Friday, April 26, 2019

Anything But a Duke (Duke's Den #2) by Christy Carlyle

Title: Anything But a Duke
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: The Duke's Den (Book 2)
Format: Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Avon (April 30, 2019)
ISBN-10: 006285397X
ISBN-13: 978-0062853974
Author's Website: http://christycarlyle.com/
Notes: I received an eARC loan from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way affected by review. Also, as I read an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of the book, the quotes I used are subject to change.


"Spinster. Alone. Aberration." Those were all words "polite" society had for Diana Ashby.
Diana 'felt an ever-present hunger. An ambition that she knew most thought improper for a lady. Yet it was a compulsion she couldn't deny. Her ideas were good and she longed to prove herself to those who would scoff at a woman inventor.'

While Diana's family allowed her tinkering, they weren't exactly supportive of her pastime. "A waste of time. It's what her mother called all the hours she spent in her workshop rather that attending to the social calendar. But just because she couldn't study at university like her brother and would never be asked to speak at the Royal Society as her father had, that didn't mean her inventions weren't worthwhile." She was determined she and her inventions would make a difference.

Then one day while she was on her way to a scientific lecture Diana came across a man being attacked by footpads. Not one to cower at such a situation, as most women in her position would, she charged the robbers and frightened the men away possibly saving the man's life. Little did she know he'd one day change her life.

Aidan Iverson may not be part of the ton, but he managed to put his stamp on London society. "The highest of London society knew his name, even if they didn't accept him into their circles. His wealth and instinct for profitable investments had earned him infamy. (...)Every penny and pound he possessed, he'd earned. On his own. He'd never taken a loan. He didn't Incur debts. He had business partners, but he never curried favored. Fair transactions. An equal give and take. That's how he lived his life."

That's why when a woman, whose name he didn't know, had saved him it ate at him. He owed this woman a debt and that did not sit well with him. Even more disturbing was the fact he'd found her fascinating, beguiling, and attractive all at once which was probably why he hadn't had the sense to get her name. In the year since their chance encounter he'd thought about her often, but their paths had never crossed until now...

'Forgive me, miss. I didn't intend--" 

"I know!" Diana drew in a shaky breath to keep from barking some more. Her nerves were frayed, and she still hadn't found her notes. "I think it will be all right."

When he stood, the man cast a long shadow, blotting out the light from the colored-glass dome overhead. Diana tipped her head to get a look at him.

Heat flooded her cheeks as she stared.

The stranger. (...)

"You," he said wonderingly. '

This was the second book in the Duke's Den series and it can definitely be read as a standalone. Be aware, however, if the first book is as appealing as this one was you're definitely going to want to get your hands on a copy of it. I was utterly taken in by this one.

Diana is exactly the type of heroine I adore. She's smart, determined, and a woman ahead of her time. I loved the fact that she was an inventor and was trying to live life on her own terms, even if she was on the verge of giving in to her mother's desire for her to settle down and marry. I liked how when most women of her time would be meek, she speaks her mind and tells it like it is. I also enjoyed the reactions she provoked in others and the way Aidan dealt with her. He had a hard time saying no to her.

Aidan was perhaps too good to be true, but I loved him nonetheless. He's smart, good looking, loyal and honest. Given his background, being abandoned at a workhouse as a child, it's surprising he turned out so well. Perhaps that is why he isn't a stickler for society's dictates. I was rather charmed by how when most men were appalled and put off by the way Diana conveyed herself he was fascinated and intrigued. She wasn't someone whom he'd become easily bored with as she surprised him at every turn. Add in the fact he seemed the perfect match for her, and I could do nothing less than love this story.

I couldn't help but give this one 5 out of 5 roses. It left me smiling for days. The characters were engaging. the story was unique, and the romance was swoon worthy and fun. I loved Diana's family and the Shark Tank setup the author incorporated into the novel. I also loved how these two met and slowly fell in love. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one earned a STEAM rating--too hot for a fan, but you still have a handle on things. You should use extreme caution when reading a book with this rating in public. People may inquire as to why you looked flustered and flushed. I now need to get a copy of A Duke Changes Everything, the first book in the Duke's Den series.

Order of the Duke's Den series:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman

Title: The DNA of You and Me: A Novel
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: Hardcover; 256 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (March 12, 2019)
ISBN-10: 0062857819
ISBN-13: 978-0062857811
Author's Website: http://www.andrearothman.com/
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. This in no way affected my rating. 



