July 13, 2017

Book Review: What It Takes by Shannon Stacey

Book:  What It takes: A Kowalski Reunion Novel #10
Author:  Shannon Stacey
Genre:  Contemporary Romance; Women’s Fiction
Publisher:  Carina Press
Blurb via Goodreads:
Revisit all of your Kowalski favorites while falling in love with a brand-new romance in this reunion novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey 
Laney Caswell is looking for a change. A decade's worth of less-than-happy matrimony behind her, she wants peace—movies, books and, best of all, a new job at the Northern Star Lodge in Whitford, Maine. Spending the summer living in a camper is her chance to rediscover what makes her happy, and a perfect transition to her new life. 
Being a paramedic in Whitford is nothing like Ben Rivers's city life, but when Josh Kowalski offers him the job, the lure of his hometown is too much to resist. Also too much to resist: Laney Caswell. Ben always thought he'd have a wife and kids, a happy family like the Kowalskis have all built, but he never made time in his life. Now he's found a woman who draws him like no other and helps him dream again—and the last thing she wants is a husband. 
When the annual Kowalski family camping trip is moved to the Northern Star, both Ben and Laney are surrounded by the kind of happiness they've always wanted but never had. It just might be theirs—if they can put aside the past and reach for it together. 
My Review:
I have read all the books in the Kowalski series and of the ten, I still love the first five the most.
Technically, the protagonist in this story is no Kowalski, so this is not so much a Kowalski story as it is that of the neighbor and close friend of the family.  However, the Kowalskis are still prominently represented as the setting of the romance takes place in the family owned Northern Star Lodge.
Ben has moved back to Whitford where he grew up to serve as a much needed paramedic.  He often goes to the lodge to visit and help around, especially after he meets Laney, the newly hired extra hand.  Laney has been through one hell of a divorce from a husband who loved being in control of everything and everyone.  She had lost herself and is now in the process of finding who she once was and who she wants to be again.  Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan, but then again, it never is.
The plot is something we have all read a lot I’m sure and with books like this, it’s really all about the execution.  Stacey’s storytelling is good, however for some reason, I didn’t feel connected to the characters as much as I expected to be.  Maybe because I was overwhelmed by the number of characters in the book that I was sometimes confused.  But then again that’s WHY it’s called a Kowalski reunion.  All the main characters in the previous books are here plus their offsprings…. That’s a lot of names and stories to look back on. 
It did thrill me to, in a way, reconnect with those whose stories I fell in love with before, but it also distracted me from the love story of Ben and Laney.  And at some points, it felt like I was being hurried through the book, as if Stacey just wanted to get it over and done with.  Despite this, I did like the book and would still recommend it especially to those who have missed the crazy family that is the Kowalskis.

April 11, 2017

Book Review: ON SECOND THOUGHT by Kristan Higgins

Book:  On Second Thought
Author:  Kristan Higgins
Genre:  Women’s Fiction
Publisher:  HQN Books
Ainsley O'Leary is so ready to get married—she's even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn't anticipate is being blindsided by a breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her older half sister, Kate, who's struggling with a sudden loss of her own.
Kate's always been the poised, self-assured sister, but becoming a newlywed—and a widow—in the space of four months overwhelms her. Though the sisters were never close, she starts to confide in Ainsley, especially when she learns her late husband was keeping a secret from her.  
Despite the murky blended-family dynamic that's always separated them, Ainsley's and Kate's heartaches bind their summer together when they come to terms with the inevitable imperfection of relationships and family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.
My Review:
Life is never what we expect them to be.  More often than not, we fight against change especially when it means leaving what’s comfortable and familiar to us.
All her life, Ainsley has only ever loved one man.  Blindly supportive of Eric no matter what, she is just waiting to marry and start a family with him. 
After 40 years of singlehood, Kate is finally in love and married to the perfect man.  All they need now is to conceive the child both have always dreamed of.
After 4 short months of wedded bliss, Nathan dies in a freak accident and Kate, the always poised and together Kate, can’t get past her shock to grieve.  Enter Ainsley who needs to stay with Kate as she had been kicked out of her conjugal home by her almost fiancĂ© Eric who decided that he had to get rid of the “corpses of his old life”…… by that he means Ainsley, his job and everything else that mattered.
Kate and Ainsley have never been close.  Their age difference and the fact that they are stepsisters with parents who obviously preferred one over the other damaged what could have been a close relationship.  But now they are forced to be together and help each other heal and move on as they navigate a life they never expected, but would, if faced together, be even better than what they had.
I have always loved novels by Kristan Higgins.   Ever since I read Just One of The Guys and the Blue Heron series, I knew I would keep coming back to read and reread all the books that she would put out.
This is heavier than most of her other books as it deals with grief in much of the chapters in quite a slow pace.  So much so that I didn’t feel the pull to keep reading until about halfway through, but once I did though, it was hard to put down. 
An interesting point is that Higgins used a two character narration so it’s so much clearer for the reader what exactly these two main characters are going through.  Both Kate and Ainsley are grieving for different reasons that they are dealing with in such different ways, and we as readers go through this slow and painful journey with them.
Heartbreaks aside, the buildup of their sisterly relationship and their new appreciation for each other comes across clearly.  And it is wonderful to see their realization that no matter what, it is family that ultimately helps you through everything that life throws your way.
Of course there is romance in this book.  It is a Kristan Higgins novel after all. The romance that both sisters develop is an important part of why this book works so well, however, it is NOT the main point of their healing and moving forward.  It does add so much humor and lightness to the book itself though.  And I love the extra storyline that is Jonathan’s life.

