*The Bodyguard by Katherine Center


*The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Women’s fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

She’s got his back.
Hannah Brooks looks more like a kindergarten teacher than somebody who could kill you with a wine bottle opener. Or a ballpoint pen. Or a dinner napkin. But the truth is, she’s an Executive Protection Agent (aka “bodyguard”), and she just got hired to protect superstar actor Jack Stapleton from his middle-aged, corgi-breeding stalker.

He’s got her heart.
Jack Stapleton’s a household name—captured by paparazzi on beaches the world over, famous for, among other things, rising out of the waves in all manner of clingy board shorts and glistening like a Roman deity. But a few years back, in the wake of a family tragedy, he dropped from the public eye and went off the grid.

They’ve got a secret.
When Jack’s mom gets sick, he comes home to the family’s Texas ranch to help out. Only one catch: He doesn’t want his family to know about his stalker. Or the bodyguard thing. And so Hannah—against her will and her better judgment—finds herself pretending to be Jack’s girlfriend as a cover. Even though her ex, like a jerk, says no one will believe it.

What could possibly go wrong???
Hannah hardly believes it, herself. But the more time she spends with Jack, the more real it all starts to seem. And there lies the heartbreak. Because it’s easy for Hannah to protect Jack. But protecting her own, long-neglected heart? That’s the hardest thing she’s ever done.

The Bodyguard is an entertaining and heartwarming story. It centers on Hannah, a personal bodyguard who is dedicated to her job. In fact, Hannah is so consumed with her job she doesn’t have time for anything else in her life. Everything is going well in Hannah’s life, until it all falls apart and she is left feeling adrift and confused.

I decided to read The Bodyguard because It sounded intriguing. Jack is a famous actor and I love reading stories revolving around Hollywood. Hannah is a bodyguard, and I liked the idea of a woman protecting a man, especially a hot Hollywood actor. I liked Jack and Hannah and I enjoyed their story, however, at times, I had a difficult time connecting with them. Overall, I liked the premise of the book and the characters, but it just felt like something was lacking.

Even saying that, the story has its strong points, it kept my interest and I enjoyed reading it. I think other readers will like it too.

*Starry-Eyed Love by Helena Hunting


*Starry-Eyed Love by Helena Hunting
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Having just broken up with her boyfriend, London Spark is not in the mood to be hit on. Especially not when she’s out celebrating her single status with her sisters. So when a very attractive man pays for their drinks and then slips her his number, she passes it right back to him with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. As the business administrator for their family’s event hotel, the Spark House, London has more important things to worry about, like bringing in new clientele.

As luck would have it, a multi-million-dollar company calls a few months later asking for a meeting to discuss a potential partnership, and London is eager to prove to her sisters, and herself, that she can land this deal. Just when she thinks she has nailed her presentation, the company’s CEO, Jackson Holt, walks in and inserts himself into the meeting. Not only that, but he also happens to be the same guy she turned down at the bar a few months ago.

As they begin to spend more time together, their working relationship blossoms into something more. It isn’t until their professional entanglements are finally over, that London and Jackson are finally ready to take the next step in their relationship. But between Jackson’s secretive past and London’s struggle with her sisters, London must question where she really stands – not just with Jackson, but with the Spark House, too.

Helena Hunting is one of my favorite authors and I have read everything she has written, so I was excited to read her newest book, Starry-Eyed Love. Hunting knows how to paint a picture, she is a wonderful storyteller and she makes this story come alive. I devoured this delicious story and I just couldn’t put it down. It has a plot that kept me spellbound, with realistic character development and witty dialogue. In fact, the banter between Jackson and London, the two main characters, was what I loved the most about this story. Their chemistry just explodes off the pages.

London and her sisters own Spark house, a quaint hotel in Colorado surrounded by beautiful grounds where they host events. When London meets Jackson, a billionaire who owns Holt Media, it changes both of their lives forever. Jackson and London have an intensity that leapt off the page and I loved their encounters. Their communication through email and text messages made me laugh out loud as they got to know each other.

I loved Jackson. He is charming and sweet and totally into London. Jackson is a billionaire who has seen it all and is feeling bored with his life when he meets London, who he finds refreshing. Jackson is vulnerable with London and he shows her a side of him that he doesn’t share with anyone else. You don’t want to miss this delightful, charming and spicy romantic story.

