Tag: contemporary

October 5, 2017

Review | Gone by Jonathan Kellerman

Review | Gone by Jonathan KellermanGone (Alex Delaware #20) by Jonathan Kellerman
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 1st 1970
Pages: 365
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Now the incomparable team of psychologist Alex Delaware and homicide cop Milo Sturgis embark on their most dangerous excursion yet, into the dark places where risk runs high and blood runs cold ... a story tailor-made for the nightly news: Dylan Meserve and Michaela Brand, young lovers and fellow acting students, vanish on the way home from a rehearsal. Three days later, the two of them are found in the remote mountains of Malibu --- battered and terrified after a harrowing ordeal at the hands of a sadistic abductor.
The details of the nightmarish event are shocking and brutal: The couple was carjacked at gunpoint by a masked assailant and subjected to a horrific regimen of confinement, starvation and assault. But before long, doubts arise about the couple's story, and as forensic details unfold, the abduction is exposed as a hoax. Charged as criminals themselves, the aspiring actors claim emotional problems, and the court orders psychological evaluation for both.
Michaela is examined by Alex Delaware, who finds that her claims of depression and stress ring true enough. But they don't explain her lies, and Alex is certain that there are hidden layers in this sordid psychodrama that even he hasn't been able to penetrate. Nevertheless, the case is closed --- only to be violently reopened when Michaela is savagely murdered. When the police look for Dylan, they find that he's gone. Is he the killer or a victim himself? Casting their dragnet into the murkiest corners of L.A., Delaware and Sturgis unearth more questions than answers --- including a host of eerily identical killings. What really happened to the couple who cried wolf? And what bizarre and brutal epidemic is infecting the city with terror, madness, and sudden, twisted death?

If you disappeared, would anyone notice?

That’s the gamble young lovers  Dylan Meserve and Michaela Brand risk when they stage their own abduction and horrific ordeal. The romance of their harrowing escape fades away as they tell their story over and over to the police and, slowly, it falls apart. When the real story emerges, Michaela Brand is sent to forensic psychologist Alex Delaware.

You’d think that would be the entire story, right? It’s got tension, drama, even tragic(cally misled) young lovers – the whole nine yards. But you’d be wrong, as I was – all this occurs in the first few chapters of the book.

When I picked up Jonathan Kellerman’s Gone, I was looking for another police procedural to fill the void between “In Death” releases and the wait until my latest Sue Grafton request arrived at the library hold shelf. Alex Delaware, with his background in psychology and massive story library, felt like the right fit.

Maybe it’s because I started on book 20, but Alex and I… well, we just didn’t jive. Not that I disliked him – quite the opposite. But he felt like a peripheral character in his own series, so on the fringe that I forgot about him. He fell into the passive narration too often instead of the active storyteller that I longed for.

Michaela, Dylan and the entire cast of characters that made appearances in Gone captivated me. They were fascinating, terrifying, and entirely too real for my comfort. (Let’s just say I got up to double check the locks more than once that night.)

I loved the dive into the psychological element of crime that Gone takes; it brings a new element to the standard police procedural. Who better to examine the psyches of a criminal than a forensic psychologist?

Ultimately, I think I need to give Alex another go. But this time, I think I’ll start at the beginning.

4 Stars

Posted October 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 27, 2017

Review | Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsNobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #3
Publisher: AVON Books, February 1997
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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Librarian Note: There is an Alternate Cover Edition for this edition of this book here.
Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington desperately wants a baby. But finding a father won’t be easy. Jane’s super-intelligence made her feel like a freak when she was growing up, and she’s determined to spare her own child that suffering. Which means she must find someone very special to father her child. Someone who’s more comfortable working out his muscles than exercising his brain.
Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ legendary quarterback, seems like the perfect choice. But his champion good looks and down-home ways are deceiving. Dr. Jane is about to learn a little too late that this good ol’ boy is a lot smarter than he lets on—and he’s not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Nobody’s Baby But Mine is one of those romantic comedies that make you laugh, cry, and cringe, occasionally all at once. Why? It all comes down to one thing: snap judgments.

Meet Jane.

Dr. Jane Darlington is a physicist, thankyouverymuch. Her research is world renown and, despite her boss’s efforts to dim her star, she is quickly becoming one of the bright lights in scientific research. But Jane still needs something to complete her life: a baby.

