Her Unexpected Engagement- Kyra Jacobs

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“Her Unexpected Engagement” is the second book in the Checkerberry Inn series by Kyra Jacobs. I read the first one and enjoyed it, so I was more than ready for this book.  The Checkerberry Inn is the perfect backdrop for romance; it’s like a Hallmark movie with a touch of extra spiciness.  Like a cup of warm cider with just a splash of bourbon.

The Story-

Stephanie has had a crap time of it.  Her jerk ex-husband is a famous golfer who cheated on her in a very public way, which has made her suspicious, self-conscious, and defeated.  When a chance at a great new job and new start presents itself, she doesn’t expect to come face to face with her almost past. Miles has been spinning his wheels while everyone else’s lives seem to be sprinting by.  He wants a new shot at being his own man, but when Stephanie comes back to town, he must decide what that change will be.

My Thoughts-

While not earth-shattering, this story feels very real.  I identified with Stephanie and loved seeing her regain her confidence.  Miles is the kind of “hero” that almost any gal could see themselves settling down with: kind, funny, adores you, and helps make you a stronger, better person.  I loved their relationship and really felt like the history justified how it develops.  I would have liked to see more from the secondary characters, particularly the ones we met in the original Checkerberry novel, but when they were there, they brought a nice depth to the story.  I also could have used even more description of the scenery and the inn.  As someone who is enduring the longest summer of my life in southern Louisiana, a beautiful B&B in Michigan sounds like a slice of heaven.

The Good-

Like I said, Miles is wonderful.  He’s the hot “guy next door” that we wish we actually lived next door to.  Stephanie’s journey and progression was compelling, and I loved the outcome at the party.  Everyone wants that moment in their lives. The Checkerberry Inn is a great backdrop, especially for people who love quaint and comfy settings. (Like me)

The Bottom Line-

I enjoyed this read. It was relaxing and happy and comforting: all the things I look for when I pick up a Bliss novel.  At the same time, it deals with some very real issues in a very satisfying way. I will definitely be reading the next books in this series! 4 stars

In Touch- C.D. Brennan

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“In Touch” is the first book in C.D. Brennan’s Play On series, and it was my first sports romance book.  Since rugby has always been a slight fascination of mine because of the large Scotsmen that play, this rugby-focused book was a great choice.

The Story-

Padraig is a professional rugby player, but after getting addicted to oxy, his career has taken a bit of a detour from the Irish National League to a podunk team in Michigan.  Gillian is a holistic physical therapist who is volunteering her time at the local rugby club to get some professional experience.  She knows that working with this particular club will be challenging because she must convert the boys to her methods while facing old demons.

My Thoughts-

This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve written, and it’s not because I didn’t like the book. About halfway through the book, I was thinking “wow, I LOVE sports-themed books! This is hot!” I identified with the main character, and I love that the hero is a sexy, Irish rugby player.  The writing is top-notch; the sex is great. So, why the difficulty? I think it lies in that I really wasn’t sure if Padraig convinced me that he was a good guy.  The other issue is that stuff with the addiction was very real and very serious. As it should be. But, am I prepared to read about it when I pick up a romance? Not sure.

The Good-

The rugby backdrop is so well done and really set this book apart from other sports-themed romance.  The characters are very complex and fully formed; I loved Gillian and felt like she was part me, part many of my friends.  Padraig is so hot and, were he a real person, would certainly be worth a tumble.  (Is he real? Can I have a picture?) The plot is character driven in the very best way, and the writing is excellent.

The Bottom Line-

This is not a breezy read; it is more serious, but satisfying.  I felt like I was reading about real people with real problems, not a Hallmark movie couple.  I will be reading other books by this author in the future, and hope that they will check in on this couple to ease my curiosity. 4 stars

Sweetly, Deeply, Absolutely- Kira Archer

“Sweetly, Deeply, Absolutely” is book 3 in the Sweet Love series by Kira Archer.  The books are set in and around a bakery, and if there is anything I love as much as romance, it may be cooking.  Plus, isn’t the cover so fun and pretty? 

The Story-

Jenny is home from Paris on a break from culinary school for the summer and will be helping to run her friend’s bakery while the owners are on their honeymoon.  Jenny has always been a bit of a wild card, and while she gives lip service to laying low this summer, almost immediately she meets a hottie that makes her want to revert to her old ways.  Jared is also a player, and when his best friend’s kid sister comes back to town to work in very close proximity to him, it will be a challenge to resist the temptation she presents. 

