Estelle: Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre

Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella AndreCome a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre ( web | tweet )
Part of The Sullivans romance series.
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 384
Target audience: adult
Keywords: movie business, sisters, family, San Francisco
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (thanks!)
Last reviewed: Let Me Be the One with BUY IT rating

Summary: Smith’s career in Hollywood is just about as successful as he could have hoped so when he embarks on a new project — starring in a movie that he has written himself — he’s shocked to find himself in a position where he is working just as hard to win a lady’s heart. Valentina can’t stand actors and wants nothing to do with Smith but his love for his family and his kindness is so hard to resist.

A movie set, an unexpected leading lady, a charming celebrity = Bella Andre has done it again.

His story: After years of a successful career, Smith is challenging himself in a new way. He wrote a screenplay for what he calls “the simplest of love stories” and is currently starring in it. It’s not like his normal work, he’s really putting himself out there. While his mind should ONLY be on this, his thoughts are constantly swayed by his co-star’s sister, Valentina. She’s so with it, so in charge, but totally has her heart on guard.

Her story: Valentina is a total workaholic, managing her sister’s career. When Tatiana lands a role opposite massive star, Smith Sullivan, Valentina has to be even more on her toes. Her sister’s career is about to go crazy. But Val is distracted by Smith’s looks, his talent, the sweet words of his screenplay, and even though she would like to, she can’t exactly resist just how NICE he is to her.

Who knew: A night at Alcatraz (with cupcakes) could be so utterly sexy.

The big question: Can Valentina get over qualms about dating actors? (After her mom has dated so many of them in the past.) Does Smith really have what it takes to win Valentina over?

The sizzle: Oh my god. Andre has seriously upped the sexy meter in Come a Little Bit Closer. I was totally at the edge of my seat wondering when Valentina would finally give Smith a chance, and whoa whoa whoa. So absolutely worth it, and so much more to look forward to after their initial collision.

Family matters: Something that sets Andre’s books from other romance series is the emphasis on family. Smith is really involved in the lives of all of his siblings — he’s completely supportive, and at the same time, welcoming to others he wants to bring into the fold. They are always popping up in the story, and it’s so comforting and sweet to see. At the same time, Valentina and Tatiana have such a tight bond and I liked watching how their dependence on each other changed over the course of the book. (The role reversal was a great touch too.)

Movie drama: How would you like your sister to act in a sex scene with the guy of your dreams? Mhm. Talk about a tough day at work.

Final thoughts: Another addicting read from Andre! So much fun to watch Smith wear down Valentina, and nice to see them both doing the emotional/head work to ensure they were ready to move forward with this relationship. My only qualm were some of the screenplay inserts. I loved the parallel of Gravity‘s story but there was so much prose included and movie watchers wouldn’t be seeing prose vs. hearing dialogue on a screen so I think there may have been a better way to present that. Nitpicky, a bit, I know. But seriously — Come a Little Bit Closer was sweet, tension-filled, and a lot of fun. Can’t wait for more of the Sullivans!

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Estelle: The Chance by Robyn Carr (Thunder Point Series)

The Chance by Robyn CarrThe Chance by Robyn Carr ( web | tweet )
Part of the Thunder Point series.
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 368
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: father/daughters, romance, small towns
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Last book I reviewed by Carr: The Hero

Summary: After getting to know Thunder Point in a professional capacity, Laine decides to rehabilitate from her injury and make a temporary home there. When she meets Eric, another Thunder Point newbie, she finds yet another reason to make her new town a permanent fixture. But when her estranged father shows up on her front stoop and she’s antsy with her career, will she be heading back to the East Coast? And what about Eric? New character, Al, is introduced and begins romancing man-crazy real estate agent, Ray Anne, and one of Eric’s high school workers, Justin, has problems at home.

