Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mini Reviews - Ignite & Smolder by Karen Erickson

Title: Ignite (Wildwood #1)
Author: Karen Erickson
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Source: Purchased
Buy the Book: Amazon / B&N / Kobo
Weston Gallagher is falling hard for the wrong woman.

One night of passion has haunted him for years.

Now he's got a second chance to get the girl of his dreams but there's just one problem:

She hates him.

Eight years after he stormed out of Wildwood, California, West has returned to his hometown as a firefighter. His friends and family are thrilled he's back with the exception of Harper Hill. His sister's best friend is all grown up and in all the right ways. He knows she's going to do everything she can to protect her heart and keep him at arm's length, but West has other ideas.

He will win the girl that got away. No matter what it takes.

Saying that Ignite was the first book of Karen Erickson's that I've read is both true and a lie. Because Karen Erickson also writes under the name Monica Murphy, and if you know me, you know that I've read and loved many of her books. But until a couple weeks ago, I hadn't picked up any of her Karen Erickson titles. And that was a mistake because Ignite completely hooked me. I got completely sucked in to West and Harper's stories, as well as life in Wildwood in general. I'm more of a big city person myself, but I always find it fascinating to read about small towns where everyone knows everyone and everyone has a shared past with most people in that town. And that was definitely the case with West and Harper. I mean, Harper has been crushing on West for most of her life but never thought West felt the same way about her, what with the whole him leaving town the day after the one and only time they kissed. Meanwhile, now that he's back in town, West can't help but wonder if he screwed everything up with Harper after that one kiss years ago. So yeah, West and Harper definitely had some stuff to work through and I loved seeing them work through it and come together over the course of the story. Needless to say that after reading Ignite I was definitely looking forward to what was to come in the Wildwood series (and it reminded me that I have lots of Karen Erickson books I to catch up on).

Title: Smolder (Wildwood #2)
Author: Karen Erickson
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Source: ARC from Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon / B&N / Kobo
Lane Gallagher wants Delilah Moore--bad.

He's imagine the sexy brunette in his bed more times than he can count.

She's everything he's ever wanted, but the only problem is...

She's his brother's ex.

For years, the stoic sheriff's deputy has fantasized about the sweet, bubbly dance teacher who stirs his deepest desires. But Lane's too loyal to ever move in on forbidden territory and he knows that while he can look, he definitely can't touch. Fighting his attraction to Delilah is nearly impossible, but the infuriating--and incredibly sexy--woman seems determined to drive him crazy.

And she's bringing him to his knees. One smoldering kiss at a time.

After reading Ignite, I was definitely excited to read Smolder. The fact that I practically read them back to back only served to make me more excited about the books and this story. After reading the first book, I had gotten curious about Delilah and Lane. It was clear that their was something going on there even if both of them were in total denial about it. Or even if they weren't in denial, they certainly weren't acknowledging it. I loved getting to explore their relationship and their history some more in Smolder. And that history they share is definitely a complicated one. I mean, how exactly do you go about dealing with the fact that you're in love with your brother's ex if you're Lane or that you're in love with your ex's older brother if you're Delilah? That's not complicated at all, right? I wouldn't even know where to begin dealing with that one if I were them. But over the course of the story, Lane and Delilah figured it out and I loved seeing them work through it all. Because right from the beginning, I knew they were perfect together. They just needed to wade through all their baggage. I also want to mention the whole firefighter/law enforcement aspect of these books. The Gallagher family is a family of cops and firefighters and I love seeing that play out in the story. And I'm curious to see if the mystery behind all the fires is going to be resolved in the next book.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen + Q&A

Title: Bittersweet (True North #1)
Author: Sarina Bowen
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Source: ARC from Publicist
Buy the Book: Amazon / B&N / Kobo
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the orchard.

The last person Griffin Shipley expects to find stuck in a ditch on his Vermont country road is his ex-hookup. Five years ago they'd shared a couple of steamy nights together. But that was a lifetime ago.

