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TheLoveJunkee

Caught in a FAB Romance (@TheLoveJunkee)

Introvert, Worrier, Owner of the blog "Caught in a FAB Romance", and resident Romance Guru on Parajunkee's View. I've been blogging about books for four years - if it's got romance in it, I'll read it! You can also find me on twitter, tweeting about books, my family, and sometimes, The Saints: @TheLoveJunkee Find me on Instagram:Instagram

Happily Ever Ninja by Penny Reid

Happily Ever Ninja (Knitting in the City Book 5) - Penny Reid

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PJV Quickie: Penny Reid has written a humorous, heartfelt, and honest love letter to marriage. I was not expecting to feel as many emotions as I did while reading Happily Ever Ninja – some good, some not so good – but overall I was thrilled to be back in the Knitting in the City world.

 

Review:
Fiona Archer met the love of her life in college, got married, had a career and put it on hold after becoming a mother. Now, after 14 years of marriage, sometimes she feels like a shell of her former self – putting everyone’s needs ahead of your own is exhausting. Something needs to change, but the catalyst for that change is nothing she’d ever expected.

 

Greg Archer knew the moment he set eyes on Fiona that she was The One. Now, after two kids and years of marriage, she’s still The One. The One he lives for, The One his heart beats for. He misses her every day he’s away – and unfortunately, he’s away more often than he's home. An opportunity for Greg to spend more time at home has an unexpected outcome, and Greg and Fiona are left fighting – for their marriage and for their lives.

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Hmmm…where to start? Mostly, I loved Happily Ever Ninja. If you’re an established Penny Reid fan, Happily Ever Ninja is a bit different than her other books, and in this case, that’s both a plus and a minus. This book doesn’t have as much of the signature humor I expect with this author; it’s a bit more serious than previous installments to the series. BUT, I still enjoyed reading Happily Ever Ninja and am looking forward to more adventures from the knitting group.

 

I’ve always liked Fiona as a secondary character and her turn as the main character was spectacular – she’s funny, smart, and nurturing all rolled up tight like a burrito. But, like a burrito, you can’t tell what’s inside by looking at the wrapper. Fiona has a lot going on and I think that of all of Penny Reid’s characters, I related to Fiona the most. I’d be surprised if most of her readers didn’t relate to Fiona and her frustrations on some level. Fiona’s family life, both as a young person and as a married adult, showcased her resilience and her ability to always see the good in people. Her frustrations with her husband, though, really got to me. Ms. Reid didn’t pull any punches when writing scenes between Fiona and Greg – some so syrupy sweet it made my teeth hurt, and some so maddening I wanted to throw my e-reader at my husband because Fiona’s anger really touched a nerve.

 

The chapters in Happily Ever Ninja move back and forth between college and present day, and I think it was a good choice by the author to remind us how Fiona and Greg fell in love. Greg was a great character – but he was frustrating to read. Strong headed and opinionated, I needed the reminder that there is also romance and uncertainty inside Greg too. His love for Fiona caused him to make impulsive decisions that made Fiona (and me) want to scream. But then, Ms. Reid would flash back to a scene where the reader (unfortunately not Fiona) was reminded why Greg does the things that he does.

 

Did I have a few quibbles with the story? Yes, but only a few. There were a few scenes where the humor felt forced (lady closet, anyone?) and I didn’t really see the point in making Greg British and using Britishisms as an adult if he moved to the US at age 15 - it felt like carrying something that’s not heavy but still awkward to hold, if that makes sense.

 

All in all though, Happily Ever Ninja is a tale of love in all of its glory and all of its misery, a story of how love grows and changes as we grow and change. One thing books often gloss over is how much work is required to keep love alive after that first blaze of new love is ignited – it’s not a magical fire that never needs to be re-stoked, sometimes it takes special care and attention to keep it burning - Ms. Reid captures it all in Happily Ever Ninja.

 

Recommendation:

If you’re a fan of Ms. Reid’s Knitting in the City series, you don’t want to miss Happily Ever Ninja. It’s a great ‘falling in love again’ story and I love that the hero and heroine are not in their 20s and have an established family and a (relatively) long marriage. If you’re new to the series, I would not recommend starting here – try Neanderthal seeking Human (you won’t regret it!).

 

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Missing Dixie by Caisey Quinn

Missing Dixie: A Neon Dreams Novel - Caisey Quinn

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PJV Quickie:As soon as I finished Leaving Amarillo and Loving Dallas, I could not wait to get my hands on Missing Dixie. I am happy to report it was worth the wait - Missing Dixie is a fabulous ending to this compulsively readable New Adult trilogy.

 

Review:

We first met Dixie Lark and Gavin Garrison in Leaving Amarillo, and I fell in love with this tough-as-nails heroine and the broken man she had been secretly lusting over for longer than she'd care to admit.  Dixie wants Gavin but she's not willing to play games, and he's asked her to wait while he "works stuff out".  When she sees him at a bar with a good-looking blonde, she wonders what the hell she's waiting for.

 

What Dixie doesn't know is that Gavin really is back in town to wrap up past mistakes and make himself worthy of Dixie's love. But there are some things he can't shake off and he's stuck in a vicious cycle that he's been trying to manage by himself for too long.

