A Charm of Finches (Venery #2) by Suanne Laqueur

 

A Charm of Finches (Venery #2) by Suanne Laqueur

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5 out of 5 Stars

This is probably the most difficult review I’ve ever written. How do you proclaim love for something so heart-wrenching? When one of the characters goes through an ordeal beyond your most horrid imagination? When the story is about loneliness and despair? It feels sacrosanct to shout that this book is amazing and everyone should read it.

But really, everyone should.

A Charm of Finches delves deep into the tough subject of male rape survivors and connecting with others on a human level. This book will shred your heart and stitch it back together piece by delicate piece. The theme of loneliness and surviving—but not really living—is prevalent in all three main characters. It’s jam-packed with emotion, and the characters will stick with you long after you’ve finished their story.

We first met Javier Landes in book 1 of the Venery series, An Exaltation of Larks. If you haven’t read Larks, I highly recommend it, though it’s not strictly necessary before reading Finches. Jav has finally decided to give love a chance, and love comes in the shape of a therapist named Steffen Finch. Stef hasn’t given much thought to a relationship with a man, but the attraction between the two men is undeniable. While Jav and Stef are getting to know each other, a young man named Geno Caan is spiraling down toward rock bottom.

Geno’s life was picture perfect until he became a victim of a horrendous crime. He’s trying to survive, but the world looks like a completely different place now. It’s bad enough he lost those closest to him. Then he realizes the world doesn’t even believe his story. How can he have a life when he’s so alone?

Landing in art therapy sessions with Stef, Geno slowly begins to trust again. He forms a friendship with Jav and begins to get his life back on track, but the journey is long and full of landmines waiting silently to explode.

Ms. Laqueur has a way of reaching deep into your soul and rearranging everything you thought you knew on an elemental level. Her words are powerful and moving, and she has done justice to a subject that rarely gets spoken about. She writes therapy sessions as if she were a fly on the wall, and the pain of sexual assault is vivid even when not described in horrid detail. I felt everything her characters felt—every high and low, every heartbreak and every triumph—thanks to the imagery that put me right in the scene with them.

This is my top book for 2017, and though the subject matter isn’t pretty, everyone should read this epic tale of survival.

Please note that although I have included Romance as one of the genres for this book, it is not the main focus of the story.

All of my reviews of Ms. Laqueur’s books can be found under the author spotlight tab.

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Rach

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Ty’s Heart (California Cowboys #3) by Selena Laurence

 

Ty’s Heart (California Cowboys #3) by Selena Laurence

Ty’s Heart Cover

4 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Ty’s Heart by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

Ty Jenkins has spent the last five years devoted to two things: his daughter Katie and the ranch he and his brothers inherited after their parents’ death. When Katie’s mother decided she couldn’t raise their baby, Ty didn’t hesitate to take on the responsibility of being a single father. And now his life revolves around doing what’s best for the precocious little girl.

Jodi Morgan’s childhood left her ill-prepared to be a mother, so she did what was best for her child. She walked away, leaving the infant in the hands of the young man she was only just getting to know. But the hole in her heart could not be filled by a promising career or any other man she met. With a plan laid out, Jodi moves back to Big Sur with the hope she can get to know her daughter.

Five years ago, Ty and Jodi’s relationship was cut short by the unplanned pregnancy. They both want what’s best for Katie, but long-buried feelings for each other could get in the way of the little girl’s happiness if they’re not careful.

Ty’s Heart is the third standalone book in the California Cowboys series and revolves around the middle Jenkins brother and his adorable daughter. It was easy to fall in love with Ty and Katie in this book, and I always love a story that revolves around more than just the budding romance. Ms. Laurence did not disappoint, keeping Katie and her need for a mother front and center in the story line.

Every parent struggles to know what’s best for their child, and Ty’s character was realistic in that manner. Just because Jodi came back was no guarantee she would stick around this time, and a mother who blew in and out of Katie’s life could do more damage than good. Ty had to get to know Jodi, and he also had to take a chance on her if he wanted Katie to have that one thing he couldn’t give her.

In the course of getting to know Jodi again, the reasons they’d been attracted to each other in the first place stirred up all the feelings that got buried five years ago. Their attraction and the ups and downs of their relationship kept me turning pages long into the night.

