Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

within wallsTitle: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Supernatural, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Length: 464 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In her all-new supernatural thriller, bestselling indie horror author Ania Ahlborn asks: How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

Review:

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn is an absolutely mesmerizing and downright spooky novel with supernatural elements. Part mystery, part ghost story, this story is incredibly fast paced with a unique storyline that has horror/suspense/paranormal aspects that fans of psychological thrillers will love.

Lucas Graham is a true crime author who desperately needs a best-seller that will revive his stalled career and hopefully save his failing marriage. When he receives a letter from convicted murderer and cult leader Jeffrey Halcomb offering him the exclusive story about the murder/suicides of ten of his followers, Lucas does not think twice before agreeing to Halcomb’s terms. Lucas, along with his twelve year old daughter Jeanie, pack up and move across country to live in the house where the infamous deaths occurred thirty years earlier. Ghostly apparitions, unexplained sounds and eerie sightings begin immediately after their arrival and soon both Jeanie and Lucas experience extreme changes in their personality. Could there be a rational explanation for these bizarre occurrences? Or is the reason far more sinister than either Jeanie or Lucas could possibly imagine?

Lucas is on a tight deadline for his interviews with Halcomb and he immediately immerses himself in his writing project. After he runs into a dead end, he considers packing up and returning to New York, but surprisingly, Jeanie tries to talk him into staying. When a neighbor provides him with invaluable information about Halcomb and the other cult members, Lucas decides to take the book in a new direction. His once close relationship with Jeanie soon begins to suffer when Lucas becomes obsessed with the cult leader and the deaths of his followers.

Jeanie is also fascinated by the history of the house and her research leads to a surprising adulation of Jeffrey Halcomb. She is angry with Lucas for breaking his promises to her and her resentment over his neglect is relieved by her friendship with their new neighbor, Echo. Jeanie’s avid interest in the occult takes a shocking turn after Echo confides stunning information that bolsters Jeanie’s growing fixation with Halcomb. This leaves Jeanie susceptible to manipulation that could have devastating consequences.

The events from thirty years ago are exposed through a series of flashbacks that provide vital information about Halcomb and his followers. The months leading up to the mass suicides/murders are meticulously detailed and reveal how the charismatic leader exploits the weaknesses of those living on the fringes of society. These recollections show how the cult ingratiates themselves with Audra Snow, an emotionally fragile young woman who is estranged from her family. She invites them into her home and over the course of several months, she becomes a believer of their twisted ideology.  The final months and days leading up to the murder/suicides are particularly poignant and it is absolutely heartbreaking when Audra’s experiences with the cult are fully revealed.

Within These Walls is a suspense laden novel that is quite riveting. Ania Ahlborn expertly combines supernatural elements with an intriguing mystery and the resulting story is a spine tingling psychological thriller that thunders to a jaw-dropping and completely unexpected conclusion.

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Filed under Ania Ahlborn, Contemporary, Gallery Books, Horror, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Supernatural Elements, suspense, Thriller, Within These Walls

Review: One Night by A.J. Pine

one nightTitle: One Night by A.J. Pine
Only You Series Book One
Publisher: InterMix
Genre: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Length: 248 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

When she lost it all, Jess decided to cope by living a lie.

But you can’t keep on pretending forever…

Twenty-one-year-old Jess used to have everything—a loyal best friend, a boyfriend she loved, and a future that was right on track. But in a single night, her whole world changed.

Now, Jess lives for the impersonal connection of drunken hook-ups and to-go coffee cups in the morning. All she needs is one night to pretend everything is fine…until she meets Adam.

Thanks to a sports injury, gorgeous, charming basketball star Adam Carson is stuck in physical therapy at the hospital where Jess interns—giving her the perfect opportunity to see his sweet, considerate nature and making her realize that maybe she does want something more.

But while Adam might be the best thing that’s happened to Jess in a long time, letting him past her carefully constructed walls means letting him know what happened…and why he’d never want her for more than one night.

