Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont

boy i loveTitle: The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 288
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

When the boy you love asks you to keep his greatest secret, do you? A thought-provoking, achingly complex novel about prejudice and the many meanings of love from Nina de Gramont, author of Meet Me at the River, which Kirkus Reviews called a “must-read.”

Fifteen-year-old Wren has been content to stay in her best friend Allie’s shadow. It doesn’t bother her that Ally gets the cutest guys, the cutest clothes, and even a modeling gig—Wren is happy hanging with the horses on her family’s farm and avoiding the jealousy of other girls. But when Tim, the most intriguing guy in school, starts hanging out with Ally and Wren, jealousy is unavoidable, but not the kind Wren expects. Because even though Ally is wayyy into him and Wren hasn’t flirted, not one little bit, it becomes increasingly clear that Tim prefers Wren’s company above anyone else’s.

Tim’s unexpected devotion comes at the exact time Wren’s home life is about to be turned upside down. Her parents have just found out that the family horse farm is on land that was once a slave plantation and are struggling with whether to sell it. Wren aches at the thought of losing her horses and leaving town, but at least there is Tim…always a gentleman on their dates. Such a gentleman. Too much of a gentleman, even, and Wren begins to wish he’d be a wee bit less gentlemanly. And as Tim’s church becomes actively homophobic, his pressuring parents don’t understand why he won’t help “spread the word,” and he’s now a wreck. Then he tells Wren his biggest secret, and Wren must decide what she’ll really do for love.

The Review:

The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont is a thought-provoking novel of friendship that touches on a number of relevant social issues. In many ways, it is a typical coming of age story with all of the usual teenage angst and drama. However, through the adroit first person narration of sixteen year old Wren Piner, this ordinary novel becomes an extraordinary tale of friendship and courage that is heartfelt and compelling.

Wren has been best friends with Allie Hackett for most of their lives, but their transition to a new school suddenly strains their close bond. Wren has been content to live in the shadow of her beautiful and popular friend, but when surprising events put Wren in the limelight, she is stunned by Allie’s unhappy reaction. But it is Allie’s jealousy over Wren’s new friendship with Tim Greenlaw that drives a wedge between the girls and they begin to drift apart. While Wren’s feelings for Tim take an unexpectedly romantic turn, he divulges a closely held secret that ultimately brings them closer together.

Wren is very comfortable in her skin and she has a surprising amount of confidence for a teenager. She has a strong moral compass, she stands up for what she believes in and she does not hesitate to voice her opinions. Wren is kind, compassionate and steadfastly loyal with an admirable capacity for forgiveness.  She is dismayed by the situation with Allie, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, she seizes the opportunity to seek out her own interests. Wren is very honest with herself about her own bouts of jealousy and the hopelessness of unrequited love but she never lets either get in the way of her friendships.

Allie is self-centered and since she has had very little disappointment in her life, she is stunned when things don’t go her way. She is unreasonable in her expectations where Tim is concerned and her immaturity over his relationship with Wren leads to the disintegration of their friendship. Allie rebuffs Wren’s attempts to smooth over their disagreement and she begins to make self-destructive decisions.

Tim is an all American boy who is much admired by his peers. Popular and well-liked, this new school year marks a change in his life as he gives up sports to explore his interest in theater. His growing distress over a change is his church’s policy is the driving force in confessing both his secret and the conflicting feelings that go with it. Tim takes comfort in Wren’s easy acceptance of his admission and their friendship easily weathers the difficulties they eventually face.

There are really no surprises about what is going to happen in The Boy I Love. The book summary pretty much lays out the storyline, but the execution of the plot and the depth of the characters are what makes it an outstanding and unpredictable read. Nina de Gramont introduces sensitive topics in a straightforward manner and the characters reactions to the various situations are realistic. While the novel’s target audience is teenagers, I highly recommend The Boy I Love readers of all ages.  It is a meaningful novel with a powerful message of love and acceptance that everyone can relate to.

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Filed under Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Contemporary, Nina de Gramont, Rated A, Review, The Boy I Love, Young Adult

Review: Sweet on You by Laura Drake

on youTitle: Sweet on You by Laura Drake
Sweet On a Cowboy Series Book Three
Publisher:Hachette Book Group/Grand Central Publishing
Imprint: Forever
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A Love as Bold as a Texas Sunset . . .

Ex-army medic Katya Smith has always healed other people’s pain. Now she has to deal with her own. Taking a job as an athletic trainer on the Pro Bull Riding circuit seems like the perfect escape from her grief-except Katya doesn’t know anything about bulls, and even less about the tough men who ride them. She doesn’t expect to fall for the sport, or for one tantalizing cowboy who tumbles her defenses.

