Audio Review: Snow Falling on Bluegrass (Bluegrass, Book 3) by Molly Harper

molly harper snow falling bluegrassSummary: Snowed-in at a lodge on a work retreat, Kelsey will not only have to organize her work colleagues, but also her love life. First Darrell, her ex, makes her life miserable by handing her credit card debt she didn’t sign up for or enjoy. Then the cute statistician at the office, Charlie, flashes hot and cold with her. Is he interested or not? And then there’s Luke, who is running the lodge in the absence of other employees and he’s a Ranger. He’s definitely interested in her. Maybe being snowed-in isn’t such a disaster after all!

Review: Molly Harper is funny, which is no surprise as she’s a former humor columnist. It’s even funnier to hear the narrator, Amanda Ronconi, say and act some of these lines. Kelsey is a smart, funny, high energy person. She’s got a sense of humor and is willing to crack jokes at herself. You have to wonder how a girl like her stuck it out with Darrell for as long as she did. Molly does explain and it is plausible but the backstory made me feel more like I was missing a key element than filling in the blanks. Perhaps this was more readily apparent in a previous book in the series. Both of Kelsey’s crushes are good guys. I would happily see her wind up with either one of them, which is very rare for me to say so. And I would definitely read about the one who didn’t win Kelsey’s heart.

Narrator: I recently listened to Amanda Ronconi in another audio book. She did a great job then and she did a great job this time. When I first heard her speak I couldn’t place the previous audio book I had heard her narrate. I think that means she did an excellent job adapting to the character profiles and accents. I’d listen to her again. She’s definitely a great listen for contemporary romances.

[Rating:4]

Buy: Snow Falling on Bluegrass, Snow Falling on Bluegrass (Audiobook)

Review: The Reluctant Elf by Michele Gorman

reluctant elfHeroine: Lottie and her daughter, Mabel, are planning to visit Aunt Kate this Christmas because Aunt Kate is starting a bed and breakfast (B&B) business. When Kate is hospitalized, Lottie and Mabel leave a day early for their Christmas vacation. The B&B is in dire straights, so are Aunt Kate’s finances, and the help just absconded for a break to recuperate. Everything hinges on getting a good rating from the reviewer. But Lottie hasn’t the foggiest clue what to do to run a successful B&B.

Hero: Danny, the taxi driver, is an unlikely but most definitely needed hero. When Lottie offers him enough money to fund a trip to see his young daughter in America, he agrees to aid her in anyway he can. He helps paint, fix, repair, clean, and cook. And along the way the two find they have an affinity for each other.

Review: The B&B reviewer and his family are seriously dysfunctional. I am very glad that the creepy brother/in-law doesn’t barge in on Lottie in the bath. He was a very ignorant self-absorbed cad. His wife was a hypochondriac and couldn’t stand her children. The two kids were terrors. I’d be afraid for Mabel to hang out with them. The only one sane was the reviewer. Are you up for some crazy hijinks involving scolding plumbing, falling down ceilings, holes patched with toothpaste? Then you’re in for a treat with this wifi-less Victorian-themed holiday chick-lit. Happy ending for all. There’s definitely room for continuation.

[Rating:3.25]

Buy: The Reluctant Elf

Audio Review: Sugar Rush (Cupcake Club, Book 1) by Donna Kauffman

sugar rushHero: Baxter Dunne is Chef Hot Cakes and Leilani’s former boss. When she left his restaurant Baxter realized he needed her in his life and not just for her cooking, but the woman herself. So he does what any man would do in order to woo a woman – he puts his television show on the road and themes it around bakeries just like hers and makes her his first stop.

Heroine: Leilani Trusdale quit New York City when her father became ill. Most of her city friends don’t understand, but Leilani wants to spend her time and talent on person’s who enjoy food and not their social status or figures. So she sets up shop in sleepy Sugarberry Island and is a hit with the residents. She can’t imagine moving back to NYC, he can’t imagine moving to a small town.

Review: Sugar Rush is a sweet romance in more ways than one! Each of the characters are likable. Baxter is a self-made chef and has worked in kitchens most of his life. He and Leilani get off on the wrong foot before they even start. She blames him for the stress and hard time she had professionally in his kitchen. He was trying to negate the gossip by not rising to it. In the end he’s got to win her heart by being vulnerable. My favorite aspect of the story besides the steamy kissing scenes in the kitchen, was Leilani and Charlotte’s friendship. I also enjoyed Alma – she reminded me of Betty White. There were some other characters like an assistant and a college student and a lesbian that kind of blurred in the narrating. I couldn’t tell if they were one and the same or different. In the end it doesn’t truly signify because as side characters they were supporting not staging the romance.

