May 26, 2016

Review | Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa KleypasCold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Series: The Ravenels, #1
Publisher: Avon, October 2015
Pages: 402
Format: Paperback
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A twist of fate . . .
Devon Ravenel, London's most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl's three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon's own.
A clash of wills . . .
Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:
Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she's ever known?

The Ravenels aren’t your typical family.

Characterized by a brutal temper and a rakish reputation, Devon Ravenel wants nothing to do with the earldom he inherits after his cousin’s untimely death, and especially not with the three sisters and young widow Theo left behind. He expects to sell it off, lock and barrel, and move on with his life, but the family dynamics pull him in, not to mention Theo’s widow, Kathleen, who’s ready to defend the ancestral seat.

Cold-Hearted Rake is my first Kleypas historical romance, but after this and the contemporary Blue-Eyed Devil, it will certainly not be the last. From the moment she introduced the eccentric family dynamics of the Ravenels, I was hooked: Devon, the older brother with the rakish reputation, and his brother Weston, the rich drunk, were quite a pair on their own. Yet when the estate is thrust into Devon’s hands, they meet the quirky twins, Cassandra and Pandora, serene Helen, and defensive Kathleen.

I use the word “defensive” for Kathleen carefully – she’s a careful woman, one who’s taught herself to hide her emotions, guard her heart, and protect those she loves. It takes some work to earn her trust, but once you do, you’re in for life.

Devon, in turn, is just as defensive, but hides it behind a rakish reputation. I liked how Kleypas painted the reputation into the background (sort of the “we’ve heard about you” style) but focused on his thoughts and motives when it came to unexpectedly inheriting this…mess.

Their romance may have been an initial hot flash, but morphed into a slow burn that kept its hooks in me. The slow shattering of two defensive people’s protections is a fascinating one to read. I loved the touch of alpha male in Devon, just enough to make hearts flutter, but not enough to overpower him. Kathleen’s strong nature, in turn, painted a character that wasn’t a pushover, so it became all the more thrilling when she fell.

I loved that Kleypas didn’t forget the minor characters and side plots. The heartbreaking side plot near the end was a hook to get me to read the next book (and boy did it work), and I was so happy to see the evolution of Weston.

Cold-Hearted Rake had all the elements I love in historical romance: kooky side characters, strong romantic heroes, and a little bit of heartbreak.

4 Stars

Posted May 26, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 23, 2016

Review | The Groom Wore Plaid by Gayle Callen

Review | The Groom Wore Plaid by Gayle CallenThe Groom Wore Plaid by Gayle Callen
Series: Highland Weddings, #2
Publisher: Avon, February 2016
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
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Falling in love means tempting fate in this passionate new novel in USA Today bestselling author Gayle Callen's Highland Weddings series.
Maggie McCallum's dreams about her new fiancé aren't the romantic sort. It's not just that she was bartered to Owen Duff like a piece of property to end a clan feud. She's also haunted by premonitions of his death on their upcoming wedding day. Yet the exasperating Highlander won't let her call it off, even though his life and his clan are both in jeopardy.
Owen has wanted Maggie in his bed since he first glimpsed her years ago. If their union restores peace between their clans, so much the better. But while lusting after another chief's sister had its risks, growing to trust Maggie is far more dangerous. Owen is falling deeply in love with the one woman he cannot hope to claim . . . and survive.

Maggie McCallum has a secret, one that she holds close to her heart: she has visions of the future.

She’s seen horrible things, and tried to forwarn those involved, but she was often brushed aside. So when she starts having visions in her dreams about her groom’s blood spilled on her wedding night, Maggie wants nothing to do with him. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a choice – her marriage to Owen Duffy will unite the clans and put an end to the feud. Short of convincing him of her dream, Maggie doesn’t have many options…or does she?

Here’s the thing about The Groom Wore Plaid: I loved The Wrong Bride, so when I saw Callen was writing another book in the Highland Wedding series, I jumped on it. I had hopes of the same emotional romance, the tug of consciences, the beautiful scenery. Instead, The Groom Wore Plaid was just okay.

I had trouble connecting with Maggie. Her efforts to make Owen not want to marry her made her unlikable, and eventually, I found myself not caring if they got married or not. Owen himself just wasn’t memorable. The device that brought them together was forgettable, and I found myself flipping back to remind myself why Maggie was so pissy (really – there’s no other word for it).