Jane is the nerdy girl who was unashamed of knowing the answer. Among scientific theory and experiments, she’s in her element. But in social situations, Jane’s a duck out of water. So, logically (because Jane is nothing but logical), she decides to get pregnant by some dumb jock that won’t want to have anything to do with her or the baby. While morally questionable, it’s not the worst plan in the world…but it all falls to pieces when she picks legendary Chicago Stars quarterback Cal Bonner to help.

Meet Cal.

Cal is sick of the young guys coming in and trying to usurp him on the team, especially Kevin Tucker. He’s stubborn, a bit cranky, and likes to be in control. After dating legions of young, beautiful girls Cal wants a woman with a little more substance, but Jane Darlington isn’t what he had in mind. Especially when Cal discovers he can’t quite keep his hands off her.

About those snap judgments…

As book lovers, we know the old adage about not judging a book by its cover, but Jane does just that. She pegs Cal as a dumb jock, the kind of guy who loves ’em and leaves ’em. While she’s not wrong on the latter part, none of them have gotten pregnant. And Cal isn’t the type of guy to let the woman carrying his baby just walk away.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine is built on snap judgments. Jane’s snap judgment of Cal leads her to the plot’s primary device while his judgment of her is the key that turns both their worlds upside down. Phillips’ dueling narration lets the reader in on how wrong they are about the other but lets them (sometimes painfully) work it out.

While I hope most world class physicists aren’t poking holes in their sports star lover’s condoms, Phillips embodies Nobody’s Baby with a sense of realism that makes her stories so much fun to read. Each character, from Cal’s family to Jane’s evil boss, become so real and vivid that I feel I drop into their world. I cheer for Jane even as I cringe at her choices. I sympathize with Cal even when he’s digging himself in a hole. And my heart melts at the last romantic scenes.

Phillips is always a winner, but Nobody’s Baby raises the bar for contemporary romance.

4 Stars

Posted July 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 21, 2017

Wrap Up! The Latest Romance

Format: Ebook, Paperback
Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Billionaire and the Virgin (Billionaires and Bridesmaids, #1) by Jessica Clare
Pages: 250

The Billionaire and the Virgin appeals to a very select group of people. But for me, the excessive sex scenes overwhelmed the romance of the Beauty and the Beast retelling that I was so looking forward to. Clare’s treatment of her hero, a man scarred physically and emotionally, was the only saving grace.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceLove in the Afternoon (The Hathaways, #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas’ wacky Hathaway family holds a special place in my heart and, luckily, Beatrix’s story is up to that standard. Genuinely sweet and funny, Love in the Afternoon is a great romance for a long summer afternoon. The only drawback? Beatrix’s childlike nature didn’t always lend well to romantic situations.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Boy Is Back (Boy, #4) by Meg Cabot
Pages: 400

The queen of contemporary romance is back! Cabot’s unique narrative – created from IMs, text messages and emails – fits the hilariously sweet story of Becky and the one-that-got-away, pro golfer Reed Stewart.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceIrresistibly Yours (Oxford, #1) by Lauren Layne
Pages: 236

This spicy contemporary romance blurs the line between workplace friendships and irresistable chemistry. Loved the complex characters and the plot’s determination to keep throwing them together.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Pages: 404

Ranks among the most stilted, obvious historical romances I’ve read. So much potential in the master of the house/strict governess dynamic, but the borderline predictability and the dull characters drained all the passion.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

I’ve been on a sports romance kick lately, but The Wall of Winnepeg had one major fault: the narration. A potentially fun story (a football player opens his eyes to finally see what’s always been in front of him) is ruined by the dragging narrative.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSustained (The Legal Briefs, #2) by Emma Chase
Pages: 267

LOVED this! Cold, rough and tough lawyer Jake gets caught up with a gorgeous woman who has adopted her suddenly orphaned nieces and nephews. Sustained spins together a heartwarming family story, a heroic journey, and a fabulous romance into one neat package.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceBecause of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1) by Julia Quinn
Pages: 375

Cute historical romance with a flaw: Billie Bridgerton was practically perfect in every way. All joking aside, the constant fawning over the heroine made her unrealistic and caused the rest of the story to fall apart.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceRun to You (Military Men #2) by Rachel Gibson
Pages: 384

An interesting premise – Florida bartender gets caught up in the mob’s crosshairs and is reluctantly saved by a former Marine – can’t get off the ground. Why? Stella’s constant whining drove me insane. I was tempted to knock her out myself if she said “I’m going to pass out,” one more time.

