The Milanese Stars by Pamela Q. Fernandes

It would appear that Vita and her co-conspirators may have just gotten away with the jewel heist of the century. But when a sexy investigator comes to town, Vita realizes she might not escape from Milan so easily with the jewels intact…or her heart for that matter.

What’s it About?

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The heist of the decade and yet, no one would have guessed… it was her. The Milanese stars are missing from the famous Buccatino boutique. When American insurance investigator, Samuel Keane is called in to liaise with the polizia, he finds the whole heist odd. Not only are the Milanese stars, a set of five pink diamonds, not listed in the inventory of stolen items, worse, none of the surrounding owners or passersby witnessed a thing.

Samuel is anxious to solve the case and partners with local café owner, Vita, who has a very good vantage point to watch Buccatino. Vita herself has quite the interest in Samuel. He’s a decent man, not to mention delicious, and he’s smart. But the last thing she wants is to be caught. After all, Vita has planned the heist for years. Five to be exact. The only thing she didn’t plan is falling in love with the young American.

As Samuel digs further into the history of the stars, he discovers Vita’s friends and her physically challenged sister are all connected to them. He learns of Vita’s past and the loneliness she’s resigned herself to in an effort to protect herself from loss. Samuel also learns Don Giovanni, proprietor of Buccatino, is no ordinary man. He’s a local Mafioso and will stop at nothing till he gets the stars. The more Samuel investigates, the more dangers he and Vita face. Can he solve the case and what will happen with Vita? What will he do when we learns the heist of the decade isn’t about stealing pink diamonds… it’s about settling the score.

First Impressions

Vita can’t deny the desire simmering between her and Samuel. There’s just one problem. He’s only in town for a short time to investigate a jewel heist worth millions. And Vita just happens to be the thief responsible. Okay…so that might be more than just one problem now that I think about it. One of the best parts of this novel is Vita’s inner turmoil of whether or not to pursue anything with Samuel. Why would she possibly risk inviting a wolf in sheep’s clothing into her life and home? He is investigating the heist after all, and she’s directly responsible for it. But considering the heat passing between them, to push him off would be even more suspicious than inviting him in. She doesn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to herself, and ironically enough the best way to do that is to go on a few dates with the man. At the same time she’s helping to coordinate the sale of the stolen jewels and plotting her own escape from the city. Who would have thought she’d have time to fall in love with all that drama going on?

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The Heist

So, first things first. Honestly I feel the synopsis gives away a bit too much of the plot. I think I almost would have preferred if we didn’t know going in that Vita was involved in the heist. It could have been such an interesting twist to uncover maybe a few chapters in. After all, Vita has such a sweet and inviting personality, I don’t think I would have suspected her right away. Samuel obviously doesn’t! In my opinion, it was a missed opportunity to have some fun with the audience, and keep us all on our toes!

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As for the heist itself, I must say it was a good one. I don’t want to give away all the details, although again the synopsis does hint at some things. Even though we know immediately that Vita was responsible for the heist, you do sort of question throughout the novel the backstory involved to carrying out such a crime. You also can’t help but wonder if Vita and her co-conspirators will get away with it all. About halfway through the book you can start piecing all of the links and ties together, but it isn’t until the very end that we get one final explanation of the why, how, who, and what now? When all of these pieces ultimately come together you can’t help but smirk and think, “Well I’ll be damned!”.

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Sisterly Love

While everything does eventually come together full circle in the end, I do feel that we missed out along the way with some key details which really could have made this story a home-run. Firstly, Vita’s relationship with her sister, Tecla. This is one aspect of the novel that I just wish would have had more focus. Their dynamic is a major influencing factor to so many of Vita’s decisions, but I wanted more development regarding Tecla’s side of the story.

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Throughout the book we understand Vita’s driving force behind this heist was directly linked with wanting to take care of her sister, and yet at times you can sense some bitterness emanating from Tecla regarding how Vita treats her. Is it because Tecla doesn’t want to feel like a cripple who must be fawned over? Is it because she wants Vita to not miss out on all that life has to offer? Honestly, I’m not really sure, and I wish we could have had a few more scenes which just centered on sister and sister.

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The Don

Another important feature of the novel that was somewhat glossed over was the character of the Don. He’s the proprietor of the boutique from which the jewels were stolen, and a well-known mafioso. Understandably so, he’s a presence which sort of lurks in the shadows; a villain not to be trifled with or confronted. And yet, I guess I was surprised to find that Vita and her co-thieves don’t seem as wary of him as they probably should? While they all plan to leave town shortly after selling off the jewels, they don’t seem to discuss much of a plan regarding ensuring that this criminal Don never finds them again.