Includes a preview of the upcoming Only You novel, One Life.

Review:

The first installment in A.J. Pine’s Only You series, One Night is an engaging love story. Although the story shares many of the characteristics commonly found in new adult romances, the subject matter is unique enough that the novel stands out from others in the genre.

Jess Elliott’s suffered a tremendous life altering loss and while she is trying to move on, she really has not dealt with what happened. She is self absorbed and she keeps an emotional distance from pretty much everyone in her life. She has pushed away her friends and family and Jess uses drunken hook-ups to keep her loneliness at bay.  She is kind and compassionate, but her need to protect herself from future heartache makes it virtually impossible for her to connect with the people in her life.

Adam Carson is an open, honest and genuinely nice young man. He is struggling to come to terms with the impact a sports injury has on his future, but he does not let this stop him from moving on with his life. He is cheerful, laid-back and unflappable with a seemingly endless supply of patience. But even Adam has his limits and he eventually gently pushes Jess to be more forthcoming about her past.

While well-written, One Night is rather slow paced. The defining moment from Jess’s past is only hinted at for much of the story so it is easy to become frustrated with her since there is little context for her behavior and emotional disconnect. She runs away from her problems instead of dealing with them and she pushes Adam away time and again which becomes an annoying pattern for their relationship. Jess is very introspective, but since there is little progress with her issues, the story becomes bogged down in angst and drama.

The friendship between Jess and Adam is sweet and it becomes the catalyst for Jess to finally get to know her roommate, Zoe. Zoe is self-confident and outgoing and while she respects Jess’s boundaries, she also encourages Jess to be a little more forthcoming about herself. Zoe easily forgives Jess when she unwittingly hurts her, but she also uses these opportunities to try to get Jess to work through her issues.

One Night is an emotional novel with a realistic storyline. The plot has plenty of depth and A.J. Pine deftly handles difficult topics with a great deal of sensitivity. The characters are complex with believable flaws and imperfections. It is an overall enjoyable beginning to the Only You series that I recommend to fans of new adult romances.

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Filed under AJ Pine, Contemporary, InterMix, New Adult, One Night, Only You Series, Rated C+, Review, Romance

Review: Baked Fresh by Annabeth Albert

baked freshTitle: Baked Fresh by Annabeth Albert
Portland Heat Series Book Two
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic, M/M, Romance
Length: 131 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From its famous coffee to the mouthwatering fare at its cafés, restaurants, and bakeries, Portland, Oregon, has a lot to whet the appetite, including the hard-working men who serve it all up—hot, fresh, and ready to go—with no reservations…

Vic Degrassi is a baker on the rise, and it’s all thanks to his rare ability to make—and keep—his New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s losing weight, giving up smoking, or graduating from culinary school, Vic goes after what he wants—and gets it. This year? He wants Robin Dawson, the sweet-hearted hottie who volunteers with him at the local homeless shelter. When he learns that Robin is suddenly single after being unceremoniously dumped, Vic is more than happy to offer a shoulder to cry on—or at least a fresh-baked pastry to bite into. But it’s been a long time since Vic’s gone on a date, and he’s nervous about risking his friendship with Robin. So when their flirtation turns into a steamy night together, Vic and Robin have to figure out if they’re friends with benefits or lovers in the making, and if Robin is ready for something more than just a rebound. There’s only one way to find out: turn up the heat…

Review:

Baked Fresh is the second installment in Annabeth Albert’s delightful Portland Heat series. In this outing, it is Vic Degrassi’s turn to find love after he makes a New Year’s resolution to start dating. His longtime crush Robin Dawson has recently gone through a break up, so Vic proposes a no strings fling since Robin is not interested in dating again. The two men are soon burning up the sheets but will Vic convince Robin to take another risk on love?