My Thoughts-

Both of these people are a little too young and haphazard for my taste. I felt like I was reading about the hot people from high school who finally get scared enough to face reality because of a hook-up.  I had some trouble identifying with the main character because she was so confident and a bit judgmental toward the hero.  I liked the secondary characters, which makes me think that I might like the rest of the series better than I liked this one.  

The Good-

This was a fun read that provided a nice weekend break.  I especially enjoyed all the scenes having to do with the bakery and the sweets.  The writing was good, and the plot clicked along well.  

The Bottom Line-

While I didn’t particularly connect with the characters, I liked the setting of the bakery and will be trying out at least one more book from this series.  Perhaps this is more geared to someone in their early twenties. As a mom who has been married for over 15 years, the problems just made me feel like an older sister who wanted to sit the heroine down and give her advice. 3 ½ stars

Stars of Fortune- Nora Roberts

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I love Nora Roberts.  I’ve read every single one of her trilogies and usually buy the new one as soon as it is available.  This one caught up to me as I’ve found so many other amazing authors to read.  Nonetheless, I knew that I would have to make time for Ms. Roberts’ newest trilogy, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Story-

This one does have paranormal aspects in the form of “gods” which seem to come from the idea of Greek gods.  Since this takes place in Corfu, it works just fine.  This is the intro book for the series, so we meet all of the characters as well as the big bad, and are introduced to the problem/mythology surrounding our main 6 which will form our 3 couples.  This is Sasha and Bran’s story.  Sasha is a seer and artist who knows something is coming and follows her visions and intuition. Bran is an Irish sorcerer/witch who will fall for her.  Of course, everyone must meet, give background info, and come together for the first big fight/victory of the series.

My Thoughts-

I tend to like Nora’s first books in a series a great deal because I love seeing how she sets up the relationships and setting.  Her heroines always have jobs that most women would die for, and Sasha is no exception.  Who wouldn’t want to be an artist in the mountains?  This book had the added element of a foreign country with mythological origins, which adds some depth to the background.  I’ve been to Corfu, and there is something to Greece and its people which feels ancient and magical.  I wish that one of the six had a Greek background; I think it would have added to the mystique.  The second half of the novel didn’t go quite as fast for me as the first did, but I don’t get into the dark battles as much as the romance. (Which is why I tend to stick with her trilogies) That being said, I read the first half in the space of one slowly cooling bath…

The Bottom Line-

If you like Nora, reading this will feel like welcoming an old friend to dinner.  It is by no means one of my least favorite of the trilogies, but I don’t think it will rank up there with the Born In, Chesapeake Shores, Three Sisters, or Irish Trilogies for me. 4 stars

The Marriage Contract- Katee Robert

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I usually hang out in the paranormal or historical worlds, so this contemporary book set against a mafia background was new to me.  As I’ve said before, a good cover can tempt me, and this cover is smokin’.   I also have a weakness for all things Irish, so I was definitely up for an Irish hero, even if he is part of a crime family.  Katee Robert is a new author to me, but definitely not to regular fans of contemporary romance since this book has won some awards.  “The Marriage Contract” is the first book in her O’Malley series, and the most recent book “Indecent Proposal” (with an even hotter cover) was just released.
The Story

Callie and Teague are children of two different crime families in Boston.  Callie was supposed to marry the heir to the third crime family, but when he is killed, she is shuffled to a different groom.  They are both reluctant participants in the more nefarious activities associated with their families, but are also deeply loyal to their blood.  This loyalty, along with an instant attraction, leads them to accept this contemporary arranged marriage. Of course, the third crime family is still out there…

My Thoughts

During the first half of this book, I was like “why don’t I read contemporary romance regularly? This is so hot and intriguing!” I loved the characters because they each embody the traits that are my favorites for heroes and heroines.  But, at about the halfway point when the mafia part of the story line became more intense, I began to lose my enthusiasm slightly and realized that the main reason I tend to stick with paranormal and historical is to escape some of the realities of my world.  Granted, my world does not include crime families etc., but violence is often closer than I would like to admit.

The Good

I particularly enjoyed Teague’s interactions with Callie.  He is everything a girl would want: protective, sexy, sexy, sexy, kind, honorable, sexy… do you catch my drift? I also really enjoyed the opening scene and how fast the plot unfolded; it felt like blasting off on an extreme attraction.  The secondary characters are also notably great, which is good considering that future books will concern them.  Most of them… (sigh)

The Bottom Line

While I will not be searching out other crime family books, I will likely continue with the O’Malleys.  If someone is a fan of this genre, I absolutely recommend it, but even if you are not, it is an enjoyable read.  It just might require a certain mindset.  That being said, it is worth 4 stars in my book.