'A gene is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. It is a long and finite sequence of DNA made up of ATGC nucleotides. The beginning of every gene is ATG, the universal ending TAG, or TAA, or TGA. But what lies in between the beginning and the end is a different for each gene, and encoded in these differences are protein molecules with wide ranging functions.'

Nearly 13 years ago Emily Apell was recruited by McKinnon Lab at the American University of Science Research (AUSR) to research where the the sense of smell comes from. She had lofty ambitions for the future. 'In the brain there's a map of smell. Odors are represented in a pear shaped structure behind the nose called the olfactory bulb, at spatially defined locations that light up in response to smoke, vanilla, grass....' No one knows how the map of smell was formed, but genes are believed to play a key role in guiding olfactory axons to their targets. Emily hoped to uncover the gene associated with the process, but finding it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Such a discovery would launch her or any scientist's career.

An allergy to grass is what piqued her interest in the science behind our sense of smell. She spent most of her childhood indoors, alone, never playing with anyone because of her allergy. She's a bona fide recluse. She prefers reading a book and/or working in a lab to fraternizing with other people, and it shows. She's socially awkward.

Working in the area next to Aedan Doherty and his team, she found herself a little envious of the harmonious relationship the group shared. For the first time in forever she wanted to be a part of such a dynamic. As she saw them laughing and joking, she found one person in particular garnered her fancy--Aedan.

This is a story about science and the hard choices we sometimes need to make to achieve our goals and fulfill our destinies.

'At the end of the day science has nothing to do with luck, but with truth, and the truth does not always make one happy.'
I am having a love/hate relationship with this book and at this point I'm unsure where my rating will fall. I guess I'll start writing and see where my feelings take me, and how everything stands at the end. First of all, let me preface this with a note to the author: My thoughts are in no way a reflection of your writing. I think your skills are good, the idea was interesting, the execution was sound, but the ending, in my humble opinion, well, it kind of sucked and it kind of didn't. Ugh! I'm so conflicted!

The publisher marked this one as exploring the "evergreen question of career versus family, the irrational sensibility of love, and whether one can be a loner without a diagnostic label." I'd say most of that is pretty accurate, but they left out one major tidbit of information that I felt was very relevant--this is a toxic relationship. My mommy senses were tingling and I wanted so much to take Emily under my wing and tell her, "No. Just no." I kept wondering if there is a book out there along the same line as ' Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals', but perhaps more in the vein of 'Girl, don't apologize for being smart, own who you are, and don't ever agree to be his doormat' that I could recommend.

I've known so many women over the years who have tried to mold themselves into the perfect woman for the guy they like, and it's such a sad thing to see. Whatever their guy likes they now like, and I'm talking in the extreme. They end up denying who they are and losing a tiny part of their souls in the process. While Emily may not have done this consciously or extensively, you do catch a glimmer of her doing it in the story. I also hate it when a woman lets a man walk all over them, and while Emily figuratively invites Aedan to use her as a proverbial doormat, I couldn't help but blame Aeden. The reason being I very much doubt Emily has ever seen a functional, loving relationship, and I doubt she knows how one should be. See, here is where the love/hate thing comes into play. I love that the author captured this sort of relationship, but hate that by the end the main character doesn't grow a backbone and/or grow as an individual from the whole experience. While Emily did eventually stand her ground, she never seems to realize she deserved better. There is so much material in this that could spark a great book club discussion or motivate someone into writing a self help book on this phenomena. 

I also felt perhaps the book should have been titled The DNA BETWEEN You and Me. Here's my reasoning, what brings Aeden and Emily together and ultimately comes between them is their quest to find the DNA associated with smell. Justin, the head of the lab brought Emily on to light a fire under Aeden and his team. Scientists can be a bit competitive and proprietary when it comes to new discoveries. Many people are trying to find the next big thing that will earn them recognition and get them into the history books. Sometimes the difference between one person and another getting credit for a discovery is just a few days difference, and as another lab is attempting to find the same gene things are tense. Both Emily and Aeden have very personal reasons for wanting to find the gene. So as Justin, their lab head, pits one against the other things get interesting, awkward, and heated.