 

~~~~~~~

 

At the end of Leaving Amarillo, I was so frustrated with Dixie and Gavin's relationship status! I didn't want to wait for resolution, I wanted it NOWWWWW! Then I read the second book, Dixie's brother Dallas' story, and enjoyed it so much I was willing to give the author a break and wait (sort of) patiently for Missing Dixie.

 

Caisey Quinn has given these characters an amazing story and I'm glad I took the journey. The growth between Dixie and Gavin from Book 1 to Book 3 has been entertaining and uplifting. At the risk of using the over-used phrase "a feel good story", it really was. From Dixie's music foundation for underprivileged children to Gavin's determination to overcome his childhood demons, I felt like I was seeing a side of the characters that I didn't know I wanted.  Don't get me wrong, there are some serious issues addressed in Missing Dixie, and while real life does not always have a fairytale ending, I love the way things played out in the book.

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and am looking forward to whatever Ms. Quinn is working on next.  In the meantime, it looks like she has an interesting backlist that I will be checking out.

 

Recommendation:
Fans of rock-star romance, New Adult, and romance in a small town should definitely check out this series.  While I think Missing Dixie can probably be read as a stand-alone, I recommend reading the entire series in order. If you haven't tried New Adult before, this would be a good introduction to the genre. Fans of Liora Blake's True series or Nalini Singh's Rock Kiss series might want to give the Neon Dreams series a read.

 

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True Divide by Liora Blake

True Divide (The True Series Book 3) - Liora Blake

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PJV Quickie:  I have been a fan of this series from the first book,True North, and I'm sorry this is the last book in the True trilogy. Ms. Blake has taken me on a wonderful journey and ended the series with a strong story that pulled my heartstrings and left me with a teary-eyed smile and a happy sigh.

 

Review:
Lacey Mosley wants her happily ever after.  She knows she's in a rut in her tiny little hometown of Crowell, Montana, but doesn't know how to get out of the rut. Her sister has recently gotten married and had a baby and Lacey sees how happy they are and wants that for herself. But the closest thing she has to a love interest is her ex-boyfriend, the jerk-faced sheriff who doesn't know when to give up, and she's not touching him again with a 10-foot pole, or anything else for that matter.

 

Jake Holt didn't grow up in Crowell, he was dumped there as a teenager by his mother right before she took off for good.  He was the town bad-boy, and he was miserable, until the head cheerleader shows up at his secret thinking spot one night. He and Lacey were opposites, for sure, but their attraction to each other was electric. She was the only thing he regretted leaving when he left town immediately after graduation.

 

10 years later, Jake is back in Crowell dropping off Lacey's rock-star brother-in-law. Jake's seen and done a lot in the last 10 years and now he's a pilot.  He's led an exciting life away from Crowell, but one look at Lacey and he feels like he's come home. But Lacey still lives in the house she grew up in, and has worked down the street at the Beauty Barn her whole life. He doesn't know if he can convince Lacey to leave the only home she's ever known, but he knows he can't go back - the only good memory he has of Crowell is Lacey, and he doesn't know if that's enough.

 

~~~~~~~

 

I wasn't sure I was going to like Lacey - from the previous books, she seemed kind of bitchy. But Liora Blake seems to have a knack for taking what appears to be an unlikable heroine and making them sympathetic and appealing. We learned a lot about Lacey and her sister's relationship from Lacey's side and as a result I genuinely liked Lacey and wanted her to have her Happily Ever After. I could relate to her character far more than I'd like to admit and felt like I was in the book with Lacey, being taken along for the ride:  good decisions, bad decisions, excitement and sadness, I was on that roller coaster with her.

 

Jake was absolutely charming - no Alpha-hole here. He was a genuinely good guy and his personality was sexy as hell (his physical description didn't hurt either *winks*). He genuinely liked Lacey and wasn't afraid to show it. I loved their long distance e-mails and phone calls, and that he wasn't afraid to tell Lacey what he was thinking.

 

In case you can't tell, I really, really liked True Divide.  I'm going to let you in on a little secret:  True Divide made me cry. Yes, it did! Not over Jake, but over Lacey's relationship with a secondary character that was so sweet and sad. I love when a book gets to me like that.

 

It appears this is the final book in the True trilogy. I really hope Ms. Blake has something else planned because I have enjoyed this trilogy from start to finish and would like to read more of her work. Each of the books can be read as a stand-alone, but I'm warning you now that once you read one you'll want to read the rest.

 

Recommendation:
If you like second-chance romance, this book is definitely for you. Fans of long-distance lovers and small town romance should also give True Divide a read. I think True Divide will appeal to fans of Jill Shalvis or Shannon Stacey.

 

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Nuts by Alice Clayton

Nuts (The Hudson Valley Series) - Alice Clayton

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PJV Quickie:I know when I pick up an Alice Clayton book that I'm in for a good time. When I was at the RT 15 convention, I saw she had a new series coming up and did a happy dance right there in the lobby. The reality lived up to my hype: Nuts is an excellent debut to the Hudson Falls series and I can't wait to see what's next.    

 

Review:

Roxie Callahan is a professional chef who's back in her hometown temporarily to run the family diner while her hippie mom participates in The Amazing Race.  She's not thrilled about being home, because even though she graduated from a prestigious culinary school and cooks for the stars (sometimes), when she's home she feels like the awkward girl she was before she left. Roxie is determined that's not going to happen this time, and also that this is the last favor she's going to do for her flighty mom.

 

Leo Maxwell was a typical rich kid who floated through life on his parents' money.  The Maxwell's are a famous banking dynasty, and Leo tried a few jobs in the family companies but nothing stuck.  Then, he visited the family farm in Hudson Valley and fell in love with the organic farming movement.  He decided to stay and turned it into a sustainable farm.  He sells things at the local farmer's market, makes deliveries to local homes and businesses, and has a local co-op for people to participate in to get fresh produce and farm products.