This is not as funny nor as romantic as other Kristan Higgins’ books but it is as well written.  And if you want to take a breather from heavy romance and instead read something about family, then pick up this book.

March 05, 2017

Book Review: ANY TIME, ANY PLACE by Jennifer Probst

Book:  Any Time, Any Place (Billionaire Builders #2)
Author:  Jennifer Probst
Genre:  Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction
Publisher:  Gallery Books
Blurb Via Goodreads:
HGTV’s Property Brothers meets The Marriage Bargain in this second volume in the Billionaire Builders series, an all-new heart-wrenching and sexy contemporary romance from New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Probst.
When she was a teen, Raven Bella Stratton’s father was killed in a horrible car crash. The bigger shock was the discovery of a woman with him—Diana Pierce—and their two fully packed suitcases with airline tickets to Paris. Devastated by her father’s betrayal, Raven went to live with her aunt, never truly overcoming the traumatic event. When she discovers that the mysterious woman had a family with a husband and three boys, Raven vows to leave the memory of her father behind.

Until Dalton Pierce visits one night and suddenly her past challenges her future...

Leaving his life in California behind to run Pierce Construction with his two older brothers, Dalton Pierce has enjoyed returning home and studying his passion of woodworking. But when he visits the local bar with his brothers one evening, he’s immediately drawn to the smart-mouthed, badass, sexy bartender who sets his body on fire. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem as intrigued by him, and his multiple advances are met with rejection. When he offers to restore the bar back to its original glory, he begins to work with her on a daily basis, and falls harder. His plan of seduction slowly weaves a web around them both, until they are caught up in the spell. But Dalton doesn’t know the secret that can either destroy them both...or finally mend two broken hearts.
My Review:
I am always on the lookout for Jennifer Probst books.  After reading The Billionaire Marriage series and the Searching For series, I am confident that whatever she writes won’t just be romantic but also heartbreaking and heart pounding in its intensity.
This book is the 2nd in the Billionaire Builders series though it can also be read as a standalone (I haven’t read the 1st one…..yet). 
The plot is deeper than Probst’s usual as it deals with tragedy, death and betrayal that touch the lives of both protagonists.
Raven was devastated by her father’s sudden death.  Her heartbreak was made worse by the fact that her father was on his way to Paris, abandoning her for a woman she had never met, Diana Pierce.  She hated what her father did, but she hated the sons of the woman more as they destroyed the reputation of her father in the aftermath.
After years of losing and eventually finding herself and her purpose, she goes back home and starts a business where her talent behind the bar gets noticed by everyone, including the Pierce brothers, particularly Dalton.
Dalton is the youngest of Diana’s 3 sons.  Of the boys, Dalton was the one closest to his mother and her death caused a wound that never quite healed through the years.  His trust issues are deeply rooted, and as a result, he has never had a real relationship in his entire adult life.
Both Raven and Dalton aren’t looking for a relationship, but one look at each other proves an immediate attraction that’s hard to resist.  Dalton pursues Raven, not knowing her past intertwines with that of his.  And much as Raven runs the other way, Dalton pushes his way into her life and into her heart. 
What I love most about Any Time, Any Place is that though there is that instant attraction between the two, the time frame is more realistic.  We’re talking weeks and months of pursuit, relationship development and emotional roller coaster before the happy ending (yes of course a happy ending….i’m a sucker for it……it’s Jennifer Probst after all).  It’s not the usual instalove that seems to proliferate in romance fiction nowadays and I appreciate it.  It’s more relatable because of this, as if Raven really could be a friend of mine whose tears I would wipe and Dalton whose ass I would lick..…I mean kick. Seriously!  
The characters are developed well, including those of the support characters.  And since I’m a fan of the first two series, I liked that there is someone familiar here.  Izzy.  Probst interconnects her books by putting one or two characters from old series into new ones, something which makes me personally more invested since the familiarity is already there.  Brilliant move. 
And because it’s Probst, lock this book away from your teenage kids.  The sex scenes are fiery HOT that can give Fifty Shades a run for it's money, with no need for the extra tools (if you know what I mean).   Sexy, seductive yet romantic…..this book is an enjoyable read.

