Review: Tourist Season

Review: Tourist SeasonTourist Season by Brenda Novak
Published by MIRA on April 23, 2024
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352

FINAL DECISION: This well-paced story about a woman’s growing doubts about the men in her life is a good read despite an ending that may not fully satisfy.

THE STORY: Ismay Chalmers decides to spend her summer at her fiancé Remy’s family’s opulent cottage on Mariners Island. However, her plans for a tranquil getaway are disrupted when a hurricane strikes the island before Remy’s arrival. As Ismay weathers the storm alone in the spacious house, she stumbles upon an unsettling secret hidden in Remy’s childhood closet. Amidst the chaos, the estate’s caretaker, Bo, comes to Ismay’s aid, repairing the cottage and providing a sense of security during the tumultuous weather. With his own home damaged, Bo temporarily moves in with Ismay, and an unexpected bond begins to form between them. Ismay starts to question her feelings for Remy as she finds herself drawn to Bo’s quiet strength and genuine nature. Just when she thinks she can trust Bo, she finds out that he has secrets, too.

OPINION: TOURIST SEASON is a suspenseful contemporary romance that keeps readers on the edge of their seats and the pages turning. While the cover may suggest a light, romantic read, the novel delves into darker territory as Ismay finds herself questioning the motives of the men she encounters and whether they might pose a danger to her.

Throughout the story, Ismay’s discoveries and interactions with the characters, particularly her fiancé Remy and the enigmatic caretaker Bo, lead her to question the trust she has placed in them. As secrets are unveiled and the plot thickens, Ismay’s suspicions grow, and she begins to wonder if anyone is truly who they seem to be. This element of suspense adds a layer of tension to the story, keeping readers engaged and eager to uncover the truth alongside Ismay.

Novak’s pacing is well-executed, with a gradual buildup that allows readers to become invested in the characters and their struggles. The luxurious beachfront cottage on Mariners Island serves as an atmospheric backdrop.

While the ending may not fully live up to the potential established by the story’s buildup, TOURIST SEASON remains an engaging read and a good choice for a summer read. Novak’s ability to craft relatable characters and explore the complexities of relationships, particularly in the face of doubt and potential danger, makes this novel a satisfying choice.

WORTH MENTIONING: The cover of this book is deceiving. It is a great suspense/mystery and pretty creepy for quite a bit of the story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: TOURIST SEASON is a standalone. It takes place on Mariners Island, the same as BOOKSTORE ON THE BEACH, but the books are not connected otherwise.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: The Messy Life of Jane Tanner

Review: The Messy Life of Jane TannerThe Messy Life of Jane Tanner (Coyote Canyon, #3) by Brenda Novak
Series: Coyote Canyon #3
on February 20, 2024
Genres: Contemporary

FINAL DECISION: Disappointing in both the relationship and in engagement in the story.

THE STORY: Jane Tanner, a small-town vintage gift shop owner, longs for adventure and motherhood while caring for her ailing grandfather. She drunkenly propositions Kurt Elway, her younger sister’s ex-boyfriend and the man secretly pining for her, to father her baby. As they navigate their complicated relationship, Jane and Kurt must determine what they really want from life and one another.

OPINION: THE MESSY LIFE OF JANE TANNER, the final installment in the Coyote Canyon trilogy, fails to be charming or even particularly romantic. Jane Tanner’s character is frustratingly inconsistent, with her desire to move to San Francisco and have a baby seeming poorly thought out and illogical. The romance between Jane and Kurt lacks the spark and depth needed to make their relationship believable, as their entire relationship feels immature. While the book attempts to tackle themes of friendship, family, and embracing life’s messiness, it ultimately falls flat in its execution. Fans of Brenda Novak may find this book disappointing compared to her usual standard.

WORTH MENTIONING: I was disappointed that the book really didn’t wrap up the series as much as I would have liked. If it is a series, I think there should be some resolution of the secondary stories brought up in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE MESSY LIFE OF JANE TANNER is the third book in the Coyote Canyon series. It can be read as a standalone, although there are characters from the prior books in the series and some secondary stories that continue during the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.


Review: Preferential Treatment

Review: Preferential TreatmentPreferential Treatment (Indecent Proposals #2) by Heather Guerre
Series: Indecent Proposals #2
on August 21, 2022
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 254

FINAL DECISION: I would have DNF’d this book if it wasn’t so short.

THE STORY: Mikhail Volkov, once an orphan in poverty, is now a wealthy tech CEO who yearns for a strong woman to conquer him. Kate Pasternak, struggling to make ends meet, encounters Mikhail, who offers to help her financially in exchange for companionship. This is a femdom story.