 

After a very public and embarrassing introduction, Leo and Roxie run into each other a few times before they start dating. Things are going well, too well, but Roxie knows she's leaving at the end of the summer; there's nothing to keep her in Hudson Valley, is there? Only if you don't count new friends, a blossoming slow-food movement, the opportunity to make changes at the diner, and ...Leo. But even in a sleepy little town, some secrets are well hidden, and sometimes, they're game changers.

 

~~~~~

 

I am a huge fan of Alice Clayton so it's not surprising that I loved Nuts. She writes characters that are relatable and her books pull you in and make you feel like you're part of the cast of characters. In Nuts, Ms. Clayton's signature humor is in full force, and I had a great time reading it. There were so many opportunities for food/sex-related jokes, and she nailed it every time.

 

Roxie and Leo were great characters: I liked how Roxie wanted things to change so she made it happen instead of moping about how horrible her life is, and Leo's love for the organic/slow-food movement was contagious (I'm actually interested in learning more about it).  The heat between these two was focused and burned hot; the humor softened the heat and at the same time turned it into something more.

 

I liked the supporting cast of characters, although it would have been nice to see more of Roxie's besties (I think one might be the next heroine) .  Without giving away spoilers, there was only one character I didn't like, Polly, but I generally don't enjoy this kind of character so she might not bother other readers.

 

I've got to add this:  Every time I think about this book, I think about those "Farmers Only dot com" commercials...in the best way, of course :)  Nuts is going on my keeper shelf - funny, sexy, food-y, fabulous - what's not to love?  

 

Recommendation:
Fans of Alice Clayton's other books will definitely enjoy Nuts, as will fans of Penny Reid, Emma Chase, and Kristan Higgins. Readers who love romance but want laugh-out-loud moments and a strong story should give this one a try.

 

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Claimed by Elle Kennedy

Claimed: An Outlaws Novel (The Outlaws Series) - Elle Kennedy

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PJV Quickie:I am a huge fan of Elle Kennedy's New Adult series, Off Campus, so when I saw she had a dystopian series coming up, I was very excited.  While Claimed definitely lived up to Ms. Kennedy's reputation of sizzling hot sex scenes, I unfortunately felt that the dystopian world-building was lacking.

 

Review:
Connor Mackenzie is the begrudging leader of a small band of Outlaws, those who live on the outskirts of the Cities. After a devastating war, citizens live in the cities, and Enforcers patrol the outskirts looking for Outlaws and Bandits. After his wife was killed, Connor has been on a mission to find and kill Dominick, the Enforcer who killed his wife.

 

Hudson Lane is looking for protection. She's running from a forced marriage with an Enforcer and when she sees Connor and his group of men she's sure he'll keep her safe. Hudson has secrets that she's keeping from Connor, but she can't fight her attraction to the seductively handsome man.

 

In this new world, letting go and trusting someone can get you killed.  As their attraction grows, they're both fighting a relationship for different reasons, and if Hudson's secrets are revealed, she's afraid of what Connor will do.

 

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As I mentioned in my PJV Quickie, I am a big fan of Elle Kennedy's Off-Campus series. This new Outlaws series is very different.  Let me start by saying there is a lot of sex.  A lot.  It's a 351 page book, and starting around page 75, the steamy stuff starts and the sex is plentiful from there on out. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty darn hot - self pleasure, m/f sex, menage, voyeurism...it's really hot.   But, I wanted more world-building: I don't know why there was a war or who was fighting or what happened to put parts of the United States underwater.  There were some awkward bits explaining that religion is gone but people still use expletives like "Jesus Christ" and "Oh God" that felt out of place and didn't really delve into why this was an issue.

 

As for the characters - I liked the whole group. Connor and Hudson were both survivors who had trouble letting go of control and they each had their own set of values they lived by.  Connor's group of guys were entertaining and they have some interesting backstories that are ripe for their own books.

 

In summary, I like the set up, I like the characters, and I will be coming back for the next book in the series.  I'm hoping it will go into a little more detail concerning the world as it is and why it's that way.  Claimed reminded me of Kit Rocha's excellent Beyond series (although not as gritty), and if I remember correctly, I wanted more world-building in the first book of that series as well.

 

Recommendation:
Fans of Kit Rocha's Beyond series should enjoy Claimed.  If you like strong heroes and heroines and erotic post-apocalyptic reads, definitely give Claimed a read.

 

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Judgement of the Six series by Melissa Haag

Hope(less)  - Melissa Haag

I was looking for a good werewolf story and picked this up for free. It took me a few tries to get into it, but around 18% it started working for me. I like the worldbuilding and characters. I was a little disappointed that the story didn't totally wrap up, but the second book was $1 so I grabbed it. I just finished book 4 and am waiting for the 5th book.

 

This series would be hard to review a book at a time. Each book has a different heroine, but they're all related and so the end of each book is unfinished because their stories are all connected.

 

For me, they each take a bit to get into, working up the background story for the heroines, but once the story gets going I really enjoyed them - enough that I've been buying and reading them back-to-back.

Last Hope by Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick

Last Hope (A Hitman Novel) - Jessica Clare, Jen Frederick