At twenty-seven, Griff is now the accidental patriarch of his family farm. Even his enormous shoulders feel the strain of supporting his mother, three siblings and a dotty grandfather. He doesn't have time for the sorority girl who's shown up expecting to buy his harvest at half price.

Vermont was never in Audrey Kidder's travel plans. Neither was Griff Shipley. But she needs a second change with the restaurant conglomerate employing her. Okay--a fifth chance. And no self-righteous lumbersexual farmer will stand in her way.

They's adversaries. They want entirely different things from life. Too bad their sexual chemistry is as hot as Audrey's top secret enchilada sauce, and then some.

In the past year, Sarina Bowen has quickly become one of my go-to authors when I want some good romance. I have yet to pick up one of her books and not find myself completely charmed by the characters and swept up in the romance. And it was no different with her latest, Bittersweet.

If you're familiar at all with Sarina Bowen and her books, then you know that her books tend to revolve around sports and athletes. But Bittersweet is a departure from the hockey players, skiers, and snowboarders she's written about in the past. Instead, it's about chefs and farmers and cider makers (as a side note, if you don't find yourself craving hard cider by the time you finish reading Bittersweet, there's something wrong with you...I'm only mostly kidding). Just like with the world of high level sports, Sarina Bowen brings the world of Vermont farmers to life. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Bittersweet made me want to hop into a car and take a roadtrip to the Vermont countryside to see some of the sceneries Griffin and Audrey describe in the story. And if it were fall, I would totally be heading to an orchard for some apple picking. It honestly felt like the setting was a character in this story just as much as Griffin, Audrey and the whole Shipley clan. It just came to life while I was reading. And it wasn't the only part of the story that felt completely real.

Whenever I read one of Sarina Bowen's books, I always want to be friends with the characters by the time I finish reading the story. There's just something about them. As you might have guessed it was no different with Griffin and Audrey. I absolutely loved both of them. I loved Griff despite his grumpy and gruff tendencies. Though I wasn't sure about Audrey's flightiness at first, I was completely charmed by the end of the book. And they just balanced each other out so well. Audrey made Griff less serious and all business all the time by reminding him to just have fun sometimes, while Griff showed Audrey that she was more than the disappointment her mother had led her to believe she was her whole life. They were just so freaking great and adorable together. But Audrey and Griff weren't the only people I wanted to be friends with. By the time I finished Bittersweet I wanted to be an honorary member of the Shipley family. I loved reading about the whole family, and seeing the way they were all there for each other, regardless of if they were related by blood or just someone they had taken in. And I'm more than excited to keep getting glimpses of this big, crazy family in future True North books.

In case it wasn't completely obvious by now, I absolutely ADORED Sarina Bowen's Bittersweet. I completely fell in love with the story, setting and characters and I was sad to reach the final page of the book. Thankfully, Steadfast, the next in the series, is out soon because I cannot wait to get my hands on it!

Q&A with Sarina Bowen

All your previous books (and your new series kicking off in the fall!) feature athletes, what made you was to move away from that?
I love athletes, but I’m surrounded by the coolest, hippest innovative farmers, and I thought it would be fantastic to explore their world. And Griff is an ex-football player, because I couldn’t help myself.

In Bittersweet, Griffin makes artisanal cider. What was the research process like for that aspect of the story?
You should see my recycling bin! #notkidding. We drink lots of tasty ciders at my house, and many of them are locally made. Vermont (and New Hampshire) are ground zero for cider appreciation. It’s awesome.

When you’re looking for your next story, where do you look for inspiration?
I don’t even have to look, they just find me in newspaper stories and blog posts and on Twitter.

What about the romance genre appeals to you as a writer?
Happy endings are really important to me. I love that quest.

Describe Bittersweet in one sentence.
Take one perky chef, add one grumpy farmer, season until scorching and serve hot.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

East of Redemption by Molly E. Lee

Title: East of Redemption (Love on the Edge #2)
Author: Molly E. Lee
Publisher: Self-Published
Release Date: June 8, 2016
Source: ARC from Author
Buy the Book: Amazon
Easton Wells has spent years burying his guilt by digging up some of the world's most renowned treasures while surviving the dangerous terrains in which they're located--all captured for television. When his producers threaten to axe the show, he has no choice but to turn to the last person he still trusts--the girl he left behind.

