It Had to be You by Deborah Simmons

 

HAD
It Had to be You by Deborah Simmons
Publisher: Bennett street books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (183 pages)
Heat level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Willow

What if Cinderella didn’t want to go to the ball? Wedding planner Paige Porter doesn’t believe in fairy tales. She’s seen too many bridezillas, randy grooms, and short-lived marriages. But she loves to create magic for that perfect moment, so she’s thrilled when society matron Bebe Maitland invites her to handle a granddaughter’s nuptials. But dealing with the wealthy and eccentric family becomes a full-time job, involving more than wedding planning. There’s the bride-to-be, her siblings, and a set of nasty cousins with their own agendas. And then there’s Siegfried, the heir apparent, boy genius, and one of the city’s most eligible bachelors – if anyone could drag him away from his computer lab. As CEO of The Maitland Company and the last in a long line of inventors, Siegfried might forget to eat or sleep, but he can’t forget Paige Porter. For once he might have to put aside his all-consuming research for a new venture: Project Paige. Because when he saw her he knew: It Had to Be You.

It Had to Be You really does prove that opposites attract.

It Had to Be You is a very fun read. Paige Porter is a very strong female character that has a very clear goal for what she want to do with her life – build up her wedding planning business and buy her very own home. She doesn’t want to end up like her Mother and rely on anyone, especially a man. Enter Siegfried, a geeky awkward boy genius that can’t focus on anything for long periods of time, except on Paige.

The character development in this book is really good. Although I would of liked to have more detailed back stories I got to get a sense of what made the characters the way they are. This included the back stories of some of the supporting characters, which I really enjoyed.

Ms Simmons has created a lovely novel that has me wishing that I – like Paige – got accepted into a very fun and eccentric family like the Maitland family. They accepted her as part of the family and gave her everything – even if she didn’t ask.

I recommended this novel to all those who love romantic comedies.

Restless in Peaceville by Pippa Jay

PEACEVILLE
Restless in Peaceville by Pippa Jay
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Welcome to Peaceville, population 2067 and rising…from the grave…

Luke Chester has had enough. He’s the school geek, the girls laugh at him, he’s lost his dead-end job at the pizza place, and in the midst of the world’s messiest divorce his parents don’t even know he exists. An overdose of his mom’s tranquilizers and a stomach full of whiskey should solve all his problems…

But they don’t. Instead, Luke finds himself booted out of the afterlife for not dying a natural death, with nowhere to go but back to his recently vacated corpse and reality. How the hell is he going to pass for one of the living without someone trying to blow his brains out for being one of the undead?

And it just gets worse. He’s got to fight his own desperate craving to consume the living, evade the weird supernatural hunter who’s having a field day with the new undeads rising, and there’s this creepy black shadow following him around. Add to that the distraction of female fellow undead Annabelle burning to avenge her own murder, and clearly there’s no rest for the wicked. Jeez, all he wanted to do was R.I.P.

Not everyone gets a second chance, but Luke is one of the lucky ones.

What I found most interesting about Luke was how quickly his biggest personality flaws showed up in the first few scenes. I prefer reading about protagonists whose weaknesses are serious and can’t be easily overcome because it leaves so much room for character development. This book definitely gave Luke plenty of room to grow and change in his afterlife. For that reason alone, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the author will consider writing a sequel. There is room for it if she decides to do so!

Two characters regularly shifted between a close, platonic friendship and a romantic relationship. They were well-suited for either option, but I would have preferred it if only one was emphasized. It was a little confusing to move back and forth between the two so often in a story this size. There wasn’t enough time in it to explain exactly why these characters were conflicted about what kind of relationship they wanted to have with one another because there were so many other things going on at the same time.

The pacing was excellent. I had a hard time taking any breaks from reading it, especially later on when the tension reached its peak. While I would have loved it if this tale was twice as long, the length the author chose worked incredibly well for her premise. She struck a good balance between giving brief glimpses of Luke’s past and pushing him further ahead on his quest before time runs out.

