09 January 2018

A Basket Brigade Christmas


Synopsis from back of book: With the country embroiled in civil war in 1862, a group of women formed the Basket Brigade and boarded trains to minister to Union soldiers transferring from overflowing hospitals in the South to northerly locations. The Basket Brigade offered fried chicken, pickled peaches, pound cake, and other dainties to men who hadn't eaten a home-cooked meal since enlisting. The women of Decatur, Illinois, served nearly two thousand meals to wounded warriors.

Three bestselling authors were blessed and inspired by the words written by the actual women who organized and participated in relief efforts during the Civil War. They have penned their stories in honor of them.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Barbour Books, 2015.

How acquired: Via BookCrossing.

My thoughtsThree separate stories, from three new-to-me authors. While each story is about a different woman in Decatur, Illinois, there are several characters who appear in all three books, most notably Mrs. Collins, who reminded me of a less offensive Little House on the Prairie Mrs.Oleson. In each story she was a spiteful, self-centered, full of herself woman, who then exhibited some humanity at the end of the story.

The first story, “A Stitch in Time”, by Stephanie Grace Whitson, centers around Lucy, whose deceased father left her a dry goods store and a small fortune thanks to some savvy investments. While volunteering with the Basket Brigade one day, she is appalled that the soldiers traveling on the hospital train don't have enough blankets or socks to keep warm, and she comes up with the idea to open her home as a meeting place for any of the women of Decatur who want to volunteer to sew socks and make quilts and blankets to be distributed on the trains. Jonah is the manager of her store, and has been in love with Lucy forever, but because of a leg injury that keeps him from enlisting, and the differences in their stations in life, he doesn't expect his love to ever be reciprocated. While this was a sweet story, I didn't really connect with Lucy, who was completely oblivious to Jonah and his feelings until the very end.

The second story, “A Pinch of Love”, by Judith Miller, was my favorite. Sarah's mother is one of the organizers and leaders of the Basket Brigade, and when she falls ill, Sarah has to take her place. Sarah has avoided volunteering, as she doesn't think she can deal with seeing the wounded soldiers, but she sucks it up and does her duty. Jacob wants to be fighting at the front, and is disappointed to be assigned to travel with the hospital trains to look out for the wounded soldiers. Until he meets Sarah, of course. I very much liked both Sarah and Jacob, and they slowly get to know one another and develop feelings for each other. Their growing relationship appealed to me more than the non-existent until the end relationship of the previous couple, and the obstacles they had to overcome – another young man who wants Sarah for himself and pretty much stalks her and lies to her, and Jacob's still hurtful memories of his former fiance who turned around and married someone else – were very well written and more realistic for me.

The third story, Endless Melody, by Nancy Moser, seemed to drag on too long, but I think that had less to do with the length of the story and was more because the main characters were living completely separate lives, withe him in another city, and were kept apart for most of the story. Zona and Cardiff were planning to marry fifteen years ago, when Cardiff suddenly left to fight in the war between Texas and Mexico, leaving Zona angry and heartbroken. Cardiff wrote many letters to her, but she never replied, which left him angry and heartbroken. As the story progressed, I kept waiting for them to be reunited, and in the meantime I didn't find either character particularly appealing. I was a little more sympathetic to them as the reasons behind their behavior was revealed, but they never fully resonated with me, and when they did finally meet again, the story was suddenly and abruptly over.

Despite the book's title, this isn't really a Christmas story, or rather Christmas stories, as the season wasn't mentioned that often. The third story does have Zona putting together a Christmas musicale, and some of her group of singers serenading the hospital trains with Christmas carols, but there isn't much else Christmas related. 

03 December 2017

Second Chance Pass (Virgin River, Book 5)


Synopsis from Goodreads: In the space of a few months Vanessa buried her husband, Matt, and gave birth to their son--breaking her heart while filling it with a whole new kind of love. But the one man she longs to share this love with now acts as if she doesn't exist. Paul Haggerty lives by the marine motto: Semper Fi. Ever faithful to his best friend, he's done right by Matt's widow as best he can...considering he's been secretly in love with her for years. Now, just as he's about to make his move, another woman has staked her claim on him--a claim that will be tough to escape.

With courage, humility and not a little meddling from the good folks of Virgin River, Vanni and Paul might just get a second chance to have the love they both desire and deserve.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Mira Books, 2009.

How acquired: Via Book Mooch.

