The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Romance, Inspirational, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Once handsome Rafe Sullivan is left scarred, injured, and with PTSD from his Marine Corps service in Afghanistan, returning to civilian life is far from smooth, and the burn scars on his right side are extensive. Although he lives close to family, he lives a solitary life and changes jobs more often than most people change their socks. A temporary job as Santa at the mall is presented, but Rafe first rebels, then relents. His Santa gig affects his PTSD. Then he meets Sheena Dunmore. When she doesn’t run from his scars or issues, she intrigues him. An unmasking by some rowdy children is a test of his stamina and spirit. His greatest fear is fire. Will Rafe conquer the fear so he can move forward into the new life he desires?

Kindness is for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that showed how difficult the Christmas season can be for certain people. There are many reasons why someone might avoid crowds, be wary of celebrations, or not want to spend time with anyone. It made me happy to see how often the people around Rafe understood his limitations and encouraged him to do whatever he was able to do without pressuring him to do things that were too painful for him physically or emotionally. Their empathy for him was lovely and really embodied what Christmas should be all about.

There were a few plot holes in this novella that were never explained. For example, Rafe explored the idea of becoming a police officer but never fully answered the question of whether or not his PTSD and permanent leg injury would prevent him from pursuing that line of work. There was also a scene at the end involving another character being in terrible danger. It appeared to me that this person could have walked or crawled away from the threat, so I was confused by the fact that they stayed put. I wish these things had been explained better!

With that being said, I did appreciate the author’s realistic descriptions of what daily life as a civilian would be like for someone with Rafe’s extensive injuries. He struggled to do things as ordinary as go to the mall or have dinner at the homes of his relatives due to his many triggers and deep shame about his scars and missing ear. I never stopped rooting for him and hoping that he’d find a way to heal. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d like to know what this character’s life was like five or ten years after the events of this tale.

The Scarred Santa was a heartwarming read.

*The Last Close Call by Laura Griffin

*The Last Close Call by Laura Griffin
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group. Berkley
Genre: Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

A talented genetic analyst and a detective who’s haunted by an elusive cold case team up in the new standalone romantic suspense from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.

Forensic genealogist Rowan Healy has made a name for herself by helping investigators trace the family trees of violent criminals who have eluded justice for years. But the pressure of police cases left her burned out, and she’s shifted her focus to helping adoptees find their biological parents.

Austin detective Jack Bruner has spent his career successfully tracking down vicious criminals—with the notable exception of the West Campus Rapist, a meticulous offender in Texas who has never been identified. When the latest two victims come to light, Jack sees his target is escalating his violent behavior—and only with Rowan’s help does he stand a chance of cracking this case.

Moved by Jack’s dedication and the brutal details of the attacks he lays out, Rowan agrees to help. When her ground-breaking DNA research sheds new light on the criminal’s background and helps them zero in on a search radius, Rowan and Jack must race against the clock to find a ruthless killer who’s growing bolder the longer he evades the law.

Laura Griffin writes a compelling story filled with mystery, romance and lots of suspense. The Last Close Call, her latest book, had me on the edge of my seat, quickly turning the pages to find out what would happen next.

This enthralling story takes place in Texas. The two main characters Rowen, a genealogist and Jack, a detective meet while working on a case involving a serial rapist. Jack and Rowen have an immediate connection, a lot of chemistry and I enjoyed all of their interactions. They are both dedicated to their jobs and don’t have time for relationships, but the pull they feel toward each other is impossible to resist.

This intriguing story was the perfect mixture of romance and suspense. The plot is interesting and the story held me spellbound. I felt like I was right there with Jack and Rowen and this story kept me interested until the very end. I enjoyed reading about all the behind the scenes police work Jack is doing trying to catch the serial rapist. Jack feels a lot of pressure because he knows time is running out, until the rapist strikes again. Laura Griffin is one of my favorite authors because she knows how to write an intriguing romantic story and she never disappoints me.

