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REVIEW:  Count on Me (Petal, Georgia series) by Lauren Dane

REVIEW: Count on Me (Petal, Georgia series) by Lauren Dane

COMCOMDear Ms. Dane:

Your Petal, Georgia series is a favorite of mine. I like small town romances when done well, and this one ties in to the Chase brothers series, which I also enjoyed. Carolina Mendoza is back in Petal sixteen years after the brutal murder of her mother and subsequent conviction of her father, who she believes to have been wrongly convicted. She’s there for two reasons, first, she wants a stronger relationship with her two younger siblings, who her mother’s well-to-do parents took custody of after her mother’s death, and she wants to clear her father’s name. Her dad died in prison, all the while proclaiming his innocence. Her siblings are much younger than her and have no real memories of their parents, as well as being influenced by their grandparents who believe with all of their hearts that Caroline’s father committed the crime.

While grocery shopping one day, Caroline reconnects with Royal Watson. Caroline and Royal went to school together although never knew each other particularly well. Royal is immediately attracted to Caroline and begins what I’d describe as a full-on charm offensive. Caroline is a little wary. She’s not looking for love, and while she’s definitely attracted to the big, handsome farmer, she’s not in Petal for that, and is reluctant to get involved with a man. In the end she agrees to dinner and finds herself rethinking her “no love” stance. Royal is funny and charming and a true southern gentleman. But Royal has an ex, Anne, who doesn’t want a relationship with Royal, but also doesn’t want him with anyone else. She’s snotty to Caroline and continues to be as Royal and Caroline begin to build a foundation for a long-term relationship. On top of that, Caroline is trying her best to rebuild a relationship both with her siblings, and her grandparents, who she left when she was a young teenager to go live with her father’s family. There’s a lot going on for her.

As word gets out that she’s trying to clear her father’s name, she find animosity directed at her from her grandparents, various town folk, and her sister’s boyfriend, who accosts her on numerous occasions. Soon, that animosity has raised to threats. Someone slashes her tires, someone shoots at her through an open office window. And as the violence escalates, Caroline and Royal must come together to keep her safe.

There are a lot of things I like about this book. I would describe Royal as a more Beta hero, which is unusual for you. He’s protective and certainly adores Caroline, but he’s not a guns ablazin’ kind of hero. He’s content to let her kick a little ass herself. Certainly, when it becomes apparent that Caroline’s life is in danger, he does go into protective mode, but he admires her smarts and strength too much to curtail it. He’s also a real southern charmer hero, which I’m a sucker for. He’s a gentleman, a tiger in the sack, and has really wonderful manners.

For her part, Caroline is strong and really intelligent. She’s got real spine without being off-putting, and there is one scene where she and Anne finally have a confrontation over Anne’s pursuit of Royal. It’s not a cat-fight by any means, but it’s a no bullshit, serious conversation. You know, the kind two grown women would have. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about your work is that your heroines are never doormats. They don’t whine, they don’t cry. They show initiative, and they handle their business. Caroline is no exception, and it immediately makes her someone who I would want to be friends with.

Where I think the story falls down a bit is clearing the father’s name. You spend about the first 2/3 of the book building the relationship between Caroline and Royal. Then the danger part of the story comes in and it all felt a bit rushed, particularly the resolution of the story. To me, there was no foundation for the killer laid, so he came out of left field and I just didn’t buy it. I wanted more of a build up, I guess.

In the end, Count on Me is a really lovely romance, featuring a to die for hero and a smart heroine who I liked very much. While the mystery/suspense part didn’t work for me as well as I would have liked, I know that Count on Me will be a book I’ll reread. Final grade: B-

Kind regards,

Kati

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REVIEW:  Whisper Falls: A Destiny Novel by Toni Blake

REVIEW: Whisper Falls: A Destiny Novel by Toni Blake

WF

Dear Ms. Blake:

While listening to the DBSA podcast with Jaci Burton last week, Sarah mentioned having read and enjoyed your book, Whisper Falls. The book stood out to her because it features a heroine with Crohn’s disease, which is certainly unusual in the world of Romance. The premise intrigued me, so I gave it a whirl.

Tessa Sheridan is back in the town where she grew up, Destiny, OH. She’s moved back because a debilitating bout with Crohn’s disease has left her unable to fully take care of herself. She’s moved home to be close to her parents, who can help her when she has a flare up. But the trade off is, she’s left a very successful interior design business and despite her efforts, no one seems to be hiring interior designers in Destiny. One day, while catsitting her friend Amy’s cat, Mr. Knightley, he escapes the house. Tessa has no choice but to chase after him in her Hot Stuff pajamas. While looking for him, she bumps into her new noisy neighbor, Lucky Romo.

Lucky is also reluctantly back in Destiny. He’s moved home because he’s recently discovered that he has a child from a liaison that he had nine years ago. He’s decided that he’ll bring his motorcycle painting business to Destiny and set up shop. The town is close to Chillicothe , where there is an annual biker rodeo and a good concentration of bikers in the area, and Lucky is very talented. But he’s hiding from his family who lives right in Destiny. He’s not ready to see them after fleeing home when his sister died and leaving no word as to his whereabouts. During the time he was gone, Lucky made a number of poor decisions and has secrets he’d rather not reveal.

But when Lucky spies Tessa, he begins to flirt lightly with her. He knows that there will be no future for them, but he can’t seem to help his attraction to her. Soon, he hires her to redecorate a number of rooms in his house. He’s looking for “normal”, whatever that is. As Tessa works in his house, his attraction grows and one night he dares her to come to the biker bar where he hangs out. Tessa, wishing to live a little after being so sick for so long, takes him up on the dare and drags her friend, Rachel, along. Unfortunately for Lucky, Rachel is his brother Mike’s fiance. Mike is NOT pleased to see Rachel either at a biker bar, or with Lucky, who he blames from breaking his parents’ heart when he left town with no word. The evening ends in a scene, but not without Lucky finally making his move on Tessa. As Lucky and Tessa finally act on their attraction, both know that this will be a sexual relationship and nothing else, but the more time they spend together, the more they realize how well they get along and how much they’ve come to depend on each other.

This was an interesting book for me to read. I appreciated the treatment of Tessa’s illness. Crohn’s is no joke, and you depicted well the fact that she often doesn’t feel well, and Lucky’s drive to take care of her when she felt awful. While you didn’t touch on  some of the more unsavory aspects of Crohn’s, the depiction read true to me, and I thought it was an interesting internal force for Tessa to break out of her routine and try new things. I thought that Lucky’s past was credible and I liked that his son was never a distraction to the story, only a mild enhancement.  I understand why so many readers really enjoy your writing.

What I missed was a certain heat level. This felt like the kind of book I could happily hand my grandmother to read. The heat factor is very mild, and there are a number of references to things that made my teeth ache, in particular, the heroine’s idolization of Ellen Degeneres. She often times referred to Ellen as an inspiration to her to get out bed, or dance, or engage in life. And while I enjoy the Ellen show myself, and think she’s a wonderful example for people, it felt forced to me. The story has a very small town feel to it, which I believe a lot of readers will connect with. It is certainly a well written, entertaining contemporary romance that features a heroine with an interesting health issue. That being said, I also don’t think I’m the target audience for your work. I like my romance a little filthier and a whole lot angstier. My lack of deep engagement in the story means I can’t really grade it much higher than a B-, but I believe a lot of readers will disagree with me, and this book will be a satisfying, engaging read for them. This review is a case of good book, wrong reviewer, I think.

Kind regards,

Kati

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