Category Archives: Rated C

Review: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

An unforgettable cast of characters is unleashed into a realm known for its cruelty—the American high school—in this captivating debut novel.

The wealthy enclaves north of San Francisco are not the paradise they appear to be, and nobody knows this better than the students of a local high school. Despite being raised with all the opportunities money can buy, these vulnerable kids are navigating a treacherous adolescence in which every action, every rumor, every feeling, is potentially postable, shareable, viral.

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s kaleidoscopic narrative exposes at every turn the real human beings beneath the high school stereotypes. Abigail Cress is ticking off the boxes toward the Ivy League when she makes the first impulsive decision of her life: entering into an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Dave Chu, who knows himself at heart to be a typical B student, takes desperate measures to live up to his parents’ crushing expectations. Emma Fleed, a gifted dancer, balances rigorous rehearsals with wild weekends. Damon Flintov returns from a stint at rehab looking to prove that he’s not an irredeemable screwup. And Calista Broderick, once part of the popular crowd, chooses, for reasons of her own, to become a hippie outcast.

Into this complicated web, an idealistic young English teacher arrives from a poorer, scruffier part of California. Molly Nicoll strives to connect with her students—without understanding the middle school tragedy that played out online and has continued to reverberate in different ways for all of them.

Written with the rare talent capable of turning teenage drama into urgent, adult fiction, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with sorrow, passion, and humanity.

Review:

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson is a bleak portrait of a privileged group of teens and a first year teacher.

Mill Valley is an upscale small town that appears to be quite tranquil.  Yet under the idyllic veneer simmers a seething cauldron of dysfunction for the children of wealthy parents.  Beginning with an eighth grade bullying incident that ends in tragedy, the story follows a group of teens who seemingly have everything going for them.  Yet, after their participation in the on line bullying of their classmate, their lives go down very dark and depressing paths.

Fast forward to the eleventh grade and several of the friends have gone their separate ways. Yet there is a commonality in their behavior as they continue to make one bad decision after another. The teenagers’ parents seem to make guest appearances in their children’s lives and none of them are aware of what their kids are up to on line or in real life. The few parents who do take an interest in their children’s futures are overbearing with unrealistically high expectations that their kids have no chance of fulfilling.

The overall feel of the novel is that of a collection of short stories since readers only get one chapter from each participants point of view.  These chapters are long and somewhat rambling peeks inside their troubled lives.  New teacher Molly Nicholl is the only character who narrates more than one chapter and it is quite obvious from the outset she is a little too naive and idealistic to handle her self-destructive students. Like the teenagers she is teaching, Molly does not make the wisest choices as she becomes overly involved in her students’ lives.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is a well-written debut novel with a somewhat dark storyline. Lindsey Lee Johnson offers a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of the decisions made by both teenagers and adults.

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Filed under Contemporary, Lindsey Lee Johnson, Literary Fiction, Random House, Rated C, Review, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Review: Mulberry Moon by Catherine Anderson

Title: Mulberry Moon by Catherine Anderson
Mystic Creek Series Book Three
Publisher: Jove
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 443 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of New Leaf returns to Mystic Creek, Oregon, where a wounded heart finds a place to call home. . . .

After a career on the rodeo circuit, Ben Sterling longs to settle down on his farm and start a family like his brothers. He’s searched all over for the woman of his dreams. Yet the only one to spark his interest is the new owner of the local café. Getting her attention, however, won’t be easy.

Sissy Sue Bentley has worked hard to make it on her own, and she doesn’t need another man in her life. From her alcoholic father to the men she’s dated, who were after only one thing, they are nothing but trouble. Except Ben keeps showing up whenever she really needs help. Sissy struggles to deny her growing feelings for him—but soon Ben’s tender concern has her hoping for a happier future. Then her past comes barreling back into her life, and it will take more than the love in Ben’s heart to hold them together.

Review:

Mulberry Moon by Catherine Anderson is a charming small town romance.  Although it is the third installment in the Mystic Creek series, this latest release can be read as a standalone.

Ben Sterling is  a warm and caring man who is ready to settle down.  At one time he hoped that local cafe owner Sissy Sue Bentley might be that person, but she quickly made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him.  Realizing there is no point in pursuing someone who is not interested in him, he abandoned his plan to catch her eye.  Despite his terrible run of bad luck with the women he has recently dated, Ben  remains hopeful he will find the right woman to share his life with.