After rereading parts of the book, looking at the passages I highlighted, and taking some time to reflect, I've decided to give this one 3 1/2 out of 5 roses. I loved all the science, and while my immediate response was outrage for what happens, upon taking a step back I loved the roller coaster of mixed emotions I felt. Plus, after taking a second look at the beginning and end, I realized time tends to soften things. For close to ten years Emily put her feelings on hold and I kind of felt she wanted answers and/or closure.There is a question posed to her and a response near the end of the book that I didn't notice the first time I read that suggests the possibility. What cinched my rating, however, was this passage, 'Whenever I sit down at a scope to observe the olfactory bulbs of mice made in my lab, I often find myself reflecting on the course of people's lives. I see never endings swerved off their paths, reaching places in the map of smell different from those they were genetically predetermined to read, and I think about destiny, and I ask myself if it exists as such. I get to wondering if there's a single place each one of us is meant to arrive at or if there is no such place, and destiny does not exist: we simply make our way as we go along.' I just loved that. Plus, the ending hints, depending on how you interpret it, there may be a happy ending in Emily's future. I'm forgoing my romance rating because by my definition this really wasn't a romance but rather a cautionary tale, and I still wish the ending had been a little different because, I admit, I love indisputable happy endings.

Monday, April 1, 2019

When a Duchess Says I Do (Rogues to Riches #2) by Grace Burrowes

Title: When a Duchess Says I Do
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Rogues to Riches
Format: Paperback; Length: 385 pages
Publisher: Forever (April 2, 2019)
ASIN: B07G74HZB3
ISBN-13: 9781538728987
Author's Website: https://graceburrowes.com/
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way influenced by review.

Once upon a time a woman saw something she should not and ran away. In the midst of her escape, she came upon a crime in the act of being committed. A man was looking at the wrong edge of a knife with his life flashing before him. Never one to keep her head down in the face of danger, she assessed the situation and raised her gun.

Duncan Wentworth was surveying his estate when he came across a pair of poachers. After a miscalculation on his part, he found himself in a lifer-or-death situation. Saved  by a women who no doubt knew how to use a gun, he assesses the lady to whom he owes his life. By no means a fool, although his current predicament might suggest otherwise, he realizes a few things in quick succession. The woman is a Lady, she is most likely the person inhabiting his gatehouse, and she must be in trouble. So he does what any gentleman would, or at least should, do--he extends to her an offer of hospitality and refuge in the form of a job. 

While he doesn't ask, he can't help wondering who or what is she hiding from?
This was the first book I've read by Ms. Burrowes, but it won't be my last. In fact, I've already read the first book of this series as well as another from a different series. I didn't feel lost when I read the books out of order, nor do I feel you need to read 'My One and Only Duke' before this one. I do, however, encourage you to read 'My One and Only Duke'  at some point because it's really good.

From the first page the author immerses her readers into the world she has created, and I felt transported back in time. It took me a little time to catch my footing and acclimate to the speech and mannerisms associated with the time period, but once I did I sat back and enjoyed the ride. As the tale unwinds, I was pulled deeper and deeper into the story as the characters were brought to life and I came to know them. 

Duncan is a bit different from any man Matilda has encountered. He doesn't seem to mind her intelligence, and where others might find fault with it, he seems to appreciate it. He is an old fashioned gentleman through and through, and what he lacks in charm, he makes up for in loyalty. He's also smarter than he's given credit for because he's also humble. Basically, what you see is what you get with Duncan. As Mathilda comes to know the man through living under his roof and reading his journals, she likes what she sees--a man she admires.

Matilda is a bit of a puzzle that Duncan would love to solve. She's intrigued him from the moment he saw her aiming her gun at the men bent on harming him. She's smart, strong, and is definitely NOT a shrinking violet. He knows next to nothing about who she is, and she seems bent on keeping it that way. Despite that, he'll do everything in his power to keep her safe from whatever she is running from. I rather liked that.

I loved how Matilda is both strong and vulnerable at the same time. If need be, she could look after herself. I loved, however, how Duncan takes her in without question and provides her with a reason to stay by offering her the job of editing and rewriting his sloppily written travel journals. He sees her for who she is, and likes what he sees. I loved how he let her tell him her story in her own time, and didn't try to force the information from her. I thought it amusing that she initially felt the invitation he extended to her came with an underlying threat. As I got to know her, I came to realize that her past experiences with men is what led her to believe this. It's the kind of  behavior she's come to expect from men. They almost always tried to try to control her. Reading Duncan's journals allowed her a deeper understanding of the man, and that was rather smart on Duncan's part.

