*Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

*Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan
Publisher: Avon and Harper Voyager
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Women’s fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

For Sewanee Chester, being an audiobook narrator is a long way from her old dreams, but the days of being a star on film sets are long behind her. She’s found success and satisfaction from the inside of a sound booth and it allows her to care for her beloved, ailing grandmother. When she arrives in Las Vegas last-minute for a book convention, Sewanee unexpectedly spends a whirlwind night with a charming stranger.

On her return home, Sewanee discovers one of the world’s most beloved romance novelists wanted her to perform her last book—with Brock McNight, the industry’s hottest, most secretive voice. Sewanee doesn’t buy what romance novels are selling—not after her own dreams were tragically cut short—and she stopped narrating them years ago. But her admiration of the late author, and the opportunity to get her grandmother more help, makes her decision for her.

As Sewanee begins work on the book, resurrecting her old romance pseudonym, she and Brock forge a real connection, hidden behind the comfort of anonymity. Soon, she is dreaming again, but secrets are revealed, and the realities of life come crashing down around her once more.

If she can learn to risk everything for desires she has long buried, she will discover a world of intimacy and acceptance she never believed would be hers.

Thank you for Listening took me on an emotional journey.

You have to be open to the possibilities.

I loved reading Sewanee and Nick’s story. They are two realistic, flawed and complicated characters. They are both stuck in a life they aren’t happy with after their lives moved in an unexpected direction. They are vulnerable and afraid to take a chance.

This is an intriguing story that had me quickly turning the pages to find out what would happen next because I was never quite sure what direction it would go. It held me captive from start to finish. This story took me through many emotions: falling in love, family dysfunction and losing your dreams.

There are also some interesting and colorful secondary characters included in the story. I especially loved Sewanee’s grandmother, she was a hoot. Julie Whelan writes a beautiful and touching story.

*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.

*Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

*Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan
Publisher: Penguin Group Putnam, G. P. Putnam Sons
Genre: Romance, Women’s fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Nora’s life is about to get a rewrite…

Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband Nora’s life will never be the same.

The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.

Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story—the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.

Is it possible for a movie star to fall for a small town, single mom?

Nora Goes Off Script is a beautifully written, poignant story. It is realistic and the characters have an intense connection that literally jumps off the pages.

Leo and Nora meet when Nora writes a successful book that is being made into a movie and Leo is a high-profile movie star playing the male lead in the movie. When Leo comes into town, Nora discovers he is going to be staying in a trailer on her property. She is surprised to find Leo constantly underfoot. Leo seems content to spend time in Nora’s house and he enjoys learning to do small everyday tasks.

I love how unaffected Nora is by Leo. She treats him like she would anyone else and I think that is what Leo finds so alluring about her. Nora is strong and brave but doesn’t know her worth because her ex continually put her down.

Leo is nothing like Nora imagined he would be. Underneath Leo’s movie star persona he is just a regular guy. Leo has many wonderful qualities and he is easy to like. He is easy going and laid back and he misses being normal and having a regular life.

Leo and Nora are wonderful together. They have incredible chemistry and I enjoyed all their interactions. I liked Leo and Nora individually and loved them together. Nora and Leo are both going through an emotional time in their lives. Their lives are changing and they are trying to figure out their next steps. There are also a lot of entertaining and interesting secondary characters in this story. This story sparkled and left me with a good feeling.

One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak

One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak
Publisher: Mira
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Some families we’re born into
Some we find for ourselves

When Serenity Alston swabbed her cheek for a genetic test, she joked about uncovering some dark ancestral scandal. The last thing she expected was to discover two half sisters she didn’t know existed. Suddenly, everything about her loving family is drawn into question. And meeting these newfound sisters might be the only way to get answers.

The women decide to dig into the mystery together at Serenity’s family cabin in Lake Tahoe. With Reagan navigating romantic politics at work and Lorelei staring down the collapse of her marriage, all three women are converging at a crossroads in their lives. Before the summer is over, they’ll have to confront the past and determine how to move forward when everything they previously thought to be true was a lie. But any future is easier to face with family by your side.

