Blu Reviews The Courage to Try by C. A. Popovich

“From Great Danes to Pomeranians to polydactyl cats, in the rural town of Novi, Michigan, veterinarian Dr. Jaylin Meyers treats them all. But being brought up in the foster care system, she’s learned not to count on anyone staying around.

New vet tech Kristen Eckert has no time for a relationship. She’d much rather take care of horses, shoot skeet, or ride her Appaloosa. Their mutual attraction takes them both by surprise, and they are drawn into a relationship.

But Jaylin is frightened by the idea of relying on someone else and withdraws. When Kristen is injured in an auto accident, can Jaylin find the courage to risk her heart with Kristen or will she let her chance at love vanish forever?” – Synopsis as supplied by Bold Strokes Books

C.A. Popovich’s second novel, The Courage to Try, returns us to a setting and cast of characters familiar from Edge of Awareness (Published in September 2014). Readers who have not read the latter can comfortably slip into this undemanding romance without experiencing any plot deficit. Novi, Michigan is the town to which Jaylin Meyers, carrying the scars of her foster-childhood, moves, accompanied by her dog Railroad. Extricating herself from an abusive relationship, she attempts to reboot her life aided by a support group and is making conscious choices about her life path, location and relationships. Jaylin’s caring nature is offset by her tentative interactions with the feisty employee assigned to her.

Kristen is the more dynamic character who is simultaneously less relatable. A Porsche-driving, skeet-shooting vet tech who is navigating her father’s dementia, she is hounded by a stranger who has a hidden agenda. Kristen expresses herself most on the back of Zigzag at local barrel racing competitions, and it is in this setting where we gain a deeper understanding of her hurts, needs and aspirations. She is decisive in so many aspects of her life but frustratingly reverses relationship-oriented decisions, flip-flopping from declarations to maintain distance, to struggling to keep her hands off Jaylin.

The Courage to Try is peppered with a wide variety of ideas, from partner-abuse to abandonment, from attraction to grief, yet does not fully develop any to satisfaction. Like me, animal lovers should enjoy the devotion the characters have to their four-footed wingmen, but may similarly wish the dialogue between Jaylin and Kristen were more realistic and their developing relationship suffered from less vascilation.

The novel’s 33 chapters would have benefitted from a trim, saving the reader from re-learning already shared information. Regarding pace – the story appears to be becalmed and then rush to a sudden, dissatisfying conclusion. The attraction between Jaylin and Kristen is not quite convincing this reader, surprising me more than the two women and leaving me feeling rather disconnected from the story. The Courage to Try offered much but perhaps overstretched, resulting in a tenuous plot that needs tightening.

*Note: This was an advance review copy provided through NetGalley – scheduled for release on October 6, 2015 from Bold Strokes Books.

You can download a sample or purchase The Courage to Try by clicking here.

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.

Group Review of Hidden Truths by Jae

What started out as a three-way review ended up as a group review. We all had the same opinion, we liked the book and if you like Jae’s work or historical romance, you probably will, too. So check out the video below for our review and discussion.

You can download a sample or purchase Hidden Truths by clicking here.

Corey and Blu Review Wingspan by Karis Walsh

Corey: I’ve read all of Karis Walsh’s books, rating them from “satisfying” to “yippee!,” so I was stoked to read her newest romance. Her books trend to two kinds of settings: the world of horses or women starting over and trying to build a new home (sometimes literally as well as figuratively). Wingspan falls into the latter.

Blu: I’ve not read all of the author’s works, but those I’ve read do tend to follow this pattern. Would you agree that as they also often occur in physical realities very familiar to the author, (i.e. the Pacific Northwest) they benefit from beautifully described settings?

Corey: Yes, and the setting of Wingspan is central to the story. Architect Kendall “Ken” Pearson is drawn to a “wild acre” of land on the Olympic Peninsula, where she plans to build a new home away from Seattle. Almost immediately, any dreams of sharing that home with her current city-centric girlfriend are dashed. We are also introduced to Ken’s inner conflict: She’s afraid to let her freak flag fly after some unnamed trauma in her past. Ken’s eagerness to blend in and be accepted runs right smack into the individualism and single-mindedness of Bailey Chase, wild bird rescuer.

Blu: The main characters’ back story forms a substantial portion of this tale. It might slow the pace somewhat, but we are curious to discover what event has led to Ken applying such drastic self-editing. How this will mesh with the almost oblivious Bailey is another puzzle we anticipate being solved.

I related to both characters. The need to suppress one’s “otherness” is a very familiar experience for a foreign transplant adjusting to a new environment. Similarly, finding the world a harsh and intolerant venue, Bailey is well known to us, indeed, may be many of us.

Corey: I actually was somewhat frustrated with how long it took to learn about Ken’s past. In too many ways to count, Ken shows the contrast between her inner life and her outer mask. I could understand Ken’s reasons, but I identified more with Bailey, who is a deliciously socially-awkward, get-away-from-me-world-and-let-me-do-my-job introvert. Her passive-aggressiveness regarding the intrusions into her life that come with a grant meant to expand her bird rescue was priceless, especially if you’ve ever worked with interns or major donors.

