Monday, January 25, 2016

Blog tour: I Wish You Were Mine by Lauren Layne

Oxford #2
Lauren Layne
Releasing on February 2, 2016

Perfect for fans of Alice Clayton and Emma Chase, Lauren Layne’s Oxford series heats up in this story of forbidden desire as a brooding jock hoping for a comeback falls for a woman who’s strictly off-limits.

A year ago, Jackson Burke was married to the love of his life and playing quarterback for the Texas Redhawks. Now he’s retired, courtesy of the car accident that ruined his career—and single, after a nasty scandal torpedoed his marriage. Just as he’s starting to get used to his new life as a health and fitness columnist for Oxford magazine, his unpredictable ex shows up on his doorstep in Manhattan. Jackson should be thrilled. But he can’t stop thinking about the one person who’s always been there for him, the one girl he could never have: her younger sister.

Mollie Carrington can’t say no to Madison. After all, her older sister practically raised her. So when Madison begs for help in winning her ex-husband back, Mollie’s just glad she got over her own crush on Jackson ages ago—or so she thought. Because as Mollie reconnects with Jackson, she quickly forgets all her reasons to stay loyal to her sister. Tempted by Jackson’s mellow drawl and cowboy good looks, Mollie is sick and tired of coming in second place. But she can’t win if she doesn’t play the game.

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Oxford Book One

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This book surprised me. Having read Cole and Penelope's story in Book One (Irresistibly Yours), I couldn't really envision how the author would manage to include an outsider (Jackson Burke) in the Oxford/Stiletto clique. It turned out better than I expected!

When I realized the hero was the heroine's brother-in-law (ex brother-in-law, but still...) I wasn't sure how this was going to play out. I mean, it sounded all a little awkward and I wasn't sure if I'd like the story after all - I'm personally not a fan of love triangles, and even though Jackson and Madison are divorced by the time he moves to New York and meets up with Mollie, it still felt weird at first.

I liked Mollie and sympathized with her throughout the book for her unrequired love. After the prologue you can't help but feel your heart go out to her, the kid sister who fell in love with her sister's husband. Isn't that heartbreaking? As the story progressed, I liked her a little bit more with every page, and connected with her. 

Madison is a terrible sister and at times I really couldn't understand whether everyone had always been too blind to see her true colors (Jackson included) or maybe she was a wonderful person before and then she changed into this awful, self-absorbed and cheating woman she is now. She got on my last nerve and the thing that drove me crazy was Mollie's loyalty (and may I add, blindness) in spite of her sister's cold behavior. And, honestly, I got a little annoyed at Jackson too, because I couldn't really understand how he could have possibly stayed with that woman for so long, even though he knew she was cheating on him - why didn't he open his eyes sooner and leave her? Why didn't he understand Mollie was the one for him? Then again, if he'd left Madison sooner, there wouldn't have been a story for Lauren Layne to tell, right?

Now, a few words about the hero. Well, at first I wasn't sure how I felt about Jackson and if I'd end up liking him. Even though the reader is privy to his inner turmoil and the reasons why he keeps pushing everyone at the Oxford magazine away, at times he was a little annoying and came across as a stuck up celebrity who doesn't want to get off his throne to be with normal people. He did redeem himself though, and I liked how he slowly became part of the group, how he lowered his walls and let his colleagues into his life. I didn't particularly like the way he acted with Mollie and his new friends toward the end of the book (can't say more, sorry), but then again, without any obstacles on the way, the happy ending wouldn't have felt half as good, would it? 

The book has funny moments (the Oxford/Stiletto teams are hilarious and I wish I could be part of their group), swooning, romantic moments that will make your heart flutter, and sexy moments (that are downright steamy and descriptive, and prudish me could have done without them and still enjoyed the story all the same - but that's just prudish me, like I said). 

If you're a fan of Lauren Layne's books, I have no doubt you will love this book. If you've yet to discover the men of Oxford magazine, you should definitely consider starting now (I would recommend reading Irresistibly Yours first, but you can enjoy I Wish You Were Mine even if you haven't read the previous books, since both characters are new to the Oxford/Stiletto world). 

Lauren Layne is the USA Today Bestselling author of more than a dozen contemporary romance novels.
Prior to becoming an author, Lauren worked in e-commerce and web-marketing. A year after moving from Seattle to NYC to pursue a writing career, she had a fabulous agent and multiple New York publishing deals. 
Lauren currently lives in Manhattan with her husband and plus-sized Pomeranian. When not writing, you'll likely find her running (rarely), reading (sometimes), or at happy hour (often).