Thunder Point is a town of second chances. Even though Laine and Eric think they have nothing in common when they first get together, I do think this is what brings them together. Laine is coming off a huge assignment with the FBI and Eric just opened a car shop in Thunder Point to be closer to his teenage daughter. I loved how Laine took the lead because tough guy Eric was a little too shy, and how, together, they were the perfect balance of sexy and settled.

It’s true that Carr didn’t waste any time getting these two together. The Chance‘s storyline went beyond romance, and began to focus on the sudden appearance of Laine’s estranged father from Boston and the other guys in Eric’s car shop. (Of course, we did get to catch up with some past favorites from the Thunder Point series, too. Though, not as much as I thought.) This change in course was a little unexpected. I’ll be honest. I would have liked to see Laine bond with Eric’s daughter, and at some point, Eric to meet Laine’s family but instead the couple faced a lot of time apart as Laine saw to her dad and a subplot featuring a teenage boy in Eric’s shop took centerstage.

The second half of The Chance chugged along considerably slower than the first, partly because I didn’t think there would be such a heavy emphasis on Laine and her dad. I did like how Laine’s character made family so important, and appreciated her struggle with doing what was right for her parent and what was right for herself. It’s a tough position to be in (especially because her dad’s acceptance was so important to her), and I was curious to see what she was going to decide in the end. Would Thunder Point and Eric be her final destination? I really wasn’t too sure. (But I did have a hunch. Happily ever after, and all that good stuff.)

While Carr’s latest felt a a tad willy-nilly compared to the other installments, it was still comforting to be welcomed back into this town, visit with old friends  (especially the man-crazy real estate agent, Ray Anne), and get to know some new ones (high schooler Justin and his determination to take care of his family). I’ve already marked my calendar for The Promise, book 5 in the series, out in July. I can’t wait to know a certain doctor a little bit better…

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If you want to know more about the Thunder Point series and The Chance,  keep reading below for a Q&A with series creator, Robyn Carr, provided by Little Bird Publicity.

Robyn CarrQ: When you first created Thunder Point and started writing novels based there, did you have upcoming characters—like Laine and Eric from The Chance—in mind, or have they been developed since you created the town? How has the series evolved since the first three books came out last year?

A: The really fun part about a long running series like this as that the characters appear as they’re needed and they evolve. When I first introduced Eric in The Newcomer, I wasn’t sure he’d have more of a story coming. When I started to think he was memorable enough for his own story and romance, I wasn’t sure whom he’d meet that he’d fall for. When I introduced Laine in The Hero, I thought she might be just crossing the stage—but then I saw her meeting Eric and it all seemed to come together.

Other characters have been there since the beginning of the series and have been calling out to me for their own story, like Dr. Scott Grant. Bless his heart—he has been ready for a special woman for a long time now.

Q: Do you have a favorite place in Thunder Point? If it was a real town, where would you spend most of your time?

A: If I lived in Thunder Point, I think I’d be at the diner every day. That seems to be where most people run into each other. It’s a great place for a coffee break or breakfast—Stu, the owner and cook, doesn’t screw up breakfast too badly. And another great place to have a glass of wine or a nice dinner is the nicest restaurant in town, Cliffhanger’s in the marina. And finally Cooper’s beach bar is the best place to view a sunset—he has tables on the deck and when the sun sets over those big, black haystack rocks, it’s amazing.

Q: What is the underlying message you want women to take away from The Chance? Not to be too corny, but what does chance have to do with it? And do you really believe in second chances?

A: Eric and Laine are completely ill-suited for each other. Not only do they come from vastly different backgrounds, like completely different things, but he’s an ex-con and she’s an FBI agent! And yet when they’re together, the chemistry is overpowering. Even though all good sense says they should not pursue a romantic future, sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct and take a chance on the least likely match. Do I believe in second chances? Oh, yes. And third, fourth, fifth and so on. Things seem to work out just as they should. I love the quote from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not yet all right, it is not yet the end.”

Q: What would you tell someone who is coming to Thunder Point for the first time? What do you want them to know about the town before they jump into The Chance? Because after all, even though this is a series, the brilliant thing is that you don’t have to read them in order. You really can just jump in and fall in love with any book.

