Review: When Stars Collide

Review: When Stars CollideWhen Stars Collide (Chicago Stars, #9) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #9
Published by William Morrow on June 29, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384

FINAL DECISION: “WHEN STARS COLLIDE” is a delightfully fun, well-crafted book that shines with Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ signature wit and wonderfully resonant characters that I just loved.

STORY: Thaddeus Walker Bowman Owens, a backup quarterback for the Chicago Stars, and Olivia Shore, an international opera diva, end up traveling together on a nationwide tour promoting a luxury watch brand. Neither is happy about the team-up. Quickly there is something between them that develops as Olivia’s journey is complicated by threatening letters, haunting photographs, and dangerous encounters with an unknown villain. These two talented, passionate, and ambitious stars have a friendship but also some intensity between them. As both are devoted to their careers, there seems to be no future, and yet there is such desire and yearning between them.

OPINION: This sparkling gem of a novel is Susan Elizabeth Phillips at her finest. Infused with her trademark humor and wit, WHEN STARS COLLIDE is a hugely entertaining read that had me hooked from page one. As expected with Phillips’ books, the characters leap off the page. Backup quarterback Thad and opera superstar Olivia feel like people you’d love to be friends with in real life – despite their fame, they are down-to-earth and handle their conflicts in refreshingly adult ways.

The banter between them gave me life – their chemistry sings from their very first meet-cute. As they navigate their nationwide tour and subsequent safety issues, their connection deepens into a supportive partnership. Phillips perfectly balances drama, humor, mystery and romance in a “beach read” that was impossible for me to put down.

After being in a reading slump myself, the sheer joy and smile-inducing fun of WHEN STARS COLLIDE was exactly what I needed. Phillips’ distinctive humor shines here, with plenty of goofy and even madcap situations. But beneath it lies two characters written with heart and depth. I adored watching Thad and Olivia realize how much alike they are despite first impressions, finding common ground as ambitious, passionate artists. This book left me grinning from ear to ear. I somehow missed it upon release but am elated to have found this gem.

WORTH MENTIONING: While not necessary to read the other Chicago Stars books to enjoy this one, readers of the series will get some great cameos from characters in the series. Nothing intrusive, but the book seamlessly roots itself in the Chicago Stars universe.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHEN STARS COLLIDE is the ninth book in the Chicago Stars series. This book, however, can easily be read as a standalone. While there are a few cameos from characters in previous books, nothing is really missed by starting here instead of reading the previous books (although they are great and highly recommended).

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.


Review: Incense and Sensibility

Review: Incense and SensibilityIncense and Sensibility (The Rajes #3) by Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes #3
Published by William Morrow on July 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400


FINAL DECISION: I was very conflicted by this book. I absolutely loved the romance between Yash and India. I loved Yash as a character. But I hated almost everything else about the book. There wasn’t enough romance — which didn’t really have a satisfying ending — and I didn’t buy anything about the governor storyline. Ultimately, if the romance had a fantastic ending it might have overcome everything else, but because I wanted more from the romance, everything else about the story annoyed me by the end.

THE STORY: Yash Raje, the family golden boy, is a candidate for governor of California when an attempt to shoot him results in his bodyguard being shot instead. Yash has difficulting dealing with the aftermath. His family encourages him to get help from India Dashwood, a family friend that they trust who helps with stress management. What his family doesn’t know is that ten years ago, India and Yash had one night where they grew close before everything fell apart. Yash has spent years focusing on his political goals and hasn’t been concerned about what makes him personally happy, but seeing India again puts his desires in conflict.

OPINION: This book was ultimately a disappointment. The central relationship between Yash and India was amazing. Their history, their interactions, and the emotion between them were amazing. But everything else disappointed. First, Yash is a lousy candidate for governor of California. He apparently has no backbone and if I’m supposed to believe that he will somehow be a great governor and get his policies accomplished when he can’t tell his family that his 10 years (??!) relationship with his “friend” (who is honestly a terrible person and I have no idea how Dev intends on making her the heroine of the next book) was fake. Also, as far as I can tell, this book rests on the premise that Yash’s progressive political policies will succeed because Yash is “good” and “honest” which is belied by the fact that he is a liar and willing to live a lie about his entire life in order to be elected. Everything about his book shows me that he is immature and an idealist who really will be completely ineffectual. I think the book would have been a million times better if Yash lost the election or withdrew — because honestly, the resolution would never happen.