Posted June 21, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 16, 2017

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate Meador

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate MeadorSparking the Fire by Kate Meader
Series: Hot in Chicago #3
Publisher: Pocket Books, September 2016
Format: Paperback
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Actor Molly Cade, America’s fallen sweetheart, finally has her shot at a Hollywood comeback with a dramatic new role as a tough-as-nails firefighter that promises to propel her back to the big time and restore her self-respect. Wyatt Fox, resident daredevil at Engine Co. 6, needs a low-key job to keep him busy while he recovers from his latest rescue stunt. Consulting on a local movie shoot should add just enough spark to his day. Especially when in struts Molly Cade: the woman who worked his heart over good, and then left him in the Windy City dust.

Their story is straight out of a script: irrepressible, spunky heroine meets taciturn, smoldering hero. But these two refuse to be typecast, and when the embers of an old love are stoked, someone is bound to get burned…

Sparking the Fire is the kind of book I pack for a beach weekend, long lazy afternoons in the park, or when I need a brain break. It’s got romance, wit, a coming-of-age story, and female empowerment. Plus a hot firefighter. What’s not to love?

America’s sweetheart Molly Cade is trying to pull her life back together after her very personal photos were leaked on the internet and this acting role looks like just the place to relaunch her career, and her life. But when Wyatt Fox, the man she had an intense, short-lived affair strides onto the set, her dreams for an easy comeback professionally shatter…that is, if she can keep her personal life out of the equation.

Molly could have been easily overwhelmed by Wyatt’s dominant, he-man (I say that in the best way possible) personality. He’s quiet, intense, guarded, and a little sarcastic. He’s used to getting his way and not arguing about it. Lucky for him (and the Sparking the Fire plot), Molly isn’t used to yielding just because someone else said so. This fire creates the chemistry that makes Meador’s third book in the series so much fun to read.

I loved all the side plots weaved into the story. Wyatt’s niece plays a significant role in his life: aside from helping to soften the he-man (again, best intentions) characteristic, she provides the foil to Molly’s own major life decisions. It’s a coming-of-age/rebuilding life story that brings the novel together.

Frankly, it’s weird to write this with my love of hot romance scenes, but the ones in Sparking the Fire were a little too much for me. Or unexpected? Maybe there were more unexpected. I didn’t expect the frequency of the hot-and-heavy scenes. Sometimes, it felt like they were supporting the plot, not all of the other fantastic elements Meador built into the story.

Either way, Sparking the Fire was a fun, quick read that I’d definitely grab again…that is, after I finish the rest of the Hot in Chicago series.

 

3 Stars

Posted June 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 7, 2017

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: MacAdam/Cage, January 1970
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals--steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Sometimes, I’m a part of a book’s adoring crowd, telling everyone I know (and occasionally people I don’t) about how much I love a book. Unfortunately, with The Time Traveler’s Wife, this isn’t one of those times.

To start from the beginning, this is M’s book. He doesn’t have a lot of books (being a movie kind of guy), but this is one he went out and bought. He’s been at me for years to read Niffenegger’s work, so I finally did. I finished it in one night, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

The premise is intriguing: A time traveler, constantly falling back and forth in time, keeps dropping in on his future/current wife at different stages of her life and his. But it’s that constant hope that they can be together that ties The Time Traveler’s Wife together…well, presumably.

I can’t help it; I found the idea of a forty-year-old man falling in love with a child extremely creepy. Granted, he was already in love with the future her, his counterpart, but the scenes between her as a child and him as a full-grown man gave me the major creeps. That’s not to say there was anything Lolita-like about this novel: Niffenegger keeps well away from that danger zone.

Eventually, I started to get fed up with all their trials. Every moment, right before they can finally connect, spend time together, whatever, he gets yanked away by the mysterious force of time, leaving her behind to pick up his discarded clothing. It felt like there was nothing to cheer for in their relationship; while it might be true love, it felt essentially doomed. And, quite simply, it broke my heart.

I didn’t feel that magic, that draw, that everyone (including M, who loves this book) feels with The Time Traveler’s Wife. I wanted so desperately some sort of happy ending, something to give me hope for these two people who have essentially lived their lives longing. Without that element, the story felt horribly sad, a novel I couldn’t wait to put down.

2 Stars

Posted June 7, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 17, 2017

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFs

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFalse Pretenses by Catherine Coulter
Publisher: Signet Book, March 2000
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback

"New York Times" Bestselling author. Her first contemporary suspense-now repackaged! Beautifully repackaged for her ever-growing legion of fans, this is the explosive story of how one woman must survive the destruction of her perfect life-and the intentions of three mysterious men.

