CAB Reviews Vagabond Heart by Ann Roberts

Let’s start with the blurb:

Contractor Quinn O’Sullivan has traveling in her blood. Her aunt is a famous travel writer while Quinn herself moves from one apartment complex to the next as her team remodels them.

When dear Aunt Maura kicks the bucket on her beloved Route 66, she leaves a dying request for Quinn—to take her on one last adventure.

Suda Singh is the total opposite of risk-taker Quinn. As an emergency room doctor, Suda is calm, methodical, and intuitive. But most of all, Suda is safe.

When the two women are thrown together by Quinn’s latest injury, Suda offers to accompany Quinn on the adventure of a lifetime.

Can Quinn and Suda find love, three cats, and the mysterious woman named Rain, all on America’s fabled highway—Route 66? Join Ann Roberts on this adventure of a lifetime in Vagabond Heart.

I’m going to admit that I am pretty negative when it comes to the “Romance” genre. Maybe it’s because I’m old and lately they all seem to be cut from the same cloth. The author looks up Romance Formula #127 and follows it. The character names change but, otherwise, it is what it is. So you’re asking yourself why did I even attempt to read this one? It was the sentence in the blurb: “When dear Aunt Maura kicks the bucket on her beloved Route 66, she leaves a dying request for Quinn—to take her on one last adventure.” Yeah that one; it grabbed my attention so I threw caution to the wind and said I’d read it.

I am so very glad that I did.

The story starts off with a bang and kept my interest all the way through. It’s been forever since I picked up a book that I had trouble putting down. This one could easily make it into my read again pile.

Reasons why:

Both Quinn and Suda are interesting characters and their interactions didn’t feel scripted or overplayed.

The author managed to weave in several real life xenophobic /bigotry issues which just made the characters feel like they were operating in real life without detracting from the story. In fact, I’d say it enhanced the story because we need to call more attention to these things.

I’ve never been on Route 66 but based on the descriptions and the adventure it’s on my bucket list moving forward.

I’d easily give this story 4.5 out of 5 stars. I could have given it 5 but I hated the character Rain.

This book was read in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Vagabond Heart by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews The Roundabout by Gerri Hill

Like all Gerri Hill stand alone romances, I went into The Roundabout with mid-range hopes. Her books are rarely stellar but they’re almost always enjoyable in a “light, easy to read with moderately engaging characters who I want to see succeed and be happy” sort of way. The description of this one, which I’ll add just below, seemed like it might be like a reverse of one of my absolute favorites from the author, No Strings. That was enough to make me put away the other two books I was reading and focus on this one. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Megan Phenix—bar and grill owner in gay-friendly Eureka Springs—is labeled as “playing hard to get” and finds herself the object of much unwanted attention. If only she were seeing someone…maybe the women would leave her in peace.

Leah Rollins thinks fifty is too young to retire, so instead, she opens a store in the touristy shopping district of Eureka Springs next to the popular Phenix Grill. She soon learns that Megan Phenix is a bit on the grumpy side as they spar over parking spaces and anything else they can find to argue about. When Leah catches the attention of the multitude of single lesbians in town, she searches for a way out. Could the grumpy grill owner next door be the answer to her problems?

Megan and Leah strike an unlikely alliance and conspire to rid themselves of the unwanted attention by fake dating. Can they pull it off?

As they pretend to date and convince everyone in town that they really are a couple, the pretense becomes harder to hold on to. But there’s just one problem…they don’t really like each other.

There seemed to be some potential for a pleasant reading experience but, for me, it never panned out. I had some problems with this book that covered the plot, the characters, and some editing issues. Two of the biggest problems I had with The Roundabout were Megan being a completely unlikable character for nearly the entire book and the whole Facebook/blackmail scenario. First, Megan is constantly rude to everyone – family included. To call her grumpy is an understatement. I was probably 75% through the book before she acted like a decent human being. I don’t know why anyone would want to be friends with her, let alone ask her out even if she was the youngest available lesbian in town. And she treats Leah terribly while Leah, for a reason I don’t understand, is nice to her and doesn’t seem to mind the treatment. She says a few times that she enjoys annoying her but I don’t know what she gets out of the interactions.