Now in a normal romance, I wouldn’t care about this stuff because the relationship is key and the rest tends to be fantasy anyway. However, this book’s romance is unsatisfying because everything is “resolved” in a magic turnaround in the end but readers are not given even an epilogue resolution of some of the serious impediments to Yash and India’s relationship. As such, I finished this book being convinced that India and Yash love one another but not firmly convinced that things will work out between them.

Yash’s problems with sexual intimacy are made a significant part of the story and yet nothing is really resolved by the end. The “happy ending” is so truncated as to be insufficient to counter the level of trauma. That didn’t work for me as a plotting device. If the author is making this an important issue, the resolution needed to be more prominent. The book needs to make clear that India and Yash are able to overcome this issue and have a loving relationship not tag it on in the last couple of paragraphs.

So while I absolutely adored Yash and India’s story, I can’t give this book a higher rating because the end of the story was completely unsatisfying to me. That just made me mad, because until the last page, I wanted to absolutely love this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: Like the first book in this series, there is some discussion about rape and its emotional aftermath, but the rape is discussed rather than depicted.

CONNECTED BOOKS: INCENSE AND SENSIBILITY is the third book in the Rajas series. The story here is self-contained so it is not necessary to read the others in the series. However, this is a continuing family drama so the other books introduce and develop the family members and their relationships to one another.

STAR RATING: I reluctantly give this book 3 stars — although the romance itself would have been 5 stars with a better resolution.



Review: Recipe for Persuasion

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Recipe for PersuasionRecipe for Persuasion (The Rajes, #2) by Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes #2
Published by William Morrow on May 26, 2020
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 464


FINAL DECISION: I loved this book! The first book in the series was okay but not incredible, but this one had such emotional depth and just kept me turning pages. The interwoven stories of daughter and mother worked so well together. The balance between romance and personal growth (aka “women’s fiction”) was well developed.

THE STORY: Ashna Raje is desperate to save the restaurant she inherited from her father. She decides to join a “cooking with the stars” reality show as one of the featured chefs. She ends up paired with Rico Silva, a recently retired soccer player — and her first love. When their first meeting goes viral and makes them fan favorites, Ashna has no choice but to work with Rico to save her restaurant. At the same time, Ashna also is facing the return of her mother who abandoned her and Ashna’s father and now wants to build a relationship with her.

OPINION: I really loved this book. It is more women’s fiction than romance, but the romance was good enough to keep me interested in the book (although I could have done with much more Ashna and Rico!) Ashna’s story was complicated and sad and oh so painfully real.

Admittedly, the book relies on one of my least favorite tropes — people don’t speak to one another. And yet, isn’t that often the problem that we have. We don’t speak truthfully to one another. We deflect and avoid — and so it is here.  I figured out the ultimate explanation long before the characters did, and yet, I so enjoyed the journey. These characters really reached me.

The premise of the cooking show was fun and worked as such an interesting reflection of Ashna and Rico’s relationship. I simply adored Rico and can’t wait to read more about him in the next book (as a secondary character).

The book was crowded with characters — but in a good way. I enjoyed the community of this book and how Ashna learns to see and accept that there are people who are there for her and see her as her essential self.

WORTH MENTIONING: Content warnings for rape and suicide.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RECIPE FOR PERSUASION is the second book in The Rajas series. The romance here is self-contained but there are overlapping characters in the series. This book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.



Review: The Woman Left Behind

Review: The Woman Left BehindThe Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard
Published by William Morrow on March 6th 2018
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 368

FINAL DECISION: A great personal story about Jina that is miscast as both a romance and a type of action/suspense/thriller. There seems to be an excellent book about Jina’s journey that is joined awkwardly with a villain story.

THE STORY: Jina Modell works for a secret paramilitary organization working with computers. When it is determined that the ops teams need communications and drone operators with each team, Jina is reassigned against her preferences to be an active part of a team. That means that Jina has to undergo intense physical training. But Jina finds hidden strength in herself that changes everything she knew about herself and also her life.

OPINION: This could have been a great book, but it really wasn’t the book I expected. The book ended up reading more like a women’s fiction story. Now the story of Jina was really, really good. I loved watching her struggle with her inclusion in the active team. She is a woman who finds out what she is made of and that she can do whatever she puts her mind to. What I really liked about this book is that Jina’s journey is neither easy nor perfect. She doesn’t become a super-soldier but rather a strong and capable woman. Even better, she becomes so strong that she makes a decision towards the end of the book that feels incredibly right and mature.

Jina is really the focus of the book. Her nominal romance partner feels less developed and their romance is really secondary to Jina’s story. This book is likely to disappoint many who are looking for a romance, but I still enjoyed the romance as a part of Jina’s journey.

The negative portion of this book is the whole villain story which flows from TROUBLEMAKER. The storyline is somewhat confusing and is really unnecessary to the story. I feel the book would have been much better without bringing the villain into the story at all. The entirety of the plot device that the villain serves could have accomplished in a way that kept the emphasis on Jina.

Ultimately, I found this to be a good story contained in a flawed book. I probably would not think to return to this book again even though I really loved Jina who I found to be a compelling character.

WORTH MENTIONING: The blurb and title for this book are pretty misleading. The incident referred to in the blurb happens at almost the end of the book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: This book is connected to TROUBLEMAKER but can be read as a standalone except that the motivations for some of the characters come from the events in TROUBLEMAKER.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to prepare this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.



Review: First Star I See Tonight

Review: First Star I See TonightFirst Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars, #8) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #8
Published by William Morrow on August 23, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384

“All in all, it was still a good day to be Cooper Graham.  Except for one pesky woman.”

FINAL DECISION:  The emotional part of this book really snuck up on me.  I believed it was funny with bickering protagonists until the end which just ripped my heart open.  Phillips is a master at the quirky, funny, sarcastic characters that make me love them despite my intentions.

THE STORY: Cooper Graham has just retired as the star quarterback of the Chicago Stars.  Big man in the city of Chicago, Cooper is unhappy to find out his has a stalker, Piper Dove.  But Piper is not actually a stalker but rather a detective trying to make a name for herself. Her first job is to trail Cooper.  When she is spotted, she soon finds herself working as Cooper’s bodyguard — although he refuses to allow Piper to officially do that job.  Whatever her job title, Piper is determined to protect Cooper whether he wants it or not.

OPINION:  I am often surprised by my reaction to a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book.  She somehow manages to make me like heroines that I either hate or am iffy about when the book starts.  I wasn’t a fan of Piper when the book began.  Her pugnacious personality somewhat annoyed me as the book began.  So determined to do what she wanted, I didn’t see the compassion in her that I want from characters. Oh how wrong I was.  Under her shell, Piper is a woman who deeply cares.  And Phillips does an amazing job of showing that as her personality is slowly revealed to Cooper.  While Piper changes and grows, she remains true to her personality — and Cooper loves her for who she actually is.  By the end of the book, he understands and accepts her and puts himself on the line because he knows she needs it.

Piper and Cooper are the perfect pair.  Both are competitive and want to succeed.  They are somewhat single minded and don’t necessarily give up on bad ideas easily.  Stubborn to to the core — both of them.  I loved how their romance was not sweet and sentimental but rather combative and argumentative.  Just perfect for them.  In the end, their romance becomes deeply emotional and even sweet (for them).

This book is filled with so many engaging secondary characters.  The princess obsessed with shoes.  The widow convinced her Cheesehead wearing husband is still alive. The nerf gun toting teenager.   I love how so many intriguing characters inhabit his book and yet never overwhelm the main storyline.

I recommend this book if you like original, funny romances with unexpected heart.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I absolutely adore Heath Champion’s role in this book (MATCH ME IF YOU CAN).

CONNECTED BOOKS: FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT is the eighth book in the Chicago Stars series. While some characters from previous books make appearances, this book does not depend upon any knowledge of those books.  This book stands alone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Troublemaker

Review: TroublemakerTroublemaker by Linda Howard
Published by William Morrow on May 10th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 400

FINAL DECISION: Different than I expected from the description, this book is about two guarded people who are forced together and unexpectedly find peace and love.  Less suspense and more traditional romance, this is a solid book that lacks the power of Howard’s best but is a good read.

THE STORY:  Morgan Yancy, a team leader for a paramilitary group, is ambushed and almost killed.  To protect him, Morgan is sent to a small West Virginian town and told to lay low.  Morgan ends up the housemate of Isabeau “Bo” Maran, the part time administrative police chief.  Bo isn’t happy to house Morgan, but she can’t turn the recovering man away.  Bo knows that Morgan is trouble just when her life seems to be going right.

OPINION:  This was an enjoyable, although not outstanding, read.  I expected the book to be more suspense than it was.  It ended up being bookended by the suspense story but the middle is really a standard romance.  I really liked the quiet between these characters.  Morgan and Bo are both loners and not used to opening up to others.  The quiet time they spend together, the peaceful, alone time they spend was what made their relationship work.

The gentle way in which the two open up and end up finding understanding and companionship withe one another was the best part of the book.  The romance takes a slow journey which was good and worth reading.

I thought the suspense part of the story was fairly predictable with no real surprises as to the villain of the tale.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is primarily romance with a smattering of suspense thrown in.


STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.