Review: Deck the Halls

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

Review: Deck the HallsDeck the Halls (Darling, VT) by Donna Alward
Series: Darling VT #3.5
Published by Swerve on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I loved this story. It was sweet and mature and full of heart. There is still more for George and Amy and I hope we see more of them or I will be mad that we didn’t get an epilogue!

THE STORY: George Reilly has spent a year rebuilding his life after years of homelessness. Just when he has a job he values and friends in the town of Darling, VT, someone from his past reemerges. Amy Merck has come to George because the death of her brother has left her with questions and she wants George’s help. During the Christmas season George and Amy rediscover hope and begin mending hearts that have been bruised and damaged.

OPINION: I made the mistake of starting this novella late at night. I usually can read a little of these stories and then pick them up the next day. Not this one. Despite the fact that this story isn’t a suspense or a mystery or a great angsty drama, I was compelled to read every page before I slept.

The characters had such heart and depth for such a short story. I loved everything about it except for one minor quibble.

I thought this novella was incredibly brave for having a hero with PTSD who was also homeless for a long period of time. The story doesn’t flinch from these aspects of George’s reality. The shame, the fear, the daily struggles and the small successes. I loved the depth to this character who feels real and someone I would be happy to know.

Amy is a good match for George as she demonstrates that life and pain happens to everyone. She has different problems from George, but they have left scars on her as well.

The interactions between George and Amy are sweet, but not the sugary kind. These two are gentle and kind and good people. The entire story has great heart and I just felt so good about how things developed.

My only complaint is that the length of this novella means that the story is left going in the right direction, but not a complete happy ending. I hope that we see more of Amy and George in the future or I might grow more annoyed that we didn’t get an epilogue or glimpse at the future outcome.

The heat of this novella is definitely on the sweet side.

WORTH MENTIONING: Kissing Bridge.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DECK THE HALLS is book 3.5 in the Darling, VT series. This is a novella about a secondary character and can be read totally on its own, but fans of the series will be pleased with this revisit to Darling.

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 to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: The Playboy Prince and the Nanny

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

Review: The Playboy Prince and the NannyThe Playboy Prince and the Nanny (Royal Duology #1) by Donna Alward
Published by Swerve on August 1st 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A sweet romance that harkens back to my days devouring category romances.  The story is pretty clean and focused on the couple. Sweet read that I enjoyed because of the characters.  This was a book I finished with a warm heart.

THE STORY:  Rose Walters comes to Marazur to take over being nanny for the two royal children whose mother just died.  While there, she ends up spending time with “the spare” Prince Diego.  Diego has been known as a playboy who flits around the world, but the family tragedy brings him back home and gives him a purpose to help his family including his brother and niece and nephew heal.  Of course, it also brings him in constant contact with the new nanny.  A woman he can’t get off his mind.

OPINION:  I found this an enjoyable read. The characters and the story was uncomplicated and really focuses on these nice people navigating external events that threaten their potential relationship.

Years before I became obsessed with dark and angst filled dramatic romances, I read just about every Silhouette, Loveswept, Harlequin, Second Chance at Love, and numerous other category romances.  The stories were mostly simple and focused on the couple overcoming plot devices that threatened their relationship.  I read hundreds, maybe thousands, of those stories and was happy with those stories.

This book is a slightly more sophisticated version of those stories.  The characters are nice and the romance is sweet.  I enjoyed the connection between the characters and the fairy tale quality of the nanny falling for the prince.  (And the playboy prince falling head over heels for the slightly wallflower nanny!!) Rose and Diego are such nice people and the real complication is their relative positions (prince versus nanny) and some external threats that I don’t want to give away.

While the story is definitely on the sweet side, I so much enjoyed the interaction between Diego and Rose which was romantic and gentle and warmed my heart.

I look forward to the companion book in this series about Diego’s brother because this book left me with good feelings.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This is a pretty clean romance with some kisses and one act of premarital sex off screen.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE PLAYBOY PRINCE AND THE NANNY is the first book in the Princes of Marazur series.

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 review or write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: The Rancher’s Runaway Princess

Review: The Rancher’s Runaway PrincessThe Rancher's Runaway Princess (Larch Valley #1) by Donna Alward
Series: Larch Valley #1, Princes of Marazur #0.5
Published by Harlequin Enterprises LTD on April 1st 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 187
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Nice story, but it was uneven.  I liked the second half much more than the first half.

THE STORY: Lucy Farnsworth has come to Canada to check out a horse farm for the royal family of Marazur.  She becomes attracted to rancher Brody Hamilton, but Lucy is keeping a secret.  She is actually Princess Luciana, the daughter of the King of Marazur.  Lucy discovered this only as her mother was dying and Lucy has had her world turned upside down.  Her father has offered her the opportunity to perform this task in order to give herself some space from her new life.  But as she falls for Brody, her deception becomes more of a problem.