Even characters I liked in The Wrong Bride suffered the same flatness as Maggie and Owen in The Groom Wore Plaid. The  emotions, the vibrant dialogue…it was gone.

That’s not to say that this is a bad book. It’s not, at all. Unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up to the expectations I had from The Wrong Bride and the way Callen set up this story.

The saving grace? I liked the ending. Callen vindicates her heroineView Spoiler ». With a little more emotion, The Groom Wore Plaid could have been better than the first book.

Posted May 23, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 18, 2016

How to Spring Clean Your Blog

spring clean your blog

I can feel it in the air: the dark days of winter are long gone with the dog days of summer yet to arrive, leaving each spring morning scented with flowers. Every year, I get the urge to clean.

Spring cleaning can be a daunting task – without lists and advice, its hard to know where to start! When it comes to blogs, it’s more than switching out your air filters or touching up paint. Here’s my top tricks to leave your blog feeling spick and span after the winter months!

Update the archives

Let’s be honest: when was the last time you updated your archives? If you’re on the ball, it was probably yesterday. If you’re like me…well…

Having a clean, organized blog helps readers find content they’re looking for, and occasionally content they aren’t. Make it easy for them to get pulled into your site by cleaning and updating that archive page.

Organize your email

Email can be either a really handy tool or a giant pain in the ass. It all depends on one thing: how you organize it!

Set up folders for recurring blog subjects – such as Author Contact, Review Requests, Blog Tours – and create rules so emails for each topic go into the correct folder. It will help keep everything organized (so you can find that author or sponsor email quickly!) and achieve that gloriously elusive inbox zero.

Tag images

Experts tend to be split on the subject of SEO, but tagging your images with your keywords is a great practice to get into. It helps you rank in search results (again, experts are split) and maybe someone will stumble across your review while looking for a silly gif!

Clean out the drafts

If I’m being honest, I have far too many posts hanging out in my drafts folder. Horrible. It leaves my dashboard cluttered and makes me feel honestly a little unmotivated when I see that number hanging out at the top of the screen.

Go through the drafts folder and decide which posts to move forward with, which to schedule, and which to delete. Be decisive.

Revisit your blog calendar

At the beginning of the year, I make a blog calendar with general themes that I want to follow, features to start, and challenges to complete. Are you still interested in those topics, features? Maybe a different direction, or spread out the posts a little more.

Do that one thing

We’ve all got one thing sitting on our blog to-do lists to try. A new color palette, an add-on, updating social profiles, whatever it is, take the plunge. Do it. It’ll feel great to get it off your plate.

What are your top blog spring cleaning tips? Let me know!

Posted May 18, 2016 by Ellen in the canon talks / 0 Comments
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May 17, 2016

9 Books I Picked Up on a Whim

9 Books I Picked Up on a Whim

 

I always check out the new and featured shelves at the library. In fact, I have a whole routine: new, featured, YA, romance, fiction, cookbooks (necessity!), mystery, audiobooks, then nonfiction. Since I usually pick up random books, add them to my giant library tote bag and haul everything home, I thought I read a majority of my books on a whim. Yet as I went through my read list on GoodReads for today’s post, I realized I actually read very little on a whim.

So why do I pick up, start and finish only certain books? I’m not quite sure. It looks like a mix of the pretty cover, the first page (I always read the first page to see if it’ll fit before adding it to my bag), and then great characters. Without those, the book heads back to my tote for the weekly trip to the library.

Here are the latest books I’ve picked up (and finished!) on a whim:

Stranded With a Billionaire by Jessica Clare – Fantasy meets romance on a deserted island as a billionaire falls in love with a waitress. (Review coming soon!)

Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks – Caught in the midst of a family feud and a king’s will, Eveline Armstrong is forced to marry the laird of her clan’s enemy. There’s definitely something about him, but can she trust him with her secret? (Review coming soon!)

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis – All Liddi Jantzen has in the world are her brothers, but when they mysteriously go missing, can the media darling overcome everyone’s expectations (and her own) to save them?

Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen – A biographical look at the relationships in Twain’s life, especially his unusual relationship with his secretary.

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney – An unique first person narrative of 24 hours on the line of a fine-dining restaurant.