Both Vic and Robin bring a lot of baggage into their friends with benefits relationship. Vic is endearingly insecure as he works to overcome his low self-esteem from years of being overweight. Although he has dropped over 100 pounds, Vic is still struggling to see himself as desirable. The recent end to his relationship is the least of Robin’s problems since he is still plagued with issues from his not too distant past. Vic is incredibly patient with Robin as he tries to help him work through his problems but Robin pulls away in the aftermath of a tragic loss.

Vic and Robin’s longstanding acquaintance provides a strong foundation for their current relationship. Robin is refreshingly honest about his past and Vic does not hesitate to offer him some much needed reassurance and support. Although they are quick to begin a sexual relationship, there is also an underlying emotional connection between them as well. Vic respects Robin’s boundaries, but Robin is surprisingly eager to let Vic take control in the bedroom. This takes their sexual relationship a little into D/s territory but this is just what Robin needs to help conquer the lingering effects from his troubled past.

Baked Fresh by Annabeth Albert is a sweet yet scorching hot novella. Robin and Vic are wonderfully developed characters and although flawed, they are very easy to like. Their romance is slow growing but this makes their transition from friends to lovers much more realistic. It is a wonderful, drama free addition to the Portland Heat series that old and new fans are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Annabeth Albert, Contemporary, Erotic, Lyrical Press, M/M, Portland Heat Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance

Review: Crushed by Lauren Layne

CrushedTitle: Crushed by Lauren Layne
Redemption Series Book Two
Publisher: Loveswept
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Lauren Layne’s latest novel about the healing power of redemption tells the story of a crush gone wickedly wrong, proving that what you want isn’t always what you need.

Growing up in New York, Michael St. Claire never expected to spend his twenties wearing cowboy boots. But that was before he learned about his real father, a total stranger with a family in Cedar Grove, Texas. Once in the Lone Star State, Michael meets Kristin Bellamy, who is exquisitely refined and everything Michael always thought he wanted in a woman. The only problem is that Kristin is dating Michael’s new half brother, Devon.

Kristin’s mouthy, curvy sister Chloe has always been in love with Devon Patterson. So when Michael offers to help Chloe break up Devon and Kristin, Chloe agrees to a deal that seems too good to be true. Before long, Chloe finally gets her man, only to make a startling discovery: She no longer wants the guy she had to fight for—she wants the one who stood by her side.

After all he and Chloe have been through, Michael swears he’s damaged goods. Can Chloe convince him that love is worth the risk?

Review:

Crushed is a smart and sassy addition to Lauren Layne’s marvelous Redemption series. This new adult romance is sweet and witty but it is the characters that make this such a superb read. Although part of a series, it can be read as a standalone, but I HIGHLY recommend the other books in the series as well.

Michael St. Claire left New York after his life fell apart. He fell in love with his best friend’s girlfriend, then made the mistake of acting on those feelings and in the end, lost both of the friendships that meant the world to him. To top things off, he then discovered that his parents have been lying about the identity of his father. So Michael moved to Texas to meet his real dad, but six months down the road, he still has not worked up the nerve to confront him. Now he has come up with a rather convoluted plan to use his half-brother Devon’s girlfriend Kristin to get close to his biological family.  When he meets Kristin’s sister Chloe, things become even more complicated when he becomes Chloe’s personal trainer so she can get the man of her dreams-Kristin’s boyfriend, Devon! I know it sounds like a lot going on, but the story is really quite simple once all of the character’s various backstories are explained.

Michael and Chloe are really, really good for one another. Michael is angry and withdrawn but he is no match for bubbly, outgoing Chloe.  She is über friendly and talkative with a snarky sense of humor while he is… not. Slowly but surely, Chloe works her way under his skin, gets him to open up and he is pretty surprised by how much he enjoys her company.

Chloe is definitely unenthused about getting off the couch and into the gym, but Michael goads her into taking better care of herself and pretty soon, she begins to see the results of her hard work.  Despite the outward changes to her appearance, Chloe remains the same person she has always been and Michael always appreciates her for who she is, not what she looks like.

