Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Home the Hard Way by Z.A. Maxfield

HardWayTitle: Home the Hard Way by Z.A. Maxfield
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic, M/M, Romance, BDSM, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 374 pages/Word Count: 94,100
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

Dare Buckley has come home—or at least, he’s come back to Palladian, the small town he left as a teenager. After a major lapse in judgment forced him to resign from the Seattle PD, Palladian is the only place that’ll hire him. There’s one benefit to hitting rock bottom, though: the chance to investigate the mystery of his father’s suicide.

Dare also gets to reacquaint himself with Finn Fowler, whose childhood hero worship ended in uncomfortable silence when Dare moved away. But Finn isn’t the same little kid Dare once protected. He’s grown into an attractive, enigmatic stranger who neither wants nor needs what Dare has to offer.

In fact, Dare soon realizes that Finn’s keeping secrets—his own and the town’s. And he doesn’t seem to care that Dare needs answers. The atmosphere in Palladian, like its namesake river, appears placid, but dark currents churn underneath. When danger closes in, Dare must pit his ingenuity against his heart, and find his way home the hard way.

The Review:

Home the Hard Way by Z.A. Maxfield is an intriguing and suspense filled mystery that is full of unexpected twists and turns. After a colossal error in judgment costs him his job with the Seattle PD, Dare Buckley returns to his small hometown of Palladian. Dare’s homecoming is quickly complicated by his friendship with Finn Fowler, a suspicious death and his father’s long ago suicide.

Dare and Finn lost touch when Dare left town fifteen years earlier and a lot has changed for both of them in the intervening years. Finn’s life currently centers around taking care of his Aunt Lyddie who is dying from cancer. Between his nursing duties, two jobs and his leather making business, Finn does not have time for any type of social life but he welcomes the chance to reconnect with Dare. Dare is not happy with his disgraced return to Palladian and some of the demons that led to his downfall are still plaguing him. His transition to the local police department is anything but smooth as he is faced with resentment from his fellow officers and the animosity from an old childhood nemesis. His reunion with Finn is uneasy and shrouded with unspoken secrets from their shared past.  A surprising attraction flares to life between them but a relationship seems unlikely amid all of the chaos swirling around them.

As children, Dare and Finn shared a unique but close friendship. Dare was a popular, well-liked athlete from a well-respected local family. Finn, on the other hand, was different from everyone else in just about every way. He and his mother were the target of small-town gossip and speculation and he had a difficult time living down his mother’s rather loose reputation. As the older of the two boys, Dare took on a protective role with Finn and kept him from being bullied by the other kids. Both of their childhoods were marred by the untimely deaths of Finn’s mom and Dare’s father and their friendship ended when Dare and his mother left town after his dad inexplicably committed suicide.

Now meeting on equal footing, both men have been shaped and changed by events in the intervening years. Dare is cynical, world-weary and his shining armor has definitely been tarnished by his poor decisions. Finn maintains tight control over everything around him and he keeps himself at a distance from everyone but his aunt. When Dare stumbles across Finn in a very shocking situation, the balance of their relationship is irrevocably changed. Dare is filled with numerous doubts about their future as a couple and when the case he has been working on breaks wide open, Dare realizes how little he and Finn really know one another.

Home the Hard Way is a compelling novel and Z.A. Maxfield does an excellent job keeping readers on their toes with quite a few startling plot twists. There are two separate mysteries that need unraveling and I was completely surprised by how these storylines were eventually solved. The one thing I really did not see coming is the direction that Dare and Finn’s relationship takes and while I confess to a few doubts about how they would resolve their differences, I was satisfied by how things turned out between them. All in all, it is another fabulous read by the extremely talented Z.A. Maxfield.

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Filed under BDSM, Contemporary, Erotic, Home the Hard Way, M/M, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Riptide Publishing, Romance, suspense, ZA Maxfield

Review: Lead by Kylie Scott

leadTitle: Lead by Kylie Scott
Stage Dive Series Book Three
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Comedy
Length: 256 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Stay up all night with the sexy rockers in Stage Dive, the epic New Adult series from New York Times bestselling author Kylie Scott, author of Lick and Play.

As the lead singer of Stage Dive, Jimmy is used to getting whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, whether it’s booze, drugs, or women. However, when a PR disaster serves as a wake-up call about his life and lands him in rehab, he finds himself with Lena, a new assistant to keep him out of trouble.