Narrator: Amanda Ronconi is a lovely narrator to listen to. She did an excellent job with Baxter’s and Charlotte’s accents. I’d listen to her again.

[Rating:3.5]

Buy: Sugar Rush (Cupcake Club), Sugar Rush (Audio book)

Audio Review: Midsummer Magic by Catherine Coulter

midsummer magicHero: Philip Hawsbury is no longer the second son. When his older brother died, he became the next Earl of Rothermere. Now his father is on his deathbed and Philip must fulfill a longstanding promise his father made to impoverished Alexander Kilbracken, the Scottish Earl of Ruthven. He must marry one of the daughters – Viola, Clare, or Frances.  He has no desire to wed anyone and would prefer to stay in London with his mistress. Now how can he proceed to do both?

Heroine: Frances does not want to be married off to Philip or really anyone sight unseen. She’s certain he’s going to be an arrogant Sassenach. She’s the apple of her father’s eye and has a premonition that her father would like to see her marry the man. Since she must be present and participate, she decides to do so in the worst way possible. While her sisters, Clare and Viola, vie for the young earl’s attention, she’s going to make herself ugly, aloof, and a shrew. Little does she know that she presents the perfect image of a wife for Philip – who wants to fulfill his father’s promise, but leave the missus behind at Desborough Hall while he pursues his London life unchecked and unencumbered.

Review: This book comes from the era of the “bodice-ripper” / “forced seduction” and has the flaws that associate with that period of romances. The hero for instance is not a worthy hero by today’s standard’s. He’s shallow and doesn’t learn to love the heroine in her disguise, but rather falls for her [beauty] when it comes off. He’s also either a product of his times or an idiot because he doesn’t think wives should be treated like mistresses and in so believing makes zero attempts to please his bride when he and she do their “duties” to conceive.  But it’s supposed to be acceptable and tolerable because both characters don’t know any better. Baloney. He also likes to pretend he’s the wounded party in all of this, which is very aggravating.

When he’s not being an irritating jerk he at least remembers the cream (which is not saying much.)

It should be noted that the heroine’s characterization starts off great – she’s feisty, stands up to her father, and tries to trick the hero with a “clever” ugly duckling disguise. But then this tom-boyish, heart of gold (she walks miles to visit her father’s tenets,) strong heroine gets replaced by someone else entirely during their “honeymoon” stage. She’s uncertain, quiet, mousey, and timid – and not just for the appearance of keeping up her disguise.

So what did work for me was the beginning and the initial set-up.

Narrator: Anne Flosnik as usual had a wonderful performance. She is one of the reasons I stuck with the story to the end.

[Rating:2]

Buy: Midsummer Magic (Magic Trilogy), Midsummer Magic (Audiobook)

A Chance Encounter

978-0-263-90896-1Guest post by Jennifer Hayward, author of Changing Constantinou’s Game

What would you do if one life-changing event made you realize you’ve been living your life on the sidelines? What if it changed everything?

As writers we often get asked where we get our inspiration from. “How do you come up with all those stories?” For me, true life is often stranger than fiction and many of my ideas have come from a newspaper story or a tale a friend has told. Sometimes, my inspiration comes from a subject I love – such as wine with my debut Delicious De Campos trilogy. Not only do I love consuming it, but I find the art of making it fascinating. And finally, my inspiration comes from my own experience, my own life.

For Alexios and Isabel in Changing Constantinou’s Game, my inspiration began with a flight home after a vacation where I sat beside a marine biologist from the Great Barrier Reef. He was charming, very attractive and charismatic and we chatted most of the flight. He was visiting my hometown and kept throwing hints my way I could show him the sights. I was young and frankly a bit shy about taking an attractive, worldly man I didn’t know sightseeing. And I didn’t.

I thought of him as the ‘one that got away’ at the time. Except he wasn’t really because then I found my Swedish Viking many years later when I was ready to settle down. That chance encounter with the marine biologist, though, got me thinking. I hated that I didn’t have the guts to go for it and show him the town. What if I had? Would things have unfolded so differently for me? Would I be living in the Great Barrier Reef instead of Toronto? Or would he and I have discovered that night we weren’t compatible at all?

With Izzie, I wanted to create a heroine who comes across that charismatic, beautiful man in her travels, is overwhelmed by his pure presence, but this heroine doesn’t shy away from the opportunity. No – she sucks it up and does what many of us wish we would have done. She goes for it!