I felt like very little time was spent letting the characters get to know each other and develop the chemistry that they ended up with. There was lots of space devoted to telling the reader, often in the same basic words, about Leah not knowing what she was going to sell in her shop – right up until it was time to open – and how Mary Beth was crazy or how Megan was pissed about the parking situation but not much showing positive, one-on-one experiences with the two leads. It seemed like Leah decided that Megan was cute and that was enough to move forward. Megan spent a lot of time complaining about everything and, after the attraction started to feel mutual, saying that “this can’t happen.” I never felt connected to the characters or to their relationship.

The second thing that I struggled with was the plot arc dealing with blackmail photos posted on Facebook. I found it disturbing and creepy that everyone except Megan found it funny and cute that someone stripped, posed, and photographed a passed out, drunk woman and then repeatedly posted pictures – each more revealing than the next – publicly in order to blackmail her into going on a date with her. To have even Megan’s sister, a friend of the blackmailer, tell her to just go out with her and maybe she’ll stop, felt so dirty and wrong to me. I found nothing funny about the situation and it made me feel negatively toward every person who thought it was okay to do something like that or to not do whatever they could to make it stop.

Lastly, and these things may not bother most people but they were pretty distracting to me, there were lots of repeated words and information. About halfway through, I started looking words and phrases up to see how many times they were used. If I took a shot of tequila, the drink that got Megan into the blackmail situation, every time the word “smoky” was used to describe Leah’s eyes, I’d have ended up in the hospital. Like I said, stuff like that may not bother you as a reader but, for me, they kill an otherwise good story. Where I was already having a tough time caring about the characters, it made the experience even worse.

I wouldn’t put this one on my re-read list but I will keep reading Gerri Hill’s books. Her hit-to-miss ratio with me is still pretty good when it comes to her romance novels.

You can download a sample or purchase The Roundabout by clicking here.

I received a copy of The Roundabout from the publisher for review.

Blu Reviews Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

I am intrigued when I read the blurb for Heather Rose Jones’ debut Bella Book:

Margerit Sovitre did not expect to inherit the Baron Saveze’s fortunes—and even less his bodyguard. The formidable Barbara, of unknown parentage and tied to the barony for secretive reasons, is a feared duelist, capable of defending her charges with efficient, deadly force.

Equally perplexing is that while she is now a highly eligible heiress, Margerit did not also inherit the Saveze title, and the new baron eyes the fortunes he lost with open envy. Barbara, bitter that her servitude is to continue, may be the only force that stands between Margerit and the new Baron’s greed—and the ever deeper layers of intrigue that surround the ill-health of Alpennia’s prince and the divine power from rituals known only as The Mysteries of the Saints.
– Amazon blurb

The setting of the story is one of the facets that initially attracts me: Alpennia, a fictional 18th Century European country filled with political and social intrigue in which Ms. Jones uses her considerable historical knowledge and significant research to create a very believable backdrop for the unfolding story. Throughout the tale I am provided with just enough information to ensure I am kept in the correct time and location, but I am not overwhelmed with historical data.

Margerit Sovitre is a somewhat naive young woman who is attempting to navigate the social expectations of her environment, yet is also determined to attain her academic goals in a society that frowns upon such endeavors. Sweet and considerate, surrounded by ambitious relatives, she soon reveals a determined core that stands her in good stead as she resists others’ expectations. Her mystical skills are hinted at and deftly revealed throughout the course of the story and their importance steadily unfolds as we learn about the role “mysteries” have within Alpennian society.