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PJV Quickie:I am a huge fan of Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick's Hitman series, and I liked Last Hope, but I think this installment is the weakest. As I'll discuss below, there was a "third character" that was just a bit too much, and for me was too big of a focus of the story.

 

Review: Ava Samson is a hand model who is in a dangerous position due to no fault of her own.  Her roommate has been kidnapped, and in order to save her, Ava must transport information to various buyers. Currently in Peru, she is stays in a hotel room until her captors tell her when and where to meet the various buyers, she shows them the information, and then goes back to her room.  Ava doesn't know what's going to happen after the sale happens - will her captors let her and her roommate go, or will they kill her anyway?

 

We met Rafe Mendoza in the second book in this series, Last Breath. Rafe is mercenary who is currently tracking the activities of a notorious black-market information dealer. The government is holding one of Rafe's men hostage until Rafe and his crew can obtain the information and remove the threat posed by the dealer.  As part of their surveillance, they have discovered Ava and her part in the scheme. Rafe thinks she's beautiful, but his friend is priority and while he hopes Ava won't end up as collateral damage, he can't be sure. His priority is his getting the information and saving his friend at any cost.

 

When her captors suddenly put her on a plane, Rafe manages to get a seat on the plane.  When the plane goes down in a remote jungle, Rafe knows he's got to save Ava to save his friend.  The more they get to know each other though, they each start wondering if they can save their friends, and each other.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Okay, first things first...let's talk about the "elephant in the room", or more accurately, the elephant in Rafe's pants.  That "third character" that I mentioned in the PJV Quickie - yeah, it's Rafe's penis. There seemed to be a constant focus and it was constantly mentioned and compared to a wine bottle, a club, and a baseball bat.  Even though they're in the jungle, fighting for their lives, he's constantly aroused and she's constantly thinking about his "giant cock" (that she nicknamed Godzilla).  I thought they trained that out of you in mercenary school (or however you train to become a mercenary).  I think I had a hard time with the romance set up in general, as they were in the jungle, trying to survive, and Ava is more concerned with where she's going to find lube.

 

I know it sounds like I didn't like Last Hope, but I did. Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick write great characters and the plot was interesting, I just wish it would have been less penis-focused.  Rafe's back story was interesting, until you got to the part about his sexual history. I found it hard to believe he was a smart guy with access to modern technology but still believed the skewered view of his past.  <-- See?  Every time I try to get to the meat (heh) of the story, it circles right back around to Rafe's penis.  I liked Ava's story inasmuch as she's worried about her future,  but also her compassion for the women she meets on a mysterious island.  I think that once she was given a chance, Ava turned out to be a strong character and I liked her.  As far as secondary characters, Rafe's guys seemed pretty cool and I am wondering if we'll see more of his team in future books; I think I'd like that.

 

I am still a huge fan of the Hitman series, but I think that Last Hope is the weakest book in the series.  I think it is lacking the suspense and romantic build that I feel is a staple of series.  I'm genuinely surprised to rate a Jessica Clare/Jen Frederick book as a solid 3 - I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. While it can definitely be read as a standalone, if you've never read this series, I would not recommend reading this book first.

 

Recommendations:

If you're a fan of Romantic Suspense, virgin heroes, kidnapped heroines, and romances where the hero and heroine are forced into a survival situation, you may enjoy Last Hope.

 

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Dark Wild Night by Christina Lauren

Dark Wild Night - Christina Lauren

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PJV Quickie:The writing duo that is Christina Lauren have a winner in Dark Wild Night - not only is this my favorite book in the series, it's my favorite Christina Lauren book, period. If Dark Wild Night is in your TBR pile, you need to bump it up to the top. If it's not in your TBR pile, it needs to be.

 

Review:
Lorelei "Lola" Castle started creating her comic, Razor Fish, soon after her mother left her and her father, when Lola was 12.  Now, her comic has been optioned for movie and she's thrilled and nervous, but it's not as exciting as she thought it would be.  Actually, it's kind of stressful: she's supposed to be writing the sequel to Razor Fish, consulting on the movie, and she's starting a new romantic relationship with her best friend Oliver (!!!).  Problem is, she can't stop thinking about Oliver, and now she's missing deadlines; she knows something's got to give.  But does she give up Oliver, when her feelings for him are so intense, or the comics, which have been her life's dream?

 

Oliver Lore is a sexy Australian who owns a comic book shop called Downtown Graffick.  He's also Lola's ex-husband and current best friend. Lola and Oliver were married shortly after they met in a quickie Vegas wedding, along with their best friends (Mia and Ansel from Sweet Filthy Boy, and Harlow and Finn from Dirty Rowdy Thing).  Unlike the other couples, though, Lola and Oliver didn't consummate their marriage before getting a quickie divorce.  Instead, they spent the evening walking and talking, and getting to know each other.  He really likes her, and has always wanted more, so when their friendship takes a romantic turn, Oliver feels like his life is falling into place.

 

When Lola's stress becomes Oliver's misery, they both wonder if they'll ever be able to go back to friendship, let alone more.

 