Lena’s not willing to take any crap from the sexy rocker and is determined to keep their relationship completely professional, despite their sizzling chemistry. But when Jimmy pushes her too far and Lena leaves, he realizes that he may just have lost the best thing that ever happened to him.

The Review:

Kylie Scott’s Stage Dive series, is, hands down, my favorite rocker series EVER! It just improves with each novel and the third installment, Lead, completely blew me away. It is an absolutely hilarious and achingly heart wrenching romance and I LOVED every single word of it.

Jimmy Ferris is the resident bad boy of Stage Dive and he has the addictions and out of control behavior to prove it. Having successfully completed another stint in rehab, Jimmy is on his last chance with his fellow band members so when he is in desperate need of yet another sober companion/personal assistant, they decide Lena Morrissey is just the woman for the job. Having recently sworn off men since her luck in the love department is abysmal, Lena pretty much gives up her personal life to keep Jimmy out of trouble, but her unexpected attraction to the sexy rocker puts their professional relationship in jeopardy.

Lena is my absolute favorite female character in the Stage Dive series. She is funny, saucy, sassy and she won’t take any crap off anyone. Not even Jimmy. No matter what he throws her way, she sets him straight and tells him like it is, or more importantly, she tells him how it is going to be. Lena’s inner dialogue is full of self-deprecating humor that is laugh out loud funny but it is also very poignant as she realizes that her feelings for Jimmy go beyond attraction. She tries to protect herself from getting hurt, but resisting Jimmy is virtually impossible.

Jimmy is closed off, brooding and so unbelievably vulnerable that it takes your breath away. He is arrogant and demanding, but with Lena pushing him, Jimmy’s rougher edges begin to smooth over. Jimmy reveals little about his demons, but with an incredible amount of patience and understanding, Lena gets him to open up about his dysfunctional past. Jimmy is slow to recognize what he feels for Lena and relationships are so far out of his comfort zone, he is at a loss at what comes next for him and Lena.

The relationship between Lena and Jimmy is slow growing and they form a somewhat uneasy friendship that Jimmy counts on to keep him on an even keel. He does not do well with change, so when Lena admits her growing attraction to him, Jimmy does everything in his power to help her get over him. Hilarity ensues but so does jealousy when Jimmy encourages Lena to get a personal life.

At this point in the story, there is an amazing amount of sexual tension between them, but Jimmy and Lena stubbornly refuse to give in to their desire. When they finally do act on their passion, their sex scenes are explosive, incendiary and scorching hot. Jimmy is no slouch when it comes to sexually satisfying Lena, but there is still room for improvement in his emotional education and just when their relationship should be turning a corner, they find themselves at another impasse.

Lead is incredibly emotional, laugh out loud funny and almost unbearably poignant at times. The characters are vibrantly developed, easy to relate to, and even when behaving badly (cough, Jimmy, cough), it is impossible not to like them. The plot is refreshing unique and watching Jimmy’s transformation from an emotionally distant and troubled rock star into a loving man willing to risk his heart is wildly entertaining and immensely gratifying. Kylie Scott continues to amaze me with this phenomenal series and I can hardly wait to read the next Stage Dive romance where it is finally Ben’s turn to find his happily ever after.

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Filed under Comedy, Contemporary, Kylie Scott, Lead, Rated A, Review, Romance, St Martin's Griffin, Stage Dive Series

Review: Mr. Right Goes Wrong by Pamela Morsi

mr rightTitle: Mr. Right Goes Wrong by Pamela Morsi
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: Mira
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

No More Mr. Nice Guy 

Like a bad-choice-making boomerang, Mazy Gulliver has returned to her mom’s tiny house in Brandt Mountain. But this time, she’s got her teenage son, Tru, in tow and no intention of messing up ever again.Mazy’s so determined to rebuild her life she hardly minds beingthe new loan collector, or even working for Tad, her ex. She’s not here to make friends—or fall in love.

Sweet, dependable Eli Latham has loved Mazy since they got pretend married in second grade. But after being burned by Mazy for two decades, Eli’s got a new strategy. Mazy likes bad boys, so a bad boy is what he’ll be. How hard can it be to act like a jerk?

Not for the first time, men are making Mazy crazy, though  she’s determined to do what’s right for her and Tru.  But breaking old habits is hard, and if she really wants things to change she’ll have to face her biggest adversary: herself.

The Review:

Mr. Right Goes Wrong by Pamela Morsi is a wonderful novel about starting over and finding love when least expected. Next door neighbors and childhood friends Mazy Gulliver and Eli Latham have had a couple of ill-fated romances in the past, but with Mazy’s sudden return, is it finally their chance for lasting happiness? Or will Mazy’s past and Eli’s doubts destroy their future together?