Three sisters and one big secret. It’s going to be a long summer.

I have to admit I’d never read a book by Brenda Novak before this one. I don’t know why I waited so long, but I did. I’m glad I’ve rectified this. This was a good book. I liked the writing style and the characters were interesting. I zipped right through this in a matter of a couple days.

I wasn’t a fan of the cheating aspect of the story, but honestly it was not that important compared to the rest of the story. Lorelei had issues and I liked how she grew through the book. Reagan has to grow up, too, but also understand what gifts she’s been given. I liked how she learned gratitude. Then there’s Serenity, the one who got this all started. I liked how she came into her own and found her strength, too. Plus, the plot twists were great.

This isn’t a romance and romance readers might feel a little cheated by not getting a specific romance, but fear not. The story and the various threads more than make up for that. This is a great beach read and something I recommend others reading. Check it out!

*Coming into Focus by Eagan Daniels

*Coming into Focus by Eagan Daniels
Publisher: Champagne books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Given the choice between being an overpaid assistant to a famous British rock band on the verge of making it huge in America, or staying home to work three menial jobs to take care of a brother who has outgrown the need for her, Willa Reynolds’s decision is obvious: her brother might need her again eventually, and she’ll stick around until that happens.

When you love someone, you don’t leave. She learned that the hard way from her mom. Granted, her dream of being hired as a photographer for music magazine Offstage is a long shot when the only people she mingles with are the customers that come into the coffee shop, but she’ll think of something.

But when her brother announces he’s going to college and practically shoves her out the door, and the rock star in question sweetens the deal by offering to pay her even more and giving her the opportunity to build her photography portfolio in the process . . . Willa has to admit that it seems like the universe is sending her a message.

If you enjoy reading stories about hot musicians, this is the book for you. Willa is a struggling photographer when she meets an up-and-coming British band. This chance meeting changes her life.

This story has a slow start but the more I read, the more invested I became with the two main characters, Oliver and Willa. It’s fascinating to read about Willa as she becomes the person she is meant to be. She is always taking care of everyone, and I love how she learns how to put herself first and to fight for what she wants.

The guys in the band are all British and Willa is American and it’s hilarious when the guys in the band use British slang and Willa has no idea what they are saying. Then, when Willa uses American slang, the guys are equally dumbfounded.

I liked everything about Oliver, he is the drummer in the band and he and Willa are perfect together. He is a good guy. He is low key and very cool and cares about Willa from the moment he meets her.

This is a beautiful love story, and I enjoyed the relationship Willa has with the entire band. The guys are fun loving and entertaining and easily accept Willa into their group. This is definitely a recommended read.

* How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder

* How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Grey Brooks is on a mission to keep her career afloat now that the end of her long-running teen TV show has her (unsuccessfully) pounding the pavement again. With a life-changing role on the line, she’s finally desperate enough to agree to her publicist’s scheme: fake a love affair with a disgraced Hollywood heartthrob who needs the publicity, but for very different reasons.

Ethan Atkins just wants to be left alone. Between his high-profile divorce, struggles with drinking, and grief over the death of his longtime creative partner and best friend, Ethan has slowly let himself fade into the background. But if he ever wants to produce the last movie he and his partner wrote together, Ethan needs to clean up his reputation and step back into the spotlight. A gossip-inducing affair with a gorgeous actress might be just the ticket, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Though their juicy public relationship is less than perfect behind the scenes, it doesn’t take long before Grey and Ethan’s sizzling chemistry starts to feel like more than just an act. But after decades in a ruthless industry that requires bulletproof emotional armor to survive, are they too used to faking it to open themselves up to the real thing?

If you like Hollywood romance, don’t miss this one. This is Ava Wilder’s debut novel, and I was really impressed. I loved everything about this story and I devoured it from the first page. I have to admit, Hollywood stories are my weakness, so that is what drew me to this story. From the first page, I was transported into Ethan and Grey’s world and I fell in love with the story and the characters.

