This Heart of Mine (by Brenda Novak)

Contemporary Romance

After serving 17 years in prison for murder, all Phoenix wants is to have a relationship with the son she hasn’t seen since he was born. With that hope she returns to Whiskey Creek, the scene of the crime where the parents of the victim and her ex-boyfriend and father of her child still live. She knows there is no happy ending for someone like her –– all she wants is to be left alone, to get her life together and maybe spend a little time with her son.

When Phoenix was tried for murder, Riley was a witness for the prosecution. While she sat in the dock he hammered the nails in that left nobody in any doubt of her guilt. Now she is out and what he has been avoiding can’t be avoided any more. But it’s not long before he starts to wonder if she is the vicious murderer the whole town thinks she is.


This Heart of Mine is great contemporary romance. The Whiskey Creek series has been a little up and down for me –– some that have been mind blowingly good, others not so much. This is definitely one of the shining lights and I think it can take the title of my favorite in the series. I’d actually walked away from the series (very few series’ hold my attention for more than three or four books) but a good friend who doesn’t really like contemporary romance rated this one high and on her recommendation I picked it up.  It was worth it.

It will also work as a stand alone so no need to read the other seven just to read this.

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His First and Last (by Terri Osburn)

Contemporary Romance

The people of Ardent Springs never let Lorelei forget that she was born out of wedlock to a nameless sperm donor on a Spring Break holiday. She was vilified and bullied for her entire young life. So it’s no surprise that as soon as she turned 18 she blew off the town and burned all her bridges on the way out.

Now after being away for more than a decade she has returned, broke and with nothing to show for her time in LA. But the people of Ardent Springs have long memories and they’re not so quick to forgive the things she said when she left.

With her only allies her ex-boyfriend Spencer, the guy who refused to leave with her, and her grandmother, she needs to somehow find a place for herself. Spencer is determined that he will be that place, but with the town all but shunning her she might be forced to leave before he can convince her to stay.


 

I have so much love for Terri Osburn. She really is a great writer. This is fairly typical Contemporary Romance and it hums along without breaking any of the rules of the genre. But it’s just so well written that you hardly notice that you’ve read it all before. Something I sometimes say about poets like E.E. Cummings and Rabbie Burns is their poems feel good in your mouth. They just beg to be spoken, to be read out loud. It’s not something I would have ever expected to say about an author of Contemporary Romance but there you go. She’s a favorite author and this is probably my favorite of her books.

If I have a criticism, it’s only a small thing –– the cover, or more specifically the cover models. The characters in this book are in their early 30s.  I’m just not seeing that on the cover.

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 7.25.29 pmMany thanks to Montlake Romance and Netgalley for providing me with this ARC

Yellow, Orange, Red. What it means:  red-orange-yellow-guide

Worth the Wait (by Jamie Beck)

Contemporary Romance

When Vivi travels with her closest friend Cat to Block Island she’s expecting a relaxing holiday and a chance to catch up with Cat’s brother David, who she has loved since she was thirteen. But almost immediately she learns that David has a girlfriend and he’s brought her along.

She’s determined to salvage her pride and make the most of her time on the island. But it’s not so easy to brush off a decade of love and making matters worse, David is sending her mixed signals.


 
Worth the Wait is great. If I have a criticism it’s only one. I think there is just a little too much going on in the book. The story of Cat and her troubled relationship, as well as Jackson and Hank didn’t quite fit and were a bit of a distraction.

Having said that, I all but abandoned Contemporary Romance a year or two ago –– the genre felt dated and most of the books I was reading felt recycled, but there are a few authors right now who are delivering fresh and exciting stories and bringing me back. Jamie Beck is one of those authors.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 5.42.32 pmMany thanks to Montlake Romance and Netgalley for providing me with this ARC

Yellow, Orange, Red. What it means:  red-orange-yellow-guide

Dog Crazy (by Meg Donohue)

Women’s Fiction

When Maggie moves across the country it’s for a fresh start and to open her own practice as a grief counselor specialising in the grief of losing a beloved pet. Then her dog suddenly dies and her fresh start comes to a shuddering halt and she is crushed with anxiety. Agoraphobia, mysophobia, fear of heights and social anxiety have all worked together to make her a prisoner within her home.

