Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

normalTitle: Normal by Graeme Cameron
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Thriller
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

“The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal…and it works. Perfectly.

Then he meets the checkout girl from the 24-hour grocery. And now the plan, the hunts, the room…the others—he doesn’t need any of them anymore. He only needs her. But just as he decides to go straight, the police start to close in. He might be able to cover his tracks, except for one small problem—he still has someone trapped in his garage.

Discovering his humanity couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Review:

Narrated in first person by the nameless serial killer, Normal by Graeme Cameron is a dark and twisted novel that is refreshing, engrossing and unexpectedly, humorous. The lead protagonist is surprisingly easy to like despite his rather gruesome habit of stalking and killing innocent women but it is impossible to view him as a sympathetic character. He does eventually grows a conscience, but will he be able to leave his life of crime behind?

Right from the opening pages, luck is not on our narrator’s side as things do not go quite as planned after the murder of his latest victim. He makes an impetuous decision to kidnap a potential witness and while he is holding her captive, he makes a surprising decision to keep her alive. She is unexpectedly spunky despite her perilous situation and he finds himself rather fascinated by her fearlessness. His change in attitude is due, in part, to the fact that he has fallen head over heels for a supermarket checker. Also factoring into this unanticipated transformation is his unprecedented friendship with an intended victim that he saved from another assailant. But he still finds it difficult to completely suppress his murderous urges and his newly found scruples lead to careless mistakes that put him under the scrutiny of the local police.

Little of the protagonist’s history is revealed which makes it impossible to understand what turned him into a killer. Like most murderers, he is surprisingly ordinary in many ways and he has a sardonic sense of humor which is usually demonstrated through his witty inner monologue. But his crimes are a little too heinous to overlook and it is impossible to hope he will evade capture once he becomes a person of interest during the police investigation of one of his victims.

While Normal is a well-written story, in the beginning, it is a bit disjointed and confusing as the narrative jumps from scene to scene without clear transitions. This does finally become less often as the novel progresses and the overall plot begins to feel more cohesive. Although the storyline is unrealistic, it is interesting and very entertaining. Graeme Cameron does an excellent job keeping the reader off balance as the novel thunders to a dramatic and rather suspenseful conclusion.

Normal is an offbeat novel with quirky characters that is quite riveting.  The plot is unique, the characters are flawed and it is definitely not the typical police procedural. It is truly an unforgettable and fascinating read that I almost feel guilty admitting I liked :) .

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Filed under Contemporary, Graeme Cameron, Mira, Mystery, Normal, Rated B, Review, suspense, Thriller

Review: The Second Sister by Marie Bostwick

second sisterTitle: The Second Sister by Marie Bostwick
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 353 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick comes an emotionally rich, inspiring new novel about family, second chances–and the connections that bring women together in hope and healing. . .

Years of long workdays and little sleep as a political campaigner are about to pay off now that Lucy Toomey’s boss is entering the White House. But when her estranged older sister, Alice, unexpectedly dies, Lucy is drawn back to Nilson’s Bay, her small, close-knit, Wisconsin hometown.

An accident in her teens left Alice mentally impaired, and she was content to stay in Nilson’s Bay. Lucy, meanwhile, got out and never looked back. But now, to meet the terms of Alice’s eccentric will, Lucy has taken up temporary residence in her sister’s cottage–and begins to see the town, and Alice’s life, anew. Alice’s diverse group of friends appears to have little in common besides an interest in quilting. Yet deep affection for Alice united them and soon Lucy, too, is brought into the fold as they share problems and stories. And as she finds warmth and support in this new circle, Lucy begins to understand this will be her sister’s enduring gift–a chance to move beyond her difficult past, and find what she has long been missing. . .

Review:

A truly unforgettable journey of grace and healing, The Second Sister by Marie Bostwick is a very emotional novel of family, forgiveness and friendship. It is also a heartfelt and engaging story about making peace with the past and letting go of mistakes in order to move on and embrace the future.

