The Twelve Days of Snowball by Kristen McKanagh

A romantic Christmas inn, two stubborn yet misunderstood enemies, one precocious yet fluffily adorable kitten, and a partridge in a pear treeee!!

What’s it About?

Snowball takes her job as the “official kitty” at the Victorian B&B Inn, Weber Haus, very seriously. Greeting guests and keeping tabs on them is a full-time feline job, after all. However, being nice to Daniel Aarons is not on her to-do list. The handsome construction manager almost messed up her forever family, and she isn’t about to forgive him anytime soon . . .
 
But then someone new arrives at Weber Haus. Her name is Sophie Heidt—and she’s the B&B’s new manager. When Snowball goes missing on Sophie’s first day, Daniel, in charge of the new hotel wing, comes to her rescue by getting the cat to do what she does best: attack him.
 
It doesn’t take long for Snowball’s animal instincts to reveal that Daniel and Sophie are meant to be together. Unfortunately, Daniel keeps making a mess of things. It’s going to take some special insight and holiday cheer to bring them together. But if anyone can do it, Snowball can—even if she has to tolerate turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, and other fur-raising human traditions . . .

First Impressions

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but all it takes is one glimpse into those adorably solemn blue eyes surrounded by fluffy white fur, and I’m officially a goner. To be quite frank, if you can manage to read this book from start to finish without cracking one smile, you might just be a legitimate Grinch. This sweet, cute read will definitely put you in the holiday mood, and is the perfect read when you need a quick break from family mayhem throughout the season. There are remnants from the first book which are a delight to see again, including a portion of each chapter told from the point of view of the official troublemaking matchmaker of Weber Haus, Snowball the kitten. We get just a taste of her POV so that it remains fun and silly without venturing into eye-roll territory. Honestly, it was kind of my favorite part of each chapter when we got to see things through the eyes of such an innocent little heathen.

The other calling card of this series includes a picturesque wintery inn that we can clearly envisage in our mind’s eye, filled to bursting with the most lovable characters that are sweeter than a cup of hot chocolate. While the characters from book one remain absent for the vast majority of this read, and it was certainly easy to miss them, this absence does allow for our new primary characters of Sophie and Daniel to be featured front and center in their own right. Albeit with a familiar fluffy face to pop in every now and again to wreak havoc, yet also help these two strong personalities put their differences aside to find love during the holidays.

Former Enemies

Sophie and Daniel start things off by butting heads and essentially hating each other. Daniel is the head of a construction crew working on-site to add a new wing to this lovely small town inn, whose delays in finishing threaten to derail the bookings that Sophie is trying so hard to secure. As for Sophie, she’s our strong-willed manager who likes to keep to a schedule, and her constant questioning of Daniel’s timeline is enough to drive him mad. So we have two stubborn personalities who seemingly can’t stand to be around each other, and insist on doing everything themselves with no help from anyone. When the inn’s owners are called away to deal with a family emergency, basically leaving Sophie and Daniel to handle everything on their own, it creates the perfect environment where they can’t help but be thrown together at every turn.

I’ve got just one word for when you’re dealing with two people who can’t stand each other being forced to interact in fairly close quarters: excellent! This is the perfect example of enemies-to-lovers when it comes to Sophie and Daniel, yet we also see instances of enemies-to-friends when it comes to some of the other characters involved. Witnessing all of these distinct personalities open up and start to understand each other was pure holiday magic. From Snowball the kitten finally warming up to Daniel following her obvious disdain for him due to the events in book one, to a curmudgeonly old loner guest of the inn who opens up to share a few words of wisdom with Daniel when Sophie’s past comes back to threaten their relationship. There’s enough holiday cheer to make even the smallest of Grinch hearts grow ten sizes in delight!

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

Series: Snowball, book 2. I sincerely hope this series continues, and if it does I have a feeling we may have been introduced to a potential main leading man of a future book. If I’m right, I am so there!

