Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt

Title: Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt
Mary’s Boys Series Book Two
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 112 pages/Word Count: 36,047
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

A Mary’s Boys Novella

Vahin Arora, Hamburger Mary’s sexy bartender, plays the flirtatious role so well even his closest friends—his chosen family at Mary’s—don’t realize Vahin hasn’t had a hookup in months. Then Tall, Dark, and Handsome steps through the door, and Vahin’s libido races back to life.

Being a black cop on the Denver police force is no easy job—Marlon Barton can’t imagine adding being gay to the equation. And while Marlon loves his work as an officer, his life has taken a turn for the hellish because of his new partner, the nephew of a senator.

Fleeing his partner’s company one night, Marlon stumbles into Mary’s for the first time… and wakes up with a hangover in the bartender’s bed. The one-night stand heats up into a budding romance, but not without stress as Marlon’s partner’s actions threaten Vahin’s livelihood and Marlon’s future on the force. Can Vahin and Marlon face the challenges and hold on to the love, friendship, and family they’ve found?

Review:

Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt is a charming romance that is also quite thought-provoking. This latest addition to the delightful Mary’s Boys series can easily be read as a standalone, but I also recommend the previous installment as well.

Denver police officer Marlon Barton’s legendary patience is tested to the limit by his new partner, Andrew Morris.  After barely diffusing what could have been a volatile situation, Marlon’s plans to relax with a beer at his usual hangout are thwarted when he discovers Andrew is there.  He instead stops in at Mary’s where his plans quickly take a very uncharacteristic turn after meeting bartender Vahin Arora.  Marlon’s previously uncomplicated life is turned upside down by his vengeful partner and his fledgling relationship with Vahin is soon put to the test.

Vahin and Marlon are mature characters who have both experienced prejudice based on their appearance.  Vahin came to terms with his sexuality a long time ago but he lost his family’s support in the process.  His job at Mary’s provides him with more than an income; his co-workers have become his family.  Vahin is tired of meaningless hook-ups but before he and Marlon have the chance to see where their relationship is headed, Marlon pulls a disappearing act and his partner sets his sights on Vahin.

Marlon has enough to deal with on the job due to the fact he is a person of color, so he keeps his sexuality a closely guarded secret from his fellow officers.  Before he really has the chance to figure out if he has a future with Vahin, he has to deal with the fallout from his loathsome partner’s vengeful actions. Will Vahin still be waiting for him once Marlon sorts through his complicated feelings about the effect their relationship might have on both his personal and professional lives?

With a cast of wonderful characters and a substantive plot, Vodka & Handcuffs is an engrossing romance that is realistic and quite moving.  Touching on some very topical issues with sensitivity, Brandon Witt’s newest installment in the Mary’s Boys series is an angst free love story that has plenty of depth and substance.  An absolutely outstanding read that old and new fans do not want to miss!

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Filed under Brandon Witt, Contemporary, Dreamspinner Press, M/M, Mary's Boys Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Vodka & Handcuffs

Review: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel

Title: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Lucky Girl is an unflinching exploration of beauty, self-worth, and sexual assault, from the author of the acclaimed Tease.

Rosie is a beautiful girl—and it’s always been enough. Boys crush on her, men stare at her, girls (begrudgingly) admire her. She’s lucky and she knows it.

But it’s the start of a new school year and she begins to realize that she wants to be more. Namely, she’s determined to be better to her best friend, Maddie, who’s just back from a summer program abroad having totally blossomed into her own looks. Rosie isn’t thrilled when Maddie connects with a football player who Rosie was hooking up with—but if it makes her friend happy, she’s prepared to get over it. Plus, someone even more interesting has moved to town: Alex, who became semifamous after he stopped a classmate from carrying out a shooting rampage at his old high school. Rosie is drawn to Alex in a way she’s never experienced before—and she is surprised to discover that, unlike every other guy, he seems to see more to her than her beauty.