~~~~~

 

I loved Dark Wild Night. Loved it.  Oliver and Lola had a wonderful friendship and the slow burn into a romantic relationship was charming and sexy and agonizingly seductive. They were both shy and afraid to put themselves out there, and when they finally did, it was too much and it hurt to read. I love when a book makes me feel things right along with the characters, and Dark Wild Night made my heart hurt.  But it also made my heart sing, and for that reason I'm going to say that it's easily my favorite book by Christina Lauren.

 

Aside from the relationship, one of my favorite things about the writing was the way they describe how Lola thinks of herself as if she's a character in a comic book; it added a facet to her personality that I feel made her more relatable.  She appears so confident, then to read what's really going on inside her head made me feel like I was getting a complete view of Lola's character.

 

Of course, it wouldn't be a great story without conflict, and Austin, the producer, is a grade-A jerkface.  He wants to change the story and Lola's battles with Austin make the story progress from "things are great" to "trouble in paradise".  It's a believable conflict and it doesn't involve a love triangle.  Oliver is such a great beta-hero, trying to be supportive but also refusing to give up on "Loliver".

 

Recommendation:
If you enjoy the "friends to lovers" trope, geeky heroes or heroines (or both together!), and a slow build-up to great romance, definitely grab Dark Wild Night.  Fans of compulsively readable authors like Elle Kennedy, Samantha Young, and Sophie Jordan will probably enjoy Dark Wild Night.

 

This is book 3 in a series but I think you could read it as a stand-alone without too much confusion about the previous characters.

 

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Borden by R.J. Lewis

BORDEN - R.J. Lewis

I read and enjoyed Burn and Ignite, so when I saw a recommendation for this one I bought it. DNF at 42% Needs editing for grammar and sentence structure. The story is rambling and I'm just not interested enough to put any more time into it.

If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins

If You Only Knew - Kristan Higgins

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PJV Quickie: If You Only Knew is a little different from a "typical" Kristan Higgins book, but I liked it.  It's a more serious story than I am used to from this author, more women's fiction than romance, but her flair for strong characters and exceptional storytelling shines through.

 

Review:
Jenny Tate is a fancy-schmancy wedding dress designer (she worked for Vera Wang! She's met Tim Gunn!) who's fairytale marriage ended suddenly (and surprisingly) in divorce.  She's stayed friends with her ex-husband Owen, and his new wife Ana-Sofia might be her current best friend. Jenny desperately wants a family of her own and being near Owen's new family isn't good for her, so she decides to move from Manhattan back to her nearby hometown of Cambry-on-Hudson.

 

Jenny's sister Rachel is happily married to Adam, or at least she thinks she is.  They have young triplet girls, so she stays at home with the girls while Adam works as an attorney. When Rachel finds a crotch shot on Adam's phone, her world goes into a tailspin. Her parents had a seemingly perfect marriage before her father's untimely death and Rachel was determined that she would too - now she must decide if she's willing to work on her marriage to save it, or if it's even worth saving.

 

As the sisters deal with their own dramas, and support each other through it all, they both navigate through it wondering if things in life are as straightforward as they appear, what's important in life, and the importance of surrounding yourself with family and friends who stand by you.