A:  Thunder Point is a small coastal town in Oregon. Many of the residents have been there all their lives, some have been there at least several years and some are finding new lives there. The things they all seem to have in common is they’re not afraid of hard work, they take pleasure in the most simple yet wonderful things life has to offer, they are committed to helping each other when help is needed and they value their friendships. Most of the town could use sprucing up but the landscape is breathtaking with the big rocks in the bay, long beach and protected bay. The storms that come in from the Pacific and gather in the bay provide as much entertainment as any action adventure movie. Thunder Point is almost crime free and has a safe, secure feeling to it.  It’s a perfect place to raise children, recover from a broken heart or start over.

Estelle: If You Were Mine by Bella Andre

If You Were Mine by Bella AndreIf You Were Mine by Bella Andre ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Target audience: Adult/romance fans
Keywords: animals, big families, family secrets, unlikely friendships
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Other books by Bella Andre: I Only Have Eyes for You | Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Summary: Zach, a notorious playboy with no desire to settle down, finds himself unexpectedly caring for his brother’s new dog. The dog’s lack of discipline causes Zach to cross paths with Heather, a dedicated dog trainer who is adamant about keeping her guard up.

Who knew a dog named Cuddles could bring two people together?

Bella Andre has really done it again in If You Were Mine. Sure her male characters are very alpha but I was really charmed by Zach, a successful businessman who knows his way around a car. But he absolutely knows nothing about dogs and he can’t turn down his adorable niece when she asks him to take care of Cuddles for two weeks. Cuddles might be adorable but the dog is also a total terror and Zach needs help.

Enter Heather.

She’s practically a dog whisperer and feels instantly protective of Cuddles when she experiences firsthand how Zach cannot handle her at all. Begrudgingly, she decides to help him out and while it starts to work, she can’t help but be distracted by his good looks and ohmigosh, his flirting. But family drama has made Heather cautious and she knows she just can’t trust anyone right now. Especially super sweet, funny, successful, adorable Zach.

Here we get the brilliant “friends with benefits” idea. Zach doesn’t want to settle down, and Heather doesn’t want to fall in love so hey, this is the most perfect idea in the world, right?

Well, Zach and Heather are so intensely sexy together but it isn’t long before one of them starts thinking they could be something more. That this could actually mean something. Could they overcome their own insecurities and make a real relationship work? Oh, I was hoping so.

I loved watching these two fall for each other, and found it especially sweet when their dogs formed quite the bond. Plus the entire Sullivan clan is incredibly amusing, and their affection for each other just adds a whole new dimension to these books. They tease, they challenge each other, and they are so good at welcoming outsiders (especially us readers).

If You Were Mine is officially a new favorite! Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

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Estelle: Playing Dirty by Jennifer Echols

Playing Dirty by Jennifer EcholsPlaying Dirty by Jennifer Echols ( web | tweet )
Part of the Stargazer series.
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 478
Target audience: Adult/romance
Keywords: country band, secrets, PR company
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss! (Thanks!)

Summary: Sarah is just about divorced from her husband and trying out a gutsier look and personality to go along with her PR job. Her latest assignment is to ensure a finished album from country band, Cheatin’ Hearts, and a (relatively) calm Fourth of July performance. With her own future on the line, Sarah is prepared to do just about anything to make Cheatin’ Hearts (subject to much tabloid foder) stay together and remain successful. In the mean time, band leader Quentin has tangled a web of lies to keep the band’s name on people’s tongues and with Sarah in the picture, it’s getting difficult to keep it all together.

Talk about blurred lines of the mixing work with pleasure variety and you have yourself Playing Dirty.

Sarah, defeated from a demanding PR task in Rio, is in jeopardy of losing her job. Her last hope (God help us all) is Cheatin’ Hearts, a country band known for their fights, swapping bandmates for romance partners, and drug use. All she needs to do is get their album finished, make sure they are on stage for a Fourth of July performance, and she is in the clear.