Then at a party one night, in the midst of a devastating storm, something happens that tears apart Rosie’s life and sets her on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to face uncomfortable truths about reputation, identity, and what it means to be a true friend.

Review:

Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel is a thought-provoking young adult novel about sexual assault.

Rosie Fuller is a beautiful teenager who revels in the attention she gets from the opposite sex. While she is popular with the boys at her school, she is not exactly teeming with female friends.  After spending the summer apart from her best friend, Maddie Costello, she is shocked to discover that Maddie has transformed from a slightly nerdy awkward duckling into a beautiful swan.  Rosie is determined to be a better friend to Maddie so after learning of Maddie’s crush on popular football player (and Rosie’s summer fling) Cory Callahan, she breaks things off with Cory.  Despite her lingering jealousy, Rosie is supportive of her friend’s new romance with Cory. However, one night at a party, Cory attacks Rosie and instead of coming to her friend’s defense, Maddie blames Rosie for coming on to her boyfriend. In the aftermath, Rosie is ashamed and blames herself for Cory’s actions but will  her new friendship with transfer student Alex Goode help her see that what happened is not her fault?

Rosie is beautiful and she knows it.  She uses her looks to validate her self-worth and she seeks out attention from boys every chance she gets.  She is a party girl who sees nothing wrong with flitting from boy to boy but her relationships are as superficial as she is. While her friendship with Maddie means the world to her, Rosie is extremely jealous of her friend’s transformation and she is ill prepared for the change in the dynamic of the friendship once Maddie gains some much needed self-confidence.

Initially, Rosie is so incredibly self-centered and selfish that she is difficult to like but after the incident with Cory, she finally begins to tone down her need for male attention. She is also much more reflective as tries to understand her conflicted emotions about what happened to her. Like many girls and women, Rosie is certain that she is to blame for the attack because she dresses to noticed and loves to flirt.  She goes over the events from that night again and again and while at first she is convinced she flirted too much, she gradually begins to understand that the only person who is responsible for what happened to her is Cory.  This is just the beginning of Rosie’s transformation from self-absorbed party girl to a young woman who begins to realize that outward appearances are not the measure of a person. Repairing her friendship with Maddie is another important facet of her newfound maturity. Will Rosie take the next step in healing from her ordeal and report Cory for assaulting her?

Lucky Girl is a poignant and powerful novel that challenges the pervasive “blame the victim” attitude following a sexual assault. The long standing “she asked for it” mindset is still firmly in place and women are conditioned to automatically take the blame when they are sexually assaulted. The resulting shame and guilt in the aftermath of an unwanted sexual advance or assault are HUGE factors in a victim’s unwillingness to report an attacker.  Amanda Maciel’s portrayal of Rosie after Cory’s attempted assault is an all too accurate depiction of what a victim feels and thinks in the aftermath of such a shocking and painful  event.  In Rosie’s case, her confusion is much worse considering her previous relationship with Cory and her own behavior.  The subject matter is difficult to read, but this topic is so incredibly important that I highly recommend Lucky Girl to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Balzer + Bray, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Young Adult

Review: Making Waves by Laura Moore

Title: Making Waves by Laura Moore
Beach Lane Series Book One
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A self-made woman with a sweet, successful life discovers that even the best-laid plans are no match for unexpected passion in this brand-new series from award-winning author Laura Moore.

As the responsible daughter of an irresponsible socialite, Dakota Hale has plenty of practice catering to the whims of the rich and spoiled—and she’s turned that experience into a thriving concierge business serving the needs of the Hamptons’ wealthy elite. But anytime the drama on land gets too outrageous, Dakota finds calm surfing the Atlantic waves. But when sexy mogul Max Carr hires her, it rocks her balance in a big way.