I couldn't help but give this one 5 out of 5 roses. The characters were multifaceted and the story smartly written. I loved the mystery of what Matilda was running from, and how the relationship between Duncan and Matilda gradually grew into something rare and beautiful. I came away from the story thinking no one else would ever do for either of these two. They were a perfect match. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one earned a FAN rating--the temperature in the room seems to have suddenly gone up a couple of degrees and a fan would be nice. I definitely recommend this one. I loved it.

Order of the Rogues to Riches series:

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Hard Loving Cowboy (Crossroads Ranch #3) by A.J. Pine

Title: Hard Loving Cowboy: Includes a bonus novella (Crossroads Ranch)
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Crossroads Ranch (Book 4)
Format: Paperback; 480 pages
Publisher: Forever (March 26, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1538727110
ISBN-13: 978-1538727119
Author's Website: http://ajpine.com/
Notes:  I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way affected my opinion.

Walker Everett has spent years drowning his pain and sorrow at the bottom of a bottle. When he finally hits rock bottom he decides to enter rehab, and turn his life around at his brother's request. It's not been easy for the cowboy, but he's been taking it day by day, one sober step at a time. When Violet enters his life, there's something about the warm and intriguing young woman he just can't seem to resist--even though he knows he should. Perhaps it's the way she looks at him, not as a person who's struggled with addiction, but as someone who she could possibly like. But if he tells her his deep dark secret would that change?

Violet Chastain is an impulsive, passionate, and beautiful young woman who enters Walker's life in a whirlwind. After finding out her boyfriend is married, she breaks up with him on the way to a job interview and, in order to pay him back for all the feelings of rage, jealousy, and betrayal that have been boiling up inside her during their ninety-four minute drive, she kisses the first man she sees--Walker.

Walker finds himself at a Crossroads. There's something about Violet that makes him to want more. Inspires him to want to be a better man. The question is can he be?
This is the third book in the Crossroads Ranch series. I rather like the theme the author picked for this series--Crossroads. After reading 'Hard Loving Cowboy' I'm curious as to what crossroads Walker's other brothers faced. Additionally, I like the sense of family you get as you read and I'm dying to know what role Walker played in the previous books. This story can definitely be read as a standalone and you won't feel lost, but you'll probably be left wondering about the previous stories.

Walker has a need to find and/or reinvent himself after so many years of drinking. While his main job is working on the family ranch, he makes beautiful furniture which he sells here and there. He also has a hand in the family winery which to me seems like a bad combination. Once Walker wanted more for himself, now he needs to figure out if those those goals and ambitions have changed or if they remain the same. He also has to prove to himself he can stay sober because if he can't do that, then nothing will change. His attraction to Violet only complicates matters.

Violet was a music major until her mother got sick, and she put her career plans on hold to help her family out. To her family is everything, and she likes the close knit group of Walker's. She was only going to apply for a part time position with the winery, but when she finds out about her boss' marital status she quits faster than you can say cheese, and she finds she needs something a little more permanent. Luckily, she finds full time work. and them some. in San Luis Obispo.

I believe things going on in your life can affect how much you like a book at any given moment. It could be something that happened to you in your past or present, it could be something that happened to someone else, or it could be something you experienced while reading a book or watching a movie that tugged at your heartstrings and touched you emotionally. For me it was watching the latest version of 'A Star is Born'. It was a very sad movie and I kept feeling like a giant rain cloud was hanging over this couple, and I kept worrying that Walker would give in to his addiction. Silly, I know, because this is a bona fide romance, but that movie kept lingering in the back of my head. You see, Walker has a drinking problem and I kept fearing he'd go back to his self destructive ways. When he meets Violet, he's only been sober for 2 months. Pair that with the fact that as the book progresses she seems to be the one thing that inspires him to remain sober, and that is not healthy. It's not until close to three hundred pages into the book that Walker states, "If I'm sober for you or my brothers or Jenna, then what does that mean when none of you are around? If I'm not doing it for me, then I'll drink the first chance I get when I know I won't be caught." That was when I let out a huge sigh of relief, and was able to finally let myself truly enjoy the story.

