Review: Before We Were Strangers

Review: Before We Were StrangersBefore We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak
Published by MIRA on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: A good romantic suspense. I enjoyed the combination of the relationship with the suspense/mystery. I really loved Micah (who is a sweetie) and eventually understood Sloan although I didn’t like her actions which seemed reckless and not well thought out at times.

THE STORY: Sloan McBride fled her hometown a decade ago to free herself from her oppressive father. Now she has returned to find out what happened to her mother who disappeared when she was five. Sloan, however, not only has to face the questions from her parents’ past, but also what she left behind when she left. She had abandoned her best friend and her boyfriend, Micah Evans who turned to one another, married, had a child and divorced. Sloan’s return brings complications in these relationships as well.

OPINION: This was an enjoyable romantic suspense. The scariness factor isn’t too high and there is plenty of romance. Indeed, while the mystery is central to the plot of the book, I enjoyed the second chance at romance the best.

Sloan is completely determined and that makes her reckless at times. She annoyed me at her willingness to do stupid things and keep telling people what is going on when there were people who could betray her. That being said, her character was interesting because of her flaws. I liked that her recklessness and impulsiveness is something that is consistent about her character.

Now Micah I adored. He is incredibly kind and responsible and if I have a complaint it is that he forgives Sloan very quickly for her abandoning him a decade ago. I just didn’t buy her reasons for not contacting him at all and it seemed pretty cruel.

I thought that the book described well the difficulties of the relationship between Sloan, Micah and Paige (Sloan’s best friend and Micah’s ex wife). I liked that the characters had complexity and good and bad traits.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Evelyn Talbot books which I found to be a much more suspenseful story, but this one was a good read.

WORTH MENTIONING: I liked that there was an epilogue that wrapped up the story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

 

four-stars

Review: The Secrets She Kept

Review: The Secrets She KeptThe Secrets She Kept (Fairham Island, #2) by Brenda Novak
Series: Fairham Island #2
Published by MIRA on July 26, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 394
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I really liked this one which had a twisty mystery combined with a nice romance. My only real negative is that I think that Nancy should have made Keith grovel much more before taking him back. Their relationship needed a little more to be truly satisfying as a conclusion.

THE STORY: The beautiful, rich and selfish Josephine Lazarow is found dead from an apparent suicide. But her son, Keith, doesn’t believe that his mother would have committed suicide so he returns to Fairham Island five years after he left and begins to poke his nose into the secrets of his mother. But those secrets might destroy Keith’s family. Keith’s return to the island also rekindles his relationship with Nancy Dellinger who Keith had a relationship five years ago and left.

OPINION: This one had a twisty mystery and in interesting romance. Towards the end of the book, I thought I was going to be very happy with the romance but only marginally happy with the mystery, but then a twist came and I was surprised by the twist and then felt that the romance needed some more resolution to be truly satisfying.

Keith’s mother was a pretty terrible person. This book explores many of her secrets which combined with what we found out in THE SECRET SISTER made it difficult to feel sorry for her. I did like that she wasn’t a complete villain and we get to see some good things about her, which make her complicated but not sympathetic. The revelations of secrets put this book into the I just kept reading category.

Keith and Nancy have a history. They were involved in a relationship five years ago when Keith was taking drugs. He left soon after and managed to reinvent himself and get clean. Now that he has returned, the two resume a relationship. I really liked the connection between Keith and Nancy, but considering the complications in their pasts, I expected a better resolution. Keith and Nancy needed either to get some counseling together or there needed to be more of a recognition on Keith’s part as to the hurt he inflicted on Nancy. He needed to grovel and be passionate about his love for Nancy, and I just didn’t get that from this book.

But I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a good read. I also thought that it was better than the first book in the series (which I did like) because it had a deeper suspense and romance story.

What I really needed was a really good epilogue wrapping up all the siblings stories or there to be another book in this series.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book completes the circle from THE SECRET SISTER and is especially satisfying read with that book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE SECRETS SHE KEPT is the second book in the Fairham Island series. This book can be read as a standalone, but is better if you already know the cast of characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Secret Sister

Review: The Secret SisterThe Secret Sister (Fairham Island, #1) by Brenda Novak
Series: Fairham Island #1
Published by MIRA on July 28, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 400
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed the romance more than the mystery here which is okay with me, but I expected more suspense while I had things pretty much figured out early.