Ava Wilder takes the reader on an emotional journey through the ups and downs of trying to have a relationship in Hollywood. Ethan and Grey are two actors who need a career boost and agree to a fake relationship. Ethan was a huge star but has become a recluse in recent years and Grey was a child star and now wants to be taken seriously.

Ethan and Grey have tons of chemistry. Although they try to ignore the feelings they have for each other, until they can’t anymore. They have an easy banter and there is a lot of sexual tension between them. They are perfect together and they help each other become stronger and better.

Ethan has demons and he is just existing. He is a tortured emotional mess and he doesn’t know how to deal with his feelings. He has lost his direction in life. He feels hopeless and helpless, until Grey comes into his life. Grey is a breath of fresh air in Ethan’s reclusive life. She isn’t afraid to tell Ethan what is on her mind and I think that is what Ethan likes about her the most. That is, besides his crazy attraction to her. Grey slowly turns Ethan’s world bright again and I loved reading about it.

This is a fantastic book and it has all the elements I love. The characters are easy to connect with, it has great pacing, the story immediately captured my attention, I couldn’t put it down and I never wanted it to end. I can’t wait to find out what Ava Wilder will write next. I will be first in line to read it. Perfection.

Wahala by Nikki May

Wahala by Nikki May
Publisher: Custom House
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Ginger

An incisive and exhilarating debut novel following three Anglo-Nigerian best friends and the lethally glamorous fourth woman who infiltrates their group—the most unforgettable girls since Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha.

Ronke wants happily ever after and 2.2. kids. She’s dating Kayode and wants him to be “the one” (perfect, like her dead father). Her friends think he’s just another in a long line of dodgy Nigerian boyfriends.

Boo has everything Ronke wants—a kind husband, gorgeous child. But she’s frustrated, unfulfilled, plagued by guilt, and desperate to remember who she used to be.

Simi is the golden one with the perfect lifestyle. No one knows she’s crippled by impostor syndrome and tempted to pack it all in each time her boss mentions her “urban vibe.” Her husband thinks they’re trying for a baby. She’s not.

When the high-flying, charismatic Isobel explodes into the group, it seems at first she’s bringing out the best in each woman. (She gets Simi an interview in Shanghai! Goes jogging with Boo!) But the more Isobel intervenes, the more chaos she sows, and Ronke, Simi, and Boo’s close friendship begins to crack.

A sharp, modern take on friendship, ambition, culture, and betrayal, Wahala (trouble) is an unforgettable novel from a brilliant new voice.

The author presents a modern storytelling about three Anglo-Nigerian best friends Ronke, Boo and Simi. The characters are well developed with realistic personalities. The author gives the readers a glimpse into each of the character’s perspectives, their imperfections, their fears and their secrets. I enjoyed their friendship and the closeness the ladies shared. Will their friendship still remain when (Wahala) trouble comes?

Ronke is a dentist and the cook of the group who has a boyfriend she can’t depend on, and a client turned stalker. She wants the happy ever after but is her boyfriend Kayode actually the one? I wanted Kayode to act right or leave Ronke alone. He didn’t appear to be the strong man that she needed, so I agreed with her friends about him.

Boo made a statement “She made me hate my life.” when in fact that’s what she displayed to others. Boo seems to have the life that any woman would dream of. A husband, nicknamed Tubby Hubby by Isobel, willing to work and take care of things around the house, and a bratty 5-year-old daughter. But to her, her life is boring and unfulfilled. At times I didn’t like Boo, but then other times I could understand why she felt the way she did. She wanted someone else’s life, to be someone else but didn’t see that what she had a lot of women pray for.

Simi is her own woman with a doting husband who desperately wants to have children, but Simi isn’t ready to have children or to share this fact with her soon to be 40-year-old husband, Martin. I enjoyed the way Simi and her husband took time to talk to each other often despite the different in time zones. I wanted her to come clean with her husband on not wanting a child right now.