I was rooting for them both, hoping Ken would share her inner geek and creative skills and that Bailey could learn to compromise enough to accept help from others. I think each character’s individual journey stayed with me more strongly than their romance together.

Blu: I’ll admit to being surprised by Bailey’s responsiveness to the events and personalities that are intruding upon her world. She initially appears less capable of interacting with the external, and yet she bravely adjusted and took control of the intrusions, owning them. Ken’s reticence does frustrate, but I am also sympathetic to the huge step she must take to accept her barriers’ permeability. Both character’s redeem my time with them, even as their romance slowly and subtly rises to the surface.

The romantic aspect is almost crowded out by the aforementioned back story and the setting. In some ways it pops into existence and we have no heads-up to anticipate their emotional bonding. I am ambivalent about this, but it did nudge me out of the story somewhat.

Corey: Yep, I was invested more in getting a peek into Ken’s sketch book than in their relationship at times. Or put another way, I wanted them to fall in love and get together because I was dying to see what kind of house Ken would design and if Bailey would track bird droppings into it. Ah, true love.

Blu: We are granted just a glimpse of their emerging relationship. After the author’s detailed efforts to introduce us to Ken and Bailey, I want to be reassured that these two women will succeed in holding onto one another and defiantly holding off the world. Having witnessed their devotion to the plight of wild birds and the gorgeous Puget Sound, I am optimistic.

Corey and Blu read this book as an advanced reader’s copy uncorrected proof. This review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

You can purchase Wingspan, or download a sample, from the C-Spot Reviews Amazon Store

Blu Reviews Safe Passage by Kate Owen

*Note: This was an advance review copy provided through NetGalley – scheduled for release on February 5, 2014 from Less Than Three Press.

To some degree selecting this story has elements of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: I know I am unwrapping an F/F romance, but the rest is a “surprise”. Unfamiliar with the publisher and the author, I am mildly concerned that my time reading will not be recouped.

“While doing renovation on the old New Orleans home inherited from her great aunt, Jules discovers an old safe filled with letters written in French—and code. Enlisting the aid of a local French teacher, the beautiful Gen, Jules slowly begins to learn the truth of her great grandfather’s death …” was the publisher-provided blurb on NetGalley’s website.

Julia “Jules” Delacroix is a 30 year old Math teacher who has inherited her father’s flair for cooking, loves rowing, and using her straight friend Beth as a sounding board. We meet her as she renovates the home, discovering the hidden safe whose contents puzzle her. Genevieve Dubois is the honey blonde to whom Jules turns for help in her efforts to decipher the French correspondence. On the same faculty, Gen is a French teacher at the New Orleans all-girls’ school who inserts herself into the investigations her colleague has sought assistance with.

In this novella there are few surprises in the plot and characters. The author has written a romantic mystery “lite” that provides us with a brief snippet of the intertwining lives of two lovely ladies. While many of the story elements could be considered predictable, the author’s ability to craft a very natural progression in Jules and Gen’s relationship is worth noting. Their deepening relationship is marked by plausible hesitations, realistic pacing, and a believable attraction. The dialogue is most noteworthy – flowing smoothly, fitting the settings and characters beautifully, and distracting me from the plot cliches so that I enjoy this sweet romance.

Frustration colored my conclusion of this story as it felt slightly rushed in comparison to the remainder of the tale. However, I must acknowledge that my response might be tainted by the all-too-brief glance I was given into Jules and Gen’s lives. The story focuses on a little more than a week, including flashbacks embedded with clues and I have admitted to being dubious of such fast-moving romances. There is a lot of detail provided by the author, allowing me to immerse myself in this short span of time, and I will acknowledge the macro-lens approach to this writing works for a novella such as this.

Observing two characters laugh and tease one another, respecting each other and not indulge in hurtful behavior was a pleasant way to spend some time. If you are looking for an agreeable read to occupy you, then the reasonably priced Safe Passage might be the book to distract you for a little while. It is fun to discover a new author who has potential and to anticipate future works she might generate.

To download a sample or purchase Safe Passage, click here.

Blu Reviews Road Kill by Alexandra Allred

“When dead prostitutes begin to appear along the rural roads of Ohio, Allie Lindell cannot stay away despite the odds.  As she navigates the backstreets of Columbus, following pimps, prostitutes, sullen teenagers, and seedy gamblers, the only thing more complicated is remembering all her aliases. . . “

begins the very detailed blurb from Amazon. In fact, much of the plot, setting, and many of the characters are revealed before you click or crack open the book. Published in August of 2013, this first of the series is followed by Sweetbreath – released in December of the same year.

There is substantial textual real estate to this novel. Not only is it a decent length, but the author has the main character simultaneously investigating two mysteries, initiating and deepening friendships, juggling parenthood, and attempting to maintain her marriage. Whew! Blend this with a first person perspective and add a police dog to the mix and you might need resting periods while reading this novel.