Final Impressions: There’s not much else to say about this light-hearted read other than it’s as sweet as a sugar plum, doesn’t have too much drama, it’s quick and will leave a smile on your face! I actually found myself more intrigued by the fun and silly moments than the few dramatic ones. Upon first starting this book I didn’t even fully register the title of The Twelve Days of Snowball, but when we start to see all of the elements from The Twelve Days of Christmas song start to make an appearance as Sophie and Daniel’s relationship evolves, I was positively tickled pink! It was such a festive feature of the read, as you were constantly wondering how five gold rings or a plethora of milking maids would show up. This is definitely a fun read for when you’re looking to relax and be entertained throughout the holiday season.

Smut Level: A few kisses here and there, but nothing more than that. I’ll admit to being slightly disappointed we didn’t see Snowball scheme her way into forcing Sophie and Daniel underneath any mistletoe.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $9.99 Kindle Price. Kensington Books. 194 Pages.

Truly Inn Love by Amelia Foster

She’s been given a second chance at love with the man she left behind all those years ago. Will these two be able to overcome the mistakes of the past to find a future of happiness together?

What’s it About?

Life choices separated them, but fate proves they are truly in love.

Inheriting the Willow Falls Inn from their aunt and uncle was a gift the Alden sisters couldn’t pass up. With each sibling facing upheaval in their personal and professional lives, eldest sister Gavynn sees returning to the place they called home as the fresh start they all need. But the century old Victorian picks their return to show its age with broken pipes and a mess that makes Gavynn question her choices. But the real chaos comes in the form of the handyman dispatched to rescue them.

Cade Donaldson was finding a new kind of normal after his father’s heart attack. The family construction business flourished under Cade’s management while the older Donaldson recuperated and his routine gave him much needed predictability and comfort. That is until the girl who left Cade without so much as a goodbye came crashing back into his life without warning.

The adolescent bond they formed lingers under the surface, but ghosts they each battle threaten the new future hanging just within reach.

First Impressions

This is a delightfully sweet, light-hearted second chance romance that you’ll want to be sure and bring along on your next beach vacation. Gavynn and Cade were high school sweet hearts with a connection that went right to the heart, but that all ended when Gavynn left for college, breaking up with Cade in a hand-written letter that was bare as to the reasons why. When Gavynn and her sisters move back to Willow Falls to fix up and reopen an inn left to them by their late aunt and uncle, it’s not long before their paths cross with contractor Cade. The love of her life. And my goodness does it sound like this man grew up good. Some chin scruff and a tool belt on top of a killer smile, with a distinct tendency to waggle his eyebrows when he’s feeling cheeky. Seriously, gotta consider the whole moving to a small town to open a business in need of repairs…thing.

Realistic Characters

Something I really appreciated about this read is how mature our two main characters could be when it came to approaching the subject of their past. Let’s face it, Gavynn’s actions were pretty unforgivable, and it could have been so easy for Cade to give her the cold shoulder for however long he wanted to over her past mistake. And yet, aside from some initial awkwardness at their unexpected reconnection over a burst water pipe, for the most part these two realize pretty quickly that the feelings they had for each other never fully went away. More importantly, these feelings are still strong enough to be worth exploring after all this time apart. Cade also allows Gavynn to explain her reasons for leaving on her own terms, when she is good and ready to do so. He never demanded an explanation, and I was pleasantly surprised that the author presented us with a reason that was quite easy for us to understand and sympathize with.

The Bliss and Blunders of Family

Family plays a critical role in the progression of events for our characters in this read. After all, it was dedication to and a love of family which brought Gavynn and her sisters back to their aunt and uncle’s inn, as well as the reason they were willing to pour their life savings into such a risky venture. However, family is also what prompted Gavynn to call things off with Cade when she headed off to school years before. She saw the downfall of her own family at the hands of her irresponsible and selfish parents. They married and had children far before they were ready, and were so enamored with each other that they had no qualms about leaving their three daughters behind with relatives so they could go gallivanting off on their own adventures. Gavynn was abandoned, yet also taken in by family, and she feared that she and Cade were at risk of falling into the same trap as her parents. Only by leaving Cade behind could she live and experience life on her own, and at the end of the day she found her way back to him when the time was right.