Unlike Ben, Sissy’s life has been nothing but one hardship after another.  Her childhood was extremely  dysfunctional and as a result, she finds it hard to trust anyone.  Sissy is quite prickly towards Ben and although he goes out of his way to help her, she remains quite distrustful of his motives for his assistance.

Ben has the patience of a saint as Sissy continues to blow hot and cold where he is concerned. She temporarily lets down her defenses and just when he thinks he is making progress, she puts her walls back up. Sissy’s mixed signals towards Ben quickly become tiresome as this push/pull continues although Ben is a perfect gentleman who is always kind and respectful to her.

While there is little doubt that Sissy’s childhood was horrible, the details of her past are so exaggerated that they are impossible to believe. While it is credible that her family moved around a great deal, the number of states she lived is in certainly eye-brow raising since they were so poor.  And it is equally hard to believe that her experiences at EVERY school she attended were EXACTLY the same.  Not a single person was willing to befriend her?  Everyone made fun of her?  No one made any effort to help her without expecting something in return?

Ben and Sissy are a cute couple but Sissy’s hard luck continues for the most of the novel. From runaway chickens to mysteriously vanishing items to a broken leg, Sissy just cannot seem to catch a break. And just when Sissy is finally willing to take a chance with Ben, her past comes back to haunt her and she pushes Ben away in an effort to protect him. Is their love strong enough to withstand this final conflict?

Mulberry Moon by Catherine Anderson is an overly dramatic but sweet addition to the Mystic Creek series.  Ben is an appealing protagonist with a generous heart and a seemingly endless supply of patience.  Sissy is a spunky young woman with a traumatic past that makes her afraid to risk her heart.  Will Sissy allow her considerable emotional baggage ruin her future with Ben?

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Filed under Catherine Anderson, Contemporary, Jove, Mulberry Moon, Mystic Creek Series, Rated C, Review, Romance

Review: The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

Title: The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes
Windham Brides Series Book One
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical, Romance
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

THEY CALL HIM THE DUKE OF MURDER…

The gossips whisper that the new Duke of Murdoch is a brute, a murderer, and even worse—a Scot. They say he should never be trusted alone with a woman. But Megan Windham sees in Hamish something different, someone different.

No one was fiercer at war than Hamish MacHugh, though now the soldier faces a whole new battlefield: a London Season. To make his sisters happy, he’ll take on any challenge—even letting their friend Miss Windham teach him to waltz. Megan isn’t the least bit intimidated by his dark reputation, but Hamish senses that she’s fighting battles of her own. For her, he’ll become the warrior once more, and for her, he might just lose his heart.

Review:

The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes is an entertaining, sweet historical romance.  While this is  the first novel in the Windham Brides series, I strongly encourage readers to read the Windham series since MANY of the secondary characters from these previous books figure prominently in The Trouble with Dukes.

Hamish MacHugh is dismayed to discover he is now the Duke of Murdoch. He wants nothing more than to return to his beloved Scotland but alas, he must put the needs of his family first.  He is hoping his stay in England will be brief as his beloved sisters, Edana and Rhona, replenish their wardrobe and enjoy as many social gatherings as possible.  Hamish’s wartime reputation precedes him which makes him quite uncomfortable at the numerous balls and parties he must attend with his sisters and brother, Colin.  Gruff and plainspoken, Hamish makes quite a few social gaffes as he tries to navigate the complicated world of the British aristocracy but he is also rather softhearted when it comes to the people he cares about.

Megan Windham  is a lovely young woman with poor eyesight and a giving heart. She finds herself in the unenviable position of fighting off the attentions of Sir Fletcher Pilkington, a loathsome suitor  from a suitable family.  She is grateful to Hamish when he steps in to aid her during an unpleasant encounter with Pilkington and her respect for the troubled war hero grows deeper each time they meet. Megan is quite taken with the attractive Scotsman but she is caught in an untenable situation with Pilkington that could ruin her and her sisters’ reputations if the truth about her youthful mistake were ever to be revealed.

Megan and Hamish are a wonderful couple who find it quite easy to confide in one another.  Their scenes together are a wonderful mix of delightful banter and thoughtful exchanges about their lives and simmering attraction. However, with Hamish planning to return to Scotland as soon as possible, he sees no future for the two of them.  But Megan’s extended family makes it impossible for him to say no to their “invitations” and the more time he spends with her, the more smitten he becomes.  After she confesses the mess she has gotten herself into with Pilkington, Hamish comes up with a plan to get her out of trouble.  After executing their scheme to rescue her from her detestable suitor’s clutches, Hamish and Megan’s relationship deepens but is Fletcher truly out of the picture?