Rain Walker has made a name for herself documenting wild and endangered animals, and the last voice she expects to hear while shooting in South Africa is Easton's. He's more gorgeous than she remembers, but the pain in her heart is as fresh as ever. They'd once planned on spending the rest of their lives together, but after her father's tragic death while on expedition in Israel with him, Easton bailed on their future together without an explanation. It's been nine years, and yet the intense love they shared seems only a moment ago.

When he asks her to film his latest treasure hunt, Rain wants to turn him down instantly. But when he explains it's to the same cave that swallowed her father, she can't say no. She wants to experience the last place her father was alive, and she's beyond curious about what happened to the boy she used to love.

They've got two weeks to locate a treasure that's been lost for centuries, or Easton will lose the one thing in his life he's come to depend on. As their old passion is reignited--and dark secrets uncovered--they face the extreme terrain of the mountain range that threatens them at every turn. As more than the wildlife and sharp drop-offs tries to kill them, Rain starts to question if the legendary treasure they seek--the same one her father died trying to unearth--is truly meant to be found, or if some things, including their feelings for each other, are better left buried.

I discovered Molly E. Lee a few months ago when I read her debut novel, Edge of Chaos. I got completely wrapped up in the story and once I finished reading I knew I would be reading all her future books. And as much as I loved Edge of Chaos, I loved her latest, East of Redemption, even more.

Earlier this year I read Molly E. Lee’s Edge of Chaos and absolutely loved it. So I was majorly excited to find out that she already had another book coming out so soon. Not only that, but it sounded like such a different kind of story for romance and I couldn’t wait to read it. And guys, East of Redemption was absolutely amazing. I just couldn’t seem to get enough of the story. And that’s because, all things considered, it’s a pretty high-stakes story. I mean, Easton and Rain were on the hunt for a possibly mythical treasure located in dangerous caves with people intent on stopping them on their trail. And that’s just the half of it and I won’t say much more on that so as not to spoil it for everyone. So let me talk about the romance instead. There wasn’t a single moment where I didn’t want Easton and Rain together. Pretty much from page one you know they’re perfect for each other and they care for each other. They just need to let their shared past get in the way, but as usual that’s easier said than done. And it didn’t stop me from rooting for them for the entirety of the book. The romance in East of Redemption just worked for me. I loved it, but most importantly I loved the people the romance was about.

So hypothetically, how would I go about finding myself a gorgeous, athletic, thoughtful yet cocky treasure hunter/would-be archeologist? Because after reading all about Easton in East of Redemption, I think I might want someone like that but I don’t want to steal Easton away from Rain because they are so freaking great together. For real though, I loved Easton and for so much of the book my heart pretty much broke for him because of all the guilt he was carrying around. Guilt that he didn’t need to be carrying but that he was carrying all the same. And I pretty much want to be best friends with Rain. I loved getting to read a story where the girl was saving the guy just as much as he was saving her, if not even more so. That’s how Rain and Easton’s relationship felt. I loved seeing Rain’s strength and her courage, how she wasn’t afraid of what kept getting thrown at her along the way. Much like with Easton, there was just so much about Rain that I loved. And it should go without saying that I loved the two of them together (yes, I know I’ve already said that).

Molly E. Lee's East of Redemption was a phenomenal read. It struck the perfect balance between action, adventure, romance and angst and I loved every single page of it.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Title: With Malice
Author: Eileen Cook
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Source: ARC from Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon / Book Depository / Indigo
It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

If you know me, then you know that my reading tastes tend more towards the fluffy romance books, but every so often, I love reading something a little darker and a little different. Eileen Cook's With Malice was exactly that kind of book.