I hate marking books DNF. Even though I’m coming to terms with it, it’s still a struggle because I know this is an author’s baby, their pride and joy. But sometimes, an individual book and I just aren’t a match. That’s what happened with these three.

Hearing so much about Catherine Coulter, I couldn’t wait to start reading her work. Being the slightly-Monk-like OCD person I am, I wanted to start at the beginning, or as close as I could get to her work. Which is what lead me to False Pretenses.

I was hoping for a Theresa RussellBlack Widow type character, or at least some kind of character growth. But concert pianist Elizabeth Carleton is meek and stilted. As the main character and focus of the plot, she needed to come alive to create the kind of tension False Pretenses needs to be alive. Instead, she just remains words on a page.

Without the great protagonist, the story sorely needed, the rest of the characters and their motives only fell flat. It was hard to believe all those men fell in love with her, making their own characters suspect and unbelievable.

Is there another Catherine Coulter book I should try? What do you recommend?

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsBlush by Cherry Adair
Publisher: Gallery Books, April 2015
Pages: 387

In the same pulse-pounding style as Maya Banks and Kresley Cole, New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair delivers a sizzling erotic romance about a sexy billionaire who’s on the run—and the hit-man-turned-handyman who’s supposed to kill her.

Sex with a stranger. Learn to drive. Learn to cook. Learn to pole dance. Sex under the stars. Buy a truck. These are just a few of the things on Amelia Wentworth’s bucket list, but as the CEO and face of a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic empire, she’s never quite found the time to do them.

Until, after a series of accidents, Amelia discovers that someone wants her dead. But who? And why? She has no time for questions as she changes her name to Mia, buys a secluded fixer-upper near the Louisiana bayou where no one will recognize her, and starts checking things off her bucket list like there’s no tomorrow—which there might not be.

Meanwhile, Cruz Barcelona is a hit man who’s promised himself this will be his last job. Then he’ll take the money and move to a warm, sunny place where he doesn’t have to hide anymore. But when Cruz goes undercover to Mia’s ramshackle house, he starts to realize there’s far more to this poor-little-rich-girl than he thought—and he starts to fall for her. Which is going to make his job a whole lot harder…

A cosmetics CEO on the run, determined to cross off her bucket list. A dark assassin hired to kill her. Irresistible chemistry…right?

That’s what I’d hoped for when I grabbed Cherry Adair’s Blush off the shelf. Sure, the cover is a little more suggestive than I typically like to go for, but hey, I’ll try it. But when the protagonists start doing the dirty in the first chapter of the book, something’s off.

If you’ve been with me for a while or looked around on the blog, you’ll know I have no problem with sex scenes. However, I think these should be used to empower the story/character relationships/plot points. Blush uses them as plot points.

It felt like every time I turned the page, they were going at it again. There was no character growth in the first fifty pages. Instead, Cruz has an interior monologue about how he should complete his assignment and move on. Then Amelia walks in the room, and all bets are off.

Maybe Blush got better as it went, but after fifty pages of sex scenes, I was ready to DNF.

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFallen by Karin Slaughter
Series: Will Trent,
Publisher: Arrow, June 2012
Pages: 496

Special Agent Faith Mitchell returns home to a nightmare. Her baby daughter Emma has been locked outside, and there's a trail of blood to the front door.

Without waiting for back-up, Faith enters the house. Inside a man lies dead in a pool of blood. Most worrying of all, her mother is missing.

When the Atlanta police arrive, Faith has some difficult questions to answer. But she has some desperate questions of her own. What were the killers searching for? And where is her mother?

Suspended from duty, Faith turns to her work partner, Will Trent. Together he and Sara Linton must piece together the fragments of a brutal and complicated case, and catch a vicious murderer with only one thing on his mind.

To keep on killing until the truth is finally revealed.

Police procedurals are my guilty pleasure this year. The complex relationships between the characters, the horrible crimes, the question of whether to stick by the book…I’m all about it.

Yet Karin Slaughter’s Fallen didn’t have that same magic for me. Maybe it was coming in on the fifth book of the Will Trent series instead of the first, but I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages and this book ended up on the DNF pile. I wanted to like it (love it, actually), but the characters weren’t there to draw me in. Instead, I found myself reading the same passages over and reaching for different books on my nightstand over this one.

