Review: Summer on the Little Cornish Isles: The Starfish Studio (Book #3: The Little Cornish Isles Series) by Phillipa Ashley

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One summer can change everything …  Poppy has always loved Cornwall – the crisp sea air, the welcoming community. So when her boyfriend Dan suggests they leave their office jobs and take over the Starfish Studio on the Isles of Scilly, Poppy doesn’t need asking twice.  But things don’t go to plan when Dan dumps her, weeks before they’re due to move. Determined not to give up, Poppy accepts the help of local photographer Jake, her landlord’s grandson. But Jake is distracted by a loss from his past.  Can they turn the crumbling gallery into a success in time for tourist season? And will a summer on the little Cornish Isles mend just the studio – or Poppy’s heart too?

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating 3/5 stars

After a single visit, a magical visit, Poppy and her long-time boyfriend, Dan decided life on a small island running a gallery is just the life for them.  And so, after three years of plotting and planning and packing, everything is set.  Except . . . .

Nearly every resident of the small Isles of Scilly are expecting Poppy and Dan to arrive, bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready to take on the long-neglected Starfish Studio.  What the residents get is a bleary-eyed, seasick Poppy who has recently been dumped by her feckless and unfaithful boyfriend.  With little left in her, other than determination, Poppy is ready to take on the Starfish Studio and begin rebuilding her shattered life.  As her luck runs, Poppy finds the Starfish Studio is no condition to be re-opened anytime soon.  Poppy also finds a stunningly handsome man trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

Jake swore he would never set foot on the Isles of Scilly again!  After the tragic loss of his fiancé, Jake has kept to his promise by packing his days, weeks, and months with enough travel and work for three men.  Unfortunately, his time of running away from the past is over and he must return to the small island he once called home.  His grandfather’s Starfish Studio has been rented and in his grandfather’s absence, it’s Jake’s job to get the place in shape for the new renters.  Right up until the moment he meets Poppy, Jake is determined to fulfill his commitment and get the hell off the island.  Poppy, however, changes everything.

As Poppy and Jake soon figure out, life, and the universe often have plans that aren’t on an individual’s personal agenda.  Poppy wants to stand on her own two feet, but the Starfish Studio is a wreck and she needs help.  Jake wants to continue ignoring his pain and guilt, but Poppy needs help and he is more than capable of helping her.  With more than a bit of wariness, Poppy and Jake begin the arduous task of cleaning up the Starfish Studio and preparing it for a grand re-opening.  What the two find is an easy friendship, a lot of unexpected obstacles, some secrets from the past, and an attraction that shouldn’t be denied. 

The Bottom Line:  I can’t say I jumped for joy over this light summer read, but I did like it.  The Starfish Studio is a rather typical recovering from tragedy romance with a woman scorned and a man running from his past.  Poppy and Jake are connected by sadness and a desire to help one another which ultimately helps each heal from their respective tragedies.  Along the way, friendship and love develop as both begin to reconcile their past and look forward to a bright and happy future.  In so many ways, this is a very typical sweet/low heat romance with a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure.  The Starfish Studio is the third book in a series and though I haven’t read the first two, I don’t feel like I missed anything or was confused by any of the characters, settings, and/or relationships.  I did buy the first two books and will eventually read them, but as I mentioned, I wasn’t jumping for joy over The Starfish Studio, so I don’t think there’s any rush to get caught up.

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Review: Tight Quarters (Book #6: Out of Uniform Series) by Annabeth Albert

Tight QuartersPetty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.  Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.  Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

Spencer Bryant has finally gotten his dream assignment, being embedded with a SEAL team.  As an award-winning journalist, this is the assignment he was wanted and waited patiently for, for a very long time.  Thanks to a very personal and tragic experience, Spencer feels obligated to complete this assignment and produce a piece that not only honors the service of military members, but also brings attention to the care, or lack thereof they receive following grievous injuries and separation from service.  Spencer has no intention of ruining anyone’s life or exposing information that could hurt the teams or the Navy, but he is committed to telling this story.