Michael and Chloe’s romance is slow growing and understated for much of the story. Chloe is determined to win Devon’s heart and she is taken off guard by her growing attraction to Michael. As for Michael, a relationship is the last thing he wants or thinks he needs, so he tries to ignore his unexpected desire for Chloe. However, both she and Michael are stunned by their reactions when it appears that Chloe has finally succeeded in capturing Devon’s attention.

Crushed is an enchanting installment in Lauren Layne’s Redemption series. The characters are quite charming and although flawed, they are very easy to like. The storyline is fresh, engaging and delightfully angst free. It is terrific love story that fans of new adult romances are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crushed, Lauren Layne, Loveswept, Rated B+, Redemption Series, Review, Romance

Review: What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes

leftTitle: What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes
DCI Lorraine Fisher Series Book Two
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 322 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A mesmerizing new thriller from the author of Until You’re Mine

Two years after a terrifying spate of teenage suicides, the remote village of Radcote has just begun to heal. Then a young man is killed in a freak motorcycle accident and a suicide note is found among his belongings. When a second boy is found dead shortly thereafter, the nightmare of repeat suicides once again threatens the community.

Desperate for a vacation, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher has just come to Radcote for a stay with her sister, Jo, but the atmosphere of the country house is unusually tense. Freddie, Jo’s son, seems troubled and uncommunicative, and Jo is struggling to reach out to him. Meanwhile, Lorraine becomes determined to discover the truth behind these deaths. Are they suicides, or is there something more sinister at work? Finding answers might help Freddie, but they’ll also lead to a shocking truth: whatever it is–or whoever it is–that’s killing these young people is far more disturbing than she ever could have imagined, and unraveling the secret is just as dangerous as the secret itself.

Wicked, intense, and utterly compulsive, What You Left Behind confirms Samantha Hayes as a top thriller writer.

Review:

What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes is an intriguing whodunit that fans of British police procedurals are going to LOVE. Unexpected twists and turns, a large suspect pool and lack of a clear motive make it virtually impossible to guess the perpetrator’s identity. Although it is the second installment of the DCI Lorraine Fisher series, the novel can be read as a standalone.

Detective Chief Inspector Lorraine Fisher’s vacation is anything but relaxing when she finds herself embroiled in a perplexing mystery while visiting her sister Jo. Immediately upon arrival, she learns distressing news about Jo’s marriage but most shocking are the changes in her nephew Freddie. He is withdrawn, moody and refuses to accompany the rest of the family on excursions. It is soon clear that something is deeply troubling him, but he refuses to reveal what that something is. Jo is deeply concerned about her son because eighteen months earlier, a cluster of teen suicides rocked their small village and the recent death of a homeless youth, Dean Watts, was also ruled a suicide. Her fears are compounded when another young man takes his own life and Jo grows increasingly alarmed about Freddie’s state of mind.

Although Lorraine is also worried about Freddie, she is enjoying her visit with Jo until she receives a disturbing picture that leads her to look a little deeper in Dean’s death. While she is at the local police station, the death of another young man is reported and she goes with the lead detective, DCI Burnley, to the crime scene. She quickly sees evidence that foul play might be involved and knowing that Burnley is known to cut corners, she cannot resist investigating on her own. Lorraine’s husband Adam joins her and just as they are beginning to sort through the clues, Freddie vanishes and they are pulled in two different directions as they continue trying to make sense of the prior deaths while at the same time searching for Freddie.

Freddie’s story arc is as fascinating as it is frustrating. For reasons that are never quite clear, he absolutely refuses to discuss what is causing his extreme distress and he continues to spiral deeper into hopelessness and despair. Things become even more complicated for Freddie when he tries to help a friend and he unwittingly puts himself in danger.

While the pacing of What You Left Behind is a little slow, it is an overall compelling novel. The storyline is quite suspenseful and Samantha Hayes’ clever plot twists and red herrings keep readers guessing how this terrific mystery will end. A jaw dropping revelation ties up all of the loose ends and brings the mystery to a stunning conclusion. It is an excellent addition to the DCI Lorraine Fisher series that old and new fans do not want to miss.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, DCI Lorraine Fisher Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Samantha Hayes, suspense, What You Left Behind

Review: Seduced by Sunday by Catherine Bybee

seduced sundayTitle: Seduced by Sunday by Catherine Bybee
Weekday Brides Series Book Six
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Romance
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

She swore off love forever…but he just might change her mind.