First line: Paul Haggerty was finally back in Grants Pass after almost six months in Virgin River and there was an ache in his chest he just couldn't ease.

My thoughtsI loved the first four books in this series, giving three of them five stars on Goodreads, and one of them four stars. But this one was almost a three star. I just didn't love Vanessa and Paul the way I loved Jack and Mel, Preacher and Paige, Marcie and Ian. I'm not sure why, other than I didn't connect with Vanessa the way I did with the previous heroines. But as with the other books, while the main couple are the focus, the narrative still winds out among other residents of Virgin River, so there was plenty of Jack and Mel. In fact, I enjoyed their storyline more than Vanessa and Paul's. I was also happy that one of my favorite characters, the mystery illegal grower, made another brief appearance, and like me, Mike Valenzuela has come to the conclusion that there is more to the grower than what appears on the surface. I'm so hoping to learn more about him and that he gets a book somewhere down the line.

And then Joe came to town, and met Vanessa's friend Nikki, and oh my god I wish this had actually been their book! I loved loved Joe! I love a good grovel, and Joe groveled with the best of them. Joe singlehandedly bumped my rating up to four stars and the book is worth reading for his story alone. 

18 November 2017

Nightsong (Song, Book 3)



Synopsis from Goodreads: Living in exile on the island of Jamaica, Rye Evistock, better known as Captain Kells, and his beautiful wife, Carolina Lightfoot, are waiting for Kells to be cleared of a trumped-up treason charge in England. Kells decides to return to buccaneering one last time in order to gain enough money to settle down in peace. After anxious months of waiting for her husband to return, Carolina finally sights his ship on the horizon, but at that moment, catastrophe strikes in the form of an earthquake that destroys the harbor town and leaves Kells and his ship nowhere to be found.

Devastated, Carolina leaves for England, but her ship is captured by the Spanish at Havana and she is given to the governor's aide as a slave. To her utter amazement, the “aide” is none other than Kells, suffering from amnesia, and believing himself to be Spanish. Desperate to regain his love and convince him of his true identity before their hated enemies discover it, Carolina hatches a dangerous plot that could free them both...or seal their death warrants...

Stats for my copy: Hardback, Pocket Books, 1986.

How acquired: Via Book Mooch.

First line: Beneath a pale moon that shed its light upon Jamaica's southern coast, a slender curving sandspit cut like a scimitar into the deep dark sapphire of a night-silvered sea.

My thoughts:  I loved the first two books in this trilogy (LOVESONG and WINDSONG), so I was very much looking forward to NIGHTSONG. The first two books both started out slow for me, and took a little while for me to get caught up in. NIGHTSONG was the opposite. I was caught up right away. When the earthquake struck I was completely mesmerized. And then Carolina, believing Kells dead, finds herself in Havana, with her sister Penny, and from that point on I struggled to stay interested.

In Havana, Carolina is reunited with a very much alive Kells. As a slave bought by the governor and gifted to his friend Kells, who everyone, including Kells himself, believes is Don Diego Vivar. Normally I love an amnesia plot (Sandra Brown, THE WITNESS!). But this one just got ridiculous. Carolina tries to convince “Diego” that he is really Kells. He's insulted and angered that she would dare to compare him to a notorious buccaneer. Carolina suddenly seems convinced that he's not Kells, he's really Diego, and just looks like Kells. At which point I almost threw the book across the room. Then she realizes that he is indeed Kells, and if anyone else in Havana recognizes who he really is his life will be in danger.

Penny. In the second book I was thrilled to get to know their sister Virginia. I did not care for Penny nearly as much. And Robin Tyrell...ugh. He and Penny deserve each other.

Toward the end I seriously wondered if Carolina and Kells would ever have an HEA. And I didn't even really care. I just wanted it to be over.

Will I read this author again? Yes. But maybe not for awhile. 

14 November 2017

Sweet Tea and Sympathy (Southern Eclectic, Book One)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Beloved author Molly Harper launches a brand-new contemporary romance series, Southern Eclectic, with this story of a big-city party planner who finds true love in a small Georgia town.

Nestled on the shore of Lake Sackett, Georgia is the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. (What, you have a problem with one-stop shopping?) Two McCready brothers started two separate businesses in the same building back in 1928, and now it’s become one big family affair. And true to form in small Southern towns, family business becomes 
everybody’s business.