 

~~~~~

 

I had a really hard time writing this review. I knew the book was going to be different and I wasn't sure I was going to like it. I started reading on Saturday morning and by Saturday night I had finished the entire book.  Kristan Higgins writes characters that I can relate to: their insecurities, their social awkwardness, their heartbreak, and their humor.  If You Only Knew is no exception.  We still get the Kristan Higgins attention to detail, just a little less humor and less focus on the romance. This would fall under women's fiction instead of romance - the romance is not the focus of the story - it's more Jenny and Rachel and their separate but concurrent journeys.

 

But as we read Jenny and Rachel's stories, Ms. Higgins folds in the story of their parents' (im)perfect marriage, which somewhat complicates the present, and also Jenny's landlord, who's story merges in with Jenny's story. (Jenny's new apartment is upstairs from her cantankerous landlord/superintendent, Leo Killian, who also gives piano lessons in his home.  Leo's a hottie, but he's very firm in his stance that he's "strictly for recreational purposes" and Jenny's looking for husband/father material.)  I could create a string diagram to show all the connections between the characters in this book and how their stories affect each other.

 

If You Only Knew is more of a "Happy For Now" than a "Happily Ever After", and honestly, it's good just like that. There's some serious heartbreak, but it is redeemed.  Ms. Higgins touches on some difficult subjects (infidelity, alzheimer's, death, self-doubt) but intersperses it with humor and a cast of wonderful characters.  I would be remiss if I didn't say that although I normally hate kids in books, the triplets were adorable, and Leo's piano students added to the story.  There were a few scenes I kind of rolled my eyes at (I'm looking at you, blind date and fancy dinner party), but they didn't dim my enjoyment of the book overall.

 

Recommendation:
Fans of Jane Green, Debbie Macomber, and Emilie Richards will definitely want to pick this one up!  If you're already a Kristan Higgans fan, I'm going to recommend this - even though it's different, it's still good.  Also, if you read and enjoyed Covet by Tracy Garvis-Graves, I think you'll enjoy If You Only Knew.

 

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Undaunted by Ronnie Douglas

Undaunted: Knights in Black Leather - Ronnie Douglas

I wanted to like this but it left me feeling "meh". The heroine was annoying and indecisive and I felt like she played the hero and a second character against each other. Sadly, I was not impressed with the hero, the MC, or any of the secondary characters. Also, the mystery was obvious almost from the start - I read something with a similar plot before.

Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey

Heat Exchange (Boston Fire) - Shannon Stacey

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PJV Quickie:
I loved Shannon Stacey's Kawalski Family series but couldn't get into her last Contemporary series, Boys of Fall, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I requested Heat Exchange for review (how could I resist that cover?).  I am happy to report that I loved this book! Great characters, a realistic plot and an interesting setting made Heat Exchange a book that I couldn't put down.

 

Review:
Lydia Kincaid was born and raised in a Boston firefighter family - her father and brother are/were firefighters, she married (and divorced) a Boston firefighter, and her family bar caters to locals and firefighters. Her marriage was a disaster - he was a philandering jerk, and her family wasn't very supportive of her divorce or her subsequent move to Concord - not too far but far enough to get away.  The brotherhood of the Boston FD can be overwhelming, and Lydia was feeling smothered and brushed aside.

 

Aidan Hunt met Lydia's father, Tommy, when he was eleven and his family had been in a car accident. Tommy made such an impression on young Aiden that eventually Aiden decided that he wanted to be a firefighter too, much to the chagrin of his family. Lydia's father and brother embraced Aidan like he was their own family, and he respects Tommy more than his own father.  He loves being able to help people, and the brotherhood of the Boston FD is the life he's always wanted.

 

When Lydia's sister Ashley calls with the news that she's leaving her husband (another firefighter), Lydia comes back to Boston to help tend the family bar so that Ashley can have some time away from the firefighters and the gossip.  Neither Lydia nor Aiden expects the sparks that fly when he walks in to the bar and sees her behind it. They know they shouldn't act on it - He's her brother's best friend!  She doesn't date firefighters! - but the attraction is too strong to fight.

 

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As I mentioned above in the PJV Quickie, I absolutely love Shannon Stacey's Kowalski Family series (of Doom!) and devoured each book as soon as it came out. But then I couldn't get into her next contemporary series, Boys of Fall, so I was a little nervous about starting Heat Exchange.  As it turns out, I really loved Heat Exchange - I was pulled into the story quickly and from there I was IN the story: Ms. Stacey's writing gave a great sense of place and presence, if that makes sense. You get a great sense of how strong the firefighter's bonds are, and Lydia's feelings of chafing at those bonds comes across loud and clear.  Her experiences with her ex-husband and her father's misogynistic attitude towards women and his views on their role as support for the men left me feeling as frustrated and conflicted as Lydia was about her relationship with Aidan.  She had legitimate reasons for not wanting to get involved, but Aidan was a really great guy and I wanted an HEA for them. Aidan's feelings about hiding their relationship from his his best friend and his coworkers ("brothers") are also authentic, and his guilt and frustration war with his attraction to Lydia.

 

I also liked the secondary story of Lydia's sister, Ashley, and Ashley's marriage to Danny. As they try to work through their crumbling marriage, I found my attention did not wander when the focus shifted to Ashley and Danny. Their storyline was not just a plot device but an interesting example of the importance of communication.

 

Lest you think this story is all gloom and frustration, Shannon Stacey has a great sense of humor and it flows naturally throughout the story. Heat Exchange is exactly what I want when I'm in the mood for a Contemporary Romance - attraction, humor, conflict, real issues and believable characters.  I cannot wait for the next book in the series, Controlled Burn.

 

Recommendation:
If you like firefighter stories and contemporary romance, I highly recommend Heat Exchange.  Fans of Kate Meader's Hot in Chicago series, Jennifer Bernard's Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel series, or Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor series will probably enjoy Heat Exchange.


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Sustained by Emma Chase

Sustained (The Legal Briefs Series) - Emma Chase

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PJV Quickie:  Emma Chase has done it again: Sustained was sweet, sexy, sometimes sad, but never boring. If someone had told me how much I would enjoy a book featuring six kids, there is no way I would have believed them.  It's true though - aside from a few reservations that I address below, I absolutely loved Sustained!

 

 

Review:
Jake Becker is a high powered defense attorney for a prestigious law firm.  He's also a lover of women, and he 'loves' them every chance he gets. The thought of settling down, or even dating, has never crossed his mind.  Jake was raised by his mom after his abusive dad left, and as a kid he was headed down the wrong path until he was taken under the wing of a workaholic judge who saw something redeemable in Jake.

 

Chelsea McQuaid is -was- a 26-year-old college student.  Then her older brother and his wife died in a car accident, leaving Chelsea their six kids ranging in age from infant to 14 to take care of.  Overwhelmed doesn't begin to cover it, but she loves the kids and is doing the best she can.

 

When Jake's wallet is pickpocketed, he chases the kid, Rory, until he catches him.  Jake sees something of himself as a child in Rory, and decides to take Rory home to his parents and let them sort him out.  What Jake finds at Rory's home instead is Chelsea, obviously overwhelmed by caring for six children.  Jake would love to get together with Chelsea, but he knows she's got her hands full.  Several incidents later, and the kids have drawn him in to the family and closer to Chelsea.  Jake doesn't want a family though, and is fighting the life lesson that 'want' and 'need' are two different things.

 

~~~~~~~

 

I enjoyed the small role Jake had in the first book, Overruled, and was looking forward to his story.  Let me say here that you do not need to read Overruled to jump right in to Sustained.  Yes, we do read about the couple from Overruled, and it's nice to see how they're doing, but it's not necessary to read it to enjoy Sustained.  I'm also going to say that if you didn't like Overruled (the hero was an ass), don't be afraid to give Sustained a read, it's got a different feel to it.

 

I can't say I was surprised that I enjoyed Sustained, because I fully expected to, but it's always nice when a book lives up to your expectations.  The hours that I spent with Chelsea, Jake, and the kids were a nice break from reality.  Jake was a pretty amazing character - if you want a character that shows growth through the story, Jake is a great example.  Does he have a few bumps in the road? Sure he does, but he gets there eventually and I (mostly) enjoyed his journey. Chelsea was a character I could identify with - she wasn't perfect but she was a good person in a tough situation.  She doesn't always make the right choice in her personal life but she will do anything for the kids.

 

Let's talk about the kids:  I normally avoid books with kids in them. I find them annoying and too cutesy or ridiculous and read the 'kid scenes' rolling my eyes. This is not the case in Sustained - these kids were realistic, cute but not in a fake way, and essential to the story. Color me surprised but I genuinely liked these kids!

 

Sustained was a funny, sexy, quick (quick in that I couldn't stop reading, the book is 267 pages) read that I didn't want to put down. From humorous scenes like Jake going to a One Direction concert, to serious scenes involving Child Services, I wanted the best for Jake and Chelsea and the kids, and I wanted it to be together.  Every time something happened I wanted to cheer them on with a "you can do this!".