An intense fear of losing family is also what causes Cade to almost screw things up once again for this young couple. After his father’s heart attack one year ago during which Cade had to perform life-saving CPR on his dad, Cade subsequently moved in with his parents to always be close by should his father take a turn for the worst. The fear of involving himself so closely with Gavynn that he might be absent when his parents need him most has him act rashly towards his relationship with her, merely out of love for his family. Family was an important theme to be sure, as well as fighting hard to correct mistakes which were made with the best of intentions.

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

Series: Inn Love, book 1. I was looking forward to reading this book. I am absolutely giddy with delight at the prospect of reading book two. The fact I don’t have it at the ready on my Kindle is pure torture.

Final Impressions: This is a cute read with very little conflict, as we instead focus on Cade and Gavynn learning how to love each other again. It was refreshing to see them act as mature adults who have the same hopes, fears and propensity to flub up sometimes, just like the rest of us! They were relatable, personable characters, and even though we didn’t have a ton of drama we did still cover some very poignant discussions on the importance and tribulations of family. Cade and Gavynn were an entertaining couple, but the dynamic between the Alden sisters simply stole the show. I can’t wait for them to get books of their own!

Smut Level: Cade might live with his parents, and Gavynn with her sisters, but that doesn’t mean these two can’t find some time alone to rock each other’s worlds.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Sweet Heat Books. 166 Pages.

Hearts Reclaimed by Ayla Asher

This small town romance is a must read for your next beach vacation. Or mountain cabin retreat. Or a standard Tuesday night. Just read it!

What’s it About?

Two weary souls find each other against all odds…

Ashlyn Rivers left her cheating fiancé behind and moved to Ardor Creek to revamp her life. Done with men in general, she has plenty to focus on, like building her new business and renovating her house for the local haunted homes tour. Falling in love is definitely not on the agenda.

Scott Grillo lost his family in a tragic accident several years ago. Still processing the loss, he throws himself into his contracting business, pushing away the loneliness and heartache.

When Ashlyn blazes into Scott’s life, he turns down her request to renovate her house, vowing to squelch the desire she stirs deep inside. But Ashlyn is a force to be reckoned with and Scott finds himself longing for her embrace each day she remains in Ardor Creek.

Can these two disillusioned souls reclaim their hearts and choose to love again?

First Impressions

In a word, this book is fantabulous. I finished it in one day it was that good. The first thing I noticed almost immediately with this read was that it made my face hurt from the constant grin I had plastered on my face, starting at about page three. It was quickly evident that this was a small fictional town I wish I could move to as soon as possible, and have a BBQ with all the delightful town residents you can’t help but fall in love with. Above all of that though, the two lead characters in this read have a chemistry that electrifies you through the page. A friendly flirtatiousness that makes you want them to rip each other’s clothes off, yet also drag out the delicious playfulness for as long as possible. I was thrilled that throughout this entire read, while we see Scott and Ashlyn’s relationship evolve from client/contractor to friends to lovers to something more intimate, they never lost their sense of playfulness with each other. It’s a detail that will make your toes curl and keep that smirk of satisfaction constantly on your face.

In the Face of Tragedy

Now don’t let that introduction fool you, this book isn’t all light-hearted flirtations and a sexy shirtless contractor on top of a ladder…although both of those details are certainly present! We do get a few serious notes built in, especially as Scott confronts the idea of opening his heart fully to Ashlyn as their relationship progresses, while also balancing this against the loss of his wife and baby daughter years before. And I would say this was a concept that the read as a whole manages with absolute perfection: balance. When I first read the synopsis and learned that Scott was still struggling with the death of his loved ones I was concerned that we’d be dealing with an overwhelming emotional read.

And while there are certainly some emotional scenes that left a tear or two in my eye as Scott opened up to Ashlyn about the tragic loss of his family and his fears at allowing Ashlyn into every corner of his heart, these emotionally heavier scenes were intertwined so beautifully with the scenes of playfulness and sensuality between Scott and Ashlyn that I was never left feeling the book leaned too heavily one way or another. It would have been easy for Scott to have just been all ready for a new relationship, and for the author to simply push the harsher realities of that emotional confrontation to the background. But that doesn’t happen here. On the flip-side, it would have been easier to rely more heavily on the inner struggle Scott faced in moving on with someone new, and leave the comedy bits out entirely. The fact the author could so seamlessly blend the two themes together made it feel even more reminiscent of true life and love being filled with the most spectacular highs juxtaposed against tragic lows. Again, a beautiful balance.