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth


The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

THE HUSBAND
A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.

THE DAUGHTERS
Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.

THE FORMER WIFE
With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the
truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.

THE YOUNGER WIFE
Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses
in all of them?

Still married to his current wife, heart surgeon Stephen Aston falls for his younger interior designer, Heather. This is definitely a required ingredient if you are looking for a recipe for disaster or maybe even death.

It took me a brief moment to get use to the author’s rhythm with the varying timeline, and each being told from Tully, Rachel or Heather’s point of view.

It’s a quick and entertaining read that tackles several real issues. Some being difficult subject matter such as domestic violence, sexual assault, kleptomania, binge eating and Alzheimer’s disease.

The author is skilled at building tension which lead me to take in each short chapter in a haste. The family drama led the two sisters, Tully and Rachel, to become close, sharing their own personal and somewhat embarrassing secrets. Since both women seemed to have helpless moments where they would lose control both sisters made me question what could cause such dramatic personal traits. I liked both ladies and I easily empathized with them. I enjoyed seeing their growth as individuals and I guess family drama can either cause family to bond or grow apart. I’m glad to say that Tully and Rachel’s bond grew stronger.

It’s not all good for Rachel and Tully though. They are dealing with mixed emotions and feeling betrayed by what they thought was a perfect family. In addition to their feelings of guilt for their mom who has Alzheimer’s. The stress of this dysfunctional family is bringing about more kleptomania and binge eating episodes.

Their mother Pamela has plenty to say against her soon to be ex-husband. Heather, the future young bride is dealing with her own memories of a childhood growing up with an abusive father and keeping a secret from her future husband that her dad is serving life in prison for murder. Stephen has questioned Heather about if she has a problem with alcohol. As I mentioned earlier a recipe for disaster which makes for a suspenseful and entertaining read.

The ending caught me by surprise. It was a clever ending that spoke volumes and gave light to the bonds that were built and where loyalties lie. I was left wondering whether any of their viewpoints were reliable? Could one single voice cause this chain of events?

I rated the book 4 stars because it kept my attention, I couldn’t read it fast enough and the book also made me think. Our memory can be tricky. It can fail us, betray us even. Various influences can affect our perceptions, beliefs and memory.  We see this after Rachel went through her mother’s things, and memories became vague and were questioned.

I can’t complete the review without saying there were several odd parts that stuck out for me, but it didn’t take away from the story, in fact it made the story what it is.  Overall I enjoyed the book. It’s entertaining and one I would recommend.

The Christmas Promise by Donna VanLiere


The Christmas Promise by Donna VanLiere
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Mainstream Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Each Christmas we are given a promise from heaven. And each year on earth we make promises to each other. This is a story about how a promise from one person to another shows us the true meaning of faith, remembrance, and love.

Seven years ago Gloria endured a family tragedy that almost shook her faith entirely. Each Christmas she places a card in an envelope on her tree, restating a promise she made to her husband before he died. Now, having moved from her small town and all the painful memories it held, she is building a life by caring for people in need. Whether it’s a young mother who can’t pay her electric bill or a family who needs some extra food, Gloria always finds a way.

Miriam is a thorn in Gloria’s side. Miriam is a constantly critical, disapproving neighbor who looks with suspicion at all the good things Gloria does. When a twist of fate makes them roommates instead of neighbors, it’s the ultimate test of patience and faith.

Chaz has a good job as head of security at Wilson’s Department Store, but each night he returns home to an empty apartment. He longs for a wife and family of his own but realizes that the life choices he’s made have alienated him. He befriends a young boy whose mother has fallen on hard times, giving him a chance to have a life he thought impossible.

In The Christmas Promise, the lives of these characters collide and we learn that even as we move ahead, the past is never far behind. And when we are forgiven much, we love much. In this warmly humorous and deeply poignant story, we are reminded that the Christmas Promise is the promise of second chances.

Sometimes it’s nice to try something unknown, and this story by Donna VanLiere, a new-to-me author, was one of those books that took me by surprise because I ended up liking it. By and large, I’m a romance reader so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It has romantic elements and of a fashion, it does have an emotional and satisfying happy ever after. It’s not the type I’m used to but for this novel, it was perfect. It was happy, it was poignant, it left me with the ‘feel goods’ and the writing was well done if a bit unusual. It was unusual because the point of view switched from first person, which followed the story of the main female lead, Gloria, also called Miss Glory, and the third person point of view from some of the secondary characters. I don’t remember if I’ve ever come upon a story written quite this way. In The Christmas Promise, it worked.

