year exams, she’s given an unprecedented second chance, which is also rigged for failure. And finally, the ESE has her where they really want her; willing to do anything to stay in the ESE. Including let herself be captured by the Thell’eons.

Who seem to have made it part of their ongoing mission to capture human females, supposedly because Thell’eon females don’t enjoy sex, and human women do.

Of course, their society is way more complicated than that. But then, the ESE is nothing like it seems, either.

Everyone wants to use Cassie for something. The Thell’eons, the ESE, and even the man who claims to want to protect her.

It’s only when Cassie finally discovers who and what she really is that she starts questioning whether she should be using them for her own ends.

If she can figure out which of the possible futures she sees is the best one–for everyone.

Escape Rating B: No one is exactly what they seem, and that’s a lesson that Cassie spends the whole book learning. By seeing things from inside her head, we’re able to understand why she doesn’t get how much she’s being used; she doesn’t have the experience yet to be as cynical as she should be. And she truly wants to believe the best of everyone.

Too many of the men who Cassie deals with tend to fall in love with her, or at least become very protective very quickly. It’s explained in the story by the reason why so few females remain cadets in the ESE, and by the way that the Thell’eon society is structured. It’s a bit of “handwavium” but it’s consistent in the story.

Also Cassie doesn’t know how valuable she is to both war efforts. At the beginning, she doesn’t even know the true nature of the war, and what her deja vu gift really is. Or how it makes her a target.

So the story is Cassie’s journey of discovery, and some of that discovery concerns her own sexuality. One man seems to love her, and one alien wants her for the war effort. She’s still in the process of figuring out whether either of them wants her for herself, but her experimentation is as emotional as it is physical.

Be prepared for an ending that leaves a lot of loose ends dangling. Cassie spends a lot of this book being a pawn for the various sides in the war, but by the end she finally realizes that she needs to decide where she belongs, and where she can do the most good.

A question which is much, much bigger at the end than she ever imagined.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.