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Let’s face it, the fact that they all plan to leave town at basically the same time guarantees he’ll know they’re responsible, but they never really discuss going into hiding, changing their names, appearance, etc. Heck, even Vita’s plan is to flee to the town of Fusine. Sure, it’s gorgeous, not to mention a 5 hour drive from Milan, but it’s still in Italy for crying out loud! There may not be any direct evidence linking Vita to the heist, but the Don also seems like the type of guy who doesn’t bother with silly things like the law, or proof. He seems like the type of guy who would put a bullet in you if he suspected you of making him look the fool, and then ask questions later.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? The base of the story is all here, and it’s one with great bones. That being said, I think it also could have used with a bit more description, and some embellishment here and there to give us a fully robust story. It’s a quick read, but almost too quick if you know what I mean. The details of the heist were awesome, and it’s great when you have a book that can have you rooting for a bunch of jewel thieves to succeed. The relationships of the story also could have been expanded upon more, including the sisterly dynamic between Vita and Tecla, as well as the romance between Samuel and Vita. I will say though, be prepared to want to book a flight to Italy pretty much as soon as you finish this one!

Smut Level: No hanky panky here. But at least we are warned straight off from the get-go that we won’t have any sex scenes. Honestly, I prefer that situation to being relentlessly teased throughout the whole thing wondering if we’ll have more. We do get some passionate kissing scenes, but nothing to make you blush too hard.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. TouchPoint Press. 152 Pages.

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Winds of Time by Lilly Gayle

A vicious tornado whisks our heroine through the winds of time to unexpectedly drop her back in 1872. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore Toto! Or at least…not in modern day Texas anymore.

What’s it About?

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The past is her future, the future, her past, but can she save an innocent man’s life before history repeats itself? As long as Selena Tillman dreams of her ancestor, Mary, who disappeared without a trace in 1872, she’ll never find peace. As long as she dreams of the half-Native American army scout accused of killing Mary, she’ll never find love. Hoping to end the dreams and learn the truth, Selena goes to Texas where Mary and the scout died and sees more than ghosts. She sees a tornado kill Mary in real time before it jumps to the twenty-first century to pull Selena into its vortex and send her back to the nineteenth century. Selena believes she’s fated to prove Dylan’s innocence and save his life, but Dylan isn’t just the man of her dreams; he’s her destiny.

Fed up with the army, bigotry, and women—especially white women, Captain Dylan Casey dedicates himself to solving the mystery of Mary’s disappearance, proving his innocence, and trying to stop a war between the whites and the Indians. Then Mary’s cousin shows up, claiming a tornado killed Mary. Dylan doesn’t trust Selena, but she’s his only ally in Canyon Creek. Yet despite their common goal, growing mutual attraction, and a Comanche shaman’s prophecy of a white woman who will change his destiny and foretell the fate of the Indian Nation, Dylan refuses to take a chance on another spoiled, white woman—until fate changes his mind.

First Impressions

Yes, we are dealing with a time travel historical romance here. But more than that we are exploring some inherently deep-rooted and devastatingly tragic instances of racism in late nineteenth-century Texas. The supposed superiority of the white man over the “savage” Indian, and the downfall of the great Indian Nation at the greed of the white man. What I love about any Lilly Gayle historical romance is that we always learn about a unique chapter of history, and in most cases they are lessons which I never really had the opportunity to study fully in school. In each instance my interest is spurned to learn more! You can tell a lot of time and effort was spent researching this topic in an attempt to give an accurate portrayal of what it would have been like for a “half-breed” to live at this moment in history, not to mention the obstacles involved by falling in love with a white woman. After finishing this read I must say I’m inspired to visit the National Museum of the American Indian, especially considering it’s just a 15 minute drive from my apartment!

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Traveling the Winds of Time

One of my favorite aspects of any time travel story is discovering the rules of time travel which the author has chosen for their world. Will it be like Outlander, in which the events of the past are firmly set in stone? In these works we usually find the attempts of our characters to change certain events will instead directly cement the circumstances of history. Or will we maybe see something along the lines of Back to the Future where practically everything you do has a direct impact and influence on changing the outcomes of the future? In this novel we see an interesting blend of both.

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After being dropped in 1872 by a wayward tornado, Selena seems stuck in the past with no possibility of traveling back to her own time. She knows the history surrounding the fate of Dylan Casey, who stands accused of murdering her ancestor Mary. However, she’s just seen that the same tornado which carried her through time is responsible for Mary’s death, not Dylan. Can Selena possibly alter the events of history to prevent Dylan’s own murder which she has seen play out in visions since she was 10? Is Dylan fated to die, or is it Selena’s destiny to save his life? You simply never know what the rules of time travel might be in any given romance.

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An Argumentative Romance

Race is an extremely important discussion in this novel, especially in how it relates to Selena and Dylan exploring a romantic relationship. Living in a small Texas town, Dylan experiences hateful glances and racial slurs practically every day. He’s had friends and lovers desert him upon discovery of his mixed heritage. He once thought Mary (Selena’s ancestor) was the woman for him, but in the end the fact he was a “half-breed” proved to be reason enough for her to give up on them. When Selena drops into town she’s unlike any other woman Dylan has ever met. She has no hesitancy about exploring a physical relationship with Dylan, which is something he simply can’t wrap his head around. Why would a white woman risk her reputation pursuing a half-breed like him?

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All in all I’d have to say that my one complaint with this book is how much of Selena and Dylan’s time together is spent arguing. I feel like Selena had a closer connection to Dylan because of the visions she’d experienced of him throughout her life rather than from their interactions with each other. The fact that Dylan is a scout for the army also means that he and Selena spend pretty long periods of time apart from each other. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I couldn’t help but feel there was some disconnect between the feelings garnered from Selena’s visions to her actual interactions with the man.