Restless in Peaceville is a smart twist on the zombie genre. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves the dark side of paranormal fiction.

The Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda Neville

DARK
The Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda Neville
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (256 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Wanted: Governess able to keep all hours . . .

Rebellious Julian Fortescue never expected to inherit a dukedom, nor to find himself guardian to three young half-sisters. Now in the market for a governess, he lays eyes on Jane Grey and knows immediately she is qualified—to become his mistress. Yet the alluring woman appears impervious to him. Somehow Julian must find a way to make her succumb to temptation . . . without losing his heart and revealing the haunting mistakes of his past.

Desired: Duke skilled in the seductive art of conversation . . .

Lady Jeanne de Falleron didn’t seek a position as a governess simply to fall into bed with the Duke of Denford. Under the alias of Jane Grey, she must learn which of the duke’s relatives is responsible for the death of her family—and take her revenge. She certainly can’t afford the distraction of her darkly irresistible employer, or the smoldering desire he ignites within her.

But as Jane discovers more clues about the villain she seeks, she’s faced with a possibility more disturbing than her growing feelings for Julian: What will she do if the man she loves is also the man she’s sworn to kill?

Secret agendas, wicked ways, and lives turned topsy-turvy propel A DUKE OF DARK DESIRES along on a turbulent undercurrent and sweep the reader into the action immediately.

Neither Julian Fortescue, now the reluctant Duke of Denford nor Jane Grey, really Jeanne Louise Adorée de Falleron, are paragons of virtue. Both did and do what’s necessary and expedient to stay alive as they work toward their own goals. When their lives collide, sparks fly, not with hatred, like Jane had planned, but with desire.

Julian’s three half-sisters add a delightful and important layer to the story. Miranda Neville brings these three young personalities to life in ways that enhance the plot and the development of Julian and Jane. The back story of all of their lives is subtle woven into the story, so the reader feels as if she knows the characters personally.

The characters captivate and the plot intrigues. The reader is pulled into a world of lies, secrets, heartache, horrific past deeds, and greed; yet there is humor and, best of all, love that runs like a strong golden thread through all the darkness of the story.

The antagonists emerge from the dark past of both Julian’s and Jane’s lives. They heighten the stakes to a fever pitch. The suspense and anxiety build to heart-pounding levels when protagonists and antagonists all come together at Denford Castle.

Miranda Neville delivers another page-turning historical love story that is memorable. THE DUKE OF DARK DESIRES stands alone, but some of the minor characters have had their own stories in previous books in this series. They will very likely become “want-to-read” books after enjoying this one.

The Dark of the Moon by Samantha Allard

DARK
The Dark of the Moon by Samantha Allard
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (96 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A missing brother, werewolves at war, and she’s stuck in the middle. Rachel might not be your average girl, but even she has her limits.

Rachel Valentine isn’t your average girl.

Three years ago her brother disappeared, and Rachel went off the rails quite spectacularly. Now she is trapped in a nunnery because she accidently blew up half the science department at her old school. One night she sees her long-lost brother in the crowd behind a reporter on television. There’s no mistaking who he is, but getting her parents to believe her is a different matter. It leaves her one option: break out of the nunnery and travel to London to track him down.

She’s about to find out that things are never that simple and there are some secrets that are impossible to believe.

Nothing can stop this girl’s mission. Or can it?

Yes, Rachel has a prickly side, but underneath that is someone who would do absolutely anything to help her brother. Her strong attachment to her sibling is what first made me like her, and her kind, ethical personality soon gave me other reasons to root for her as well. Developing such a strong moral code makes up for a lot of personal flaws. While Rachel definitely has more than her fair share of them, this made her feel like a real person to me.

There were some plot holes that I noticed later on in this tale. One of the characters suddenly possesses a skill that had never been mentioned before. I would have preferred to have much more information about where this skill came from and why it took so long to show up. It would have also been helpful if more time had been spent explaining why everyone reacts to this event the way they do. Certain parts of it briefly made me wonder if there was a prequel that hadn’t shown up on my Internet searches for this title.