Max works hard, but he’s never had to put any effort into winning over a woman—until now. With her stunning beauty and keen intelligence, Dakota is worth the effort. But it’s plain she has no interest in a casual fling, and that’s all Max, with his grief-stricken heart, can offer. But one fraught night changes everything, with consequences neither Dakota nor Max anticipated. Now they must navigate the rough waters of society gossip and devastating secrets that threaten their fragile relationship. If they can trust in the strength of their growing feelings, they’ll find that the dreams they’ve been chasing are close enough to embrace . . . together.

Review:

The first installment in Laura Moore’s Beach Lane series, Making Waves is an absolutely delightful romance between an über responsible concierge service business owner and a wealthy Wall Street financier.

Dakota Hale is a self-made businesswoman  whose life is nothing like that of her self-absorbed, socialite mother or her embittered and vengeful aunt.  Although she has worked hard to make her concierge service business a success, the off-season in  the Hamptons is a worrisome time for her. As a favor to a close friend, Dakota  agrees to a preliminary meeting with Max Carr who, in a strange twist of fate, is the new owner of her family’s beach cottage (mansion). She is rather stunned by her startling attraction to the sexy playboy, but Dakota does not mix business with pleasure.   Once she is finished renovating Max’s home, no one is more surprised than Dakota when she decides to throw caution to the wind and embark on a no strings fling with the sexy businessman.

Dakota is a breath of fresh air among the rich and entitled residents who make up her client list. Despite the fact her relationship with her family is incredibly dysfunctional, she is surprisingly well-adjusted with a good head on her shoulders. Dakota works hard to keep her clients happy and she is always striving to take her business to the next level. She is lucky to have a few close friends whose support is unwavering.  Dakota is extremely loyal and this includes her somewhat loathsome family.  Her mother is unbelievably self-centered and her aunt is exceedingly spiteful yet Dakota maintains her ties with them not matter how poorly they treat her.

Max is a hardworking businessman who is a bit of a player and he is very wary of the people he lets into his life. Estranged from his family, he puts in long hours at the private equity firm where he is a partner and his boss is extremely impressed with his business acumen.  In both his personal and private lives, Max goes after what he wants with single-minded focus and he is stunned when Dakota initially rebuffs his advances.

It is a tossup as to who is more surprised when Dakota changes her mind about exploring her sizzling hot attraction to Max. They are soon burning up the sheets on a regular basis and they immensely enjoy one another’s company both in bed and out.  Their time together is such a source of joy and pleasure that it makes it easy for Dakota to forget that their relationship is a casual fling and with one misstep, she knows she has to disentangle her life from Max’s.  Unexpected twists and turns provide them with the opportunity to reunite, but will Max and Dakota be willing seize their chance for happiness?

Making Waves is an engaging romance between two emotionally wounded people. The setting is lavish but Max and Dakota are both incredibly down to earth and quite appealing. Max is carrying some heavy emotional baggage and since he is unable to discuss his past, it is only a matter of time before Dakota inadvertently makes a mistake.  Fortunately, they deal with their issues fairly quickly so the drama is kept to a minimum. With plenty of internal and external conflict, Max and Dakota’s relationship is fraught with tension but readers will love watching them overcome the obstacles that pop up on their way to happily ever after. This first installment in the Beach Lane series is absolutely captivating and readers find themselves impatiently awaiting Laura Moore’s next release (fingers crossed this one will feature Lauren and the mysterious Tom Hunter!).

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Beach Lane Series, Contemporary, Laura Moore, Making Waves, Rated B+, Review, Romance

Review: Bitter Roots by C. J. Carmichael

Title: Bitter Roots by C. J. Carmichael
Bitter Root Mysteries Book One
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 206 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Bitter Roots (Book 1 of Bitter Root Mysteries)

Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

Bitter Roots is the first of three Bitter Root Mysteries.

Review:

The first installment in C. J. Carmichael’s Bitter Root Mysteries series, Bitter Roots is a fast-paced and engaging mystery.