Because the author wrote the chapters and storylines of a few of the characters like the weaving of a tapestry, everything spirals down to a point. I found that style of storytelling quite challenging. Not because it was confusing, it impressed me more than anything else. Everyone’s lives seemed to touch another’s in one way or another. It brought a sense of unity to the community. Gloria seems to be the person who spearheads charitable works for anyone and everyone she comes across who is experiencing hardship in one way or the other. I think that is where the ‘Christian Fiction’ label can apply. It wasn’t on the level of inspirational, but the guiding principle of taking care of a neighbor in need falls under the purview of corporal works of mercy. That’s where all the important secondary characters are found. Mary-am, Spaz, Donovan, Carla, Erin and quite a few others are not only helped by Gloria but she eventually is helped by them. The blessings she receives in doing for others far outweigh anything she could have imagined at the start of the story.

On an aside, I am compelled to mention that the synopsis or blurb for The Christmas Promise is actually different depending on if you look up the title as a print or as an audiobook. I prefer the print version’s blurb but combined, it gives a potential reader a clearer idea of what the novel is about. It mentions humor and I didn’t have any laugh out loud moments while reading. A few ‘Awws’ and ‘that’s so sweet’ when it came to the interactions between Spaz and Donovan, a few smiles with Miriam’s crabby antics, but the big emotional pull and downright tear jerker is between Gloria and one of the secondary characters. If a reader enjoys stories that are strong in the ‘feels’ area, then this book is going to bring about those happy sappy tears so make sure you have a tissue handy, just in case.

On the whole, The Christmas Promise is a powerful story of faith, friendship, redemption, true Christmas spirit and love of family and neighbor. It’s incredibly well-written and the pace is constant. I usually prefer light fluffy stories but I’m glad I took a chance on something a bit more solid. It reminded me of what the holiday’s focus should be. Not material things, but people. Not only family, but friends and sometimes friends of friends. Even though this story has a Christmas theme, I personally feel this story can be read at any time of year. It’s a timeless message. If you haven’t read this story yet, or heard of this author, please give her a try. I’m glad I did.

*When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting


*When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Avery Spark is living her best life. Between her friends, her sisters, and Spark House, the event hotel her family owns, she doesn’t have much time for anything else, especially relationships. She’d rather hang out with her best friend and roommate, Declan McCormick, than deal with the dating scene. But everything changes when she is in a car accident and needs someone to care for her as she heals.

Declan avoids relationships, giving him a playboy reputation that he lives up to when he puts a one-night stand ahead of a promise he made to Avery. While he may not have been the one driving the car, he feels responsible for Avery’s injuries and is determined to make it up to her by stepping into the role of caretaker.

Little did they know that the more time they spend in compromising positions, the attraction they’ve been refusing to acknowledge becomes impossible to ignore. When they finally give in to the spark between them, neither is prepared for the consequences. Their love is fragile and all it will take is a blow from the past to shatter it all.

Going from friends to lovers isn’t an easy transition. That is the premise in Helena Hunting’s newest book, When Sparks Fly. Helena Hunting is one of my favorite authors so naturally, I was excited to read this one.

Declan and Avery have been best friends since college and once they graduate, they become roommates. They have a great relationship and enjoy spending time together because they both love sports. They are athletic and love everything that has to do with the sports world. However, their friendship changes when Avery has a bad auto accident.

I liked Declan, although he is a manwhore. I found it is easy to forgive him because deep down he is insecure and dealing with baggage from his past. Declan is filled with self doubt when it comes to relationships and he doesn’t think he is suited to a long lasting relationship. So, his life is filled with a series of hookups with different women.

Avery is the perfect friend and Declan doesn’t want to ruin their perfect friendship by becoming intimate with her. The only problem is lately, he finds he can’t stop thinking about her and staying away from Avery becomes impossible.

Helena Hunting knows how to write romance and she doesn’t disappoint with this one. It is fun, slow burning and has entertaining characters. I thoroughly enjoyed Declan and Avery’s story. They have so much in common and are great together. They worry they will ruin their wonderful friendship if they take a chance on love, but I wanted them to work everything out and end up together. This tender story had me quickly turning the pages to find out what would happen next.