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Selena has literally been dreaming of this man forever, and when she finally has the opportunity to meet him in person he’s…well…a bit surly. She continuously reiterates the fact that his race is of no consequence to her. Selena’s actions also speak towards her dedication, especially when she gives up the luxurious comforts of his parent’s house to instead make a home for them in Dylan’s small ranch house. And yet, it still doesn’t seem to be enough to convince Dylan that she’s serious when she says his Indian heritage doesn’t bother her. He insists she could never love a “dirty savage” such as him.

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Gull Harbor by Kathryn Knight

This small coastal town harbors a deadly secret that one woman is determined to uncover. In order to do so she’ll need the help of a beloved local, her ex-boyfriend…and a ghost. Nobody ever said being a medium was easy!

What’s it About?

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When Claire Linden’s job sends her to the sleepy town of Gull Harbor, she never expects to encounter her ex-boyfriend. As a medium, the prospect of tackling a haunted house is less daunting than seeing Max Baron again. Throughout their passionate college relationship, he promised to love her forever. Then, without explanation, he abandoned her on graduation day.

Max never intended to break Claire’s heart–a cruel ultimatum forced him to disappear from her life. While he’s shocked to find her in Gull Harbor, he isn’t surprised by the bitter resentment she feels for him…or the fiery attraction that remains between them. Claire is determined to rid her temporary home of its aggressive ghost, but Max soon realizes she’s facing a danger beyond the paranormal. When Claire risks everything to help a desperate spirit, Max must race to save her–before another tragedy tears them apart forever.

First Impressions

This novel blends together a second chance romance with a supernatural murder mystery. Claire has traveled to Gull Harbor to rid a beautiful home of the spirit of a young woman who met a tragic fate within the house at the hands of a drug dealer. As if that wasn’t a trying enough itinerary, Claire quickly discovers that this quaint town also contains her ex-boyfriend, Max, who deserted her years before with no explanation. Upon first reading, you immediately assume that in addition to dealing with the awkward end to their relationship, Max and Claire must also butt heads over her supposed supernatural abilities to communicate with spirits. However, something which I found to be rather refreshing when it came to this novel is the fact that we don’t really encounter any characters who doubt Claire’s ghostly abilities. We never come across a scene where Claire must desperately try to convince someone of her morbid gift, and I must say I absolutely loved this feature. From the beloved coffee shop owner, to the devastatingly handsome Max, and eventually even the murderer of our sad ghost, it really doesn’t take much for all of them to believe in her abilities. These characters have enough drama to deal with, we don’t need to add on another element of questioning doubt to the story.

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A Meddling Father

From the opening scene of the book, we are presented with two separate mysteries. The first revolves around the complicated history between Max and Claire. The two were inseparable towards the end of their collegiate careers, and yet for some inexplicable reason Max left her just when their lives together were about to start. What reason could Max possibly have for leaving town without a word, and will Claire ever be able to forgive him when the truth is eventually revealed? Only time will tell. The fact that Max can serenade the lass with a soothing voice, avid guitar skills, and a healthy sexual appetite…well let’s just say I’m confident the two will work it out.

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We quickly discover that Claire’s father played a meddling role in ridding her life of Max all those years ago. There’s also an additional interesting ultra-side story involving Claire’s mother who has been stuck in a coma for years. While interesting, I couldn’t help but feel as though this drama revolving around her mother didn’t really fit in with the rest of the story. On the one hand I do wish we’d learned more about the dynamic between Claire and her father, but at the same time I feel like any more attention on this side story would have made the novel as a whole feel more disjointed. As it stands it’s sort of a weird limbo of not knowing enough, wanting to learn more, yet also wanting to get back to our ghostly haunting.

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A Tale of Woe

The second mystery of our novel is significantly more tragic, in that it deals with our mournful ghost with unfinished business. We discover the heartbreaking tale of a young woman named Maria who fled Mexico in the attempt to earn money which she could send to her family back home. Rather than find a land of opportunity, she is quickly used, abused, and pays the ultimate price with her life. The reality of the scenario is difficult to deal with at times, and yet I must say some of the best and most heartbreaking scenes of the entire novel deal with Maria sharing with Claire the experiences which led up to her death. The hopelessness, the fear, and even the moment when her spirit floats away to stare down at her lifeless body. But who was responsible for Maria’s death?

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Maria’s murderer is a sleazy drug dealer who once inhabited the home that Claire is now investigating. I must say, it seemed like a rather strange place for a drug dealer to be based. A cozy house in a small harbor town? It just seemed like he would have risked drawing unwanted attention to his nefarious activities seeing as he’s living in a quaint town where everybody knows everybody. Sure, access to the coast would be convenient when getting a drug delivery, or even the delivery of a young woman who unknowingly got caught up in human trafficking. At the same time though, it seems like the last thing he’d want is to possibly have a nosy neighbor coming by to deliver a pie.

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He Is Here!