The one thing holding this book back from being a 5-star read for me was that the climax felt a little manufactured. I won’t give any details to spoil it for others, but it just fell a bit short for me. By no means did it ruin the story though. It was still a thoroughly enjoyable ride with a satisfying conclusion, and I’ll continue to read Ms. Laurence’s books because I can always count on a captivating, sexy story.

You can find more reviews of Ms. Laurence’s work under the Author Spotlight tab.

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Rach

Mend Your Heart (Bounty Bay Book 4) by Tracey Alvarez

 

Mend Your Heart (Bounty Bay Book 4) by Tracey Alvarez

 Mend Your Heart Cover

5 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Mend Your Heart by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

For the past five years, Isaac Ngata has stayed out of the public’s eye and out of Natalie Fisher’s way. The former All Black rugby star prefers to keep an eye on his best mate’s widow from afar. The accident that took Natalie’s husband and Isaac’s teammate’s life also left Isaac as a celebrity pariah. When he’s asked to coach the girls’ rugby team so Natalie’s daughter can have her chance to play, Isaac’s long-buried feelings for Nat resurface with a vengeance.

Natalie Fisher has resolved herself to life as a single mother and would be happy to put the sport that took her husband behind her for good. But her daughter’s desire to play rugby has put Nat in the direct path of the one man she’d be happy to avoid forever—Isaac Ngata. With Isaac’s reputation in question, Nat has no choice but to help him with practices, and suddenly the sullen man is something more than her husband’s best friend.

Both Nat and Isaac will have to get beyond the past if they want to see what the future holds for them.

Mend Your Heart is book four of the Bounty Bay series, but like all books in this series it can be read as a standalone. And also like all books in this series, it takes romance a step beyond the standard. I can always count on Ms. Alvarez to give me a little something more. In this case, both main characters have to deal with the same issue—the death of Jackson Fisher, who was Natalie’s husband and Isaac’s best friend—but different aspects of the issue. Isaac has always loved Natalie, and his guilt will eat him alive if he can’t let it go. Natalie doesn’t think anyone could love her the way Jackson did, and she has to fight to keep from going back to the girl who made herself invisible in order to survive in the foster care system.

All of the characters in this book, including thirteen-year-old Olivia, were easy to love. One of the things I appreciated most about this story was the gradual change in relationships and characters. The book started with clear examples of Isaac’s miserable life, including his cluelessness in talking to teenagers. Bit by bit, and with a little help from Natalie, he was able to smile again and not only relate to the girls but also coach them to be better people and a better team. Natalie would have preferred to hide from her problems and be invisible once again, but she fought her way back to the strong, assertive woman she’s supposed to be.

Another aspect of this book I truly loved was that the conflict between the characters was mostly internal yet it wasn’t forced or manufactured. The death of a loved one affects people in different ways. Natalie and Isaac both loved Jackson, and they both needed to find a way to move on from their residual feelings five years later. There was plenty of emotion along the way, and like always, this author also knows how to turn up the heat between her characters.

Ms. Alvarez is the queen of happily ever after, providing well-rounded characters, an intriguing plot, and a polished story every time.

All of my reviews of Ms. Alvarez’s books can be found on the Author Spotlight tab.

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Rach

Vaughn’s Pride (California Cowboys #2) by Selena Laurence

Vaughn’s Pride (California Cowboys #2) by Selena Laurence

Vaughn’s Pride Cover

5 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Vaughn’s Pride by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

Everyone in Big Sur knows Vaughn Jenkins and T.J. Brisco are meant to be together, but life has a way of slapping a man down and putting him in his place. First was the death of Vaughn’s parents when he was seventeen, and now the loss of part of his leg once again pushes him away from the love of his life. Vaughn will never be the man T.J. deserves to have by her side.

T.J.’s loved only one man her whole life—Vaughn. She’d do anything for him. Anything except get pushed away yet again and be expected to sit around and wait for Vaughn to realize he’s worth her love. The sensible head on her shoulders says it’s time to move on. If only her heart would fall in line with that plan.