OPINION:  The story here was nice and for those who are looking for a sweet read, this is a nice one.  For me, however, I want more passion between the characters.  Both Brody and Lucy are too nice.  Their conflicts didn’t feel like they were something that could not be overcome.

Brody is a brooding and hurt man.  He has been burned before so as he becomes more and more attracted to Lucy, he acts out in response.  Lucy is confused about her own life and she is keeping the secret of her true identity as a princess.  (Thus, it is perfectly reasonable that Brody doesn’t trust her).

I’m not against sweet books without sex, but I didn’t think there was enough emotional passion to keep the story going.  Rather, the story is premised primarily on the secrets that both Brody and Lucy are keeping.

The story picked up in the second half and if the entire book was as compelling as the first half, I would have given it a better rating.  I thought in the second half as the two get closer, there was a more interesting and personal story.

I liked this story but there was not enough meat here to make this a book that I will think about in a month.  Rather, this is a sweet one time read.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is definitely a book in the sweet category.  There is nothing more than kissing between the characters.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE RANCHER’S RUNAWAY PRINCESS is the first book in the Larch Valley series.  It is also the prequel to the Princes of Marazur series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars

Review: Somebody’s Baby

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

Review: Somebody’s BabySomebody's Baby (Darling, VT #3) by Donna Alward
Series: Darling VT #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on April 4th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 304
Goodreads
four-stars

“What if you were blindsided by something good? Wouldn’t it be a shame to miss out on it because it wasn’t in your plans?”

FINAL DECISION:  The story of two people who have been burned by love before and are afraid to trust themselves or one another with the possibility of love. Genuine nice characters in a small town setting makes this contemporary a real heart warmer.

THE STORY:  Oaklee Collier is known around Darling as the “Social Butterfly” not so much for her personal life as her job running the town’s social media. She is sunny, upbeat and put together — or at least she presents that front to the world.  Actually, she has a disaster of an apartment, is sick of going to bridal and baby showers, and still hasn’t gotten over being left at the altar by her high school sweetheart.  One night, she ends up hitting a dog in the road. She takes him to see Rory Gallagher, veterinarian.  Rory is a serial dater who gets through the first or second date but hasn’t had a real relationship since school when his heart was broken two times over.  A classic friends to lovers story.

OPINION:  The final Gallagher brother is certainly not ready to settle down — especially because he was devastated by the woman he loved while in school.  Now the junior veterinarian spends his time caring for baby kittens and dating a different woman every night.  One night Oaklee comes to him with an injured dog.  The two grew up together as Rory had been best friends with Oaklee’s older brother.  But just as Rory began noticing the Oaklee when they were teenagers, her brother slapped him down and instead demanded that Rory care for Oaklee as if she were his own sister.  No matter how much he tries, however, Rory cannot think of Oaklee in a sisterly fashion.

Oaklee has never forgotten her teenage crush.  She went on to love another man but he broke her heart as well.  Now Oaklee is covering her sadness with a happy face and filling her life with her work.  When she accidentally hits a dog on the way home, she becomes enmeshed in unwanted connections — both with the dog and Rory.  A reluctant foster parent to the injured dog, Oaklee ends up looking outside herself and opening herself up to caring and loving in a way she hasn’t done since she was stood up on her wedding day.

As Rory and Oaklee struggle with their attraction to one another and their fears of being hurt again, they also find themselves being friends in a way they weren’t as children.  Their romance has fits and starts which feels real and difficult.

I loved that these two have small struggles in making a relationship work. These are real people with emotional fears, work problems, and financial constraints. I loved how the injured dog opens Oaklee up.  The dog made me smile and cry. Pet lovers will certainly feel a connection with how Oaklee falls in love with the dog even as he challenges and annoys her.

I have enjoyed all three books in this series (about the Gallagher brothers) and I hope we see more from Darling, VT in the future.  (There are still the Gallagher sisters!!).

WORTH MENTIONING:  The timeline of this book overlaps with the second book in the series SOMEONE TO LOVE.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SOMEBODY’S BABY is the third book in the Darling, VT series.  Although there are overlapping characters, this book can be read as a standalone.

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: Someone to Love

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

Review: Someone to LoveSomeone to Love (Darling, VT #2) by Donna Alward
Series: Darling, VT #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on March 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The story of two damaged people who are survivors of some of life’s tragedies, this book dwells not on the sadness of their lives but how they can move forward to find joy in one another.