As bad luck would have it, Bacon gets stuck with the reporter being embedded with his team.  Though Bacon knows Spencer’s work and even admires it, Bacon isn’t interested in an outsider poking around and potentially harming the men he serves with all. Bacon sees Spencer’s presence as a nuisance at best, and a potentially hazardous situation at worst.  On top of every other emotion Bacon is feeling toward Spencer, there is also the intense attraction which just makes Bacon angry.  The final straw, Spencer is a genuinely nice man who makes his intentions clear from the very beginning; Spencer may be attracted to Bacon, but he has a code of ethics that won’t allow him to engage sexually or personally with a source.

And then everything goes ass over tea kettle . . . .

With a terrible and simultaneously fortunate turn of luck, Spencer and Bacon find themselves in a position where they can, in fact be together.  On so many levels, Spencer and Bacon as a couple are simply perfect.  They are both dominant personalities that instinctively know when to let the other take the lead.  Spencer understands Bacon’s post-mission mentality and knows how to help him decompress while Bacon knows how to support Spencer in his life and career.  The sex is amazing, and the feelings, despite each best efforts, are beginning to grow.  Unfortunately, there are some serious problems, and most of them, Bacon knows nothing about until it’s just too late.

The Bottom Line:  Let me tell you what!  I went into this book suspecting I wouldn’t particularly enjoy it, but I was absolutely and quite pleasantly surprised.  In general, I greatly dislike reporter characters, but Spencer proved to be a cat of a different color.  With the exception of one big misstep, which he absolutely regrets and fixes, Spencer proves himself to be a decent and honorable man.  Bacon, apart from one scene/event, is equally likeable to Spencer and I simply loved his devotion to both his career and Spencer.  While I’m generally all about the characters, I found the plot the real winner in this book.  I expected this book to one thing all the way through and I got something completely different.  That completely different was exactly what I wanted and didn’t even know it 😊  Finally, I love it when an author I’ve read for quite some time can still surprise and delight me and that is certainly true for Annabeth Albert and her Out of Uniform series.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount

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9781492632818-300RGB (1)It’s been two years since the night that changed Ashley’s life. Two years since she was raped by her brother’s teammate. And a year since she sat in a court and watched as he was given a slap on the wrist sentence. But the years have done nothing to stop the pain.

It’s been two years of hell for Derek. His family is totally messed up and he and his sister are barely speaking. He knows he handled it all wrong. Now at college, he has to come to terms with what happened, and the rape culture that he was inadvertently a part of that destroyed his sister’s life.

When it all comes to a head at Thanksgiving, Derek and Ashley have to decide if their relationship is able to be saved. And if their family can ever be whole again.

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Excerpt from Someone I Used to Know:

This novel is a companion story to my award-winning SOME BOYS. In this scene, Ian Russell, one of the main characters in Some Boys, meets Derek Lawrence in SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW.

~*~

Derek

A knot forms in my gut, a thick and oily clot of guilt. I sink on to the first bench I spot, clutching my middle and trying like hell not to puke. Damn it, I wish to hell I’d beaten the snot out of Victor Patton.

Came close to it.

“Hey, man.”

I twitch and find some guy sitting beside me. No idea where he came from. He’s older than I am, but not by much. Mid-twenties, maybe? Dark hair, dark eyes, some serious muscle.

I nod and shift away, willing my stomach to settle down.

“I’m gonna say something to you,” the guy says. “And you can tell me to buzz off, or you can listen. I see you sitting here, green around the gills, gripping one of those rally flyers, and see a look on your face I know well.”

I shift back to study him. He meets my gaze without flinching, and there’s something in his tone that tells me he’s not kidding.

“Somebody you love got assaulted,” he says, and before I can say anything—before I can even think of something to say—he adds, “Me too.”