 

I almost gave Sustained 5 stars, but I took off 1 star for the following reasons:

 

  • There is a scene in Sustained where it appears Jake drove drunk - there were no repercussions, he kind of noted it and went on, no "OMG that was dangerous/illegal/stupid".  Yes, fictional heroes have flaws, but this is a hot issue for me and it took the shine off the character in a major way.
  • In the first few pages Jake gets an STD. He's cured before he meets Chelsea, but Jake and Chelsea never talk about their sexual history except to say "I'm clean" and I kind of feel like they should have.   He was clean, but...I just have mixed feelings about this.

 

So, in summary, Sustained was, for me, a great read with just a few grumbles. It left me happy with the ending for more than just the romance storyline, and highly anticipating the next book.  Now, there is a sneak-peek of the next book, Appealed, at the end of Sustained. Of course I read it and it looks like it's going to be fabulous.  According to Amazon, we have to wait until January for Appealed - *cries* that's too long!!!

 

Recommendation: 

Sustained is a solid read that will appeal to contemporary romance readers looking for an entertaining story.  I would recommend Sustained to fans of Julie James, romance readers who love law settings, and readers who like the "instant family" trope.

 

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The Neon Dreams series by Caisey Quinn

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Caisey Quinn's Neon Dreams series is one that somehow went under my radar until I met her at the RT Convention in Dallas at the Avon party.  She was signing the second book in the series, Loving Dallas, and I was thrilled to receive a copy. The blurb was interesting and the author was very enthusiastic about the series, but I put it aside until I bought the first book, Leaving Amarillo because I can't start with the second book in a series.

 

 

Once I started reading Leaving Amarillo, I couldn't put it down.  I like the characters - a brother and sister and the brother's best friend have a band and they're traveling around Texas trying to make it big.  Dixie, the sister, has a college music scholarship but if they can get a contract she won't be going back to school.  She's also got a huge crush on Gavin, their childhood friend.  Apparently Gavin promised her brother Dallas that he'd never make a move on Dixie and he's stayed true to his word... until Dixie forces his hand.

 

From there it's a wonderfully hot story of passion - both physical passion and their passion for music.  When I turned the last page, I'll admit I was really frustrated - I gave it a 3.75 on goodreads because I was enjoying the story but the end is unresolved between Dixie and Gavin and since the next book is Dallas' story we won't be getting their resolution until book 3.  I knew in my heart there was no way I'd enjoy Dallas' story because I was mad that we didn't Dixie and Gavin's story resolved.

 

 

Well, I am the first to admit when I'm wrong.  I really enjoyed Loving Dallas. Dallas went on the road alone and his story is a "second chance love" story.  Not what I expected and I loved it.  There were times when I was frustrated with the lack of communication between the characters, but honestly I didn't care.  The secondary characters helped move the story along, but they were also interesting in and of themselves.

 

This has been a great series so far and I can't wait for the next book, Loving Dixie. I would not recommend trying to read these books as stand-alones.  The set up for Dixie and Gavin's HEA is set and it's going to be epic, I just know it!

 

Recommendations:

Fans of "Rock Star" romance and fans of New Adult will probably enjoy the Neon Dreams series.  Fans of Jamie Shaw's Mayhem series, Erica Kelly's Rock Star Romance series, and Liora Blake's True Devotion series may want to give the Neon Dreams series a try.

 

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The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

The Bourbon Kings - J.R. Ward

 

 

 

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PJV Quickie: J.R. Ward's newest title, The Bourbon Kings, is out today!  Be forewarned - if you're expecting one of her Black Dagger Brotherhood stories, this isn't it.  The Bourbon Kings is a fictional look at a wealthy Kentucky bourbon family, the empire they control, and the lives they affect. Is this family as dysfunctional as you'd think?  Yes, and then some (I told my husband they're 'fampires' because this family sucks the life out of the people around them). And while I found it hard to like most of the characters, there were several that I loved to hate.

 

Review:

The Bourbon Kings is the fictional story of a modern-day Kentucky Bourbon family.  The Bradford family has made Bradford Bourbon for generations and the name is synonymous with quality and distinction. The family and the company are truly a dynasty:  there are family trusts, airplanes, cars, homes, and a small army of employees tasked with keeping things running smoothly, for both the business and the family.

 

Tulane ("Lane") is the middle son of four children.  The oldest son, Edward, was supposed to take over the family dynasty, but after a horrifying turn of events in the past he now lives a quiet life breeding and training horses.  The youngest son, Max, is apparently off somewhere doing his own thing.  The baby sister, Virginia ("Gin"), has some serious daddy issues. Honestly, all four siblings have daddy issues - William Baldwine is mentally and physically abusive and an all-around horrible person.  Their mother (the Bradford in the family, she married William and had four children with him) retired to her bedroom suite some years ago and never left.

 

Lizzie King is Easterly's head gardner.  She's been working at Easterly for years and her heart was broken by Lane two years ago.   She's since gotten over it, partially helped by the fact that he hasn't been home to Easterly since their breakup.

 

The story takes place over the long weekend of the Charlemont Derby (I believe it's supposed to be the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby) and the extravagant brunch thrown every year at the Bradford estate, Easterly.  Everyone who is anyone in Kentucky is there, along with the rich and famous from all over. Lane has been away for two years and has come home after getting an urgent call from Easterly.  His plan is to slip in, check on things, and slip out, but Easterly quickly grabs him in its clutches and suddenly his plan for a speedy retreat is no longer an option.