Lucy Toomey has spent her entire adult life avoiding her small hometown in Wisconsin. Despite her older sister Alice’s numerous pleas to visit, she has not returned home in the eight years since her parents’ deaths. When she learns that Alice been hospitalized and is in serious condition, she drops everything to rush to her sister’s side, but unfortunately Alice passes away while Lucy is still en route. Planning to leave as soon she settles her sister’s estate, Lucy is stunned to discover that the terms of Alice’s will stipulate she live in the family home for eight weeks in order to inherit or the house will go to a local animal rescue.  She reluctantly remains in town where she eventually discovers startling truths about herself, her sister and their somewhat complicated relationship. Lucy also unexpectedly finds friendship and, quite possibly, love but will this be enough to change her mind about leaving the small close-knit community for good?

Lucy lives life at a frantic pace and she allows herself very little time to think about anything other than her demanding career. Her childhood was spent in the shadow of her older, more accomplished and outgoing sister and she could never live up to her father’s expectations. In the aftermath of the tragic accident that left Alice mentally impaired, Lucy was overcome with guilt at the events of the day and she could not wait to leave her unhappy memories behind. Although she has achieved a measure of professional success, her personal life is devoid of friendship or love. Lucy and Alice talk daily, but Lucy only pays superficial attention to her sister’s rambling middle of the night phone calls and after Alice’s death, she comes to realize how little she knew about her sister or her life.

While at first Lucy resents taking time away from her career, she slowly begins to appreciate the slower pace of life. Of course, she still plans to leave as soon as possible, but in the meantime, she enjoys getting reconnecting with old school friend Peter Swenson, his extended family and other people from her past. When she decides to make a quilt in her sister’s memory, Alice’s close friends, Rinda, Daphne and Celia, reluctantly offer their assistance, and Lucy is pleasantly surprised to discover how much she likes spending time with the three women. Despite her new found contentment, her departure date is fast approaching and Lucy clings tightly to her decision to leave. But will a shocking revelation change her plans?

The Second Sister is a poignant and thought-provoking novel that is also quite uplifting. The storyline is complex but easy to relate to and the characters are appealing and sympathetic. The setting is charming and Marie Bostwick brings the small Wisconsin town vibrantly to life. It is a very heartwarming story of reconciliation and grace that is sure to resonate with readers of who enjoy novels that are not afraid to delve into the complexities of real life relationships.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Kensington, Marie Bostwick, Rated A, Review, The Second Sister

Review: The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase

got awayTitle: The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner, this bright, funny debut from a fresh voice in fiction offers a delicious take on love, family, and what it means to build a home of one’s own.

Sarina Mahler thinks she has her life all nailed down: a growing architecture practice in Austin, Texas, and an any-day-now proposal from her loving boyfriend, Noah. She’s well on her way to having the family she’s hoped for since her mother’s death ten years ago. But with Noah on a temporary assignment abroad and retired Olympic swimmer—and former flame—Eamon Roy back in town asking her to renovate his new fixer-upper, Sarina’s life takes an unexpected turn. Eamon proves to be Sarina’s dream client, someone who instinctively trusts every one of her choices—and Sarina is reminded of all the reasons she was first drawn to him back in the day. Suddenly her carefully planned future with Noah seems a little less than perfect. And when tragedy strikes, Sarina is left reeling. With her world completely upended, she is forced to question what she truly wants in life—and in love.

Full of both humor and heartbreak, The One That Got Away is the story of one woman’s discovery that, sometimes, life is what happens when you leave the blueprints behind.

Review:

The One That Got Away is a delightfully charming debut novel by Bethany Chase. It is a sweet, funny and poignant story that I absolutely LOVED and highly recommend to fans of contemporary romances.

At long last, Sarina Mahler has her life together. Her architect business is beginning to taking off and she is almost engaged to her boyfriend of four years, Noah, who is a lawyer currently working on a project in Argentina. She is finally ready to face her roommate’s best friend Eamon Roy for the first time since he walked out her without explanation after a brief fling seven years earlier. Although she wants to limit contact with the man who broke her heart, she agrees to work for him when he needs an architect to renovate his fixer upper. Sarina is dismayed to discover she is still drawn to Eamon, but with picture perfect Noah ready to take their relationship to the next level, which man will she choose?