Even though the women were warned that the Babangari family was rotten, Isobel still made her glamorous appearance befriending the ladies and in her subtle and sly way wanting to know more about them. She starts out with friendly advice, working her way to gain their trust making everyone believe she’s an asset to the group. Even though I was suspicious of her to begin with, Isobel had a way about her that draws people to her. As the reader, I knew what was happening and I kept reading hoping one of the ladies would figure it out. I didn’t care for Isobel, but her character was well thought out and written. Isobel was able to find the ladies weak points and use it against them.

I enjoyed reading this book. It gave such insight on various cultures, languages and recipes. Their friendship circle does remind me of the reality housewives shows. The author created characters with personal issues that many women face. She revealed to readers the characters true self, their secrets and thoughts that for some reason they haven’t shared with others in their clique. At one point the ladies seem to have it all and then another they appear fragile and vulnerable.

The pace of the book flowed well. The author gave enough of their daily happenings, so it didn’t drown out the storyline. A few times, I wanted to rush the storyline, but I understood once I got to the end that it was part of the development for the ending. It’s an overall good read. It made me appreciate what I have and not take others for granted but to be open and not harbor secrets that could very well hurt others. There’s a saying ‘hindsight is 20-20’. Once the ladies’ world was shaken up, they each wanted to go back to what they had or it revealed a different way that they could have handled things.

An impressive read layered with culture and populated by characters that are so real readers may find it hard to forget them. This isn’t a housewife’s tale but a story of friendship, jealousy, betrayal and hopefully a tool so that you’ll see trouble when it comes.

The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman

The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman
Publisher: Graydon House
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

The forecast is calling for a reluctant homecoming and regrettable decisions with a strong chance of romance…

When Sonny Dunes, a SoCal meteorologist whose job is all sunshine and seventy-two-degree days, is replaced by a virtual meteorologist that will never age, gain weight or renegotiate its contract, the only station willing to give the fifty-year-old another shot is the very place Sonny’s been avoiding since the day she left for college—her northern Michigan hometown.

Sonny grudgingly returns to the long, cold, snowy winters of her childhood…with the added humiliation of moving back in with her mother. Not quite an outsider but no longer a local, Sonny finds her past blindsiding her everywhere: from the high school friends she ghosted, to the former journalism classmate and mortal frenemy who’s now her boss, to, most keenly, the death years ago of her younger sister, who loved the snow.

To distract herself from the memories she’s spent her life trying to outrun, Sonny throws herself headfirst into covering every small-town winter event to woo a new audience, made more bearable by a handsome widower with optimism to spare. But with someone trying to undermine her efforts to rebuild her career, Sonny must make peace with who she used to be and allow her heart to thaw if she’s ever going to find a place she can truly call home.

Sonny is a middle-aged meteorologist who has a great job and a great home in a warm climate. Suddenly she finds herself out of work but takes up an old colleague on her offer to work for her. The trouble is, Sonny will have to go across the country, back to her childhood home, where it is cold and snows a lot. Sonny dreads going back. Her sister was killed there. But she needs the job at the small station.

Sonny’s mother is awesome, and Sonny meets other great people who all have issues, like her. She is troubled, but her experiences will help her grow and learn things. She will work through her pain.

Setting is important in this story and has a great impact on the plot and characterization. The charming winter wonderland scenes add much to the book. Themes of family, friendship, and facing tragedy help bring this tale to life.

This is a very engaging book with a message and plenty of entertainment. I highly recommend it.

The Seekers’ Garden by Isa Pearl Ritchie

The Seekers’ Garden by Isa Pearl Ritchie
Publisher: Te Ra Aroha Press
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

If you stand still for long enough, the past catches up with you…

Leaving behind the fragments of her old life, Marcia Reed-Wilton crosses the world to return to her dilapidated childhood home and dig up the weeds of the past.

Next door, Mrs Everglade struggles to maintain her independence in spite of her increasing frailty.

Sixteen-year-old Lea escapes into her poetry to cope with depression until meeting Alex, a much more potent distraction.

