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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Treasure on Lilac Lane by Donna Alward

I am having a very hard time figuring out just what type of book Donna Alward writes. As I mentioned in my last review, she's done category romance very well, then a slightly paranormal full length, then a non-paranormal light and breezy in the second book in the series. Treasure on Lilac Lane doesn't clear anything up! This is the third book in the Jewell Cove series and this one takes a turn for the (non-paranormal) serious side.

Here's your summary:
Sometimes the journey home is its own reward.

Once upon a time, Rick Sullivan had a promising future. One of Jewell Cove’s star athletes and reigning heartthrobs, he joined the Marines and had the world in the palm of his hand…until it all came crashing down.  His honorable discharge doesn’t make him the hometown hero everyone wants him to be, and there’s little reprieve from the demons that haunt him at night. Still, even though it seems that all hope is gone, fate has something else in store…in Donna Alward's Treasure on Lilac Lane

Just hearing Rick’s name is enough to give Jess Collins a headache. Years ago, they’d been close. Now she barely knows the man Rick has become since his return from service…then again, Jess isn’t that same young, na├»ve girl anymore either. And while there’s a powerful attraction between them—one that yields a greater passion than Jess could have ever imagined—both are wary about opening their hearts to love…and loss. But happy endings don’t come easily when long-buried secrets insist on rising to the surface. Will their pasts tear them apart—or can love find a way to heal them both?

I was very excited to pick this one up. Rick was one of the most interesting characters in The House on Blackberry Hill and I couldn't wait to see how his romance would shape up. Rick has some pretty serious demons- his mom just died, he can't stop drinking, and he has a pretty serious case of PTSD. All of this make him a very interesting hero, and realistic. (I have mentioned before that I have a problem with it when a character has a flaw that is just on the surface, even when it should be something that is a real struggle. Rick is not like that.)

Jess is a lot harder to like initially. She's very prickly and seems to really have it out for Rick. She's over the top derisive towards him, for longer than seemed appropriate. Jess has a bad experience in her past that leads her to paint all drinkers with this extreme reaction, and I found that even with that it was a bit much. However, this would really be my only criticism of the book and I suppose that other readers won't have an issue with it. Jess works hard and has made herself into quite a success and she's ultimately a good match for Rick.

The romance in this one is very well done. They knew each other as kids, had a bit of a falling out, had more of a falling out when Rick shows up drunk everywhere, and then slowly build up from that. Watching them go from suspicious to friendship to falling in love is enjoyable and believable. They struggle with the ideas they have of each other, and with their own personal demons. There are a few moments of overboard reactions, but they are able to apologize and move on. If all Alwards were like this one I'd have no issue saying she was fast becoming a favorite. I'm hoping that this one is indicative of future books and she continues in this manner. I will definitely pick up her next offering, with the hopes of it being even stronger than this one.

Treasure on Lilac Lane was released on October 28th.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Christmas at Seashell Cottage by Donna Alward

Remember The House on Blackberry Hill? I liked it but I didn't love it? I loved the first Donna Alward I read so I really want to love her full length novels. There are two more in the Jewell Cove series coming out in October- Christmas at Seashell Cottage and Treasure on Lilac Lane. Christmas was released first (on October 7th) and I read it first, but chronologically Treasure would come first. This doesn't impact the reading at all, very little happens to overlap, but I know some people will care.

Here's the summary of Christmas at Seashell Cottage:
It's Christmas in Jewell Cove...

And local doctor Charlie Yang finds her quiet, steady life disrupted by both an abandoned baby in the nativity manger, and a real-life mystery man. Sure, she's always wanted a family of her own, but she didn't imagine it coming from a baby that wasn't hers and a man who was more interested in living day by day than making long-term plans.

Ex-SEAL Dave Ricker hadn't planned on making Jewell Cove his forever home, but the talented and tender-hearted Charlie has him reconsidering his position on settling down. Can a beautiful woman, adorable baby and a small-town full of holiday spirit change his mind for good?

Hey! a baby! What's with all those babies anyway? Truthfully, the baby has little to do with this story and isn't an issue at all towards the romance. So Charlie decides she needs to be a bigger part of the community of Jewell Cove and volunteers at the city's nativity scene. As it turns out, so does Dave, the mystery man she's been spying on for months. Once they meet they are immediately smitten with each other, and do that weird thing of cuddling in public on their first non-date. (Seriously, authors, I believe this is the 3rd time I've read about a couple who just met cuddles at a Christmas caroling/tree lighting/town square hot chocolate gathering. No. It's just no plausible.) After a delightful evening of pretending they are alone in the middle of a small gossipy town, they head out to meet some friends at the local bar. As they pass the nativity they just set up, Dave spies a woman abandoning her newborn in the manger. This sets off a chain of events that has very little to do with the romance but does give the story something to hang on.