As a fan of the werewolf sub-genre, it’s always interesting to see how authors visualize this part of their books. Ms. Allard struck a smart balance between describing her version of werewolf culture and showing how humans who aren’t accustomed to it would realistically react to the less savoury parts of it. It was fun to see this world through her eyes.

Give The Dark of the Moon a try if you enjoy contemporary werewolf stories.

Beneath a Sicilian Sun by Lynette Rees

SUN
Beneath a Sicilian Sun by Lynette Rees
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (109 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Journalist Joanne Smith encounters Sicilian millionaire Dante Alphonso while conducting an interview for Life Today magazine. Dante has been well known to the media for years, where constant scorn has been thrown upon the playboy lifestyle of his younger years. He detests that reputation as he would much prefer to be known for his charity work for The Children’s Hope and Dream Foundation, an organization he established to help terminally ill children achieve their wishes.

Dante has already had his fingers burned by bloodhound journalists, but takes a chance on Joanne, inviting her to his home country to visit his vineyard and meet the Alphonso Family. Things begin to sizzle between them under the Sicilian sun as Joanne embraces their lifestyle.

A thorn in the side for Joanne is Dante’s ex, Carla, a strong alpha female whose family owns a rival vineyard in the area. Carla betrayed Dante before, so trusting any woman is difficult for him.

However, Joanne has a secret she has kept from Dante, which is stopping her from growing close to him. The secret is revealed after he invites her on board his luxury yacht on the way to the island of Lipari.

Will their love for one another be strong enough to withstand the stormy seas that lie ahead? Or will it get washed up on the shore?

Sparks ignite when love and lust collide beneath a Sicilian sun.

Joanne Smith, a journalist, meets Dante Alphonso for an interview. Dante is very hesitant and suspicious of journalists as the relationship between him and the media has never been that good. He wants to be known for his charity work not for his previous playboy lifestyle. He invites Joanne to his home country, visit his vineyard and meet the Alphonso Family. During this working/vacation trip they get to know each other and start building a relationship. However, Dante’s ex who owns a rival vineyard in the area has already caused a lot of heartache to Dante that makes him reluctant to trust and get hurt.

Dante is not the only one with walls around his heart. Joanne has something that makes it difficult for her to get close to him and get on with life. This is not the last of it.

Another betrayal–or is it a betrayal?–tests Joanne and Dante’s relationship. The question is will they survive all this? Will they come out of this storm intact?

Joanne is an independent, career minded and principled woman. Dante is a millionaire businessman who does charity work however his past behavior gets drudged up again and again affecting the reputation of the charity. Both of them has pasts and hurts that they need to go through and they do go through the pain and forgiveness of it all together. That’s what I absolutely loved about this. They learn to forgive themselves and others.

Joanne and Dante not only have an understanding towards each other but are also immensely passionate. Their chemistry is sizzling. Unlike some books it is not lust at first sight. That is very refreshing. Their relationship at first is professional. No hint of any chemistry between them. Their relationship developed slowly. I absolutely loved that because it felt so realistic rather than the usual. I was better able to relate to the characters and story because of this.

The author has done a very good job of describing the scenery and location. I got transported to Sicily. It was like I was living the character. I was seeing everything described in this. This story is also very emotional and touching with everything that happens. The emotions that they feel are expressed beautifully.

Beneath a Sicilian Sun is a very tender and moving novelette, with heartache and love, forgiveness and pain, and family and children. A contemporary romance not only about the lead characters also about family. I give this book a good recommendation.

Love Me If You Dare by Toni Blake

ARE
Love Me If You Dare by Toni Blake
Publisher: Avon Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (374 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Camille Thompson is the best at what she does—closing deals. That’s why real estate developer Vanderhook has sent her to Coral Cove, Florida, where the stubborn owner of the Happy Crab Motel is refusing to sell. Camille’s never had a problem turning a “no” into a “yes,” but then she’s never been so captivated by a man’s sexy smile before…

Love Me If You Dare is a sweet romance that made me ache and smile in turn. I fell in love with Reece and Cami and all the other quirky characters of Coral Cove.

