26 March 2017

His Hometown Girl (The McKaslin Clan, Series 1, Book 1); Love Inspired No. 180

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS INFORMATION THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS.


Synopsis from Goodreads: Small-town mechanic Zachary Drake had no illusions about his longtime friendship with winsome, wholesome Karen McKaslin -- even after she called off her wedding to the local pastor. Zach simply intended to lend a grease-stained hand and a sympathetic ear to a pal in need, and keep his secret longing to himself...

Having narrowly escaped a loveless marriage, Karen was counting her blessings. Now she could transform herself into a woman worthy of being loved for all eternity. She never dreamed Mr. Right was waiting for her on the wrong side of the tracks, praying she'd see in his eyes what he didn't dare say...

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Steeple Hill Books, 2002.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  Despite the fact that I list Jillian Hart as one of my favorite category romance authors, her books are usually hit or miss for me. Of the McKaslin Clan series, I've read two previously, BLIND-DATE BRIDE, which I could barely finish, and SWEET BLESSINGS, which is one of my all time top ten favorite books – and the reason I keep reading her. (Seriously, for a wonderful character study of a broken man, you need to read it.) So when I realized this book was the first McKaslin Clan book, I dove in, and am happy to report that it was a hit.

I loved the characters, especially Zach, and I loved the continual banter between Zach and Karen, which Ms. Hart does very well. When the book opens Karen has broken off an engagement to Jay when she realizes he isn't marrying her out of love. Her parents are upset and disappointed, her mother, who is pushing her to get back together with Jay. I almost wished there had been more about Karen and Jay and what led up to her realizing she couldn't marry him, and more conflict between Karen and her parents over that broken engagement, just to add more depth. Zach's mother was a drunk who spent all her time in bars while Zach took care of his younger siblings and often went hungry, and when she showed up on his doorstep, I expected a predictable subplot about Zach, who is filled with hate for his mother, coming to terms with her alcohol addiction and learning to forgive her. So I was quite surprised when he gave her some money and put her on a bus out of town, telling her not to come back. And I was glad that story arc carried out the way it did, which to me was very realistic.

My only issue with the story, and it's a minor one but it's also a pet peeve of mine, is that Zach winked way too often. At one point he winked at Karen three times in two pages. And then on the next page Gramma winked. But after that either the winking dropped off, or I was too caught up in the story to note it.


A sweet story about two people from the same small town but with very different backgrounds, coming to terms with what they want in a partner and more importantly, realizing that they deserve to be with the one they love regardless of backgrounds or what anyone else in town thinks. I laughed out loud several times, and I cried a couple of times. 

25 March 2017

Lone Wolf (F.B.I. K-9, Book 1)


Synopsis from Goodreads: When a madman goes on a bombing spree, an FBI K-9 team of one woman and her dog is the key to stopping him before more innocents die and panic sweeps the Eastern seaboard.

Meg Jennings and her Labrador, Hawk, are one of the FBI’s top K-9 teams certified for tracking and search and rescue. When a bomb rips apart a government building on the National Mall in Washington D.C., it will take all the team’s skill to locate and save the workers and children buried beneath the rubble.

More victims die and fear rises as the unseen bomber continues his reign of terror, striking additional targets, ruthlessly bent on pursuing a personal agenda of retribution. Meg and Hawk join the task force dedicated to following the trail of death and destruction to stop the killer. But when the attacks spiral wide and no single location seems safe any longer, it will come down to a battle of wits and survival skills between Meg, Hawk, and the bomber they’re tracking. Can they stop him before he brings the nation to the brink of chaos?

Stats for my copy: Hardback, Kensington Books, 2016.

How acquired: Fresh Fiction Box Not to Miss subscription

My thoughts:  This book sucked me in and had me mesmerized from the first few pages. We meet Meg and her search and rescue dog, Hawk, and immediately follow them into a tense trek along a river and over a railroad trestle as they track a killer. But that case is just our introduction into Meg's world. In the second chapter Meg and Hawk are called back out to a bomb site, and that's when the action really takes off.

The book is also a fascinating crash course into the world of K-9 search and rescue and the relationship between the dogs and their human partners, a subject I'd not really read about until now. And one flashback scene describing how Meg's first K-9 partner was killed in the line of duty had me crying buckets.

In addition to Meg and Hawk and their co-workers, we meet Clay McCord, an investigative journalist with whom Meg makes an uneasy alliance, newspaper reporters not normally being trusted and/or relied upon.


Great writing, an intricate plot, three dimensional characters – it all adds up to a gripping and emotional  page turner. I can't wait for book two! 

23 March 2017

Windsong (Song, Book 2)

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS INFORMATION THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS. 