For rodeo champion Cam Cahill, fifteen years of bucking bulls have taken their toll on his body. Before he retires, he wants a final chance at the world title-and he doesn’t need some New Age gypsy telling him how to do his job. But when the stunning trainer with the magical hands repairs more than his worn muscles, everything changes. Soon Cam finds himself trying to persuade Katya to forgive her past so she can build a future . . . with him.

The Review:

Sweet on You, the third installment in Laura Drake’s divine Sweet on a Cowboy series, is wonderful novel about healing, new beginnings and of course, love.   The professional bull riding circuit is the perfect setting for this heartwarming romance between an aging bull rider and an emotionally wounded Army medic as they both face uncertain futures.

Katya Smith finds herself in unfamiliar territory when she takes a job with the sports medicine team for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Katya might not understand the sport, lingo or lifestyle, but she does recognize a spoiled athlete when she sees one, and PBR rider Cam Cahill certainly appears to be no different from the other jocks she has worked with in the past. Katya does not make the best first impression on Cam either but since they have to work together week after week, they agree to put aside their animosity. Their mutual attraction leads to an unlikely romance, but will Katya’s plans for the future ruin their chance at happiness?

Katya is a warm, compassionate and caring woman and watching her struggle to overcome her PTSD is very heartrending. She is very loyal to the “family” she has created with her fellow soldiers and while this is understandable, it also causes a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to her future. In the beginning, she sees her job with the PBR as a means to an end, and she keeps both an emotional and physical distance from the cowboys on tour. It is not until Katya wants to learn more about the sport and the cowboy way of life that she takes a personal interest in the bull riders she is helping.

As a fifteen year veteran bull rider, Cam’s love of the sport has not diminished, but but his numerous injuries have begun to take a toll both in and out of the arena. Knowing this is most likely his last season, he has been trying to figure out what comes next, but so far, nothing he has considered really appeals to him. He spends a lot of time in sports medicine in an effort to stay healthy and he is surprised by his interest in Katya. Cam’s first few meetings with her are a bit rocky and although romance is the last thing on either of their minds, they begin dating. While they both agree that they are not interested in a serious or long lasting commitment, their feelings for another are anything but casual. But as both Katya and Cam soon discover, they are not exactly on the same page when it comes to their future.

One of the most appealing aspects of Sweet on You is how easily and vibrantly Laura Drake brings the world of Professional Bull Riding to life. Newcomers to the sport will have no difficulty understanding the grueling travel schedule or grasping how truly dangerous an eight second ride can be. She also provides incredible insight into what motivates the riders to participate in such an extreme sport and how reluctant they are to sit on the sidelines despite their injuries. The pulse-pounding excitement of attending live events leaps off the pages and perfectly illustrates why fans are drawn to the sport.

With Sweet on You, Laura Drake has once again written an emotionally compelling novel with complex and sympathetic characters.   True to life issues such as PTSD and survivor’s guilt are handled with sensitivity and the healing process is realistically depicted. While Cam’s issues are less serious, they are believable and easy to relate to.   The romance between Cam and Katya is sweet yet sexy and grows naturally over the course of the story. The ending is perfect; it is a little dramatic but very heartwarming.

Sweet on You is an absolutely delightful addition to the Sweet on a Cowboy series that old and new fans are going to love. It can be read as a standalone story, but I highly recommend this entire series to readers who enjoys contemporary Western romances.

Please click HERE for my reviews of the other books in the series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Forever, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, Laura Drake, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Sweet on a Cowboy Series, Sweet on You

Review: Long, Hot Texas Summer by Carolyn Brown

long hotTitle: Long, Hot Texas Summer by Carolyn Brown
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 249 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Author

Summary:

A sassy redhead with an axe to grind…

After catching her husband kissing another woman in the barn, Loretta Sullivan Bailey left Lonesome Canyon Ranch and swore she’d never come back. But when her daughter threatens to drop out of college to become a rancher’s wife, Loretta refuses to let her baby make the same mistake she did. She returns to the ranch, determined to get her daughter back in school by the summer’s end…and resolute on ignoring her feelings for her ex-husband.

A bullheaded but oh so sexy cowboy…

A cowboy from his hat to his boots, ruggedly handsome rancher Jackson Bailey is none too pleased that his feisty—and gorgeous—ex-wife has suddenly shown up seventeen years after their divorce. But despite all their fighting and fussing, the two stubborn former lovers soon discover that old flames burn the hottest. Can they finally put aside their differences and find happiness together…forever?