As she suspected, it’s just not going to be that easy.

She fully adopts her PR-alter ego, pink highlights, stripper heels, and tons of sex appeal to win over the Quentin, the supposed cocaine addict and leader of the band. If she can just make Quentin’s ex-girlfriend/current fiddle player, Erin, jealous, the two will get back together and certainly keep the band from breaking up. Of course, this plan requires many steamy (sometimes stolen) moments with Quentin, who is just too attractive for his own good.

Something is missing from this equation though. Honesty. It’s pretty much taken a back seat.

Sarah is lying about what happened in Rio. She also would choose sweatpants over hot pants any day. While Quentin and his band learned early on that success is about giving people something to talk about so basically nothing seen in the tabloids is real. Like at all. And while there are glimpses of truth in a few of Sarah and Quentin’s encounters, they keep second guessing themselves, each other, and it all erupts into a huge huge dramatic mess.

Even though so many of the conflicts in Playing Dirty could have been avoided, Sarah and Quentin share some sizzling scenes together (the shower!) and for all of the lying, their characters were super well developed. Sarah has some unresolved issues with her mother and a divorce in the works; Quentin gave up a medical career to pursue singing (he comes from a family of musicians) and his mother’s death made him scared of many things. When they both let their guards down, I really liked watching them get to know each other and bond.

Plus I absolutely loved her friendship with Wendy (the main character from Star Crossed) showcased through some hilarious emails and all the country music making and gossip!

I can’t forget to mention “the scary element”. Echols utilized this subplot in Star Crossed as well. I thought it was unnecessary there, and even more so in Playing Dirty. It caused the end to drag, and just seemed too much with all the situations already unfolding.

Still Playing Dirty has so much of Echol’s signature elements: crazy tension, a hot leading man with a heart, an ambitious female lead, and a great dash of comedy to level out all the drama. (Also: a surprising amount of Star Wars references for the nerdy side in all of us!) I’m still enjoying her venture into adult contemporary romance and I always on the edge of my seat waiting for the next one!

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Estelle: I Only Have Eyes For You by Bella Andre

I Only Have Eyes for You by Bella AndreI Only Have Eyes for You by Bella Andre ( web | tweet )
Part of The Sullivans series.
Publication Date: September 24, 2013 (paperback)
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 378
Target audience: Adult / romance fans
Keywords: childhood crushes, weddings, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Sophie has had her eye on Jake since she was 5 years old, and he was always hanging around with her brothers. Twenty years later, they team up to work on a wedding together for her brother and she thinks this is her big chance to finally show Jake what he’s been missing. She’s not just the “nice” girl he thinks she is.

After months of being curious about Bella Andre’s work due to the wonderful reviews coming from Jess at Gone with the Words, I can finally say I am a convert. I picked up I Only Have Eyes for You as a repreive from a pretty heavy young adult book I was reading and a hefty biography. (Three books at once! This never happens.) And it hit the spot so perfectly that I read the entire novel over the course of a few hours.

Truth is I already had a hunch I would really enjoy this story. I am such a sucker for childhood crushes that continue through adulthood and don’t disappear. When the object of your affection is still a big part of your life, that is total romance. Sophie has loved Jake from afar for years; as the total bookworm, she’s always felt like the invisible one among her siblings and is pretty sure Jake has never noticed her as more of a sister-type. Try telling her heart that, though.

Years later, Sophie is a librarian and Jake is the owner of several pubs in town. They team up to work on Sophie’s brother’s wedding together (Jake’s also a groomsmen) and Sophie finally decides to be a little bit daring, show she’s not always the “nice” one (they call her twin sister, Lori, “naughty”) and catch Jake’s attention. Little does she know that he has noticed, he’s been noticing for years. He just thinks he’s no good for her. She deserves better, and he tries to stay as far away from her as possible.