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

Series: Ardor Creek, book 1. I had to force myself not to immediately dive into book two! It’s a rule of mine to always try and break up the books in a series with another read.

Final Impressions: Read…this…book. It’s a five-star read that presents us with fun, sexiness and even a bit of drama. Something I appreciated even more than the smile this book left on my face was how our characters reacted to the drama with which they were presented. Every reaction felt entirely authentic. Nothing was overblown for the sake of unnecessary drama. Their reactions seemed like those I might have, or someone I know might have, once again lending an air of reality and balance to the read as a whole.

Smut Level: In a way this book sort of reads as a romantic comedy, but that doesn’t mean our characters avoid the subject of sex. They’re more than happy to explore each other’s sexual fantasies and even enjoy a good pounding out on the front porch.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. 168 Pages.

If You Knew by Barbara Meyers

Where are your kids? Turns out they’re at school, but they have a former porn star as a teacher’s aide, and a reformed junkie as a guidance counselor. The beauty of this novel is it will show you why there’s no problem with that situation.

What’s it About? 

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In a town filled with lies, is there room for one more? When widow Devonny Campbell arrives in tiny Red Bud, Iowa, she is determined to make a new life for herself and the child she carries. But when her former career in adult films is uncovered, she becomes the catalyst for a nasty political campaign which creates a tornado of controversy. High school coach and guidance counselor Luke Bradshaw knows one strong wind will collapse the house of cards he’s built to contain his demons. He’s falling hard for Devonny in spite of her past. And she might be what trips him up and exposes everything he’s kept hidden. But Devonny and Luke aren’t the only citizens of Red Bud forced to face the judgment of their peers. As the campaign turns vicious, deeply-buried truths are revealed and lifelong relationships are shattered. Can Devonny and Luke stick together? Or will too much truth tear them apart?

First Impressions

There’s nothing better than a romance novel that shatters any of your preconceived expectations, and this novel succeeds in doing that in abundance. The author does a fantastic job at introducing us to these characters in a somewhat slow and natural way. Devonny is a newcomer to the city of Red Bud, trying to find a peaceful haven after losing the love of her life, and locate a place to raise the child she’s just recently found out she’s going to have. Then you have Luke, a friendly local who is more than happy to welcome Devonny to this small Iowa town. He also can’t deny the attraction he feels for this quiet woman who also has a spark about her. At first, they seem completely “normal”, and silly me I thought this book would primarily tell a story of Devonny learning how to move on from her former love to find a romance with someone new. In a way, that’s true. However, we also slowly start to discover that these two characters have some unexpected surprises to share about their respective pasts. Little did I know this book would make me confront my own biases and prejudices, and learn the importance of acknowledging that who a person is now is often more important than who they once were.

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The Porn Star and the Junkie

As I previously eluded to, the author gives us a somewhat slow introduction to Devonny and Luke. It doesn’t open up right away with the description of a former porn actress moving to Iowa from LA, soon thereafter meeting a dashing man who also just so happens to be a reformed junkie. Instead, we start off seeing how they are both very friendly, caring people who just want to live a happy life. We’re rooting for them to find happiness with each other, and you can’t help but describe their burgeoning romance as “cute”. Devonny is obviously moving on from the tragic loss of her husband, Jack, to a quick illness, but she realizes that he wouldn’t have wanted her to wallow away in sadness. Especially with a baby on the way. Sure, her romance with Luke might seem a bit quick considering the recent death of her husband, but their chemistry feels so natural you sincerely believe they’re a perfect fit for each other. Luke must learn that Jack will always remain a part of Devonny’s life through their child, and Devonny has some of her own introspection to deal with in order to no longer see her feelings for Luke as a betrayal of the love she felt for her husband.