Sarina is a vivacious, witty thirty something who has a lot going for her. She has a great network of friends who are supportive while at the same time, they are brutally honest with her when she needs advice. Although her mom passed away years earlier, she is still very close to her stepfather. Sarina’s relationship with Noah is comfortable and safe but they are beginning to feel the strain of their yearlong separation.  Sarina is a little surprised at how easily and quickly she and Eamon pick up their friendship despite the hurt feelings she still nurses from their abrupt break up. The spend a lot more time together than she planned, but she enjoys his company too much to give up. When her relationship with Noah hits a major snag, she is torn between staying with the safe choice or risking her heart again.

In Eamon’s defense, he was young and still in college when he unceremoniously dumped Sarina. He was intensely focused on his training for the Olympics and he had some tough choices to make about his future. During the intervening years, Eamon matured, overcame a horrific accident and achieved his dream of becoming a gold medal Olympic swimmer. He is now retired and beginning the next phase of his life and he is ready to put down roots. He is rather enigmatic about what he wants from Sarina so it is understandable that she has doubts about his intentions. He tries to be patient as she sorts through her options, but Eamon also pushes her to get off the fence about what (and who) she wants.

The relationship between Eamon and Sarina is slow building but there is no denying the chemistry between them. They both respect Sarina’s relationship with Noah but Eamon and Sarina definitely enjoy one another’s company. They eventually sort out what went wrong the first time they dated but Sarina remains committed to Noah despite the doubts that are starting to creep in about her future with him. Sarina comes to a crossroads after a tragic loss and while this clarifies what she needs to do next, she still has doubts about following through with her decision. This leads to a misunderstanding that could have been avoided if she had been more honest.

The One That Got Away is an engaging novel with a wonderful cast of likable characters. Bethany Chase puts a unique and refreshing spin on a familiar plot and the resulting story is absolutely marvelous. An overall warm and witty debut that leaves me impatiently awaiting her next release!

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Bethany Chase, Contemporary, Rated A, Review, Romance, The One That Got Away

Review: Part Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates

part timeTitle: Part Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates
Copper Ridge Series Book One
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

A one-time bad girl comes home to small-town Oregon in the first in a sexy, heartfelt new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Maisey Yates…

Sadie Miller isn’t expecting any welcome-home parades on her return to Copper Ridge. Least of all from part-time rancher, full-time lawman Eli Garrett. The straight-laced, impossibly hot deputy sheriff glares at her like she’s the same teenage hoodlum who fled town ten years ago. But running from her demons has brought Sadie full circle, ready to make a commitment at last. Not to a man, but to a B and B. On Garrett land. Okay, so her plan has a tiny flaw…

Eli works too hard to let a blonde ball of trouble mess up his town. But keeping an eye on Sadie makes it tough to keep his hands off her. And if she’s so wrong for him, why does being with her feel so right?

Review:

Part Time Cowboy is the first installment in Maisey Yates’ delightful Copper Ridge series featuring the Garrett siblings. The first novel is a charming and scorching hot antagonist to lovers romance that pairs up straight-laced middle brother Eli with free spirited former bad girl Sadie Miller.

Sadie Miller gladly left the town of Copper Ridge behind ten years earlier, but running away quickly became her go to coping mechanism when life became a little too hard for her. Deciding it is finally time to put down some roots, she returns to Copper Ridge where she plans to establish a B&B. Her past immediately comes crashing back when the first person she runs into is Eli, the one person she would rather avoid. Keeping her distance from the sexy lawman is not as easy as Sadie hopes since her B&B is on the Garrett ranch and their paths frequently cross which leads to some extremely fractious interactions between them. Underlying their clashes is a simmering attraction that both are determined to ignore, but when that proves impossible, they eventually agree to a no strings fling. However, as Eli and Sadie soon discover, keeping their emotions out of their arrangement is easier said than done.

After leaving town, Sadie finally got her life on track after going to college and embarking on a career as a crisis counselor. She has had a few romances along the way, but nothing too serious and she has certainly never been in love. But, as she quickly discovers, Sadie never really left her dysfunctional past behind her and coming to Copper Ridge means facing those painful memories. She has worked very hard to keep her life as positive and upbeat as possible and Sadie uses humor, snark and sarcasm when things become a little too deep and complicated.

