Review: Dreaming in Chocolate by Susan Bishop Crispell

Dreaming

At twenty-seven, Penelope Dalton is quickly ticking off items on a bucket list. Only the list isn’t hers. After her eight year-old daughter Ella is given just six months to live thanks to an inoperable brain tumor, Penelope is determined to fill Ella’s remaining days with as many new experiences as she can.

With an endless supply of magical gifts and recipes from the hot chocolate café Penelope runs alongside her mother in a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, she is able to give her daughter almost everything she wants. The one sticking point is Ella’s latest addition to her list: get a dad. And not just any dad. Ella has her sights set on Noah Gregory, her biological father and the only person Penelope knows to have proved her true love hot chocolate wrong.

Now Noah’s back in town for a few months—and as charming as ever—and the part of her that dreamed he was her fate in the first place wonders if she made the right decision to keep the truth of their daughter from him. The other, more practical part, is determined to keep him from breaking Ella’s heart too.

But as Ella’s health declines, Penelope must give in to her fate or face a future of regrets.  

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Source: Netgally          My Rating: 2½/5 stars

I don’t even know where to start with this review as it was a solid five star read right up until the very end. . . . .

Literally, everything but the ending of this book falls into the “Likes” category for me. The characters, the plot, the development, the love story, the pacing, the drama all appealed to me from the opening scene right on through to the last few chapters. Here’s the skinny . . . .

Penelope Dalton is raising an amazing kid with a bright spirit on her own. Penelope Dalton is also raising a kid with an expiration date thanks to an inoperable brain tumor. With nothing left to do medically, Penelope has decided to enjoy the time she has left with her daughter and help her tick off every item on her Bucket List! Though much of Penelope’s life revolves around her daughter, the parts that don’t revolve around she and her own mother’s chocolate shop. For several generations, the chocolate shop has been a place of wonder, hope, and quite literally, magic. Yes, the chocolate is amazing, but it also contains magic with the ability to help people see their one true love, find bliss, and change their future.

For a year, Penelope has lived with the belief the magic doesn’t work as advertised. After the town collectively wished for her daughter’s health and survival and it didn’t work, Penelope has grown bitter and somewhat angry. With no hope left for her daughter’s recovery, Penelope has cancelled her family’s involvement in the town’s beloved Festival of Fate which has prompted some serious backlash from citizens and friends alike. As if her life weren’t already complicated enough, Penelope’s ex, and father to her daughter, is back in town and wreaking havoc on her already turbulent emotions.  

Fate and magic have everything to do with Penelope’s life and with the mix of her daughter’s condition, the town being angry with her, and her ex being back, both seem to be laughing at her. What fate and magic didn’t count on is the resilience and belief of Penelope’s daughter! That child has faith for a crowd and with a bit of conspiring, puppy dog eyes, and reliance on the old “I don’t have much longer!” Penelope’s daughter works a little magic of her own.

The Bottom Line: Right up to the last few chapters I was all over adoring this story, and then the end came. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? The pacing of this book, the characters, the story all deserved so much more than the craptastic ending they got. I have rarely been so disappointed in a book, but this one . . . . . let’s just say the disappointment is strong with this one. As I sit here writing this review, thinking about the ending, I get angry all over again. You have been warned, dear reader ☹

Pre-Order now for the February 6, 2018 release:

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Review: Beginner’s Luck (Book #1: Chance of a Lifetime Series) by Kate Clayborn

B. Luck

Kit Averin is anything but a gambler. A scientist with a quiet, steady job at a university, Kit’s focus has always been maintaining the acceptable status quo. A sudden windfall doesn’t change that, with one exception: the fixer-upper she plans to buy, her first and only real home. It’s more than enough to keep her busy, until an unsettlingly handsome, charming, and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab—and manages to work his way into her heart . . .

Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a young woman—and a beautiful, sharp-witted one at that. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. But the longer he stays, the more questions he has about his own future—and who might be in it.

What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny—and finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless . . .

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 2½/5 stars

Kit Averin’s life runs on a tight schedule, a routine designed to make her comfortable and feel as if she has the home and family sadly lacking in her childhood. Even with her miraculous lottery win, Kit has no interest breaking out of her comfort zone and living up to her actual potential.

Ben Tucker and his partner see Kit’s potential and want, more than anything to get Kit out of her current job, town, and life. She’s an incredibly intelligent and talented scientist who refuses to leave her university job. Though Kit finds the job satisfying, it doesn’t truly challenge her or push her scientific limits. In fact, Kit is the only one who can’t, or refuses to see how stagnant her job and life has become. When Ben Tucker walks into her lab and pitches her a totally new job, in a new state, with state of the art everything, he expects her to jump at the opportunity. What he gets is a resounding “NO!”

The minute Ben Tucker leaves Kit’s presence he not only knows he screwed up horribly and he must see her again. Kit is Ben and his partner’s way out of a job they have both worked very hard to get out of, but that inexplicably isn’t the reason he wants to see her again. Behind the glasses, shy demeanor, and adamant refusal of his spectacular job offer, Ben sees a beautiful woman with a world of potential he wants to know absolutely everything about.

Getting to know Kit isn’t the easiest thing in the world and Ben’s in with her happens quite by accident. With part of her lottery winnings, Kit bought a ramshackle home that needs a ton of repairs. As fate would have it, Ben’s father owns an architectural salvage yard that has so much of what Kit wants for her home. As the days and weeks go by, Kit and Ben become so much a part of each other’s lives which forces each to confront some hard truths. Ben must admit to himself and his partner his true involvement with Kit and how he no longer cares if she takes the job, and Kit must confront the fact that she is indeed in something of a rut and she doesn’t find a way to deal with her issues, she won’t ever be able to find true happiness.

The Bottom Line: While there were parts of this book I liked, I found the read as a whole to be somewhat flat. Kit is so much of an introvert as to be a nearly non-existent character, and that’s a special kind of talent when you’re the lead female in a story. Ben is somewhat more extroverted and interesting, but only just. In truth, the most significant character in this book is Ben’s dad, who is loud and funny and really makes his presence felt. I genuinely liked the plot of this book but feel it would have been much better served by stronger, more forceful characters. Because of the plot and the plot alone, I stuck with this book to the bitter end but can’t honestly say I’ll be sticking around for the coming books in the series.

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Review: Making It (Book #3: Ringside Romance Series) by Christine d’Abo

Making It

Devan knows exactly what he wants from life: a good career, a husband who loves him, and a child to call his own. He’s working at the perfect job, and has found the man of his dreams in Eli. That only leaves one box left to tick. When his friend offers to be a surrogate mother for Devan and Eli, he’s convinced all his dreams have come true.

Eli has been fighting his entire life. Fighting to keep his sick mother safe, fighting his frustration, and fighting daily as an up-and-coming MMA star. The one thing he can’t fight is the feeling that he’s made a terrible mistake agreeing to be a father with Devan. On the worst night of their lives, Eli knows Devan is better off without him, and leaves.

When Eli returns three years later he comes face-to-face with Devan and a son who might be his. Devan has moved on with his life, but seeing Eli once again reignites forgotten passion. Yet if Eli wants to make it work with Devan, he must decide if he’s ready for the biggest fight of his life.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

Devan has spent the last three years in mourning. On the night of his greatest tragedy, the loss of his unborn child, his husband, Eli also walked out on him. For three years Devan has tried to put his life back together, move forward, but that’s hard to do when your ex hasn’t signed the divorce papers and there’s no closure. What’s more, Devan still doesn’t know precisely why Eli left him.

Eli . . . .

For three years, Eli has worked to build his MMA career, hide the fact that he’s gay (for his career, of course!), and try to understand why he was such a coward and walked out on the only man he has ever loved. Though he never told Devan as much, their life together was everything and leaving it all behind in a fit of unspoken despair was the greatest mistake of Eli’s life. Now, after three long and somewhat miserable years, Eli has a chance to make things right.

Devan . . . .

Hearing of Eli’s return to town should throw Devan into a tailspin, but what it does is strengthen his resolve to get his divorce. Though he isn’t exactly comfortable with the ambush Eli in a public place approach, it is the safest way to safeguard his heart and minimize the risk of an episode. What Devan doesn’t count on is the support of old friends and some surprising news and behavior from Eli. For three years, Devan has lived under the assumption Eli has been ignoring his requests for a divorce when, in fact, the messages have never even reached his ex. What’s more, in their time apart, Eli has matured, mellowed out, and seems genuinely interested in making amends. To Devan is wary of this is a huge understatement.

Eli . . . .

Never in his wildest dreams would Eli suspect Devan of still wanting him or being receptive to taking him back. All Eli wants is to apologize and make things right, and that means providing Devan with some context for his previously horrifying, heartbreaking, and unexplained behavior. With each revelation, Eli is reminded of the many reasons he first fell in love with Devan. Devan is kind, compassionate, and understanding and it is those same qualities that are allowing Eli more and more time with Devan. Their encounters are heated, both emotionally and physically, and driven toward forgiveness, but real love is hard deny and becomes abundantly clear to both men that there may be a future for them even after all the pain.

The Bottom Line: Christine d’Abo is the queen of second chance romance!! Making It, what I am assuming is the final book in the Ringside Romance series, ends the trilogy on a high note with Devan and Eli coming through tremendous pain to once again find each other. This has a bit of everything for the gay romance lover including emotional drama, tender moments, very real trials, and moments of utter happiness. All of the original Ringside men and their partners come to call in Making It and you all well know, I love it when old characters come back to play once again. There is such a sense of love, friendship, and family in this series and that is what has kept me coming back time and again for more. If this is in fact the end of the series, well done, Christine d’Abo, well done!

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Excerpt: Since Last Christmas (Book #3: Missed Connections) by Jeffe Kennedy

Since Last Chistmas E-Book Cover

This Christmas, Amy is getting what she wants. Her career in fashion design is taking off. Her boyfriend Brad is the dictionary definition of a catch. Soon he’ll buy the massive diamond that makes it official: she’s nobody’s hard luck case anymore.

Her old friend Jon ought to understand. A decade ago he was the other scholarship kid with a crap family. He got her quirks, her insecurities, her rules, her passions. Now he swears she’s not really happy, and she’s forgotten something that proves it.

When Amy throws away everything she’s worked for with one impulsive, impossible word, she’s horrified she’s proved Jon right…and strangely, secretly excited. That he knows more than the past she wants to forget — he knows what heats her up, what makes her heart race.

But remembering what she’s forgotten since last Christmas might mean breaking all the rules…

Excerpt from Since Last Christmas (Book #3: Missed Connections):

The endorphins kicked in around mile three. They usually do, give or take. Good thing, too, because the bitter wind coming off the lake in the predawn dark had been sapping my will to persevere. A lot to say, coming from the Queen of Perseverance. I really do believe that everything in life can be had if we simply stick to a goal long enough.

I might have started out with nothing, but I’d finish with having it all.

Heat flooded through me, even my frozen face warming, my muscles going long and languid, naturally induced joy hitting my bloodstream. I let out a whooping war cry of triumph, the sound bouncing back from the silent asphalt. My whole life was hitting a metaphorical mile three—all the slog of hard work finally paying off and reaching maximum happiness.

Just like the acceleration of the holiday season. With the solstice a few days away, the Chicago nights grew longer and colder, the sun coming and fading again in brief glimpses. But soon we’d round that corner and then—Christmas! New Year’s Eve! Valentine’s Day, followed by burgeoning spring and hot, lazy summer, with boating parties and barbeques.

Autumn pretty much sucks for romantic holidays, so I’d looked forward to the end of that slog. Who ever had a cozy Halloween? And don’t get me started on all that’s wrong with the glut-fest of toxic food and family that is Thanksgiving. The Christmas holidays, now, they herald the beginning of the romance season. Played correctly, the festivity of the parties starting now could coast right through Labor Day weekend.

And this year, I had plans for a romantic autumn.

I ran at a fast and easy pace. The recent downturn with Brad just before and over Thanksgiving had been like nearing the end of the first three miles of any run—clunky, sometimes stiff, occasionally chilly, and always a challenge to stick through—and, yeah, it made me think about giving up. But now we’d hit our stride, and just in time for fabulous holiday dating.

I had my outfits planned, and the right guy in position at last—the perfect date to bring to the Wildwood Academy reunion dance. Not just any date, but Brad Deffelman, who’d been shortlisted twice now for Chicago Magazine’s Most Eligible Bachelor list. Plus, Brad had invited me to his parents’ Christmas Day open house, which would be so much better than going home to my disaster of a family.

I’d spent a lot of time on Brad’s Christmas present, and it was perfect. Well, it would be, once I finished. My first couture tuxedo, custom-made for Brad’s male-model physique. For maybe the first time in my life, Christmas would be fun and romantic and, well, joyous. No weird charity gifts. No odd array of unwrapped things my dad picked up from the only open convenience store on his way home from the bar. This year, Brad would give me that perfect Tiffany diamond ring I’d had my eye on. Made me giddy just to contemplate it.

Brad had been making all the right noises—the invite to spend Christmas with his family, confirming which ring I liked, talking about our future plans—so I wasn’t jumping the gun.

This was it. I wasn’t going to tell anyone—no jinxing it!—but I’d be engaged by the new year.

I’d made reservations for a spectacularly glitzy New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl of romance. Brad liked me to take care of that kind of thing, as he trusted my taste, and he did his part by footing the bill. The outfit I’d planned included fingerless gloves in case I’d get to show off that new ring. A bit of a fashion risk—I’d put a lot of effort into making sure they didn’t look too eighties—but the final look would be worth it. Especially as it would match the tuxedo I’d painstakingly crafted for Brad to wear.

If I worked my connections, and if his mother weighed in, we might even be able to pull off an autumn wedding. Then I’d have a romantic anniversary to mitigate the fall doldrums. I could picture the invitations. Not ostentatious, but subtly stylish, a floral theme but autumnal. Maybe an ivory vellum with rust-colored accents, a stylized chrysanthemum in burgundy, a slim ribbon in a deep chocolate brown. Depending on my eventual budget, I’d go for fantastic invitations and a simpler ceremony. Stylish and intimate. It’s amazing what you can pull off if you make the decorations yourself, which I had the skills to do.

I had to have four bridesmaids—no way I could leave out any of the Fab Five—but I could make their gowns and my own, no problem. And maybe Brad’s parents would host the whole thing. I wasn’t too proud for that. My parents certainly wouldn’t, even if they could find the money. A fall wedding would round out the year nicely. Late September or early October, I would marry Brad, and my life would finally begin.

Buy links can be found here: http://www.jeffekennedy.com/missed-connections-3/

About the author and where to find her:

jeffeJeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.  Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and has been nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose, has been nominated for best fantasy romance of the year. A fifth series, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, released starting with Going Under, followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.   She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

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Cozy Mystery Week Review: Cremains of the Day (Book #1: A Tallie Graver Mystery) by Misty Simon

Cremains of the DayFor Tallulah Graver, marrying wealthy Waldo Phillips seemed like the best way out of the family business, the Graver Funeral Home. But when her marriage falls apart and Tallie is left with next to nothing, she turns to cleaning houses to make ends meet. As humbling as it is to tidy the mansions of the snobby socialites she used to call friends, at least she doesn’t have to be around dead bodies. Until . . .
She discovers one of her employers lying in a closet with a knife sticking out of her chest. This unpleasant shock seems to be part of a web of weird experiences: Tallie’s friend Gina’s shop is broken into, her ex is stun-gunned where it hurts the most, and now she’s receiving flowers from the dead woman. Granted the deliveryman is handsome, but seriously, that’s enough to cast a pall over anyone’s day. Now Tallie needs to dig deep to clean up this mess–before she finds herself in a grave situation.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating 4½/5 stars

As luck goes, Tallie Graver really has none. She married a colossal jerk, she divorced said colossal jerk, colossal jerk got nearly everything in the divorce which has left Tallie cleaning the homes of the people she once called friends in order to make ends meet. As happiness goes, Tallie Graver has a lot! Getting out of her loveless marriage was the best thing she ever did for herself, and though she’s once again living at home, working part time for her family’s funeral home, and cleaning houses for a living, Tallie has never been happier.

Tallie will be the first to admit, she wasn’t the nicest of humans while married to her ex and his money. Since the divorce, Tallie has been working hard to correct that behavior and make amends to those she wronged in the past. One of those people is the town sheriff who has no love for Tallie and even less so when she calls in a crime scene involving her sleazy ex-husband. The sheriff’s intense dislike and suspicion of Tallie only increases when, just day’s after the attack on her ex, Tallie calls in a murder in the home of one of her clients.

Damn! Can’t a newly divorced girl catch a break??

As it happens, no! With one surly, injured ex and a dead client, Tallie (and the sheriff!) feel it’s in her best interest to lay low. Trouble is, death and taxes wait for no man. Tallie already has the death, and the hot new guy who has been following her around is the tax man, and the news he has for Tallie isn’t encouraging. Though she wasn’t aware of the situation, Tallie’s ex seems to have gotten into a load of trouble with the IRS and if Tallie can’t track down his hidden funds, he isn’t the only going to be held responsible for the monster bill that will come due.

Though the trouble with her ex and the dead client feel like they shouldn’t be related, Tallie surmises they are indeed related and if she can solve one mystery, she can solve both and save her own hide. With the hot tax man by her side, Tallie begins to poke around, snoop, take things that look like evidence, and generally cause the sheriff a great deal of grief. As these things tend to go, the guilty don’t care for the innocent poking around in their business which leads Tallie down the path to ever more trouble. By the time all is said and done, Tallie has most of the town in an uproar, more than one guilty person running scared, and the sheriff regularly threatening to put her in jail. Not a bad day’s work for a house-cleaning divorcee.

The Bottom Line: You know what? I liked this book a lot!! Tallie Graver is what my granny would have called plucky and I sure appreciate that quality in a girl. Once she got out from under (literally and figuratively) her sleazy ex, Tallie decided to live her life on her terms, and that’s when Tallie Graver became a decent and interesting human being 😊 Getting involved in mystery solving wasn’t where Tallie saw her life going, but it turns out, she’s pretty good, much to the sheriff’s great displeasure. What really hooked me with this book is all the crazy; from one page to the next it’s a matter of “What fresh hell is this?” and I loved every minute of it. From the outrageous attitudes and behaviors of the wealthy to the antics of the not so wealthy and desperate, this cozy mystery has a bit of everything including a bit of romance that is sure to continue in the next installment of the series. In all, a fine start to a new series!

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