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.


Review: A California Christmas

Review: A California ChristmasA California Christmas (Silver Springs, #7) by Brenda Novak
Series: Silver Springs #7
Published by Harlequin MIRA on October 13, 2020
Pages: 322

FINAL DECISION: This charming holiday romance showcases the heartfelt connection between Emery and Dallas, making it a pleasant and worthwhile read, especially for fans of the Silver Springs series. While the handling of sensitive themes and predictable plot twists may fall short of expectations, the book still manages to deliver an enjoyable and satisfying story.

THE STORY: Emery Bliss is an up-and-coming TV anchor whose ex posts a humiliating sex tape of her online, causing her to lose her job and self-esteem. Seeking solace and anonymity in Silver Springs, she meets Dallas Turner, a mountain climber who is back home for the holidays for his adoptive mother’s wedding. Despite their initial reluctance to get involved with another person, Emery, and Dallas are thrown back into contact with each other, and sparks start to fly between them. Dallas’ troubled past and Emery’s recent humiliation makes it difficult for them to connect with people, but their growing attraction makes them want to overcome their past and take a chance on love.

OPINION: Overall, I enjoyed this book. The charming holiday romance novel has a lot to offer, including a heartwarming romantic connection between the main characters, Emery and Dallas. Their chemistry is palpable, and their emotional journey is both engaging and satisfying. I also appreciated the depiction of the small town of Silver Springs, which adds depth and richness to the story.

That being said, the book does have its flaws. While the handling of sensitive topics such as revenge porn and childhood trauma is admirable, it can come across as somewhat superficial and lacking in nuance. Additionally, some of the plot twists can feel predictable and formulaic, and the pacing can be a bit slow and meandering at times.

Despite these issues, “A California Christmas” is still a solid and enjoyable romance novel that captures the magic and warmth of the holiday season. Fans of Brenda Novak will appreciate the well-developed romantic connection between Emery and Dallas, as well as the sense of community and camaraderie that permeates the book. While it may not be perfect, it is still a worthwhile read for anyone looking for a heartwarming holiday romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: Something that really bothered me was the heroine taping her phone calls with her ex. That is illegal in California, which is easy to find out.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A CALIFORNIA CHRISTMAS is the seventh book in the Silver Springs series. It can be read as a standalone, although there are some supporting characters who have continuing storylines.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Identity

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: IdentityIdentity by Nora Roberts
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 23, 2023
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 448

FINAL DECISION: This book has a captivating and suspenseful narrative that immerses readers in the resilient journey of Morgan as she faces dangers and pursues her dreams. While the identity theft plot had some minor flaws, Roberts’ storytelling prowess shines through well-developed characters, gripping drama, and surprising twists, leaving readers craving more.

THE STORY: Former Army brat Morgan Albright has found stability in a friendly neighborhood near Baltimore. With the help of her roommate Nina and her job as a bartender, Morgan is making ends meet. However, their lives take a horrifying turn when Luke, a charming IT guy Morgan met at the bar, attends their dinner party. The house is robbed, Nina is murdered, and Morgan’s car is stolen. Morgan soon learns that Luke is actually a con artist named Gavin, who targets women, steals their assets and identities, and ultimately kills them. Devastated, Morgan is forced to flee to her mother’s home in Vermont. She meets Miles, a genuine and unassuming man, who provides some solace as she tries to rebuild her life. Meanwhile, Gavin continues his hunt for new victims, and Morgan lives in constant fear that she is the victim Gavin is hunting.

OPINION: This book had me completely immersed in its captivating and suspenseful narrative. From the very beginning, the story drew me in, introducing me to the resilient and determined heroine, Morgan, and the dangers that surrounded her. While the pacing might not be as fast-paced as some romantic suspense novels, Roberts masterfully built suspense throughout, keeping me on the edge of my seat.

I couldn’t help but cheer for Morgan, with her upbeat attitude and relentless pursuit of her dreams. Her interactions within the generational household she found herself in showcased the strong bonds and love between the women, providing heartfelt and entertaining dialogue.

The romance aspect of the story was equally compelling. Miles, the captivating hero, won me over with his actions and the chemistry he shared with Morgan. Their relationship added depth to the narrative, bringing moments of warmth and tenderness amidst the looming danger. There were moments between Morgan and Miles that just made me sigh and love these two together — along with a very amusing dog named Howl at stole the show at times.