THE STORY:  Ethan Gallagher is a widower with two young boys.  Having met, married and lost the love of his life, Ethan is dwelling in his grief and has no intention of falling in love again.  When he meets his sister-in-law’s best friend, the two rub each other the wrong way.  Willow Dunaway is too much of free spirit according to Ethan.  From her dyed hair to her tattoo, Willow is not serious according to Ethan.  When his sons take to Willow, however, Ethan finds himself spending more time for Willow and finding out that that former high achieving high schooler has rebuilt herself after her life was shattered.  Willow is herself afraid of falling in love, but this firefighter and his two adorable children call to her heart.

OPINION:  Can I admit to really liking stories where the main characters get each other completely wrong in in the beginning?  And boy do Ethan and Willow see one another in a warped way in the beginning. Assumptions, stereotypes and just plain misunderstandings abound in the beginning.  The two end up fighting and arguing and just purely want to dislike one another.  Because, of course, they are perfect for one another but neither wants that to be true.

Ethan is a good and honest man who loved his deceased wife tremendously.  The two made promises on the infamous kissing bridge (which promises love for life), but the lifetime the two expected ended far too soon.  Buried in grief since her death, Ethan finds himself being pulled, unwillingly, into life again. Willow touches something in Ethan that he believed broken and he finds himself resenting it. He doesn’t want to feel again and he certainly doesn’t want to love.  But despite himself, he begins to fall for Willow.

Willow, herself, is closed off to the possibility of love.  A youthful mistake almost destroyed her and caused her to reinvent herself. Her safe and comfortable self discounts the possibility of truly opening herself up to weakness and love.  It is much easier for her to keep her relationships constrained and herself in control. Quirky and unique, Willow demonstrates the dangers of assuming you know someone’s story based on appearances or superficial knowledge. As Ethan (and we the readers) learn, Willow has deep reasons for being who she appears to be on the outside. Ethan and his sons begin to break down the protective walls that Willow has built and he thus challenges her control.

The romance between Willow and Ethan is so powerful because these two seem to have no chance as the book begins. They learn that they are more similar than they expected and liking one another turns to a powerful sexual attraction and eventually they have to make the leap of faith to trust love.  Even if there are no guarantees.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For fans of the first book SOMEONE LIKE YOU, there is a little special surprise for you too!

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SOMEONE TO LOVE is the second book in the Darling, VT series.  The romance in this book is independent of the other book in the series, but the main characters of this book do appear in the prior book.  This book can be read as a standalone.

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: Somebody Like You

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

Review: Somebody Like YouSomebody Like You (Darling, VT #1) by Donna Alward
Series: Darling, VT #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Those who stood on the bridge and sealed their love with a kiss would be together forever.”

FINAL DECISION:  A book with a wonderful sense of heart, I absolutely loved this one.  Wholesome and sweet with just enough humor and angst to keep the story exciting, my first Donna Alward novel made me immediately preorder the rest of the series so that I can find out the fates of the other characters.

THE STORY:  Laurel Stone has returned to her hometown after a failed marriage which necessitated a change in careers.  Laurel now owns the Ladybug Garden Center which is reconnecting her with the outdoors that she loved growing up.  Laurel’s return to Darling also ends up reconnecting her to Aiden Gallagher who broke her heart when they were a teenagers.  Aiden is now a police officer in town.  Aiden and Laurel have a long history together and, in fact, they are legends because they are depicted in the most famous picture in town.  As small children, Aiden and Laurel innocently kissed on the Kissing Bridge where legend holds that those who kiss there will be together forever.  Now the town wants to update the photo using Aiden and Laurel again, but Laurel is in no mood to cooperate.

OPINION: A lovely, heart warming small town romance, SOMEBODY LIKE YOU was a book that I read only because it was offered to me to review.  I accepted the chance to review the book intrigued by the Kissing Bridge and the idea that two people who were photographed on it as children get a chance at romance as adults.  Sometimes I just have to take a wild chance and see what happens.

I’m happy to report that this was a wonderful book.  Funny, sweet, and heartwarming.  Once I began reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  The story satisfied something in me that likes the gentle and real relationships.  (I love angsty dramas but this book isn’t that type of book.  Instead, this book feels like sweet and cold ice cream on a summer’s day — recognizable and incredibly satisfying).

Laurel is a woman recovering from the end of a marriage that made her question all her assumptions about her own future and happy endings.  She is generous and willing to help others even to her own detriment.  She is unwilling to purposely hurt others and that had led her to be taken advantage of by some…but it also opens her up to being wonderful in helping those who genuinely need assistance.  I loved that she is a normal woman who is struggling to determine what she wants from life.  She works hard, is charitable and has to work through her mixed emotions for not only Aiden but her ex-husband.