Vaughn’s Pride is the second book in the California Cowboys series and can be read as a standalone, but book one was so good you might want to read Cade’s Loss first anyway. The stories surround three brothers who tragically lost their parents and inherited one of the biggest ranches in California. Vaughn is the youngest brother and lives his life working the land. Someday he wants to be able to have a farm of his own for himself and T.J., but when an accident takes part of his lower leg and he’s unable to lead the active life he once led, he has nothing left to give her. Pride keeps him from letting her back into his life.

I loved these characters, both past and present versions of them. The author gave glimpses of their history at the beginning of each chapter, which added to the connection I felt to them and their relationship. Vaughn’s pride might’ve felt misplaced at times, but having witnessed their history of best friends turned lovers and their ultimate childhood downfall gave clearer insight into just how devoted he was to T.J. and why he couldn’t let her love him when he didn’t feel he had anything to offer her.

Seeing things from T.J.’s perspective made it even harder to watch him push her away, but character growth continually fueled their connection. Watching them recognize the changes in themselves and each other brought a warm satisfaction you don’t find in every second chance romance.

One of the key factors in any 5-star read for me is the ability of the author to draw me in immediately and keep me invested in the lives of the characters. Ms. Laurence delivered in spades. I hurt for and loved both Vaughn and T.J., turning page after page right up until the end. And having been the second book in the series I couldn’t put down, I’m highly anticipating the final book about the middle Jenkins brother, Ty.

All of my reviews of Ms. Laurence’s work can be found on the Author Spotlight tab.

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Rach

Flutter by Olivia Evans – Review

Flutter by Olivia Evans

Flutter Cover

4 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Flutter by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

When Dylan Walker lost the love of his life, he dedicated his life to helping others like her. After six years, he’s finally ready to start over, and that includes moving to the other side of the country where he doesn’t have memories of his past. But his path to helping others puts him in the direct path of a ghost. Not only is Presley Cooper supposed to be dead, but judging by the blank way she stares straight through Dylan, she won’t be any help in figuring out how she ended up there. Now he needs to make her remember not only her life but also her love for him.

Flutter is a standalone romantic suspense novel that had interesting aspects of mental illness woven into the story. As a doctor, the main character worked with patients in an in-patient mental illness facility, which provided the reader with glimpses of the suffering from various mental illnesses. The author presented the information in a way that was sophisticated enough to be coming from a doctor yet plain enough for the reader to understand, which increased my enjoyment of the story.

The book has aspects of both romance and suspense, but it leaned heavier on the suspense plot. The romance between Dylan and Presley was more of a given, with information provided to prove how much they loved each other rather than the process of falling in love. The story goes back and forth between the past and the present, which isn’t my favorite way to read, but it does work in this book to provide more information on the history between the characters and explain aspects of the plot going forward.

As for the suspense, it was interesting to watch Dylan trying to help Presley and another patient, and the suspenseful parts of the story were wrapped up nicely without leaving a bunch of loose ends. I especially appreciated that Presley’s mental issues were not immediately solved at the climax of the story, making it more realistic.

There were other parts that didn’t ring true for me, but not enough to take me out of the story. I also wasn’t immediately drawn into the story at the start, but glad I kept reading because it was well-written and enjoyable in the end.

If you enjoy suspenseful romance, this book is worth the read. I’ll definitely read more by this author.

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Rach

Starry Eyed Inside by Rochelle Allison

Starry Eyed Inside by Rochelle Allison

Starry Eyed Inside Cover

4 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Starry Eyed Inside by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

Coming of age is never easy, and it’s especially difficult for Rory Shepherd when she falls for bad boy Skyler Nolan. Starry Eyed Inside takes readers on a journey of exploration through the high school years, following Rory through first love and heartbreak and learning to live for herself. One of my favorite things about this book was the author’s use of voice for Rory and being able to feel her maturity emerging as she goes from love-struck high school freshman to senior year and knowing what she wants out of life. The journey is an emotional roller coaster, and the author has a talent for making readers feel everything her characters feel.

Although the story is told from Rory’s point of view, we get plenty of Skyler growing up as well. He goes from from reckless, indifferent teenager to a young man who has figured out what’s important and isn’t afraid to go after it. His patience and determination showed great character growth, and I enjoyed falling for the bad boy but loving the mature young man.

This is a great story of life and love, but I hesitate to classify it as Young Adult due to the amount of sexual content. It’s definitely geared more toward the older YA crowd. This certainly isn’t a strike against the book for me, but worth noting if that’s not your cup of tea.