This novel starts off particularly strong with the immediate tension between Max and Claire meeting again after so many years apart, especially considering their awkward end. Plus, you have the supernatural element on top of this where Claire is trying to connect with Maria so she can move on to a better place. While they encounter some communication difficulties at the beginning, eventually Claire discovers that Maria is lamenting the details of her death in Spanish. Once this language barrier is discovered the two ladies reach an understanding in that Claire is just trying to help Maria find peace. However, this is also the moment when the momentum of the story starts to slow down a bit.

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You’d think that once they figure out how to communicate, the truth surrounding Maria’s death would come to light fairly quickly. Instead we end up waiting around a bit for the final showdown of when Maria’s killer inevitably returns to town to try and shut up Claire’s snooping. A rather frustrating feature of the story is when the drug dealer sneaks into the house, and is momentarily scared away by Maria’s ghost. Maria proceeds to tell Claire just once in Spanish that “he is here”, and of course it had to be at a point when Claire wasn’t really paying attention. Maria then switches focus to urging Claire to find the location of her buried body, and the whole time you’re sort of yelling at Maria to re-warn Claire that the bad man is back in town.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? In hindsight I think I almost would have preferred if Max and Claire didn’t know each other upon meeting in Gull Harbor. While I did enjoy certain aspects of their history, it did open up additional side stories involving Claire’s mother and father that weren’t really fully explored. If Max was just a sexy bartender in town who helped Claire get to the bottom of the ghostly mystery haunting this old house, I think it could have lessened some of those moments where the romance and supernatural aspects seemed disjointed. That being said, I found Maria’s story to be really interesting, and while I wish Maria had been more forceful in warning Claire of the reappearance of her murderer, it did result in an exciting and worthwhile climax to the novel.

Smut Level: Max and Claire usually get intimate at his place…or even in his office! Can’t blame them for wanting to avoid a ghostly audience!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.82. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 270 Pages.

Love Comes in the Mourning by Erin Bevan

A big city girl in a small Georgia town. When house renovations are involved, you just know fun mayhem is bound to happen.

What’s it About?

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Recently divorced and down on her luck, Lesley DeLoach is determined to make a new life for herself. When she inherits her great aunt’s estate, Rosalyn Manor, her future seems to be heading in the right direction—until she sees the home’s crumbling skeleton.

Widower John Hambrice is barely keeping his construction company afloat and his children fed, so when he’s offered a job restoring the Rosalyn Manor he can’t turn it down. But the big city client with the high falutin lifestyle reminds him too much of the last time he was burned by big money.

As the summer temperatures rise, so does their attraction. He learns there’s more to the city girl than he expected, while she learns the country boy’s gruff exterior hides a heart of gold. But each has lost so much in love already…is the chance of another broken heart worth the risk?

First Impressions

My goodness ladies and gents if I have one piece of advice for you, it’s be sure to have the tissues ready before you attempt this one. Little did I know that by reading the short prologue I’d be going on an emotional roller coaster that would basically have me ugly crying by the time I got to the first chapter. This is what I get for thinking I can just nonchalantly start a new novel 15 minutes before bedtime. We open on a hospital room where John is saying his final goodbyes to his wife as she dies from cancer.

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My God, the waterworks are coming again just thinking about this scene! Definitely a sad start, but believe me when I say this book actually has some funny shenanigans thrown in as well! Those begin a year later when Lesley moves to town following her divorce, and starts renovations on the old mansion she inherited from her Aunt Myrtle. And just who do you think is selected as the contractor for this huge project? Why John of course! It’s a tale of second chances at love and starting over, even if you didn’t think you’re ready for it.

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Moving On

Lesley has moved to Georgia in an attempt to start her life over for herself. To live independently for the first time in her life following the separation from her cheating ass-hat of an ex-husband. People think she’s crazy for putting so much time and money into the decrepit old house her Aunt Myrtle left her, but she sees this potential to run her own B&B as a way to take back control in her life. She seemingly doesn’t have time for love, but upon her first consultation meeting with John it’s undeniable that something is pulling them together. Should she take a chance on this man so soon after the end of her marriage?

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As for John, he too is contemplating this immediate attraction he has towards Lesley. Not only is the woman a complete and total klutz, but John has already found and lost the love of his life to a terrible sickness. He also has his two children to think about. Getting involved with a big city girl who might give up on these crazy renovations before the week is out isn’t something he can take a chance on. Or is it? The more time these two spend together fixing up her aunt’s house, the more difficulty John has at staying away. But is he betraying the memory of his wife by essentially moving on with someone else? To quote his own inner turmoil, “…thinking about Sandra and Lesley in the same thought just seemed wrong. Completely wrong. Like he disrespected both women without even trying”. This poor man! Can I have the chance to give him a hug please?

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The Renovations From Hell

Although this novel has a decidedly sad prologue, I was surprised at the abundant amount of humor we get injected into the story line as well. Lesley is far from a HGTV star, and seemingly trips over everything. That being said, this woman has dedication, and she’s no quitter. John quickly recognizes the fight in her, and he becomes determined as well to help her through this renovation.

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A large portion of the novel is spent focusing on John and Lesley within the confines of the house, working and sweating away on getting the house in tip-top shape. However, every once in a while we also get to see the various personalities of the locals, and they added just as much hilarity to the story as the bickering between John and Lesley. Heck, they even hold town hall meetings à la Gilmore Girls. What’s not to love here? And although the novel starts off with Lesley as an outsider to this small little corner of the world, with time we see how they start to adopt her as one of their own. It’s pretty touching to see this whole town rally together to support someone they once saw as an outsider.

