Tag: 4.25 Reviews

Guest Review: The Fixer by HelenKay Dimon

Posted January 11, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: The Fixer by HelenKay DimonReviewer: Jen
The Fixer by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #1
Published by Avon
Publication Date: December 27th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 384
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four-stars

He’s known only as Wren. A wealthy, dangerously secretive man, he specializes in making problems disappear. A professional fixer, Wren hides a dark past, but his privacy is shattered when Emery Finn seeks him out—and what she wants from him is very personal.

Some people disappear against their will. Emery’s job is to find them and bring closure. Wren is the only person who can help solve Emery’s own personal mystery: the long-ago disappearance of her cousin. Just tracking down the sexy, brooding Wren is difficult enough. Resisting her body’s response to him will prove completely impossible.

Anonymity is essential to Wren’s success, yet drawn by Emery’s loyalty and sensuality, he’s pulled out of the shadows. But her digging is getting noticed by the wrong people. And as the clues start to point to someone terrifyingly close, Wren will have to put his haunted past aside to protect the woman he loves.

Emery Finn’s cousin disappeared when they were kids, and Emery has dedicated much of her life to finding her. She comes across the name “Wren” in connection with the case and sets about tracking him down, a task much easier said than done until Wren himself steps in to convince her to stop asking questions. He requires privacy because he is a highly sought after “fixer” who makes problems disappear for the wealthy and powerful, but somehow he just can’t stay away from Emery. He starts to help her against his better judgment, and when dangerous things start happening he goes all in!

This book really worked for me, mostly because of Wren! He is domineering, autocratic, and amazing at everything he does, but he’s a little more than your average alphahole. He doesn’t have great social skills and struggles to relate to others beyond a few long-time friends. Even better, he KNOWS he’s kind of weird and autocratic and wants to make better choices when it comes to Emery. Now, he doesn’t always succeed, and he very seriously oversteps at one point, but what redeems him for me is that after he’s done instinctively reacting in the moment, he pauses and checks in with Emery before he goes any farther. He wants to fix his mistakes and respect her autonomy and wishes.  We also meet his good friend Garrett (who better get his own book some day!), and the fact that Garrett clearly trusts Wren but also acknowledges that he sometimes oversteps gives the reader permission to do the same. And crucially, Emery doesn’t let him get away with that shit. Right from the start, she won’t stand for bossiness, but she also doesn’t hold his awkwardness or lack of social skills against him. She brings light and energy to his pretty dark life. I loved them together. They also have some great sexual tension as they circle each other and try to decide how much they can trust the other. Yum!

The relationship is what made this book a winner, because the rest of the book didn’t exactly blow me away. The mystery is a bit of a stretch, and the villain was kind of odd. There also aren’t many details given about Wren’s work. What precisely does a “fixer” do? You get the sense it’s somewhat unsavory but not exactly bad either, but that’s about it. While we find out about Wren’s background, we don’t really get much about his current life. 

I liked this one a lot, and I can’t wait to read more of this series.

Grade: 4.25 out of 5

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

four-stars

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Guest Review: Bayou Hero by Marilyn Pappano

Posted November 3, 2016 by Jen in Reviews | 9 Comments

Guest Review: Bayou Hero by Marilyn PappanoReviewer: Jen
Bayou Hero by Marilyn Pappano
Published by Harlequin
Publication Date: January 6th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 288
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four-half-stars

In this book from USA TODAY bestselling author Marilyn Pappano, one family's scandal is responsible for a rising body count…

Even for an experienced NCIS agent like Alia Kingsley, the murder scene is particularly gruesome. Someone killed in a fit of rage. Being the long-estranged son of the deceased, Landry Jackson quickly becomes a person of interest. But does Landry loathe his father as much as the feds suspect?

It's clear to Alia that Landry Jackson has secrets, but his hatred for his father isn't one of them. Alia feels sure Landry isn't the killer, but once more family members start dying, she's forced to question herself. What if the fierce attraction between her and Landry has compromised Alia's instincts?

I haven’t been able to get this book out of my head for DAYS, and I’ve been sitting on this review, trying to balance my desire to tell someone about this ambitious book with my uncertainty about how I really feel about parts of it. This is a good book…possibly even a great book, but it’s complicated, so this review is gonna be long!

Let me start out with a huge trigger warning: This book deals with the rape of children. There is nothing graphic, but this issue is THERE in a painful and persistent way through much of the book. So, take care!

Alia is an NCIS investigator assigned to look into the murder of an Admiral in New Orleans. He and some of his household staff were brutally stabbed. His son Landry absolutely hated his father, so he is naturally a suspect. When other people connected to the family start showing up dead, too, Alia and Landry start to realize the killings are connected to the family’s dirty secrets.

What did I like?