Charlie is a complete stereotype. Complete Type A, can't abandon her Plan, no throwing caution to the wind, an overwhelming NEED to do what mommy and daddy expected. She's already gone against them to become a small town doctor instead of a big city doctor, and there's just no way she can drop her upbringing to have fun and date around. Every date is a Potential Future. Dave is not looking for the future. He was a SEAL! He has ISSUES. He also has a small child with an old friend and while he's determined to make a future that involves her, he's not actually thinking about his own future beyond that. So there's really no way this can work from either perspective. And somehow by the end, it does, of course.

This is a strange follow up to The House on Blackberry Hill. The issues aren't super weighty, and it's nice and easy to read. There is also zero paranormal aspect to it like the ghost aspect to The House on Blackberry Hill. It's only very loosely connected to the other two (House and Treasure) and if you didn't know the names from the other books you'd never realize it wasn't a stand alone. My initial thought was that the Christmas aspect of it was taking the place of the rest, that just being about Christmas made it Special enough. I went on to read Treasure on Lilac Lane tho, and it's different yet again (more on that in that review.) Once again I enjoy the book, but I didn't love it. It's not going to stick with me in the future and Alward is still not a solid favorite.

Christmas at Seashell Cottage came out on October 7th.

The Texan's Christmas by Tanya Michaels

Hey, it's the last of the Texas Rodeo Barons! I can hear you all sigh with relief.  The Texan's Christmas is by Tanya Michaels, who comes highly recommended. This is my first Michaels. Here's the completely incorrect cover:

And what is this one about?


The last thing rodeo cowboy Daniel Baron needs is a commitment. After a lifetime of feeling like an outsider among his larger-than-life stepfamily at Roughneck Ranch, Daniel is ready to leave the ring—and Texas—behind forever. Except he can't stop thinking about the woman he just met—beautiful, bighearted…and pregnant.

Of course Nicole Bennett is attracted to strong, sweet Daniel—he's pretty much perfect. But he made it clear that he doesn't want a family, the one thing Nicole's dreamed of her whole life. Now, just as that dream is coming true, Nicole could lose the only man she wants to share it with…unless Daniel can find the courage to open his heart.

OK, one glaring thing right off the bat. Nicole isn't nearly as pregnant as this picture implies. In fact, she barely leaves the first trimester in the entire book and she's never visibly pregnant.  So that's annoying. I don't really hold this against the book or the author, but geez, really? Are readers so desperate for that kind of baby story that they need this hugely pregnant woman on the cover? Or are these books continuing to be published because readers like me have no choice but to grab them? Which came first the chicken or the egg?

On to the book itself!  I liked Nicole a lot. She was in a previous novel, but she's not brought back in such a glaring way that I immediately recognized who she was. She's smart and friendly and compassionate. She plays a pivotal role in one of the overall themes from all six books and she handles it well (not saying more, as it's a spoiler).  She's pregnant and single by choice, and is appropriately terrified. The pregnancy does play an important role so I would not have picked this up if it hadn't been the last in the series.

Daniel is pretty standard. Tall, good looking, cowboy.  He's the last of the Barons, and like Jacob in the previous book, he's adopted. As you can tell by the summary, he feels that he wasn't really part of the family. And also like the previous book, it's all cleared up in one brief conversation. I felt like this issue was completely out of the blue in both novels and that maybe they would have been fine without this plot point. He's currently between jobs, which is rare in a romance, but he still doesn't come off as a loser.

The romance in this one is well done, even with the pregnancy. They both resist just the right amount and it's a sweet conclusion to the series. If anything, I wouldn't have minded a few more emotional scenes in the book (and series) but for a series of short books these are pretty well done. I wouldn't tell you to go out and collect the series, but with the exception of Cathy McDavid, I'd feel ok recommending any of the six authors to other Harlequin readers. Now if we could just ditch all the pregnancies!

The Texan's Christmas will be out on November 4th.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

I really hate to admit it, but Maybe This Christmas was a bit of a let down for me. I really loved the first two in the series, and I liked this one a lot, but it wasn't the terrific conclusion that I was anticipating.