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An Unexpected Romance

They tried to fight it as much as possible, but we all knew that eventually John and Lesley would end up in bed together. And it’s so delightful when they do. However, something I wasn’t expecting is that this novel also presents us with a little historical romance as well. Soon after arriving in the house, Lesley locates some journal entries from when her Aunt Myrtle was a teenager which recount a passionate romance she had with a poor artist who was traveling through town. I must say the author did an amazing job at weaving together these two romances; one contemporary and one historical. We see that there are corresponding themes between the romances, such as learning to take a risk in life, as well as opening up and taking a chance on a stranger.

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Unfortunately, things are a bit more depressing when it comes to the aunt’s story, mainly because we know from the get-go that she won’t get her happily ever after, no matter how much we cross our fingers in the hopes that she will. When the story opens we are told that Aunt Myrtle lived her life as a recluse, never marrying or having any children. In addition, as Lesley researches more about this artist Myrtle fell in love with, she mentions early on that he only became famous after his untimely death. Sooooo…we all know this won’t end well! That being said, having these brief journal entries interspersed throughout the novel still created a sense of anticipation in that you wondered how it would all come together, even though in a way we knew how it was going to end.

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The Warm and…Depressies?

Although I really really enjoyed this unique inclusion of a historical romantic story line, I must say I wasn’t thrilled with the timing of how it all ended. Essentially, the novel ends with a happily ever after between John and Lesley, and then in the epilogue we read one last sad journal entry which ultimately closes the book on our historical romance. It’s quite a jarring juxtaposition to see that while John and Lesley took a chance on finding new love after their first loves ended, Aunt Myrtle took no such chance. She chose to live out the rest of her life with just the memory of this one great love.

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I almost wish these journal entries had provided us with the conclusion to aunt Myrtle’s story at maybe the halfway or 3/4 point in the novel. Instead, our book closes on both an incredible high and rather depressing low. Get the tissues out again folks! I found myself thinking about this ending a few days after finishing the book, as you’re sort of caught in an emotional limbo. You want to celebrate the fact that John and Lesley found happiness with each other, but at the same time you’re stuck thinking about poor Aunt Myrtle and her artist. Instead of ending the book with the warm and fuzzies, it sort of felt like the warm and…depressies.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: A beautiful stand-alone.

Should you read it? This book will have you experiencing almost every range of the emotional spectrum. From a devastatingly sad start, to a quirky and funny middle, and a romantic finish at the end. While slightly predictable, there’s moments of suspense and the exploration of faith. It’s a great read if you’re debating between a contemporary or historical romance, as you sort of get both mixed in together! My one piece of advice would be to start this book when you have enough time to get a few chapters into it so that you can get beyond the initial sadness of the death of John’s wife. It’s an emotionally heartbreaking start, but you’ll soon find yourself smiling at the sexy flirtations between John and Lesley. Trust me!

Smut Level: When a hurricane is blowing into town you just know what that means. Sex in the rain!!! Or at least, sex starting in the rain before stumbling indoors. And we get some delightful moments of being pushed up against a wall of course. Classic!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 300 Pages.

The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked by Jamila Jasper

Well if that title doesn’t catch your attention…then I don’t know what will!

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This should have been easy.
Hide out from my ex in Omaha while helping an old woman on her ranch.
One problem…
Her son Kurt O’Connor.
I should have known better than to get involved.
He’s tall, a pillar of muscle, icy blue eyes… and cocky as h*ll!
He doesn’t just want my body.
He wants all of me.
I must resist.

First Impressions

I first heard about this book in the immediate aftermath of the #cockygate controversy. For those of you romance readers and writers out there who aren’t familiar with the issue, I’d say it’s definitely worth a quick Google search. I think we can also agree that the concept of trademarking the word “cocky” for use in a romance novel title is rather…cray cray. This novel was initially published under the name Cocky Cowboy, but in the wake of #cockygate it received a well-deserved title upgrade to The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked. I must admit I was pretty stoked to support this cause and author. The novel starts off with all of the elements for a great read, including a strong African-American female lead, a mysterious crime on a remote Nebraska ranch, and even a cocky cowboy or two! Unfortunately I can’t say the story completely came together for me, and I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed when all was said and done. Let’s take a closer look at the details!

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An Impeccable Start

This novel starts off with an intriguing story that pulls you in with its suspense and intrigue. It opens on Nicki, a 45-year-old private detective seeking refuge on a ranch in the wide-open plains of Omaha after fleeing her abusive husband back East. However, she’s not just using this ranch as a stepping stone to get her life back on track. There have been some strange goings-on happening at this ranch in the middle of nowhere, including a howling nightly apparition which is subsequently followed by the slaughter of the ranch’s sheep. The ranch owner allows Nicki to stay on her property in the hopes that she’ll be able to help get to the bottom of this mystery.