Margot Cary has spent her life immersed in everything Lake Sackett is not. As an elite event planner, Margot’s rubbed elbows with the cream of Chicago society, and made elegance and glamour her business. She’s riding high until one event goes tragically, spectacularly wrong. Now she’s blackballed by the gala set and in dire need of a fresh start—and apparently the McCreadys are in need of an event planner with a tarnished reputation.

As Margot finds her footing in a town where everybody knows not only your name, but what you had for dinner last Saturday night and what you’ll wear to church on Sunday morning, she grudgingly has to admit that there are some things Lake Sackett does better than Chicago—including the dating prospects. Elementary school principal Kyle Archer is a fellow fish-out-of-water who volunteers to show Margot the picture-postcard side of Southern living. The two of them hit it off, but not everybody is happy to see an outsider snapping up one of the town's most eligible gentleman. Will Margot reel in her handsome fish, or will she have to release her latest catch?

Stats for my copy: ebook, Gallery Books, releasing November 21, 2017.

How acquired: NetGalley.

My thoughtsI previously read SAVE A TRUCK, RIDE A REDNECK, Book 0.5 in this series. I’m not a big fan of novellas, just because I like to get more story, more characterization, than the shorter form allows. But I enjoyed it, so I was eager to try one of Ms. Harper’s full length novels and see how much deeper she can go. And she did not disappoint. 

Our heroine this time is Margot, a big city event planner who finds herself out of a job and shunned by the event planning community after a disastrous flamingo incident. We met Marianne, and her brother, Duffy, in SAVE A TRUCK. Margot is their cousin, though she’s never met any of the family. Her mother left her father when she was three years old, and her father has been completely out of her life since then. But Tootie McCready,, her father’s aunt and the matriarch of the McCready clan, contacts Margot out of the blue and offers her a job in the family business, McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. With no other prospects on the horizon, and about to not have anywhere to live, Margot reluctantly accepts.

I very much liked Margot. She’d pretty much had the rug pulled out from under her, and her whole world turned upside down. Settling down to life in Lake Sackett, Georgia, was quite a culture shock for her. Not to mention meeting her biological father, for whom she, understandably, harbors a lot of resentment. She didn’t plan to stay permanently, just until she found a job that would take her back to Chicago or some other civilized city. Watching her navigate her new life was at times eye-wincingly funny.

I loved Kyle, a widower with two young daughters. After a scorching make out session in his truck, he thereafter runs hot and cold with Margot. He doesn’t date much, and he never brings his dates around his daughters. Which is fine with Margot, for while she lusts for him she has no intention of becoming emotionally involved with him. She doesn’t know how to talk to children, and of course she plans on leaving town at the first opportunity.

The first time Margot saw Kyle, she was drawn to his sad eyes and haunted countenance. It was a great way for Ms. Harper to introduce him, because he ticked my boxes also. Of course Margot ends up spending more time with Kyle and his daughters than planned, and some of her interactions with young June were hilarious. I also enjoyed her interactions with Marianne and another cousin, Frankie, who also worked at the funeral home. I really hope Frankie will be the heroine of a future book.

As with the novella, I sometimes had a little trouble keeping all the family members straight at times, but that didn’t really impede my enjoyment of the story. There’s plenty of humor, which I love in a romance, but there was also some angst and ultimately some soul searching for Margot when she finally has an opportunity to leave Lake Sackett.

Very enjoyable, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for other books by Ms. Harper.

26 October 2017

Save Me


Synopsis from Goodreads: Save Me will have readers wondering just how far they would go to save the ones they love. Lisa Scottoline is writing about real issues that resonate with real women, and the results are emotional, heartbreaking and honest.

Rose McKenna volunteers as a lunch mom in her daughter Melly's school in order to keep an eye on Amanda, a mean girl who's been bullying her daughter. Her fears come true when the bullying begins, sending Melly to the bathroom in tears. Just as Rose is about to follow after her daughter, a massive explosion goes off in the kitchen, sending the room into chaos.

Rose finds herself faced with the horrifying decision of whether or not to run to the bathroom to rescue her daughter or usher Amanda to safety. She believes she has accomplished both, only to discover that Amanda, for an unknown reason, ran back into the school once out of Rose's sight. In an instance, Rose goes from hero to villain as the small community blames Amanda's injuries on her. In the days that follow, Rose's life starts to fall to pieces, Amanda's mother decides to sue, her marriage is put to the test, and worse, when her daughter returns to school, the bullying only intensifies. Rose must take matters into her own hands and get down to the truth of what really happened that fateful day in order to save herself, her marriage and her family.