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book review: The Trouble With Christmas by Debbie Mason

Here's how I would summarize The Trouble With Christmas: 

Take a Grinch who hates Christmas and small towns, send her to a town named Christmas, and add into the mix a hot, single-parent Sheriff, his match-making and trouble-stirring great-aunt, his two cute daughters, a few jealous women vying for the Sheriff’s attention, an ex-wife coming back to claim her family back and a couple of villains and you have the perfect recipe for a page-turning, smile-inducing romance that will pull you right in from the very first page and will make you want to read all the following books in the series, so you never have to leave the small, cheer-filled town of Christmas.

If you’re looking for a romantic, funny and a little suspenseful read, you might want to check out the Christmas, Colorado series by Debbie Mason.

I discovered this series when I signed up for the tour of the fourth book (Wedding Bells in Christmas read my review) and, being the sucker for small-town romance that I am, I fell in love with it. When book five released, I immediately signed up for the tour (Snowbound at Christmasread my review), and it was then I decided I simply HAD to read the stories of all the side characters. I had no doubt I’d love the other books as well.

The Trouble With Christmas is a beautiful romance that can be read all year long. Don’t let the title discourage you from reading it in spring or in the summer. Although it is set at Christmas time, the “Christmas” in all the titles also refers to the name of the town, and I can assure you that you will be able to enjoy this book even if you read it under a palm tree on a white-sand beach.

Madison Lane is a Grinch. Literally. She hates Christmas and everything about it. I love Christmas and if it were up to me, I’d probably put up the decorations from September until March or April. But two paragraphs in the book and I knew I was going to love Maddie’s story.
If Madison had a gun, she'd shoot out the sound system pumping "Jingle Bells" through her office speakers. Instead, she bit off Rudolph's chocolate head and pointed a finger at the brightly colored, foil-wrapped Santa on her desk. "You're next, big guy."
It will take a while before the reader can really understand her reasons for despising this particular holiday, but even if you suffer from Obsessive Christmas Disorder, you can’t help bonding with Maddie. At first it’s because she’s hilarious (and, truth be told, a little kick-ass, too), but after discovering the reasons why she hates the holidays as much as she hates small towns, I felt for her and rooted for her happy ending.  

Sheriff Gage McBride gives a new definition of hot to the single-parent with a little tendency to go all alpha. I personally don’t like alpha heroes, but Sheriff McBride made me stop in my track and think twice. Maybe it’s all the “honey” he drops every now and then when he speaks to Maddie, or the way he worries and cares about his great-aunt, or how super cute he is with his two daughters, but by chapter four I was already in love with him. There were a time or two when I wanted to whack him on the back of his head for his stupid behavior (when it came to his ex-wife, mainly), but all in all he was an adorable hero. 

The winter wonderland had nothing on the man sitting in the hot tub, his dark hair slicked back from his chiseled profile. Through wisps of steam, his bare shoulders glistened, the muscles in his arm flexing as he tipped a bottle of beer to his mouth. As if someone had shocked her heart with a defribillator, a heated jolt jagged through her. 
Sweet baby Jesus.

Their meet-cute happens under, well, awkward circumstances... when Sheriff McBride is called on the scene of the accident that involved the woman everyone in Christmas despises because of her role in nixing the deal for a new resort her NY company wanted to build in the small Colorado town, and that everyone thought would be a godsend that could help their businesses survive. So, after the Grinch who killed Christmas, Madison earns a new surname: the Grinch who killed Santa.

From behind a cluster of evergreens at the side of the road, a twelve-foot Santa holding a "Welcome to Christmas" sign seemingly sprang out in front of her like a giant jack-in-the-box. Madison screamed. Her foot mistakenly jumped to the gas instead of the brake. She watched in slow-motion horror as the car kept moving and crashed into the sign. Santa loomed, teetered, then fell on the hood, his maniacal, smiling face leering at her through the cracked windshield.
Her last thought before the airbag slammed into her face was that she'd finally succeeded in killing Santa.

Even though the attraction is pretty much immediate between Maddie and Gage, there's also a big dose of dislike and mistrust that will make them extremely wary of each other. I liked this, because it made things a little more complicated and it made it just that little bit more challenging for them to get to their happily-ever-after. I was really curious to discover how the author would resolve all the problems and obstacles to give them the happy ending they deserved. 

Ms. Lane, it's been... interesting. Just do me a favor and try not to hit anything on your way out of Christmas." 
Smartass. She plastered a fake smile on her face. "As long as you don't have any elves jumping out of the woods waving good-bye signs, I should be good."
Just when she thought she couldn't wait to see the last of his too-gorgeous face, he flashed a sexy grin and winked. Then, with a nod to the mayor, he strode from the hall, closing the doors behind him.