  • Alia is tough and smart and I want to know her in real life! I love her dedication to her job, her occasional gallows humor, her good-natured bickering with her ex husband, her quiet support for Landry, and her love for food. She’s also part Vietnamese and her heritage actually seems like a part of her life, not just window dressing. She brings a much needed lightness to the book, and I loved her.
  • Even though we never “meet” Alia’s family in person I loved them too, based on a couple short phone conversations and what we know of them from Alia. I thought it was so important to get an example of a healthy family (and a healthy military family, at that) to contrast with the sick dynamics of Landry’s family. Alia’s parents aren’t perfect, but they love her unconditionally and support their daughter in her endeavors without trying to be overprotective or bossy. Hooray for functional families!
  • It’s set in New Orleans and uses that city to excellent advantage. The sticky heat, the hidden wealth behind the wrought iron gates, the amazing food, the tourists who come without seeing the real city…all of it is evocative without being some kind of caricature of New Orleans.
  • There is no instalust, no lightning bolts from the sky, no uncontrollable pants feelings. Alia and Landry act like two normal people who at first can’t trust each other for very legitimate reasons. The attraction builds slowly, and even once they start spending social time together they move slowly because of Alia’s job investigating Landry’s dad’s murder. (The romance does still move pretty fast in terms of actual days, but in page numbers it’s well paced.)
  • THEY DON’T CREATE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST BY SLEEPING TOGETHER! Yes I am yelling because I am not sure I can think of another romantic suspense I’ve read, and I read a lot of them, where the solution that Alia and Landry use here has ever come up. I won’t tell you what the solution is, but it is mature and responsible and why the fuck have I never seen it before?
  • I haven’t mentioned Landry yet. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him too, though maybe not as much as Alia. What I did appreciate about him is that he isn’t afraid of his feelings for Alia. He knows he feels something serious for her, and he knows he wants it to be long term. He isn’t a closed off, broody a-hole, which would have been the easy route to take with this character.

And now for some very spoilery discussion, because this gets at the heart of why I wasn’t sure exactly how to feel about parts of this book.

As a child, Landry was repeatedly raped by a group of his father’s male friends for years before escaping with the help of a distant relative. The friends actually traded their kids around as sex objects; Landry’s younger sister and all the male and female children of the friends were also raped routinely. It is completely horrifying and disgusting, and reading about it made me nauseous. There aren’t any graphic descriptions at all, but Landry’s pain is excruciating to read about.

I’m always leery of books that use rape as a backstory or sensational plot, and it’s hard to escape the fact that the rapes do add a level of sensationalism to the story, although I think the author is careful to portray it as the awful crime it is. On the other hand, there are almost no romances where the hero is the one who was raped, and I worry it’s because authors and readers think it makes the hero seem less manly. So perhaps this is a story that is important to tell, if it’s done properly.

Part of why I hesitated to write this review was because I was going over all the details in my mind searching for mishandling of this topic. Overall, I do think the sexual abuse was handled sensitively. Landry certainly has issues, but he is able to have a largely functional life and build relationships with other people. The book makes it crystal clear he doesn’t do it on his own, though. He needs years of therapy with a skilled doctor, and even then he is still struggling with certain things. He has heartbreaking moments where he feels ashamed or angry at himself, though he talks himself down from those moments by recalling his therapist’s advice. And most importantly, Alia and the other characters in the book don’t treat Landry as less-than because of his trauma. To my untrained eyes, it felt respectfully handled. 

So why my complicated feelings? Most of my hesitation was due to the killer. I could see it coming, and I didn’t like it. The killer had their own very serious mental health issues, which were less gracefully handled. Was it too cartoonish? Was it a cheap “crazy killer” cop out? Was it just there for sensationalism? I’m honestly not sure, but I do know that I didn’t want that character to be the killer. While Alia and Landry get a happy ending, nobody else really does.

To be honest, I am impressed with Pappano and Harlequin for even trying to tell a story like this, because I sure as hell did not expect this when I picked up the book! This was much deeper, more nuanced, and more gut wrenching than your average category romance. While I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about some elements, I am not sorry I read it. 

Grade: 4.25 out of 5

four-half-stars

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Review: To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne

Posted October 20, 2016 by Rowena in Reviews | 3 Comments

Review: To Love and to Cherish by Lauren LayneReviewer: Rowena
To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne
Series: Wedding Belles #3
Also in this series: From This Day Forward, To Have and to Hold, For Better or Worse
Published by Pocket Books
Publication Date: October 18th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 320
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four-stars

Sex and the City meets The Wedding Planner in The Wedding Belles, a contemporary and witty romance series about three high-powered New York City women who can plan any wedding—but their own.