You’re Still The One- Rachel Harris

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Since I have been on such a historical kick lately, I decided that I needed a palate cleanser in the form of a sweet contemporary.  “You’re Still the One” by Rachel Harris caught my eye for a couple of reasons:
1. The cover was sexy without being explicit.

2. It is part of a series called “Country Blues” which appeals to me (even though I am normally a paranormal/historical junkie.)

So, back in the early 2000’s when I was a church secretary and had every possible Thomas Kinkade office supply decorating my office, I got into Harlequin American Romances.  These sweet books with their sexy cowboys, surprise babies, and small-town appeal were my bread and butter for over a year.  It shouldn’t surprise me that I still have a soft spot for this sort of book.

The Story

Arabella has fostered a crush on country star, Charlie Tucker, since she was a kid and he was a new artist at her father’s record label.  A personal challenge in the form of a sort-of summer bucket list gives her the courage to flirt with Charlie one night, leading to an unforgettable kiss between the two.  When Charlie is tasked with keeping an eye on Arabella, his boss’s daughter, he doesn’t expect to develop feelings for her.

My Thoughts

Even though the cover was somewhat tame, I didn’t expect to have the fade-to-black sex with the door closed. Normally, I don’t really mind if a story has sex or not or how hot the sex is, as long as it fits the story.  With this book, there was so much sexual tension built with multiple kisses and near misses that I felt somewhat gypped out of the experience of seeing the two finally come together.   That being said, the story progressed well, and the relationship between the two felt real with a more believable base than most romances.  I loved that much of the book was set in New Orleans, being a Louisiana native, but felt that more could have been explored in the city, especially in bringing out the more adventurous side of Arabella.

The Good

Arabella is a great character; she feels like a young adult on the verge of finding herself, and she isn’t lacking the courage to make it happen.  I really identified with her.  I liked the story and found it a breezy, enjoyable read.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a sweet romance with good characters and a steady plot, this is a good pick.  If you want heat beyond kisses, this is not the book for you.  4 stars

Wild Irish Heart- Tricia O’Malley

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“Wild Irish Heart” is the first book in the Mystic Cove Series by Tricia O’Malley.  In this story, she brings us to Ireland and introduces us to an ancient magic which binds the women of Grace’s Cove to each other and to the amazing landscape.

The Story-  A mysterious book stating “it is time” forces Keelin to face her past and accept a new future in Ireland.  Seriously, Keelin has the set-up with a cottage that has a view of the ocean and a glorious cove to explore.  The townspeople are suspicious, due to her family’s heritage, but she meets a hot guy within the first couple of minutes.  Flynn just happens to be rich, beautiful, and there to rescue Keelin again and again.

My Thoughts- Despite some overused tropes (girl and guy don’t like each other initially), I was drawn into this world and story very quickly.  I wanted to be Keelin, starting a new life in Ireland, making new friends at the local pub, and, of course, hanging out with the hottie. Some conflicts were resolved too quickly with an easy, “I’m sorry”, but the pacing and interest of the story never let up.

The Bottom Line- I intend to continue with this series as I am interested in what happens to Keelin and the other women of Grace’s Cove.  There was just enough supernatural mixed in with wonderful descriptions of Ireland to keep me happy.  This was a short, easy, fun read that brought a nice little bright spot to my week. 4 stars

Risking the Vine- Gemma Brocato

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As a total sucker for anything wine related, I was really looking forward to this book. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week at a vineyard?!? Add in a hot guy, and you have a pretty fun set up.

The Premise: Our heroine is spending a week at a vineyard for a “team building” retreat. Hot guy that she happens to know is also there and, coincidentally, they are the only ones without teams to actually build, so they must “build” together. Or something.

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My thoughts: I loved the idea of this book, but felt that everything fell into place a little too easily for our couple. Also, why on earth would her boss send her alone to a team building retreat? Some of the early conflicts felt a little rushed, especially having our hero exit the retreat early. (More Luca!)

The Good: The love scenes were hot and imaginative. I liked both of the main characters: none of this whiny, simpering stuff, just two people with good heads on their shoulders trying to figure out life. The scenery and set up is transporting and makes you want to be chilling on a back porch somewhere, having a glass of wine.

The Bottom Line: While I can’t give this book a full 4 stars because of some of the distractions and too easy story line, it is a solid 3 1/2 and was a fun read.
I enjoyed this little “wine break”, and look forward to more from this author.