Barbara is deeply disappointed to discover that the death of her owner has not secured her the promised freedom she was assured. After a period of adjustment, this stoic and reserved armin accepts her allotted role in the life on the new heiress. Surrounded by her own supporting characters, the charismatic woman comes to grips with a changed reality, investigates intriguing clues regarding her own identity, all while assisting her charge maneuver through high society.

Ms. Jones’ well built world is populated with a wonderful cast of believable characters. Margerit’s family are slightly cliched, yet quite ably serve the purpose set for them. Alternately challenging and abetting Margerit’s goals, they are neither too domineering nor diluted for the plot. Barbara’s set of supporters provide me with a deeper appreciation for this intriguing young woman, but she remains a somewhat unknown entity at the conclusion. The quintessential villain is ever lurking, and he is introduced very smoothly throughout the story, his actions quite believable and appropriate for the plot and setting.

I was pleasantly surprised by the length of this novel. A well-paced introduction to the lives of lesser nobility in Alpennia was successfully achieved, filled with issues of inheritance, political intrigue, criminal maneuvering and romance. The latter is a pleasant development evolving out of a professional-turned-friendship and while I typically prefer more romantic detail, I am content with the relationship as described.

Both main characters behave and react very believably and their responses to one another, misunderstandings, and conversations are well crafted and realistic. I admit to wishing for more of Barbara’s back-story – particularly her entry into and training in her dangerous profession. Ms. Jones is very adept at introducing various characters and elements into the plot in her debut novel. I am particularly impressed by her ability to keep my interest piqued, to build the tension, and to deftly reveal important information throughout the story.
I would certainly agree with the blurb’s final claim:

Heather Rose Jones debuts with a sweeping story rich in intrigue and the clash of loyalties and love.

If exploring a new land, meeting new characters, and having your curiosity roused is what you desire, then Daughter of Mystery is certainly a novel you should consider for your shelf!

You can download a sample or purchase Daughter of Mystery by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Etched in Shadows by KG MacGregor

I’ve been reading some pretty dark and dense books lately so when Etched in Shadows was selected as the Book of the Month for a group I belong to, I was very ready for something lighter. After reading it, though, this one isn’t very light, either. I mean, it’s not zombies or murder or human trafficking but it’s certainly not a romantic comedy.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

For 39-year-old Johnelle Morrissey, the American Dream is a successful career in medical technology, a stately home in historic Charleston, South Carolina, and happy times with the people she loves most—her husband Dwight, their teenage son Ian and her oldest friend Alice Choate. That dream shatters on an airport runway when her plane goes down, leaving her with only clouded memories of her former life.

Devastated by the tragedy, Alice teams with the family to help Johnelle recover. For hours on end Alice shares memories of the moments that formed their friendship over the years, but she holds back one secret—that she’s been in love with Johnelle for as long as she can remember.

Johnelle struggles to reassemble her past—college life, her wedding day and the joys of raising her son. Once her physical injuries heal, her family expects life to go back to the way it was. But the love she must have once felt for Dwight remains deeply shadowed, eclipsed by yearning for a new life…with Alice.

Seems like the whole book is pretty much put out there in the blurb, right? Well, there’s quite a bit left for us to discover. Actually, Johnelle’s memory cleared up pretty quickly but she couldn’t seem to find the same feelings she had for her husband. She had some other issues related to the crash but her emotional connection to Dwight was completely gone.

I’ve been a fan of the author’s work for years. She’s one of my main “go-to” folks when I need a book that I can just lose myself in and know that I’ll feel good when I read the final sentence. Of course, I’ve enjoyed some of her books more than others but who can say they’ve absolutely loved every single book a prolific writer has published? With that said, Etched in Shadows will certainly be housed in my “read again” collection on the Kindle.

Not only did I love Alice, the best friend for nearly 30 years who stood by and supported Johnelle and been a part of her family, but I loved Johnelle, too. I couldn’t help feeling bad for Dwight, he didn’t do anything wrong but still had his entire life ripped apart. Well, I liked him much less as the book progressed but, honestly, his responses felt genuine and I tried to imagine myself in his place. It’s not a happy place to be. There were a few times when I wanted some of the women to express their emotions more openly but the author did a great job of ensuring the reader understood that they had been raised proper Southern women and some things were just not done.

Johnelle’s transformation from a woman who did her best to be the wife and mother she was raised to be to someone who refused to just go along to get along was wonderful to watch. While she lost the ability to do and feel some things, what she gained, to me, seemed so much more important. I liked that the author didn’t make Johnelle’s pre-crash life something that she suffered through while dreaming of something completely different. Were there things that she wanted to change or wish were different? Certainly, but whose life is exactly the way they want it?

The thing I’ve always loved about KG MacGregor’s work is that her stories and characters feel real. For the most part, they are women we could be, living lives that could have been ours. It’s easy to become immersed in the story because the women feel like they could be our friends – or maybe in some cases, us. Etched in Shadows is no different and I highly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed MacGregor’s work.

Thank you, KG, for sharing this great story with us and I eagerly await the next one.

You can download a sample or purchase Etched in Shadows by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews West of Nowhere by KG MacGregor

After wrapping up a couple of books that dealt with darker themes, I wanted to read something more along the lines of a traditional romance. A few hours before making this decision, I had spent some time organizing my Kindle so I could see how many books I’ve gotten that I haven’t read yet. Let’s just say it’s an embarrassing number so I decided to knock one of those books off the list. Reading West of Nowhere helped me to accomplish both tasks! And the fact that I enjoyed the book quite a bit was a nice bonus.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

It was a great dream—while it lasted. At twenty-five, Amber Halliday thought life on the road with one of Nashville’s hottest bands was her ultimate fantasy come true. Then in the blink of an eye she finds herself abandoned at a truck stop in Kentucky. No money, no family and nowhere to go.

Navy veteran Joy Shepard, passing through on a cross-country trip, simply can’t ignore a woman in distress even if common sense tells her to drive on. She has room in her truck for Amber and a temporary job caring for her wheelchair-bound father once they reach Oakland. In a moment of weakness, she offers both.

Though grateful for the opportunity, Amber finds herself on pins and needles over Joy’s obsessive tidiness and stringent rules. Little wonder, since Joy finds her slovenly and undisciplined. No way will these two opposites attract—a romance this thorny can only be headed right back where it started: nowhere.

The blurb does what it’s supposed to: gives a basic overview of what you can expect but not so much that there are no surprises for the reader. (A couple of quick corrections: Amber is 24 and she has a bit of cash in her pocket.)

I enjoyed West of Nowhere quite a bit. A lot, really. The characters felt genuine and the situations didn’t feel contrived to me. The progression of the relationships – and there are more than just Joy and Amber involved – felt natural. There’s also what happens toward the end of the book that made me stop what I was doing with my mouth hanging open. Didn’t see that coming!

I haven’t read any reviews of this one and only heard the opinion of one friend before I read it so I have no idea what anyone else is saying but I think this is a winner for Ms. MacGregor. Yeah, I know this has been out for a while and she’s got at least one book published since this one but, like I said, I’m really far behind on my To Be Read list. Better late than never, right?

If you’ve not read West of Nowhere yet and you’re a fan of KG MacGregor, don’t wait any longer! Grab a copy and get to reading. That’s an order!

Click here to download a sample or to purchase West of Nowhere

Blu Reviews Training Days by Jane Frances

With the exception of horror, I read a wide variety of genres. The optimist in me turns to HEA romance for a lift and a mental hug while other genres provide their own unique satisfactions. “Training days” is the first of Ms. Frances’ three published books I have read and was released in 2008 as a paperback by Bella Books. If you are looking for the quintessential lesfic romance, then this sweet story by Jane Frances will fit the bill.