Alexis Morgan has spent the past eight years devoted to turning her tiny start-up into Manhattan’s premiere wedding planning company, The Wedding Belles. Now that her business is thriving, it’s time to turn towards her much neglected personal life, and Alexis approaches her relationships like she does everything else: with a plan. Not a part of that plan is Logan Harris, the silent partner in the Belles, and the one person who’s been there for her since the very beginning. But Alexis needs someone fun, and Logan’s all business, all the time—except when a late night at the office ends with an unexpected kiss that leaves the usually cool and together Alexis reeling.

Logan has lusted after Alexis since the day he walked into the tiny Harlem apartment that used to double as her office. But the ambitious wedding planner has always been untouchable...until now. Alexis has made it clear that she’s on the dating market—and equally clear that he’s not in the running. But when Alexis finds herself in need of a date for her sister’s last minute wedding in Florida, Logan knows it’s the perfect time to show Alexis that there’s more to him than numbers and spreadsheets—and beneath the pinstripes and glasses lies a hot-blooded heartthrob. As Florida’s sultry days turn into even hotter nights, Logan’s out to convince Alexis that the fling of a lifetime could just maybe turn into forever...

As soon as this book hit my inbox, I was all smiles because…finally. Alexis and Logan. It feels like I’ve been waiting FOREVER for this book even though it’s only been a few months. That’s how anxious I was for this book.

Logan has had a serious thing for Alexis Morgan for years. His love for her has gone unnoticed for all of those years and in this book, Logan is fed up. He’s fed up with Alexis being blind to him as a man and he’s fed up with loving someone who doesn’t seem to love him back. Changes need to be made and things need to be shaken up and Logan is more than ready to toss things up in the air and see where they land….especially after he gets a call from his father with the news that he is going to retire and Logan needs to pack his shit up and come home to take over.

Logan knows that he’s stayed away from home for all of these years because of Alexis. She wasn’t ready for him and his feelings back then but things are different now. Logan needs to make some life plans and he needs to figure out where Alexis fits into those plans. Will he continue to be her accountant or will she come to realize that they were meant to be together forever.

Alexis’ past has caught up to her and running away from it and them isn’t a choice anymore. She spent so much of the last few years trying to move on from the hurts of the past that she didn’t realize how big and strong those walls around her are. Things are changing and closing in on her and she really can’t handle much more change so when Logan, the most constant companion and friend she’s had in the last 8 years starts changing their rules on her, she’s really thrown for a loop. She’s kept Logan at arms length because the risk of losing him was high and she couldn’t bear to lose him. The business has always been there for her and has always been the priority but over the course of her story, you see her realize that while the business will always be a priority, it didn’t have to be the only priority.

Lauren Layne has fast become my go to author for fun contemporary romances. She has consistently written books that I have loved and each book in this series has been fantastic. These characters have wormed their way into my heart and taken up residence there. I love all of them and I’m low key hoping that Jessie gets a story of her own because she was just as much a part of the Wedding Belles as Brooke, Heather and Alexis.

There was much to love about this book. Alexis and Logan fumbling their way through and finding their way to each other made for a great reading adventure but the friendships between the Belles and then the boys were great fun too. I want to be a part of their circle of friends. This was another fabulous addition to Layne’s back list and its one that I’ll re-read again and again because Logan is full of yum! I definitely recommend this book. It’s great!

Grade: 4.25 out of 5

four-stars

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Guest Review: In Safe Hands by Katie Ruggle

Posted October 11, 2016 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: In Safe Hands by Katie RuggleReviewer: Jen
In Safe Hands by Katie Ruggle
Series: Search and Rescue #4
Also in this series: Fan the Flames, Gone Too Deep
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: October 4th 2016
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 416
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four-stars

In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder...
It's all come down to this...
Daisy Little has lived in agoraphobic terror for over eight years. Trapped within a prison of her own making, she watches time pass through her bedroom window. Daisy knows she'll never be a part of the world...until the day she becomes the sole witness of a terrible crime that may finally tear the Search and Rescue brotherhood apart for good.

I gotta say, there’s something really satisfying about a 4-book romantic suspense series. Some series go on indefinitely and that can be fun too, but sometimes it’s nice to get a story arc that crosses multiple books but then actually is resolved. I have been excited about this series from the beginning, and while this final book wasn’t my personal favorite in the bunch, it was still a great ending to an intriguing storyline with a likeable cast of characters.

A note about spoilers: I’m not going to discuss spoilers here (even though I really want to!), but even knowing the hero’s name is a kind of spoiler after the bombshell that ended book 3, since you’re not sure at first who’s involved. If you don’t want the name, skip my review!

For those who haven’t been reading along, the larger story involves a small town in Colorado where a dead body was found in the first book. Slowly throughout the course of the books, other crimes have happened, including unexplained fires, people going missing, the involvement of local gangs and drug criminals, and more. The heroes and heroines each get sucked into the mystery and have been working to solve it. This time the heroine is Daisy, who has a severe phobia about leaving her house after she experienced a traumatic event as a teenager. She has not left her house even once in 8 years, and she has few friends beyond Chris, the police officer we met in previous books. In a kind of “Rear Window” twist, Daisy sees something suspicious from her window, and telling Chris about it sets off a series of events that puts her in danger and starts to tie together all the crimes that have been happening in town.