Wicked Secrets by Anne Marsh

Wicked Secrets by Anne Marsh
Publisher: Harlequin Mills And Boon
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Before Mia Brandt and Tag Johnson rediscovered each other on Discovery Island, they shared a memorable one-night stand. Eight hours of dancing, laughter and red-hot passion before they both shipped out to serve overseas. Tag didn’t think he had any regrets about loving and leaving his strong-willed Master Sergeant, but he’s about to be proved deliciously wrong…

Former military pilot Mia Brandt is on a cruise ship with her cousin as part of a bachelorette party. Only a few months out of service, Mia has plenty on her plate and even in her worst nightmare she hasn’t come up against anything like this bachelorette hell. And then at one of their ports, Mia runs into Navy rescue swimmer Tag Johnson – a one night stand she’s never managed to forget. Events get out of hand and soon Mia find herself left behind on the small island with Tag, and in the space of a few short days their secrets begin to grow out of control.

I found this a delightful romp of a story and easily got sucked into Mia and Tag’s chemistry. I particularly loved how they each were very much the take charge type of character and yet they never let it interfere too much with their chemistry or trust. Both of them were used to giving and receiving orders, and in so many ways Mia and Tag were evenly matched I found it a real pleasure to read about them working out how to come together as a team and find the common ground between them.

I found the whole story quite refreshing and modern, and I particularly enjoyed how it didn’t slot into one of the usual romance novel tropes or genres. Mia had some flashbacks from her service – which I found so refreshing and realistic – and Tag initially wasn’t ready to settle down but slowly came to the realization that he wanted the fake engagement between himself and Mia to become the real deal. It was wonderful and I just couldn’t put this book down once it got going.

Fresh and different I thoroughly enjoyed this spicy romance story and I know I’ll enjoy re-reading it again sometime soon.

Stonebridge by Linda Griffin

Stonebridge by Linda Griffin
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

After the death of her mother, Rynna Dalton comes to live with her imperious great-grandmother and her bookish, disabled cousin Ted at Stonebridge Manor. Almost immediately she is aware of a mysterious presence, which she believes is the spirit of her mother’s murdered cousin, Rosalind. Rynna is charmed by Rosalind’s lawyer son Jason Wyatt, who courts her, and she agrees to marry him. Meanwhile, Ted and Rynna become good friends.

But Stonebridge holds secrets that will profoundly affect her future. Why is Ted so opposed to the match? Why does Rosalind seem to warn Rynna against it? And how far will Jason go to possess Stonebridge—and the woman he professes to love?

Family is forever.

Ms. Griffin had a smooth writing style that makes reading her stories a delight. She seemed to know exactly when vivid details were required and when it was better to allow the audience to imagine certain moments for themselves. That is not an easy thing to balance, but it’s one of the reasons why I try to request as many of the books she submits to Long and Short Reviews as I possibly can. Whatever else may happen with the plot, I know that I’m always going to want to read just one more page of the polished stories she writes.

I would have liked to see more character development, especially when it came to Rynna. She had a habit of making rash decisions and not listening to the people around her who had serious concerns about her life choices. While this flaw definitely made her interesting to read about, I also wondered why she behaved that way and why she was so stubborn at the worst possible moments. If only that had been better explained, but this is a minor criticism of a tale I otherwise found enjoyable.

It was amusing to see how the author mixed the romance, mystery, and paranormal genres together. The plot weaved its way among all three of them. While more attention was paid to the first two, the third one popped up in some creative ways as well that other readers should discover for themselves so that I don’t spoil anything for them. There is definitely something to be said for blending so many different types of storytelling together, especially when they all bring out important aspects of the plot that might have otherwise not had a chance to shine.

Stonebridge was a memorable and exciting read.

Veronica by Asif Hossain

Veronica by Asif Hossain
Publisher: Turquoise Book House
Genre: LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Veronica is a young (18-year-old) girl who recently graduated from high school and plans to attend college. Loneliness is her best companion. She has a quiet personality and spends the majority of her time reading. She decides to embark on an adventure with no set destination in order to see the world from another point of view. As she continues, different perspectives, including her romantic awakening, start to fill the void in her mind.

As she drives through the streets and wanders around, she finds herself in places she has never been before. A quiet, empty motel, a cafe with old-fashioned people in a deserted area—entering all these becomes a discovery for her. The calm atmosphere and sudden downpour of rain bring a sense of nostalgia to her life. However, meeting a captivating college student named Olivia in the Ozarks brings a different flow of emotions into her life.