The sixth sweet, thrilling book in the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling Weekday Brides series from Catherine Bybee.

Meg Rosenthal: Matchmaker by day, realist by night, Meg is not about to get swept away by a charming, darkly handsome businessman in a designer suit. She’s come to a beautiful secluded resort to evaluate the private island’s potential for her agency, not to ogle its owner. But there’s something about the magnetic man that’s hard to resist, even for a woman who refuses to fall in love.

Valentino Masini: A successful and drop-dead sexy businessman, Valentino is used to having the finer things in life. Yet he’s never wanted someone the way he wants Meg, who’s stirring up a hurricane of trouble in his heart. But just as he decides to convince her to stay, someone else decides it might be time to get Meg off the island…permanently.

Review:

Seduced by Sunday is the sixth installment in Catherine Bybee’s enchanting Weekday Brides series. A lush tropical setting is the beginning of the romance for Meg Rosenthal and Valentino Masini but an intriguing mystery also takes the pair to the vineyards of Italy.

When Meg learns about a secluded location that could be a perfect fit for the clientele of the company she works for, she knows she has to investigate to see if it lives up to its stellar reputation. She, along with good friend (and über famous) Michael Wolfe, make plans to spend a week checking out the resort. Valentino (Val) is dead serious about protecting the privacy of his guests so he and Meg get off on the wrong foot when he is slow to grant her access to the island.  Meg’s anger quickly turns to attraction when she finally meets the very handsome and sexy Val, but she is not looking for love. He is also drawn to Meg, but since she is there with Michael, Val keeps his distance from the sultry beauty. But it soon becomes clear that someone is violating the guests’ privacy and in order to protect Michael’s privacy, Meg and Val team up to get to the bottom of the mystery and things begin to heat up between the couple.

Meg is extremely loyal to her friends and the company she works for. She is also feisty and quite fierce about protecting the people she cares about. She is a bit suspicious that the island is not quite as safe from prying eyes as everyone believes but when things appear to be on the up and up, she begins to relax her guard. She is quickly charmed by Val’s sister Gabriella (Gabi) and his mother and she is thrilled to meet blues legend, Jim Lewis. Meg is a little dazzled by Val but she has absolutely no intention of beginning a romance with him.

Val is a shrewd businessman and the success of his island retreat hinges on providing complete and total privacy for his guests. They, along with his employees, are thoroughly vetted and he has yet to have a breach in security. But soon after Meg and Michael arrive, he begins receiving seemingly innocuous photos of him, Meg and Michael. When all remains quiet in the media, Val cannot fathom the motive for the pictures, but he quietly begins an investigation. However when Meg learns about the pictures, she jumps into action to keep Michael out of the limelight.

After Michael and Meg return to their regular lives, puzzling information about Gabi’s fiancé, Alonzo, takes Meg, Michael and eventually, Val to Italy. Things do not quite add up about Alonzo’s winery and Michael is determined to uncover the truth about his business. As the three of them are looking into the winery, Gabi finds herself in a precarious situation and soon everyone is in a race against time to rescue her before it is too late.

Seduced by Sunday is another captivating installment in Catherine Bybee’s Weekday Brides series. Meg and Val are superbly developed characters and there is no denying the chemistry between them. The storyline is a fantastic mix of romance and mystery and the novel’s conclusion is suspenseful and action-packed.   All of the loose ends are wrapped up in a sweet and very romantic epilogue.

Although Seduced by Sunday can be read as a standalone, I highly recommend the previous novels in the Weekday Brides series as well.

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Filed under Catherine Bybee, Contemporary, Montlake Romance, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Romance, Weekday Bride Series