Although the beginning of their attraction felt somewhat awkward, the more I got to know the characters and their stories, the more I liked them. And after a while, their interaction felt more natural and flowing. I think I had the biggest problem with a large amount of internal dialogue at the beginning, but after I got used to it, it became part of who the characters were and it didn’t distract me from the story any longer.

The characters were a lovely contrast at first, until Camille slowly began to reveal her softer side. This was done gradually enough to be believable. Reece, too, was a wonderful character, hanging on to the motel as the only thing he had left, until he finally realized that, in certain amounts, change, too, can be respectful of the memory of his family.

Even the pet iguana Fifi and the cat Tiger Lily were lovely characters that added a certain charm to the Happy Crab Motel and Coral Cove as a whole. The quaintness of the town was nicely introduced through the colorful characters and the descriptions of the fun events and old-fashioned places. It made me want to visit it, and it explained why Camille ultimately changed her mind about forcing Reece to sell his motel and allow Windchime Resorts to forever change the town.

This is such a feel-good story I’d recommend it to anyone who likes sweet romances or just needs a heartwarming read to cheer themselves up.

A Single Kiss by Grace Burrowes

KISS
A Single Kiss by Grace Burrowes
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (416 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Bluet

New attorney Hannah Stark agrees to spend six months helping out in the family law department, though an upbringing as a foster child has left her determined never to set foot in a domestic relations courtroom.

Trenton Knightley, the law firm’s family law expert, is equally determined that business and pleasure can’t mix. Hannah finds herself working with Trent on one tough case after another, and grows less and less pleased with her vocation. Trent, however, is increasingly impressed with Hannah–and not simply for her courtroom skills.

Hannah Stark is a single mother, and a lawyer in need of a job. She’s just interviewed for a corporate law position at the Knightley brothers’ firm, and did very well. She is about to be offered a job, but circumstances in the firm require that she work for six months in Family Law to fill a void, and then move to corporate. As a product of (or perhaps, a victim of) the system, the last thing Hannah wants is to work in Family Law, but she is desperate, and has a child to support, so she accepts. This department is run by Trenton Knightley, who is one of the owners, and is also a divorced father.

Due to a misconception on her part, Hannah gets off to a bit of a rocky start with her new boss, but in no time, her work ethic impresses him. Despite his own misgivings, Trent finds himself very attracted to Hannah, and tries to pursue a personal relationship. It’s clear from the start that Trent is one of the good guys. He had a very bad first marriage, and he feels somewhat awkward about being in the position of being Hannah’s boss, so he tries to take things slowly. He exhibits a lot of patience and understanding with the very skittish Hannah. Although she’s a mother, it’s obvious that Hannah doesn’t have a lot of experience, and that experience doesn’t make her want to jump into a relationship. But she finds herself falling for Trent despite herself. So while she battles her past, her current job that literally makes her ill, and a jealous and vindictive co worker intent on destroying her, it doesn’t look like a happy ever after will come easily to Hannah.

Both Hannah and Trent are sympathetic characters, and they have a lot in common. They don’t have a good track record in past relationships, and they’re both dedicated single parents. They’re honorable people, and while Trent is more willing to take the plunge, Hannah’s sad past holds her back. It’s good to see Trent’s love finally free her. This book is a departure for Grace Burrowes, who is well known for her historical romances. While a contemporary, this book still has her trademark warmth and depth. She must have drawn on her own experiences in Family Law to provide much of the background and details in this heartwarming story.

To Have or To Haunt by Ishabelle Torry

HAUNT
To Have or To Haunt by Ishabelle Torry
Publisher: Breathless Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Historical, Contemporary, Holiday, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Can Melanie’s Halloween bash survive Leah’s ghostly tricks?