I stare at him in disbelief. Are we supposed to do some kind of male bonding over rape…some sort of weird bro hug and then share our feelings? That kink in my gut unclenches, and my breakfast comes up and out. I manage to turn away before I ruin this guy’s day and spew into the bushes behind the bench. It takes a few minutes. When I’m finally empty and want to crawl into the gutter to die, the guy shoves a bottle of water into my field of vision.

“Take it. Keep it.”

Grateful, I crack the seal, chug, and rinse out my mouth. Then I take a nice gulp, sit back on the bench, and wipe my mouth. “Thanks,” I offer a few minutes later, when I’m sure I’m not dying.

“Yeah, no big.”

There’s a long pause. “Girlfriend?” he asks after a minute. And it takes me another minute to figure out he’s asking who I know that got raped. I shake my head.

“Sister.”

“Oh, man. I’m sorry.”

I only nod. What else is there to say? In silence, we watch the perky girl with the clipboard chase down two guys on Rollerblades to sign up for the rally.

He snorts out a laugh. “That girl has some serious fun attitude.”

I laugh, too. “That’s an oxymoron, no?”

Shrugging, he says, “Maybe. Never could keep those lit terms straight.”

That makes me wonder about him. “You’re not a student?”

“No,” he admits. “I graduated a few years ago. Degree in engineering. I work in the city now.”

“So what are you doing here?”

He sighs and looks back to the quad where Perky Girl’s got another pair of guys on the hook for rally duty. “Over there. Under the Rock Stock tent. Black boots.”

I scan the area, find the tent, and see a bunch of people under it. But the black boots do it for me. The girl is hot, like off-the- charts hot. Long wild hair, dark sunglasses, jeans, and a black shirt that’s held together with a series of metal rings. She looks like the lead singer from some hard rock band.

“Oh! I’m sorry. Was she—”

“Yeah. Back in high school. By my friend. At a party she only went to because she hoped I’d be there.”

“I’m sorry.” I sigh.

“I came over here to talk to you because you looked like— well, like a guy about to puke.”

My face gets hot. I swallow another gulp of water and look away. But I can’t deny I’m curious. “How do you…” Deal with it? Avoid killing the guy who did it? I wave my hand, trying to fill in that blank but coming up empty.

He angles his head, studying me. “Get over my guilt?”

Okay. That works, too.

He takes another look at the girl in the black boots and shrugs.

“Still working on it. Being here is part of it. She’s doing the keynote speech at the rally. Took me a while, but I finally figured out that therapy’s not so bad, either.”

My parents wanted us all to go to therapy, but I said no way. Maybe that was a mistake. “Can I ask you something?”

The guy nods.

I swallow more water. “You ever say something you can’t take back? Something that made her hate you.”

He grins and rolls his eyes. “God, yes. I can’t watch a Star Wars movie without wanting to kick my own ass.”

“Huh?”

He waves a hand. “Long story. I was a real dick to her, embarrassing her in front of my friends so they wouldn’t turn on me. She forgave me. Somewhere along the line, I figured out how to forgive myself so I could be the man she deserves.”

Forgive myself. That’s exactly what Brittany said. I consider that for a couple of minutes and then shake my head. “I gotta go.” I stand up. “Thanks for the water and for—” I wave a hand. “You know.”

“Yeah. No problem. Hope we see you at the rally. Trust me, she’s something.” He jerks a thumb toward the girl in the black boots, and I don’t doubt him for a second.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

He extends a hand. “Ian.”

I shake it. “Derek,” I say. “Thanks again.”

“Here.” He fishes through his pockets and comes out with a business card. “My cell number. I can help. If you want.”

I take off, tucking the card into my pocket along with the blue-and-white flyer. I don’t even know why I’m keeping them. It’s not like there’s any way Ashley’s gonna forgive me. I’m not even sure I can forgive myself. I’ll never be the hero again in her eyes.

Copyright© 2018 Someone I Used To Know

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About the author and where to find her:

PattyB-01Patty Blount grew up quiet and somewhat invisible in Queens, NY, but found her voice writing smart and strong characters willing to fight for what’s right. Today, she’s the award-winning author of edgy, realistic, gut-wrenching contemporary and young adult romance. Still a bit introverted, she gets lost often, eats way too much chocolate, and tends to develop mad, passionate crushes on fictional characters…and actors like Gilles Marini….and Sam Heughan. Okay, so Patty’s not nearly as cool as her characters, but she is a solid supporter of women’s rights and loves delivering school presentations.

Patty is best known for her internet issues novels, including SOME BOYS, a 2015 CLMP Firecracker winner and RWA Rita Finalist, and SEND, a 2012 Junior Library Guild Fall Pick. Her upcoming release, SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, has already been selected as a 2018 Junior Library Guild Fall Pick. Visit her website at pattyblount.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter. She blogs at YA Outside the Lines and is also active on Twitter and Facebook. When she’s not writing, Patty loves to watch bad sci-fi movies, live tweeting the hilarity, and scour Pinterest for ideas on awesome bookcases. Patty lives on Long Island with her family in a house that, sadly, lacks bookcases. She loves hearing from readers, especially when they tell her she’s cool (even though she knows it’s not true), and is easily bribed with chocolate. Never underestimate the power of chocolate.

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Review: Squared Away (Book #5: Out of Uniform Series) by Annabeth Albert

Squared AwayIn the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.  Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.  As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

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Source: Netgalley, Overdrive Audio/Public Library, and Purchase

My Rating: 4½/5 stars

Mark Whitley’s world has imploded, and it didn’t even happen during an op.  Thanks to a great deal of reckless behavior, Mark’s sister and brother-in-law are now dead and their three children are in need of a proper guardian.  As medic for his SEAL team, Mark has no idea how he’s going to balance being a SEAL and a dad.  He’s going to need a ton of help, and where that help comes from is perhaps as exciting as it is uncomfortable. 

Isaiah James simply can’t understand why no one considers him a proper guardian for his cousin’s children.  Even when their parents were alive, Isaiah spent much of his time looking after the kids, seeing to their needs and wants, and falling hopelessly in love with each of the little monsters.  Though Isaiah is technically related to the kids, he is young and his days of partying and playing the field have, unfortunately preceded him, making his case for custody a hard sell.

As expected, the legalities of custody are difficult, but the difficulties are compounded by competing wills and a large, large sum of money that will, eventually go to the children.  Everyone seems to want a piece of the pie with only Mark and Isaiah having any real interest in the welfare of the children.  With virtually no experience around children, Mark is like a fish out of water and would be totally screwed if it weren’t for Isaiah.  Isaiah is patient, kind, and fiercely loyal to the children.  He makes no secret of his desire to continue raising them and is willing to go to any length to secure their custody.  Mark likes the idea of having Isaiah around for the children, but his presence, in every other way forces Mark to confront his own feelings and issues related to his sexuality.  In all, Mark and Isaiah’s lives are one huge, hot mess!

The Bottom Line:  Once again, Annabeth Albert has made me fall in love with her Out of Uniform series!  One of the things I have always, always liked and respected about this series is the number of totally realistic scenarios and obstacles the men in these books must face.  Albert creates real world situations, some truly terrible, that these men must navigate while also trying to sort out their relationship.  Yeah, it’s real life, but with two men, and, in this case, three adorable children.  Mark and Isaiah don’t have an easy road to their HEA, but they do find ways to help one another, to support one another, to rely on one another, and, most importantly to love one another.  This isn’t an easy read given all the drama spawned by the death of Mark’s sister, Mark’s own terribly confused and conflicted feelings, and Isaiah’s desire to be taken seriously.  This story, and the series as a whole still has a variety and freshness I very much appreciate.  Until those qualities wane of disappear, I am absolutely committed to the men of the Out of Uniform series.

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Review: The Wedding Dress (Book #1: The Wedding Collection Series) by Rachel Hauck

Wedding DressCharlotte owns a chic Birmingham bridal boutique. Dressing brides for their big day is her gift . . . and her passion. But with her own wedding day approaching, why can’t she find the perfect dress…or feel certain she should marry Tim?  Then Charlotte discovers a vintage dress in a battered trunk at an estate sale. It looks brand-new-shimmering with pearls and satin, hand-stitched and timeless in its design. But where did it come from? Who wore it? Who welded the lock shut and tucked the dog tags in that little sachet? Who left it in the basement for a ten-year-old girl? And what about the mysterious man in the purple vest who insists the dress had been “redeemed.”  Charlotte’s search for the gown’s history-and its new bride-begins as a distraction from her sputtering love life. But it takes on a life of its own as she comes to know the women who have worn the dress. Emily from 1912. Mary Grace from 1939. Hillary from 1968. Each with her own story of promise, pain, and destiny. And each with something unique to share. For woven within the threads of the beautiful hundred-year-old gown is the truth about Charlotte’s heritage, the power of courage and faith, and the timeless beauty of finding true love.

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Source: Overdrive Audio/Public Library          My Rating: 5/5 stars

The Wedding Dress was my first Rachel Hauck book, and the second I finished it, I went to Netgalley and my online library and requested everything else I could find!  I absolutely adored this book and can’t believe I haven’t been reading/listening to Rachel Hauck prior to this.  Here’s the skinny:

Charlotte is all about weddings and pairing the perfect dress with the perfect bride.  In fact, Charlotte has something of a gift for getting a bride into the dress that was simply made for her.  Her business is tremendously successful and if she could just get her personal life on track, everything if her life would be, simply perfect.  Then one day, everything changes when Charlotte buys an old trunk with a stunning, well-preserved wedding dress inside.

From the moment the dress arrives in Charlotte’s life, nothing is the same.  The dress is gorgeous, perfectly preserved, masterfully crafted, and has little in the way of information about who it belonged to and who made it.  With the few clues that remain, Charlotte embarks on a fact-finding mission that will lead her back more than a century to the original owner and creator of the dress.  Along the way, Charlotte meets a small group of people with their own history with the dress who not only help her continue to trace the dress’s history, but also become invaluable members of Charlotte’s small circle of friends.  Every new clue, every new person, every new story only further convinces Charlotte of how special the dress is and how happy it is going to make the woman she eventually pairs with the dress.

The Bottom Line:  I truly have no idea how this book has such a low overall rating on Goodreads!  I found this story to be a wonderful weaving of the past and the present, with interesting stories, absolutely endearing characters, and truly fantastic storytelling.  Though Charlotte seemingly has her life together, she really doesn’t until the dress comes into her life.  The dress seems to focus Charlotte, to give her a direction which ultimately balances and soothes her heart, her mind, and her life.  I found every aspect of this book to be, quite simply, excellent and unreservedly recommend it to readers who love sweet, low heat, past meets present reads.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: The Highlander’s Stolen Bride (The Stolen Bride Series) by Eliza Knight

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ElizaKnight_theHighlandersStolenBride_eCover_2500After a harsh betrayal, Magnus “Strath” Sutherland, Laird of Dornoch, accepts a commission from the king to squelch an English lord’s siege at the Scottish border. What better way to torment his new English enemy than to defeat his army and steal his beautiful bride? At first, Strath plans to toss the Sassenach lass into a dark cell and forget about her, but there is something about the way she defies him that he finds alluring, not to mention how very much he’d like to kiss her.

Eva de Clare, youngest daughter of the Earl of Northwyck, is pledged in matrimony to a cruel lord blackmailing her family. Her salvation comes in the form of a terrifying Highlander who interrupts the ceremony. But salvation turns to horror when she’s plucked from where she stands and whisked across the Scottish border. Eva isn’t about to be made a prisoner of war, and once she sees the kindness beneath her captor’s hard exterior she decides she won’t be sent back to England to be wed either. In fact, she just might be the woman to warm the Highland warrior’s hardened heart.

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Excerpt from The Highlander’s Stolen Bride (The Stolen Bride Series):

What is the bastard up to?

Magnus “Strath” Sutherland, the Laird of Dornoch and Earl of Strathnavor, sat on his horse in the woods just beyond the perimeter of Northwyck Castle. He’d been sent south on a mission by his King, Robert the Bruce. One, to determine if the daughter of Lord Northwyck was dead as had been claimed, and also to stop a certain vile Sassenach lord from his continued raids at the border, who may or may not be holding her captive. That man was in the castle before him.

A plan to ambush Belfinch and his men on the road had been thwarted when the whoreson disappeared. Unfamiliar with the land this far past the English border, Strath and his men had found their quarry on the moors riding at a clipped pace toward this castle. This turnabout would work in their favor it seemed, since he could now take care of both of his king’s requests at once.

The keep was only about four stories high, if he had to guess, and the wall was about half that. There was a thin moat around the perimeter, and a village to the west. Smoke filtered out of a few chimneys in the village, but it was only late afternoon, so most of the peasants would likely be in the fields working. Smoke came from several chimneys in the castle keep.

From the intelligence Strath had been able to gather, this was the home of another man, the Earl of Northwyck. None of Belfinch’s men had waited outside, which meant the Earl of Northwyck was used to the men coming here, or he’d been forced. But Strath was betting on him being an ally. If that were the case, which seemed likely, it would behoove him and his men to remove all the threats.

This was war, after all. And if he let them go, they’d only continue the border raids he’d been sent to stop. Strath wasn’t about to disappoint his king. As to why the king cared about a lass, that was a question he’d have to leave unanswered, for his liege had not offered the information. 

“What did ye find?” he asked when Tomaidh, his finest scout and best mate, returned.

“Two entrances that I could make out. The main gate has a wide drawbridge over the moat, still lowered from when Belfinch’s men went inside, and a postern gate that looks to be accessible only by a narrow drawbridge, but it was not lowered. The walls are guarded by a dozen men, more concentrated on the front gate with only a few at the postern. And I think one spotted me.”

“Damn.” Strath, as any warlord about to lay siege, much preferred the element of surprise.

“I was careful, but when I mounted my horse by the woods, I think my sword hilt caught the sun just when there was a break in the clouds. I heard a horn blown in the distance, which I’m guessing was the warning. I didn’t come straight here. I rode in the opposite direction and circled back through the woods in case they sent anyone out to follow me.”

“Ye did good.”

“I’m sorry, laird.”

“Dinna fash over it, Tomaidh. We’ll wait then. If they spotted ye, they’ll likely be preparing for an unwanted guest. With enough time, they will think spotting ye was nothing more than someone riding through. They will let their guard down.” Probably not all the way, but enough so he could still attack with success.

And he would succeed.

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Praise for the Stolen Bride series:

 “This is a wonderful book. I really enjoyed it. The characters are colourful and the history is well written. I loved the way the heroine could take care of herself in a time when they were never expected to. I have never read this author before but I certainly will look for more of her books.”—Goodreads Reviewer on THE HIGHLANDER’S REWARD

“Ms. Knight has a gift for writing wonderful characters that pull the reader into the story. For fans of Highlander romance, this series is a must read. I highly recommend it.”—Night Owls Reviewer, The Stolen Bride Series

“The Highlander’s Reward was an awesome read. I didn’t want to leave the world that Eliza Knight had woven, even when the book was done. I just wanted to keep reading.”—Night Owls Reviewer

“If you are looking for a hot romance set against a backdrop of a fascinating time in the history of the world, you need to read this series.”—A Bookish Affair Reviewer on The Stolen Bride Series

“If you are a lover of plaid-covered warriors that make your knees feel like jelly…than this [series] is for you.”—My Not So Vacant Shelf Reviewer on The Stolen Bride Series

About the author and where to find her:

ElizaKnightAuthorPhotoEliza Knight is an award-winning and USA Today bestselling author of over fifty sizzling historical, time-travel and contemporary romance novels. Under the name E. Knight, she pens rip-your- heart-out historical fiction. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain with her own knight in shining armor, three princesses and two very naughty puppies.

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SWEEPSTAKES

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Audiobook Round-Up

CakeThe Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert, Source: Overdrive Audio/Public Library, My Rating: 5/5 stars

Synopsis: In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.  Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.  The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

The Bottom Line:  I simply fell into this story from the very beginning and didn’t take my headphones off until the very end.  Lou, her friends and co-workers, and her loyal customers are simply delightful and really enrich the overall read.  While the plot itself is all kinds of crazy – a restaurant is shut down by a single review! – it works quite nicely.  The closing of the restaurant precipitates all the change in Lou’s life, both good and bad, and creates an avenue for considerable character growth.  In all, I found this book to be quite an excellent read with the full range of feels, good characters, a fine plot, and a very good narrator.

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30724640Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel, Source: Overdrive Audio/Public Library, My Rating: 5/5 stars

Synopsis: Despite her innate ambition and Summa Cum Laude smarts, Kate Pearson has turned into a major slacker. After being dumped by her handsome, French “almost fiance,” she abandons her grad school plans and spends her days lolling on the couch, leaving her apartment only when a dog-walking gig demands it. Her friends don’t know what to do other than pass tissues and hope for a comeback, while her practical sister, Angela, pushes every remedy she can think of, from trapeze class to therapy to job interviews. For reasons no one (least of all Kate) understands, she manages to land a job in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School. In her new position, Kate learns there’s no time for self-pity during the height of the admissions season. Meanwhile, Kate’s sister and friends find themselves keeping secrets, hiding boyfriends, dropping bombshells, and fighting each other on how to keep Kate on her feet. On top of it all, her cranky, oddly charming, and irritatingly handsome neighbor is more than he seems.

The Bottom Line: Holy Hannah!!  Some people are just bat-sh*t crazy and that is especially true when it comes to getting their kids into the best schools!  Kate Pearson has NO idea what she’s getting into when she accepts a job in the Admissions office of the prestigious Hudson Day School.  To be fair, her new job is a far, far cry better than what she’s been doing over the past year, and her family and friends are thrilled to see her finally moving on with her life.  Over the course of the admissions season, Kate not only gets back on her feet, but learns some valuable lessons about life, finds her confidence again, and discovers the value of true friendship.  This book takes one on a roller coaster of ride of emotions from the seriously sad, to the utterly unbelievable, to the absolute in ridiculous, to sheer hilarity.  I often found myself laughing aloud and, by the end of the read, wishing for a sequel!

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Mad Fat Girl Series by Stephanie McAfee, Source: Overdrive Audio/Public Library, My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis, Book #1: Graciela “Ace” Jones is mad—mad at her best friend Lilly who cancels their annual trip to Panama City for mysterious reasons; at her boss Catherine for “riding her ass like a fat lady on a Rascal scooter;” at her friend Chloe’s abusive husband; and especially at Mason McKenzie, the love of her life, who has shown up with a marriage proposal three years too late. Ace is never mad, though, at her near-constant companion, an adorable chiweenie dog named Buster Loo.  Ace’s anger begins to dissipate as she takes matters into her own hands to take down Chloe’s philandering husband—and to get to the bottom of a multitude of other scandals plaguing Bugtussle, Mississippi. Then, she starts to realize that maybe Mason deserves a second chance after all.  With a sharp and distinctive voice, Stephanie McAfee delivers a hilarious and fast-paced tale about Ace Jones and her two best friends—thick as thieves and tough as nails—navigating Southern small-town politics and prejudices, finding love, and standing up for each other all the way.

Synopsis, Book #2: Ace has left the tiny Mississippi town of Bugtussle for the palm fronds and mojitos of Pelican Cove, Florida. She’s finally opening her long-dreamed-of art gallery, is kick-starting a life with her fiancé, Mason, and has vowed to leave her straight-talking, sassy ways behind her. From now on, she’s going to be as sweet as sugar. Unfortunately, something comes along to sour her plans.   That something is Mrs. Lenore Kennashaw and her coterie of crones. They’re a bunch of snippy, snarky, and just plain mean ’ol ladies who aren’t quite as smart or rich as they’d like to think they are. But that doesn’t stop them from treating everyone else like second-class citizens. And when Ace inadvertently takes some of the steam from Mrs. Kennashaw’s stride, she becomes their #1 enemy. But with the support of a new group of fabulous friends, as well as her friends from Bugtussle—and her always-faithful chiweenie Buster Loo—Ace will find a way to make it, even if she has to throw some weight around…

Synopsis, Book #3: When her dream life in Florida with her now-ex-fiancé goes south, so does Ace — she moves back home to Bugtussle, Mississippi, and into her late Gramma Jones’ little house. But even though her best friends, Lilly and Chloe, are thrilled that she’s returned home, not everything is smooth sailing. Ace wants her job back as art teacher at the high school, but the beautiful Cameron Becker has no plans to relinquish that position. Although Ace wants to run Miss Becker out of town, she accepts a job as a substitute teacher. On top of her job woes, Ace’s friends keep setting her up on blind dates when all she really wants is for people to stop meddling in her love life.  In her quest to find inner peace, Ace takes up gardening and discovers old love letters in her grandmother’s well-worn gardening book. With her faithful chiweenie, Buster Loo, by her side, Ace is determined to get to the bottom of her Gramma’s secret life, all while hoping her own doesn’t implode.

The Bottom Line:  To date, there are three books (and two novellas!) in Stephanie McAfee’s Mad Fat Girl Series: Diary of a Mad Fat Girl, Happily Ever Madder, and Down and Out in Bugtussle.  To be completely honest, I only requested the first book in this series because of the title 😊  I find it hard to resist such fun titles, and what I got behind the title was just as fun!  The series revolves around the life, love life, antics, and shenanigans of one Ace Jones.  Ace Jones is a spitfire if ever there was one and her mouth and actions often get her into a world of trouble.  Ace Jones is fiercely loyal to her friends, hopelessly in love with a man she can’t seem to make a relationship work with, and often up to no good as a result of the very best of intentions.  While there are many, many, many tremendously funny moments over the course of the three books, there are also some serious topics such as abuse and bullying addressed.  What I found particularly fun about these books are solid characters, both good and bad, who populate the little town of Bugtussle.  From Ace and her best friends, to the local barkeep, to the little old ladies who seem to know everything about everyone, there is a character for everyone in this series.  Overall, I found the first and third books to be the best (to date) with the middle book being a bit slower, but necessary.  By the end of the third book, Ace and her friends have been through the wringer and back again and not even one of them are showing any signs of slowing down!

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Piggly WigglyWaltzing at the Piggly Wiggly by Robert Dalby, Book #1: Piggly Wiggly Series, Source: Overdrive Audio/Public Library, My Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line: Plain and simple, I abandoned this book after less than half an hour of listening.  I wanted to keep going and find out the fate of the Piggly Wiggly, but I just couldn’t get past the narration/narrator.  I am, admittedly very new to the whole audiobook scene, but I’ve listened to enough to know when it just isn’t working.  Now, here’s the real rub: since I really do want to know what happens to the Piggly Wiggly, I decided to check out the print version since my main objection was the narrator.  Unfortunately, after reading a startling number of reviews on Goodreads, my desire to physically read the book has also gone away.  While I try not to let other’s opinions of a book sway me, there are just too many negative, yet thoughtfully written reviews for me to add this one to my TBR. ☹

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WeddingThe People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder, Source: Overdrive Audio/Public Library, My Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line: YIKES!  I will freely admit, I didn’t make it very far into this book before having to call it quits!  While the narrator was fine, it was the cast of characters who put me off.  In the small amount of this book I listened to, I ran across two characters, Paul and Alice who were beyond despicable.  Neither had a nice word to say about anything or anyone, and I found I just couldn’t muster up the interest to see if they ever improved.  I generally like a book where despicable characters are changed and/or redeemed, but I just couldn’t keep going with this book to see if that sort of change ever happened!