We accompany Allie Lindell in a myriad of choices, conversations, and challenges. An obituary writer and stay-at-home mom, Allie is experiencing the very familiar isolating aspects associated with this lifestyle. Add her wife Rae Ann, an engineer working nights, to the mix, sprinkle in their two little girls, Krissy and Kelli, and you have a very believable, busy household. Under internal and external strain, Allie and Rae Ann are now living lives that initiate from the same geography, but seldom intersect in a satisfying manner.

The blurb continues:

“Roadkill is the first in a series in which a former journalist and at-home mom discovers she has a knack for investigating murders. While she longs for the crazy deadlines and adult conversations, she also wants to stay home and care for her babies.”

I would not describe Allie’s methods as “a knack” – in fact I found the manner in which she shares information and gathers data to be one of the least feasible aspects to this story. The speed with which her interviewees reveal information and offer crucial clues pings my meter too frequently to add credibility to the plot. Allie’s inner dialogue is explored in significant detail, as she deals with the demands of motherhood and the pull of professional curiosity. This, together with her little girls’ cute interactions,  was quite believable and relatable, rescuing the story from reader disbelief.

”. . .this is the funny, sometimes aggravating, ultimately heartwarming story of a woman trying to give everything to her kids, keep the love of her partner, and not lose herself in the process.”

I think the author attempts too much in this story. What suffers is believability – I was confused by the significant distance between Allie and her wife, who then engage in light sexting with each other. The children and pets are the strongest characters in this story – both entertaining and engaging while very credible. Their demands, behaviors, and mischief add levity to a mystery and give relief to the weight of the adults’ lives. I do appreciate the love and frustration Allie feels for her wife, the discordant pull of her interests, and the wonder of a new friendship. I was intrigued by the correlation that is drawn between the challenges of MS and the gay life.

I read this book as an advanced reader’s copy uncorrected proof. This review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Download a sample or purchase Roadkill by clicking here.

Blu Reviews Imperial Hotel by Diane Marina

As you read this, is your hand sightlessly wandering over to gather up a snack, something quick to munch and assuage that grumble making itself known? Diane Marina’s novella Imperial Hotel (Aspen Palms Press, January, 2014) is just such a literary nibble. But please don’t misunderstand: the author has invested substantial time and effort in this tale, placed in a setting quite unique from her other works.

Available on Amazon, it is described as follows:

In a posh hotel in New York City in 1948, two young socialites are introduced by their mothers. As their friendship grows, so does love. Will Lily and Joan’s love prevail? Are they brave enough to stand up against the social standards of the time, or will their love simply become part of the history of the Imperial Hotel?

Joan and Lily’s initial meeting is a polite affair where they are very aware of their mothers’ expectations. Their socialite lives revolve around entertainment, personal and familial advancement, and good causes. Joan is struck by the slightly younger and engaged Lillian Dandridge who is to marry the “wonderful” Andrew in the coming Spring. The forthright and rather daring young woman should be encouraging her new friend to consider the route of matrimony more seriously, but their rapidly deepening friendship becomes a distraction over the winter months. Their stumbling efforts to meet internal and external expectations foster tensions between them and the compacting timeline forces desperate efforts to carve out time and space with one another as the wedding date draws closer.

Using contextual details to reinforce the plot, the author successfully recreates Manhattan in the early 1950’s. Venues, events, and vernacular unique to the period smoothly place us in the bustling, optimistic New York, where we can feel the pressure to grow, to follow and to be more of the traditional American Dream. Lily and Joan’s responses to one another reflect their age and social standing, revealing inflexible adherence to their individual perspectives, and their efforts to “have it all” result in desperate decisions and sorrow. Their poor communication skills are quite believable for young women in their social strata, confused and overwhelmed by the choices their relationship impels them to make.

This novella seeks to encapsulate almost two years in which Lily and Joan make formative and powerfully impactful decisions and we observe how two young women move from relative innocence to somewhat bruised acceptance. Both of these young characters are relatable – Joan’s emotional honesty and mental integrity counters Lily’s youthful determination to meet social expectations, while isolating the very ones she loves. Following these two lovely young women as they grow up with and through each other was a brief enjoyment. The movement through the stages of confusion, recognition, and acceptance that mark their relationship are very familiar but come across as somewhat staccato, in part I think, due to the book length.

I believe that this story could have successfully been developed into a full length novel and thus enabled the author to provide more relational ballast against which decisions and events could more believably unfold. More backstory would have given me a deeper appreciation and more patience for some of their conversations and interactions. I would have loved to observe some of the challenges two women experienced, as they made their way together during this dynamic period of American growth and global prominence.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to see more authors and publishers recognizing the demand for this story length and investing much effort in providing readers with a widening selection to pick from. In Imperial Hotel, the author has packed this dynamic city and historical span with a sweet love story that provides what you the expected: a novella that will entertain you.

You can download a sample or purchase Imperial Hotel by clicking here.