Here's the thing, the whole time I was reading With Malice, I didn't know what to trust and what to believe. The story is set up in a way that you, as the reader, are finding things out at the same time as Jill, the narrator, is finding them out because she's missing six weeks of her memories. Because of that, I just wanted to believe what she was telling me, that no, she couldn't possibly have harmed her best friend no matter what everyone seems to be saying. And I mean, I don't know about you, but I don't typically want the main character of the story I'm reading to turn out to be the villain at the end of it all. Mixed in with Jill's narration, are bits and pieces of news stories and online posts about the car accident, as well as police interviews of witnesses and suspects. Those odd bits and pieces from Jill's lost time are what made me question everything. Every time I thought something had been established, a police interview or blog post would pop up and then I would start wondering if maybe all those people were right, and Jill did have a car accident on purpose despite what she was now saying in the present. It kind of drove me nuts, because I'm one of those people who needs to know exactly what happened, but it also made it so I just kept reading because I had to know if my (educated) guesses were right or not.

Because of the memory loss, Jill is pretty much the definition of an unreliable narrator. I mean, she wakes up in the hospital and doesn't have a single memory of the previous six weeks. And those six weeks have been pretty freaking eventful. Because of that, I always took everything she said about herself and her relationships with others with a grain of salt. But at the same time, as I've already mentioned, I wanted to believe her. Much like her, I didn't want to believe that she could be capable of getting in a car and driving that car into a stone wall on purpose, all while her best friend is sitting in the passenger seat. That's sort of my long-winded way of saying that it was really interesting to see Jill struggle with this over the course of the story and wonder whether she would ever get her memories back and find out once and for all what exactly happened in that small Italian village on that day. And that twist at the end where Jill is concerned? I felt like I saw it coming but at the same time I didn't but I won't say more about that.

Eileen Cook's With Malice was a darker story that kept me guessing the whole way through. Even once I was finished I still didn't quite know if what Jill was telling me was what actually happened. But that's what made this story for me, the fact that I was never going to know for sure exactly what went down in Italy.

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Blog Tour - With Malice by Eileen Cook - Q&A

I'm really excited to be taking part in the Canadian blog tour for Eileen Cook's new novel, With Malice. As part of the tour, I have the pleasure of having Eileen Cook here today to talk about how she goes about doing research for all her books, and in particular for With Malice. Here is what she had to say.

How does your research process change from one book to another (if it does at all)?

First I should admit that I LOVE the research part of writing. I’ve learned the most interesting and random things. For example, did you know more people are killed by falling vending machines than in shark attacks? Makes you rethink getting that Diet Coke doesn’t it?

I tackle research in three different ways: 1) Online 2) Libraries and 3) Talk to People. The way I research doesn’t change much from book to book, but how much time I spend doing each way varies.

1) Online: How did we ever live without the Internet? I’m always amazed at the things you can find—pictures, maps, research articles etc. all without leaving home. And, at least for me, I find one search tends to lead to something else and then before you know it I’m learning things I didn’t even know I wanted to know.

2) Libraries: I”m a full on library junkie. I still find it amazing/wonderful/magical that there are these places with thousands of books that they will let you take FOR FREE. It’s like having a BFF with an unlimited book budget and let’s you borrow as much as you want. What many people don’t know is how helpful librarians can be. They are research ninjas. You can go to a librarian ask her/him just about anything and they will help you hunt down an answer. Libraries are a writer’s best friend.

3) Other People: Once I have a pretty good idea of where I want the story to go I like to talk to people who have direct experience of whatever I’m writing about. In WITH MALICE I talked to lawyers, psychologists, people with brain injuries, police, and also a teen who had been accused of a crime (in her case stealing) about how she felt during the process. I want to understand their perspectives as it helps me bring the story more alive than just reading about it myself. I’m really grateful for everyone who shared his or her experiences with me.

My only challenge is to remember that no matter how interesting it might be—eventually I need to stop researching and start writing.

Thank you, Eileen, for taking the time to answer my question. Be sure to check back later today to see what I thought about the book. For now, all I'll say is that this is the kind of story that keeps you guessing the whole way through and makes you question everything you think you know about it. But it makes for a fantastic read.

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