Personally, I wish the author had started this story further into Walker's rehabilitation, but maybe Ms Pine wanted to clearly make a point. Life has a tendency to happen on its own terms, at it's own pace, in its own time, and sometimes things happen when it's most inconvenient. Perhaps the author wanted to stress the fact Walker had to realize he was the only one who could fix things. That he had to want recovery or it might never stick. Let's face it recovering from an addiction such as alcohol is not easy. A person has to choose not to let alcohol control them and has to choose not to drink it by learning how to manage it. Anyone who can kick this addiction or any other has my utmost respect, and I'd love to ask the author why he or she decided to start this story in the early stages of Walker's recovery. It seems a strange choice.

Overall, I gave this one 3 1/2 out of 5 roses. I liked the story, loved the couple, and adored both their families. There were some twists, hurdles, a lot of sweet moments that made my heart go pitter-patter, and a happy ending. Yay!  I so wish I'd read this one before seeing 'A Star is Born'. I know I would have enjoyed it even more. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one earned a STEAM rating--too hot for a fan, but you still have a handle on things. You should use extreme caution when reading a book with this rating in public. People may inquire as to why you looked flustered and flushed.

Order of the Crossroads Ranch series:

Novellas associated with the Crossroads Ranch series:
(To be read after Second Chance Cowboy)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Second Chance Summer (Cedar Ridge #1) by Jill Shalvis

Title: Second Chance Summer (Cedar Ridge Book 1)
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Cedar Ridge (Book 1)
Format: Paperback; 368 pages
Publisher: Forever (March 19, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1538748819
ISBN-13: 978-1538748817
Author's Website:  https://jillshalvis.com
Notes:  I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way affected my review.

A decade ago Lily Danville left home and never looked back. Once the mountains of Colorado called to her soul and had been her playground. She'd loved everything about them. Now, when she looks upon those majestic peaks all she feels is guilt and regret. Everything changed when her sister died attempting to climb one of the areas deadliest peaks. A feat Lily, a more experienced climber, had accomplished earlier that same year. The tragedy was compounded when her father died of a heart attack at the funeral. Half her family was gone within a week's time. Now, she's finally going home in need of a job after being blackballed from the San Diego area's finest salons due to an "incident" of her boss' making. Her best friend, Jonathan, has offered her a temporary position at his salon in Cedar Ridge until something more permanent comes along.
   
The mountains, her best friend, and painful memories, however, weren't the only things Lily left behind ten years ago. There had also been Aidan Kincade...

Aidan Kincade is known as something of a bad boy in Cedar Ridge. He's said to be the type who will never settle down, but most don't truly know the man. Years ago Aidan gave his heart away, only Lily never knew it. He'll do everything in his power to make sure she knows it now, and convince her not to leave him a second time...
This is the first book in the Cedar Ridge series and I am looking forward to reading the rest. I actually already have the second book, 'My Kind of Wonderful', uploaded on my kindle and will attempt to start reading it as soon as I'm done with this review. I'm kicking myself for not having read this series when it came out. Luckily, I can now binge read all the books in the series as they all have already been released. There are three books to this series in total. One down, two to go.

I must confess, this story didn't immediately draw me in. The first chapter had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. It was meant to serve as a humorous look into Aidan's day-to-day life. It was funny,  but I also found it to be a bit cheesy. Once Lily enters the picture in chapter 2, however, things immediately get more interesting and start to heat up. The moment I knew I was hooked was when Aidan texted Lily, "If you're looking for something bad for you, try me instead." One of the BEST LINES EVER. *grin*

Aidan is a firefighter who volunteers for the local search-and-rescue team, and helps out at his family's ski resort at Cedar Ridge. He's all about family and would do anything for a person he loves and/or cares about, but he doesn't give his heart away easily. Lily has no idea what affect she had on him all those years ago, but she's about to find out.

Lily is a complicated person. She's a strong individual (although she doesn't currently see herself that way) who loves deeply. Since the tragic death of her sister followed by her father's heart attack, however, she's locked down her heart, never allowing anyone too close. Truth be told, she had no idea of how strong Aidan's feelings for her were when she left as their relationship had just been in its initial stages of romance. If anyone had asked her about it, she'd probably have said they were just friends.

I loved watching these two attempt to deny their feelings. I enjoyed seeing them try to pussyfoot around one another while everyone else could see the sparks igniting whenever these two came into close proximity of one other. I liked how Aidan slowly eased his way back into Lily's life while gradually gaining her trust and breaking down her walls. Once Aidan decided on what he wanted, he all but wore his heart on his sleeve.