While The Trouble with Dukes is an overall enjoyable novel, it is difficult to understand why Megan would not tell her family about the situation with Fletcher.  The Windham family is obviously quite close and they are also very influential so it would make sense for her to ask them for their assistance with her problem.  Pilkington’s interest in other heiresses is well-known so it seems impossible that NO ONE in her family is the least bit suspicious about his motives when he sets his sights on Megan.  Even more unbelievable is the fact that her parents seem to be encouraging the match!  This entire part of the storyline is fairly ridiculous and somewhat unbelievable.

The inclusion of the other Windham characters is rather bewildering if you have not read the Windham series.  Between the use of proper names, titles and numerous nicknames, it is virtually impossible to keep up with who everyone is and who their spouses are.  While fans of the other series will enjoy catching up with favorite characters from earlier novels, newcomers might them hopelessly confusing.

The Trouble with Dukes is a charming historical romance with a cast of appealing characters.  The storyline is interesting but the pacing of the novel is a little slow. Although a bit flawed, it is a nice beginning to Grace Burrowes’ Windham Brides series.

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Filed under Forever, Grace Burrowes, Historical, Rated C, Review, Romance, The Trouble with Dukes, Windham Brides Series

Review: The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead

Title: The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead
Publisher: Dundurn
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mystery
Length: 184 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

First she blamed herself. Now she doesn’t know who to trust

When Kit disappeared at a party and was found drowned in the quarry the next day, Clem knew who to point the finger at: herself. She was the last person to see him alive, the last person who could have helped. If she had just kept a closer eye on him instead of her crush, Jake, maybe Kit would still be here. She knows she made a mistake, and wishes she could just forget about it — but Clem’s friend Ellie says she’ll expose Clem’s secret if she doesn’t play along with Ellie’s lies.

Jake seems to have his own difficult secrets, and when he and Clem start to talk, they make a plan to help themselves move on. But when an unexpected discovery at the quarry makes everyone question what they thought they knew, Clem and Jake decide it’s up to them to uncover the truth.

Review:

A quick read at less than 200 pages, The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead is an enjoyable young adult mystery.

Four months after an end of the school party ended with the drowning death of classmate Kit Stitski, Clementine “Clem” Sanford cannot let go of her guilt that she might have been able to save him.  She is also feeling quite disconnected from her family due to the lack of face to face interactions since everyone seems to be addicted to their mobile devices.  Even more troubling is her so-called “best” friend Ellie Denton’s behavior which includes blackmailing Clem into covering for her with her mother while Ellie is out with her older boyfriend Mac.  The only bright spot in Clem’s life is her renewed friendship with her longtime crush, Jake Harcourt, but both of them continue to harbor guilt about what happened to Kit.

As someone who always did her best to protect Kit from the bullying and teasing of their classmates, Clem’s secrets and lies from the night he died are beginning to eat her alive.  Although she considers confessing the truth to her parents, she is afraid that is too late to come clean.  However, with Ellie’s demands to lie for her increasing, Clem is ready to do whatever it takes to get her former best friend off her back.  After devising a desperate plan to limit her availability to Ellie, Clem is pleasantly surprised by the unintended effects on her relationship with her family. But, she cannot help but to continue to worry about Ellie’s increasingly out of control behavior and Clem is equally concerned about some of the choices Jake has made in the months since the party.

Clem is rather bewildered by the changes in Jake since Kit’s death.  Once a sweet young man with plenty of patience, Jake is rather moody and now hangs out with a somewhat sketchy crowd.  Despite the differences in his personality, Clem still has a huge crush on her childhood friend and she finally works up the courage to confront him about her concerns about him.  Initially less than pleased with her observations, Jake eventually welcomes the opportunity to unburden himself which has an unexpectedly positive effect on the guilt she has been carrying.

After her discussion with Jake, Clem has a new perspective on some of Ellie’s actions in recent months and she finally refuses to let Ellie push her around anymore.  After their somewhat heated confrontation, Ellie maintains a low profile just as Clem decides to get to the bottom of what is happening with her friend.  Despite the problems between them, Clem is increasingly concerned for her friend’s safety but will Ellie be receptive to Clem’s advice?

Although the mystery surrounding the circumstances of Kit’s death falls a little flat, The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead is an engaging young adult novel.  While none of the teens’ secrets are not quite as horrible as they imagine, it is very easy to understand how they feel their actions contributed to  Kit’s death.  The romance between Clem and Jake is very sweet and completely free from angst or drama.

