Hooked- Christina Phillips

I’ll admit it: this cover “hooked” me. (tee hee!) Between the cover and the motorcycle club being the “Viking Bastards”, umm yeah, I was on board. This is my first book by Christina Phillips, but it will not be my last. 

The Story-
Grace’s car happens to break down in the “wrong side of town” on the day after she breaks off her engagement to a stuffy prick. When she wanders into Odin’s, a biker bar named after the Viking god, she and Zach have immediate sparks that they decide to act on… on the pool table in the back room. Neither one is looking for something serious, but they can’t get enough of one another in more ways than one.

My Thoughts-
It’s been awhile since I read something in first person, so that took a little getting used to. The only thing about it that bothered me was the multiple swaps in a chapter, but I really did love hearing the characters’ inner voices. With people who are withholding so much information from the other party, that inner monologue clears things up for the reader. Both Zach and Grace are incredibly likable, and they heat up the pages of this book. I found it to be an extremely quick read that kept me smiling and turning pages. 

The Bottom Line-
I will be back for more Viking Bastards. I hope they are all as hot as Zach, and I can’t wait to meet them. This book was a piece of candy that I ate a little to fast, but has me reaching for another… 4 stars

The Mistletoe Promise- Hallmark Movie Review and Challenge

“The Mistletoe Promise” is Hallmark’s second entry this year into the Countdown to Christmas movie promotion. With a typical name and typical selections of actors for the leads, you would expect this movie to follow the pack, but you would be wrong. “The Mistletoe Promise” breaks the mold by being a movie about adults, for adults. The Christmas magic is not sprinkled on, but comes out of the goodness of people. 

The Story-

A divorced owner of a travel agency, Elise, has a hard time with Christmas because it is during that season in which her jerk ex-husband and co-owner of the agency tries to bully her in to selling the business to him. Even though she built it before she even met him. Nick has just been tapped to compete for partner in his law firm, but the firm is very family-friendly, and a girlfriend or wife seems to be a “must”.  When he encounters Elise in a food-court, they share their disdain for Christmas and offer to help each other make it through the season.  This “promise” morphs into a contract in which they will pretend to be dating to help keep her ex-husband at bay, and help him make partner.

My Thoughts-

Like I said before, this movie is about adults and adult situations. Therefore, it feels more real than Hallmark’s usual fare.  Santa isn’t coming along to make silly things happen to Elise’s mean ex-husband. Ok, I know she started as a model, but can I just say that Jaime King is beyond gorgeous? And girl can really act. I felt every bit of Elise’s pain and rejection, her insecurities (even though she is a goddess) and her desire to overcome.  Perfection.  Luke MacFarlane is hot, very believable as the hardworking lawyer who has been hurt and has pushed past the pain with work.  See what I mean about the adult stuff? Yes, people actually DO work in real life and don’t just sit around making Christmas cookies with their moms and visiting old inns. I’m not disparaging those movies; they are a great escape and part of the reason I began my quest to watch all the Hallmark movies, but it is refreshing to watch a movie about real people finding Christmas spirit in themselves and just trying to be good people. 

Christmas Satisfaction-

The premise of them both hating the Christmas season is there, as well as a snowman-building contest and some Christmas parties.  Oh, and carolers. Let’s talk about the carolers for a second: who would go up to someone and start singing, and when they look super uncomfortable, continue singing and get closer? If you do this, you would be the worst caroler in the world. I felt secondary discomfort for the main characters who were forced to endure this caroling torture.  But, the Christmas spirit is very much present in this movie, and is perhaps even more palpable because it suggests that we, no matter how busy we are, what background we come from, if we have kids or not, can share goodness with the world. 

The Bottom Line-

Way to go, Hallmark, on this thoughtful, well-acted Christmas movie! It is based on a book by Richard Paul Evans, which probably helped the story, but the execution was very good and it is another top-notch entry into their line-up of Christmas movies. 5 stars!

Two movies down! 17 to go… How are you keeping up with the challenge?

Her Unexpected Engagement- Kyra Jacobs

unexpected

“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

41zh4r8iwdl

“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

The Marriage Contract- Katee Robert

wp-1474381844227.jpg

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

wp-1473778433539.jpg

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

Autumn Dreams- Hallmark Movie Review

wp-1471800138939.jpg

Tis (almost) almost the season for fall-themed movies from the Hallmark Channel. Since I love autumn and all things related, I get pretty excited when these start popping up. So, when an aptly-titled “Autumn Dreams” showed up on my DVR amid the summer love movies this weekend, I couldn’t resist the temptation to burn my pumpkin caramel candle and pretend it wasn’t 90 degrees outside. Yes, I know that this isn’t a new offering from Hallmark; the movie premiered last year as part of their fall line-up, but it is new to me. Let’s get to it!

The Story– Annie and Ben are childhood sweethearts who elope at 18 and 19.  Unfortunately, Annie’s father shows up immediately following the ceremony and convinces them (a little too easily for my taste) that they are too young and that the marriage must be annulled. Fast-forward 15 years, and Annie is a farmer who is set to marry her (boring) farm hand when she receives a court summons for divorce proceedings. What?! They were married all this time! Annie must travel to New York City to appear in court to settle this craziness. In the meantime, she is introduced to Ben’s materialistic wife-to-be (who wants to toss his piano, GASP), his limo driver with a heart of gold, and his hilarious lawyer. Oh, and Ben and Annie reconnect because she reminds him of where he came from, and he is crazy hot and rich. I’ll let you figure out the end.

Season Satisfaction- Since this is supposed to be a fall movie, I thought it might be fun to judge it on how well it fits the whole season motif. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Aside from a few farming scenes and some pumpkins and leaves at a harvest dance in the end, there is nothing that says “autumn” or “fall” to me. Even the Central Park scenes were green, and there wasn’t a fashionable scarf or cup of hot cider in sight. Now, if we look at the title of the movie, it DOES say Autumn DREAMS. So, maybe we are supposed to be dreaming of autumn? Maybe this is really a summer movie in disguise… You shouldn’t tease me like that, Hallmark Channel.

The Bottom Line-Beautiful people falling in love? Yep, I am in. The actors, including the secondary characters, are better than average. The story, though predictable, was not boring or as contrived as some in this genre. There wasn’t anything especially interesting, but for what it was, it was well-done. I give it 4 stars for simple watch-ability, even though it didn’t really spark my dreams of autumn.

 

Risking the Vine- Gemma Brocato

31350769

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.

vineyard-photo

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.