The only problem with Izzie’s Carpe Diem moment is that she’s a driven young Manhattan television reporter and her hot one night stand turns out to be the story she needs to land an anchor job. She had no clue the Alexios she met in London is the Leandros she was looking for. Alexios thinks she’s lied to him and is using him for career gain. It puts Izzie in impossible situations, tests her character and forces her to grow and make decisions that define her as a person. It makes her question everything she’s ever believed about herself and success. And love.

To me, she is a most courageous heroine who doesn’t take the expected routes. She learns to follow her heart. I loved writing her. She’s the gutsy heroine I always wanted to be.

Here’s a scene from the night in London where Izzie decides to take her leap with Alexios:

Izzie focused on forking the small amount of food she thought she could consume into her mouth at the small candlelit table Alex had set on the terrace. The herbed pasta was delicious, but it was hard to eat when her heart was still pounding and her hands trembling so much negotiating a fork seemed like a new and highly complex activity. And why wouldn’t it when she had literally jumped into the deep end and invited the most spectacularly good looking man she’d ever met to kiss her–and he had!  Not to mention the fact that the kiss had been the most incredible of her life and all she could think about was experiencing more of the bone-meltingly delicious heat that had coursed through her veins. It was like every nerve ending in her body had been switched on for the first time and she wasn’t sure whether to revel in it or be completely terrified of what she was feeling.

She swallowed hard, forced down the food. The fact that she’d been right–that Alex was attracted to her–made her head feel like it was going to blow off.  Maybe Jo was right. Maybe it had been her defensive attitude that had turned men off in the past and not the fifteen extra pounds she’d been carrying. Which had always been her excuse.

She took another sip of the rich, full Cabernet that was going a long way to mellowing her out. But the wine didn’t seem to be having the same effect on Alex who’d glowered at her throughout the entire meal-as if she’d committed a crime rather than simply kissed him.

She risked a quick glance at him.  He was still watching her with that same, implacable frown on his face, that penetrating blue gaze of his impossible to read. And it occurred to her she hadn’t fully thought through her plan. She had the mind numbing confirmation he was attracted to her…the question now was what was she going to do about it?

Her heart pounding in her chest, she set her fork down with an abrupt movement, and the sound of metal clattering against fine china echoed in the still night air.

He gave her half-empty plate a narrowed glance. “That’s all you’re going to eat?”

“It was delicious, thank you. I think that’s about all I can handle.’
“All right.” He laid his fork down with a deliberate movement and pushed his plate away.  “Let’s talk about what happened.”

Gladly.  She took another sip of her wine to fortify herself and set the glass down.

“That kiss shouldn’t have happened.”

She was ready for that one.  “Why not?

“I’m much more experienced than you, Isabel. I’m not interested in relationships, in fact mine never last longer than a few months, and the women I date are well aware of that.”

“So?”

He did a double take at the belligerent note in her voice. “You’re also probably still in shock from what happened today.”

“I’m absolutely fine,” she countered.  “In fact I feel like I have more clarity right now than I’ve ever had in my life.”

He sat back in his chair, his gaze on her face.  “What kind of clarity?”

She twisted the stem of her wine glass on the table, watching the blood red liquid shimmer in the candlelight. “That was my worst fear today. Facing it-getting through it-” she paused, looking up at him, “–it’s made me realize how much of my life I’ve lived in fear…how many times I’ve not gone after what I wanted because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it or it would explode in my face.”

He gave a wary nod.  “That’s a good realization.”

She shook her head.  “I’m not looking for a relationship, Alex.” A husky laugh escaped her.  “In fact, that’s the last thing I need right now.”

His eyes narrowed. “Then what are you looking for?”

“I don’t want to live with any more regrets.”

He shook his head, a wry smile curving his lips. “You’re twenty-five, Isabel. How many regrets can you have?”

She took a deep breath, meeting his gaze head-on. “I will regret it if I walk away from tonight without exploring the attraction that’s between us.”

A muscle jumped in his jaw.  He sat there completely silent, staring at her.  “I’m not sure you know what you’re doing.”

She shook her head.  “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

A long moment passed, it might have been four, five seconds, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she was holding her breath, sure at one point he was going to reject her. The warm night air pressed so heavily against her lungs she thought they would burst.  And then something shifted, morphed on the air between them. And she got her answer in the darkening of his eyes.

Thank you so much for having me! I’d love to know about a leap you’ve made in your life? Or one you wish you’d taken?

B - Jennifer Drogell - Wide ShotJENNIFER HAYWARD has been a fan of romance since filching her sister’s novels to escape her teenaged angst. Her career in journalism and PR, including years of working alongside powerful, charismatic CEOs and traveling the world, has provided perfect fodder for the fast-paced, sexy stories she likes to write, always with a touch of humour. You can find out more about Jennifer and her books at her website.

Buy: Changing Constantinou’s Game