Melanie Fyre is a passionate teacher determined to raise funds for the town’s school. What better way to do it than by expanding the local businesses? All she needs is land. Untouched for years thanks to a local superstition, the Crowe property is perfect. If Melanie can debunk the myth, she can get the use of those 600 beautiful acres. She just has to prove to the town that Leah’s ghost is not haunting the mansion, even on Samhain night.

Burned to death and proclaimed a witch, Leah Crowe’s soul has been cursed to an eternity of loneliness, all because she dared to love a woman. When the saucy Melanie arrives at her home to throw a costume party that mocks Leah’s very existence, the bitter ghost resolves to renew the town’s fear of her name. Will Leah’s ghost ruin all of Melanie’s plans?

Sometimes the past bleeds into the present.

One of the things I enjoy the most about ghost stories is exploring what it was that caused the deceased to become trapped between this life and the next one. After all, most people don’t stick around to haunt the places they knew well when they were alive! It’s hard to discuss Leah’s reasons for haunting her old home without wandering into spoiler territory, but I was deeply satisfied with how that part of her past was explained. It worked well for her personality and history.

It would have been nice to see more of a difference between Melanie and Leah’s use of the English language. Despite growing up and living hundreds of years apart, their vocabularies and speaking styles were incredibly similar. I was a little confused about why this might be the case and briefly wondered if it was a clue of some sort or if their voices should have been more distinct.

Blending so many different genres into one short tale isn’t an easy task, but Ms. Torry did a good job mixing them all together. The romantic and science fiction elements were slightly stronger than the mystery ones. It wouldn’t have been the same without all three of them, though, so this is something that I think will appeal to anyone who enjoys any or all of them.

I’d recommend To Have or To Haunt to anyone who is interested in dipping their toes into a new genre. It covers so many of them that it’s an easy place to try something new.

A Stitch on Time by Yolanda Sfetsos

STITCH
A Stitch on Time by Yolanda Sfetsos
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (259 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

All it takes is a little death and mayhem to make a spook catcher s day.

Sierra Fox, Book 5

Sierra Fox has finally inherited her grandmother s power to destroy demons, but what good is it when her werewolf boyfriend still lies in a coma? Worse, the decision she s about to make could save him but ruin their relationship.

If that s not enough bad stuff on her plate, she s got a soul to save the soul of her closest friend, killed by the Lamia that got away.

Another untasty side dish: The Obscurus refuse to give up their relentless pursuit, and they ve upped the ante. Mace is dead set on blowing up the Spook Catcher Council Tower, and the blowback will have devastating effects on Sydney and for Sierra. At least these demon-obsessed freaks aren t counting on Sierra having a Goddess and a trusty demonic conduit as backup.

All of this leads to a one-way ride into the abandoned part of town, where the Obscurus plan to summon Legion. With her demon hunter friend by her side, Sierra prepares for the final battle because even she knows this will be The End.

When you look into the abyss, it can look right back at you.

In the fifth book of the Sierra Fox series you will meet a demon hunter with a soul to save. Sierra’s closest friend has just been killed by a Lamia and her soul taken. In a race against time, she has to rescue her before it’s too late. Add to that a boyfriend in a coma and some complications when he doesn’t seem to be getting much better and Sierra has to resort to the nearly unthinkable to stop him from flat lining. Life can really be a twisted mother sometimes. Especially when you’re dating the local pack alpha.

The group Obscurus is after Sierra, especially Mace, an unholy force who will use anything he can to blow up Spook Central. In a battle that will take everything Sierra has, the odds are not exactly in her favor-unless you count a Goddess and a demon conduit as backup. This book was a rocket ship of a ride and I think if read in order would have been awesome.

Going into the series at book number five, I was decidedly lost. Sometimes you can jump right in and find your way but there were so many minute details that didn’t make sense, it took a while before I could get a bead on what exactly was going on with the story. Sister who dies and comes back to life when someone close to them dies. Okay. Check. Great concept. It led the way into the story but as things began to unwind it was unclear who the people were and I struggled with that and to some extent I think it detracted from the book for me.

