Happy Release Day, Kristan Higgins!

[dropcap]I’ve[/dropcap] read four out of the five of the Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins, and over the course of two years, I’ve always been curious about Connor O’Rourke. He was wise-talking, totally mysterious, and always teasing his twin sister, Colleen. She was even stumped by him. So I’ve been really excited to get Connor’s story, and Higgins did not disappoint with Anything For You (out today!). The highlight of this book was the timeline. We start with the present, a denied proposal, and then journey back to the very, very beginning of the “friendship” between Connor and Jess.

Anything for You by Kristan HigginsReaders can always depend on Higgins to create multi-layered character backstories and her development of Jess was on point. Right away, Jess reminded me of Laura Linney’s character in Love Actually; she has a disabled younger brother and is mainly responsible for him. Unlike Laura Linney’s, Jess’ parents are alcoholics and her childhood is filled with working more than one job, sacrificing her own school events and college to look out for her brother, and keeping them both safe from their parents and their unpredictable whims. The bright light in her life is always her brother, Davey, and then in an unexpected reunion: Connor.

Kind of. Jess understandably has trust issues. Davey is her number 1 priority, and even though she knows Connor is different than any of the other guys she has spent time with — that’s my one qualm about this book: readers are constantly and unnecessarily reminded of Jess and her promiscuity — the two can’t seem to make a full-fledged relationship work.

In romance novels, we know half the fun is getting to the happily ever after and I really enjoyed getting to know these two characters through their own personal challenges and the series of events that kept bringing them back to one another. Plus there was something so sweet about learning how a series landmark — O’Rourke’s — was born. Finding out these little details definitely made the Blue Heron series come full circle. Anything for You was the perfect respite after a busy few days, full of loyal supporting characters, forgiveness, acceptance, and a couple who deserved the chance to make each other happy.

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Anything for You (Blue Heron #5) by Kristan Higgins
will be published on December 29, 2015 by Harlequin HQN Books.
384 Pages | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Love Ain’t Nothing But Love | Romance Picks

This week has dragged a bit, hasn’t it? I’m blaming it on the very warm weather we’ve been having. Nothing like some sticky weather to get you in the mood for a romance novel, am I right? Okay. Maybe that transition sucks, but here I am. It’s been a summer of love for me. My reading routine is generally all about romance as a palette cleanser, a dependable mood booster but I find myself craving them more than ever lately. (It’s true. I came home from seeing Magan last week, after finishing Bad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates on the plane and all I wanted to do was pick up another one.) Here’s to falling in love with love – ♥

The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan WiggsThe Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs (Harlequin MIRA; 6/24/14) — I don’t read a TON of historical romance but I would like to think a series like Bella Vista Chronicles is the perfect entry into this book category. Isobel is in the midst of building a cooking school on the property of her childhood home when journalist/writer Cormac turns up to write the biography of Isobel’s grandfather, Magnus. While Isobel and Cormac’s story serve as one part of The Beekeeper’s Ball, Magnus’s memories from WWII (retold for that biography) fulfill the second as his colorful and heartbreaking past link past and present. I love the idea of a family learning about their history. With an enchanting setting and an emphasis on second chances, this book is definitely sweeter than honey. (As of right now, I don’t see any announcements for another book in this series but I hope there will be one. The Apple Orchard was great too.)

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Never Too Late by Robyn CarrNever Too Late by Robyn Carr (Harlequin MIRA; 4/1/15) – Clare (a recent divorcee starting over), Maggie (currently in a rut within her marriage), and Sarah (the single sister in the shadows) are the main gals starring in this reboot of Never Too Late (originally published in 2006). When Clare ends up seriously hurt in a car accident, her “seize the moment” mentality intensifies and she finds herself dating, making amends with old friends, and diving into new work. Her bond is her sisters is key to moving forward, especially when life continues to be bumpy. Never Too Late suffers from feeling a bit old-fashioned and drags in some places but Clare’s story is well-supported with tales of her sisters trying to refresh their own lives as best they can.