The day after Halloween is always a busy day for vandalism reports in the Sheriff’s office. Zak Waller is not anticipating any kind of serious crime reports, so the discovery of the body of a young woman who has apparently been beaten to death is quite shocking. Even more disconcerting is the identity of the victim: twenty-two year old Riley Concurran, a young lady whom Zak knows in passing. Since she is a newcomer to the rural community of Lost Trail, MT, local Sheriff Archie Ford is certain her murderer is someone from her old life. Although Zak is content with his behind the scenes job as the dispatcher, he is frustrated by Ford’s rush to judgment so he embarks on a bit of surreptitious sleuthing. When he uncovers some startling evidence, he turns the information over to Deputy Nadine Black to look into.

On the same day Riley’s body is found, Zak is surprised to learn his old friend Tiffany “Tiff” Masterson has returned to town. Tiff left for college then moved to Seattle where she is an up and comer at an accounting firm. Unbeknownst to her friends and family, her life has undergone some upheaval and she is planning to move back to her family’s Christmas tree farm. Hoping to open her own accounting business, Tiff is unhappy to discover her mom and Aunt Marsha have hired Kenny Bombard as the new manager of the family’s business. Her first encounter with Kenny rubs her the wrong way and she grows even more suspicious of him in the coming days.

Several of Lost Trial’s residents are in the midst of personal dramas of their own and curious minds will certainly wonder whether or not these issues have any bearing on the recent murder. Zak and Tiff’s friend, Derrick Sparks and his wife Aubrey are new parents of an adopted baby boy and Tiff is shocked by the changes in her old friend. Local attorney Justin Pittman is recently married and he is very concerned about his new wife’s puzzling behavior. Tiff wonders if there is any significance to an overheard conversation between her aunt and the local doctor. Will the ongoing investigation into Riley’s murder reveal any connection to any of these well-known and respected citizens?

With plenty of twists and turns, a perplexing murder and intriguing characters, Bitter Roots is an engrossing mystery. C. J. Carmichael brilliantly keeps the killer’s identity concealed as Zak pieces together the truth about what happened to Riley. While Riley’s murder is solved, not all of the story arcs are completely wrapped up by the novel’s end. These lingering questions will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installment in the Bitter Root Mysteries series.

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Filed under Bitter Root Mysteries Series, Bitter Roots, CJ Carmichael, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Tule Publishing

Review: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea

Title: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Charlie Donlea, one of the most original new voices in suspense, returns with a haunting novel, laden with twists and high tension, about two abducted girls—one who returns, one who doesn’t—and the forensics expert searching for answers.

Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods.

A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It’s a triumphant, inspiring story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing. Nicole’s older sister Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister’s fate. Instead, the first clue to Nicole’s disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia’s morgue—that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected.

But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Review:

The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea is a fast-paced and engrossing mystery about two young women who were kidnapped the same night.  Megan McDonald managed to escape from her captor two weeks after she went missing. A year later, Nicole Cutty is still missing and the discovery of her secret boyfriend Casey Delevan’s corpse raises many intriguing questions for her sister, Dr. Livia Cutty, the forensic pathologist who performed his autopsy.

Megan has made a lot of progress recovering from her harrowing ordeal but she is still struggling to reclaim her fragmented memories of the time she spent in captivity. She has been unable to move forward with her plans to go to college and hoping to calm her mother’s concern, she reluctantly agreed to write the tell all book about her experience. With Nicole still missing, Megan continues therapy to try to remember what happened during the two weeks she was imprisoned by the kidnapper and while she is making progress, it is an slow process retrieving those lost details.

Livia is determined to understand the connection  between Nicole and Casey but her investigation is strictly off the books. She uncovers some very disturbing cases that might be linked to Megan and Nicole’s disappearances but since they occurred out of state, she is not completely certain they are connected. Livia does reach out to Megan in hopes of learning new information about the night the girls were abducted and while Megan is eager to assist, will she be able provide new details that will help Livia discover what happened to Nicole?