Just as for the other two books I've read, this is a rather clean romance. There is a sexy hot-tub scene, which I wasn't expecting, since I recalled the other two books all had behind-locked-doors sex scenes, but even though this scene was a little sexier than the other books, it was just the right tone and it was never too descriptive or graphic. It was a nice intimate scene, and I think the author did a good job with making it just that little bit teasing but not overly graphic. Apart from that particular scene, though, there aren't any other sexy scenes; there are a few innuendoes here and there, especially on Gage's side, but the attraction between Maddie and Gage can be perceived from their very first interaction and it grows stronger the better they get to know each other.

There are a lot of interesting side characters and I know some of them will be the main characters in the next books, so I can't wait to read book two and three now. I personally hope this series will continue with more and more books. I love losing myself in the magical world of Christmas, Colorado - be it winter or summer, spring or fall!  

By the way, If you’re interested in discovering this series, I recommend you get the special bundle which includes books one, two and three at a special price. Otherwise, you can get each book separately and discover the stories one at a time. All books are connected but work well as standalones, as proven by my personal experience, so you can start at any point and still be able to enjoy the story.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book review: Playing For Fun by Tracey Alvarez

Another great story of friendship and love in the sixth book in the Due South Series, Playing For Fun will not disappoint fans of author Tracey Alvarez’s books. But if you’re new to the series, the good news is you can start at this point and get pulled into the Due South world without any problems. The good thing about this series is that every book works well as a standalone, but it is obviously enjoyed that little bit more if you’ve read all the previous books and met all the side characters (by the way, book one In Too Deep – and my personal favorite – is free for you to enjoy, and you get book two, Melting Into You, free too if you subscribe to the author’s newsletter).

Playing For Fun is the story of two characters who have always been rather in the background in the previous books, always the best friends but never the leading characters. Having read all the previous books in the series, I was curious to read what the author had in store for them. Before I start my review, I have to point out that I am a little partial to a certain character (namely, Ryan “West” Westlake, the hero in book one) so no other hero has ever measured up to him – even though I’ve liked all the previous books in this series.

However, when I started reading the book I couldn’t help liking Ford. He’s the brooding, introverted and handsome hero any girl would like to cuddle. I know the image the author meant to give was probably completely different, but I imagined him like a giant teddy bear with dreadlocks – one that you can’t help wanting to hug and squeeze like a teddy bear. 

His shoulder-length dreads swayed as he shook his head. Even through closed doors and the rumble of conversation, Ford’s bark of laughter reverberated through her. He stabbed a finger to emphasize a point, biceps bunching under the soft cotton.
Holly rubbed the warm skin at the base of her throat, blinked as her fingertips registered the rapid thud-thud-thud of her pulse. Then shit-balls—Ford turned.
He did a double take at her hovering like an idiot outside then curled his index finger. His dark-brown eyes softened to melted chocolate, his debate forgotten as one hundred percent of his intensity focused on her.

Holly, just like every other heroine in the series, is super easy to relate to and a girl you’d like to be friends with. I’m happy the author decided to tell her story, because she deserved a little spotlight. My only complaint is that I would’ve liked for the author to delve a little bit deeper into Holly’s family problems, which played a big part in her past and in the way she grew up but were only briefly mentioned, whereas we get to read more about Ford’s family and his troubled past.

Following the style of the previous books, there is humor and banter and there are funny small-town community moments (Mrs. Taylor is hilarious) and as usual, I enjoyed the camaraderie all the guys and girls on the island share. They’re all friends who grew up together, and even the outsiders who have now become a part of the community are treated like family. I’ve loved this small island setting from the very first book, to the point that I’ve been dreaming of moving to New Zealand. But I’m sure if you read these books, you too will be tempted to get on a plane and find out if an adorable little island with friendly and funny locals really exists, somewhere in the Southern Emisphere. 

“Y’know, Ben,” Holly said with saccharine sweetness. “If Shaye is unable to be the second support person when your niece or nephew’s born, Piper will drag you into the delivery room to hold her hand.”
Ben faked a yawn and set down his beer. “No probs. And Ford here can bring his guitar and play soothing music while new daddy West takes photos of Piper’s lady parts experiencing the miracle of birth.”
The three women switched their you men are so dead glares between Ben and Ford.
Ford held up his palms. “Dude, relatives only in the delivery room. You’re on your own.”

Like in the previous books, there is steam when the two leading characters decide to give in to their feelings. And well, in this book there is a loooot of steam. Prudish as it sounds, I have to say that the author went a little overboard with the sex scenes in this book. Even though the previous books also contained adult material, I felt that the scenes between Holly and Ford were a little too graphic and left me a little surprised since I wasn’t expecting that side of Ford. To be honest, the giant teddy bear didn’t feel like one anymore, after I read their intimate moments… It is only a personal opinion though, so don’t let this discourage you from reading this book because you would definitely miss out on a great friends-to-lovers story if you did.