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Kiss Me by Susan MalleryKiss Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN; 6/30/15) — Admittedly, it was strange to read a Fool’s Gold love that doesn’t spend much time there but it was also refreshing and a reminder that FG is more about the kind community and not about the town. City girl, Phoebe, as a help to her best friend, agrees to attend an accidentally planned cattle drive in the wilderness with absolutely no experience. She finds herself in the company of brooding, quiet Zane and suddenly this whole trip has gotten a bit interesting. Zane is not easy to get to know and Phoebe is unable to hold back her quirks — talking to wild animals, making up funny stories, and pretty much being all kids of adorable. It’s been so long since Zane has had fun that it takes him some time to warm up to Phoebe, especially since this time in nature is meant to be a lesson for his ex-stepbrother, not alter his own life. You can always expect sexy and sweet with a sprinkling of lively supporting characters from  Mallery. Kiss Me was no exception.

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Bad News Cowboy by Maisey YatesBad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates (Harlequin HQN; 7/28/15) — Every since I read Part Time Cowboy, I’ve found myself a little bit obsessed with Yates. You know it’s good when you’re practically drooling before you start a book. Kate has always been more into riding horses than falling for guys but it’s like one day she just turned around and Jack — best friend to both her brothers and someone who’s always treated her like a little sister — is looking pretty good. Pretty good enough to be very curious about. And Jack, for his part, never wanted to cross Kate’s brothers and certainly never thought he would be fantasizing about Kate. Hello, forbidden romance! Both Kate and Jack discover they not only have common histories (and insecurities) but insane, insane chemistry. I loved this too because Kate is a virgin but she’s not afraid to say what she wants, and watching as she became more confident with this side of herself was such a bonus. Best of all — nothing about Yates’ stories feels formulaic, and the gender roles that have certainly been exhausted in this genre don’t seem to exist — resulting in one refreshing romance novel. (Can we have more independent ladies in these books, please?) It was also, quite possibly, the sexiest.

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Thanks for stopping in! If you leave me a book recommendation below,
I promise you a fantastic day! 😉

Estelle: In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins (Blog Tour)

In Your Dreams by Kristan HigginsIn Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins ( web | tweet )
Part of the Blue Heron series.
Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 480
Target audience: Adults/romance fans
Keywords: old loves, new loves, small towns, California, cops, wine
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Emmaline gets an invitation to her ex-fiancee’s wedding, she lands a “date” with the most eligible bachelor in Manningsport — Jack Holland. They play hockey together, see one each other at the town bar, but it’s never gone further than friendship. Jack is dealing with the aftermath of his efforts to save some teenage boys in a horrible accident, and needs a break from being treated like a hero when all he can think about is the one kid left in a coma. Can these two overcome their pasts and look toward the future together?

Kristan Higgins continues to weave her magic spell on me, folks. I’m totally hooked.

In Your Dreams brings us Emmaline and Jack — two people who live in the same town and are just passing friends. Over the course of the book, we learn that both characters are thrown into situations where they are forced to see the rawest part of the other. For Emmaline, she’s the cop on duty when Jack saves teenagers from an accident, when their car plunges into water. Later, Jack agrees to accompany Emmaline to the wedding of her ex-fiance and sees for himself the tension caused by her family and her insecurities sparked by her ex-fiance.

This is another area where Higgins excels. It’s not all about the chemistry or pushing her couples together but she really creates a backstory for each of her characters. Jack’s heroic gesture connects to his past, and is also affecting his present. He’s having nightmares, some shady things are going on, and he can’t confide in anyone. Not even his clingy ex-wife who is back in town and hoping to make amends. Jack is just SO nice. Too nice. Even Hadley’s reappearance doesn’t bother him (on the outside). He’s so polite, and helpful that it’s pretty much a curse because she is not one to get a hint.

For Emmaline, her parents are constantly on her case about her job as a cop and how they know she’s gay, and why doesn’t she come out already? They’re therapists and very judgmental and so frustrating. I was continually flabbergasted by how heartlessly they treated Emmaline, and how quick they were to disregard how she really felt. No wonder she had so many walls built up. Her parents paired with her ex-fiance (now that was a story)? It’s amazing she didn’t move to Fiji and change her name. (Okay, that’s dramatic but still. I felt bad for her.)

