*The Decoy Girlfriend by Lillie Vale


*The Decoy Girlfriend by Lillie Vale
Publisher: Penguin Group, Putnam, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Writer Freya Lal has a huge secret: she’s a dead ringer for It-girl actress Mandi Roy. Her second novel is due in a month, but inspiration is nowhere to be found. Desperate to shake off her writer’s block, Freya leans into her look-alike abilities and indulges in some mistaken identity for simple perks, like scoring a free mimosa or getting into a trendy nightclub.

Actor Taft Bamber appears to have it all: gorgeous, talented, and Mandi’s love interest both on- and off-screen. But what nobody knows is that their relationship is a PR stunt, and after years of playing make-believe, he’s yearning for something real.

When Freya’s latest impersonation of Mandi goes viral thanks to Taft’s accidental interference, rumors of a breakup threaten Hollywood’s golden couple. To make amends, Freya is forced to give Mandi a little time off: she’ll pretend to be the actress for a month, move in with Taft, and squash the rumors by acting completely in love. But as Freya and Taft play house, it becomes impossible to ignore that their instant chemistry isn’t just for the cameras. While faking it, they might have just found the real thing.

Decoy Girlfriend is an intoxicating story about a fake Hollywood romance. The story is engaging and the characters are realistic. Even though the two main characters, Taft and Freya are successful, they are filled with self doubt and insecurities, just like all of us.

Freya has written one successful book but she is having an impossible time trying to write the second one. She resembles Mandi Roy, a famous movie star and people often stop Freya thinking she is Mandi.

Taft is a famous movie star who meets Freya while buying a book for his mother and he is instantly smitten with Freya. I loved all the bantering between Taft and Freya. From the moment they meet, they enjoy needling each other, but behind all the bantering is an instant attraction that they both have a difficult time ignoring.

I enjoyed this upbeat story, it has sparkling dialogue and entertaining characters.

River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz

ROAD
River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz
Publisher: Putnam
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (336 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

It’s been thirteen years since Lucy Sheridan was in Summer River. The last time she visited her aunt Sara there, as a teenager, she’d been sent home suddenly after being dragged out of a wild party—by the guy she had a crush on, just to make it more embarrassing. Obviously Mason Fletcher—only a few years older but somehow a lot more of a grown-up—was the overprotective type who thought he had to come to her rescue.

Now, returning after her aunt’s fatal car accident, Lucy is learning there was more to the story than she realized at the time. Mason had saved her from a very nasty crime that night—and soon afterward, Tristan, the cold-blooded rich kid who’d targeted her, disappeared mysteriously, his body never found.

A lot has changed in thirteen years. Lucy now works for a private investigation firm as a forensic genealogist, while Mason has quit the police force to run a successful security firm with his brother—though he still knows his way around a wrench when he fills in at his uncle’s local hardware store. Even Summer River has changed, from a sleepy farm town into a trendy upscale spot in California’s wine country. But Mason is still a protector at heart, a serious (and seriously attractive) man. And when he and Lucy make a shocking discovery inside Sara’s house, and some of Tristan’s old friends start acting suspicious, Mason’s quietly fierce instincts kick into gear. He saved Lucy once, and he’ll save her again. But this time, she insists on playing a role in her own rescue . . .

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I liked how Ms. Krentz set the stage for what would eventually take place later in the book. I enjoyed the sleuthing, the methods used and the wrong turns the hero and heroine took in the book. The dialogue was key in getting to know the main protagonists and internal dialogue provided clues as to one of the possible antagonists. I truly was surprised at the revelation and even then, the author had a surprise for me and Lucy. I never saw it coming. When Lucy did figure it out, it was a rather unique way of doing it, which impressed me. I wonder where the author found out about that profession and what inspired her to use it in this book? However it came about, it worked; it was gripping and effective.

Another aspect that is sure to please readers is the spark. When Mason and Lucy finally reach the combustion point it was very steamy. The sexiest scene in the whole book stems from an impromptu Kegel. I’m not sure why that part had me so flustered but it was powerful and very, very hot. Mason made me melt.

Dialogue between Deke and Mason, Lucy and others really contributed to the feel of the story. They talked and chatted like anyone else would, although not too many would be chatting and making jokes of a dead body. You have to read it to understand why that was effective.

I liked how the suspense and drama kept getting tighter and tighter to the point when I knew something had to give. I enjoyed seeing how Mason and Lucy navigated the pitfalls by drawing upon the life experiences that they had as they became the people they were in the story. That showing of growth was very appealing.