You know what happens when you stay far away from a person, right? C’mon, you do. How about the steamiest encounter I have ever experienced in my romance novel reading? Picture this. I’m at the gym already sweating…er, glowing and Sophie and Jake are literally leaving me breathless. (In fact, I texted Jess to take a breath and tell her I was definitely dehydrated.) After a kiss that rocked my world, there’s this scene that reminds me of Baby going to Johnny’s room post-performance in Dirty Dancing. (“I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”)

Cue the sexy. But then the heartbreak when Jake knows he can’t stay with her and he leaves. Two months later, Sophie realizes that one night stand got her pregnant and when she confronts Jake about it, after complete radio silence, he demands they get married and THIS is where the fun begins. He wants a week to prove to Sophie they should be together forever.

Deadlines in romance novels always intrigue me. I’m wondering what will be the breaking point that makes them realize they are meant to be? Jake has to prove himself to Sophie despite his own self-consciousness and she’s not so sure he actually wants to be with her because of her. Is it only about her pregnancy? I really liked watching them finally get to know each other, and let their guards down. They challenged one another (in life and in the bedroom) and I could not get enough. Plus Andre’s family dynamics are awesome. How would Jake come clean to Sophie’s protective brothers who were also his best friends?

Romance enthusiasts, check out Bella Andre! And for those of you looking to get into some romanctical reading, I’d definitely give this series a shot.

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Estelle: Three Little Words by Susan Mallery

Three Little Words by Susan MalleryThree Little Words by Susan Mallery ( web | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold series.
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 360
Target audience: Adult; romance fans
Keywords: childhood love, opposites attract, post-military life, small towns
Format read: eBook received from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Isabel was heartbroken when her sister broke off her relationship with Ford and he ran off to join the military. At 14, she was utterly in love with him and while he was gone, sent him letters for years and years without any response. Years later, the two are reunited in their hometown (he’s living in her parent’s apartment) and he recruits her for a little help.

When I was 14, I was totally in love with this older boy (a family friend) and thinking back, I did some really cringe worthy things to get/not get his attention. (Does that make sense?) There was this one time I sent him a picture of me blowing him a kiss! For real. (I tried to unsend it but that function did not exist then.) Reading Isabel’s young letters to Ford in Three Little Words really transported me back to that very young me, hoping beyond hope that this amazing/almost off-limits guy felt the same way.

I absolutely love the “reunion” storyline in romance novels. People with a history, seeing each other again. Will old feelings come zipping back? Can they fall for each other despite the experience and years between them?

For Isabel and Ford, there isn’t much standing in their way. Just themselves. After years in the military, Ford just feels like he could never fall in love, and Isabel is reeling from a divorce that left her feeling like it was kind of her own fault. Back in Fool’s Gold to sell her family’s bridal shop and report back to New York to start a new fashion venture, she finds out that Ford will be occupying her family’s apartment a.k.a. living in her house. In the mean time, Ford is trying to adjust to being around people again, including his mother who is desperate for him to get married and start a family of his own.

This is where Isabel comes in. Ford asks her if she can be his pretend girlfriend for awhile so his mom will finally calm down. I’m sure you can see where this is all heading.

I’ve read a bunch of Fool’s Gold books since I started last year, and I can say with confidence that Three Little Words is my favorite. I loved how Ford teased Isabel about her letters, how Isabel wasn’t the most comfortable in her body and wasn’t an immediate sex goddess in bed, the bridal shop setting, and especially how all the ladies of Fool’s Gold came around to support her with friendship and drinks when she needed them most.

Three Little Words is sexy, sweet, and probably one of the more relatable books in this series. (There’s also a second romantic storyline between a tough lady and a very nice math teacher. Loved watching barriers come down for this one.) Plus football players are moving into town. Even more reason to check into Fool’s Gold if you ask me!

Did I mention this was probably the hottest Fool’s Gold book I ever read? Major heat wave, hot. Prepare yourself. Hydrate. You will need it.

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