The book is divided into twelve chapters with an epilogue, each titled after an art form that Veronica’s feelings resonate with, which is mostly songs and sometimes poetry.

Love makes everything better.

Veronica was a thoughtful and kind protagonist. I appreciated the way she took note of how her actions might affect others and did everything she could to make the right decisions that would have the highest probability of being good for everyone involved. There is definitely something to be said for characters who care about social harmony as much as she did!

I struggled with the slow pacing of this book. The plot development that was there took a lot of time to show up and included a lot of filler scenes that could have been cut out or trimmed down. As much as I enjoyed the thoughtful atmosphere of certain scenes, having everything move so slowly meant that I didn’t have as many incentives to keep reading as I would have liked to discover. Some of the scenes did make me eager to see what would happen next, especially in the last fifteen percent of the storyline or so, but sadly there weren’t enough of them to warrant giving this a higher rating.

The friends to lovers trope is one of my favorite romance tropes, and it was handled nicely here. It was refreshing for Veronica and her love interest to have so much time to get to know each other before anything romantic happened to them because it gave them the opportunity to get to know each other on a deep level. There’s a lot of overlap between what makes two people compatible as friends versus what makes them a good match romantically speaking, so confirming just how much they had in common ahead of time did them both a service.

Veronica was a quiet read.

Embracing Love by Sara Ohlin

Embracing Love by Sara Ohlin
Rescue Me, book 4
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Romance, Erotic Romance, Contemporary
Rating 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

When a broken woman risks her heart for the neighborhood hottie, heat rises from the ashes…

Once broken and abused, Sasha Kincaid is slowly rebuilding her life in the quiet town of Corvallis near her brother, his new wife and their group of friends. She’s content to work quietly at the bakery she secretly owns while learning to rebuild her trust in people. But when she starts to have steamy feelings for Connor Duggan, Sasha doesn’t know how to handle her emotions.

Neighborhood hottie and town favorite, general contractor Connor Duggan has only had eyes for Sasha Kincaid ever since she stepped foot in Corvallis a year ago. When she gives him an opening, he jumps at the chance to make her his, no matter how long it takes her to feel comfortable.

Connor’s warmth and patience allow Sasha to fall into a friendship, then an amazing sexual relationship with him—but believing it will be temporary and that’s all she’s worth. As they grow closer, Connor realizes he must win over her heart, not just her body, meaning he must push past his own insecurities of being rejected to battle Sasha’s fears and ghosts.

But the biggest obstacle is Sasha herself. Can she learn to trust again, and believe that she deserves a beautiful life with Connor?

Two people finding love again after some serious strife…this is the right book.

I love Sara Ohlin’s writing style. It’s breezy, quickly paced and keeps my attention. The characters are well-rounded and like reading about real people. I love that. I like the idea of escaping, but I also like reading about people I could know. That’s what this author does best.

The connection between the characters is quick, but it’s not rushed…if that makes sense. I knew they were the ones for each other, but I liked how the story slowly unfolded. It wasn’t forced. They had baggage and got time to sort it out before being thrown into a relationship. It was great to read. Connor is handsome and the stuff of book boyfriend dreams. Sasha is great, too, because she’s relatable.

If you’re looking for a fun book with a solid romance, then this one is the one for you. It’s the fourth book in the series, but don’t let that stop you. Consider it a reminder to pick up the rest in the series. I will be.

A Christmas Wish for Love by Mariah Lynne

A Christmas Wish for Love by Mariah Lynne
Publisher: World Castle Publishing
Genre: Romance, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Have you ever had a holiday cookie that came with a set of instructions? You’re about to.

In this sweet, heart-warming holiday romance, a precocious twelve-year-old named Luci, short for Lucia, never met her mom because she died giving birth. Her dad, a Florida Gulf Coast Island veterinarian, loved his late wife so much that he does not date or look at any other woman even though women are attracted to him. He still wears his wedding ring and, every Saturday night, shares a box of her mom’s memories, hoping to keep her alive in Luci’s heart.

Luci’s elderly Swedish next-door neighbor Meta loves Luci like an adopted granddaughter. When Luci’s dad gets called in for an emergency on her birthday which happens to be Saint Lucia’s Day, Luci and her dog Chester visit Meta.

Meta gives Luci a surprise birthday gift as she leaves to take home and open later with her dad. Then the holiday magic begins.

A CHRISTMAS WISH FOR LOVE is an enchanting and inspiring story you will want to share with others!

Anything is possible during Christmas time.

This was a unique spin on the romance genre. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance novel written from the perspective of a child whose father is falling in love before. Kids don’t always understand these things the same way adults do, so I smiled when Luci explained what was happening and occasionally gave creative reasons for why the grownups in her life were behaving the way that they did.

There were some inconsistent details in this story that I found confusing. For example, Luci was described as a twelve-year-old girl in some scenes and a thirteen-year-old girl in others. Her character was written in a way that either one could have easily been true, but I did wish that the narrator had been clearer about her age. Her mother’s name was also spelled in two different ways later on in the plot. Another round of editing would have fixed these things and made it possible for me to choose a higher rating.

I loved the strong, caring community that these characters lived in. Being a single parent isn’t easy, especially after such tragic circumstances that surrounded Luci’s birth, but Kyle was lucky enough to have plenty of friends and neighbors around who could help him give his child everything she needed other than a mother figure. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how everyone stepped up to give this little family extra love and attention. They brought a tear to my eye because of how sweet they were.

A Christmas Wish for Love was a gentle holiday romance.

*Wilde Love by Jennifer Ryan

Wilde Love by Jennifer Ryan
Publisher: Avon and Harper Voyager, Avon
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Welcome to the Dark Horse Dive Bar, where the Wildes throw one hell of a party and love could be a barstool away!

When Lyric Wilde’s not whipping up the best food in town at the Dark Horse Dive Bar, she’s making a name for herself as a rising singer-songwriter. And if any of her online followers cross the line from friendly to fanatical, well, Lyric figures it goes with the territory—and she can take care of herself. But there’s one fan she wants to get to know better—a silent, sexy biker named Viper. A man who makes her think mine every time she looks at him. But who exactly is “Viper?”

Undercover FBI special agent Mason Gunn has been hiding in plain sight and alone for far too long. And while he fantasizes about a peaceful life with beautiful Lyric by his side, he knows that until his mission—to take down a murder-for-hire network—is accomplished, his dark world is no place for her. But when frightening encounters and threatening text messages from a stalker bent on keeping Lyric all to himself and his most wanted criminal target his sultry songbird, he will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves…

I enjoyed reading this small town story filled with suspense, intrigue and romance. I also enjoyed all the entertaining characters included in the story. I thought the two main characters, Lyric and Viper were good together and they shared a lot of chemistry.

Lyric and Viper meet under unusual circumstances and slowly fall in love.

There are people who try to interfere in their lives, but in the end, good overcomes evil.

Viper is rough on the outside but inside he is caring and loving. When Lyric meets Viper, she sees something in him that others don’t and she instinctively knows she can trust him. The way Viper treats Lyric melted my heart and I loved that he is willing to do anything to keep her safe.

When Lyric’s simple life is turned upside down, she learns the only one she can depend on is Viper. Viper and Lyric are good together and good for each other, but there are so many things going on around them and so much they have to get through, before they can be together. I was rooting for them the entire time and hoping everything would work out for them.

I enjoyed reading this story.

A Pride of Brothers: Dylan by Peggy Jaeger

A Pride of Brothers: Dylan by Peggy Jaeger
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Cyber-security specialist Dylan Keane is working undercover to suss out a corporate thief. When he zeroes in on Harper Vale, he thinks he’s found his mole.

Harper has a reputation as a coding savant and an introvert. Dylan’s interest is flattering, but after she’s implicated in the theft of the company’s protected software, she doubts everything he’s told her.

When a series of potentially deadly accidents occur involving Harper, Dylan wonders if she is being set up to take the fall. One thing is certain: the more time they spend together, the more Dylan realizes he’s the one who’s falling—for Harper.

I have been waiting for this book to come out and it was definitely worth the wait. I cancelled a boating trip so I could stay home to read this new book in the Pride of Brothers series. The series is about four brothers who open an investigative company named Brother’s Inc. This particular story is about Dylan.

Dylan has two older and one younger brother. One of the older brothers, Rick, isn’t a biological brother but he’s so much of a brother in every other way, that sharing the same DNA doesn’t matter. I first read Aiden’s story which was book two and I had every intention of reading the first story which was about the brother named Rick. I’m ashamed to admit that I still have not read book one. After reading the third book about Dylan I am more determined to read book one. However, I would be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that I’m curious why I can’t find a book for Josh. Josh is the older brother and the founder of the private investigative firm. He happens to be married to a lady named Kandy, who is a famous chef. All I know is that they met when Josh was hired to protect her. Their romance could be mentioned in book one but since I haven’t read it, I don’t know. I read book two a long time ago that I don’t remember Josh or Kandy in book two. I guess one day I’ll have to sit down and read all three books. Each one can be read as a standalone. Yet, I enjoyed how the characters in book two are brought back in book three.

I’m assuming Dylan’s story is the final book in the series since Josh is married. This makes me sad because I feel like the series just started. Unless the author just writes a book for Josh and in it all the other brothers must be single. I’m probably overthinking this, but I just want to read more about these characters since I’ve grown to love them so much.

I enjoyed Dylan’s story because it was unpredictable, often suspenseful and the romance made me feel gooey. The author’s descriptions throughout the story bring the characters, settings and feelings come to life. I could visualize Dylan’s smile, his physically fit body, his apartment, the car chase, the food they were cooking. Heck, I could smell and taste the food that was prepared. The author’s writing style really makes me want to read the entire book in one sitting. Which I did.

The heroine, Harper, was a character wrapped up multiple times and Dylan had the patience to unwrap her layer by layer. Harper was a diamond in the rough. She just needed someone like Dylan to come along and make her sparkle. Let’s just say that when they were together the chemistry between them was dazzling. I could sense how much they really cared about one another in a heartwarming way.

Okay, I just did a thing. After re-reading my review I realized how invested in these characters I am, so I just went on Amazon and bought the first book in the series. It will arrive by July twenty which just happens to be my twenty-seventh wedding anniversary. If that isn’t enough testimony that others should read this book and the others in this series, then I don’t know what else is.

If you are looking for a wowza book that will leave you feeling a book glow at the end, then I’d recommend Pride of Brothers: Dylan and the others in the series.

Jazzed Up by Laura M. Baird

Jazzed Up by Laura M. Baird
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jaz Reynolds needs a new lead for his band. One note, one look is all it takes for him to know Cheryl Mathers is the one. Now to convince the sultry jazz singer to make the leap to a different genre and tour with him. When their chemistry rockets off the charts, can he convince himself this is business only? Or will he take a chance to find his own love of a lifetime?

Cheryl Mathers has always wanted music to be center stage in her life. The offer to tour with world-renowned pop-rock band, Jazzed Up, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With each day in Jaz’s presence, she falls more and more for his charm and allure. But she’s been burned by love in the past and is hesitant to risk her heart.

As the two find their rhythm and embrace their attraction, a life-altering revelation rocks their world. Will the power of promising of love be enough to bring them back into harmony?

Musicians need love, too.

There was a plot twist close to the end that I thought was handled nicely. It involved both Jaz and Cheryl’s pasts and them having more in common than they already knew they did. Ms. Baird did a good job of keeping this under wraps until it was time to reveal it. Not everything needs a lot of foreshadowing in order to be effective, and this was a good example of how to keep an audience guessing and interested about what might happen next until the final sentence.

I was surprised and confused by how quickly certain business decisions were made in this novella. The main characters were willing to make huge changes in their lives based on limited information, and most of the people around them didn’t seem concerned about how fast things were changing. It would have been helpful for me as a reader to have more information about why everyone was okay with this as it isn’t something that happens too often in real life in my experience.

With that being said, the whirlwind romance made much more sense. Sometimes two people meet and instantly click. It’s rare, but it can be truly beautiful when it happens. I also liked the way the author dove into the difference between clicking with someone and actually taking the time to figure out if there is as much compatibility with them as there seemed to be at first glance. That was a mature and sensible expansion to this theme that only made me enjoy it more.

Jazzed Up was a fluffy and uplifting romance novel.