The Highlander’s Heart by Amanda Forester – Lady Isabelle Tynsdale is on the run from her horrible husband and ends up right in Laird David Campbell’s arms…

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood – A fantastic telling of the many Mrs. Hemingways.

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki – The first half of the life of the grand Empress Sisi.

The Shattered Court by M.J. Scott – In a world of magic, witches, and binding, Lady Sophia Kendall must choose if she wants to live within shattering society’s rules or follow the change and break out of the mold.

Posted May 17, 2016 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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May 14, 2016

Weekend Reading | May 2016

weekend reading

 

Happy Saturday, friends!

There’s really nothing better than sitting down in my pj’s with a giant mug of coffee to catch up on the world on a slow Saturday morning. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Sit back, have another cup of joe (or tea) and enjoy! Oh, and make sure to share what you’re reading this weekend! 🙂

Posted May 14, 2016 by Ellen in weekend reading / 0 Comments
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May 12, 2016

Review | Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Review | Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet EvanovichTricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #22
Publisher: Bantam, November 2015
Pages: 292
Format: Ebook
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Something big is brewing in Trenton, N.J., and it could blow at any minute.
Stephanie Plum might not be the world's greatest bounty hunter, but she knows when she's being played. Ken Globovic (aka Gobbles), hailed as the Supreme Exalted Zookeeper of the animal house known as Zeta fraternity, has been arrested for beating up the dean of students at Kiltman College. Gobbles has missed his court date and gone into hiding. People have seen him on campus, but no one will talk. Things just aren't adding up, and Stephanie can't shake the feeling that something funny is going on at the college - and it's not just Zeta fraternity pranks.
As much as people love Gobbles, they hate Doug Linken. When Linken is gunned down in his backyard it's good riddance, and the list of possible murder suspects is long. The only people who care about finding Linken's killer are Trenton cop Joe Morelli, who has been assigned the case, security expert Ranger, who was hired to protect Linken, and Stephanie, who has her eye on a cash prize and hopefully has some tricks up her sleeve.

Stephanie Plum knows her own weaknesses, but when a frat brother called Gobbles skips bail, she thinks this one will be a piece of cake. What she doesn’t know is that Gobbles’ fraternity, Zeta (reminiscent of Animal House) will do anything to keep her from nabbing him. As the case unravels, so does her personal like, making it a definitely Tricky Twenty-two.

Evanovich’s 22nd installment has all the hallmarks of the series – humor, a little slapstick, and a light-hearted atmosphere that betrays some of the deeper topics – but what I loved about Tricky was her emphasis on Stephanie.

Usually, Stephanie’s personal development goes by the wayside as she chases after whatever crackpot is wreaking havoc in Trenton, but when, barely after the story opens, Joe Morelli breaks things off with Stephanie, Evanovich gets real with her trademark character. Stunned by Morelli’s decision, Stephanie is forced to reconsider just what she wants out of life and, to be blunt, grow up.

Don’t get me wrong – I have a serious soft spot for Stephanie, especially since we share crazy curly brown hair and a love of cake. It’s refreshing to see her character get a chance to grow and move out of the phase she was in for a majority of the series.

Besides Steph, Tricky Twenty-two has all the hilarity I’ve come to expect from Evanovich. The references to Animal House and scenes with her family added an extra bit of humor that kept me laughing the entire plane ride. Lula, as always, shines through the book and keeps the atmosphere from getting too serious.

Light, fun, and fluffy as always, Tricky Twenty-two is must read and is definitely heading to my reread shelf! I can’t wait to see where Steph heads next.

4 Stars

Posted May 12, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 10, 2016

10 Lifestyle & Food Blogs You Must Check Out!

Top Ten Tuesday

While I am about all things bookish, I have a soft spot for food. I love food. Maybe it’s the Italian in me, the Irish, or simply a good appetite, who knows?! While digging into the world of food blogs, one click lead to another, and I discovered a trove of lifestyle blogs. Here are the blogs I check every day on my reader.