VALERIE SHERWOOD

Synopsis from Goodreads: ADRIFT UPON THE SURGING TIDES OF LOVE...the incandescent beauty Carolina and her dashing buccaneer, Kells, sail from his Caribbean stronghold to her native Virginia there to await his royal pardon and their glorious wedding. But when an imposter masquerades as Kells, savaging British ships, he is once again outlawed. Fleeing to England, the lovers are swept into a torrent of danger, treachery and desire. Their vows are doubly threatened by the rich ransom for Kells' capture and by a sultry Spanish duchess who claims him as her own. Carolina, wed in her heart and wed forever, embarks on a desperate voyage that may cost her Kells' love and his life and cast into the raging seas the shimmering promise of their WINDSONG.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Pocket Books, 1986.

How acquired: Via BookMooch.

My thoughts:  When I read the first book in this trilogy, LOVESONG, it took me awhile to get into the story. The beginning was good but not fantastic. WINDSONG started out the same way, and while it took a bit longer to pick up, I did eventually get completely sucked in and mesmerized. I do really like the author's writing, so I'm not sure why it took so long to get invested in the story.
...England's king had offered a general amnesty to the buccaneers, but a king's word was the wind's word and easily blown away...

The first part of the book follows Carolina and Rye as they travel to Virginia and her family's home. While they've already married in a buccaneer ceremony on board Rye's ship, they keep that from Carolina's family and announce their betrothal, letting Carolina's mother plan the wedding. But a group of men, posing as the buccaneer and his crew, begin attacking ships, and our lovebirds are forced to flee Virginia so Rye can avoid capture and try to clear his name.

I've just realized something both books have in common. The point where the story really picked up for me in both books is when Carolina leaves America and goes to England. From there many adventures follow. Carolina's sister, Virginia, travels with them, and I really enjoyed her parts of the story and getting to know her better, and especially watching her character's growth once she's out from under her mother's thumb. We also meet Rye's brother, and are reunited with Carolina's schoolmate, Reba.
Home was the Tidewater – no, it was not there either. Home was a man's arms, held wide and welcoming.

Of course there needs to be conflict, which arrives in the form of a Spanish duchess whose appearance throws Rye for a loop. And then he sets sail with the Spanish lady, leaving Carolina behind to continue her travels with his brother and her sister. We soon learn that the Spanish lady is Rye's first wife, whom he believed to be dead. And upon being reunited, he promptly falls into bed with her, which angered me something fierce! It took me quite awhile to get over his betrayal of Carolina, and when she went off half-cocked looking for revenge I hurt for her while cheering her on. 

Fortunately everything comes right in the end, and I'm eager to read the next book, NIGHTSONG.

12 March 2017

Learning to Love


Synopsis from Goodreads: Sometimes help comes from the most unlikely places …

Living in a small village like Hibberton, it’s expected that your neighbours help you in a time of need. But when Andrea Kelly’s house burns down, taking all her earthly possessions with it, it’s the distant and aloof Doctor David Adams – the person she would least expect – who opens his door not just to her, but to her three kids and slightly dotty elderly mother as well.

Andrea needs all the help she can get, dealing with aftermath of the fire and in the suspicious absence of her husband, Jonathan. But, as she gets to know David and his troubled son, Jake, she begins to realise that maybe they need her help as much as she needs theirs …

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Choc Lit, 2016.

How acquired: Received for review from NetGalley.

My thoughts:  My second Sheryl Browne book (after THE REST OF MY LIFE) and I liked this one even more. Possibly because I more easily related to the heroine, a mother of three struggling to balance work, children and relationship, and trying to find her own identity by opening a “second-chance designer” dress shop. Her live in boyfriend (not husband, as the synopsis says), the father of her youngest child, has become a little distant and emotionally unsupportive, and then on date night he stands her up, leaving her sitting alone in a restaurant. And to top off that misery, when she finally gives up waiting and goes home, her house is on fire and her children are across the street with the new neighbor, surly taciturn David, and his unhappy son, Jake.

Of course once she starts getting to know David, he's not just surly and taciturn, he's actually a man overwhelmed with grief and guilt over the death of his wife, and unable to get through to and connect with eight year old Jake, who will barely speak to him. Both Andrea and David are wonderfully written characters, as are all of the kids, and Andrea's mother, Dee. There's a lot of witty and amusing dialogue as well.
Her red and gold hair tumbling carelessly around her shoulders and a smile so radiant, she could light up Blackpool on her own. 'You could give Julia Roberts a run for her money,' he said, feeling slightly off kilter.
'Do you know he's right, you could,' Dee gazed at her daughter and then turned to David with a heartfelt sigh. 'She'd make a wonderful prostitute.'

There's also a lot of internal monologuing, which I love. The narrative alternates between three viewpoints, mostly Andrea's and David's, but we also spend some time with Andrea's friend, Sally, who becomes a pretty integral character in her own right. The children, both Andrea's and David's, are also well defined and help drive the story forward rather than just being plot moppets.

The romance between Andrea and David builds up slowly and realistically. The attraction is there from the beginning, but of course neither is looking for a relationship. Andrea is already in one, anticipating a proposal any day while wondering why Jonathan has become a little distant and distracted. David is a widower, trying to put back together the pieces of his and Jake's shattered lives.