Due to his own dysfunctional past, Eli is über responsible and outside of his devotion to his siblings, he shies away from commitment. He is a hard worker and his full time job as a deputy and part time job helping out on the family ranch leaves him little downtime. Eli is very careful to maintain his squeaky clean image and he is always in control of every situation and his emotions.

That need for control is probably one of the main reasons that Sadie gets under his skin. His reaction to her is unpredictable and she definitely keeps him off balance. Their discussions are heated and full of sexual tension that they do their best to ignore. For about the first half of the novel, they clash with one another just about every time they are together but one very steamy kiss becomes a turning point for their relationship.  Their first sexual encounter is explosive and exposes an aspect of Eli’s personality that is completely unexpected but impossible for Sadie to resist. They agree to a friends with benefits arrangement but can Sadie and Eli keep their affair free from emotional entanglements?

Part Time Cowboy is a fun, sweet, poignant and emotional romance. Eli and Sadie are appealing protagonists, who despite their flaws, are sympathetic and likable. The storyline is engaging and while it is a little angsty, it is perfectly balanced by humor. The glimpses of Eli’s siblings are quite intriguing and will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installments in the Copper Ridge series. A marvelous novel from Maisey Yates that I absolutely loved and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Copper Ridege Series, HQN Books, Part Time Cowboy, Rated B, Review, Romance

Review: The Memory House by Linda Goodnight

memory houseTitle: The Memory House by Linda Goodnight
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Linda Goodnight welcomes you to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, and a house that’s rich with secrets and brimming with sweet possibilities

Memories of motherhood and marriage are fresh for Julia Presley—though tragedy took away both years ago. Finding comfort in the routine of running the Peach Orchard Inn, she lets the historic, mysterious place fill the voids of love and family. No more pleasure of a man’s gentle kiss. No more joy in hearing a child call her Mommy. Life is calm, unchanging…until a stranger with a young boy and soul-deep secrets shows up in her Tennessee town and disrupts the loneliness of her world.

Julia suspects there’s more to Eli Donovan’s past than his motherless son, Alex. There’s a reason he’s chasing redemption and bent on earning it with a new beginning in Honey Ridge. Offering the guarded man work renovating the inn, she glimpses someone who—like her—has a heart in need of restoration. But with the chance discovery of a dusty stack of love letters buried within the lining of an old trunk, the long-dead ghosts of a Civil War romance envelop Julia and Eli, connecting them to the inn’s violent history and challenging them both to risk facing yesterday’s darkness for a future bright with hope and healing.

Review:

The Memory House by Linda Goodnight is a heartfelt novel of redemption, forgiveness and healing. This beautifully written story has two gentle and sweet romances that take place in two different time periods, but they both tie together in the present at a renovated plantation which is now a Bed and Breakfast. It is a very charming novel with very light supernatural elements that I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend.

In the present, Julia Presley is still deeply mourning the loss of her son six years earlier, but opening the B&B with her sister Valery has given her a measure of peace. She is slowly rebuilding the life that slipped away during her deep depression after losing her son Mikey and she loves taking care the visitors that stay at the Peach Orchard Inn.  While she and Valery completed many of the renovations on their property, there is still work that needs to be in some of the outlying buildings and she agrees to newcomer Eli Donovan’s offer to complete the project at a steep discount along with room and board.

Eli and Julia are both struggling to overcome the tragedies of their respective pasts. Julia is a little further along in the healing process while Eli is just beginning to pick up the pieces of his tattered life. Both are keeping secrets but Eli’s are much more serious and could have a detrimental effect on Julia’s emotional well being and her B&B. Right away, Eli is forced to admit the reason he is town is his young son Alex and while Julia is dismayed at this revelation, she allows him to continue working for her. But it is not until unforeseen circumstances force Eli to take more responsibility for Alex that true healing begins for Eli, Alex and surprisingly, Julia.