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Seeing this big city girl adjust to life on a small ranch definitely sparks your interest, and you can’t help but admire this woman for taking such a huge risk in escaping out from under the controlling thumb of her abusive ex-husband. The fact that she also decides to find pleasure for herself by exploring a sexual relationship with Kurt, the eldest son of the ranch owner, makes you root for her all the more to find happiness. As the story progresses you definitely wonder who might be wreaking havoc on such a seemingly innocent family, but we also start to see some missteps when it comes to the execution of the plot.

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A Lackluster Finish

First of all, I couldn’t help but question Nicki’s prowess as a private detective. Considering she’s there to help solve a mystery, I was surprised to find that asking questions of the ranch owner and other witnesses was seemingly never too high on her priority list. When she did manage to ask them a few questions they were mysteriously cryptic in their responses, and they remained continuously closed off and secretive to her inquiries. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t understand why she would bother putting with with this secretive family when she’s there trying to help them. If it were me and they insisted on staying so close-lipped I would’ve just said, “See ya! Hire Scooby-Doo and the gang if you want help uncovering the true identity of this masked culprit. I’m done!”

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While the mystery of the ranch pulls you in at the start, unfortunately this story just continued to lose momentum as the novel progressed. It was sort of like a puzzle that was missing a few pieces to form a complete picture. The motive behind the ranch haunting was kiiiiiiiind of mentioned at the very end, but I feel like we never uncovered all the reasons why the ranch was a target in the first place. There are many other aspects of the story which sort of drop off and questions which are left unanswered. Even the fate of one of our main characters (who gets hit by a car!) is never fully revealed. This book started with us wondering who was terrorizing the ranch, and while we eventually uncover who that person was, in the end I felt like I had even more questions than I did when the novel commenced.

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Series: I kind of wish this was a series, if only to learn what actually went down in this one.

Should you read it? I reaaaaaaally wanted to like this book. It starts off so strong, but unfortunately all of the various plot points kind of fall apart by the end. If I had read this as a first draft I think it would have had a lot of exciting promise, but as a final product it could have used some more time and attention bringing everything together. There were also a number of spelling errors that were kind of distracting. When I purchased this book it was just $2.99 on Amazon, and considering what it stood for in terms of #cockygate I think it was still money well spent even though I can’t say it’s the best cohesive read.

Smut Level: Nicki and Kurt always seem to start things off up against a wall. This quickly progresses to Nicki on her back with Kurt’s head between her legs. Gotta appreciate the convenience that Kurt’s mom and brother always seem to be off “in town” when these seductive moments take place!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Jamila Jasper Romance. 479 Pages.

The Search by Nora Roberts

This is a tale of intrigue, murder, and a copy cat killer on the loose. And yet, I must say I found one of the most disturbing scenes in this novel to revolve around a soft drink. At one point a friend of our main character goes over to her house and is offered a cold beverage, at which point the friend requests a Coca-Cola. Our female lead responds that she just has Pepsi. Diet Pepsi. And the friend…proceeds…to drink it. Now, whether you prefer Coke or Pepsi I think we can all view this scene as an affront to human nature! You can’t just flip flop between the two!! Let alone accept diet when you wanted regular (for the record Coca-Cola is the best).

What’s it About?

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To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life—a quaint house on an island off Seattle’s coast, a thriving dog-training school and a challenging volunteer job performing Canine Search and Rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare. Several years ago, Fiona was the only survivor of the Red Scarf Killer, who shot and killed Fiona’s cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude necessary to rebuild her life. But all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He’s an intensely private wood artist and the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy named Jaws. As Fiona embarks on training Jaws, and Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona’s life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the woman who slipped out of his hands.

First Impression

This novel presents us with a rather odd blend of romantic comedy and murder mystery. On the one hand, we have Fiona, our strong-willed dog trainer who happens to find love with a new client who is having trouble with a rambunctious puppy. On the flip side, a killer has his sights set on Fiona, as she escaped from the clutches of this copycat’s mentor years before. I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of disorienting to be laughing at the crazy antics of our untrained puppy while also remaining fearful of the evil we know is lurking in the background. Personally I felt the novel focused a bit too much on the light-hearted romance aspect. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a cute romantic comedy, and it was refreshing at times to be presented with another funny furry shenanigan after a rather brutal murder scene. However, it was also jarring to have so many cute scenes, and then suddenly switch gears to a short chapter involving our demented killer. In my opinion, the novel would have benefited from a more evened balance of romance vs. suspense.

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Give it To Me Straight

Now, I know what you all are wondering. Sure, we have a killer out there terrorizing young college females out for solitary runs through the woods. But…do any of the dogs die? Don’t lie, that’s exactly what you were wondering! Well, to all those pet lovers out there, let me take this moment to give you a brief spoiler alert so you know whether or not to give this novel a chance. When it comes to the question of whether or not any beloved canines lose their lives, the answer is…sort of. Ok, yes, a dog dies. BUT! We only hear a quick retelling of a story where a dog dies by getting shot. It’s not a dog that we develop any emotional connection to. That being said, if you’re anything like my mom, I’m sure some of you will see this as a reason to avoid this book entirely. However, trust me when I say you can get past it! The dogs in this story are adorable, strong and heroic. You might even pick up on a few training techniques, so it just might be worth the read!