On the other hand, Ellie’s relationship with Mac is unhealthy and borderline abusive and the conclusion to this part of the storyline falls way short of the mark.  Instead of taking the opportunity to point out how Mac’s behavior is completely unacceptable, his rough treatment of Ellie is glossed over and ultimately deemed acceptable under certain circumstances.  This is not a lesson that should be provided to teenage girls who do not have the experience or life skills to judge when a boyfriend’s actions or behavior crosses the line into abusive.

If Ellie and Mac’s portion of the storyline had been handled differently, I would have  no reservations about recommending  The Secrets We Keep to teen readers.  If my son or daughter were to read this novel, I would definitely have an open, honest discussion about what types of behavior are unacceptable in a relationship.

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Filed under Contemporary, Deb Loughead, Dundurn, Mystery, Rated C, Review, The Secrets We Keep, Young Adult

Review: Last Chance Rebel by Maisey Yates

Title: Last Chance Rebel by Maisey Yates
Copper Ridge Series Book Six
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The prodigal son of Copper Ridge, Oregon, has finally come home

The man who ruined Rebecca Bear’s life just strolled back into it with one heck of an offer. Years ago, Gage West’s recklessness left Rebecca scarred inside and out. Now he wants to make amends by gifting her the building that houses her souvenir store. Rebecca won’t take Gage’s charity, but she’s willing to make a deal with the sexy, reclusive cowboy. Yet keeping her enemy close is growing dangerously appealing…

He’s the wild West brother, the bad seed of Copper Ridge. That’s why Gage needs the absolution Rebecca offers. He just didn’t expect to need her. After years of regretting his past, he knows where his future lies—with this strong, irresistible woman who could make a black sheep come home to stay…

Review:

The sixth installment in Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series, Last Chance Rebel is an enemy to lovers romance that is full of unresolved issues.  Like the other books in the series, it can be read as a standalone, but I highly recommend the previous novels as well.

Rebecca Bear has overcome a lot of adversity in her life but she is still incredibly angry about the accident that irrevocably changed her life seventeen years ago.  In the years following the accident, she endured multiple surgeries and painful rehabilitation and Rebecca continues to carry both the emotional and physical scars of those difficult years.  Needless to say, she harbors a ton of animosity toward the person responsible so when Gage West comes strolling into her store, she does not welcome him with open arms.  Rebecca lets him know in no uncertain terms that she will never forgive him for destroying her life and her family.

Seventeen years ago, Gage took the easy way out and let his father pay off Rebecca’s family to keep his involvement in the accident quiet.  He immediately left town  and he has lived an itinerant life ever since.  Returning to Copper Ridge to take care of his father’s business while he is recuperating from a stroke, Gage knows it is time to make amends for the mistakes of his past. He is not looking for forgiveness or atonement and he tries to remain free of emotional entanglements as he works to repair his relationships with his siblings.  A lot of his actions feel a little hollow since Gage tries to distance himself from everyone and he does not take anyone’s feelings into account as he moves forward with his plans.

The relationship between Gage and Rebecca is angst-ridden and their interactions are volatile and incredibly negative.  Rebecca has a GIANT chip on her shoulder and she makes no effort to hide her dislike and disdain for Gage.  Her feelings are understandable but she places a lot of blame on Gage’s shoulders for things that are really not his fault.  Gage is determined to make amends while Rebecca is unbelievably prickly which leads to rather dramatic outbursts.  With so much anger simmering between them, Rebecca’s sudden decision to sleep with Gage is very hard to believe.  Their sex scenes are quite passionate and their encounters are incendiary.  Their romance has a definite insta-love quality to it since they literally fall in love with each other in a span of a few days.  Both characters undergo tremendous growth as they work through their individual issues, but with everything happening in such a short amount of time, the resolution is just a little hard to believe.

Although Last Chance Rebel is not my favorite novel in the series, it is an enjoyable addition to Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series.  Longtime fans will enjoy catching up with characters from previous books and readers will be impatiently awaiting the release of the next novel in the series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Copper Ridge Series, Harlequin, HQN Books, Last Chance Rebel, Maisey Yates, Rated C, Review, Romance

Review: Last Kiss of Summer by Marina Adair

Title: Last Kiss of Summer by Marina Adair
Destiny Bay Series Book One
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

He’s one bad apple she just can’t resist . . .