A couple things contributed to this being a 4-star book for me as opposed to giving it 5 stars. While I enjoyed the journey of the characters, at times I felt it was too drawn out. The final third of the book could have been condensed and more to the point in my opinion. There were a few secondary characters with not enough follow-through (or perhaps too much inclusion to start), and some editing errors and minor inconsistencies, but nothing that would take me too far out of the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would definitely read more by this author.

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Rach

Flutter by Olivia Evans – Cover Reveal & Giveaway

We are so excited to reveal the cover for FLUTTER, an all-new romantic/suspense standalone from Olivia Evans #ComingJuly24th

Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a $15 Amazon Gift Card!

Dylan Walker has spent six years trying to move on from the loss of his girlfriend, Presley Cooper. Motivated by grief and the desire to do for others what he couldn’t do for her, he burns the candle at both ends to make it through medical school. After graduation he moves west, putting as much distance as possible between his past and his present.

Or so he thought.

Unknowingly, Dylan has been set on a path that will destroy everything he thought he knew. All the pain, all the grief, was all for nothing. With the help of an unexpected ally, Dylan must find the answers and save the girl he loves before it’s too late.

Deceit.

Betrayal.

Revenge.

A second chance at love.

But first, he must find a way to make her remember her past. Remember him. Remember everything.

 

“Presley?” Dylan said again. He wondered if this was what purgatory felt like. Trapped in a place that was neither heaven nor hell. Floating in the misery of what could have been. He didn’t expect her to look up, didn’t expect her to acknowledge him. When she did, he immediately wished she hadn’t. Her eyes trailed up his body and when her hazel eyes finally met his, it was if she was looking right through him. There was no recognition. Her pupils didn’t dilate and her expression never changed. He was a stranger and she was a ghost.

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Olivia Evans is a dreamer by day, writer by night. She’s obsessed with music and loves discovering new bands. Traveling the world and watching the sun set in every time zone sounds like heaven to her. A true Gemini, she follows her heart blindly and lives life to the fullest with her husband, son, and friends. Her other loves are: Chuck Taylors, Doc Martens, concert tees, gangster movies, sports, wine, craft beer and her shih tzu’s.

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Sugar & Gold (Dreamcatchers Book 2) by Emma Scott

Sugar & Gold (Dreamcatchers Book 2) by Emma Scott

Sugar & Gold Cover

5 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Sugar & Gold by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

Sugar & Gold is the second book in Emma Scott’s Dreamcatchers series, but as a standalone novel, you can comfortably read this amazing book without having read the first in the series (although I highly recommend reading How to Save a Life anyway—my review can be found here). Like the first book, this one contains what I’d categorize as a touch of paranormal. It’s so well-incorporated into the characterization that it doesn’t feel like a paranormal story though, so definitely don’t let that scare you off from reading if you’re not a fan of paranormal romance.

Nikolai Young was born with a gift he’d rather not have. His ability to know people’s emotions set him apart from a young age and caused his father to leave and his mother to think he had the devil inside him. He spends his life running from his ability, crisscrossing the country to keep his gift from overwhelming him. He plays poker to win just enough money to live off of and then moves on. Until he meets Fiona, the woman who calms the chaos of his gift.

Fiona Starling has a dream of moving to Costa Rica. The bright colors and lush greenery will help her escape her ugly past. She’s already begun rebuilding her life on her own terms, and a one-night stand with a tattooed stranger fits the bill of doing whatever she wants in the moment. Their physical connection is so strong right from the start that Fiona and Nik can’t seem to stay away from each other. But both of them have inner demons to deal with before they can find peace with each other.

I have yet to read a book by Ms. Scott I didn’t love, and this one was no different. It captured my heart right from the start with Nik’s poor, tortured soul just trying to find a little peace. I also loved sweet Fiona, so happy and carefree on the outside but with a difficult past she kept buried inside. The character growth in this book was a joy to watch. Nik and Fiona each had issues to come to grips with, and they knew they couldn’t depend on the other as their sole resource.

As with all of Ms. Scott’s books I’ve read so far, this story is full of passion and emotion. The author has a way of making you feel everything right along with the characters. I am a fan for life of Ms. Scott’s work and will be eagerly awaiting each of her new releases.