Roberts expertly wove the cat-and-mouse suspense plot between Morgan and the chilling villain, Gavin. I found myself turning the pages rapidly, eager to unravel the outcome of their intense and dangerous game. The blend of family, romance, and murder created a multi-dimensional story that kept me fully engaged.

However, there was one minor flaw that I couldn’t overlook. The identity theft portion of the story had some plot holes and inconsistencies, which occasionally made me second-guess the credibility of the plot. These moments pulled me out of the story, preventing it from being a five-star read.

Nevertheless, IDENTITY showcased Nora Roberts’ storytelling prowess, with well-developed characters, gripping drama, and surprising twists. Despite the minor flaw, the book remained unputdownable, leaving me craving more.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a nice secondary romance here.


STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC 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.


Review: Her Best Worst Mistake

Review: Her Best Worst MistakeHer Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry
Series: Elizabeth & Violet #2
Published by Small Cow Productions on May 3, 2012
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 169

FINAL DECISION: A fun, steamy, and engaging enemies-to-lovers romance novel that explores the complexities of relationships. I enjoyed this very much.

THE STORY: Violet Sutcliffe has always believed that Martin St. Clair, her best friend’s fiancé, is not right for her. Martin is conservative and stuffy, and the two of them have never gotten along. However, when her friend unexpectedly leaves Martin just weeks before their wedding, Violet begins to feel sorry for him. As she spends more time with Martin, she discovers a strong sexual attraction between them that is both intense and all-consuming. But their relationship is complicated by the fact that Martin was once involved with her best friend, and Violet is afraid of damaging their friendship.

OPINION: This is a great enemies-to-lovers romance novel that delivers a satisfying blend of tension, humor, and steamy passion. Violet and Martin have always been at odds with each other. Violet finds Martin too conservative and stuffy, while Martin finds Violet to be too provocative with a messy life.

When Violet’s best friend, Elizabeth, suddenly leaves Martin just weeks before their wedding, Violet finds herself spending more time with Martin when she should be happy to never spend time with him again. It turns out that they have a sizzling sexual attraction that they can’t ignore.

The book does an excellent job of exploring the complexities of relationships, particularly the fear of losing a friend. The characters are well-developed, and their banter is witty and entertaining. Mayberry’s writing style is engaging, making it easy to become invested in the story.

One of the novel’s strengths is the way it presents the classic enemies-to-lovers trope. The tension between Violet and Martin is palpable, I enjoyed watching their relationship evolve as they began to see each other in a new light.

Overall, HER BEST WORST MISTAKE kept me entertained from beginning to end.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a novella, but the story is constructed to fit perfectly in that space. It didn’t feel rushed or superficial to me.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HER BEST WORTH MISTAKE is part of a duology with HOT ISLAND NIGHTS. This book can be read apart from that book as both books happen at the same time.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Hallowed Ground

Review: Hallowed GroundHallowed Ground (Kate Burkholder #14.5) by Linda Castillo
Series: Kate Burkholder #14.5
Published by Minotaur Books on April 25, 2023
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 75

FINAL DECISION: Low-stakes short story/vignette with Kate and John investigating grave robbers. I judge this differently than a full novel, and I really enjoyed this small slice of Kate’s life. I always want more romance with Kate and John, and this one has some nice moments.

THE STORY: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called when a human bone is brought home by a family dog. Kate and John have to figure out the origin of the bone and what is going on in a small graveyard.

OPINION: I enjoyed this story because I simply love Kate and John working together. While Kate is certainly capable on her own and it doesn’t often make sense for the two of them to be in one another’s pockets during the serious crimes that Kate investigates in the novels. This story was short and closed definitively at the end. I like that it is part of Kate’s job that isn’t angst-filled and violent. Instead, it ended up being a little spooky and then resolved some community tensions. Fun little read.

WORTH MENTIONING: This story, like others in the series between the larger novels, is really just a slice-of-life promotion for the next book (as it includes a preview of the novel). That being said, I do enjoy these stories.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HALLOWED GROUND is book 14.5 of the Kate Burkholder series. I think this should be read by those who have read at least one book in the series to get the characters and situation.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: The Seaside Library

Review: The Seaside LibraryThe Seaside Library by Brenda Novak
Published by MIRA on April 11, 2023
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 398

FINAL DECISION: The book has an interesting premise, but the characters are somewhat unlikeable, the central mystery is too easily solved, and the romance is unconvincing. However, the setting is well-crafted, and the exploration of the characters’ past is intriguing. Overall, it may be worth a read for those interested in complicated friendships, and keeping in mind this is more mystery than anything else.

THE STORY: As teenagers, Mariners Island played a significant role in the lives of Ivy, Ariana, and Cam, who shared a deep friendship. The island’s stunning beaches and iconic lighthouse were a source of joy for them. Ivy’s family owned an ancient property on the island that created a strong attachment for her as an adult. However, the memories of the town were too painful for Ariana, including unrequited feelings for Cam and a tragic event that left a scar on the community. When a young girl disappeared, Cam was accused of murder, but Ariana and Ivy believed in his innocence and promised to defend him, even if it meant lying. Twenty years later, Ariana returns to Mariners, and the trio uncovers the truth about their pasts, futures, and their enduring bond. However, someone is determined to prove Cam’s guilt, and even Ariana and Ivy begin to question whether he is truly innocent.

OPINION: This novel presents an interesting premise, but unfortunately falls short in several areas. One of the most significant drawbacks of the story is the characterization. The characters are not particularly likable, which can make it challenging to become invested in their storylines. In particular, Ariana, Cam, and Ivy are flawed individuals with deep-seated issues that can make it difficult to sympathize with them. In particular, Cam’s marriage feels more like a plot device and invented obstacle to the romance rather than a real issue to work through.

Additionally, the resolution of the central mystery of the book becomes apparent far too early on, which robs the story of much of its suspense. While there are some red herrings and twists along the way, it is not enough to make up for the lack of mystery. The ending feels anticlimactic, and it is hard to be invested in a resolution that is all but inevitable.

The romance between Ariana and Cam is another element that leaves something to be desired. It is difficult to understand why the two characters are drawn to each other, and their chemistry is not particularly compelling. The romantic storyline feels tacked on and does not add much to the overall narrative.

Despite these criticisms, the book does have some redeeming qualities. The setting of Mariners Island is well-crafted, and the descriptions of the town and surrounding area are vivid and engaging. The exploration of the three friends’ past and the traumatic events that shaped them is also intriguing and provides some depth to the characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: I think this book is not well represented by its cover, title, or description. There is nothing significant about the “Seaside Library” justifying the title, and this is more mystery than a summer beach read.


STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.


Review: The Love Hypothesis

Review: The Love HypothesisThe Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Published by Berkley on September 14, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 383

FINAL DECISION: This book is fun and light, like cotton candy. Even the “serious” storyline is really fluff because it lacks complexity. I liked the book, but I probably won’t remember it in a year. That being said, the book is perfect for someone looking for a fun rom-com.

THE STORY: Olive Smith is a STEM field Ph.D. candidate at Stanford. When Olive realizes that her best friend, Anh, is perfect for the guy that Olive is casually dating, Olive decides to help their romance along. Olive knows that Anh won’t make a move even after a breakup because of Anh’s loyalty to Olive. So Olive tells Anh that she has already moved on and is dating someone else. When Anh shows up at the lab when Olive is supposed to be on a date, Olive grabs the first guy she finds and asks him to kiss her. The man agrees, and Olive soon finds out that she has been kissing, Adam Adam Carlsen, a young brilliant professor, and a total jerk. Surprisingly, he also agrees to keep up the fake relationship facade telling Olive that he could benefit as well. There is an expiration date for the ruse, but Olive can’t help but find that the fake relationship feels more real every one of those days.

OPINION: I thought this was a sweet romantic comedy. Hazelwood’s writing style is witty, charming, and engaging, and her characters are lovable, relatable, and full of personality. Rather than presenting a traditional alpha male lead who bulldozes his way into Olive’s life, Adam is respectful, supportive, and willing to listen. Overall, this book is delightful and left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It’s the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day, and it is a fun and lighthearted read that made me laugh and smile. The secondary characters and their romances made me smile as well. This book also has some grumpy/sunshine vibes as Olive teases Adam out of his being too serious and makes him see himself more clearly which I really loved. I also really liked that Adam is so supportive of Olive’s work.

The negative to me is twofold. First, I really didn’t like the happy-for-now ending. I’m not sure that these two won’t break up in a year. This is true especially because we don’t really learn anything about these characters having a deep relationship. Instead, everything is funny and light. Even the serious items we learn are not really the stuff that sustains relationships. Second, the entire story was pretty shallow, and everything could be predicted from the start. There is a harassment story that was clear a mile away including how it would obviously be resolved. So while I enjoyed this book, it lacks the depth that would make me come back to re-read.

WORTH MENTIONING: The pumpkin spice drink wars made me laugh out loud.


STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Review: Get a Life, Chloe BrownGet a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1) by Talia Hibbert
Series: The Brown Sisters #1
Published by Avon on November 5, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 387

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book. I was prepared to find it as dull as many of the cartoon-covered books that pass for romance these days but are really just women’s fiction. This book was amazing. Chloe and Red spend almost the entire book talking to one another, getting to know each other, and working through their various problems. The book is sweet and sexy and funny and so mature and adult. I have not read Talia Hibbert before and I was clearly missing something.

THE STORY: Chloe Brown takes decides to “get a life” by taking on a number of initiatives, including moving out of her family’s mansion, enjoying a drunken night out, riding a motorcycle, going camping, having meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex, traveling the world with nothing but hand luggage, and… doing something bad. Chloe takes on her goal of doing something bad by spying on her building’s superintendent Red Morgan, who paints at night half-undressed. Red, at first, thinks that Chloe is stuck up, but as he gets to know her, Red is attracted to this woman who is brave in ways that he didn’t expect. When Chloe asks him to help her complete her “get a life” list, Red cannot resist her.

OPINION: This book is simply charming, and yet it is not fluffy but rather has a substantial adult storyline. This is the story of two people who have been hurt by others having to learn to communicate with one another. While there are some rom-com funny moments, the book feels really real. In how Chloe and Red fight and hurt one another at times, it at times felt too real but so incredibly lovely in how things work out.

Both Chloe and Red are such good people. Such a book could be dull, but this book goes so deep into the relationship between these two that I as a reader was totally invested in how these two would find a happy ending together.

Chloe has fibromyalgia, lives with constant pain, and has learned to be in control as she goes through the world. Unrestrained action can lead Chloe to When Red meets her, he takes her control for being “stuck up” and thinking she is better than others. Red, himself, has been hurt by such a woman, and so he has his own guard up to protect himself. Chloe has been abandoned by others because of her disease, and so she worries about opening herself up to anyone — friend or lover.

I loved that these two have wounds that the other person both reopens and also heals. The book is about relationships and community. There is a light gloss of Chloe’s “get a life” list that she is trying to complete, but the story and her list are really about trying to create relationships, love, and community with others.

This book surprised me, and I read it so quickly because I wanted to know how these two wonderful people would work out the problems in their lives. By the end, everything is not perfect in the world, and yet a rock-solid relationship between Chloe and Red is obvious.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a plot light book. It is really about Chloe and Red’s relationship — and a cat.

CONNECTED BOOKS: GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN is the first book in the Brown Sisters series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.


Review: Risk the Night

Review: Risk the NightRisk the Night: An Ice Novella (Anne Stuart Short Reads) by Anne Stuart
Series: Ice #6.5
Published by Impeccably Demure Press on February 12, 2023
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 67

FINAL DECISION: Dark, with a heartless “hero” that is close to pretty much a sociopath, this short story is such distilled Anne Stuart that I loved it. Admittedly, however, this will only be for a particular audience.

THE STORY: Madison gets the interview of a lifetime with Constantine, a heartless assassin. She is undone by the seductive man who is extremely dangerous and seemingly soulless. Constantine is taken with the woman who is far too innocent for him and can’t help but seek her out again.

OPINION: A long analysis of this story might be almost longer than the story itself. The description tells the reader just about everything about this story. Madison is a woman who has an almost fiance when she meets Constantine. There is something dark and hot between them from the moments they spend in a dark room together talking. So much so that although they never see one another, they almost instantly recognize one another when meeting at a different time and place.

Like many of Stuart’s heroes, Constantine is not heroic but rather dark and deadly. There is nothing soft and caring about him except for what he feels for Madison, but readers and Madison never get that softness. For many readers, this story will be a hard pass because of the darkness of the antihero, but Stuart has a following for a reason: her heroes are incredibly hard and dark, but the heroine is someone that they are willing for whom they are willing to change the world.

WORTH MENTIONING: This short, dark novella has violence and sex intertwined, so readers should be aware.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RISK THE NIGHT is a short story that takes place in the Ice universe. It is a standalone that doesn’t rely on anything from the prior books in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book five stars.