The Review:

Long, Hot Texas Summer is a very sweet and sassy second chance at love romance by Carolyn Brown. Set in beautiful Palo Duro Canyon, TX, it is a completely charming and captivating love story between a long divorced couple who discover they still have feelings for one another seventeen years after their marriage ended.

Loretta and Jackson Bailey are childhood sweethearts who married young and settled on his family’s ranch to raise their daughter Nona. However, their idyllic marriage ended a few years later after Nona caught Jackson in a compromising situation. Loretta’s plan to never return to Texas comes to an abrupt end when Nona announces she is dropping out of college and staying on the ranch with the cowboy who has stolen her heart. Determined to change her daughter’s mind, Loretta packs her bags and shows up unannounced at the ranch where she is planning to stay until she convinces Nona to change her mind. Loretta’s got her work cut out for her convincing Nona to go back to school, but pretty soon, the biggest problem she’s facing is her unexpected (and unwanted) attraction to Jackson.

Loretta is a feisty woman and given how stubborn she is, it is hard to believe that she walked away from Jackson without a fight. The reasons for her decision are multi-faceted and it takes a lot of introspection before she can figure out the underlying reasons for her long ago choices.

Jackson fully accepts his share of the blame in their break up and until Loretta’s return, he has not delved too deeply into what precipitated his foolish actions so long ago. Like Loretta, it takes a lot of reflection to understand why he so easily let her go.

Jackson enjoys having Loretta back in his life and he gently teases, coaxes and annoys her while trying to tempt her back into his bed. Loretta is surprised by how easily she slips back into the day to day operations on the ranch and pretty soon, her animosity towards Jackson begins to diminish. As Loretta and Jackson work together, they begin to reminisce about the good times they shared, but more importantly, they have a long overdue, honest discussion about what led to their break-up. As they lay the ghosts of their past to rest, Loretta and Jackson decide to explore their passion for one another, but does this mean they have a chance for a future together?

Long, Hot Texas Summer is a warm and inviting story with a fabulous cast of lovable characters and a realistic storyline. The various conflicts are credible and the resolution of the various story arcs is believable and delightfully angst free. Another down-to-earth and fun-filled romance by Carolyn Brown that I highly recommend.

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Filed under Carolyn Brown, Contemporary, Long Hot Texas Summer, Montlake Romance, Rated B+, Review, Romance

Review: Double Up by Vanessa North

double upTitle: Double Up by Vanessa North
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic, M/M, Romance
Length: 139 pages/Word Count: 37,000
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

Knowing he’s loved can make any man fly.

Fifteen years ago, Ben Warren was a wakeboarding champion: king of big air, ballsy tricks, and boned grabs. Until a career-ending injury left him broken in ways he still has no hope of fixing. Now he takes his thrills where he can get them, and tries not to let life hurt too much.

Then Davis Fox arrives in Ben’s sporting goods store with a plan to get in touch with his estranged brother by competing in the annual wakeboarding double-up contest. The catch? He’s never ridden before. It’s crazy, but Ben’s a sucker for the guy’s sob story—and for his dimples, too—so he agrees to coach Davis.

Davis is everything Ben isn’t: successful, confident, and in love with life. And he wants Ben to love life—and him—too. But before Ben can embrace a future with Davis, he needs to remember how to hope.

The Review:

Double Up by Vanessa North is a sweet and sexy romance that is fast-paced and engaging. It is an absolutely delightful love story between a former wakeboarding champion and his wealthy, yet down to earth, student.

Ben Warren’s wakeboarding career was cut short after a catastrophic injury while he was at the peak of his career. Now forty, he remains involved with the sport through his job at a sporting goods store where he also teaches the sport he still passionately loves. Although he has a few reservations, he agrees to coach Davis “Dave” Fox, who is hoping to use a local wakeboarding competition to reconnect with his estranged younger brother. A surprising attraction between Ben and Dave leads to an unexpected romance but Ben’s unresolved past threatens to derail their budding relationship.

Ben and Dave are wonderful protagonists who come from completely different backgrounds. Ben is ten years older than Dave but he is definitely the less mature of the two. Until he meets Dave, Ben does not do serious relationships and he is not very introspective. He is someone that pretty much lives in the here and now and he lets his fears continue to keep him from making a decision that could lead to a better quality of life. Although Ben is honest with Dave about most of his past, the things he does not disclose are what eventually come between them.