In the way that Look Again had readers questioning everything they thought they knew about family, Save Me will have readers wondering just how far they would go to save the ones they love. Lisa Scottoline is writing about real issues that resonate with real women, and the results are emotional, heartbreaking and honest.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, St. Martin's Press, 2011.

How acquired: Bought.

First line: Rose McKenna stood against the wall in the noisy cafeteria, having volunteered as lunch mom, which is like a security guard with eyeliner.

My thoughtsThis author is one who I see a lot of but had never read until now. She seems to be popular, and it's definitely an easy read, requiring no thought or concentration. But it wasn't a particularly compelling read.

Rose's dilemma was an interesting one. When there's an explosion in the kitchen and a fire breaks out while she is volunteering for lunch duty at her daughter's school, she has to quickly decide whether to save the three girls in the cafeteria, or rush closer to the fire where her daughter had retreated to a handicapped bathroom. Torn, she takes the other three girls to a doorway leading into a hall, where a teacher is ushering kids out, and tells them to run outside. Then she goes back to save her daughter, and she literally does save her daughter's life.

I did not connect with Rose at all. Her daughter has a birth mark on her face, and is constantly teased and bullied, and apparently the only reason Rose volunteered for lunch room duty was so she could spy on her daughter and her daughter's bullies – the three girls mentioned above, with Amanda being their ringleader. After watching Amanda tease Melly, and the other two girls laughing, Rose confronts them as the lunch period ends and the rest of the kids head out to recess, which is why she and the girls are in the cafeteria when the fire starts. Rose is hailed as “Hero Mom” by the press, until it comes out that Amanda, despite Rose taking her to the doorway, was seriously injured, and for most of the book it's not known whether she will live or die.

I was interested to see how the bullying would play out, but after the fire not much happened with that. I don't have much personal experience with bullying, so I can't say for sure how I would react if I were Rose and Melly were my daughter. I don't think I would react the way Rose did. I don't think I would volunteer at my daughter's school just so I could look out for her. Melly is obsessed with Harry Potter, often reciting different incantations from the books, and Rose hates that. She thinks that Melly's love of all things Potter makes her different from the other kids, and brands her as being weird, contributing to why she is being bullied. I found that incredibly frustrating. At one point she tries to force Melly to read an American Girl book, because the other girls, Amanda included, are crazy about them. Honestly, I felt like Rose was a whiner who felt as sorry for herself as she did for her daughter.

Then the story turned a corner and became more about Rose investigating the cause of the fire. It's ruled accidental, but she is convinced otherwise. And then an incident from her past becomes public knowledge, an incident that she never confided to anyone, including her husband and her best friend. And then other people die, and she begins snooping around like an investigative reporter, even going undercover, trying to connect everything.

The best part of the book was Rose's husband, Leo. He's not Melly's biological father, but he adores her and she adores him, and his conversations and interactions with Melly were fantastic and charming.

One other minor irritation that started to get to me – when Rose was in her car driving and accelerated, which she did a lot, she was constantly described as feeding the car gas. The phrase “fed the car gas” was used so much that at one point I stopped reading to take a picture of the page and post on Instagram and Litsy that if I read those words one more time I might scream. Coincidentally, the phrase did not show up again in the following pages. Instead, Rose began constantly hitting the gas. In fact, she hit the gas twice on one page, making me think that after the second time she must be going around 120 mph.

The resolution was nice. The book was ok. Didn't love it, didn't hate it. 

20 October 2017

One Night of Scandal (Fairleigh Sisters, Book 2)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Proper decorum has never come easily to Carlotta Anne Fairleigh --- not even tonight, when the lovely, impetuous miss is finally making her debut. As she waits to make her entrance, she can't help wondering about the darkened house next door, the supposedly abandoned home of Hayden St. Clair, the man society has dubbed the "Murderous Marquess." Certainly one small peek through his window before the festivities would be harmless...

And, naturally, this latest "adventure" ends in disaster, thoroughly compromising the budding debutante's reputation and leaving her suddenly, unthinkably ... 
betrothed! Soon she's en route to the wilds of Cornwall in the company of the handsome, mysterious marquess whose name the ton whisper with fear and loathing.

Yet there is something thrilling --- and surprisingly tender --- about her dark, unreachable groom, and the desire in his eyes is undeniable. But before Lottie will surrender to the yearnings in her heart, she must unlock the secrets of Hayden's past, no matter how scandalous --- or perilous --- they may be.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Avon Books, 2003.

How acquired: Via Book Mooch.

My thoughts: My thoughts are still in a bit of a jumble about this book. Where to start? Oh, Hayden, of course. Dark and brooding, curt, not arrogant really, though he probably was before he became known as the Murderous Marquess, the nickname given to him after his first wife took a dive from a cliff. Of course he was wildly attracted to Lottie as soon as he met her. Of course after inadvertently putting her in a compromising position he gave in and married her, even though the last thing he wanted was a wife. Of course he didn't bother to tell his new wife about the horrid little girl she was now step-mother to. I loved Hayden pretty much from the beginning, despite everyone believing he murdered his wife and his best friend. 

I read the previous book, A KISS TO REMEMBER, eight years ago, which was about Lottie's older sister, Laura. I remembered very little about that book or about Lottie, but since ten years have passed, ONE NIGHT OF SCANDAL is basically a stand alone, and Laura and her husband are peripheral characters for the most part.

Lottie was a fun, spunky heroine. After being seen with Hayden through a window, her family are in despair over her reputation now being ruined, and afraid she will have no decent prospects now. Therefore, her brother-in-law and guardian, Sterling, demands that Hayden marry her. When Hayden refuses, Lottie takes matters into her own hands and, suffice it to say, gets Hayden to agree to the marriage.

From there the story moves from Lottie's home with Sterling and Laura to Hayden's home, and what is pretty much a whole new, dreary, world for Laura. And that's when it really got good. I loved Lottie's interactions with Hayden's daughter, Allegra, and appreciated that Lottie didn't magically win her over and quickly become her best friend. Allegra was a bit overly dramatic at times, and with mysterious music playing behind the closed door of a locked room and the servants all convinced the house was haunted, the story began to have a gothic feel to it. Which was just fine by me.

And the kittens! Oh my, I loved how the kittens always seemed to be in Hayden's way and he was forever nudging one aside with his foot or prying another's claws out of his pants leg or sitting down only to jump back up at the sound of a squeak coming from beneath him.

This book was just perfect for me, with plenty of laughter amid the gloomy gothicness, not to mention the sexual tension between Hayden and Lottie. The night I finished it I read past my bedtime because I couldn't put it down, and I literally cried over it. It was wonderful. 

11 October 2017

Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck (Southern Eclectic, Book 0.5)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Carl and Marianne were high school sweethearts, loving the way only teenagers can—with no thought to logic or pride, just a bone-headed, optimistic frenzy of unicorns and hormones. That was all they needed. Or so Carl thought.

Scared of being stuck in Lake Sackett, Georgia, like so many of her friends—without a real shot at a future or achieving her own dreams—Marianne panicked and bolted to college after stomping Carl’s heart into the high grass. But when she returns to Lake Sackett for the summer with her family after years away, she and Carl are drawn together like moths to a flame. As they rekindle their old romance and remember what it was like to be in love, they have to wonder: is this, finally, their real chance at happiness?

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Pocket Star, releasing October 16, 2017.

How acquired: Netgally.

My thoughts:  This is my first time reading Molly Harper, but I've seen her name here and there. Browsing Netgalley one day the title caught my eye, and when I saw the author's name I decided it was time to try her out so I requested it, and a big thank you to the publisher for accepting my request!

This is a sweet second chance romance. Marianne is interesting and self-deprecating. She hightailed it out of her small town to go to college, and Carl was left behind with a broken heart. It's been many many years since I was Marianne's age, but I could relate to the feeling of needing to get away from the place where you grew up. Lately my catnip is small town stories and/or cowboys. Carl isn't a cowboy, but he had many of the attributes that those heroes usually have, though I wasn't sure at first how I felt about him. Wearing shirts with the sleeves torn off...he didn't exactly appeal to me. But he quickly grew on me. Marianne has a lot of family and I had a little trouble keeping track of them all, but I really liked her brother Duffy and her cousin Frankie. I'm hoping that future books in the series will feature them.

I'm not generally a big fan of novellas, just because I like to get more story than the shorter form allows. Marianne and Carl's new, or resumed, relationship was a bit sudden, and I would've liked to spend more time watching them get to know each again after being apart for four or so years. But I loved their interactions, and I laughed out loud a few times.

A quick and enjoyable read, and I'm interested now to see how much deeper Ms. Harper goes into her characters in a full length novel. She certainly seems to be popular, with over four thousand followers on Goodreads! I'm glad I gave her try.