Aiden is so much a normal guy that I never expected him to become one of my favorite romantic heroes.  Like so many of us, he made mistakes as a teenager.  In his case, it resulted in him hurting Laurel which is something he never intended to do. He is considered the goofball of his family, but like so many clowns, his humor hides a sensitive soul. Aiden is a man who wants to make a difference out of the genuine goodwill in his heart. Caring for a homeless man, solving small town disputes and crimes, and being an important part of his family is a normal day for Aiden.  Laurel and her pain and love brings out Aiden’s desire to care for her.

I loved the romance between Aiden and Laurel. Two people who have known one another all their lives, their interactions have been a series of getting to know one another and then moving apart.  Their romance seemed to have possibilities as teenagers, but immaturity sent them spinning out into the world with other relationships.  Meeting again as adults, the two know one anther but don’t truly know the inner self of the other.  But this time, Aiden and Laurel begin to discover the true self under all the superficial.  Aiden sees the generous and hurt woman under Laurel calm facade and Laurel discovers the deep and caring man under Aiden’s humorous surface.

I’m all for large romantic gestures, and Aiden’s final one made me sigh and smile and read again.  When I began the book, I had expectations and I liked how the book played with those expectations, turned them around and then surpassed what I expected from the final scenes.  Bravo!

The town of Darling manages to feel both incredibly normal and real and also quaint and a typical small town.  The characters are quirky and bring a tremendous amount of humor to the book.  I just knew when I finished this book that I had to read the next books in the series.  And so I shall…see my reviews soon.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book doesn’t contain explicit “on screen” sex and is perfect for those who might want a less graphic and yet entirely satisfying romance.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SOMEBODY LIKE YOU is the first book in the Darling, VT series.

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 positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: It Must Be Christmas

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

Review: It Must Be ChristmasIt Must Be Christmas: Three Holiday Stories by Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward, Mandy Baxter
Series: , Billionaire's Club #4
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 4th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of three previously released novels/novellas all themed around Christmas.

HOT TOY by Jennifer Crusie

The story is cute and sweet. There is only the beginning of a romance since the story is so short, but it is a nice Christmas treat.  Trudy Maxwell, college librarian, is on the hunt for the hot Christmas toy for her nephew when she encounters Nolan Mitchell. Trudy had thought that Nolan was “the One” until after three dates, he didn’t call her again. Now Nolan wants another chance, but Trudy doesn’t want to risk herself again.  This is a cute and sweet Christmas romance with some twists. When the story started, I didn’t expect where the story would go, but it kept the plot interesting. The romance was cute and funny as Nolan followed Trudy around trying to convince her to give him another chance. The weakness was that the story was so short that there wasn’t much to the characters and the plot dominated.  Rating: 3.5 Stars

CHRISTMAS AT SEASHELL COTTAGE by Donna Alward

Dr. Charlie Yang gets some surprises for Christmas.  First, the man who she has been watching from afar ends up at the same church as her preparing for the Christmas season.  Charlie has been attracted to the ex-SEAL Dave Ricker but it is easier to imagine at a distance than risk her heart with a man who seems her opposite.  Second, Charlie and Dave find an infant left in the manger and Charlie finds herself unable to turn away from the little Christmas miracle.  The story had such promise. There were several stories that could have been explored: uptight doctor versus free thinking man, second families, the found baby.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that any of these stories were truly explored.  Instead, I kept waiting for something to happen in the book.  I don’t mind slow, thoughtful stories, but I want some payoff.  The first half of the book was Charlie saying this guy can’t be right for me; the second half was Dave saying, I don’t think want the same things.  I never really got any connection with these characters; I never truly felt that we explored the characters emotional foibles.  I just ended up with a “eh” feeling at the end.  Rating: 2 stars.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE BILLIONAIRE RANCHER by Mandy Baxter

Nate Christensen has an inheritance from a father he could barely stand.  He doesn’t want the inheritance or all that goes with it.  Chloe Benson comes to the memorial intending to ask for money for her charity. Instead, she ends up hooking up with Nate.  This is a sexy, sexy book.  I loved how the two first have an instantaneous attraction that moves to emotional connection and love.  For such a short length, this story has energy with characters that I really connected with.  I ended up just wanting to read more about these two. It is a tricky proposition to make sex so central to the beginning of a relationship and yet allow the characters to develop an emotional connection that feels deep and real.  Baxter walks that line very well.  I liked this book so much that I ended up buying to stories of Nate’s brothers as well.  Rating: 4 stars.

four-stars