 

~~~~~

 

I wouldn't call The Bourbon Kings a contemporary romance, or even women's fiction. It's more general fiction with romantic elements - If I recall correctly, there are only two romantic sex scenes and they're not as graphic as what you would expect in a contemporary romance novel. (NOTE: There is a more graphic rape scene so if that is a trigger for you you may want to skip this book.) There is a focus on Lane and Lizzie's relationship, but there are so many other stories in play that their relationship often takes a backseat to other events happening on the page.  This family is so incredibly unlikable, yet somehow I couldn't stop reading.  The story is definitely reminiscent of of those over-the-top sweeping dramas like Dallas and Dynasty in the 80's, full of big egos, big money, and low morals.

 

The Bourbon Kings is a story of deceit, adultery, coercion, and death.  In the midst of it all, Lane is trying to fix past mistakes, hold his family together, and prove to Lizzie that he is worthy of a second chance.  Lane may have won the award for a fictional character's Worst. Day. Ever.  Poor Lane. I felt badly for him, even though he was not what I would consider a sympathetic character: he lives off his trust fund and has a history as a playboy, and he avoids his problems by crashing on his friend's couch for two years - hardly your typical romantic hero.  But, he does come around and his love for Lizzie makes him want to be a better man. That is a character trait I can totally get behind.

 

One frustration I have with The Bourbon Kings is that it's kind of hard to say anything about Lizzie.  She's the 'heroine' of the book, if there is one, but her character doesn't do much except provide a love interest for Lane. Unless she was with Lane, she was just kind of there in the background of all the crazy family shenanigans.

 

Lane's brother Edward is really the only character who drew my genuine sympathy - physically and mentally tortured, he's a broken shell of the man he used to be.  Even though he was far from perfect he had an interesting story and I'm looking forward to reading more about him.

 

I'm also curious to find out what's going on with the sister, Gin. Gin is manipulative and a liar, and has kept a horrible secret from someone she cares about, but her story line is cruel. I struggled with actively disliking her while at the same time pitying her situation.  I wondered if she's the way she is because of her personality, or is her personality a result of her situation.

 

If you're expecting a nice, clean HEA at the end of The Bourbon Kings... you're not going to get it.  The Bourbon Kings is going leave you wanting the next book immediately - especially if you read the 3-page preview of the next book. I have no idea if each book will focus on a different sibling, or if the story will cover the entire family all the way through with Lane and Lizzie as the 'main' characters, but it is a series I plan on keeping up with - this family is too shamelessly obscene to stop reading about them now!

 

Recommendation: 

I'm going to say fans of JR Ward will want to read The Bourbon Kings; even though it's not paranormal her writing style still shines through (no, I don't mean product placement and slang).  Fans of those glittering 80's nighttime soap operas (think Dallas or Dynasty) or who love hearing about pop culture over-the-top family dynasties (think the Hiltons or the Kennedys) may want to give The Bourbon Kings a read.  I also believe The Bourbon Kings will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey; although it is set in modern-day United States it has that "upstairs/downstairs" feel to it.

 

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers Book 1) - Penny Reid

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PJV QuickieI've said it before and I'll say it again: if you haven't read any of Penny Reid's books - why not? I've enjoyed her Knitting in the City series and while reading book 4, Beauty and the Mustache, I fell in love with the Winston brothers. If Truth or Beard is any indication of the rest of the series, all I can say is "Take my money and give me all the books!"

 

Review:

Jessica James is a high-school math teacher who's come home to teach and pay off her student loans before fulfilling her dream of travelling the world. Her plan is to stay home for two years and then travel. She's not planning on starting anything with hunky Beau Winston, the twin she's had a crush on for as long as she can remember, but when he approaches her at a community gathering, she can't believe it. When she finds out it was actually his twin, Duane, she's furious - she and Duane have had an antagonistic relationship since they were kids, so why is he kissing her and looking for more?

 

Duane Winston has had a crush on Jessica James since they were teenagers - he can remember the exact day his feelings for her changed from aggravation to affection. When he sees a chance to kiss her, he takes it, even though he knows she'll be furious. As he gets to know the grown-up, post-college Jessica, he likes her even more. But she doesn't plan to stick around, and he wants something permanent with her.

 

~~~~~

 

Oh yes.  Truth or Beard was so funny and so sexy!  I have a weird one-sided love affair going on with Penny Reid, or her books anyway, and Truth or Beard is another example of what I love about her writing. If you've read a Penny Reid book before, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't read any of her books before, you're missing out!  Penny Reid writes absolutely delicious heroes.  I'm talking grab an imaginary spoon, dig in, and go back for seconds delicious.

 

Jessica and Duane have a hate-on for each other that goes back years to when they were kids.  Watching that turn around into a real attraction was delightful to read.   I enjoyed the back-and-forth between them and Duane's plan to court her was swoony. You've got this tough, bearded mechanic who is actively woo-ing his former childhood nemesis, and a sexy math teacher who's got one foot out the proverbial door.  Throw in a side story involving one of the brothers who got into some trouble with the local motorcycle gang and you've got a story that's almost impossible to put down.

 

Some of the conflict felt a bit forced at times - I wish Jessica hadn't fought so hard to push Duane away, and his brilliant plan to 'have her while he could' really wasn't so brilliant, but in the end it all worked out beautifully.  Of course there's a little something that the author may be saving for a future book story line, but the seed has been planted (in my mind at least).

 

As Jessica and Duane's story came to an end, all I could think was that I want every brother's story. Right now.  (Their sister Ashley's story was told in Beauty and the Mustache.) Whhyyyyy do I have to wait????

 

Recommendation:
Penny Reid is an 'auto-buy' author for me. I highly recommend her books if you enjoy smart, funny contemporary romance.  I think that Truth or Beard can be read as a stand-alone, although if you read 'Beauty and the Mustache' I think you will enjoy it even more. Fans of Alice Clayton and Molly Harper should give Penny Reid's books a try.

 

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