  1.  Joy the Baker – Home of the best coffee cake I’ve ever made, Joy also shares a weekly links roundup and insider tips to New Orleans.
  2. Smitten Kitchen – I have yet to make anything from her site or cookbook that has been bad. The potato, feta and scallion frittata won over my mom on Mother’s Day!
  3. The Kitchn from Apartment Therapy – Fell in love with their crockpot recipe post and never looked back.
  4. Lauren Conrad – To indulge in your girly side.
  5. Apartment Therapy – No matter the size or situation of your home (rental, own, whatever), they’ve got ideas for you.
  6. A Beautiful Mess – Two sisters join forces to spread creativity, craftiness, and positive vibes.
  7. The Beauty Department – Best of beauty tips, tricks, and trends.
  8. Pastry Affair – Amazing photography and delicious recipes. Her Christmas sugar cookies are my go-to recipe!
  9. Waiter Rant – His older posts (check out the archive for the best ones!) make me laugh/reminisce/not miss waiting tables every time.
  10. Tone It Up! – Started joining in the TIU workouts late last year when I had to adapt my workout schedule to fit my (at the time) new job, and fell in love. Karina and Katrina’s positive attitude is infectious!

Posted May 10, 2016 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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May 6, 2016

Review | Stranded with a Billionaire by Jessica Clare

Review | Stranded with a Billionaire by Jessica ClareStranded with a Billionaire by Jessica Clare
Series: Billionaire Boys Club, #1
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA), April 2013
Pages: 215
Format: Paperback
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The Billionaire Boys Club is a secret society of six men who have vowed success – at any cost. Not all of them are old money, but all of them are incredibly wealthy. They’re just not always as successful when it comes to love…
Billionaire Logan Hawkings needs a vacation. He’s had a rough time after the death of his father and the betrayal of his fiancée. But with a visit to a recent business acquisition—a private island resort in the Bahamas—he has a chance to mend his broken heart.When a hurricane blows in, a misplaced passport and a stalled elevator bring Logan together with an unusual woman named Bronte. She’s unlike anyone he’s ever met—down to earth, incredibly sensual, and even quotes Plato.She also has no clue that he’s rich…
Bronte Dawson, a waitress from the Midwest, is stranded with the hotel’s domineering yet sexy manager Logan. What’s the harm in a little fling when it’s just the two of them, alone in paradise? But after several steamy island nights in Logan’s arms, Bronte’s ready to give her heart—and her body—to the man in charge.
But she soon discovers there’s more to Logan than he’s told her…a billion times more. Now, Bronte’s caught in a whirlwind affair with one of the world’s most powerful men. But can their love endure their differences or will it all just blow over?

Bronte Dawson is going to enjoy her free vacation, thank you very much. She is ignoring the fact that it’s in a run-down resort and trying to ignore her coworker’s constant complaints. But when a hurricane bears down upon the island and leaves Bronte stranded in an elevator with the hotel manager, she has to face it: this is the worst vacation ever.

Logan Hawkings isn’t having much better luck. After heading out to tour the resort he bought, he ends up stuck in an elevator with a waitress who thinks he’s the hotel manager and spouts philosophy quotes when she’s nervous and, boy, is she nervous. Yet he can’t help but notice her…

After the hurricane passes and their relationship grows, Logan battles with the urge to reveal to Bronte who he really is (the owner of the resort, not the manager). Once she realizes her island fling is in fact one of the richest men in America, Bronte (understandably) freaks and heads home. Yet Logan isn’t used to anyone denying him, and the courtship is on.

I’ll admit it: I wasn’t a huge fan of the constant references to philosophers (I actually started skipping the paragraphs with quotes), but there was a lot about Bronte that I identified with. Just out of college, she’s still relatively young to the world, and her naivete gave the story a great perspective. Clare builds her up so that when Logan’s identity is finally revealed, her urge to run fits in with her perfectly.

I struggled a little with Logan as well, for one big reason: Logan has some Christian Grey in him. Luckily not the you-must-sign-away-your-body-and-obey-me-at-all-costs character trait, but the almost aggressive refusal to take no for an answer made me a little uncomfortable in parts. Clare did pare his character down and frame his internal struggles in Stranded with a Billionaire so they made sense, but it still sent up some red flags for me in the initial chapters.

The glimpse inside of the life of the rich and famous was glamorous, but I felt out-of-place like Bronte (maybe why I identified with her so well). The shift in their relationship and the need to adapt to make it continue was an interesting twist and kept the plot interesting.

But it really got good when Bronte finally stood up for herself and told Logan what she wanted. Her character needed the push to finally get there, but thank goodness she did.