Kennedy Sinclair never dreamed she’d own a pie shop and an orchard in a small town like Destiny Bay. But nestled between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, it’s the perfect place to cross something off her “Life’s short so eat the icing first” list and start her life over from scratch. Her shop, Sweetie Pies, is famous for its hot, flaky apple turnovers and sinfully delicious deep dish pie. For Kennedy though, nothing is more enticing than the tall, strapping slice of temptation who keeps coming back for more.

Luke Callahan is determined to make his hard cider business a success. With his beloved father’s cider recipe and the opportunity of a lifetime in his grasp, he’ll stop at nothing to get this deal done. There’s just one catch: he needs Kennedy’s apples. At first, he thinks it’ll be as easy as pie to charm those apples right off her trees. But Kennedy isn’t falling for his tender charms or his wicked ways. When the negotiations start heating up, so do the feelings they have for each other. And it takes just one kiss to seal the deal . . .

Review:

The first installment in Marina Adair’s Destiny Bay series,Last Kiss of Summer is a story of new beginnings for lead protagonist Kennedy Sinclair.

Thanks to her beloved grandmother Edna, Kennedy finds the fresh start she is looking for in the delightfully charming town of Destiny Bay following her heartbreaking split from her cheating ex.  Taking a big chance that could either give her the break she desperately needs or wipe out her life savings if it fails, she buys  Sweeties Pies sight unseen from Edna’s old friend Fiona “Fi” Callahan and Fi’s niece Paula.  Although she initially has a few reservations about the possibly too good to be true deal, Kennedy puts her misgivings aside in order to finally find a place that feels like home.  Turns out her fears are well-founded but it is Paula’s son Luke who becomes the biggest thorn in Kennedy’s side as he resorts to underhanded means to destroy her business in order to get his hands on the apples he needs to expand his hard cider business.  Although the two share a smoldering hot attraction, Kennedy and Luke continually lock horns over the apples and although they eventually seem to reach a truce, will Luke’s betrayal end their chance for happiness?

Kennedy still carries the scars from her mother’s abandonment and she craves nothing more than a well-ordered and predictable life.  Hurt by her ex-boyfriend’s infidelity and dismayed to have to start over yet again, she is surprisingly optimistic about her new business and she throws herself wholeheartedly into the venture.  Quickly realizing she should have asked a few more questions about the bakery’s finances, she comes up with a brilliant plan to keep Sweetie Pies in business.  Despite Fi’s resistance to change, Kennedy is quick to reassure the former owner that she only wants what is best for the shop. However, the biggest challenge Kennedy must overcome is Luke’s concerted effort to keep her from the three acres of apples that were included in her purchase of the shop.  Undeterred, she creatively works around the challenges he puts in her way but she woefully underestimates how far Luke will go to ensure he gets the apples that are vital to her business.

Luke is extremely loyal to his mom and his friend and business partner Bradley Hawk.  Trying to assuage his guilt over leaving the family business years earlier, he will do whatever it takes to expand their business and while he has a valid reason to do so, he is merciless as tries to destroy Kennedy in order to keep the apples he needs for an upcoming business deal.  Luke is more than willing to fight dirty and his maneuvering is incredibly sly, devious and underhanded as he tries to undercut her every chance he gets.  He charms Kennedy in order to get an edge and although he knows exactly what is at stake for her, Luke is unrelenting as he undermines her efforts to succeed time and again.  His final act of betrayal is so incredibly reprehensible and deceitful that it is virtually unforgivable.  But what really makes the act so vile is his continued dishonesty and his infuriating reaction as Luke tries to console  her when his scheme works and Kennedy loses a valuable business deal due to his duplicity. This act of sabotage is positively heartbreaking and completely unnecessary since he has other means to accomplish his goals.

Although well-written with a lovable heroine, Last Kiss of Summer is a bit of a disappointing beginning to Marina Adair’s Destiny Bay series. The romance between Luke and Kennedy never quite feels quite right due to Luke’s single-minded pursuit of his dreams even though he knows achieving his goals will financially and emotionally destroy her.  In spite Luke’s calculating and destructive machinations, Kennedy remains refreshingly kindhearted and compassionate and she never does anything that would deliberately hurt anyone else.  Luke is eventually ashamed of how his behavior, but this realization comes far too late to redeem him into a likable character who is worthy of Kennedy’s forgiveness or love.

Despite this rather lackluster first installment in the Destiny Bay series, the tantalizing glimpses of Kennedy’s new friend, Ali and Luke’s close friend Bradley Hawk will leave readers eagerly awaiting their story which is slated for release in 2017.

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Filed under Contemporary, Destiny Bay Series, Forever, Last Kiss of Summer, Marina Adair, Rated C, Review, Romance