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison


The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Nicola Harrison’s The Show Girl gives a glimpse of the glamorous world of the Ziegfeld Follies, through the eyes of a young midwestern woman who comes to New York City to find her destiny as a Ziegfeld Follies star.

It’s 1927 when Olive McCormick moves from Minneapolis to New York City determined to become a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. Extremely talented as a singer and dancer, it takes every bit of perseverance to finally make it on stage. And once she does, all the glamour and excitement is everything she imagined and more—even worth all the sacrifices she has had to make along the way.

Then she meets Archie Carmichael. Handsome, wealthy—the only man she’s ever met who seems to accept her modern ways—her independent nature and passion for success. But once she accepts his proposal of marriage he starts to change his tune, and Olive must decide if she is willing to reveal a devastating secret and sacrifice the life she loves for the man she loves.

She knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to get it–within reason.

Olive is a complicated girl and she’s living in a fantastical time. Nicola Harrison has written an interesting story. I like tales from the 1920s and I knew I had to snap this one up when I saw it. The writing flowed well and I was swept up in the excitement of the time. There were moments when I really did feel like I was there at the theater with her and could see the world around Olive. I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. It kept me in my seat needing to know about Olive.

I have to admit there were times when I didn’t like Olive. I didn’t like her because of her naivete and some of her choices. That said, there were times she didn’t seem to like herself. That made her more relatable. I wanted to see her succeed and get her dreams.

This story moved along at a great clip and while there were times it wasn’t so much fun–good grief they drank a lot–I liked the struggle within Olive to be the good girl while also following her dreams.

If you’re looking for a fun story that has some heavy spots and will keep you entertained, then this is a great step into the 1920s story. Pick it up!

The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication by Alexander Larman


The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication by Alexander Larman
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The thrilling and definitive account of the Abdication Crisis of 1936

On December 10, 1936, King Edward VIII brought a great international drama to a close when he abdicated, renouncing the throne of the United Kingdom for himself and his heirs. The reason he gave when addressing his subjects was that he could not fulfill his duties without the woman he loved―the notorious American divorcee Wallis Simpson―by his side. His actions scandalized the establishment, who were desperate to avoid an international embarrassment at a time when war seemed imminent. That the King was rumored to have Nazi sympathies only strengthened their determination that he should be forced off the throne, by any means necessary.

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For the first time in a book about the abdication, readers will read an in-depth account of the assassination attempt on Edward’s life and its consequences, a first-person chronicle of Wallis Simpson’s scandalous divorce proceedings, information from the Royal Archives about the government’s worries about Edward’s relationship with Nazi high-command Ribbentrop and a boots-on-the-ground view of how the British people saw Edward as they watched the drama unfold. You won’t be able to put down The Crown in Crisis, a full panorama of the people and the times surrounding Edward and the woman he loved.

A complicated love and a complicated situation all the way around.

I had no idea how complicated and what a deal it was when Edward decided to abdicate. This was just simply history to me. Something that happened, but this book makes the situation come alive.

I will be the first to admit I didn’t know much about the abdication. I didn’t know much about the people involved beyond knowing their names. That was it. By reading this book, it brought the situation to life for me. Wallis was more than a name on a page. She’s complicated and cunning. She’s also in love with Edward–it seems sort of that she’s in love with his status and his position, but there also seemed like genuine love there. Edward was in love. He wanted Wallis because she seemed to be everything he loved in life–her freedom, her coolness and her ability to worm her way into situations. She knew how to be someone. She could be vain and snotty, though, too.

There were a lot of levers being pulled in this situation and so many players. It’s a complicated read, but it’s also worth the time. Pick this one up and go for the ride.

Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth by Albert Podell


Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth by Albert Podell
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Recent Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (354 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Around the World in 50 Years is the inspiring story of an ordinary guy who achieved two great goals that others had told him were impossible. First, he set a record for the longest automobile journey ever made around the world, during which he blasted his way out of minefields, survived a serious accident atop the Peak of Death, came within seconds of being lynched, and lost three of the five men who started with him: two to disease, one to the Vietcong.