Somewhat unusually, the books in this series are all written from the point of view of the heroines, which means the women better be compelling! This is the reason I struggled with book 2–I didn’t find Rory as relatable as the other heroines, and at first I was worried that might be the case with Daisy too. I quickly grew to enjoy her, though. She’s smart and determined and funny. She’s attracted to Chris but she doesn’t sit around pining for him, and she isn’t angst-ridden or always feeling sorry for herself. She eventually makes changes in her life for herself, not for Chris, and she builds up a support network beyond him. I did wish her mental health issues were handled a bit more realistically. Things start out ok, but by the end everything is resolved a bit too easily. Chris is another strong silent hero (albeit not as silent as George from book 3, haha). His character isn’t quite as fleshed out as I might like, but it’s difficult to get that without hearing his point of view. It’s clear he has a strong sense of duty and is devoted to Daisy, though. I also liked the way he supports her without trying to fix her life for her.

Again, I won’t give spoilers but…..OMFG you guys! The villain turns out to be super villainous in this book and it made me so sad and upset and also a little confused about how this person could have decided this was the best course of action to pursue. Once again, I felt like things were resolved a little too easily and conveniently, but the ending was still absolutely satisfying and tied up the mystery’s loose ends.

I loved this series, and I hope anyone else who enjoys romantic suspense will give it a shot, too.

Grade: 4.25 out of 5

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

four-stars

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Review: This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Posted September 26, 2016 by Holly in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsReviewer: Holly
This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars, #5) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #5
Also in this series: It Had to Be You, Dream a Little Dream
Published by Avon
Publication Date: February 5th 2002
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 432
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four-half-stars

This Heart of Mine..
Molly Somerville knows she has a reputation for trouble. She did give away her fifteen-million-dollar inheritance, but, hey, nobody's perfect. Still, if anyone has an almost perfect life, it's Molly. While her Daphne the Bunny children's books could be selling better, she loves her cramped loft, her French poodle, and her career creating the fictional animals who live in Nightingale Woods. She even loves her sister, Phoebe.
True, it was a little tough growing up in her shadow. Phoebe is beautiful, blissfully married, and the owner of the most successful professional football team in America. But who other than your sister knows you're about to do something drastic every time you change your hair? Yes, Molly's happy about almost everything ... except her long-term crush on the daredevil quarterback for the Chicago Stars, that awful, gorgeous Kevin Tucker, a man who can't even remember her name!
One night Molly's penchant for running into trouble runs right into Kevin himself, turning her world upside down. Heartbreak follows, and just when she's certain things can't get worse, Kevin forces his way back into her life. If only the overpaid, Ferrari-driving, poodle-hating jock was as shallow as she wants him to be, she could get on with her almost perfect life. But Kevin's hidden depths and iron will propel Molly out of her comfortable existence into an unforgettable summer at a place called Wind Lake. Surrounded by paintbox cottages and a charming old bed-and-breakfast, she and Kevin battle their attraction while trying to cope with an aging sexpot actress, a cranky world-famous artist, and a pair of teenage newlyweds.
Their careers and lives are in crisis ... yet they can't seem to stay away from each other. Before the summer is over, will they be able to learn one of life's most important lessons? Sometimes falling in love hurts, sometimes it makes you mad as hell, and sometimes if you're very lucky it can heal in the most special and unexpected way.

I really wish SEP didn’t humiliate her heroines quite so much. No matter how many times I re-read This Heart of Mine it never gets easier watching Molly hurt herself.

Molly’s actions in the beginning of the book were really hard to take. If the roles were reversed and a man acted as she did, we know what it would be called. Unlike other books where the heroine purposely takes advantage of the hero (generally to steal his sperm so she can have the baby she always wanted), I softened to Molly as the story went on. Probably because she suffered quite a bit for her actions. I’m not excusing what she did, nor condoning it, but I felt like she was truly remorseful and her suffering as the novel went on served to soften her actions just enough to allow me to forgive her.

Where SEP excels, in my opinion, is writing nuanced characters. There are no two-dimensional flops for SEP. Kevin, Molly and all the rest are fully three-dimensional, with struggles and emotions not readily apparent at first glance.

SEP has always pulled me into her stories and this is no exception. I lived at camp with Molly and Kevin, suffered along with them during their trials and tribulations and got to know their friends and family through them. I can’t say I love every aspect of this novel, but I can say I was fully engaged while reading it. Even though I’ve read it many times before.

4.25 out of 5

This book is available from  . You can buy it here or here in e-format.

four-half-stars

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