Here's the summary:
This winter, ex-skiing champion, reformed heartbreaker and single dad Tyler O'Neil has only one mission—making sure his daughter, Jess, has the best Christmas ever. The fact that his best friend, Brenna, is also temporarily moving into his chalet at the overbooked Snow Crystal resort is a delicious distraction he's simply going to have to ignore. Theirs is the one relationship he's never ruined, and he's not about to start now.

Ski pro Brenna Daniels knows all about the perils of unrequited love—she's been in love with Tyler for years. But living with him is absolute torture… How can she concentrate on being his friend when he's sleeping in the room next door? Then when Tyler kisses Brenna, suddenly the relationship she's always dreamed of feels so close she could almost touch it. Could this be the Christmas her dreams of a happy-ever-after finally come true?

This one has a lot of *other* stuff going on. There is a really well thought out background of Brenna and Tyler's high school years, and in general a lot more information about the O'Neil family history. There's also more detail about Tyler and his daughter, Jess. All of that was well done, for the most part.

So where does this one fall? I think it's probably mostly because I love best friend stories so much, but I didn't really get that moment of giant revelation like I did with Elise and Sean in Suddenly Last Summer.  This would still be fine, but I also didn't really feel like Sean was falling in love. It was clear he was attracted to her but I just didn't see the romance from his end. On her end, she's been in love with him since high school, and just saying that seemed to be all we got. It was a sweet story, and it was a nice conclusion to the series, but it wasn't a stellar romance. That said, I'll be first in line for the next Sarah Morgan.

Maybe This Christmas will be published on October 28th.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

One in a Million by Jill Shalvis

Guys, I'm so sad! This is the LAST Lucky Harbor! The good news tho, is the Lucky Harbor is going out on a high note, unlike some other series (*cough*Fool'sGold*cough*) and not dragging on to a sad end.  I loved all of Lucky Harbor, but I think these last three were the best.

Here's the summary for One in a Million:


As the brains behind wedding site, Callie sees it all: from the ring to the dress, the smiles . . . to the tears. It's that last part that keeps her single and not looking. Getting left at the altar will do that to a girl. But when Callie returns to her old hometown, she finds that her sweet high school crush is sexier than ever. And he makes it hard to remember why she's sworn off love . . .

Tanner is a deep-sea diver with a wild, adrenaline-junkie past-and now his teenage son is back in his life. How can Tanner be a role model when he's still paying for his own mistakes? It's hard enough that gorgeous Callie has appeared in town like a beautiful dream, challenging his best-laid plans to keep his heart on lockdown. Though there's something about being around her again that makes him feel like he can be the man she-and his son-deserve. Little Lucky Harbor holds their past; can it hold a beautiful new future?

First of all, as a whole, Lucky Harbor is pretty unbelievable. I mean really?  SO many hot guys! But Shalvis is aware of this. She even pokes fun at it, unlike other small towns that just keep adding all these unrealistic characters with high profile jobs. I live in a small town and we barely have a hospital, let alone a burn unit and a sports rehab and a spy training camp and and and... where was I? Ah yes, my love of Lucky Harbor. Honestly, this is a series that I could see myself reading again, should I ever have time to reread 12 books.

In specific, Callie and Tanner were pretty sweet. Callie had a huge crush on Tanner in high school and figures he doesn't even remember her. It's adorable watching her realize that he knows exactly who she is, without any unbelievable bit about return feelings back then. I enjoyed the unevenness of them both knowing about the crush, and felt Shalvis took the tension from that just far enough.  Callie is determined to never fall in love, she's been jilted once and she just doesn't believe it can happen, but she's pretty quick to fall back into her crush.  It takes her longer than it should to actually realize that love is possible and feels more like a plot flaw than something believable. Being left at the alter IS a big deal, but this "insecurity" isn't strongly reinforced by the rest of the book.

Tanner is wonderful. Of course, why wouldn't he be?! More and more I find that romance novel heroes rarely have real flaws. They are never insecure or unattractive and even if they have some horrible past, the most  this will affect them will be in being commitment shy.  Tanner is very quiet about his feelings, but he's able to admit to himself that he would like a little more than what Callie is giving. He has a teenage son who has recently come to live with him, and while he doesn't know how to parent, he sure does get everything right there- toes the line when it matters, and lets it go when it doesn't. The relationship between Tanner and his son starts off very strained, but is pulled around in a mostly satisfying manner. Tanner really doesn't fail at anything, which is nice for reading, but perhaps strains credibility a bit (I can hear a non-romance readers reaction to this sort of character, and my hackles are already up!)

