Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Carolina Breeze by Denise Hunter

Carolina Breeze

I enjoyed the first book in Denise’s Bluebell Inn Romance series, so I was grateful to read this book about the second of three adult siblings running an inn in North Carolina.

Let’s begin with the summary:

A jilted bride. A struggling innkeeper. And a romantic mountain getaway that changes everything.

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and celebrity scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina—the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the precarious financial state of the inn—a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk—or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

And now, my review:

I love the setting and revisiting characters I’ve come to care about. Levi is a by-the-rules kind of big brother, shouldering the responsibilities of the family’s inn, at least financially, on his own. He’s keeping secrets from his sisters. He's also against dating any of their guests.

Our heroine is an actress, which was a fun profession to follow. Denise does a great job naming male motives, which I appreciated. I liked that they had to fake a relationship for the sake of her PR, but it wasn’t as romantic as it could have been, perhaps due to missed opportunities.

There were a few places where the males didn’t sound like males, and I’m not referring to Alpha versus Beta male POVs. They just sounded syrupy. Overall, the book felt an effort to avoid any type of conflict or danger or trouble. Conflicts were resolved quickly. The characters got over their problems quickly.

Also, unusual for her writing was a lack of well-written romantic scenes. Many of those scenes felt contrived rather than natural. We also had some head-hopping, but that was likely worked out in the later version. There were several clich├ęs in the narrative and/or dialogue that made her characters seem older, in terms of their generation, than they were supposed to be. Some of the conflicts and character reactions also felt contrived and dull, juvenile.

Unfortunately, I also found some redundancies at least in the ARC. The story lost me when the romance seemed to resolve too early. We lost touch with the why-not—why they cannot be together. The external conflicts regarding the inn didn’t keep me hooked. I gave up at about 70 percent.

I'm looking forward to the next book in this series since I enjoyed the first one so much. I wish the author and publisher well. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Rakes and Roses by Josi S. Kilpack

Rakes and Roses by Josi S. Kilpack

Let’s begin with the summary:

Lady Sabrina endured an abusive marriage, a miscarriage, and early widowhood to emerge as a smart, successful, confident woman who found a way to make her mark in a man’s world. She has friends and purpose, but cannot hide from the emptiness she feels when the parties are over and the friends have gone home to families she will never have.

Harry Stillman may be charming and handsome, but he’s a gambler and a rake who has made a mockery of his privileges. He turns to the mysterious Lord Damion for financial relief from his debts, but still ends up beaten nearly senseless by thugs and left in an ally.

When Lady Sabrina comes upon Harry after the attack, she remembers the kindness Harry once showed to her six years ago and brings him to her estate to heal. Though their relationship begins on rocky footing, it soon mellows into friendship, then trust. But Lady Sabrina needs to keep Harry at a distance, even if he is becoming the kind of man worthy of her heart. After all, she is keeping a secret that, if exposed, could destroy everything she’s so carefully built.

And now, my review:

I love regency romance, and Josi is one of my go-to authors for this genre. Unfortunately, this novel didn’t appeal to me. The hero is exceedingly unlikable. He’s in a very dark place in the first third of the book where we spend time watching him make foolish choices. Since I didn't detect any nobility once he's a grown man, I didn't keep reading.

The heroine has suffered a lot of losses but I couldn’t feel them with her. She doesn’t seem to grieve or care, so readers won’t feel emotions either, which is a disconnect most readers may not appreciate. It's possible, as this is the third book in a series, that reading the earlier books would have helped. I read Daisies and Devotion and enjoyed it. I don't recall the tie-ins, if there are any. 

I did like that she’s an independent, wealthy woman who didn’t need to scrape out a living alone. The heroine is likable in some ways, but I couldn’t quite connect with her. If either character changes later, I didn’t read far enough to see it. I also didn’t read far enough to find the romance, which, paired with my other concerns, probably influenced my choice to give up on this story.

Normally, I love Proper Romances, but this one was too cold, in my opinion. Still I wish the author and publisher all the best. I will check out Josi's future work. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Water Keeper by Charles Martin

The Water Keeper by Charles Martin

I hadn’t read anything by this author in the past, but many of my reader friends loved this book. Glad I checked it out.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Murphy Shepherd is a man with many secrets. He lives alone on an island, tending the grounds of a church with no parishioners, and he’s dedicated his life to rescuing those in peril. But as he mourns the loss of his mentor and friend, Murph himself may be more lost than he realizes.

When he pulls a beautiful woman named Summer out of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway, Murph’s mission to lay his mentor to rest at the end of the world takes a dangerous turn. Drawn to Summer, and desperate to find her missing daughter, Murph is pulled deeper and deeper into the dark and dangerous world of modern-day slavery.

With help from some unexpected new friends, including a faithful Labrador he plucks from the ocean and an ex-convict named Clay, Murph must race against the clock to locate the girl before he is consumed by the secrets of his past—and the ghosts who tried to bury them.

And now, my review:

This novel hooked me from the first scenario. The hero is larger than life, overcoming repeated life-threatening injuries, something you can get away with in fiction. I liked how, though he was flawed and broken himself, he risked himself to help others. Along his rescue journey, he picks up a crew of misfits, like himself. They rescue each other and heal some of their hurts together. The topic of modern-day slavery feels immediate and will keep readers engaged.

As I read the e-book, I highlighted several lines. The author is insightful, and his prose requires a double take at times. As a general fiction novel, this book tackles heavy topics of human trafficking and the violence of pursuing the traffickers. Expect blood. There is a thread of romance, along with a thread of a previous love story. I liked the sense of justice and clearly contrasting values/morals, where we root for the good guys and delight when the evil ones fall. If you’re a sensitive reader, as I am, you may need to skim a few passages, but I didn’t find those elements overwhelming.

I found repeated patterns of “to be” verbs paired with -ing words: like “was swimming” or “were making,” and there were several POV missteps. The jarring pattern of “began _____-ing” pulled me from the story multiple times. (It’s impossible to turn off the inner editor.) I also became a little lost on occasion. But by the end, readers will understand earlier mysteries. There were moments of melodrama and what some might call schmaltz, but the good outweighs the bad here. Any or all of these issues may have been reworked from the ARC (advanced reader copy, which I read) to the final version.

The other missing element for me was deep POV. Readers are kept in the dark about what the MC is thinking/feeling. This may be because this novel leans toward the suspense genre, which hides things from readers for the sake of mystery.

I recommend this novel, and I’ll watch for the next book in this series.