Moving back to her small hometown with her fourteen year old son, Tru, Mazy is determined to get her life back on track.  Unfortunately, the only person whom she can irrefutably count on to give her the job she desperately needs is her ex, Tad Driscoll. Her relief at her new beginning is tempered by the mistrust her new job as a loan collector engenders in the small town but luckily, she can count on her friendship with Eli to bolster her sometimes flagging self-confidence.

Mazy is painfully honest and refreshingly upfront about her past mistakes. There are a multitude of reasons behind her unfortunate selections when it comes to men, but she finally has a better idea of what precipitated her poor choices and she is not going to slip back into her old habits.  The first step in her new, improved life is renewing her friendship with Eli, and she is stunned at the changes in her perception of Eli. For the first time, she sees him as the sexy, attractive man he has become instead of the boy next door.

Eli has been in love with Mazy most of his life and despite how badly things ended between them years earlier, he harbors no ill will towards her. The two eagerly pick up where they left off, but this time around, Eli is not going to let Mazy slip through his fingers. After watching her fall for bad boy after bad boy, he devises what he thinks is a foolproof plan that will keep her from leaving him. Instead of being the nice, loving, thoughtful man he really is, Eli puts his harebrained scheme into motion and morphs into the insensitive, selfish, offensive boyfriend she is trying to avoid.

It is very difficult to watch the relationship between Mazy and Eli unfold. She is so hopeful that she is entering into a new phase in her life and the fact that Eli is willing to let her back in his life is an unexpected bonus. Her confusion over his conflicting behaviors is heartbreaking and I hated seeing her self-doubts return. Mazy put up with his bad behavior for far too long, but in end? It was completely worth it because it showed her how much she had truly changed from the person she used to be.

Eli is such a nice guy that he lets people take advantage of him and in the beginning, it is easy to overlook his horrendous decision. He takes some really bad advice to heart and his past experiences with Mazy also play a role in the conclusions he reaches. Some of his reasoning is well-intentioned, and he finds it very difficult to be deliberately hurtful. But things go a little too far when he begins to relish some of his hurtful actions and when his plan falls apart, I was thrilled by how Mazy handled the entire situation.

With Mr. Right Goes Wrong, Pamela Morsi delivers yet another thought-provoking and dynamic novel that is sweet, hopeful and just a little poignant. The characters are flawed and imperfect and although watching them deal with life’s harsher moments is sometimes painful, it is incredibly gratifying watching them triumph over their problems. The romance between Eli and Mazy is touching and although they endure a few rough spots, their happily ever after is definitely worth the heartache.

Mr. Right Goes Wrong is another delightful novel by one of my favorite authors that I highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Mira, Mr Right Goes Wrong, Pamela Morsi, Rated B+, Review, Romance

Review: The Dog Park by Laura Caldwell

dog parkTitle: The Dog Park by Laura Caldwell
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A couple’s best friend? 

Stylist Jessica Champlin knows it takes more than a darling goldendoodle to save a marriage. She and her ex-husband, investigative journalist Sebastian Hess, had too many irreconcilable differences for even their beloved dog, Baxter, to heal. So they’ve agreed to joint custody, and life has settled into a prickly normalcy.

But when Baxter heroically rescues a child and the video footage goes viral, Jess and Sebastian are thrown together again, and her life takes some very unexpected twists. The line of dogwear she creates becomes wildly successful, and suddenly she’s in the spotlight with everyone watching—the press, the new guy she’s seeing, Sebastian and the past she never imagined she would face again. Soon there’s only one person by her side—and it’s the person she least expected. She’s willing to open up to a new normal…just as long as Baxter approves.

The Review:

The Dog Park by Laura Caldwell is an absolutely delightful novel about an adorable dog named Baxter and his dog mom, Jessica Champlin. This sweet and light-hearted read is also a wonderful journey of self-discovery and healing for Jessica after she and Baxter unexpectedly become an overnight sensation on social media and in the press after Baxter saves a young girl’s life.

Jessica and her ex-husband Sebastian Hess adopted Baxter as a puppy in an effort to save their marriage. Although both fell madly in love with Baxter, their marriage ended in divorce and now they share joint custody of their lovable dog. After the video of Baxter’s heroic exploit goes viral, Jessica begins a wildly successful dogwear line while Baxter remains everyone’s favorite canine hero.