Then Anya, a surly young woman meets her at the insistence of her older brother. Anya insists that her dog didn’t run away but was stolen and she is searching the streets of San Francisco for him. Maggie knows she can help Anya and that Anya desperately needs her help, but she won’t accept it unless Maggie helps her look for her dog.

Together they search, Maggie battling her anxiety every step and Anya finding the friendship she needs.


I have so much love for this book. And it’s not just that I love dogs and anyone who knows and loves dogs will see their dog in this book. It really is a book with a big heart. It’s simple. Cute. Quirky. And had me from the very beginning.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 6.07.24 pmMany Thanks to William Morrow Paperbacks and Edelweiss for providing me with this ARC.

Yellow, Orange, Red. What it means:  red-orange-yellow-guide

Love & Other Lies (by Madeline Ash)

Contemporary Romance

When Abby moved to the small coastal town of Belgulla, she wasn’t running from her shameful past, she was confronting it. The first thing she did when she arrived was tell everyone in the town what she had down and why they couldn’t trust her. Since then her life has been confined to her job as the town’s vet and a quiet, isolated life with few friends.

Rue has been travelling around Australia and is on the final leg before heading home when he arrives in Belgulla and crashes straight into Abby. Her brutal honesty somehow appeals to him so he asks her out. When she says he is too good for her, something that every woman before her has said, it’s a red rag to a bull and he decides if she wants a bad boy he’ll give her one.


 
Love & Other Lies is great. It’s a quick and easy story about a woman who genuinely has a past she can be ashamed of –– not the typical Hollywood scars you see in so much romance. There is a bit of ache, but for the most it is angst free. A lot of love for this book.

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In the Cards (by Jamie Beck)

Contemporary Romance

Lindsey has an ivy league education, a trust fund, and the perfect fiancé. That is until she discovers her fiancé had a fling with a woman he met at a bar and might have given her an STD. Heart-broken she leaves New York and rents a beach house in Malibu hoping to make some life changing decisions.

Levi is a gambler by nature who made his money by pushing his luck at the card tables in Vegas and shrewdly investing his winnings. Having a con-man for a father and being abandoned by his mother has left him with trust issues and a reluctance to form attachments.

When Lindsey moves in next door his world views are immediately challenged. She somehow manages to keep breaking down the walls he built to protect himself. Then after a motorcycle accident he finds himself depending on her more than he’s depended on anyone since his mother abandoned him.


 
I really loved this book. I was expecting a lot of angst and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t materialise. It’s contemporary romance and the story is typical in one sense but with quite an interesting take on things.

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Love Me Sweet (by Tracy Brogan)

Contemporary Romance

After her rat ex-boyfriend released a sex tape to the media, Delaney decides she needs to escape the scandal, the paparazzi, and the reality TV show about her celebrity family. She withdraws all her money, buys a beat-up old Volkswagen and heads for the middle of nowhere –– Bell Harbor, Michigan. There, she rents a ramshackle old house and settles in to ride out the scandal.

Grant is the cameraman on an adventure tv show. That is until his girlfriend decides the star of the show is better prospect than a lowly cameraman. Angrily, he quits and heads home to Bell Harbor. Only, when he arrives he finds out that his mother has rented out his house to Delaney, that Delaney paid the entire six months rent in advance, and his mother has already spent the money.

With very few options Delaney agrees to allow Grant to live in the house until he can get her money back. As the days go by their attraction to each other builds but Delaney is keeping her secrets and Grant knows it, she also knows that Grant loathes the Hollywood fakery and she is ultimate symbol of that. It’s very likely she will lose the first decent man she has known when reality comes crashing back in.


 
Love Me Sweet is fairly typical contemporary romance. There are no real surprises in here. That said, at the moment there are only two authors of contemporary romance who are must reads for me. Terri Osburn and Tracy Brogan.  For me they are the shining lights of contemporary romance and very much the next generation of writers.  The writers who are breathing new life into the genre. Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure I’d still be reading the genre.

So yeah, you’ve probably read something like this before, but Love Me Sweet still sparkles. It’s great fun and entertaining.