Somehow Higgins makes Jack and Emmaline’s pairing as unexpected and natural as possible. Emmaline knows that Jack is going through some rough stuff, and he has seen firsthand what kind of crap she is trying to dig herself out of. But it’s the resistance from Emmaline that makes this relationship so freaking sexy. Jack practically has to beg for her to go out on a date with him, and it’s pretty adorable and delectable. I loved how sarcastic and funny Emmaline was amongst the town, but also in her own head. That’s the thing about Higgins’ books. You have to be prepared to be swooning one minute to giggling the next. I can’t think of another romance author who succeeds at both so well. Jack and Emmaline made me fall in love with her work all over again.

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⇒ ⇒ GIVEAWAY! ⇐⇐

Hi! Little Bird Publicity has one copy of In Your Dreams for me to provide as a giveaway! Please leave a comment below to be entered. I will pick a winner on October 10, 2014 11:59pm EST. You must be 13 years old to enter and live in the United States. Good luck!!

Estelle: Until We Touch by Susan Mallery

Until We Touch by Susan MalleryUntil We Touch by Susan Mallery ( web | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold Series.
Publication Date: June 24, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 384
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: PR company, small town, best friends, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Larissa relocated to Fool’s Gold from Los Angeles, it was for her job as a personal assistant/ company masseuse at an up and coming PR agency. She hangs out, lives near, and works with her best friends. When her mom plants the seed that she is in love with her boss a.k.a. best friend, she denies it to everyone, especially herself … until she can’t anymore.

If the day is just too humid and you are in a grumpy mood, I suggest picking up a Fool’s Gold book. It’s a scientific fact that it raises your spirits!

Truthfully, Until We Touch isn’t my favorite Fool’s Gold book. It was far too repetitive with some of the details and I thought our main man, Jack, had to step up his penance game at the end of the book. (This is the first time I’ve seen a hero in one of these books act like a total asshole. Fact.) But, despite that, I definitely enjoyed getting caught up in all the happenings in the town (a new football program at a nearby college!) and reuniting with some of the characters I’ve met in past books.

And there’s nothing like two best friends not realizing they have the hots for each other when they, indeed, have the hots for each other.

Larissa is a gal who is generous with her time and her ability to help people, and I had to laugh out loud at so many of the causes she roped Jack into just because she could not say no. (An owl, people! An owl.) Even though, Jack makes it known he’s not an emotional guy (tragic past) he can’t help but give into her. She finds the cause, and he fronts the money (or the space). These two have an interesting dynamic, and proclamations of love were a bit anti-climatic but I still found their “courtship” super sweet and sexy and fueled by other surprises.

I can’t pick up a Fool’s Gold book without daydreaming about moving to a similar town. Sure, it’s small and there’s a ton of meddling but everyone looks out for each other and it always seems the possibilities for happiness (career, friendship, love) are aplenty.

Until We Touch plucked me from my unhappy place and welcomed me into a MUCH better one.

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book review of The Wanderer by Robyn Carr

Estelle: The Wanderer by Robyn Carr

book review of The Wanderer by Robyn CarrThe Wanderer by Robyn Carr ( web | tweet )
Book 1 of the Thunder Point Series.
Publication Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 378
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: romance, small town, “Friday Night Lights”-esque
Format read: ARC from NetGalley via Publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: Cooper arrives in Thunder Point after his old army pal, Ben, dies. His plan to get Ben’s affairs in order and move on (like he always does) takes a detour when he realizes he has more work on his hands than he thought. Fixing up Ben’s old bar, meeting Ben’s friends, and also scouting out that woman who is always walking her dog on the beach. In the first book in Robyn Carr’s new series, she weaves the stories of Thunder Point’s townfolk and it’s just the beginning…

I feel like Hank Cooper set off some kind of love avalanche when he steps into Thunder Point. Though the lone man on the cover of The Wanderer may give you a different idea, there are actually a few intertwining storylines happening within this book:

  • What will Cooper do with the property that Ben has left him? (Was Ben’s death really an accident?)
  • Mac (a.k.a. Deputy Yummy Pants) and Gina: single parents who are best friends with each other (their daughters are best friends too) and have been avoiding their deeper feelings.
  • Sarah and Landon: Two siblings starting over in a new town; over-protective sister can’t do enough for her brother, except guard him against some football teammate bullies.
  • Cooper and Sarah: Can Sarah overcome her trust issues and let Cooper in? Will Cooper give up his title as “The Wanderer” and settle down with Sarah?