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Only after we see the base of their relationship, as well as the true nature of their characters, do we peel away at some of the details of their past. Devonny appeared in a number of adult films with her husband, and Luke has struggled with a history of alcohol and drugs. I’ll admit, when we first uncover the details of their pasts the irony was not lost on me over the fact that they both work in a high school with children. Doesn’t seem like the most thorough of background checks, amiright? But here is where I truly appreciated this novel. Why should we pass judgement on them for something they’d done in the past? It’s not like Devonny is teaching these kids how to give a good blow job for crying out loud, she’s tutoring them in math! As for Luke, why can’t he use the story of his triumph over drugs as something for these kids to admire? They’ve both been on a journey in life, and they’ve each had a few unexpected bumps and curves along the way. When we look at who they are today we find that they’re stronger because of the difficulties they’ve traversed in the past. Not to mention…we also learn they aren’t the only ones in this wholesome little town with secrets.

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The Lie of Middle America? 

A seemingly perfect town full of good-natured, respectable citizens. Sure, on the surface. But what happens when we look beneath the polite smiles, and look at the truth of what’s hiding underneath. As it turns out, it’s really a town full of secrets and lies. Let’s face it, we all have certain aspects of ourselves or our pasts which we’d prefer to keep hidden from others. Nobody’s perfect, and the citizens of this small Iowa town might like to think they live in an oasis that espouses family values, but it’s all an illusion. In a way, it was an illusion for Devonny as well when she chose to settle here, hoping that her previous career as an adult film actress wouldn’t become widely known to her neighbors, and she could find the perfect place to set up a home. Some secrets are more potent than others, including cheating spouses and hidden sexualities, but what’s most surprising is the fact that some of these people with their hidden lies are the same ones to judge Devonny when her past comes to light.

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We’ve all heard a variation of some quote or another about why this is the epitome of hypocrisy. Don’t judge others lest ye be judged. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Well, the people in this town basically live in a glass dome, and they’re apparently in the mood to chuck a few boulders in Devonny’s direction. We question if Devonny will be able to remain strong in the face of so much hatred, or if she’ll choose the easy way out and simply escape to another town where nobody knows her past. Let’s just say she’s not one to give up. She’s a fighter, but she’s also poised, friendly, and not one to lose her cool when being accused of corrupting the youth of Red Bud. Eventually Devonny realizes she has a number of allies on her side, and all of them take it upon themselves to show this town that it can be easy to judge someone for what they may have done in the past, but it’s more about how that past influenced who they are today.

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The Root of the Problem

“We all have a journey…And everyone has mountains and valleys and stumbling blocks. But there’s a purpose in everything. It isn’t always good versus bad. Everything isn’t white and black.” This is where the author shocked me yet again by applying this logic to our supposed “villains”. There are a number of key characters who seem determined to run Devonny out of town. They are characterized as the bad guys you hate to hate, who seemingly have no redeeming qualities. While we root for Devonny and Luke to succeed, we simultaneously root for these characters to fail. However, if we apply the same moral of the story to our villainous characters as well, we learn to acknowledge that their determination to see Devonny ruined “isn’t always good versus bad.” Just like Devonny and Luke, our hateful characters have pasts and motives of their own. By the end of the novel I wouldn’t say we necessarily come to love these characters who wanted to ruin Devonny’s chance of happiness in Red Bud, but we come to understand that everyone has a history of their own which influences the decisions they make in life. Sometimes they go down the wrong road, but that doesn’t mean they can never find their way back.

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

Series: Red Bud, Iowa, Book 1. I’m intrigued to continue on with this series. This first novel was full of engaging characters, and it’d be interesting to see what story each of them might have to tell.

Final Impressions: This book will really make you rethink how you look at other people, and cause you to pause before you pass judgement on others. The beauty of the moral lesson presented in this romance is that it never feels like you’re being preached to, or made to feel guilty for having those judgments. At times it’s simply our first reaction, but the true test is whether or not we can look beyond those first impressions to see the true nature of a person. It also makes us look at ourselves, and in a way admit our own faults when we try to find faults in others. This was definitely more than the simple “moving on from tragedy” romance I was expecting. We really saw a social message built in as well that I wasn’t expecting, but in the end appreciated.

Smut Level: Two words folks. Pregnancy hormones. Nothing too over-the-top erotic, but you’ll fan yourself a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Sandalstring Productions. 327 Pages