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Many thanks to Montlake Romance and Netgalley for providing me with this ARC

More to Give (by Terri Osburn)

Contemporary Romance

Callie is a specialist in renovating hotels. It’s her job to take a fading beauty and breath new life into it. But until now she has always had to play second fiddle, done the work and then sat back to watch someone else take the credit. When a job comes up on Anchor Island it seems like the perfect fit. A hotel that will lift her to the next level in the industry. The only thing standing in her way is her past history with the owner.

When Callie walks into his office, Sam immediately knows hiring her to manage the renovations of his hotel is a bad idea. But seeing her desperation, he gives her the job and resigns himself to avoiding her for the duration. Unfortunately for Sam, Callie is not someone to be ignored.


 

Every now and then an author comes along who revitalises a genre. They manage to bring back the excitement and give you a glimpse of where the genre is heading. Terri Osburn is one of those authors. In the past few years she has owned Contemporary Romance in my humble opinion.

More to Give is a proper CR, it follows all the rules of the genre, and it still manages to be refreshing and current. It’s one of my favorite books of the year from one of the few authors that leave me so happy I could jump.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 6.08.18 pmMany thanks to Montlake Romance and Netgalley for providing me with this ARC

Yellow, Orange, Red –– what it means: http://wp.me/P2B7b5-9l

The One Plus One (by Jojo Moyes)

Women’s Fiction

Jess is a single mother, working two jobs, and struggling to earn enough money to raise her two children. Despite her difficult circumstances she is relentlessly optimistic and honest to a fault. But when she finds £500 belonging to Ed, a company director whose house she cleans, she finds the temptation too difficult to resist and pockets the money.

Nicky was abandoned by his father and mother and despite not being related by blood finds a mother in Jess. But despite her relentless optimism, there are some things she can’t solve, and as the target of town bullies he struggles with depression and withdraws into himself.

Tanzie is a math prodigy and desperately wants to attend St Mary’s Private School where her talents will be nurtured, but despite receiving a generous scholarship money is still tight and they desperately need to find a way to make up the difference.

When Jess hears about a math olympiad with a prize of £5000 she sees an answer to their problems. She will solve Tanzie’s problem and get Nicky out of town and the bullies for a while. But before they have even left town, they are pulled over by police and she finds herself in even more hot water for driving an unregistered and uninsured car.

Then Ed steps in.

Ed is a founding director of a software company, but he has been suspended from work and is being investigated by police for insider trading. Everything he has built is crashing down around him but then he sees Jess who has nothing but still manages to be optimistic and he decides to help.

As they all cram into his Audi, along with the dog, they begin the road journey to end all road journeys.  Travelling to Scotland by back roads because Tanzie gets violently ill if the car exceeds 40mph.  As they travel they manage to forget their problems and Ed finds in this odd-ball family a place where he manages to fit in. But as their time on the road draws to its conclusion all their problems come crashing back in on them and it becomes apparent that a happy ending might not be possible for them.


There is a beautiful ache to The One Plus One. At times it makes you want to cry for this family who do everything right but still get beaten down.  It’s sad and beautiful, ultimately life affirming and just a really beautiful book.  Highly recommended.

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A Love to Call Her Own (by Marilyn Pappano)

Contemporary Romance

Swamped with grief and guilt after her husband was killed in action in Afghanistan, Jessy has coped by hitting the bottle and picking up nameless men for meaningless hook-ups. The one positive in her life is the Margarita Club, a group of women who, like her, have lost their husbands.

Dalton’s wife committed suicide after both her legs were blown off by a roadside bomb. Carrying his grief he has isolated himself on his ranch and avoided people preferring the company of his animals.

Jessy and Dalton both have baggage, they both have secrets, but together they manage to find the motivation to try to move on with their lives.


 

I have a great deal of respect for Marilyn Pappano. The issues of depression, grief, ptsd which she is exploring in this series have been attempted by other authors, but I don’t think any of them get it like she does. She gets that depression doesn’t just manifest itself in one way but in dozens of ways.

There are things in this series I am not entirely comfortable with. The author is plainly a christian and that comes through in her books, but for writing these subtle and nuanced love stories I’m more than willing to choke on my discomfort. A Love to Call Her Own is another great contemporary romance in a series that are all personal favourites.

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