February 19, 2017

Book Review: THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

Book:  Three Dark Crowns
Author:  Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Publisher:  Harper Teen
Blurb via Goodreads:
When kingdom come, there will be one.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.
The last queen standing gets the crown.
My Review:
Dark. Twisted.
Two words that best describes the first book that was able to drag me out of my reading slump of 6 months. It's not my usual cup of "happy ever afters" but that's what made reading it fun. 
This is about three sisters, triplets, who are also queens. One is a poisoner (a master of poisons and is immune from it), a naturalist (one with the power to make things grow and is able to bond with an animal) and an elementalist (one in control of the elements: fire, air, water). They are separated as children to be raised by others like them knowing full well that in time, only one of three can survive and ascend as THE Queen. 
Among them, Katharine has had the hardest life. She is raised by poisoners and has had to endure years of pain and poison to strengthen her tolerance against them, to no avail. With the ascension year fast approaching, she has to learn fast or fake her way to winning the crown to ensure that the throne will remain with the poisoners, as it has been for many years. 
Arsinoe fares better. Living among naturalists has given her much freedom to roam about and develop close relationships, especially with Jules who also happens to be an exceptionally gifted naturalist. But no matter how closely attached they are, or the many hours they train each day, Jules' talent can not rub off on her queen. For all intents and purposes, Arsinoe is giftless still, just like Katharine. 
Mirabella is blessed the most in that her elemental gifts came early. There was never a question of her gift or her beauty. So among the 3, she was judged early as the Probable next queen.
Book 2 comes out in September 
They have been trained to believe that it is essential they kill their sisters as it is the will of the goddesses but Mirabella has the hardest time accepting it. She still remembers her sisters, their childhood and how much they loved and protected each other. 
So the question is, will Mirabella be able to convince her sisters to reconcile and rule together, if it is even possible, before she gets killed? Or will Katharine, the one most manipulated and broken, be too beaten to even recognize the possibilities? Will Arsinoe?
The story shifts in different perspectives every chapter so as a reader, I understood well enough each of the three queens. They have differing personalities and circumstances so I do not have a favorite. I can't root for one to live while the other two die. And though Katharine rubs me off as cold and desperate, she is also the most tortured of all. She is a product of her miseducation and so deserves the benefit of expanded patience and understanding. Arsinoe seems strong and weak at the same time but is kind at the root of it. Mirabella strength is her time honed power but her weakness lies in the simple fact that she loves her sisters and it could very well lead to her death in the next book..... though I certainly hope not.
I do like love stories and all three queens have one..... sort of.  Most intriguing is the friendship between Arsinoe and the suitor Billy.... But that's a toss up with Joseph's triangle with Mirabella and Jules.... Then again the cruel end to Pietyr's and Katharine's relationship is one to watch too.... Did it push her over the edge literally and figuratively?
The author created an intriguing world and the writing is smooth save for some moments of slowness plus a number of unexplained matters like what exactly is a war gift? How do naturalists bond with their familiars? Are poisoners born or made etc....
Like I said, this book is dark and it is twisted. And though there are no graphic sex scenes, they are more than implied. Add that to the violence peppered in the book, I say be cautious about recommending this to readers younger than 15. 
The cliffhanger ending book 1 is a gift. I can't say it didn't cross my mind throughout the book since it seemed impossible that two out of three are giftless. All the same it leaves one more than curious for the follow up book.
 Happy reading!