 Stars

Posted May 17, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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April 27, 2017

Review | Broken Harbor by Tana French

Review | Broken Harbor by Tana FrenchBroken Harbor by Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad, #4
Publisher: Viking, July 2012
Pages: 450
Format: Hardcover
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The mesmerizing fourth novel of the Dublin murder squad by New York Times bestselling author Tana French
Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.

On one of the half-built, half-abandoned "luxury" developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.

At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.

And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.

With her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, French’s new novel goes full throttle with a heinous crime, creating her most complicated detective character and her best book yet.

A home invasion in a small seaside town in Britain leaves a family destroyed. For any other murder detective, this case might be too much to handle, but for murder detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, it’s his job. But when the case starts to bring back painful personal memories, Mick wonders if it’s time to throw in the towel…or work harder than ever to catch the killer.

Heading to the wanna-be luxury complex of Broken Harbor to investigate a brutal murder isn’t easy for any detective, but for Scorcher, it’s especially painful. That’s what makes him a winner in French’s fourth Dublin Murder Squad installment: he’s a naturally complex character. By-the-book on the job, caught in a family conflict, and unsure of where his life is headed next, Scorcher isn’t just any old cop. It’s this complex perspective that makes Broken Harbor so compelling to read.

I loved the interactions between Scorcher, his rookie partner, the ME, and the rest of the crew. Each has such memorable personalities that complement Mick and the plot itself perfectly. French weaves each character interaction, step and motivation so deliberately that you don’t realize the masterfulness of her work until the back cover closes.

To say Broken Harbor kept me on my toes is an understatement. There was never a dull moment from the first moment Scorcher and Richie step into the blood-splattered house to the final page. It was the constant conflicts that come with everyday life –  problems with coworkers, family fights, broken hearts – combined with the powerful of mystery of just who did it that brought this police procedural to life like few books I’ve read before.

For me, Broken Harbor is a definitely a winner, and one I can’t wait to read again. Have you read any of French’s Dublin Murder Squad? Which one should I read next?

4 Stars

Posted April 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 24, 2017

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa KleypasDream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, August 2012
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one of them has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so damaged and jaded that his heart is made of stone? In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas's Dream Lake, readers well enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance. . . .
Alex Nolan is about as bitter and cynical as they come. One of three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he's nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then, a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him. Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?
Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startlingly gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn't for the foolish.
The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn't know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans' Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.
Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it. . . .

Dream Lake’s Alex Nolan is having a bad day.

Or rather, more like a bad couple months.

Okay, a bad year. His wife has left him and is kicking him out the house to put it up for sale. His construction business is floundering because rumors of his drinking are spreading. He can’t get his mind off the beautiful chef at the B&B and, oh yeah: he’s being haunted.

On the surface, Dream Lake‘s romantic plotline is fairly predictable. Broken man finds loving woman to heal his wounds. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’ve even a fan of the cookie cutter plot because it allows so much room for creativity. And Kleypas has plenty of creativity, namely the ghost.

The ghost is a unique plot twist. He has no idea who is he, why he seems to be tied to the house (then Alex), or if he can move on to the next life. In short, he’s the perfect foil for grumpy, defensive Alex, who would probably throw a hammer at your head if you looked at him funny.

Yet the ghost isn’t enough to make Dream Lake memorable. His story alone? Fabulous. Intertwined with the fairly mundane and – dare I say it? – predictable romance between Alex and Zoe (aforementioned loving woman)? It’s not enough.

The thing about Zoe and Alex is that they weren’t exciting. There wasn’t a new tweak to the stereotypical characters, aside from Alex being haunted. Alex is mean to Zoe, Alex kisses Zoe, Zoe cooks for Alex, and here we are.

From Kleypas’ past books, I expected more. More zing, more banter, deeper characters. With that, Dream Lake could have been great. As is, it’s okay.

3 Stars

Posted March 24, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 23, 2017

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsFirst Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #8
Publisher: William Morrow, August 2016
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.
Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is...I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just...mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants to fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.

Don’t judge this book by it’s cover…or rather, it’s title. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little put off by the nursery rhyme title (even M raised his eyebrows at me when he saw the cover), but First Star is one of SEP’s best.

Why? Her characters.

Like each of her novels, First Star is entirely character-driven. I loved Piper Dove, struggling private investigator with a soft heart but stubborn nature. Cooper Graham, retired star quarterback who is trying to break into the nightclub business, appears to be her exact opposite, but they are essentially two peas in a pod: soft on the inside, hard on the outside. And believe me, that made for some intense tension.