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Rach

Shameless by Nana Malone and M. Malone

Shameless by Nana Malone and M. Malone

Shameless Cover

4 out of 5 Stars

*I was provided a copy of Shameless by the authors in exchange for an honest review. I am not compensated for my honest opinion.*

Romantic Suspense

Lucia DeMarco has made it her life’s mission to find out why her brother Rafe was killed. In the meantime, she just wants to live. A date with the cute guy who works with the city’s records while she’s searching for information seems like a harmless idea. Too bad her brother’s best friend, Noah Blake, feels otherwise.

Noah Blake swore he would protect Lucia at all costs, and that includes protecting her from jerks who aren’t good enough for her. Realizing he’s one of those jerks doesn’t stop his attraction from growing for the girl he used to view as a little sister. But staying away and staying out of her life are out of the question, especially now that she’s in more danger than she realizes.

Shameless is the first book in a romantic suspense series, and it will capture your attention with its wit and humor. The brother-figure turned romantic interest provides a nice amount of push and pull between the characters, and the tension between them is thick right from the start. I especially enjoyed when Noah intruded on Lucia’s date. There was plenty of comedy as well as forging of the attraction between the characters to carry the reader throughout the book.

This first book in the series focused on the beginning of the relationship between Lucia and Noah, and it could have used a little more buildup on the investigation into Rafe’s death. It didn’t feel like the investigation moved very much by the time the book ended. I did enjoy getting to know both characters, however Noah’s thoughts on how he wasn’t good enough for Lucia became repetitive after a while.

Overall, the story was well-written and left me wanting to know what happens next. I would definitely be interested in reading the next book in the series to find out more about Rafe’s death and how it affects the main characters and their relationship.

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Rach

Saying I Do (Stewart Island Book 8) by Tracey Alvarez

Saying I Do (Stewart Island Book 8) by Tracey Alvarez

Saying I Do Cover

5 out of 5 Stars

MacKenna Jones has been designing wedding gowns since she was a little girl, but for other people. Mac isn’t the marrying type. She got close once, but she now knows that forever is not for her. Yet there’s something about Oban’s sexy doctor, Joe Whelan, that keeps her coming back for more. Too bad Joe hates her for ruining his chance at happily ever after.

Left by his fiancée a week before his wedding, Doctor Joe Whelan has no interest in holy matrimony. He should hate MacKenna for causing the breakup, but he can’t seem to stay away from her now that their orbits have crossed. Since Mac so successfully broke up his wedding several years ago, it should be no problem for her to break up Joe’s sister’s wedding, because no tattooed bus driver could be good enough for his little sister. Never mind that his diabolical plan forces him and Mac together. Shouldn’t be a problem since they’re both allergic to marriage.

Saying I Do is book 8 in the Stewart Island series, and like all other novels in this series, it can comfortably be read as a standalone book. Of course, if you’re already a fan of the series, some of everyone’s favorite characters make reappearances. Good old Mrs. Taylor, Oban’s resident octogenarian matchmaker, is back for another book, and this time she’s pointed her walking stick at Dr. Joe. No one has yet escaped Mrs. Taylor’s matchmaking!

One thing I love about every book written by Ms. Alvarez is that the story always goes beyond the romance. This one is no different. Both Mac and Joe are nuptially-challenged, and they each have good reason to stay away from the institution, in addition to good reason to stay away from each other. The plot is driven forward as much by their family situations and need for growth as it is by their lust. And in typical Tracey Alvarez style, the heat is turned up between the two, and the romance blooms in vivid color across the pages of the book. Attraction turns to love in a natural pace, making the reader fall in love with the characters right along with them.

Another thing I always enjoy in this author’s books is the taste of New Zealand I get by reading them. Descriptions of the weather and scenery are naturally integrated, painting a picture for me of a place I likely won’t ever be able to travel to. This book also had the benefit of including Joe’s Irish slang for added culture, as well as a trip to Las Vegas and the dry desert heat.

Saying I Do was as witty and enjoyable as every other book I’ve read by this author. Although I tend to tire of a series after a few books, Ms. Alvarez somehow keeps me coming back for more … eagerly!

All of my reviews of this author’s work can be found on the Author Spotlight tab.

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Rach