It was after Bronte’s moment of clarity and gumption that Stranded with a Billionaire really came alive. It forced both characters to push outside of their comfort zones, to get uncomfortable, and see what happened. And it was worth it.

3 Stars

Posted May 6, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 5, 2016

Review | Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Review | Red Queen by Victoria AveyardRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen, #1
Publisher: HarperTeen, February 2015
Pages: 383
Format: Hardcover
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This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.
The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.
That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.
Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.
But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

In a world ruled by intrigue, class matters most…at least, when it comes to the color of your blood. The low class Reds, like Mare Barrow, must find work by the time they reach seventeen, or they are conscripted into the army, where they are essentially used as shields for the Silver soldiers. Yet there are little to no jobs to be found, so when Mare is offered a place in the palace serving the Silver royal family, she jumps at the chance. Little does she know that the first day on the job will forever change her life.

Mare’s life is a hard one. One by one, her brothers have disappeared into army uniforms on their seventeenth birthdays as she, her sister, and her parents struggle to survive. Shaped by her world, Mare is rough around the edges, but determined to do what she can to protect her family. It’s a character many of us recognize on the surface and identify with. The moment she finds her powers (unheard of in a Red, but standard in Silvers) is justification, is that glorious moment of vindication.

While it took me a while to get used to the idea that Mare was the second Silver prince’s fiancee, it fit the royal family’s characters well: the king and queen wanted to research and control her, and the biddable younger prince was available.

The themes of loyalty were fascinating in Red Queen. Mare should be loyal to her family and her class, but as she gets to know the Silvers, she sees the good in many of them and finds herself battling her own prejudices and emotions. I loved the push and pull of the relationships among the younger characters, especially Mare and the royal brothers.

The major problem with Red Queen? It felt familiar. Don’t get me wrong, I fell madly in love with Aveyard’s stunning settings, her plot, and the tensions in the relationships, but…the ending. The ending made me think over and over again of Hunger Games. When I thought back on the book later, all I could do was draw comparison to other popular YA dystropians.

The good? It’s a great book. The story and characters are well-developed, the plot twists fascinating, and the writing beautiful. The bad? It’s ever-so-slightly familiar. If you loved Hunger Games and other popular YA dystopia, Red Queen is right up your alley. If not, I suggest giving it a try anyway. Aveyard may surprise you.

4 Stars

Posted May 5, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 2, 2016

Review | The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Review | The Obsession by Nora RobertsThe Obsession by Nora Roberts
Publisher: Berkley, April 2016
Pages: 453
Format: Hardcover
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The riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Liar.
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous.
Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.
Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.

Naomi Carson has been running from her past for so long that it feels like second nature. She’s actually rather proud of her self-imposed hermit status, thank you very much, but…when she spots the rambling old house overlooking the small town of Sunrise Cove, something in it calls to her. Something that tells her she’s finally home.

To put it simply, I became obsessed with Roberts’ The Obsession. Naomi’s dark childhood as the daughter of infamous serial killer Thomas Bowes created a need to find a secure home, and even though her uncles do their best to provide one for her and her brother, Mason, Naomi’s history creates a character that I fell in love with.

The opening chapters of the novel are chilling and definitely the highlight. The dark, gloomy atmosphere as Naomi follows her father out into the forest that fateful night, the struggle as she and Mason try to rebuild their lives, the heartbreak as their mother fails to. It was emotionally wrenching, draining, and absolutely fabulous.

Yet the story in the present was hit and miss. I loved Xander from the start, although I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him (he isn’t Roberts’ typical character), but Naomi was iffy. As their relationship grew deeper, the more often Naomi just fell flat. She was occasionally propped up by Xander’s character and, with all of the crazy situations the plot threw at her, it was hard to get a good read on her character.

Even with the character flaw, the actual obsession of the novel’s namesake was so chilling. The disappearances combined with the creepy narrative of the killer left me with chills and the mad urge to make sure all of the doors and windows were locked.

The changing narrative, from Naomi to Xander to the killer, kept The Obsession moving at a rapid pace and kept me hooked. I loved how Roberts built the atmosphere and narrative from the past and carried it into the present day. It connected the past and present, hinting at a hope of happily ever after at the future.

Despite Naomi’s occasional flatness, The Obsession is simply a must read. It’s a return to Roberts’ older works, the fantastic romantic suspense I’ve come to know and love.

5 Stars

Posted May 2, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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