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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

 

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REVIEW:  How Sweet It Is by Melissa Brayden

REVIEW: How Sweet It Is by Melissa Brayden

how-sweet

Some things are better than chocolate…

Molly O’Brien is a sweetheart. Her friends and neighbors all think so. While she enjoys her quiet life running the town bakeshop in Applewood, Illinois, she wonders if there could be more. After losing the love of her life four years prior in a plane crash, Molly thinks she’s ready to navigate the dicey dating waters once again. However, you can’t always pick who your heart latches on to. When Jordan Tuscana, the beautiful younger sister of her lost love, returns to town, Molly finds her interest piqued in a manner she wasn’t prepared for.

As secrets are uncovered, Molly and Jordan must figure out how to navigate the difficult terrain of their multi-faceted relationship. Especially when something much deeper seems to be bubbling between them.

Dear Ms. Brayden,

At first this appears to be just a sweet – sorry, no pun on Molly’s job intended – story of second chances and small town life but soon layers begin to develop. Is Molly truly over the loss of her first and only love and ready to date again? Has Jordan finally developed the confidence needed to shrug off her parents’ disappointment in her career choice and need to match up to the high standards her older sister so effortlessly achieved?

And what about their professional lives? Can Molly save her bakeshop – the place where she grew up and the business into which she’s poured her heart? And what will Jordan’s next move be now that the big Hollywood studio is demanding what she won’t give?

Finally can Molly and Jordan navigate the rough waters of falling in love with the memory of Cassie – Molly’s first love and Jordan’s older sister – hanging over their heads? There’s a lot going on here.

These women are real with faults and flaws to go along with their sexiness in a tank top and cut-offs. Molly’s initial forays into the dating world start humorously but eventually serve to show her just how right Jordan is for her. Still Molly’s flight response to the family disapproval when the relationship is discovered reveals the fact that she and Cassie might have been deeply in love but were operating more on smooth sailing autopilot. Life with Jordan will challenge Molly to plumb the depths of emotion and might be a bit rockier. Is Molly willing to risk the hurt that might follow?

I like that Molly can be exasperating at times. And it’s realistic that she’s going to hurt Jordan while she’s finally working out her unresolved grief for Cassie and seeing that a relationship can be so much more. Still, Cassie isn’t vilified to make Jordan look better and Molly’s heartfelt visits to Cassie’s grave show how deeply they were in love.

Jordan has old demons to deal with. As a younger sister myself I can identify with how difficult and, at times, frustrating it can be to try and live up to a high achieving older sister. I didn’t act out as Jordan did but I can certainly understand wanting to match up yet stand out as her own person. It’s hard to watch her fall prey to the whisperings of someone who clearly wants to drive a wedge in her relationship with Molly but even worse, though understandable, when her family also falls into old patterns of comparison.

There are a lot of old habits that are dying hard here but I appreciate that they are shown in all their ugliness and that the characters are given time to work through and change them. While some of the external conflicts are a bit too neatly resolved, I also like that no one has completely dealt with everything – though the epilogue shows great progress – when the story ends.

For readers looking for a quieter, character driven story, I think this is a good one to reach for. Molly and Jordan are both out and comfortable with their sexual orientation and it appears the small town of Applewood accepts them as well. Perhaps this is more a magical LGBT Never Never Land but the emphasis of the story is not gaining community or family acceptance but rather working out their relationship on its own. B-

~Jayne

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