It sounds as if I didn't really enjoy this one, and of these last three is probably is my least favorite, but overall I really did like it. I flew through it in a matter of days and am so sad to see it end. Lucille, of course, is front and center keeping up with her old antics. Callie is her granddaughter and is there to keep an eye on her, but Lucille does what Lucille wants. The actually falling in love parts are so sweet and honest, and you really do believe in their feelings for each other. If you're looking for a nice strong author for contemporary romance, Shalvis would be my first choice. I'd try to read each "set" of three in order, but it's not necessary to read all 12 in order. You see the other characters occasionally, but they don't play a big role in the other sets. (Lucky Harbor is 12 books broken down into four 3 book sets of connecting characters.)

One in a Million will be published on October 14th.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Texan's Surprise Son by Cathy McDavid

There's always one right? One bomb in any set of books? One that just doesn't stand up to the others? For me, and the Texas Rodeo Barons, The Texan's Surprise Son is that one. In the interest of full disclosure, it's possible that I went into this one with lower expectations. I've read one other Cathy McDavid and it was a bit of a disappointment as well, so it's possible that colored my experience. I've officially added McDavid to the list of Authors Who Are Not For Me.

So what's this one about? Another baby, if the title didn't give it away.

Taken By Surprise

Jacob Baron is shocked to discover he's a father. But he's determined to do right by his son, despite the lack of strong role models in his own life. Jacob's a bull rider, and there's no halfway with him. He'll be the kind of dad his son needs…even if Cody's attractive aunt, Mariana Snow, seems to question his daddy skills at every turn.

Jacob cooks, cleans and has a nice touch with a two-year-old. He also has broad shoulders, gorgeous eyes and a mouth that can only be described as sexy. But Mariana's own part-time, no-good father was a rodeo star. She knows their charms can't be trusted. She's hanging around for Cody's sake, that's all. At least, that's what she keeps telling herself….

In this one, the baby plays a giant role. He is in every scene and conversation, pretty much.  The romance is completely unbelievable and undeveloped. Mariana is completely unlikable. She's supposed to be a bit of a control freak, but she's so extreme that if I knew her in person I'd probably hate her. Frankly, anyone who hires a babyproofing service is never ever going to appeal to me.  She had what should have been completely reasonable reservations about Jacob, but blew them so far out of proportion. If she's listened one second to anything going on around her, they would have been so obviously unfounded. Add to this that she's a brilliant lawyer who should be smart enough to see this, and I just didn't like her. At all.

As for Jacob, I didn't think his issues were quite as bad but I still had some problems. He is apparently hung up on being Brock Baron's adopted son, and feels like he's never been treated the same and is asked to prove himself too much. He is partially right, he is being asked to prove himself, but the issues with Brock are either not real or too easily resolved. One conversation should not be enough to right a lifetime of wrongs OR to suddenly allow you to see them all in a new favorable light.

Add all this to the weak romance, and I can't really recommend it. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bring Your Lunch: Quick & Tasty Wallet-Friendly Lunches for Grownups by Califia Suntree

I was SO excited to see this cookbook pop up on NetGalley. My work schedule has recently changed so that I only get a 30 minute lunch period each day*. This is not enough time to go home and eat, so I have been bringing my lunch every day. I have a handful of constraints- while we do have a fridge and microwave at our disposal, they are in the dungeon of a basement and I prefer to use my precious 30 minutes to actually eat. So food should ideally be both ok eaten at room temperature and not be so delicate that it will spoil in a lunch box with blue ice for a couple hours. During the winter I'll be more willing to sit in the basement, but so long as the weather is nice I plan to eat outside at the picnic table. So you can see why this cookbook would get my attention!

I ultimately found about 1/4 of the book useful- the sections on containers and packaging, and the general ideas for sandwiches and salads. I did not find any of the recipes useful because so many of them required actual reheating and refrigeration. None of them seemed quick to me. Basically, she was giving out regular recipes cut down to one or two servings and then reheated. I can figure out how to make leftovers on my own. I was hoping for some nice room temperature salads or other ideas and the book completely fails on that. If you have time to sit and reheat and space to spread out your lunch, this may be ideal for you, but for myself, it was pretty useless.
Bring Your Lunch was published on September 9th.

*I'm taking 30 minute lunches so I can leave at 2:30 on Wednesdays to take the Princess to ballet class.

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