THE STORY: Maisey Lazarow comes back to Fairham Island to help her drug addicted brother after a tragedy in her own life and divorce have sent her reeling in her own life. But coming home means also dealing with her difficult mother which sends Maisey to the other side of the island to stay and puts her next door to Rafe Romero. Maisey and Rafe have a history, and Maisey is determined to keep her distance. But when a discovery of photographs raises questions about what Maisey knows about her family and what happened in the past, Maisey struggles with what secrets her family is hiding.

OPINION: This was an enjoyable story. I really liked Maisey and Rafe as characters. I did feel that the suspense/mystery of the story was not particularly complex and suspenseful, but it was enough to keep me interested in the story where I really liked the romance.

What I really enjoyed in this book was Maisey’s personal journey. The transformation she makes in her life as she emerges from her grief and disappointment to building relationships with her family and with Rafe and his daughter and with those on the island was the most compelling part of this story to me.

I think for readers who want some suspense, but not a too scary or intense book this one would work quite well.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved Rafe’s daughter and it would be great if she got her own book someday.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE SECRET SISTER is the first book in the Fairham Island series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Face Off

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: Face OffFace Off (The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #3) by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles #3
Published by Headline on November 29, 2018
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 416
Goodreads
five-stars

 

“He’s put in the time, done the work. He was almost ready to make his move.”

FINAL DECISION: Simply fabulous! A book that pays off the suspense promises of the prior books in the series and adds character development and a complicated and delicious romance.

THE STORY: Dr. Evelyn Talbot finds that the stable life she is building in Alaska is crumbling as she is getting pressure from her family to return to the safety of Boston, her boyfriend wants her to make a commitment to him, and the demon from her past has apparently arrived in Alaska to finish what he started when he tried to murder her when she was sixteen. When the bodies of two women are discovered, both Evelyn and Amarok realize that the confrontation they have been expecting may have finally arrived.

OPINION: I’m so happy that this book didn’t disappoint. It’s always my fear when I read these books that build upon one another that I might find that the series does not live up to its potential or that it will squander all of the buildup. I’m happy that this book actually was better than I expected.

In approaching this book, I had two things that I wanted: (1) some resolution on the Jasper storyline (since he has been stalking Evelyn throughout the series); and (2) some development with the relationship between Evelyn and Amarok. Happily, this book satisfied these two and gave me more.

In a story that makes me jump at noises at night, the suspense is ratcheted up in this book. There are plenty of twists and turns and scares in this story. Readers of the series know that by the end of the prior book in the series, Evelyn’s high school boyfriend, attempted murderer, and serial killer, Jasper now is working at the serial killer prison that Evelyn spearheaded. Having undergone extensive plastic surgery and the passage of twenty years has allowed Jasper (now using an alias) to infiltrate Evelyn’s world without her being aware of who he actually is. The scenes with Evelyn and Jasper together were creepy and filled with tension.

There are dead ends and dead bodies and plenty of tension and enough fearful possibilities to make me want to put the book down to get an emotional break while at the same time wanting to turn page after page to find out what happens. This book was especially good because things happened that I did not expect and the lack of predictability kept me interested in every twist along the way.

And that is all I’m going to write on the suspense plot because I don’t want to give anything away.

On the romance front things are finally coming to a crisis point between Evelyn and Amarok. For the first time since the early days of their relationship, all the pressures are finally threatening their relationship. Jasper’s continual and looming threat, Evelyn’s family wanting her to return home, Evelyn’s relationship fears, Amarok’s ex-girlfriend, and the increasing number of murders that have occurred in relation to Hanover House are finally weighing down on the couple. This crisis point begins tearing at the fabric that has kept Evelyn and Amarok comfortable in recent months. Now they have to change and grow together or apart. I loved the examination of the fracturing of their relationship and this ended up being my favorite part of the book.

WORTH MENTIONING: I was concerned that this book might be the end of the series, but I was excited to see that there is more planned.

CONNECTED BOOKS: FACE OFF is the third book in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles. This book focuses on the story between Evelyn and the serial killer who tried to kill her when she was sixteen. While that story has been a part of all the books to this point, this book brings that story to the forefront. While it is not necessary to have read the other book in the series to enjoy this one (the prior events are summarized for the reader), I think that reading the prior books makes this book much deeper and enjoyable.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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

 

five-stars

Review: Right Where We Belong

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: Right Where We BelongRight Where We Belong (Silver Springs, #4) by Brenda Novak
Series: Silver Springs #4
Published by Mira Books on October 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: This story was okay, but I thought it was too complicated by other relationships so that the main romance suffered. I liked the suspense aspect, but wanted more between the hero and heroine.

THE STORY: Savanna Gray has come to Silver Springs with her two young children running from her discovery that her husband was actually a rapist. He’s in jail claiming he is innocent, her mother in law blames Savanna for failing to support him, and the towns people blame Savanna for not recognizing his criminality sooner. Savanna comes to live in a house owned by her deceased father, but doesn’t realize that it needs more work than she expected. When she meets her neighbor, Gavin Turner, Savanna wants to keep her distance, but the sexy helpful man touches her heart. Gavin has his own struggles — his abandonment as a child, an ex who still wants a claim on him, and his attraction to Savanna despite her conflicts.

OPINION: There was much to like in this book. I really liked the suspense aspect of the story. The characters were good people and they had a nice connection with one another. My problem with the story was that there was just too much going on. Too many complications and side stories. As such, I thought that too much time was spent away from the central relationship and thus this book was just okay for me.

I thought that Gavin was a very nice man who was put in a difficult situation. I really disliked his conflict because it gave an additional level of complication to the relationship that really bothered me. Combined with Savanna still being married and having only months since discovering that her husband was a criminal, I couldn’t help but think that these characters really needed to stay apart for a year or so to deal with their own baggage.

I finished this book with no problem and I liked much of the conflict, but it wasn’t my favorite of the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of the series will get to see more of Eli.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RIGHT WHERE WE BELONG is the fourth book in the Silver Springs series. This book, however, can be read as a standalone as while it has some overlapping characters, the story is completely separate.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC 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.

three-stars

Review: Hello Again

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: Hello AgainHello Again (The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #2) by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles #2
Published by Headline on November 2nd 2017
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: This is the best of the series so far. Mixing the romance, Evelyn’s personal demons, creepy serial killer mysteries, danger and some serious suspense, this book is satisfying in so many ways, but definitely left me desperately wanting the next book.

THE STORY:  Dr. Evelyn Talbot is continuing her work with serial killers at Hanover House in Alaska determined to uncover a way to identify the people who become serial killer. Her newest inmate is known as the Zombie Maker who defies many of the standard expectations of serial killers — but he also reminds her of her ex-boyfriend Jasper who killed her friends and almost herself and has been on the loose for two decades. When another friend of Evelyn is killed with the Zombie Maker’s signature the question arises: was the wrong man convicted of the Zombie Maker’s crimes or is Jasper hunting Evelyn again.

OPINION: I’ve been a fan of this series since I read the prequel a couple of years ago. The story was just creepy enough and had enough romance to keep me interested, but this book explodes the story. Everything feels bigger and more urgent here. The series has really hit its stride now that the setup portion has been completed. This book is the best so far.

This book takes place about a year after the events in the previous book. Evelyn is still running Hanover House and more serial killers are coming all the time. Not to give anything away, but this book deals with the question of the Zombie Maker serial killer and whether he is guilty or not and the similar murders which might indicate either that the man incarcerated at Hanover House might be innocent or that Evelyn’s personal demon is making a move on her again.

This story seamlessly blends and uses to good suspense purposes the questions of the newest killings and three possible suspects. Some is revealed here but other parts of left to the ongoing and overarching storylines. Frankly, I was frightened and creeped out by much of the last third of the book — which was exactly what I was expecting.

This book is really a suspense book with some romance — and I really liked the balance here. This is Evelyn’s personal story and the book never forgets it in service to some suspense storyline. Everything is personal and is all seen from the lens of Evelyn’s life. I like the suspense in this book but I probably wouldn’t have continued to read without the romance between Evelyn and her Alaskan trooper boyfriend Amarok. The two have been seeing one another for a year, but Evelyn still has trust issues and doubts and there are new challenges and hurdles for the two. Despite their serious difficulties, these two are so wonderful together that it manages to balance out all the darkness of the plotline. If I didn’t have the hope of their relationship really working out to a HEA in the end, I think the darkness of the story would have overwhelmed me.

This series has definitely found its footing here and I look forward to the next installment because things are getting really interesting and scary.

WORTH MENTIONING: Oh when will the next book be out!

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HELLO AGAIN is the second novel in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles. This book has an independent story, but there are overarching storylines in the series. I think this book is better read after the prequel and first book in the series because the relationships between the characters is more clearly defined.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC 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.

five-stars

Review: Until You Loved Me

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: Until You Loved MeUntil You Loved Me by Brenda Novak
Series: Silver Springs #3
Published by Mira Books on July 25th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: My favorite book in the series. This unexpected pregnancy story moves in a direction I did not expect and I really enjoyed the quiet and personal relationship that develops between Ellie and Hudson.

THE STORY: After the betrayal by her fiance, Ellie Fisher tosses off her normal staid scientific personality and has a one night stand with a stranger. Finding herself pregnant, Ellie finds out that the stranger is actually a famous quarterback, Hudson King.  Hudson, scarred by his abandonment as an infant and his time in foster care, at first believes that Ellie planned to “catch” him. But the reality of their baby drives him to want to be a part of his child’s life.  The two agree to live together in Silver Springs until after the baby’s birth.  As these two get to know one another, they find the passion that immediately flared between them reigniting.

OPINION:  I really enjoyed this book.  The story didn’t go in the fashion I expected and I enjoy being surprised by the direction a story goes in.  Ellie and Hudson have a personal and emotional journey and I liked the slow buildup to their happy ending.

I have become a fan of these small town romance series.  Although this book has characters who both come from the big city, there is something quiet and intimate about their relationship as it takes place in Silver Springs. The best part of this book is the day to day living where Ellie and Hudson work out and work through their relationship.

Ellie is a woman who has been concerned primarily with her work. The betrayal by her fiance tosses her into Hudson’s arms. The two have a connection that goes beyond sexual but both turn away after that first night. The unexpected pregnancy brings them back together in difficult circumstances.  Ellie’s inherent decency causes her to tell Hudson of her pregnancy.  I liked that because when she discovers who Hudson is some of the details made me think that Hudson would discover the pregnancy in another manner. I was impressed that the story didn’t go for the over-dramatic plot device but rather the personal work that has to be done between these characters.

Can I say that Hudson is adorable?  He is a man who is struggling as this book goes on.  Not only do we have the unexpected pregnancy but also Hudson’s attempts to discover his origins.  There are both interesting parallels and interesting differences between Hudson’s past and the present.  Those issues are subtexts to the story which give it depth and meaning, but don’t distract from the central story of Ellie and Hudson.  (I also love a man who cares for a sick woman).  Hudson’s commitment phobia is completely understandable considering his past.  I loved how he works through his issues and demonstrates what a decent and caring and kind man he is.

The plot in the story about Hudson’s past brought some drama to the book that really takes place on the ground of two people living together and learning about one another and building a relationship.

This is the best of the series so far.

WORTH MENTIONING: I wish we had seen more of the characters from the first two books in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  UNTIL YOU LOVED ME is the third book in the Silver Springs series.  It can be read as a standalone because the books are only loosely connected by the location and the hero’s connection with the New Horizons Boys Ranch.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

four-half-stars

Review: Finding Our Forever

Review: Finding Our ForeverFinding Our Forever (Silver Springs, #1) by Brenda Novak
Series: Silver Springs #1
Published by Harlequin Special Edition on March 21st 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A book with characters who are really likeable and caring but are dealing with the pain in their lives, I really liked this book because it didn’t go in the direction I would have expected for drama.

THE STORY:  Cora Kelly has come to Silver Springs searching for her birth mother who runs the New Horizons Boys Ranch.  But she decided not to reveal her identity until she determines whether she wants to.  Applying to be a teacher at the school, Cora meets Elijah Turner who is the manager of the ranch and one of the adopted sons of Cora’s birth mother. As Cora begins to build relationships with those at the ranch, the decision whether or not to reveal her secret becomes more difficult as she worries about destroying those relationships — especially the one between her and Eli.

OPINION:  I enjoyed this book because of the characters. There was a sense of reality and decency with these people.  The book didn’t feel like it was trying to tell an over dramatic adventure story.  Rather this story stayed small and focused on the characters.  Cora and Eli are a sweet couple.  They start out as a “scratching an itch” relationship but quickly they find in one another a companion and their attempts to keep things at a distance are not very successful.  I loved how their romance progressed in this manner.  It also served to explain how Cora could keep her secret for so long.  I really liked these characters who are always good people. They struggle with how to be a good person with their limitations (Cora’s deception and Eli’s fear of getting close), but they always act from a good place.

I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the other in the series I read, but this book was a good start to the series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I read the second book in this series first and didn’t miss anything.  These books are very separate from one another even though they occur in the same place.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  FINDING OUR FOREVER is the first book in the Silver Springs series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: No One But You

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: No One But YouNo One But You (Silver Springs, #2) by Brenda Novak
Series: Silver Springs #2
Published by MIRA on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 448
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Really enjoyable small town mixed with mystery and crime romance.  These are two wounded people who have no reason to open up and trust one another — and yet they do.  They have a sweet romance combined with an exciting storyline for each of them.

THE STORY: Sadie Harris is struggling.  She is separated from her husband who doesn’t want to let her go and is trying to sabotage her efforts to be self-sufficient in order to driver her back to him.  When a job opens up with helping Dawson Reed at his farm preparing for the possibility of his sister being returned to his custody.  Everything seems perfect about the job except that everyone in town knows that Dawson savagely murdered his parents but managed to be found not guilty.  With the whole town against her, Sadie agrees to take the job in order to support her son.  As Sadie and Dawson spend time together, they grow closer and find that there is something between them worth fighting against the whole town for.

OPINION:  I really enjoyed this book because it acted somewhat as a romantic suspense in ways that I didn’t expect when the book began.  The merging of the various storylines was done in a skillful manner.

There is a lot going on but the heart of this story remains Sadie and Dawson.  They are both people who have been damaged by their pasts and have no reason to trust one another.  But as the two spend time together they form a friendship, and alliance, and understanding that it is them against everyone in town.

I thought this book had some beautiful moments between Sadie and Dawson as both are willing to sacrifice for the other.  And there is a lot of action and excitement as they story threads play out.

I really enjoyed this book and now want to go back and read the first one in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The premise of this series comes from men who were troubled boys at the New Horizons Boys Ranch in Silver Springs.

CONNECTED BOOKS: NO ONE BUT YOU is the second book in the Silver Springs series.  This book, however, can be read as a standalone without any problem.  (I haven’t read the first book yet and didn’t feel that I missed it.)

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

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

four-stars

Review: Her Darkest Nightmare

Review: Her Darkest NightmareHer Darkest Nightmare (The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1) by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 30th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  I loved this book primarily because of Evelyn and her hottie state trooper Amarok, but I also enjoyed the mystery which was twisty and creepy and kept me guessing.

THE STORY:  Dr. Evelyn Talbot was only a teenager when her world was torn apart by her psychopath boyfriend killed her best friends then imprisoned and tortured Evelyn for three days before leaving her for dead.  Twenty years later, Evelyn studies psychopaths. She is in charge of a maximum security facility which is studying serial killers. Located in a small town in Alaska, Evelyn is not the most popular person for bringing these killers to town.  It has placed her on opposite sides of State Trooper Sergeant Amarok who also tempts Evelyn as no man ever has.  Now a mutilated body of a woman seems to confirm Amarok’s deepest fears about the facility while Evelyn fears that the monster who almost killed her before may have returned.

OPINION: I am a longtime mystery and suspense reader but I prefer my books with a strong dose of romance.  I enjoyed this book because I like Evelyn with all her hangups due to her encounter as a teenager with her psychopath boyfriend.  Evelyn is damaged and while she is accomplished professionally, she is stunted in her relationships.

I love the sweetness of her reaction to Amarok and, for me, their relationship centers and makes the rest of the book worth reading.  While I enjoy a good, creepy suspense, I like to have sweeter and lighter moments as well as a reason to care about the characters.  I like these two and look forward to reading more about them.

I always find it difficult to review suspense and mystery books because I don’t want to give too much away.  That being said, I think this one kept me guessing until the end.  I thought I had it figured out and then the story would twist and go in a new direction.  Plus, there is some really creepy and messed up stuff going on.  I always admire a story that I don’t solve immediately.  There are plenty of suspects here and I didn’t guess the right one, but was satisfied that the ultimate solution was supported in the story.

The mystery/suspense story intertwines so well with Evelyn’s own personal journey that I was fully engaged during the entire book.  This book can satisfy both romantic suspense readers and those who just like a good mystery.

WORTH MENTIONING:  There are still threads of the overarching story for the series that are left at the end of this book, but the main mystery of the book is completely resolved.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HER DARKEST NIGHTMARE is the first book in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles series.  There is a prequel but this book can be read without having read that.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars