Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Stacey Gail

Jayne’s Best of 2013

Jayne’s Best of 2013

The last few years I’ve done these year end lists, I’ve come up short of 10. I’ve realized either I’m not reading the right books for me, I’m too picky a reader or I’m totally out of touch with what’s popular right now. So when my list kept growing all year long, I began to think – “OMG, I just might make the max this year!”

Well, not only did I make the max, I exceeded it – whoopee! In ecstatic acknowledgement of that I’ve decided to go over the limit of 10. Yes, yes I will. In order by grade and not much else –

Back-Across-the-StyxBack Across the River Styx by Karalynn Lee – This one is so good I read it twice just to be sure that I wasn’t hallucinating about how good it is. When I finished it the second time, I was still as enchanted with it. Since I have more books on hand – print and ebooks – than I will probably ever be able to finish, the fact that I spent time rereading says a lot to me. Greek mythology is perfectly blended with romance. The story arc is complete and satisfactory. The use of historical fact is imaginative and ingenious. I’m running out of adjectives for how good this novella is.

story-guyThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – This one came in for its fair share of criticism but it drew me in from the start and didn’t let go. It’s beautifully written, emotionally engaging and about people who seemed real to me rather than hangers on which to drape an improbable plot. It made me smile as well as cry. It’s also made 2 other DA reviewers’ end of the year lists. ‘Nuff said.

Starting-From-ScratchStarting from Scratch by Stacy Gail – I usually hate amnesia plots, am tired of small town stories and kitsch so for this one to be one of my favorites for 2013 amazed me. Yes, it’s a little heavy on explanations of military life but these go to show what came between the hero and heroine and how much they have to overcome for their HEA. This also backs up the angst, giving it depth instead of leaving it to feel like a shallow check off list of faux emotions to me. I also enjoyed the relationship between the heroine and her best friend from childhood. I’ll be looking for his story.

geek-with-cat-tattooGeek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir – A cat as a narrator? Absolutely and it’s not a shifter story either. The second in this series of three cat siblings finding their forever owner or helping their forever owner find a HEA I loved this one even more than the first from last year. The hero’s shyness and the heroine’s self doubts are perfectly captured. Sam the cat is a wonderful matchmaker and if this one doesn’t make you want to donate to an animal shelter, you have a heart of stone.

Love IrresistiblyLove Irresistibly by Julie James – This is a wonderful relationship story between two well drawn, believable characters who have full lives, friends, believable backstories and can speak lawyer to each other. The conflicts are centered on them rather than an external villain and I felt that I got a multilayered view of them as people and why I should care about them and about them falling in love.

bridgeThe Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher – I think this is probably the most unusual blurb for a book to be offered to Dear Author this year. Two people determined to end it all who try and give the other a reason to live is not a storyline I come across every day. Could this possibly be anything other than a downer to read? Indeed yes, it could be. It’s also an illuminating trip through what two people think makes the best of New York City. The story doesn’t pull punches and never sinks to “feel good” attempts to diminish the real pain the characters have endured and still feel. The ending is hopeful and HFN but I appreciate the fact that it’s real and honest.

sweet-and-sourSweet and Sour by Astrid Amara – I read a lot of holiday themed novellas this year as well as more lgbt stories and this one is good enough to make the “best of” cut. It’s as much the ending of an old relationship as the beginning of a new one which takes a bit of finesse, IMO. It’s also a Hanukkah story and while I can understand that this isn’t considered a major Jewish holiday, it’s still nice to get a holiday story other than one about Christmas.

the-tilted-worldThe Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fenelly – Can an artiste of illegal whiskey and a revenue agent determined to uncover her identity and shut her down find their chance at love in rural Mississippi in 1927? Read this book and you will believe in their slow, gentle romance even as the raging, flooded Mississippi River threatens the town with total destruction. It’s not only a love story but a trip back in time I enjoyed making.

Rhythm-and-BluegrassRhythm and Bluegrass by Molly Harper – This is the second book in the series and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. It’s funny and yet a view of the struggle that many small and not-so-small US towns are faced with in an effort to modernize and survive in today’s global economy. I liked that the conflicts are real, the people are adult about how they deal with them and the hero and heroine have time to let their attraction sizzle a bit before jumping into bed. Nothing felt phony or made up – despite the town name.

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker – What, me read a book set in the world of Jane Austen? At the beginning of the year I would have laughed to think I would but here it is in my top reads of the year. The view of life from below stairs at Longbourn is what drew me in but the descriptions and depictions of the servants as they go about their lives while the major events of “Pride and Prejudice” go on above stairs is what kept me reading. The story, though, isn’t all about how the servants view the Bennett sisters finding love. Instead there is a romance for one of their own that seemed realistic to me. I not only want to believe in their HEA, I do believe it.

Knowing-the-ScoreKnowing the Score by Kat Latham – This one tackled me like a rugby player – in a good way. And by the time I finished it I knew a lot more about the sport than I had. It’s funny, has great dialog and uses UK/US slang brilliantly. The hero should be bottled and sold by the gross. He wins his heroine by being nice to her as well as admiring her work ethic instead of being a prick. The heroine’s virginity might put off readers but it’s made to seem reasonable for her given her past. By the end of the story, I felt that both of them had totally opened themselves to the other and were all set for their HEA.

passion-purple-plumeriaThe Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig – I rejoiced to see this book about an older heroine and older hero finding their HEA. I love that the heroine is shown as competent and intelligent. Also that her hero sees and admires this in her. The modern day parts of the story worked just as well for me which hasn’t always been the case in this series. It’s still going strong and I’m still anticipating the next one, which says volumes.

Carolina-GirlCarolina Girl by Virginia Kantra – Books about small town life often put me off by making the small town into a paean of wonderful. That’s not the case here as both the heroine and hero return to the small Carolina coastal town they couldn’t wait to leave. It’s also has a great family relationship arc that is being carried through the whole series. Though I think readers could start with this one if they wish. Both the hero and heroine mature, make concessions and help each other each with their individual goals as well as their relationship one.

Her-Hesitant-Heart1Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly – I love me a Carla Kelly historical and if it’s a western, that’s the cherry on top. This book might seem like just so much same-old, using standard Kelly tropes, with standard Kelly wry humor to tell the story of two deserving people triumphing over those who want to shame them and/or put them down for acting like honorable adults instead of asshats but, damn it, that’s what I love about her books.

Must Like Kids by Jackie BraunMust Like Kids by Jackie Braun – This isn’t the usual saccharine, baby filled Harlequin offering. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment but overabundance of secret babies and surprise pregnancies of this publisher leaves it wide open for such statements. Given the number of embarrassing tweets, live mic fuckups and other ways public people have dug themselves into holes this year, the set-up is inspired. I enjoyed watching a heroine who is good at her job and a hero willing to gracefully accept her expertise. The children of the story are realistic instead of being plot moppets. The relationship is allowed time to develop and the characterization remains consistent. Too bad about the cover.

REVIEW:  Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail

REVIEW: Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail

 

Christmas is the perfect time to start from scratch

Lieutenant Sully Jax saved his unit during an IED attack, but he couldn’t save his marriage. He can’t even remember it. Recovered from his injuries, he’s come home to the family and friends he knows—and an ex-wife who’s a stranger to him.

Lucy Crabtree was heartbroken last Christmas when Sully announced his plan to go on one last tour of duty, and devastated when he asked for a divorce after he awoke in the hospital with no memory of her. She’s finally moving on from her hurt and from losing the man she loved more than anything, and her cookie-baking business is taking off just in time for the holidays. But now Sully’s back, and she can’t deny she still loves him. But how can she trust her heart to someone who breaks it every time she sees him?

Sully might not remember Lucy, but something inside won’t let her go. With every bite of her cookies, he finds a new love for Lucy, and he soon realizes he wants to rebuild his life…with her by his side.

Dear Ms. Gail,

I’ve mentioned in other reviews that amnesia books usually give me hives because they’d done so poorly. KONK – memory lost. 2nd KONK – whew, I’ve got it back now! just when the plot demands it. So my skeptical self picked out this book just to see if I’d be able to get through it. And to see if you could pack all this book into a category sized book. When I realized it’s actually a novella, I thought, “No way in hell can she do all this and make me believe it in 36,000 words.” Well, I stand corrected. The hell you certainly did.

Starting from Scratch by Stacey GailThe book is packed with well drawn characters. True, some of them don’t take up as much story space as others but I get a clear picture of them all and would love to meet some of them including the owners of the bakery where Lucy creates tempting sugar yummies to her best friend growing up with whom she has grin inducing dialog.

When Lucy gripes about not wanting to celebrate Christmas this year – understandable given the story – Coe shoots back that every time she says that, one of Santa’s elves explodes. Coe also has an awesome Christmas wish list. How can you not like someone who asks Lucy to get him a ukulele, sidewalk chalk and a light saber pen just because he knows it will take his friend’s mind off the horrible memories of her last Christmas? I hope you have further plans for Coe. .

And speaking of horrible memories, Lucy certainly has more than her fair share. But at least she has them while Sully seems to have none of her. Their separation before his last deployment – where he suffered a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and now has Retrograde Amnesia – was horrible for both but when Sully came home in a coma and then not only didn’t remember anything about Lucy but actively screamed at the sight of her, then wanted a divorce – that would about kill me too.

Poor Lucy’s heart has been breaking for a year now and just when she thinks she might be coming to terms with the ashes of her life, Sully arrives back in their hometown from his rehab. Talk about awkward meetings. Right about when I’m about to throw things because I hate how much she’s sacrificed as a military wife only to not lose her husband to death but still lose him due to the amnesia anyway, you toss in casual reminders of how much Sully has lost – not only mentally but physically as well. He truly is a wounded warrior. Life has not been kind to either of them though only Lucy remembers the awful secret he dropped on her without warning before he left on his deployment and how terribly she reacted.

There is a lot to process here including background information on the people, the town, the circumstances, military life and a bit about the type of therapy the doctors recommended for Sully. Yet I never felt info overload or that I had missed something important. Wow, seriously well done.

Yet could these two find some common ground or better still was there a chance for Sully to regain what he’d lost? I had my doubts at times as to how you’d pull it off or if it could be done in a way to satisfy me. And hot sex – would there be any physical stuff? You managed it all even if the denouement came down to the wire. Is there a happy amnesia ending? I think as well as could be with hope for more. Is the sex smoking? I thought so. Does Sully manage to make up for all the hurt he – even inadvertently – caused Lucy? Gawd, that letter had me crying as I read it, never mind fictional Lucy. Do I wish I’d read this in time for it to be a November rec? Sure do! But it will be a recommended read anyway and might just make my end of the year Top Reads as well. A-

~Jayne

 

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle