Review: Fall

Review: FallFall (VIP, #3) by Kristen Callihan
Series: VIP #3
Published by Plain Jane on October 23, 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 452
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: Incredibly satisfying book. These two characters journey was well paced and I especially enjoyed the slow burn aspect of the story. These characters are deeply engaged in their relationship which allows readers to get to know their weaknesses and their strengths. Loved this one.

THE STORY: While shopping for groceries, Stella Grey runs into a handsome guy who is taking the last package of her favorite ice cream from the freezer at the store. Their competition over it is won by Stella who kisses the guy. Of course, it turns out that the guy lives next door to the penthouse where she is working her temporary pet sitting job. He also happens to be Jax Blackwood — one of the famous, and perhaps the most infamous, members of a legendary rock band.

OPINION: In this book, a lot of time is spent on John and Stella learning about one another. The story is sexy because these two have time and space to get to know one another. I really enjoyed this because it allowed depth to their romance. The focus is on the characters and the plot only serves to highlight and raise issues between the characters — which is my favorite kind of romance.

John aka Jax is a man dealing with his mental health issues. I thought that this book depicted his depression in a way that really gave me insight into how this issue can effect ones life. I found his character sympathetic even as he is sometimes a jerk. I found him generally sweet and funny.

Both John and Stella have masks on. The smiles, the confidence, the concern for others hides dark thoughts and deep insecurities and hurt. The unveiling of these characters kept me fascinated by their story.

Stella is a woman who everyone likes, but no one really knows. Her internal life and pain compel her to keep a distance for those who would care for her. She has strength but also is incredibly vulnerable. We know John’s story immediately, but Stella’s story is hidden in the beginning and only begins to reveal itself through John and Stella’s relationship.

I love books where the relationship is allowed time to develop. Two people learning one another, building a relationship based upon friendship and caring. That makes this book really hot because of the delayed gratification and when things progress here, there is definitely caring and emotion involved.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of the prior books will be aware that Jax has attempted suicide (off page) and this book addresses, among other things, his depression and other emotional and mental challenges he faces.

CONNECTED BOOKS: FALL is the third book in the VIP series. The romance here is self-contained and although there are overlapping characters, this book can be read completely as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Managed

Review: ManagedManaged (VIP, #2) by Kristen Callihan
Series: VIP #2
Published by NLA Digital LLC on November 14, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 344
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book which has a totally buttoned up stuffy hero and the strong woman who just breaks him down. Funny and emotional and a nice slow burn story.

THE STORY: Gabriel Scott aka Scottie who is the manager for a famous rock band ends up flying next to Sophie Darling on a transatlantic flight. The two argue and flirt and talk their way to England where Sophie discovers that her new mysterious job is as a social media manager for the band.

OPINION: I loved this book because there is something adorable about the grumpy stuffy Scottie completely falling for the strong willed spunky Sophie. She doesn’t put up with his grief and that makes him completely undone by her.

Scottie keeps himself apart from those who care about him, and he is reaching a quiet breaking point in his life. He manages to keep his life buttoned up and carefully planned until Sophie comes into it. Sophie is big and open and makes mistakes but owns them. This opposites attract story worked so well for me.

I liked that these two became friends of a sort before the sex began in their relationship. These two talked and argued as a form of foreplay which made this book funny and emotional and incredibly sexy in a different way.

These characters are complicated and felt real in their humanity. They make mistakes and have to deal with the results. I also really loved the relationship between the band members which I felt was more developed than the first book in the series.

Because the book touches on serious themes, I thought it might be dark, but instead it felt funny in a completely human fashion that made me smile and laugh but never feel that the book was slapstick.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is told in alternating first person points of view.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MANAGED is the second book in the VIP series. The romance is self-contained and although there are overlapping characters in the books, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Idol

Review: IdolIdol (VIP, #1) by Kristen Callihan
Series: VIP #1
Published by Plain Jane on June 7, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 339
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: The story was uneven and the blurb is mostly the first quarter of the book. There is a development in the story that encompasses the middle third of the book and then a dramatic turn for the ending. I found the middle of this book a bit meandering and it wasn’t the strongest part for me. I still enjoyed the book, but the pacing didn’t work for me as well as I would have liked.

THE STORY: Liberty Bell find a drunk man sprawled out on her lawn. Eventually she finds out he is Killian James, a huge rock star. The two begin a friendship that turns into something more and brings Libby into a world of music that she has avoided for most of her life.

OPINION: I enjoyed the characters in this book. Libby and Kilian are funny and yet deeply emotional. I liked that this book is centered around the emotions on these two people who struggle and make mistakes. I felt that these characters had depth and complexity to them.

I really enjoyed how Callihan writes. The prose and the sentence development was very engaging. The story is told in alternating first person narratives which makes the motivations of the characters clear even if I was frustrated with their struggles. But I enjoyed that part of the story.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters who also have a complexity that makes me want to read their stories as well.

The negative here was that in the middle of the book, I just felt that the characters were in a holding pattern waiting for the plot to develop around them. I didn’t feel that the characters had a purpose during that portion of the book.

Finally, the characters were popped free by the plot and I felt that things began to move again. I overall enjoyed this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of Nalini Singh’s Rock Kiss series or Kylie Scott’s Stage Dive series might enjoy this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  IDOL is the first book in the VIP series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Way Back to You

Review: The Way Back to YouThe Way Back to You (Blessings, Georgia #9) by Sharon Sala
Series: ,
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on December 31, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Heartfelt romance that is rooted strongly in the community of Blessings. I enjoyed the story although it is not entirely focused on the relationship between Sully and Melissa but a holistic story of them as individuals and as members of their community.

THE STORY:  Sully Raines gets a shock upon the death of his mother — he discovers that he was adopted. This sends him on a search for his birth mother and brings him to Blessings, Georgia. In Blessings, he runs into Melissa who was a girl who he liked when they were kids.

OPINION: The Southern small town of Blessings, Georgia is a wonderful community. What I liked best about this book is that the town and its residents are central to this book. This is not a couple who are separate from those around them, but rather, this is about people being part of a community. Sully comes to Blessings, Georgia so this is the story of him finding a place in this town and he does it while building a relationship with Melissa.

I loved that the drama here felt real rather than the full throttle drama in some books (I like those too sometimes so it is not a criticism). Everything felt solid and warm. Sully and Melissa seem to settle things between them so nicely. There are some external issues, but I really liked these two who manage to talk through serious issues.

I also really loved that these two find one another at age 45 and look forward to a life together. Not the same life a couple of 25 or 35 have, but a life that is valuable and can be filled with love and belonging.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved all the characters in the town and this book really made me want to know more about their stories.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE WAY BACK TO YOU is the ninth book in the Blessings, Georgia series. This book can be read as a standalone (and indeed, I haven’t read any other book in the series). I’m sure there are overlapping characters, but I didn’t feel like I needed to read anything else to enjoy this one.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Closer

Review: CloserCloser: A Stage Dive Novella by Kylie Scott
Series: Stage Dive #4.6
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on September 24, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 107
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I really enjoyed this one with opposites attract. The story was tense with the stalker on the loose, but it also increased the tension between these two as they are stuck together. I loved Mae and Ziggy!

THE STORY: Mae Cooper, plus-sized model, ends up with a bodyguard when she receives a threatening package from a stalker. Ziggy Thayer considers himself a consummate professional until he finds that Mae shatters his non-plussed demeanor.

OPINION: I adored Mae. Sometimes reading one character’s thoughts can be too much, but I loved the quirky way she thought and how positive she was about her curvy self. Because we are reading Mae’s thoughts, it is a little difficult to get to know Ziggy, but his actions are clear. But I ended up absolutely loving the quiet steady man. They are a great match with the differences in their personalities.

The story is a sexy little treat. The pacing of the story worked really well. The characters get to spend a condensed amount of time together because of the stalker threat and so there is definite heat between these two. The sex scene was romantic and sexy and really funny. I thought it was a perfect culmination of these two.

As a fan of the Stage Dive series, I love the chance to get to reacquaint myself with some favorites while getting to meet those around them.

I also really loved that we get to see the Stage Dive crew with some updates on everyone and, of course, I loved seeing Mal.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a novella and it is told from Mae’s point of view in the first person.

CONNECTED BOOKS: CLOSER is book 4.6 of the Stage Dive series. Although appearances are made by characters in the Stage Dive series, the romance here is self-contained and it is not necessary to have read any other book in the series. This book operates as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Hostage Bargain

Review: The Hostage BargainThe Hostage Bargain (Taken Hostage by Hunky Bank Robbers, #1) by Annika Martin
Series: Taken Hostage by Kinky Bank Robbers #1
on April 29, 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Pages: 170
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“We’re criminals, baby. Everything we do is inappropriate.”

FINAL DECISION: High energy, campy, and thoroughly entertaining read. The story setup is pretty silly, but the “anything goes” attitude of this book makes it a fun read with plenty of action and sex.

THE STORY: Melinda Prescott is working at a bank in order to save the family farm from the terrible man who holds the mortgage — and runs the bank. When three masked men come into the bank to rob it, Melinda is happy to help. Taken hostage by the men, Melinda ends up wanting to join the crew, but there are rules and some of them are sexy rules.

OPINION: I loved this book because it was completely bananas and embraced the craziness completely. There was definitely chemistry between the characters and I thought the twist of having Melinda come into the group where it complicates just about everything was good. There was nice tension and plenty of sexiness.

Yes, the premise of this book is over the top, but if a reader can just accept that and go with the story, it is hot and fun.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a reverse harem story with three guys and one woman. All the interaction is MFM or MF.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE HOSTAGE BARGAIN is the first book in the Taken Hostage by Kinky Bank Robbers series.  The series continues with the same group, but this story is complete if you want to start and stop here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Oh Christmas Night

Review: Oh Christmas NightOh, Christmas Night by Jane Porter
Published by Tule Publishing on 5th November 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 252
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Sweet Christmas story that feels like it could translate well into a Hallmark movie. This was exactly what I needed for a holiday read, easy-going, nice people in an enjoyable story.

THE STORY: Rachel Mills, a hardworking California accountant has been passed over for a promotion again. When she is given a closed bookstore in a small Montana town by her aunt, Rachel travels there to get a look at the store. There she meets Atticus Bowen who has been wanting the bookstore building to open a restaurant. Although the two should be at odds, Atticus can’t resist helping Rachel try to reopen the bookstore. As Rachel has to confront what she wants in life, she draws closer to Atticus, but maybe she doesn’t want to commit to him either.

OPINION: I found this book exactly what I needed for this time. A sweet, Christmas romance that takes the characters seriously, has generally nice people as characters, no angst or serious drama, and a heartwarming ending.

This book felt like it could easily translate into a Hallmark holiday movie in the best way. The story is heartwarming and made me smile. I read it and felt happy when it concluded. It captured some of the best emotions of the holiday season. I liked that it avoided the dark and intense storylines (I love those as well, but this was a good holiday book).

Rachel is a woman at a crossroads in her life. I liked that the book doesn’t denigrate her choices but shows that our wants and desires and goals can change and that is okay.

Atticus is a sweetheart and I liked that he is supportive and is willing to change his own goals to build something with Rachel.

I haven’t read anything by this author before but would definitely try something else after this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a clean romance with kissing and implied more.

CONNECTED BOOKS: From mentions in this book and a look at the author’s backlist, it seems like this book is slightly connected to some of her series. It is not necessary, however, to read those books (I didn’t).

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

 

four-stars

Review: Return to Christmas

Review: Return to ChristmasReturn to Christmas by Anne Stuart
Published by Impeccably Demure Press on November 12, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 316
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was an enjoyable story that felt “old fashioned” in a good way – perhaps classic is a good word. The time jump to the 1940s and getting a mix of modern and history was a fun read. The story made me happy and is a definite feel good holiday story.

THE STORY: Madison Simcoe finds herself living an unfulfilling life and she’s had enough of the harassment she has had to deal with at work. She decides to visit Macy’s during the Christmas season and finds herself in transported 1947. There she meets Johnny Larson who has returned from the war haunted by what he did there. Johnny works at Macy’s and is grumpy towards the woman who invades his life. Madison needs to find a way back to 2020 but finds a deep connection to the people in the past.

OPINION: This book had the comfort of watching one of those old holiday movies. Iconic imagery, a sweet romance with characters who are good people, and a special magical bit of help in the end. It’s the kind of story that feels like it should be read on a cold winter’s day in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa.

I liked these two characters. Madison/Molly is a woman who feels empty in her present place and time. After traveling to the past, she finds meaning in her life with the right person. I especially liked how she sees parallels in her challenges in both times.

Johnny is a man who is broken but does his best to do good even while being a crusty recluse. I thought that the interactions with Molly and Johnny were the smart interactions that are in classic 1940s films.

The story was fun and definitely festive. Lovers of classic romantic films or time travel romances will like this. While there is definitely some heat, it is not as explicit of some of Stuart’s other stories. I will add this book to my holiday story rotation.

WORTH MENTIONING: Content warning for sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RETURN TO CHRISTMAS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Priest

Review: PriestPriest (Priest, #1) by Sierra Simone
on June 18, 2015
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 354
Goodreads
one-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Shock content but very shallow. The “priest” in this book knows nothing about being a priest and never acts the part at any part in this book. I didn’t find any connection between these characters.

THE STORY: Tyler Bell is a priest who has his world changed when Poppy Danforth comes into his confessional one day.

OPINION: This book disappointed me on all levels. It was not edgy, it did not depict any real conflict on Tyler’s part, and it didn’t even deliver a particularly good romance. I’ve read other books by Simone that were really good.  If I had started with this book, I wouldn’t have read any further.

Tyler doesn’t seem like a well formed character. If an author is going to set up a conflict, there should be something real about it if the book pretends to take place in contemporary society. Unfortunately, this book strikes me as someone who thinks they know about Catholicism and thus has done no research into the actual conflicts that arise when a priest falls in love. Priests do leave the priesthood, but this hero strikes me as someone who doesn’t really have a deep spiritual life that would be expected from someone who went through the formation for the priesthood. The unreality about and denigration of the Catholic religion made this book unreadable for me and it took me weeks to get through it. And the denigration is not the attempt to be edgy and have characters do incredibly blasphemous acts. It is the fact that Tyler’s conflict doesn’t feel real.

For example, at one point he goes to his congregation and states that “God is bigger than our sins. God wants you as you are — stumbling, sinning, confused…This won’t come easy to us Catholics. In a way, it’s easier to dwell on sin and guilt than it is to dwell on love and forgiveness.”  Ironic, considering that this is the exact purpose of Sacrament of Reconciliation aka Confession. Catholics should be aware that God loves them and wants them to come to him and will receive love and forgiveness. Any priest who has gone through a modern formation would certainly be aware of the focus on this by the Catholic Church. It is a stereotype of the Church that it is gloomy and sin focused.

Not only at this point, but throughout the book, Tyler doesn’t seem to know much about an adult, full educated and informed Catholicism as would be required of a man who had gone through the rigorous formation necessary to become a priest. The Church has suffered from a number of bad, horrible, non-faithful priests throughout the years breaking their vows and committing horrible crimes, but this is supposed to be the hero of the story.

This could have been a great book if it had taken Tyler’s conflict seriously. Instead, the book seems like it is arguing against a straw-man version of the Church. I know of several men who left the priesthood for various reasons related to their changing view of their purpose in life. Perhaps they wanted to be married, perhaps they decided they had differing views from the Church. This book doesn’t take the conflict seriously because it comes from a lack of correct information.

I had another visceral problem with Tyler’s journey. In Catholic parlance, a priest is married to the Church. Thus, from the beginning Tyler is committing a type of adultery with Poppy. Perhaps because I took his vows to the Church seriously, I didn’t find his pursuit of Poppy (from the moment he met her) as romantic, but rather as a type of betrayal. In essence, this is a cheating book for me and in order for me to accept the romance, I have to have real reasons for the break from the existing relationship. The inability to provide any real foundation for Tyler’s dissatisfaction with his priestly state — other than wanting sex — undermined this book at every turn.

This fed into my real problem with this book — the romance just didn’t work. There was no connection between Tyler and Poppy other than sex. While sex can work to create a relationship in romances. Here, I never got a sense that these characters had any connection other than lust. Poppy never really gets to know Tyler and Tyler certainly doesn’t connect with Poppy’s interior life. Indeed, my conclusion at the end of this book is that neither of these characters have any deep interior at all.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book gets so many basic facts about the Catholic priesthood wrong, it was difficult for me to take it seriously from the beginning. Other readers who don’t know basic things like it takes at least 6 to 9 years for a man to become a priest might not be so bothered.

CONNECTED BOOKS: PRIEST is the first in the Priest series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 1.5 stars.

one-half-stars

Review: Christmas in Silver Springs

Review: Christmas in Silver SpringsChristmas in Silver Springs (Silver Springs, #6) by Brenda Novak
Series: Silver Springs #6
Published by MIRA on October 29, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This is a book about rebuilding. Both Tobias and Harper are starting new lives. I found their struggle emotionally satisfying although I really didn’t like that Tobias kept his secret for so long. That was a bit annoying even though I understood his character’s motivation. I just think that they needed more time to process the truth so I docked the book a little.

THE STORY: Tobias Richardson has just been released from prison after serving a long sentence for shooting someone when he was seventeen. Tobias is determined to turn his life around and moves to Silver Springs to be with his brother. When he spots a woman he is instantly attracted to, he notices that she seems sad and gives her a rose. Harper Devlin is on the verge of having her divorce from her rock star husband finalized. After a decade of marriage, he wants his freedom to explore his superstar life and has left Harper and their two children. But Tobias can’t bear to tell Harper the truth about his past and Harper isn’t sure her marriage is over which complicates the relationship these two keep wanted to explore.

OPINION: A book about forgiveness and starting over, I thought that the multitude of relationships that were about forgiveness worked tremendously well for me.

Tobias is a man literally starting his life again after spending all of his adult life in prison. While he is strong, he also has a soft heart. I loved how kind he is to Harper even when she was hurting him with her behavior. He is always concerned about her feelings even to his own detriment because he wants her to be happy. He also doesn’t really feel that he deserves happiness.

This book is about layers and various types of forgiveness. Ultimately, Tobias must forgive himself in order to seize his own happiness.

Harper is having to find her own footing after her husband asked for a divorce in order to live the good life of a rock star. He’d rather sleep with groupies than spend time with his wife and children. We meet her right as her divorce is becoming finalized and her relationship with Tobias helps her find herself. Things are complicated by the tug and pull of her ex-husband who wants another chance. Harper is torn between a new relationship and keeping her family together.

I found her bouncing back and forth frustratingly realistic, but I was annoyed by her because she really was hurting Tobias with her actions.

The only part of this book that bothered me is that Tobias waits too long to tell Harper about his past. That might have been okay, but I didn’t really feel like the reality of his past was confronted by these two as they get together in the end. I needed more exploration of their relationship when they are together and honest with one another. But that was a small complaint about what was overall a satisfying story.

This book has a beautiful ending which stayed with me long after I finished the book.

WORTH MENTIONING: I didn’t like Atticus much after UNFORGETTABLE YOU, but he has been redeemed for me in this book. I hope we get his story soon.

CONNECTED BOOKS: CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS is the sixth book in the Silver Springs series. It operates as a standalone although I think there is more depth to the story (involving the side characters) if the reader has read UNFORGETTABLE YOU (which is about the hero in this book’s brother).

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars