Mini-Review: Coming Home (Book #2: Texas Sisters Series) by Audrey Wick

Coming Home

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College professor Mallory Fredrick loves her job in a city that feels like home, but after a student attacks her on social media, she loses her peace of mind and confidence. When her college offers a sabbatical, she jumps at the chance to escape to her hometown in Texas.   Entrepreneur Alec O’Donnell specializes in helping people in crisis. He’s built his company and career on packing up lives as people start over. It’s just business until he meets Mallory. Something about the beautiful and fragile woman who still manages to hold on to her sense of humor affects him. As feelings develop, he realizes he’s not ready for her to move out of his life.  Can Mallory find peace, or will a second setback keep her from coming home for good?

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: When I was going through my NetGalley list, I had forgotten I read this book.  That’s not a glowing, highly recommend it kind of statement, is it?  Once I read the synopsis, the book came back quickly, and I did like it, but I didn’t find it at all special or something to highly recommend to readers.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book, other than it isn’t very different from some hundreds of other books in the genre.  When one reads as many books as I do in a year, one looks for the books, characters, and plots that just rise above all the others and really stick with you.  While the plot and characters in this book are just fine, they don’t stand out from the crowd and scream for me to push this book in the path of other readers.  If, however, you find yourself with a free afternoon and nothing on your TBR that’s jumping out, take a peek at this sweet, clean romance.

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Review: The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

Beauty QueenCharlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.  She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.  Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

Charlotte long ago made peace with the fact, she is not the beautiful twin, but the nerdy bookish twin who is cute and quirky, but not beautiful.  Charlotte’s sister, Ginny is the twin everyone wants to know, the one the boys want to date, and the girl the other pageant contestants want to beat.  With only one change left to achieve her ultimate pageant dream, Ginny has called her twin to her side for moral support as she makes her final run at the Miss American Treasure title.

Though Charlotte doesn’t agree with the whole “pageant life” her sister has carved out for herself, she also wants to support her twin.  Additionally, Charlotte really wants to spend her down time at Universal Studios and soak up all the geeky, nerdiness she can.  She’s got her nerd shirts and full week pass ready to go, and then, disaster strikes.  After what should have been a delicious cheat meal before the competition begins, Charlotte’s gorgeous twin wakes in the middle of the night in the throes of a horrifying allergic reaction that leaves her utterly distraught and unable to compete.

Good thing Ginny has a twin sister . . . .

Though Charlotte initially has no intention of stepping into her twin’s stilettos, her twin plays the one card guaranteed to hook Charlotte, the dead mom card.  With nothing left to do but give in, Charlotte tucks in an allows her far more experienced sister get her primped and primed for the Miss American Treasure preliminaries.  Charlotte is a witty, intelligent girl, but she isn’t at all certain how her wit and intelligence are going to get her through the swimsuit, short interview, and evening gown portion of the competition.  What’s more, once she begins to talk to the other contestants, even her confidence in her wit and intelligence begin to fail her.  As it happens, all the contestants are witty and intelligent women which certainly changes Charlotte’s perspective and opinion about pageants and pageant life she has long made fun of.  The deeper she gets into the competition, the more respect Charlotte has for not only the other contestants, but also for her sister, and the guiltier she feels for deceiving a group of women she has come to genuinely like.

The Bottom Line:  Let me tell you what, I completely enjoyed this book and found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion.  From the moment you understand Charlotte and Ginny are twins, you understand exactly where this story is going.  What you don’t know involves the twists and turns, the trips and dips, the awesome talent competition, and the romance that blooms amid the crazy.  What The Accidental Beauty Queen is really all about isn’t the glitz and glamour, but self-discovery, friendship and loyalty, and simply being who you are and were always meant to be.  Charlotte and Ginny both have a lot of maturing to do, and that growth happens in the span of one crazy, tumultuous week.  I found myself quite taken with this book and look forward to Teri Wilson’s next offering.

Pre-Order now for the December 4, 2018 release: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Paperback

Review, Excerpt, and Sweepstakes: Don’t Touch My Petunia (Book #2: The Holloway Girls Series) by Tara Sheets

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The Holloway women each have a special gift, passed down through generations, each one a little different. Juliette possesses a magical green thumb, which makes her job managing the local florist shop a dream. She may be a bit wild, but she knows what she wants: to save enough money to buy the shop from her boss. Then in marches Logan O’Connor, more annoyingly handsome than ever, turning all her plans upside down.  Logan hasn’t been back on Pine Cove Island since he was eighteen and broke Juliette’s teenage heart. Now it turns out he’s her boss’s nephew–and will be spending his days remodeling the shop and barking orders. At her.   For the sake of the business, Juliette will have to ignore their simmering attraction and work with Logan. But that doesn’t mean she has to make things easy for him. Because no one knows better than she that one tiny, perfectly planted bit of garden magic could uproot Logan’s own plans and keep him out of her way. And nothing would make her happier. At least that’s what she thinks . . .

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Source: NetGalley and Purchase          My Rating: 5/5 stars

The Sophomore Slump is a very real thing!  The first album comes out and you LOVE the band, the second (sophomore) album comes out and you question your life choices.  This phenomenon translates to the book world too; the first book in a series is amazing while the second book makes you a very sad panda and wondering if you can get those hours of your life back. 

With that being said . . . . .

I LOVED Don’t Touch My Petunia, the second book of Tara Sheets’ The Holloway Girls series.  There is no sophomore slump here and I am once again reminded that waiting a year between books is often worth the wait.  From the opening lines to the very last page, I was highly invested in this story, totally engaged, and wishing I didn’t have to sleep and adult so I could read it all in a single sitting. 

With the exception of her cupcake-making cousin, Juliette has no other family who truly cares about her existence.  Her mother passed away when Juliette was a child and her father simply checked out because of his grief.  Thankfully, Juliette is a Holloway and it is through her particular gift, the ability to connect with nature, that she has found contentment in her life.  Her yard is a glorious, riot of color and greenery, her back-yard leads directly into her beloved woods, and her job in the local flower shop is a haven.  In fact, Juliette’s long-term plans include buying the flower shop and enjoying her working environment for the rest of her life. 

But, as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”

Intruding on Juliette’s life and plans is none other than Logan O’Connor, the boy (now delectable man) who broke Juliette’s heart a decade ago.  With not so much as a backward glance, Logan walked out of her life, joined the military, and has returned bound and determined to ruin Juliette’s life and organizational plan.  Logan is her boss’s nephew and while the boss is away, Logan has been tasked with completely revamping the flower shop and making large construction-like changes to the entire site.  In one fell swoop, Juliette feels her life spinning out of control.  What’s more, Logan is incredibly attractive, bossy, argumentative, sexy, intelligent, yummy, and infuriating. 

With a healthy dose of denial on both their parts, Juliette and Logan try to find a way to work together.  Juliette wants her boss impressed with her ability to run the shop on her own, Logan wants to get his work done with minimal interruptions from Juliette, and neither wants to admit they are crazy attracted to the other.  Oh, and they may actually like each other.  Though she won’t admit it to Logan, Juliette unexpectedly likes the modifications he’s making to the shop, and though he won’t admit it to Juliette (or himself) Logan likes the wildness Juliette brings to his life.  With more than a few stumbling blocks, several misunderstandings, at least one capsized boat, and a tree house, Juliette and Logan have their work cut out for them if either is going to achieve their happily ever after.

The Bottom Line:  I am so excited to have gotten an advanced copy of this book as it has been a highly anticipated read for me for quite some time!  I was not disappointed 😊  This book checks off all the boxes for me: great characters, witty/funny dialogue, just enough drama to be entertaining, but not overwhelming and angsty, a good heat level for the overall read, some light paranormal bits, and most importantly, a damn good story!  For me, this is a matter of quality over quantity.  Yes, I love getting a lot of books from an author, but if they aren’t well-written then I’m going to give up.  Tara Sheets has taken the time necessary to write, edit, and produce a fine book that I was happy to wait for and I will continue to wait as this fine series develops.

Excerpt from: Don’t Touch My Petunia (Book #2: The Holloway Girls Series):

It was ten o’clock in the morning by the time Logan strolled in to work. Juliette tried to tell herself it didn’t matter; his job was his business. But that wasn’t entirely true. As the standing manager of Romeo’s Florist Shop, it was her responsibility to oversee everything that went on, which included the business of Romeo’s slow-moving, swaggering nephew.

“Nice of you to finally make it in,” she said when he came through the back door. She’d spent the morning swamped with customers and orders, and in the middle of it she’d had to deal with Logan’s lumberyard delivery all by herself.

He walked over to the coffeepot and poured himself a cup from the new machine. His face looked drawn, and there were dark shadows under his eyes.

Juliette crossed her arms and opened her mouth to speak, but Logan held up a hand.

“Before you start,” he said, “you should know that my answer to everything for the next five minutes is going to be ‘coffee.’”

“You should know that you’re late,” she tossed back. “We open at eight o’clock here.”

He raised his mug in salute and took a sip.

“The lumber company stopped by this morning at eight-thirty,” she continued, “and since you weren’t here, they started dumping all the supplies by the front walkway. And this time, the store was filled with customers.”

Logan leaned against the counter and regarded her with bloodshot eyes. He took another slow sip.

“What is wrong with you this morning?” she blurted. “You look like you drank one too many shots of tequila last night and had to crawl home on your lips.”

His mouth lifted at one corner as if he found her amusing.

“It’s not funny,” she said with growing annoyance. “You’re supposed to be here on time so you can handle all the remodel stuff.”

He closed his eyes and rubbed his face with one hand. “A friend kept me up all night.”

An image of the pretty blonde from the bonfire flashed across Juliette’s mind. She’d been wrapped around him like a human pretzel, and it hadn’t seemed to bother him.

Juliette bristled. “Look, if you want to party all night long with Suzy Sunshine, go right ahead. But you’re still expected to show up on time and get some actual work done here. The rest of us have to do our jobs. I’m sure Romeo wouldn’t be thrilled to know you were dragging in two hours late on your second day of work.”

Logan stopped with his cup halfway to his mouth. “Suzy Sunshine?”

“That girl from the barbeque.”

He frowned. “You mean Bella?”

“Whatever.”  She wouldn’t know. Because she didn’t care.

“We weren’t partying,” he said casually. “Not all night, anyway. I wasn’t up for it.”

She had the sudden urge to throw something at him. Instead, she smiled sweetly. “Stamina problems, huh? Not a shocker. It’s your second day on the job and you can’t even keep up.”

Logan set his cup on the counter with a thud, an unspoken challenge in his eyes.

All Juliette’s nerve endings went on high alert. She suddenly felt like a rabbit in plain sight of a wolf.

His gaze slid lazily down her body in a sensual caress, then back up to linger on her mouth before meeting her eyes. “I have no problems keeping up, Juliette.”  He drew her name out on his tongue like he could taste it. “I’d be happy to prove it to you, if you don’t believe me.”

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About the author and where to find her:

Tara SheetsTARA SHEETS is an award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. Her work has earned first place recognition in literary contests nationwide and her debut novel, Don’t Call Me Cupcake, won the 2016 Golden Heart® award sponsored by Romance Writers of America®. Tara began her career as an author in the Pacific Northwest, inspired by the rain and the misty mountains and the rivers of Starbucks coffee.  She now lives in the warm, wonderful South where she can stand outside with no coat on, and she finds that pretty inspiring too.  When not writing, Tara enjoys life with her book-loving family and a book-eating dog named Merlin. She is represented by Sarah Phair at Trident Media Group. 

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Spotlight: Sweet Southern Summer (Book #3: Georgia Peaches Series) by Colbie Kay and Chianti Summers

Title: Sweet Southern Summer
Series: Georgia Peaches #3
Author: Colbie Kay & Chianti Summers
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: August 24, 2018 

This summer, fireworks will explode for Cayden Fisher. 
 
Brody left his southern roots and the girl he loves for college in California, but he couldn’t stay away. He’s back and ready to get his girl, however, it won’t be as easy as he thought with another man standing in his way.
 
There’s more to Zac than what everyone sees. They all know him to be the easy going, funny guy, but they aren’t aware of the dark past that has burrowed its way deep inside. Will he ever be able to let go in order to move on? To him, Cayden only serves as a reminder of what he needs to stay far far away from, but day by day the struggle gets harder, and it’s difficult to fight his growing desire to give in to the temptation of the third sister.
 
Cayden wants Zac, but he refuses to give into her and her wicked ways. How long is a girl supposed to chase a man until she decides it’s finally time to move on? Cayden always had an easy relationship with Brody–they were friends with benefits–but she never thought of him as anything else, anything more…until now.
 
Where will her heart lie? With the man she wants, or with the man who has always wanted her?
 
In the end, who will Cayden choose?
 


Colbie Kay was born and raised in Kansas where she still resides today with her husband, kids, and their English bulldog Rubble. In 2015 she decided to give her passion of writing a go and published her first book. As an avid reader herself, Colbie loves to write her favorite genres and has so many authors that have inspired her. 
Colbie is a stay at home mom to her two wonderful kids. When she is not writing she loves to sit down with a good book and read. Loving her readers, Colbie hopes to one day meet all of you at book signings.

Chianti Summers is a military spouse, a mother, a lover of music and wine. She is also passionate about sports and that is why she pursued and obtained her degree in Sports Medicine. 

She decided to take a chance on writing in 2016. One day she would love to travel to Italy and mark it off her bucket list. Until that day comes she will continue to be taken away by reading and writing with a nice glass of wine.

 

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Mini-Review: Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black

Grave

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Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother’s legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer.   Only one person believes Valentine is innocent—Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 3½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  It took me a very long time to get through this book, in large part because of the tremendously slow start.  I didn’t want to DNF this title and am glad I stuck with it as the last third of this book really kicked and got good.  At its heart, Girl at the Grave is the story of an unfortunate young lady suffering for the sins of her elders.  If the rumors and innuendo are to be believed, Valentine’s family, most of whom are long dead, committed grave sins which have cast a long shadow Valentine is forced to walk in daily.  What’s more, the sins and secrets of the past have begun to creep into the present causing Valentine to question everything she has ever been told and believed.  As events unfold and Valentine begins to put all the pieces together, she risks everything, including her life to uncover the truth and right the wrongs of the past and the present. 

Once this book picked up speed, I didn’t want to put it down, but it took a great deal of page turning to get to that point.  Had I tried to read this book in a single go, I think it would have ended up on the DNF list because of the slow start.  However, I had hope for this read and quite like Valentine, so I wanted to give it every chance.  To that end, I often set this book aside and read something else before going back to Girl at the Grave.  My patience and hope were rewarded, and I found the unfolding of events in the last third of the book, the uncovering of the truths to be quite interesting and rather satisfying.  I quite like it when everyone, good and bad get exactly what they deserve, and this book delivered.  I would encourage readers to give this book a try, but near in mind, you’re going to have to slog through the slow to get to the good.

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Mini-Review: The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker

Shortest Way HomeAfter years of dreaming of and working toward a life more stable than the one she grew up in, Hannah is finally about to have everything she ever wanted. With a high-paying job, an apartment in Manhattan, and a boyfriend about to propose, all she and Ethan have to do is make it through the last couple of weeks of grad school, and the future they had planned will be theirs to keep.

But when they take a romantic weekend trip to Sonoma, and Hannah is spontaneously offered a marketing job at the first (and seemingly financially unstable) winery they visit and doesn’t immediately refuse, their meticulously planned forever comes crashing down around them. And then Hannah impulsively does the unthinkable–she turns down her job in New York and decides to stay in California.

Abandoning your dream job and life shouldn’t feel this good. But for Hannah, it is an eye-opening experience; and she realizes that maybe, after all her dream-chasing, she hasn’t actually been caring for herself. And this new life certainly seems like a dream come true–living in a picturesque cottage overlooking a vineyard in lush Sonoma; new friends with pasts and hopes the likes of which she’s never encountered before; and William, the handsome son of the winery owners and an aspiring film director who captures Hannah’s heart only to leave the very city she let go.

The mission to rescue the failing winery becomes a mission to rescue Hannah from the image of herself she thought she wanted. The young girl who ached to escape Iowa and leave her past behind for a glamorous life is now given the chance to come to terms with the upbringing that made her who she is.

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Source: NetGalley and Overdrive Audio/Public Library          My Rating: 2½/5 stars

 

The Bottom Line: I struggled with this book and had I not listened to it, I most certainly would have added this title to my DNF list.  With the exception of the dog, I found every major character in the book to be tremendously selfish and hard to like.  While I completely appreciate circumstances led to so many of each character’s decisions, they had choices and each often made the wrong decision and simply caused more hurt, resentment, and anger to fester.  With so many years of negative energy swirling around, it isn’t a great surprise the tone of this book is relatively depressing.  So, why didn’t I DNF this book?  Because I really liked the setting, all the information about the wine, winemaking, and the vineyard, and the steps taken to make the setting so much more than it has been for so many years.  Had the setting been populated with more likeable, sympathetic characters, I most certainly would have assigned a far higher star rating.   As this is the author’s debut novel, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.  From a technical perspective, there is nothing wrong with this book, and I think, given time, Miriam Parker will be a very good author.

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Review: A Country Wedding: Based On the Hallmark Channel Original Movie by Leigh Duncan

A Country Wedding

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Country music star Bradley Suttons is all set to marry his Hollywood actress girlfriend. There’s just one thing: he’s forgotten he’s already married.  When he was thirteen years old, he and his childhood best friend, Sarah Standor, held a makeshift wedding ceremony in his barn. Their promise? To always be there for one another. Their vows? Not exactly legally binding.  When Bradley visits the small town where he grew up, he finds Sarah running a ranch for rescue horses…and he finally finds his inspiration again, writing new music from the heart. Even as Sarah helps him prepare for his upcoming country wedding, they both begin to wonder if their past holds the key to their future.

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

Oh, Hallmark Channel, how you make me so delightfully happy with these super sweet romances!

Bradley Suttons has finally made it as a Nashville star.  After ten long years of trying, working, and singing his heart out, he is at the top and has achieved every dream he ever thought possible.  What’s more, he’s engaged to Hollywood’s hottest actress and their impending nuptials are just what they have both always wanted, a quiet, private event away from the glitz and glamour of their everyday lives.  But, before the big day Bradley needs to make a trip back home to tie up some loose ends.

Back home is Mill Town, Texas where Bradley has both the best and worst memories of his life.  Bradley lived next door to his best friend, Sarah on a matching ranch, and until the moment his parents died, Bradley couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.  Coming home isn’t the easiest thing Bradley has ever done, but within a day or two, he begins to remember just why he loved his hometown so much.  The calm, the quiet, the land, the people, everything he lacks in his new ultra-famous life and world can be found in Mill Town.  What’s more, Sarah still lives next door and she has grown into a beautiful woman.  She is kind, intelligent, caring, and so very glad to see her old friend back in town. 

Sarah is beyond pleased to have Bradley living right next door once again.  With each passing day, Bradley seems to relax a bit more and before long, he is coming over to Sarah’s every day to catch up and help her around the ranch.  Sarah’s life’s work involves caring for abandoned and sick animals, especially horses and Bradley enjoys being around her brood.  The trouble is, most of Sarah’s charges are abandoned which means their previous owners aren’t exactly paying the bills for their care.   Though she is immensely happy with Bradley and his help around the ranch, Sarah is in dire financial trouble and at risk of losing everything she holds dear.  She isn’t looking to impose on her friend or ask for his financial assistance, so Sarah keeps her woes to herself and simply enjoys the limited time she has with Bradley.

And then, Bradley has an idea . . . .

Bradley is certain he and his fiancée won’t find a place any better suited to their wedding wishes than Sarah’s barn and so, the planning begins.  With Sarah’s help and not a lot of time until the wedding date, Bradley begins to pull together the single most romantic wedding any girl could ever hope to have.  Trouble is, Bradley’s fiancé isn’t just any girl, and as the plans begin to take shape, Bradley and Sarah both realize, Bradley just may be marrying the wrong girl.

The Bottom Line:  From start to finish, this sweet romance kept me turning the pages.  Sarah is an immensely likeable character and once Bradley pulls his head out, he is such a wonderful man.  What I enjoyed most about this read is the journey Bradley must take to truly find himself and what he wants from his life.  Bradley’s journey involves facing his past, the loss of his parents, and how he must absolutely trust the people around him and close to him to be happy.  What Bradley discovers is that life isn’t about fame and fortune, but about truth, loyalty, and love.  With Sarah by his side, Bradley gets back to his roots and finds the greatest success of his life.

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Excerpts and Sweepstakes: Connected by a Kiss by Christina McKnight, Amanda Mariel, and Dawn Brower

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Connected_by_a_Kiss_front_1800x2700 (1)A Kiss At Christmastide by Christina McKnight: After a ruinous London season, Lady Pippa Godfrey has given up on the idea of true love–until a devilishly handsome stranger arrives at her Somerset estate, seeking shelter from a winter storm. Soon, she’s daring to claim a Christmas kiss with Lucas Hatfield, the Earl of Maddox, but when the storm abates, will he break her heart like all the rest?

How To Kiss A Rogue by Amanda Mariel: Lady Natalie’s betrothal is ended and frees her to pursue the man of her dreams. During a holiday party she discovers the lord she desires in attendance. So hatches a plan to snare him.

A Wallflower’s Christmas Kiss by Dawn Brower: An arranged betrothal has Lady Juliette Brooks seeking out her former childhood friend, the Duke of Kissinger to beg him to honor his long ago promise. Grayson Abbot has no desire to marry, but he always keeps his word. As they race to Scotland they rediscover the joy of friendship and a passion neither planned on.

Excerpts from Connected by a Kiss:

Excerpt from A Kiss At Christmastide:  A moment of confusion clouded her mind as the laughter dimmed and a light breeze assaulted her face—as if someone had opened a window to a gusty wind.

At her side, Pippa’s mother fanned her face. Her wrist whipped to and fro, increasing as the room went silent.

Everything froze around her but her mother’s thrashing fan.

The Duchess of Midcrest, her dear mother, who’d labored for over twenty years to rise above her merchant class upbringing, would once again be embroiled in a scandal—all because of Pippa.

“Do you wish to depart?” her mother whispered.

“I did not…” Pippa stammered. “I would never…”

“I did not believe you had, my child.” Her mother sought to soften the blow—something that society had done to the current Duchess of Midcrest a hundred times over. “However, that does not change the appearance of things, no matter what we say or do in this moment.”

Pippa lifted her chin to keep her tears from streaming down her face.

“I do not understand why,” Pippa said as she leaned in close to her mother to whisper. “Lady Natalie and I are such friends.”

“Friendship and jealously often hold hands so tightly that one cannot distinguish between the pair.”

Excerpt from How To Kiss a Rogue:  Glancing from behind the fern, her stomach dropped. “Bradford,”—She came out into the open—“What are you doing here?”

“Knightly asked me to come in first.”

She released a breath she hadn’t known she had been holding. Christian was here. “You cannot stay.”

“I must. It would be highly improper to leave you unchaperoned with a man we are not related to.” Bradford smirked, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Natalie stepped up to him, placed her hands on his shoulders, and began pushing him toward the door. “Nothing untoward will happen as long as you leave now.”

Oh, why had she failed to think of a chaperone? Now Bradford had his nose squarely in the center of her scheme and he’d surely ruin everything.

A mischievous twinkle lit his eyes and he chuckled. “Nothing untoward will occur at any rate. Knightly has no wish to ruin you.”

Natalie’s face warmed and she gave another shove. “Mind your own affairs.”

“Perhaps I should tell Mother what you are about.”

“You would not dare! You cannot. Imagine what she would do, Bradford.” Natalie dropped her hands from his shoulders and gave him her best pouty look. “What do you think I am about? You act as though I am some sully maid,” She peered at him, her blood heated with angry indignation. How dare he think she was going about, carrying on trysting with men? No matter it was exactly her intended purpose…he should not assume such from her.

“Do calm yourself. Getting your skirts in a knot will change nothing.” Bradford shook his head. “We both know what you are doing here.”

She closed her eyes for a heartbeat. He was correct, she could no more lie to him than she could herself. “I beg of you, do not say a word to anyone.”

“You are quite entertaining.” He chuckled while he walked toward the door. “I will be directly outside should Knightly require my assistance.”

“You may well be the one in need.” Natalie reached for a nearby pot and flung it toward him. The projectile missed him, crashing into the floor. “You are not entertaining in the least.”

“You had better clean that mess up or Mother is certain to discover what you’ve been getting up to without my having to tell her.” His deep chuckle only increased in volume as he disappeared from the greenhouse.

She ought to have known he was teasing her. He no more wished for their parents to know his friend was secretly meeting her than she did. In retrospect, bringing Bradford along was a good plan on Christian’s part. As much as it pained her to admit it, he would ensure no one caught them alone together. Natalie released a sigh, then smoothed her skirts before Christian entered. Her heart pounded—this was her chance.

She stood still with one hip cocked to the left as he stepped into the greenhouse and approached her. “Lord Knightly, I am pleased you came.”

“You should be equally pleased that your brother was the only one to notice your note. Are you trying to get ruined?”

She swallowed at the harshness of his tone. “On the contrary, that is why I told you not to show it to anyone. Though I must confess, I am pleased Bradford came along. He will make an excellent look out.” She did her best to offer a charming smile despite her sudden nerves.

“And why would we need someone to watch out for us?” Christian leveled his penetrating stare on her.

She reached out a trembling hand and trailed the tips of her fingers across his strong jaw. Even through her gloves she felt his warmth seeping into her—imprinting on her soul. “I want a kiss. One more passionate than the one you bestowed on Lady Pippa.”

Excerpt from A Wallflower’s Christmas Kiss: Grayson sighed. She wasn’t going to be denied anything apparently. It was too late to save her from herself. Very well, he’d deal with her and then send her on her way. He turned and sucked in a breath momentarily stunned. A silhouette of pure beauty greeted him. Her midnight tresses were wound up and bound neatly into an elegant chignon. His fingers itched to unwind it and see it flow over her luscious curves. All of this and he’d still not seen her face. When she finally turned to meet his gaze he lost all ability to breathe. Those sea-green eyes kept him riveted in place. He should stand and greet her but his body refused to function. She was the last person he expected or wanted to enter his home.

“What no words?” She raised an eyebrow. “And I thought you were noted as the witty duke amongst the ton. I must say I’m rather disappointed.”

Grayson drank in the sight of her. He wanted to remember her as she stood before him for the rest of his days. She was glorious, proud, and fearless. “Didn’t your father teach you better than to enter the lion’s den?” He lifted a brow mockingly. “You could very well get eaten alive.”

Her lips tilted at the corner. “I rather like my chances.” She moved further into the room. “After all I tamed a lion before.”

“There’s a difference between a young cub, and a full grown male, Jules,” he explained. “One is more docile and willing to cuddle. The adult wants to be petted—in other ways.” He stood up and gazed directly into her eyes. “A bite can be pleasurable or….” Grayson crossed over to her side and leaned down, whispering in her ear, “painful depending on your preference.”

Juliette took a deep breath but remained where she stood. He’d give her that much. She’d always been a stubborn girl, and apparently she’d not grown out of that trait. If she didn’t take a step back soon he’d be forced to make a choice. Either he pulled her into his arms and kissed her the way he craved or he put distance between them respecting her innocence. It was a hard decision and warred deep inside him, but he did what was best for her. Turned out that some things were ingrained. Protecting her had always been his first instinct.

“If you’re done trying to intimidate me I have something I wish to discuss with you.”

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About the author and where to find her:

christina-photoChristina McKnight is a book lover turned writer. From a young age, her mother encouraged her to tell her own stories. She’s been writing ever since.  Christin enjoys a quiet life in Northern California with her family, her wine, and lots of coffee. Oh, and her books…don’t forget her books! Most days she can be found writing, reading, or traveling the great state of California.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Kissed Off by Tellulah Darling

Kissed Off by Tellulah Darling  Genre: YA romantic comedy/adventure

She’s hell-bent on revenge. He’s desperate for adventure.  Now the only question is: does this count as a date?  Sixteen-year-old Reiko Mori’s family has clashed with the Markows in a clandestine search for the famed Lover’s Kiss Ruby, ever since their ancestors killed each other over it centuries ago in Japan.  Now, after pulling off a successful museum heist, Reiko’s finally going to be the one who finds the jewel.  Even better? She’s just arranged a study date with hot-but-sheltered sculptor Levi Green to work on their English project. Things are looking good.  Until a mysterious third party attacks Reiko and Levi, intent on stealing her clues to the ruby.  Until Reiko discovers the Lover’s Kiss is actually in Europe, an ocean away.  And until goofy, affable Levi Green turns out to be Levi Markow, mortal enemy number one.  Plan B it is: reluctantly team up with Levi to find the priceless gem before the shadowy and deadly group on the jewel’s trail finds it first.  And if history is gonna repeat itself with the kissing, running, and screwing over, see which one of them comes out on top.

Excerpt from Kissed Off:

Levi rubbed his arm, his expression wary. “Reiko Mori, I presume.”
“‘I presume?’” Reiko dropped into a fighter’s crouch. “You’re missing the British accent.”
Levi put his hands up in a pathetic imitation of defensive position. Her cat could have landed a punch through those gaps. “And you’re missing the reality where we aren’t about to have an MMA showdown.”
Reiko smirked but lowered her hands. “Because I’d wipe the floor with your ass.”
“Says Hit-Girl masquerading as the resident shy chick all these years. Nice James Bond alter ego you got going on.”
“I am shy.” She grabbed a dishtowel and whipped it at his head. It fluttered to the counter, far short of its mark.
Levi snorted.
“Being around my sworn enemies tends to knock it out of me. Besides, you’re one to talk, Artsy Boy. Had everyone fooled.” Including stupid me. She pushed him backwards out of the kitchen, shoving him again and again until his back hit the wall next to the front door.
Levi fended off her next blow. The sweep of his arm knocking her hands away left behind a familiar faint hint of rubbing alcohol. She’d watched him use it to remove clay from his hands at school many times. Could she be more pathetically tuned into this guy?
Levi held out his hand, palm up. “Hand over the locket, sweetheart. The real one this time.”
Sweetheart?” She pulled herself up to her full height. “Could you be more stereotypical bad guy?”
“He could have a mustachio to twirl,” Aviva said, from her avid spectator spot hanging over the bannister.
“True,” Reiko said.
Levi rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not the one blowing kisses before screwing people over. That a move passed down through the generations with you chicks? Think that adds weight to my family being the wronged party here, Mata Hari.”
“Mata…? Argh!” She snatched up the poker.
“Go ahead, brain me.” Levi turned out his pockets in a huff. “No ruby. Just lint. I’d hate you to pointlessly commit murder except, oh yeah. You Moris are bloodthirsty!”
“Better a bloodthirsty Mori than a cowardly, backstabbing Markow!” Reiko jabbed the poker at him.
Levi grabbed the other end, the two of them engaged in a furious tug-of-war for possession. He let go suddenly, sending Reiko staggering back a few steps
Reiko flung open the door and pointed outside. With the poker. “Get. Out.”
Levi held his ground for a minute but must have decided she meant business because he grabbed his shoes. “This isn’t over.”
“You’ll get the locket over my dead body, Lion Cub.”
“Great! Can’t wait to pry it out of your cold, rigor-mortised hands,” he snapped, and stomped out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
“Shit,” said Aviva, “this is really gonna put a crimp in your dating plans.”

 

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Siren’s Calling (The Sea King’s Daughters Series) by Piper J. Drake

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Sirens Calling CoverAmae Waters will never live up to her father’s expectations–she’s not a leader and she’s not a soldier. Rather than live with his disappointment, she’s left his realm and built a life for herself in Seattle, a mermaid blending in with humankind. Her mission? To prepare the oceans for the return of her people. But she’s not sure she’s cut out to accomplish that either.

A new predator has entered the waters of the Puget Sound, ravaging orcas and leaving their carcasses to wash ashore for humans to find. Whatever is killing them is beyond human understanding and Amae must find it before it irrevocably damages the complex balance of the ocean ecosystems.

But a greater danger lurks in the deep. Amae is done evading traps. She’ll defend her territory and prove she needn’t be a soldier to be a warrior or become the sacrifice used to end her people.

Excerpt from Siren’s Calling (The Sea King’s Daughters Series):

I tasted blood in the water.

Changing course with a flick of my tail, I swam against the fast-moving ocean current toward the source. There were no vibrations in the water to indicate the thrashing of a living thing in distress and the seas were quieter than usual. Not surprising, with this much blood carried on the currents. Predators would be drawn to it and prey would be wise to leave the area or hide.

Curious, I’d come to investigate, thinking one of the killer whale pods had taken a baleen whale. It wasn’t unheard of, though it didn’t happen often. A big kill like that would draw plenty of ocean denizens, and I hadn’t tasted whale in a long time. I wouldn’t kill one, not when I couldn’t finish consuming it myself and not when so many whale species were endangered, but I wouldn’t let it go to waste, either.

When I didn’t find anything in open water, I’d pulled myself up onto the rocky outcropping between islands and found it. The body. But it wasn’t a humpback or gray whale, not a mink or fin whale, either. It was an orca, a killer whale, and that didn’t make any kind of sense.

Before I could take a closer look, the sound of a powerful motor cut through the morning calls of seabirds. Harbor seals lifted their heads and looked around from where they lay on another rock outcropping. A lone Steller sea lion grunted and scratched his head with a huge hind flipper. He turned to stare at me and I met his gaze, unconcerned. He was a prime specimen of a bull, the largest I’d ever encountered, but he posed no threat to me.

The waves slapped against the rocks around my tail fin in a changed cadence. A boat was approaching, and with it, humans. They were probably whale watching, which meant every one of them would be on the lookout for wildlife. Most of them would have binoculars. I couldn’t let them see me in this form.

I dove back into the water, darting through forests of kelp and berating myself for lingering past dawn. There was too much light and I had to dive deep to be sure nothing on the surface caught sight of even a tail flick from me.

As far as humans were concerned, I didn’t exist. I was a myth, a fairy tale.

If they saw me, they might not even believe what they’d seen. In their dreams or after too many drinks, they might whisper, “Mermaid.”

And they’d be right.

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About the author and where to find her: 

Piper Drake

Piper J. Drake is a bestselling author of romantic suspense and edgy contemporary romance, a frequent flyer, and day job road warrior. She is often distracted by dogs, cupcakes, and random shenanigans.

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Mini-Review and Spotlight: But First, Coffee (Book #1: Love & Coffee Series) by Sarah Darlington

Title: But First, Coffee

Author: Sarah Darlington
Release Date: September 10th
Series: Love & Coffee, Book 1
She’s the boss.
I’m only a barista in her company.I really don’t give a f**k about her one way or the other.

And then there’s Doug Maddox, a man with a lot of power over me. He’s blackmailing me. Making me spy on her. I’m supposed to find her weaknesses and destroy her. But the closer I get, the more the lines between us start to blur.

She’s sweet. She’s kind. She’s sexy as hell.
Why am I the only man who see’s this?

So now I’m stuck—between keeping my sister safe against Doug, because that’s what’s really at stake here, and these feelings I can’t deny for a woman who shouldn’t mean anything to me.

I know what I have to do. I’ll destroy her.
It doesn’t matter if I have to destroy my own heart in the process.
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Source: ARC from author          My Rating: 2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  But First, Coffee is one of those books I had complete faith I would simply love.  Unfortunately, that did not come to pass for me.  Make no mistake, I stuck with it to the bitter end, but never found that one element that made me fall head over heels.  I liked the idea of this story and I even liked some of the characters, but nothing really came together to create that magic I love in books.  In fact, I found this story be rushed, and in many places, forced; the action/drama is tremendously fast with little to no lead in, and some of the relationships/connections are too farfetched to be realistic, and therefore, forced.  Ultimately, some rearranging of the backstory and a more thorough explanation of everyone’s backstory would not only slow down the pacing of the book but would also alleviate some of the forced sensation I felt throughout.