OPINION: The entire story is described in one sentence. A submissive male whom the heroine gets to be “socially responsible” and give away all his money. It was a dumb story, and the characters had no connection. She was using him the whole time and never seemed to care about him. She also has the nerve to complain about him being a billionaire, and yet she constantly demands that he buy her things. Bleh.

Not for me, but I’m sure that for the right person this book would be perfect.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a shorter book at about 250 pages.

CONNECTED BOOKS: This is the second book in the Indecent Proposals series. I haven’t read the first book and didn’t even realize there was a prior book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 1.5 star.


Review: A Dish Best Served Hot

Review: A Dish Best Served HotA Dish Best Served Hot (Vega Family Love Stories #2) by Natalie Caña
Series: Vega Family Love Stories #2
on June 27, 2023
Genres: Contemporary

FINAL DECISION: Liked Saint but really didn’t end up liking Lola. That’s a problem with a romance in my opinion.

THE STORY: High school sweethearts Santiago “Saint” Vega and Lola León separated years ago. Saint joined the military. Years later, the two meet up in their old neighborhood. Lola is a substitute teacher, caring for a family member, and working at a local community center. She discovers that Saint’s family construction business now threatens the future of this community center. Although on opposite sides, Saint and Lola still have feelings for each other. They must work together to find a way to save the community center, bring their arguing families together, and deal with their unresolved emotions from the past.

OPINION: This book promises a second-chance romance but does not deliver. There are too many characters and side stories that bury the love story between Saint and Lola. Their high school romance is lost among all the other drama.

The author tells more than shows when it comes to Saint and Lola getting back together. It feels like big moments happen suddenly between chapters instead of on the pages. There is not much dialogue between them either. Because of this, their relationship does not feel emotional or real.

It is also hard to understand why Saint and Lola broke up in high school because their reasons are not clear. The intellectual reasons are given, but there is nothing heartfelt about this book. There is just too much going on and the characters suffer as a result even as I wanted to like them. I did like Saint as he tries hard to be a good, single father. Lola is not as easy to sympathize with in her aggressively stubborn activism and for someone who claims to accept herself she is pretty shrill and insists her view is the only one that matters.

The other characters like Saint’s daughter seem only created to move the messy plot along. They have no real personalities. This book reads more like a story about community issues than a believable second chance at love.

I only give this book 2 stars because there are parts of this book that I enjoyed, including Saint’s as a character, and Lola and Saint’s romance as teenagers, but it feels like an amateurish effort in many aspects.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book seems directed towards a 20s audience.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DISH BEST SERVED HOT is the second book in the Vega Family Love Stories series. There are a lot of characters that I suspect are introduced in the first book in the series, and this book doesn’t really explain who they are. I haven’t read the first book in the series and this book made me feel like I should have started there.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

Review: Simply the Best

Review: Simply the BestSimply the Best (Chicago Stars, #10) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #10
Published by Avon on February 13, 2024
Genres: Contemporary

FINAL DECISION: With two characters who have more in common than at first glance, this messy and sexy story with some mystery was really enjoyable.

THE STORY: Brett Rivers is a cutthroat sports agent known as “The River” who is devoted to his job when a costly mistake involving his top client puts his career at risk. Rory Garrett is struggling to launch her chocolate business after having a drunken misunderstanding with Brett that makes her feel like a failure yet again. But when an unexpected event happens involving Rory’s celebrity footballer brother and his ex-girlfriend, she and Brett reluctantly join forces, both wanting to find Rory’s brother – Rory to help her brother and Brett to save his career. Despite their mutual attraction, their differences threaten to undermine their goals…unless they can work together to unravel the mystery, confront their personal demons, and maybe even find an unlikely happy ending.

OPINION: Phillips’ latest Chicago Stars romance is classic SEP fun. Rory dreams of having her own chocolate shop, but she’s broke. Her half-brother Clint is a famous football player with a lot of money. Brett is Clint’s agent who helps manage his career. Rory and Brett don’t like each other at first. (Well, actually they kind of do, but I’ll leave that surprise for readers) But then something happens with Clint and the two have to work together.

As Rory and Brett spend more time together, they start to enjoy each other’s company. Rory is messy and disorganized but super creative. Brett is very organized and responsible. Opposites attract, and the chemistry between these two is hot. What I loved best is that as the book goes on, Brett is shown to be more of an emotional mess than expected and Rory has responsibility and maturity in different ways. This is not a true “enemies to lovers” but comes pretty close. Watching them go from antagonism to deep love is what SEP excels at. You just know they are perfect for each other even when they fight.

There are also some funny side stories with Rory’s stepmom Kristin. I loved that SEP did not make her a caricature as she first appeared.

This book has everything great about SEP’s writing: humor, steamy romance, interesting mystery, and characters who are at their core decent people. Rory and Brett have their flaws as humans but end up balancing each other out nicely.

WORTH MENTIONING: I want Clint’s book now. He’s much more interesting now with some darkness and baggage.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SIMPLY THE BEST is the tenth book in the Chicago Stars series. This book can be read as a standalone. While there are mentions and cameos from other characters in the series, they are limited, and there is no overarching plot. Brett works for Heath Champion, so we get some glimpses of Heath and Annabelle from MATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Chicago Stars book 6).

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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: The Night Island

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: The Night IslandThe Night Island (The Lost Night Files, #2) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: The Lost Night Files #2
Published by Berkley on January 9, 2024
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 336

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed the suspenseful narrative, gradual romance development, and interconnected world-building which harkens back to many Krentz/Quick/Castle books, but I was left with some loose ends.

THE STORY: The book continues the story of Talia March, Pallas Llewellyn, and Amelia Rivers, who formed a bond after a night they can’t remember that gave them psychic abilities, prompting them to investigate what happened. In this book, when Talia follows up on a lead about a list of other test subjects, she finds the informant, Phoebe, missing and meets Luke Rand instead, who is also seeking the list. They realize they have a common goal and join forces, pretending to be a couple to investigate the remote “Unplugged Experience” retreat on Night Island. On the technologically isolated island, Talia and Luke encounter suspicious guests, strange plants, and deaths as they use their powers to uncover the secrets of the retreat and find the list, all while beginning to genuinely fall for one another even as danger lurks. Phoebe is not the first to disappear at the retreat, and Talia and Luke must rely on their psychic talents and blossoming romance to stay alive and solve the mystery.

OPINION: From the opening disappearance, a tone of tension and mystery permeates the narrative that immediately hooked me. I enjoy getting to know Talia and Luke, who both possess psychic gifts. Krentz does a great job establishing initial chemistry between them. Krentz makes great use of the pretend relationship combined with — “we can’t be together because of our cover story.”

As the book reveals the background stories of Luke and Talia, they have a shared bond that builds a strong connection between them that works both for the investigation and also for the romance. I’m always left wanting more romance in Krentz’s current romantic suspense format, but what is here worked for me.

While the ending feels rushed to me, leaving key questions frustratingly unresolved (probably awaiting the third book in the series), I really enjoyed the well-paced suspense narrative.

As a longtime Jayne Ann Krentz fan, I enjoyed connecting the dots across her elaborate interconnected worlds. I especially enjoyed the connections to her historical Arcane series books. I’m happy that Krentz has apparently decided to keep going forward with these stories even thought I don’t expect a final resolution of any of these bits and pieces. It is fun being reminded of books I read years ago and know that Krentz hasn’t forgotten them either.

But it is Luke and Talia and their somewhat sweet romance that kept me hooked even when the central island mysteries ultimately end up lacking full resolution.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has strong paranormal elements.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE NIGHT ISLAND is the second book in the Lost Night Files series. The romance here is self-contained and this book can be read as a standalone although there is an overarching storyline…but a reader can quickly catch up.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley 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: The Talk of Coyote Canyon

Review: The Talk of Coyote CanyonThe Talk of Coyote Canyon (Coyote Canyon, #2) by Brenda Novak
Series: Coyote Canyon #2
Published by MIRA on November 28, 2023
Genres: Contemporary

FINAL DECISION: Sets up an intriguing small-town family feud and budding romance that ultimately disappoints due to a lack of meaningful chemistry between the couple.

THE STORY: With her piercings, tattoos, and bleached spikes, Ellen Truesdale sticks out in small-town Coyote Canyon. But blending in was never her goal. Ellen’s here to undermine her estranged father’s well-drilling company, still bitter that he abandoned her as a child. Running a rival business in this male-dominated industry proves tough for a single woman, though. When an important job goes wrong, her dad’s business partner, Hendrix Durrant, comes to help. Hendrix begins to question events from the past. He realizes his aunt and Ellen’s dad did her wrong. As he advocates for Ellen, tensions with his family intensify. Feelings develop between the two former rivals. Opening up to Hendrix helps Ellen release her anger and rediscover the loving family she always longed for.

OPINION: The Talk of Coyote Canyon offers some interesting initial dynamics between Ellen and her estranged father and stepfamily. Novak does a decent job developing Ellen’s character and her trust issues stemming from childhood.

The setup also establishes a promising romantic tension between Ellen and Hendrix early on. The book choses to be a slow-burn which would work if the characters were deep and complex. However, the relationship falters later on as the two lack chemistry, making their interactions ring hollow.

Additionally, while much time is spent exploring the family and romance arcs, the endings feel rushed. The resolution of the story with Ellen’s father happens abruptly after establishing lasting conflict. Ellen’s father remains one-dimensionally unlikeable for most of the book before his jarring change of heart. Likewise, Ellen and Hendrix’s union wraps up too suddenly.

The mystery plot twist is also dissatisfying as the resolution is abrupt and completely pointless.

Overall, Novak sets up an interesting family drama and romance that ultimately disappoints in the execution and payoff. Despite potential, the lack of meaningful connection or resolution leaves something to be desired.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is a slow burn. It takes a while for the romance to get started.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE TALK OF COYOTE CANYON is the second book in the Coyote Canyon series. This book can be read as a standalone. This is a small-town series, so characters from the first book appear, and a new reader can quickly catch up on the relationships.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2.5 stars.


Review: Talulah’s Back in Town

Review: Talulah’s Back in TownTalulah's Back in Town (Coyote Canyon, #1) by Brenda Novak
Series: Coyote Canyon #1
Published by MIRA on August 22, 2023
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400

FINAL DECISION: The book was okay, but I didn’t end up feeling the connection between these characters as strongly as I wanted. The story worked, but Talulah felt like a mess.

THE STORY: Talulah Barclay has returned to her hometown of Coyote Canyon fourteen years after being a runaway bride. She now has a successful restaurant and a budding relationship with her partner. The death of her great-aunt brings Talulah back to a place where it seems like everyone has an opinion of her actions. Unfortunately, Talulah’s runaway tendencies did not end with leaving her teenage sweetheart at the altar — she’s done it three times in total. Talulah doesn’t like confrontations and hates disappointing people. This leads to her relationships getting messy, and she ends up running away in panic. Brant, her ex-fiancé’s best friend, greets Talulah soon after she returns to town, and there is a definite attraction between them even though it makes everything even more complicated.

OPINION: I admit that parts of this book I really didn’t like. One thing is that Talulah is dating and sleeping with someone else and yet has sex with Brant. My morality did not like that, and thus I lost a lot of respect for her as a character. Other reader’s mileage may vary.

Except for that, I really liked how the relationship between Talulah and Brant develops. Everyone in Coyote Canyon seems to be against their relationship, and yet the attraction (first) and then the emotional/intellectual relationship (second) begins to develop. Talulah is a people pleaser who keeps trying to put others above her interests. I really liked that Brant pushes back and won’t allow Talulah to sacrifice herself for him.

By the end of the book, however, I wanted more of their relationship. Perhaps there was too much going on in this book and Brant and Talulah ended up getting lost in the drama.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are a lot of characters being introduced in this book for the series — perhaps too many characters at once.

CONNECTED BOOKS: TALULAH’S BACK IN TOWN is the first book in the Coyote Canyon series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.


Review: From Lukov with Love

Review: From Lukov with LoveFrom Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on February 1, 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 540

FINAL DECISION: A true slow burn, this book was exactly what I needed to read right now. A substantive relationship with characters that have depth and interest. New author to me, but I look forward to reading more.

THE STORY: Jasmine Santos is a talented but struggling figure skater whose career has hit a rough patch. She is dealing with the pressures of her sport, financial difficulties, a bad last partner, and trying to reconnect with her family. She has been floating since separating from her last partner but keeps skating even as people begin to see that her career is over and she should consider teaching. Enter Ivan Lukov, the brother of one of Jasmine’s friends. Ivan is a skilled, successful skater who has been pushing Jasmine’s anger buttons for years. Despite their history of clashes and differences in personalities, Jasmine and Ivan agree to become skating partners out of necessity — but only for one year. Along the way, the relationship between the two changes as they develop a complex and evolving relationship that goes beyond the ice rink.

OPINION: This is the first book by this author that I have read, but it won’t be the last. It eschews the overdramatic and grounds itself so deep in reality that I felt that I could meet these two characters at the local ice skating rink. Jasmine is such a complex character: prickly, caring, a perfectionist, a bit of an emotional mess. At first, I wasn’t sure about her, but the book does such a great job of bringing the reader into her life that I quickly began to love her quirks.

Ivan — oh, simply adorable. The way the book is structured, readers don’t know his thoughts in the book. Therefore, we only get to know him through his actions and words and how Jasmine views him which changes as the book progresses.

The relationship between Jasmine and Ivan builds slowly and felt so real. The book really builds from the characters and doesn’t rely on cheap dramatic tricks to draw the characters together. Instead, it is the small things — helping after a car won’t start, babysitting that builds the relationship. The best part of this book? By the time the book ends, there is no question that these two are perfect for one another.

The family dynamics were amazing here as well. Jasmine has a lot to learn about her family. This book serves as her catalyst for finding what her role is in her family. By the way, I loved Jasmine’s mom and her siblings. They are devoted to Jasmine but also funny characters. It really felt like a great family.

I just loved this whole universe of characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: Great for fans of ice skating.


STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.