Despite a few initial misunderstandings, Dave and Ben’s relationship progresses pretty quickly. They do not hesitate to act on their mutual desire, but their relationship is anything but casual. Dave is relatively laidback and easygoing, but in the bedroom, he is the one firmly in control. Although Ben is a little uneasy with Ben’s dominance, it also turns him on and their resulting sex scenes are highly erotic and scorching hot.

Double Up is a wonderful romance with a great cast of likable characters. The conflict between the protagonist is believable and it is resolved realistically with minimal angst. The wakeboarding element of the story is unique and Vanessa North does an excellent job describing the different aspects of the sport without overwhelming the storyline. All in all, Double Up is an engrossing and enjoyable read with well-developed characters, a compelling plot and incredibly steamy lovemaking that fans of the genre are going to LOVE.

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Filed under Contemporary, Double Up, Erotic, M/M, Rated B, Review, Riptide Publishing, Romance, Vanessa North

Review: Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

heroesTitle: Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips is back with a delightful novel filled with her sassy wit and dazzling charm

Deepest winter.
An isolated island off the coast of Maine.
A man. A woman.
Puppets. (Yes, puppets . . .)
And . . .
A mysterious house looming over the sea . . .

He’s a reclusive writer whose imagination creates chilling horror novels. She’s a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids’ puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill his characters with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill an audience with laughs. But she’s not laughing now.

Annie Hewitt has arrived on Peregrine Island in the middle of a snowstorm and at the end of her resources. She’s broke, dispirited, but not quite ready to give up. Her red suitcases hold the puppets she uses to make her living: sensible Dilly, spunky Scamp, and Leo, the baddest of bad guys. Her puppets, the romantic novels she loves, and a little bit of courage are all she has left.

Annie couldn’t be more ill prepared for what she finds when she reaches Moonraker Cottage or for the man who dwells in Harp House, the mysterious mansion that hovers above the cottage. When she was a teenager, he betrayed her in a way she can never forget or forgive. Now they’re trapped together on a frozen island along with a lonely widow, a mute little girl, and townspeople who don’t know how to mind their own business.

Is he the villain she remembers, or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.

It’s going to be a long, hot winter.

The Review:

Susan Elizabeth Phillips puts a unique contemporary spin on the gothic horror genre in her latest release, Heroes Are My Weakness. Part mystery, part romance, this enthralling novel opens with Annie Hewitt’s return to Peregrine Island, where she immediately crosses paths with her teenage crush, Theo Harp. Unsettled by the memories of a long ago summer when their romance abruptly ended with an attempt on her life, Annie tries to keep her distance Theo. However the two join forces to uncover the identity of the person responsible for trying to force Annie off the island.

Annie is a plucky and down on her luck heroine who is very conflicted about her return to Peregrine Island. Although she is haunted by memories of that fateful summer, she has little choice but to stay in the cottage near Theo’s estate while she searches for the valuable legacy bequeathed to her by her late mother.  She quickly becomes entangled in the lives of Theo’s housekeeper, Jaycie and her troubled four year old daughter Livia. As she falls victim to malicious acts that have taken a decidedly dangerous turn, Annie’s suspicions come very close to costing her a treasured friendship.

Theo has a dark and brooding presence with a seemingly sinister past. With those long ago memories of their time on the island still fresh in Annie’s mind, she finds it impossible to trust him. As she learns more information about a recent tragedy in his life, she is sympathetic but wary when he strikes a deal with her that puts them in closer contact than either is comfortable with. Annie is soon confused when the disturbed boy she remembers is nothing like the kind, considerate man he has become. Once they put aside their differences, their smoldering attraction flames out of control, but is there any chance of a future for this mismatched couple?

The isolated island location gives the novel an eerie feel that only intensifies once it becomes apparent someone is trying to force Annie into leaving. However as Theo and Annie’s relationship becomes less antagonistic, the overall story gradually lightens up. As their encounters become less hostile, the two exchange witty banter and their discussions gradually become more personal. Their growing closeness is enhanced by their passionate lovemaking, but Annie continues to keep an emotional distance from Theo.

Heroes Are My Weakness is an absolutely riveting novel. The characters are multi-faceted with interesting quirks and insecurities. The storyline is well-developed, fascinating and brilliantly executed. With plenty of secrets to uncover and intriguing mysteries to solve, Heroes Are My Weakness is not the typical Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ novel but that is what makes it such a wonderful reading experience. Warm and witty with a dash of suspense and romance, it is a lovely story that old and new fans are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heroes Are My Weakness, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, William Morrow