Since Jessica and Sebastian share custody of Baxter, they continue to see one another on a regular basis. They still have some of the same arguments that led to their divorce but when Jessica becomes involved with her new business, a lot of her animosity towards Sebastian lessens. She also begins a new romance and she is surprised by how much she enjoys her new life. But a shocking betrayal by someone close to her exposes her long hidden secrets and leads to a long overdue reconciliation with someone from her past. When another calamity strikes close to home, Jessica finds help from unexpected people in her life, but her most startling discovery is the hidden strength she finds within herself as she takes charge of a frightening situation.

The Dog Park by Laura Caldwell is an engaging novel with a charming cast of characters and a refreshingly unique storyline. While there is a bit of a romantic element, it is not a traditional romance. Instead, it focuses mainly on lead protagonist, Jessica, as she heals the wounds of her past. It is a fun, heartwarming read that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to everyone who enjoys stories with animals.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Laura Caldwell, Mira, Rated B+, Review, Romance, The Dog Park

Review: Return to Homecoming Ranch by Julia London

homecoming ranchTitle: Return to Homecoming Ranch by Julia London
Pine River Series Book Two
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Curly-haired Libby Tyler never stops smiling…until her beloved boyfriend suddenly forces her out of their home and away from his adoring kids. When she learns he dumped her for his flighty ex-wife, Libby’s sadness turns to fury—and she very publicly smashes his truck with a golf club, earning herself a trip to a mental health center for some “rest.”

Handsome, hazel-eyed deputy Sam Winters has been sober for two years. Afraid of backsliding, he lives in the mountains and keeps his distance from people. Yet he never forgot Libby, his former colleague at the sheriff’s office whose charm and cheerfulness always warmed his days.

Now Libby’s back, ignoring the townspeople’s whispers (and her ex’s restraining order) while desperately trying to make Homecoming Ranch a successful event destination. She keeps causing trouble for Sam, but he finds her smile more beautiful than ever…and his touch gives her thrills she’s never felt. Could these two lost souls mend each other’s broken hearts?

The Review:

Return to Homecoming Ranch is the second novel in Julia London’s Pine River series. This installment features another one of the Tyler sisters and it is a poignant and very heartwarming story.

Return to Homecoming Ranch opens not long after Libby Tyler’s very public breakdown where she attacked her ex-boyfriend’s truck with a golf club. A week of intensive, inpatient therapy has helped her regain her equilibrium, but she still has hopes of regaining her lost family. A recovering alcoholic, Deputy Sam Winters knows what it is like to pick up the pieces after a public fall from grace. So when Libby violates the restraining order her ex took out on her, instead of arresting her, Sam takes a softhearted approach and lets her go with a stern lecture. Libby keeps getting into trouble, Sam continues to rescue her and before long, their somewhat uneasy friendship leads to romance.

Libby is a passionate, vivacious and giving young woman but she is also impulsive, reckless and stubborn. The end of her four year relationship blindsided her but it was losing her ex’s two young kids that really broke her heart. Libby has irrational and unrealistic expectations of salvaging her relationship with the kids and nothing and no one can convince her otherwise. It is incredibly frustrating watching her self-destruct time and again and while Sam’s efforts to help her are well-intentioned, he should have let her deal with the consequences of her actions much, much sooner.

Sam works hard to maintain his sobriety and he now leads a solitary, quiet, peaceful life. He is incredibly patient with Libby and his feelings run much deeper than just friendship. Sam has serious reservations about becoming involved with Libby, and he is very upfront about what he needs from her to make things work between them. But Sam’s expectations are impossible to maintain and Libby makes a rash and impetus decision that jeopardizes their relationship.

Adding to Libby’s problems is the future of Homecoming Ranch. She and her sister Madeline are struggling to turn it into a hotspot for destination events, but they are running into numerous snags while working on their current project. Libby is also having problems with a fundraiser she is spearheading and in order to make it a success, she needs the expert assistance only her estranged sister Emma can provide and her arrival sets the stage for the next book in the Pine River series.

Return to Homecoming Ranch is a wonderful novel and Julia London deftly handles very difficult subjects with ease. Sam and Libby are well-developed, imperfect protagonists who eventually (if somewhat painfully) triumph over their personal demons. All in all, this heartfelt romance is compelling, entertaining and emotionally satisfying.

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Filed under Contemporary, Julia London, Montlake Romance, Pine River Series, Rated B, Return to Homecoming Ranch, Review, Romance