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Red Scarf Killer 2

While our killer was in no means a fun character to be around, I felt that we didn’t get enough of a focus on him to truly understand his drive behind these killings. When it comes to the original killer, we are presented with a clear motive which revolves around a troubled childhood and a neglectful mother. For our copycat though, we are briefly introduced to a familial undercurrent, but the desire for fame and celebrity status apparently overrides all else. However, considering he hadn’t committed any crimes before coming into contact with this original killer, it seemed like we missed the driving force, the impetus if you will, behind why he felt the need to suddenly carry out such violent and devious crimes. Unless the true reason really was to make a name for himself. In which case…well that’s just freakin’ depressing.

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The Final Confrontation

In the midst of all our puppy training and developing romance, we know that the whole book is gearing up to a final confrontation between Fiona and the copycat killer who has slowly been making his way closer and closer to her island sanctuary. Our killer starts out his murderous spree in the exact image of his mentor, but as things progress he diverges more and more from the original killer’s teachings, and his killings become increasingly violent. Consider yourself warned that some scenes are pretty disturbingly graphic, dealing with the killer’s dark desires surrounding pain, torture, and even rape. When we finally get to the ultimate confrontation between Fiona and our copycat killer, I must say it wasn’t as climactic of a final face-off as I was expecting.

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Kind of a let down considering we spent the last 400 pages or so waiting around for it to come about. I will say though, in the end it was probably more realistic that Fiona wouldn’t be caught alone and unawares to be kidnapped by a psychotic killer for a second time in her life. Pretty much from page 1 we see how Fiona is the ultimate bad ass, trained in self-defense, and is constantly surrounded by her three loving canines who would do anything to protect her. Throughout the novel I became increasingly worried that we would ultimately be confronted with a scenario where Fiona would suddenly be found separated from her dogs, friends and new lover to be left as a sitting duck for our Red Scarf Killer. While that doesn’t happen, and our female lead does retain her bad ass status when eventually confronted with the killer, it made for a less exciting finish than I was expecting after so much build-up. In the end, the confrontation ends pretty quickly, and without much mystery or surprise.

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Series: Stand-alone.

Should you read it? Oddly enough, we probably could have removed the killer element completely from this story, and still have been left with a perfectly well-rounded romantic comedy. It was kind of bizarre to have this darker murderous element built in at such seemingly random times. In the end I’d have to say the biggest setback to this being a well-balanced suspenseful romance was the length of the novel. If it had been about 100 pages shorter, and with a handful less dog training scenes, it would have been damn-near perfect. The lead characters, both human and canine, have extremely strong and loving personalities. At times our male lead is a bit too fearful of admitting his feelings of love and commitment to Fiona, but in the end they have a special bond that even a killer can’t break.

Smut Level: You’d think it’d be tough for these two to find a moment alone, considering all the dogs constantly surrounding them. But…well that’s the benefit of a shower, now isn’t it?

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. $5.88 Hardcover Price. Berkley Publishing. 497 Pages.

White Roses in Winter by Barbara Meyers

Will one night of romance on the beach turn into a lifetime of happiness?

What’s it About?

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The princess. The pauper. And a shotgun…The only thing Jason is focused on is getting through his last year of college. But the instant attraction between him and Kerrie leads to one unforgettable night together. When Kerrie’s wealthy, overly-protective father learns she is pregnant, he arranges a temporary marriage to teach her a lesson about choices and consequences. Jason reluctantly agrees to keep his participation in the plan a secret, because it’s the only way he can safeguard his future and his family. Kerrie is blinded by her romantic fantasy and doesn’t suspect she’s been set up. Meanwhile, Jason guards his heart and vows that when Kerrie leaves with their baby, he won’t beg her to stay. Just when it seems a future together is possible, lies, betrayal and deceit threaten to separate Kerrie and Jason forever. Faced with losing each other and their baby, will their fragile bond be strong enough?

First Impressions

Based on the synopsis, I was surprised to see how this novel actually started. I figured we’d witness the initial attraction between Jason and Kerrie which ultimately lead to her ending up pregnant before the two get married. Imagine my surprise when instead we open on a pill-popping woman named Tiffany who watches on in pure disdain as Jason and Kerrie wander back to her birthday house party after a tumble on a sandy beach. She wants Jason for herself, and although Kerrie is her “friend”, she is filled with an overwhelming amount of hatred towards her for stealing her crush out from under her. Switch to the next scene, and Tiffany is pushed to the background to instead focus on Kerrie discovering her pregnancy, and the progression of her marriage to Jason.

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A unique start to be sure considering our meet-cute is introduced through the eyes of a troubled and hate-filled character. Although I must admit this was an interesting way to start off our romantic tale, I couldn’t help but feel that I missed some of the initial connection between Kerrie and Jason seeing as we never really witnessed it directly. The evening’s activities do sort of come together piecemeal throughout the rest of the novel, as we see things from both Kerrie and Jason’s point of view. However, considering this is the very first crucial introduction to their relationship, and we see it through Tiffany’s jealousy and contempt, it seems we lost some of the magic which could have helped explain why these two characters felt a connection in the first place. I guess in my humble opinion the moment didn’t receive the proper attention that it deserved considering it’s the foundation and impetus for their entire future together.