In the past, Charlotte Reed Portland finds her life upended when Union soldiers arrive at the plantation where she lives with her husband and young son, Benjamin. She unexpected finds common ground with Captain William “Will” Gadsden as they work together nursing his wounded men. Their feelings for one another soon run much deeper than friendship but there seems to be no future for them since Charlotte is married and Will eventually returns to battle. Will and Charlotte secretly exchange letters that Julia and Eli discover during the B&B renovations and they are both captivated by the Civil War era romance that has a few parallels to the difficulties they are currently experiencing.

Although Linda Goodnight tackles some very serious topics in The Memory House, the novel is surprisingly free of angst and very uplifting. The storyline is hopeful as both Julia and Eli break free from the sorrow of their pasts while they unexpectedly find love. Their romance is sweet and while it is slow growing, this makes their relationship more believable. All in all, it is an immensely satisfying journey of healing and redemption that fans of contemporary romances are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Linda Goodnight, Rated B+, Review, Romance, The Memory House

Review: Polarity in Motion by Brenda Vicars

polarityTitle: Polarity in Motion by Brenda Vicars
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 261 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Blog Tour Company

Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Polarity Weeks just wants to live a normal life, but with a mother diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, that’s rarely easy. Her life gets exponentially more disastrous when her sixth-period history classmates start ogling a nude picture of her on the Internet. Polarity would never have struck such a shameless pose, but the photo is definitely of her, and she’s at a complete loss to explain its existence.

Child Protective Services yanks her from her home, suspecting her parents. The kids at school mock her, assuming she took it herself. And Ethan, the boy she was really starting to like, backpedals and joins the taunting chorus. Surrounded by disbelief and derision on all sides, Polarity desperately seeks the truth among her friends. Only then does she learn that everyone has dark secrets, and no one’s life is anywhere near normal.

Review:

Polarity in Motion by Brenda Vicars is a very poignant and thought-provoking story that touches on quite a few relevant social issues. Although a young adult novel, I highly recommend it to both teenagers and adults because the subject matter is so important in today’s world.

Fifteen year old Polarity Weeks’ life is anything but normal as she and her family frequently move in search of treatment for her mother’s borderline personality disorder. Her home life is a minefield as she tiptoes around her mother’s volatile mood swings and sometimes paranoid thinking. Polarity’s first few weeks at her new school have been challenging as she is bullied by the girls in her class and she tries to live down her reputation as a poetry geek. But her life truly becomes a living nightmare when a nude picture of her is posted on line and no one, not even her parents, will believe her when she insists she neither posed for nor posted the photo. Child Protective Services immediately removes Polarity from her home as they investigate her parents and instead of ending up in foster care, she goes to live with her maternal grandmother during the investigation. Although eventually Polarity is able to return home, the matter is far from resolved, and she never gives up on clearing her name or finding out who is responsible for taking the picture and posting it on line.

Polarity is a very compassionate young woman who is very mature and responsible for her age.  Despite the rather unusual situation with her mother, her parents are over protective and very involved in her life.  Her experiences with the foster care system prove to be very eye opening as she gradually becomes aware of the injustice, inequality and discrimination that occurs around her. Instead of becoming disillusioned when she learns even those closest to her do not believe in her innocence, Polarity focuses on clearing her name and she learns some very important lessons about herself and the world around her in the process.

Polarity’s relationship with her mother, Jennifer, is realistically depicted and it is occasionally quite heartbreaking. Her mother’s illness makes her view the world in black and white, and she also thinks of people (and their actions) in terms of good and evil. She can also be quite cold and cutting when her viewpoint is skewed by her illness and this leads to some very painful confrontations between her and Polarity. While Jennifer cannot always maintain objectivity with those closest to her, she is quite sympathetic to other’s suffering and she is quick to offer assistance to those in need. This dichotomy in her behavior provides a well-rounded view of both the positive and negative aspects of her illness which in turn makes her an easier character to like and more importantly, understand.

Polarity in Motion is an engrossing debut novel by Brenda Vicars. The storyline is fresh, unique and brilliantly executed. The characters are complex and three dimensional with realistic flaws and imperfections. It is an engaging young adult novel that is delightfully angst free despite the serious subject matter and I highly recommend it to readers of all ages.  

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Filed under Brenda Vicars, Contemporary, Polarity in Motion, Rated B+, Red Adept Publishing, Review, Young Adult