Morgan Silverstone and Alison (Ally) Brown meet on board a trans-continental train ride from Perth to Sydney. Both young professionals, the author creates characters who are successful in their fields (travel journalism and architecture, respectively) prior to meeting. Directionally challenged Morgan is a closeted lesbian who hides her sexuality for professional reasons. Ally is straight and currently nine months into a pedantic relationship with James. They are supported by a number of secondary characters who provide a backdrop against which the two women negotiate their growing relationship. The supporting characters fit into the plotline, are the source of drama, deceit and surprising support, but would have benefitted with a little more development to fill them out. This romance moves from the confines of the train to their lives beyond and forces them to consider the implications it has upon their everyday reality. Coming out is a major theme of the story, as each reconciles with her personal integrity and tries to manage the permeability of their relationship.

A player, Morgan is initially introduced enjoying a dalliance with a young French tourist. In the resultant cover-up, we meet Ally. This initial encounter will have implications for both main characters and later provide challenges they must overcome. The dialogue in the second half of the story allowed me to relate more to the characters than I did in the beginning. There the story was dominated by detailed descriptions of internal thoughts and the characters immediate environs. Ally’s response to her attraction to Morgan is well described and allows me to follow as she adjusts her self-perception and considers the implications this has for her life. Morgan’s challenge to Alison endeared her to me, standing up for both of them as Ally vacillated in her response to her attraction to the journalist.

Some readers might find it slow going, almost too descriptive and perhaps even prescriptive to absorb the author’s vivid imagery. To my mind this exemplifies the double-edged sword: a strength that is simultaneously a weakness. Ms. Frances’ ability to recreate the characters’ thoughts and paint a picture is exceptional but it also leaves me little room to bring my own imagination to bear. Her extensive research is couched in these descriptions and sometimes proves a heavy load for the plot to carry. I do think that editorial pruning would have allowed the text to be tightened, released the reader to enter the story and allowed for more expansion on the actual relationship without lengthening the novel.

While the plot suffers at the expense of the setting, this tale is a sweet love story with some pleasing sex scenes and a satisfying conclusion. Morgan and Ally’s responses to their attraction are distinct and appropriate and the time allowed for decisions and actions quite believable. The motivations for remaining closeted are perhaps less of an issue today than they were prior to publication, but the story remains realistic and a welcome escape into love discovery. I intend buying Ms. Frances’ other novels and look forward to experiencing her well written stories in the future.

You can purchase Training Days from Amazon or Bella Books.

Sequella Reviews Scapegoat by Amy Dawson Robertson

I love sequels! Especially when they already exist while I am reading the book(s) prior to the sequel. Miles to Go left me wanting more of Rennie, more of the aftermath of Tajikistan, and more of a future for Rennie and Hannah.

You certainly get all of that in Scapegoat. The book deals with the aftermath of Tajikistan, not only for Hannah and Rennie, but also for a surprisingly large number of the side characters from Miles to Go. Each of them has their own struggles and issues and there is almost no interaction between them at the start of the book. This leaves the reader with a lot of parallel plots in the beginning. In addition, the intrigue for Scapegoat is complex, so I ended up a little bit lost in a few places. It certainly didn’t grab me as fast as Miles to Go but once everyone is in place, the action in Scapegoat starts. And once Rennie is moving again, I couldn’t put it down.

The relationship between Hannah and Rennie is more in focus in Scapegoat, don’t worry though, there is still plenty of action, bad guys, and close calls. This book is definitely more of an intrigue than a romance.

My major complaint about this book is the formatting. There is no visible sign that marks new scenes. In the beginning, where everyone is on their own and has their own scenes, this can get very confusing.

I think Hannah and Rennie would be worth a few more books. The combination of super-secret special bad-ass chick and investigative journalist make me hope for more. I am even fine if the romance remains just a small, little extra on the side as long as there are more books. I guess I am ready for another SEQUEL!

Click here to download a sample or to purchase Scapegoat