See? There’s a lot going on in this introduction to Thunder Point — especially for a so-called small town. (Including one of the hottest sex scenes I’ve read in awhile. I was in such a trance that I was convinced I would miss my subway stop and that everyone on the train could see right through me as I read it.)

The characters in this book actually describe their lives as very Friday Night Lights: there’s a lot of football game outings, gossip, and good looking people. Even though it took me awhile to grasp Cooper’s age (37-ish) and keep all these characters in check, I like how Carr gives us a taste of the kind of folks we can look forward to in this series.

Surprisingly, my favorite voice came from Landon, Sarah’s brother and the new star quarterback of the high school team. Though his storyline is not as frequent as Cooper’s, his quips were refreshing and I liked his laidback attitude and the way he played “Dad” when it came to his sister’s love life. (I’m actually hoping he gets his own volume in this series but because of his age, I’m guessing that won’t happen.)

If you are looking to dive into a new romance series with a side of mystery, Thunder Point is just the ticket. The view is certainly easy on the eyes.

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Estelle: Here Comes Trouble by Erin Kern

Here Comes Trouble by Erin KernHere Comes Trouble by Erin Kern ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Forever Yours (Part of Hachette/Grand Central Publishing)
Pages: 243
Target audience: adult
Keywords: romance, Wyoming, restaurant, art, old friends
Format read: ARC via Publisher on NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: After a difficult childhood and bad luck coming from all directions, Lacy doesn’t make it easy for anyone to break down her walls. Not even Chase, the guy she has known since she was a kid and has always had a crush on. When more drama knocks on both their doors, Chase and Lacy take their friendship to the next level. Can they keep it casual or will they finally let their guards down?

I can’t be the only one who has ever picked up a book because there’s a cowboy on the cover. Right?

Well, Chase is just as gorgeous as I thought he was going to be (wait until you hear about his tattoos) but is also a pretty nice guy, even if he likes to “bed many woman” (as the book reminded me many times). He is the general manager of his family-owned restaurant where Lacy, our leading lady, also works. Lacy, who has known Chase since they were kids and is not his type at all. But, gee, does he love to banter with her.

Lacy has had a laundry list of drama in her life: her mother abandoned her, her dad has spent more time in jail than raising her, her loving (yet fiscally irresponsible) grandfather died from lung cancer, and she lost her art scholarship because she was working so hard to survive… she didn’t keep up her GPA. A job jumper, she’s actually worked at McDermott’s for the past two years while trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do with her life.

When another shoe drops in the form of a sister she never knew she had… she’s just about ready to lose it.

Enter Chase who offers her support and then some. Like some (many!) hot times that made it a little hard for me to get up from my cute seat at the coffee shop and walk back to work. My knees were shaking a bit.

I was a little apprehensive at how quickly Chase and Lacy formed an “arrangement” with one another, and I feared that would slow down the rest of the novel for me. (“How will she keep this interesting?!” I wondered to myself.) But Kern does concentrate a ton on Lacy’s personal life and also a small mystery taking place at Chase’s restaurant. A miniscule moment (that just seems to emphasize Lacy’s own insecurities) changes the course of the book, and the push + pull between Chase and Lacy from earlier is reinstated into some terrific tension.

Here Comes Trouble was the perfect book to cleanse my palette after a string of young adult reading. Sure, there’s a lot going on but Kern did an impressive job of not overlapping too much at once and putting a stop to certain storylines at appropriate times. It’s a quick read that is sure to leave you more than a little bit flustered.

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