After that, Albert Podell set another record by going to every country on earth. He survived riots, revolutions, civil wars, trigger-happy child soldiers, voodoo priests, jihadists, robbers, corrupt cops, and Cape buffalo. He traveled through every kind of earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, volcanic eruption, snowstorm, and sandstorm that nature threw at him. He ate everything from old camel meat and African field rats to dung beetles and the brain of a live monkey. And he overcame encounters with crocodiles, hippos, anacondas, giant leeches, flying crabs―and several beautiful women who insisted that he stop this nonsense and marry them.
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Around the World in 50 Years is a remarkable and meaningful tale packed with some of the most memorable, frightening, and hilarious adventure stories you have ever read.

Has anyone been to every country on earth? Albert Podell has, and he wrote about it. He started his travels as a young man and finished them in his twilight years. He left the most dangerous and harrowing countries for last.

The subject matter alone is fascinating. Readers get glimpses of other countries and cultures through the eyes of an American traveler. Podell doesn’t describe all 196 countries here. He mainly goes into his wild adventures in the countries where he encountered real trouble, whether of the natural type—wild animals or extreme desert conditions in Africa—or the human type—dealing with wars and radical politics.

There are only a few pleasant experiences described within these pages, and the author’s words offer great insights into these other lands. One will appreciate getting a peek into how so many other people live. Podell is honest, and his interpretations are laced with humor. This book is not for kids though. There is adult content, telling readers how it really is.

Since it took him fifty years to do this, Podell sometimes updates readers on the situation in certain countries. He also had to backtrack at times because new countries were created or disappeared. One can often feel his stress and surprise as well as feel relieved for him when he barely escapes one life-threatening predicament after another.

This adventurous tale will very likely give readers in certain places a whole new appreciation of where they live. It will make them grateful for what they have and maybe even make them want to stay home. It’s an eye-opening experience going along with this author on his world-wide journeys, and I’m glad I read this book.

The League of Wives by Heath Hardage Lee


The League of Wives by Heath Hardage Lee
The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Length: Full Length (336 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The true story of the fierce band of women who battled Washington―and Hanoi―to bring their husbands home from the jungles of Vietnam.

On February 12, 1973, one hundred and sixteen men who, just six years earlier, had been high flying Navy and Air Force pilots, shuffled, limped, or were carried off a huge military transport plane at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. These American servicemen had endured years of brutal torture, kept shackled and starving in solitary confinement, in rat-infested, mosquito-laden prisons, the worst of which was The Hanoi Hilton.

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In a page-turning work of narrative non-fiction, Heath Hardage Lee tells the story of these remarkable women for the first time. The League of Wives is certain to be on everyone’s must-read list.

These women had guts. Period.

I can’t imagine being in the shoes of the League of Wives. Each woman’s husband has been captured in Vietnam and the wives don’t know what happened to them. Talk about stress. Like I said, I can’t imagine how they handled it.

The author handles this topic, the POWs and MIA soldiers in Vietnam with a special touch. The writing flows well and I got caught up in the struggle of each woman profiled. I had no idea how much Ross Perot or Bob Dole did for these soldiers and their family. I learned a lot through the reading of this book. A reader who lived through this era might not learn as much, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent.

This isn’t an easy read. Now I know that sounds strange. I just said the writing flows well, but then I said it’s not an easy read? The author shows how these women went through the wringer and how they did (or sometimes didn’t) handle the stress of their situation. It’s hard to read about women struggling to cope. They’ve got kids, family and their determination to get their husbands home. It’s a lot to handle. Some did. Some didn’t.

Give this book a try. It’s worth the read. Recommended.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (352 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.

You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.

You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.

You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
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Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

The twists and turns kept me reading until the end.

I’m not a big one on thriller books. I tend to gravitate toward the feel good kinds, but this one was selected by the book club, so I read it. The writing is interesting. I won’t lie. I was hooked from the beginning because I wanted to know what would happen next. It dragged me in.

I do have to admit, Vanessa and Nellie did confuse me. I liked the twists that involved them, but there were times when I did have to scratch my head and reread. I tried to keep things straight, but sometimes didn’t. I did manage to finish the book and I have to say I sighed a little. Like…whew… okay, we found the end.

That said, there were moments where the plot is quite complicated. Holy moly. Keeping things straight could be tough. But the plot kept me reading. I’m not sure this would have been a book I’d have picked up on my own, but that doesn’t mean it might not be the one for you.

If you’re looking for a book that will mess with your head, will rivet you and will make you think twice about the folks you see around you, then this might be the book for you.