Overall, I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. It was a sweet, charming, and sexy little romance.  I liked seeing how Lily came to terms about what happened years ago with the help of Aidan. I kind of hope Lily's story isn't entirely over. I would love to see a little karmic justice served in a future book over the "incident" which led to Lily going back home, I do so love it when karma comes back to bite someone in their well deserving proverbial backside. I'm crossing my fingers. On the Lisarenee Romance Scale, this one earned a STEAM rating--too hot for a fan, but you still have a handle on things. You should use extreme caution when reading a book with this rating in public. People may inquire as to why you looked flustered and flushed. I'm looking forward to seeing where Ms. Shalvis will take this one. I especially look forward to seeing how the Kincaid family will solve the predicament they find themselves in.

Order of the Cedar Ridge series: 

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage

Title: The Woman in the Dark
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Format: Hardcover; 352 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 12, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1538714299
ISBN-13: 978-1538714294
Author's Website: N/A
Notes: I received an copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes . This in no way influenced my review.



For the past year Sarah has been grieving the loss of her mother, and at one point fell into a deep depression. Now some of the grief has lifted and she's doing better, but when a letter arrives in a woman's handwriting addressed to her husband she fears he may be having an affair. When she asks him about it, he says it was a note from a realtor letting him know his childhood home is for sale. While the answer pacifies her for the moment, Sarah can't forget how visibly upset he seemed after reading the missive. Nor can she understand his obsession with moving back into his old house...

'I'm staring down at the details Patrick gave me. I want to be able to share his happiness, his excitement. My childhood home, my dream house, he said, but I can't forget the other photo of the house, the one that was on the front of the newspapers fifteen years ago. Someone spray-painted the front door and that's the photo everyone used: a house, police tape still fluttering across the front, broken window boarded up, Welcome to the Murder House spray-painted in red on the front door.' 

From the moment they step into the house Sarah a bad feeling about the house. She feels like she's being watched, items not belonging to the family mysteriously start showing up, locked doors end up open without explanation, and then there are the cold spots...

Is it all in her mind or is something much more nefarious happening?

"You shouldn't stay here," he says. "It keeps happening. The same thing's going to happen. This house...Bad things happen to people who live in this house."
This is one of those books that keeps you second guessing as to what is going on. There are red herrings galore, a couple of twists and turns thrown in for good measure, and you begin to realize that you, like the main character, are completely in the dark. I came up with several possible explanations as to what was going on, but couldn't quite put it all together. I rather liked that.

On the surface, Patrick and Sarah seem to be a loving couple working together to get over a bump in the road, namely, Sarah's depression. As we start to get a more intimate view of the couple, however, we start to see the fractures in their foundation. Things aren't as perfect as they wish everyone to believe.

Sarah is a very malleable character. She is at her weakest and most vulnerable when her husband insists they move. While he paints a pretty picture of the house and the town he grew up in, reality reveals a much different picture. The house is run down and the town has more people moving out than in. Joe, their son, is in the middle of his senior year of high school and the move is strenuous on on both him and his younger sister, Mia. Sarah's depression has already taken a toll on the family and the move makes everything worse as tension runs high. 

Patrick, Sarah's husband, is something else. I didn't like him one bit. His reasons for moving are purely selfish and I sympathized with Caroline, Sarah's best friend. Sometimes the people you love have to figure things out for themselves. and you need to stay by their side ready to catch them when and if they fall. Caroline, however, was not above suspicion. That was part of the issue Sarah faced throughout the book. She didn't know who to trust, not even herself.

As the family moves into the Murder House, things get more disturbing with each turn of the page. Is the house haunted? Is someone messing with the family? Is Sarah slowly starting to lose her mind or could it be a combination of all of the above?  This one will have you scratching your head and questioning everything. What is real? What is fake? Secrets, lies, half truths, betrayals, and omissions are all slowly revealed as the skeletons in this small town come to light one by one.

I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. The story was engaging, the mystery was suspenseful, and the ending had me on the edge of my seat as it culminated in a struggle between life and death. I liked how Sarah managed to pull herself together and trust herself in the midst of so much chaos. I also enjoyed all the layers the author included that we needed to uncover in order to get to the heart of what was going on. While I enjoyed the book, there was one small item I found a tad confusing. Were the italicized passages just the self ramblings and/or rants of a character (that I shall not name) in regard to Patrick or letters he actually received? I ended up deciding they were letters because that might explain some of Patrick's behavior, but I wish it had been a little more clear. I'm forgoing the romance rating on this one because it wasn't a romance in any sense of the word. It was just a good psychological thriller. A very nice debut by author Vanessa Savage. I look forward to reading more of her books in the coming years.