Occasionally I felt the editing was a little lacking, with a sentence here and there that stumbled along a bit awkwardly. But overall the story drew me in and I quickly became emotionally invested in the characters and their lives. A sweet and heartwarming story.  

21 February 2017

Elementary, She Read (A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery, Book 1)

VICKI DELANEY

Synopsis from Goodreads: Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur's Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop--located at 222 Baker Street--specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.

The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman's suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it's a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good. 

Stats for my copy: Hardback, Crooked Lane Books. Expected publication date 3/14/17.

How acquired: Received for review from the publisher through Cozy Mystery Review Crew.

My thoughts:  This book sounded so good that I was really excited to get it and looking forward to reading it. And it was good, but not quite up to my (admittedly high) expectations. The first person narrator, Gemma Doyle, runs a book store/gift shop devoted to Sherlock Holmes and items related to Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Sherlock canon. Not because she is a particularly devoted Sherlock fan, but because her uncle, who IS a particularly devoted Sherlock fan, started the bookstore and she joined him in the business later. But Gemma is a bit like Sherlock. She has acute powers of observation, and there are many conversations wherein she shows off, er, demonstrates said powers of observation by pointing out things the other party to the conversation did not notice or missed. She often comes off as a bit...lofty. Her friends seem to just accept it and aren't put off or insulted by her. But I found her a little irritating at times. She tells us, more than once, that she's offered or attempted to help out the local police investigate crimes in the past only to have her offers rebuffed.

It's been many many many years since I've read any of the Sherlock books, and my only recent experience with him is through the Benedict Cumberbatch TV show (which I do love). So I don't remember if Sherlock himself, the book Sherlock, came across the same way. But since those stories were narrated by Watson, I think that probably helped temper it. Maybe if Gemma's best friend, Jayne, were the narrator here...I just didn't find Gemma to be a very sympathetic character and so I had a little trouble liking her.


That being said, I did like Jayne, and I liked Ryan Ashburton, the local police detective who also happened to be Gemma's ex. And the mystery was good. I was completely in the dark about who the culprit was in the end and it came as a complete surprise. 

15 February 2017

Five Ways 'Til Sunday (Delta Heat 1)


Synopsis from Goodreads: Sometimes a man’s just gotta call for backup…
Delta Heat, Book 1

Marti Kowalski is all wrong for Officer Jackson Teague—he just won’t listen to reason. She didn’t finish high school, runs a bar. Has a tattoo and a blue streak in her hair. Yet he still wants to marry her? She can’t say she’s not tempted, but she’s got a bucket list to complete before she ties the knot.

Not just any bucket—more like a fifty-five-gallon drum of sexual wishes so explicit, there’s no way one man, even Jackson, can fulfill them all.

When Marti turns him down again, Jackson insists on knowing why. That’s when she shows him her list. He takes it, thinks about it—and calls on the only men he can trust: four buddies from his academy graduating class.

Between the five of them, he’s sure they can come up with a plan to check off every item on her list in one wild, wicked weekend. That is, if she has the nerve to follow through—and if he can bear to share her.
Product Warnings
Contains five men on a mission to break down the resistance of one determined woman, using everything in their arsenal from BDSM accoutrements to roleplay of non-consensual situation
.

Stats for my copy: ebook, Samhain Publishing, 2011.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  Hot from the first page! I read this novella in one sitting. Twice. Well, I read it in January 2012, and then again a few days ago. I particularly liked the characters. They aren't just random people, they're a couple who obviously love each other. The blurb pretty much tells you the whole plot. While Jackson gets his buddies to help him fulfill Marti's fantasies, he's not just gung ho completely comfortable doing so. But he thinks if he gets Marti through her bucket list, then she'll have no more excuses not to marry him. So for him, the ends justify the means. And that hastily scribbled bucket list was just an excuse. As much as Marti loves Jackson, she's scared of marriage, and she feels she will not be the right wife for Jackson. So she's shocked when she finds herself checking off each fantasy, along with some extra surprises that Jackson and his buddies plan along the way. *sigh* Where is MY Jackson? 

The Water-Method Man

JOHN IRVING

Synopsis from Goodreads: His wife wants out. His mistress wants a baby. The underground filmmaker he works for wants to make a movie of his life: a documentary of failure. Bogus Trumper is a wayward knight-errant in the battle of the sexes, with only his weapon to blame. His complaint is more serious than Portnoy's-- Portnoy never had to drink all that water.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Pocket Books, 1972.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  This is the second John Irving book I've read. I started collecting everything I came across by him after reading THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, which I loved. Either it's just been a long time since I read Cider House, or this book is just really different. Not to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did. The narrative is somewhat disjointed and bounces back and forth between first person and third person POV, and between the past and the present, so at times it was a little confusing. I didn't love it as much as Cider House, but I did like it enough to want to read more from Mr. Irving.