I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a recap for people who stumble across this book (like I did) and fall in love with the art, not realizing it is in the middle of a series. As I said, sometimes you are able to navigate the waters but this felt more like a mudpit and I couldn’t get a grip.

On the other side, the main character was great and the dynamics of the world were intriguing. I liked the demon aspect and the conflicted nature of her saving her werewolf boyfriend the way she did. The sex was steamy and a nice topper on the cake. I want to go back and read more of this series so I understand the world better and I think in doing so, I will enjoy it much more. Urban fantasy fans will enjoy this series-but please read it in order.

Bring on the butt kicking heroines cause the world needs more of them…

Resorts, Regrets, and Returning to Love by J L Wilson

REGRETS
Resorts, Regrets, and Returning to Love by J L Wilson
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (430 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Can you recapture a lost love?

Thirty-four years ago, they were each other’s first romance. For three magical months, Nate Boltz and Emily Sutherland worked together at a Michigan resort and fell passionately in love. But when the summer ended, Emily moved back home and their relationship faded.

Now Nate is the town’s police chief. When a skeleton is uncovered at the resort, the bones are identified as a girl who disappeared right after that tumultuous summer. Looking for answers, Nate reaches out to the resort’s former staff–including Emily.

Emily never forgot Nate and eagerly joins him as he tries to untangle old clues and half-forgotten rumors. Working together again, they rekindle the passion they once knew. But can they find a way forward from the old memories to something more permanent?

Or does the murderer have other plans for the reunited lovers from that magical summer?

Are Nate and Emily truly in love, or just in love with the past?

Nate and Emily certainly have a passionate romance. I think their first encounter with each other is a bit strange. Emily talked about some very personal stuff with a man she hardly knew. Even though I thought this was odd, it is clear right from the start that Nate and Emily have great chemistry, and I looked forward to learning about their epic summer romance. I do think that too much of their relationship revolved around sex. Since they were each other’s first serious relationship, I understand how powerful that physical connection can be, but Nate and Emily spent most of their time together either having sex or talking about it. Even when they were spending time together outside the bedroom, their thoughts still revolved around sex. It became a bit much after a while, and the sexual tension began to lose its impact.

There is also no real explanation as to why Nate and Emily didn’t stay in touch, especially since Emily managed to stay in touch with other people from that summer. After everything they went through, I find it hard to believe that their relationship simply faded into the background. I understand that they would have been trying to make a long distance relationship work in a time before cell phones, email, and the internet, but I would have thought the intensity of their relationship would have warranted more effort on both their parts.

Watching Nate and Emily reconnect was fun and frustrating at the same time. Everyone else in town already knows that they are meant to be together. Nate and Emily never really got over each other and are thrilled at the prospect of reconnecting. However, they are so hung up on the past they can’t decide if what they feel is love or nostalgia for their summer of romance. Nate and Emily jump into a physical relationship almost immediately, making it even harder for them to sort out their feelings. I couldn’t help but shake my head as they alternated between jumping into bed with each other and having fights born out of jealousy and a lack of trust. Despite my frustration with how they handled their relationship, I enjoyed watching Nate and Emily work together to solve the mystery, and their happy ending is well deserved.

I found it pretty easy to figure out who the murderer was. Once clues started emerging, I was able to piece them together pretty quickly. Then it just became a matter of waiting for Nate and Emily to figure it out. I can’t say much about the culprit without spoiling the ending, but I will say it is easy to see why this character got away with everything for so long. I must also warn readers that there is a graphic description of a near rape that is very unsettling. Ms. Wilson paced the mystery very well by alternating chapters between the present and the past. It was a very effective way to gradually reveal the mystery of the past and how it connected to the present.

I enjoyed reading Resorts, Regrets, and Returning to Love. I recommend it to anyone looking for a mystery with a healthy dose of romance.