  

Monday, March 4, 2019

Early Review of Springtime at Hope Cottage (Sweetwater Springs #2) by Annie Rains

Title: Springtime at Hope Cottage: Includes a bonus short story
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Sweetwater Springs (Book 2)
Format: Paperback; 416 pages
Publisher: Forever (March 5, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1538713985
ISBN-13: 978-1538713983
Author's Website:
Notes:  I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes which in no way influenced by review.


'Dawanda returned with a tray and a small pitcher of steaming, white milk. She set the cup of coffee in front of Josie and sat down at the table."You're not a believer. I can already see that in your eyes. She held up a manicured finger with sparkly pink polish. "But you will be."
(...)
 Dawanda lifted the pitcher ceremoniously over the dark brew inside the cup and poured it in a straight line at the center, Afterward, the shop owner set the milk down and leaned forward over the cappuccino, a serious expression pinching her face.

Jose wasn't sure why but her heart was suddenly racing. "What do yo see?"
(...)
"A homecoming and a self-awakening are in your future."'

Josie Kellum has come to Sweetwater Springs to visit her best friend, Kaitlyn. While Josie's always adored New York and loved her job, somehow they've both lost some of their charm. Her dream job as an executive editor for the lifestyle section of Loving Life magazine isn't so dreamy since her boss relinquished ownership to his son, Bart. Bart's vision for the magazine is taking the magazine in a much different direction from that of his father's. One she's not sure she wants to be a part of. Plus, without her best friend in the city, New York has lost some of its allure. She's thinking it might be time for a change...

Tucker 'Tuck' Locklear has mourned the death of his wife for two years. He tried getting back into the dating game, but found it lacking. Regardless, he's decided its time to make a fresh start and recently moved into Hope Cottage, hoping the name would be an Omen for better things to come.  He knows it's time to start living again, but he just hasn't found anyone who interests him and wonders if maybe he never will. When he first meets Josie he's not really all that impressed with her, but there's something about her...

"Just slow down and listen to the voice inside you. That's usually how you get any message that life is trying to send."
If I had to sum up  this novel in three words, they would be sweet, charming, and heartwarming. This is the second book of the Sweetwater Springs series, and the first book in the series I've read. It can definitely be read as a standalone book and you won't feel lost. I must confess, however, after reading this 'Springtime at Hope Cottage', I am very curious as to how Kaitlyn ended up in Sweetwater.  I may need to get my hands on the first book, 'Christmas on Mistletoe Lane,' and read it.

When Josie first arrives in Sweetwater she comes across as the city girl she is. Tuck believes he knows the type--work obsessed, self-absorbed, and materialistic. In a nutshell, not his type. First impressions, however, can be deceiving and as he slowly gets to know Josie, he realizes he's pegged her wrong. She's totally not what he expected.

Tuck is not what Josie expects either. There's more to the man then meets the eye. He's a physical therapist who goes above and beyond by, as he puts it, having therapy sessions in the 'wild'. He makes house calls and plans creative therapy sessions in an effort to make sure his patients can do what they need to and go back to doing what they love. He's part Cherokee, looks a bit like Jacob of Twilight fame, loves nature, and is an all around nice guy.

I loved watching Tuck and Josie fall for each other. Both have baggage from the past they need to sort out and deal with, but somehow they manage to compliment one another and help each other overcome it. The romance wasn't rushed, and had what felt like a natural progression. There were some hurdles thrown in that strengthened and tested the relationship which added a nice touch of drama. Plus, it was sweet how the whole town seemed to want this couple to get together. I adored that small town atmosphere where everyone knows one another so well that they tend to get a little too interested in everyone else's business.   

Overall, I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. It's the type of romance that puts a smile on your face and wraps a hug around your heart. I liked the characters, the town, and the vibe of this story. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale this one gets a FAN rating--the temperature in the room seems to have suddenly gone up a couple of degrees and a fan would be nice. A most enjoyable read.

Order of the Sweetwater Springs series by Annie Rains:
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