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But Phillips didn’t rely on that tension to carry the novel. It’s the wacky characters, from Piper to her elderly neighbor Berni, to Cooper and Jada, the teenage “assassain” who befriends Piper when she moves in. There’s an element of reality in the wackiness, one that both brings the characters and story alive.

I loved how both Piper and Coop go through separate heroic journeys, yet use each other as support. Piper’s initial friendship with Coop allows her to slowly let down her defenses she’s held up for so long, and Piper’s instinct to protect him lets Coop realize it’s okay to rely on someone else (well, someone who’s not in football pads).

The cameos from other characters in the Chicago Stars series cracked me up, especially Heath‘s role in Piper and Coop’s relationship. It created a kind of closure in the series, and since I think SEP originally intended this to be the final Chicago Stars novel, it fit.

Whether you are kinda into contemporary romance or a major fan (*raises hand*) First Star is simply a must read. From the hilariously relatable characters and original plotlines to the breathtaking romance, SEP’s latest is a must.

5 Stars

Posted March 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 7, 2017

Start Your Engines | 2017 Reading Challenges

If we’re going to be honest, I failed MISERABLY during last year’s reading challenges. A combination of burnout, work, and plain, simple stress knocked me down. I tried to do too much on the blog and when I was trying to figure out everything in my personal life, my reading seriously suffered.

But this year, I’m taking it easy. This year, I’m going to fall back in love with reading. Join me?

POPSUGAR 2017 READING CHALLENGE

Created to help readers find more books outside their go-to genres, the PopSugar reading challenges have been on my mind for a long time, but I’ve never caught them at the beginning. Learn more about the 2017 challenge here and join the fun with #popsugarreadingchallenge!

Honestly, I was initially tempted to sign up for the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle, including the advanced section. Luckily, the rational side of my brain spoke up. I plan to read as much as I can of the first section of the list and then go from there.

I plan to pick the books for this challenge month-by-month to make it a little more fun. For January, I’m starting out with:

Carnival of SoulsThe Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3)

 

THE 2017 MODERN MRS. DARCY READING CHALLENGE

The 2017 Reading Challenge

 

The ultimate create-your-own reading challenge, the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge has two different book lists to inspire your 2017 reading: reading for growth and reading for fun. Sign up here and follow along with #MMDreading.

Following my goal to find a little more fun both in books and life in 2017, I’m taking the reading for fun challenge. I’m hoping to read 12 books for this challenge, one a month.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge. Get more out of your reading life in 2017 with this choose-your-own-bookish-adventure challenge!

Wayfarer (Passenger, #2)Apprentice in Death (In Death, #43)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8)This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1)A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)The Hook Up (Game On, #1)Big Little LiesThe Time Traveler's WifeOn Writing: A Memoir of the CraftJust Imagine

 

THE 2017 DEBUT AUTHOR CHALLENGE

I fell in love with the Debut Author Challenge last year for one reason: I found so many new authors to love! The Debut Author Challenge introduces readers to new YA or new adult authors from around the globe. Sign up here and follow along with #2017DebAuthC!

 

I am challenging myself to read at least 10 of the 13 debuts I’ve picked out for 2017.

Shimmer and BurnSong of the CurrentToward a Secret SkyDaughter of the Pirate KingTo Catch a KillerWintersongCaraval (Caraval, #1)HeartstoneFrostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)

No cover yet:

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE READING CHALLENGE 2017

crr2017icon

Another of my favorite reading challenges, the Contemporary Romance reading challenge is for contemporary romance only – historical, sci-fi, paranormal, and romantic suspense does not count for this challenge. Since this challenge was how I discovered some new favorite contemporary romance authors last year, I can’t wait for this year’s reading! Join the fun here and follow along with #ContRom2017

I challenge myself to read a majority of new-to-me authors in this year’s challenge. I think I will go for the 3rd base level – 11-15 books.

Runaway Groom (I Do, I Don't)Royally Screwed (Royally, #1)Strong Signal (Cyberlove, #1)A Better Man (Sunshine Creek Vineyard, #1)Paige in ProgressSeven Day Fiancé (Love and Games, #2)

 

*post layout inspired by the beautiful challenge post over BookMark Lit!

Posted January 7, 2017 by Ellen in the canon talks / 0 Comments
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