The happily ever after made me laugh. As romantic as it eventually became, the dialogue and interaction between Mason and Lucy is chuckle-worthy up until the end when I sighed with satisfaction. I love a good romantic ending.

River Road is great. With a tale written as well as this one, it’s a fast easy read because every chapter provided more clues, more questions and more of everything that makes a book gripping – so much so I had a hard time putting it down. I highly recommend this latest adventure from the clever mind of Ms. Krentz. It’s a winner.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

HUM
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Publisher: Putnam
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (312 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

Lyrical, poignant and fresh, The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a beautifully told middle grade tale with a great deal of heart.

What if you lost the only home you ever had? How far would you go to find it again?
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Grace and her mother are each other’s family. Going place to place, they never call one place home for long. A terrible accident happens and Grace loses her mother to a fall in the river. For the first time, Grace has to navigate a life that is very different from the one her mother had carved out for them. Her writing, once so precious to her is bottled up inside, just like her feelings. Grace’s grandmother claims her and she struggles to adjust to “The After.”

How can she live without her mother? How can she find her place in a world where she doesn’t belong? She wants to return to her friend and live with her-a place her mother would have approved of. Only the plans we make are not always the ones laid out for us. Grace begins to find this out as she follows clues that lead her to find her new life. There is new friendship, family issues, loss, exploration and just a little bit of romance to be found.

This book was a journey into the mind of a child who has lost everything. Grace’s mother was her world. The small origami paper cranes she folded and the little birds her mother made out of spoons become stars to travel by in this uncharted voyage to find the center of grief and move beyond it. Grace wants no part of her grandmother-the woman who turned her back on her very pregnant mother. She can’t stand the sounds of the river so she stays in the shed, keeping her distance from everyone and everything.

The thaw is slow. Once it comes it unfolds like the petals of a flower in the garden Grace’s grandmother so lovingly tends. We are all a part of each other’s lives. The decisions we make do affect other people and sometimes you make mistakes that you want more than anything to take back. And sometimes you just have to accept the strange things about people are the parts that make them who they are and love them just the same.

This book had me in tears more times than I could count. It is a middle grade read that really reaches into the feelings of devastation you can have when your whole world gets turned upside down. Where is home? Is it a person or a place? The Secret Hum of a Daisy also made me think about imagery of origami birds and the wonderful story of Sadaku and the paper cranes. It also hit on poetry, specifically Robert Frost. Lyrical in the structure of the story and the inclusion of art and poetry, I really felt the exploration and tender unfurling of Grace’s spirit as her new world is revealed to her step by tentative step.

I cannot recommend this tale highly enough. It is a book that could help so many kids deal with grief-and adults too. It made me think of my father and his passing and just how hard it was. I looked for signs from him forever just so I knew he was still up there watching. And you know what? They are everywhere. The ebb and flow of our life is poetry in motion. It is art and substance made real by every breath we take. And sometimes, if you listen there really is a secret hum in the background telling you the way…

You have to read this book.

Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

FROZEN
Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston
Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Dystopian)
Length: Full Length (325 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she’s heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.

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Natasha “Nat” Kestal is just another young blackjack dealer in New Vegas, once known for its lights and glamor. She’s one of many suffering through the harsh, freezing weather like everyone else…but she’s different; marked, as they call it. Every day she fears being executed, or even worse…thrust out into the cold, to starve and die, to become a “Thriller”.

Nat dreams of something new, a healed land, known as the Blue. It’s paradise, where there’s real food, clean water, and sparkling blue skies. She won’t be threatened or hurt anymore, but the only way to get there is treacherous and demanding. She has to rely on an annoying smuggler named Ryan Wesson, better known as “Wes”.

Her only chance to live freely lie on a path covered in death, despair, and tragedy. She has to cheat and lie her way through, even if she is falling for that cocky smuggler. Who can she trust…and who wants her dead? This tale sends the reader spinning into an icy land where true love might win all.

Frozen is really the best dystopian book I’ve read in quite a while. It had my attention from beginning to end; never slowing or moving too quickly. The pace was just right for the plot points. I completely enjoyed the premise, though it was so close to real — I could see it coming to be — that I was just a bit frightened.

I’d recommend it to anyone of any age. It has all sorts of things: romance, suspense, a tad bit of horror and a pinch of magic all mixed together in a really good tale.