 

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**read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited 

About Sarah Darlington

Sarah Darlington, a New Adult and contemporary romance author, lives in Virginia with her husband and two children. Best known for her Kill Devil Hills Series, she’s also a former flight attendant, with a degree in school counseling, who harbors a huge passion for traveling. She’s especially set on visiting all 50 states.


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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: It Began with a Lie (Book #1: Secrets of Redemption Series) by Michele Pariza Wacek

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A fresh start. That was what Becca hoped the move from New York to Redemption, Wisconsin, would be for her troubled family—a way to get her crumbling marriage back on track, and to bond with her difficult 16-year-old stepdaughter.

But instead of a new beginning, Becca is thrust into a mysterious past she barely remembers … a past that includes complications from interacting with her teenage crush, Daniel, as well as living in her aunt’s old house (aka “The Witch House,” according to locals).

But is the house really haunted? Or is there something far more sinister out to destroy them?

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Excerpt from It Began with a Lie (Book #1: Secrets of Redemption Series):

Chrissy gave me a withering look as she furiously pounded on her iPhone. I opened my mouth to say something—I had no idea what … something to bridge the gap that yawned between us—but Mia’s voice interrupted me. “Daniel! Look who’s here! It’s Becca!”

I closed my mouth and turned to look. A police officer was standing at the counter watching Mia fill up a to-go container with coffee. Could that be Daniel? I searched the room, but only saw only a handful of people finishing up their breakfast. It had to be him.

I looked back at the cop. Broad shoulders and dark blonde hair—Daniel. Mia glanced at me and winked. I made a face back at her.

He turned. He was older of course, but yes, it was most definitely Daniel. He wouldn’t be considered traditionally handsome—not like Stefan with his almost pretty-boy looks. Daniel’s face was too rugged, with sharp cheekbones and a crooked nose. But his lips were still full and soft, and his eyes were still the same dark blue. I found myself suddenly conscious of my appearance. I hadn’t taken a shower in two days, and I was wearing an old, faded New York Giants tee shirt. I had scraped my unruly mass of reddish, blondish, brownish hair back into a messy ponytail in preparation for a full day of cleaning and organizing. But I quickly reminded myself that I was being silly. I was a married woman, sitting with my stepdaughter, and he was engaged.

Besides, he had made it more than clear years ago he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me.

“Becca,” he said coming over, his face friendly, but not exactly smiling. “Welcome back to Redemption.” It didn’t sound much like a welcome.

“Thanks,” I said, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything better to say. Instinctively, I reached up to smooth out my hair, since as usual, a few curly tendrils had escaped and hung in my face. “Not much has changed.”

He studied me, making me really wish I had taken an extra five minutes to jump in the shower and dig out a clean shirt. “Oh, plenty has changed.”

“Like you being a cop?”

He shrugged slightly. “Pays the bills.”

I half-smiled. “There’s lots of ways to pay the bills. If I remember right, you always seemed more interested in breaking the law than upholding it.”

“Like I said, things change.” He lifted his to-go coffee cup and took a swallow, dark blue eyes never leaving mine. “I take it you’re still painting then.”

I dropped my gaze to his chest, feeling a dull ache overwhelm me—the same pain I felt when I heard the name Becca. “As you said, things change.”

“Ah.” I waited for him to ask more questions, but instead, he changed the subject. “So, how long are you staying?”

I shrugged. “Not sure. We’ve actually moved here.”

His eyebrows raised slightly. “To Charlie’s house? You aren’t selling it?”

“Well, yes. Eventually. That’s the plan. But, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ll be living in it.” I sounded like an idiot. With some effort, I forced myself to stop talking. Why on earth did I share so much detail? How was this any of his business?

He looked like he was going to say something more but was interrupted by a loud snort. The two pant-suited women both scraped their chairs back as they stood up, glaring disgustedly at all of us before heading to the cash register.

“What’s with them?” Chrissy asked. I had forgotten she was there.

I shrugged, before remembering my manners and introducing Chrissy to Daniel. I made a point of gesturing with my left hand to flash my wedding ring.

His head tipped in a slight nod before looking back at me. “Will you be around later today? I’d like to stop by and talk to you.”

There was something in his expression that made me uneasy, but I purposefully kept my voice light. “What on earth for? I haven’t even unpacked yet. Am I already in trouble?”

The ends of his lips turned up in a slight smile, but no hint of warmth touched the intense look in his eyes. “Should you be in trouble?”

I let out a loud, exaggerated sigh. “Why do cops always answer a question with a question?”

“Occupational hazard. I’ll see you later.” He dipped his chin in a slight nod before walking away. I noticed he didn’t give me the slightest hint as to what he wanted to talk to me about. That sense of unease started to grow into a sense of foreboding.

Copyright © 2018 Michele PW

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About the author and where to find her:

authorMPWMichele Pariza Wacek (also known as Michele PW) taught herself to read at three years old because she so badly wanted to write fiction. As an adult, she became a professional copywriter (copywriters write promotional materials for businesses, nothing to do with protecting intellectual property or putting a copyright on something) and eventually founded a copywriting and marketing company. She grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and currently lives with her husband and dogs in the mountains of Arizona. You can reach her at MicheleParizaWacek.com. She’s published two novels, “The Stolen Twin” and “Mirror Image,” both psychological thrillers/mystery/suspense books.

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