The storyline weaves back and forth in time and provides readers with insight into Nicole’s activities in the weeks before the abduction. As Livia soon discovers, Nicole’s behavior had dramatically transformed in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, but trying to find the reason for this change is elusive.  Equally puzzling is her relationship with the much older Casey but Livia cannot seem to discover how the two met or what drew them to one another.  The answers to these questions are quite shocking as is their horrifying obsession and how Casey and Nicole satisfy their unhealthy curiosity.

The Girl Who Was Taken is a spellbinding mystery with an unusual storyline and strong female characters. Charlie Donlea employs several red herrings, clever misdirects and offers a viable pool of suspects in an effort to keep the perpetrator’s identity hidden.  Despite these rather ingenious attempts to conceal the kidnapper’s identity, astute readers will most likely figure out who is behind the crimes well before the novel’s conclusion.  Despite accurately solving the mystery about halfway through the novel, Livia’s investigation and Megan’s continued efforts to retrieve her memories surrounding her traumatic kidnapping are quite interesting and easily kept me engaged in the unfolding story.  All in all, a very intriguing mystery that fans of the genre do not want to miss!

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Filed under Charlie Donlea, Contemporary, Kensington, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Girl Who Was Taken

Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Title: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Women’s Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge–until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents–but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals–in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country–Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

Review:

Alternating back and forth in time, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a heartwrenching fictionalized account of the horrifying real-life adoption scandal involving Georgia Tate and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

In 1939, the Foss children are unscrupulously removed from their parents by Georgia Tate who then places the children in an abusive group home until they are adopted. Twelve year old Rill is extremely protective of her younger siblings and she is determined to escape and return to their parents. While Rill makes a valiant effort to prevent her siblings from being adopted by other families, she is heartbroken as one by one, her sisters and brother disappear from the home. As luck would have it, Rill and her younger sister are adopted by the same family but she loses touches with her other siblings.

In the present, Avery Stafford returns home after her father Senator Wells Stafford is diagnosed with cancer. In the event he is unable to continue with his senatorial duties, she is being groomed to run for his seat. During an event at a local nursing home, she encounters May Crandall, who is a resident at the home. After she sees a photo that closely resembles her Grandma Judy, Avery tries to uncover the connection between her grandmother and May.

Avery has lived a privileged and somewhat sheltered life but she has blazed her own path professionally. She is engaged to a family friend and although they have yet to set a wedding date, they are well-suited. Close to her grandmother who is suffering from dementia, Avery cannot resist trying to find out the link between Judy and May. A perplexing discovery takes her to the family vacation home where she meets Trent Turner who is in possession of  documents that belong to her grandmother.  Avery’s attempts to make sense of the puzzling bits of the information she has uncovered leads to a stunning secret that has remained hidden for decades.

In 1939, Rill’s experiences with Georgia Tate and her illegal adoptions are absolutely horrendous. Rill’s chapters begin right before they are taken from their parents until she is placed with an adoptive family. Conditions at the children’s home are appalling and she and her siblings are subject to all types of abuse.  Rill is surprisingly resilient although she continues to feel extremely guilty over not being able to keep her family together.

In Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate seamlessly weaves past and present into a compelling and informative novel that is poignant yet also heartwarming. The chapters which follow Rill and her siblings after Georgia Tate wrenches them from their parents are heartbreaking but highly illuminating as they shine a much needed light on a horrendous adoption scandal.  Although these chapters are dark and the children’ experiences are heartrending, Rill is a resourceful young girl who never lets her tragic past define her.  Avery’s investigation into the link between Grandma Judy and May is  life-altering and in the aftermath of her discovery, she rethinks what she wants out of life.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a thought-provoking and captivating novel. The characters are vibrantly developed and incredibly life-like.  The storyline is impeccably researched and the chapters easily flow from one time period into the next. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this thoroughly engrossing and informative novel.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Before We Were Yours, Contemporary, Historical (30s), Historical (40s), Lisa Wingate, Rated A+, Recommended Read, Review, Women's Fiction