Meanwhile, Iris leaves her career on a whim to embark on an adventure of an entirely different kind; moving to a sleepy seaside town to write a book.

On the other side of the world in opposite seasons, Zane, vocalist for a popular band is haunted by cryptic dreams that lead him home.

A few twists of fate and a buried secret leave these individuals deeply and unexpectedly connected.

The Seekers’ Garden is a lush and captivating exploration of loss, growth and spirituality, revealing the way connections form in unlikely places.

This book is a richly drawn tapestry of the lives of five characters and how they interconnect. I loved how the characters are each unique, with their own voices. The format the author used enables to reader to truly connect with each character on a deep level. They are all at different points in their lives, and the reader should easily be able to identify with one or more of the characters. Each character is drawn so differently, and their individual chapters reflects each of their voice and interest. Great job on that!

I was fascinated to work through the chapters and try to figure out how they were connected. That was almost as much fun as getting to know the characters themselves… no spoilers, though.

It is slower paced than a lot of the books I read, and it was a nice change to be able to just immerse myself in the lives of these characters and go along on their journeys. Very thought provoking. Great job! 4 stars

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Once in a Lifetime by Mary Monroe

Once in a Lifetime by Mary Monroe
Publisher: Dafina
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Free-spirited, living on the fly, Vanessa Hayes is still always down for traditional family holiday fun—until now. She’s making her oft-delayed wish finally come true: Christmas in Paris, the glittering City of Lights. But when her passport gets delayed, it’s too late for Vanessa to rebook. Now it looks like the Yuletide she longs for won’t happen. Until a stranger suddenly enters her life, and changes it forever . . .

Overwhelmed by responsibility, Judith Guthrie is too busy worrying about her seriously ill brother to have time to celebrate. She’s taken a leave from her teaching job to care for him as he’s on the waiting list for a life-giving transplant. A trip to France is a kind of happiness she can’t imagine. But when she accidentally receives Vanessa’s passport, Judith can’t resist delivering it in person so Vanessa will at least have her holiday dream. She can’t anticipate that her small gesture will result in a series of big choices, big miracles, and lifelong rewards that all will be thankful for over many Christmases to come . . .

Is it fate?

The story is told from Vanessa Hayes’s point of view. The story seemed more of a high level overview than an in-depth get to know the characters that I am use to when reading the author’s writing style. This was an okay read. I finished it but didn’t quite get the normal excitement that I usually get when I read a Mary Monroe novel.

I enjoyed seeing Vanessa, a single 32-year-old woman enjoying her life and taking care of herself and helping her family. Her long time dream of going to Paris is halted when her passport didn’t arrive in time for her scheduled trip during Christmas. Because of the mishap with the postal service, it turns out she’ll receive another once in a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately after Vanessa’s trip has been cancelled Judith Ann Guthrie knocks on Vanessa’s door to deliver the delayed passport. Here’s where things got strange for me, but who am I to say it could very well be divine intervention. Vanessa Googles Judith and gives her a call. The phone rung six times before Judith answered. For some reason Vanessa is eager to meet with Judith again. Judith invites a stranger to come to her home. While there the ladies have a bonding moment as well as Vanessa meeting Ronald, Judith’s brother who is in need of a kidney.

There were minor details that didn’t make this book a great read. I wasn’t able to connect with the characters. As I mentioned Vanessa has a loving personality but her life was just not that interesting to me. The book tells a lot about her with her family and friends and maybe it was the lack of drama that made the story bland.

However, I enjoyed the good hearted unselfishness on Vanessa’s part. She’s a lovely soul and she deserves to have someone just as loving. The story is a little easy to predict. I enjoyed how the author made me wonder and work for the ending. I knew there was going to be a happy ending but it wasn’t as instant as I thought. Here comes fate again. What are the chances of Vanessa and Ronald showing up at the same theater, to watch the same movie at the same time?

It’s not a holiday story but it is heartwarming and a story about family, unexpected friendship and helping others. It’s a nice read.