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An Unnecessary Marriage?

I found myself asking a lot of questions throughout Jason and Kerrie’s relationship, and ultimately I’m not sure they were all answered. Or at least, they left me a bit confused. The first I sort of brushed upon in my intro, which was why exactly these two came together in the first place. Neither are “beach sex” kind of people, so they must have seen something in the other which pushed them to throw their inhibitions to the wind, but again this moment never really had the focus and attention I think it deserved. Especially considering what comes next. Their marriage.

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Honestly, I’m still sort of scratching my head over this one. I understand why Kerrie wanted to keep the baby, but I don’t really understand why she felt the need to marry Jason. Couldn’t they try dating for a while? Was a ceremony really necessary? It is sort of implied the marriage was a result of family pressure, specifically from Kerrie’s father, but when he goes to speak with Jason about the prospect of marrying his daughter he openly admits he doesn’t want them to marry. After they do marry her father tries to show Kerrie how unfit Jason is as a husband, and takes some rather drastic steps in an attempt to keep them apart. The whole situation just seemed to constantly contradict itself.

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As for Jason, he acknowledges to himself that he wants to be a part of his child’s life, whether his marriage to Kerrie succeeds or fails. Yet when Kerrie first moves in after their wedding Jason actively ignores her, and tries to limit their interaction whenever possible. I just had trouble understanding the dynamic in the beginning. Wouldn’t he want to be somewhat agreeable if he plans to stay in his child’s life forever, and this is his child’s mother? That being said, I’m happy to say that eventually their tale of romance all comes together for a fantastic conclusion. You really come to root for these two to succeed as a couple, and when they finally learn how to talk to each other and open up about their feelings? Well you just wanna cheer for their success. We see how they find strength when they’re together as a unit. As a family. And nothing could possibly keep them apart.

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The Disapproving Parents

That being said, Kerrie’s mother and father certainly go to some extreme lengths to try and keep these two apart. On the one hand, I found it really difficult to understand how her parents could be so cruel in their attempt to keep Jason away from Kerrie. She’s pregnant for crying out loud, you really wanna risk upsetting her because you don’t approve of the lad? When they do manage to separate the two of them at one point in the story it’s clear how distraught Kerrie is at the separation, and yet they continue to keep her locked away from him like a defenseless animal in a cage. I feel like my parents would be too fearful of my wrath to ever pull this kind of stunt if I were to catch on to their antics.

870307_029Although I had such trouble picturing this scenario with any sense of reality to it, I must say on the other hand I could totally understand it, 100%! It really wasn’t until the very end though that it all came together for me. Throughout the whole thing I kept thinking, what kind of dick parents are these?! To keep their daughter miserable. To be so unnecessarily over-protective. But then, when father and daughter finally have their heart-to-heart conversation at the end? Man, it got to me! As a daddy’s girl, and as the baby of my own family, it finally made sense. To see the lengths two parents would go to in the hopes of protecting their baby from harm. For them to eventually go through the sad realization that she’s not a baby anymore. They have to let her go and live her life. I must say, it was a frustrating road to travel, but in the end it had the most touching and heartfelt of conclusions.

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The Intermittent Villain

Every once in a while throughout this tale of pregnancy, family drama and romance we would see an unexpected reappearance of Tiffany. Don’t tell me you forgot about her already! Our troubled “friend” of Kerrie’s who first witnessed the connection of our lovebirds, and was filled with overwhelming hatred for Kerrie at the sight of it. With every reappearance of Tiffany throughout the book we see that her feelings of ill-will and increased pill-popping is building up to something momentous. While our tale does start and end with Tiffany, thereby coming completely full-circle, I couldn’t help but feel that her villainous story-line was slightly out of place, or maybe unnecessary.

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Kerrie and Jason are dealing with enough drama for crying out loud. They’re trying to figure out how to live with each other, not to mention they have a baby on the way, and her disapproving parental units are acting up. This element of a covetous ex-friend took things slightly over the top for me. Her character definitely brought some high-level suspense to the story, but I think the story also would have felt more realistic without this component to it. Especially considering it was really hard to comprehend why Kerrie and Tiffany would have been friends for so long. Let’s just say her bouts of crazy go back quite a long time!

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone romance

Should you read it? It did take a while for Kerrie and Jason to form an emotional bond.  The scenes of them getting to know each other and playing house after their wedding drag on for a bit of an awkward pace. I also wish Kerrie’s pregnancy had been featured more prominently. While it was what brought them together at the start, the details of her being pregnant were pushed to the side that I sort of forgot she was even pregnant at times! If only they could have gone to some doctor’s appointments together, experienced some emotion at seeing that first sonogram photo, go through strange cravings, changing dress sizes, or morning sickness! While we don’t really see any of this, it’s definitely worth sticking around for the end, as this is when the magic of their relationship and Kerrie’s interactions with her parents come to the forefront.

Smut Level: Nothing too overly graphic. There is one kind of awkward scene as they get intimate while Kerrie’s breastfeeding. I feel like having a baby staring at you with big bright eyes while your lover kisses down your throat would sort of kill the mood. But hey, whatever does it for ya!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Barbara Meyers LLC. 375 Pages.