Oh, Ms. Stacey. I love your books so much. The Kowalskis are a family I want to just hang out with and play dirty scrabble and water games of DOOM. And if Leo and Mary could adopt me, that would be great. Get on that for me, would you? Thanks.

Seriously, though, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday with Liz and Drew and the rest of the Kowalski clan (both branches!) reading Love a Little Sideways. While I wish I had been able to re-read the series so as to refresh my memory about who is who and what happened in which book, this book absolutely stands by itself, and it is quite the achievement. To thrust a reader into a family this large and rambunctious and make us feel right at home immediately is the mark of a talented writer.

Yup. Can you believe it? I was worried for a minute there might not be any DOOM. Boy, was I wrong!  There was Water Ball of Doom and mentions of Romance of Doom and Baby of Doom and of course the “Annual Kowalski Volleyball Death Mach Tournament of Doom.”

“It’s going to feel unreal to go back to work tomorrow. I’ll be adding ‘of doom’ to everything.”

“You can give speeding tickets of doom. Those are way more fun than regular speeding tickets.”

I know how you feel, Drew. I find myself adding “of doom” to many things after spending time with the Kowalskis, too.

One of my favorite thing about the Kowalskis is how much fun they are. These books are sweet and sexy, but also funny and fun. The family all gets up in everyone’s business, as a close family likes to do, but if the chips were down, you couldn’t find better people to have your back. And even though half the family married in and some are really just Kowalski Adjacent (like Drew), they’re all treated like Leo and Mary’s kids. or Rosie’s kids. They may all be treated differently because they’re different people, but they are all loved the same. Without exception. That sense of family is comforting and lovely, especially now when the holiday craziness is upon us. It was also nice to read about a summer vacation when it’s starting to get cold here.

There were so many parts of this book which made me laugh out loud. The reason Drew loans Liz his car. And why she accepts. The post-it note in the shower. The scene with Bobby and the handcuffs made me laugh so hard my sides ached and the cat ran into the other room. I had to put down my Kindle because every time I picked it up to start reading again, I’d laugh even harder. Why Liz gets “middle named” during dirty scrabble. The RULES for dirty scrabble! LOLOL.

So go pick up Love A Little Sideways. You won’t regret it. Well, until your boss asks you why you just scheduled a Conference Call of Doom. That might get you a few looks.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Kowalski Sticks of DOOOOOOM
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Welcome back to Cousin Allison, a guest reviewer. Since she reads historical romances and I don’t, she gets roped into reviewing once in a while. Today she’s talking ranting about Highland Master by Hannah Howell. Just so you know, there will be spoilers, so consider yourselves warned! ~Lynda

Where to start with this review…Let me first say that I normally LOVE all Hannah Howell books and have no problem reading them in order/out of order or even just sections of the books. They always grab my attention and I fall in with the story. With Highland Master that was not the case with this book!

WARNING RANT/SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

At the beginning of the story you meet Triona McKee when she is struggling with keeping her home and people safe,  fed, and housed while dealing with a nasty neighbor. Then before you can even really get a grasp of the situation Triona’s cousin Arianna MacFingal shows up with some of her family/in-laws (as her escort) as she is running away from her own marriage (WTH?)!! This new second story within the book was so distracting that I stopped reading the book! I then told myself it had to get better so I started again; I did this about 3 times! It didn’t get much better. The book should have been called Highland Avenger II as a follow-up book to Arianna and Brian’s book as that story was more than half this book and completely distracting from what shod have been Triona and Brett’s story.

I honestly can’t write a good review for this book because I was so annoyed with the second story taking over that I had to force my way through this book just so I could get it finished so I could re-read Highland Avenger because I needed to know if that book really ended how I remembered and if the other “new” storyline for those characters really fit in with what had been written about them. Yes I know I could have just stopped and read Highland Avenger first, but that isn’t the point. In the past these books have always been stand alone books with characters who make appearances in other stories, but this seemed like it was just an extended epilogue of a previous book.

So after I read Highland Avenger again I don’t think we needed this whole drama of Brian being married before Ariana to come out. It has no significance, and they have taken her prior marriage to another level of problems when we already knew it was a mess from HER book.

I really wanted more for Triona and Brett. I wanted to see more interaction between the characters and how they intertwined with Triona’s people who see her as the leader not some guy who is stepping in to help out.

Maybe the next Hannah Howell book will restore my faith in her, but I sure hope I won’t be required to read Highland Master again to make sure I’m ready for what may be the sequel to this disaster of a book.

Cousin Allison
Guest Reviewer Extraordinaire

RATING: 1.5 Stars

Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail nearly broke me. Some of my favorite tropes in this one: Military Hero, Damaged Hero, Marriage in Trouble, Small Town, Holiday Story.  So many tropes. And it all worked.

The book starts with Lucy at work hearing Sully is back in town. We come to learn Sully is her ex-husband Sullivan. He was an Army Ranger who was injured by an IED. He is now recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury and remembers almost everything…except Lucy.

Lucy is still in love with her ex-husband. They’ve only been divorced less than a year, and it wasn’t her idea. Since Sully had no memory of his wife, he decided she shouldn’t be chained to him while he recovers.

I have to say, I had heard a lot about this story. All of it good, and nearly all of it using words like “sobbed my way through” and “ugly cry” and “OMG I couldn’t stop crying.” All of it accurate. I pretty much weeped my way through this book. My heart absolutely broke for Lucy. She loves Sullivan so much and yet he doesn’t remember her at all. And even worse, their marriage was in trouble before he shipped out this last time. He does have an insatiable craving for cookies. Since Lucy is a baker, I knew his craving for cookies was a craving for Lucy and that, too, broke my heart.

While I was rooting for this couple, I couldn’t help but want Lucy to just leave town. She was in so much pain having to deal with Sullivan and her unresolved issues with his choices and the fact he treats her like everyone else. I just wanted her pain to stop, and seeing him around town was just torture for her.

And Sullivan…What he did becomes clear, and he DOES do some grovel, and while his explanation is satisfactory, I’m from the “There can never be too much grovel” school of thought, and thought she forgave him way too easily. He hurt her a LOT, not just after his injury, but before when they were still married. It felt like she cut him too much slack because he had been injured since then. I would have liked some acknowledgment of all the issues they still need to work through.

Lest you think this book is nothing but an angst-filled heartbreaking tragic story, every now and again Ms. Gail puts a line in which makes you laugh.

“Every time you say you hate Christmas, one of Santa’s elves explodes.”

Or…

“Tweed is the devil’s material, and moths are his fluttery, dusty minions that want to steal my soul.”

As a knitter with a closet full of wool yarn and hand-knit wool items, I COMPLETELY agree. Damn soul suckers.

There was just enough humor in this book to keep it from being too dark. There was hope, even when it seemed Lucy was crushed under the weight of her grief and sadness. While I cried my way through, I never felt as if these two wouldn’t get their HEA. I had absolute faith Sullivan would remember Lucy and realize what a jerk he had been to her before and make it all up to her. Because if he didn’t, I was showing up on his doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

At the end of the story, Ms. Gail has a note that there are “deleted scenes” on her blog, and to check them out. I did, and I wish they had been included! The epilogue she has posted on her site is what I needed there to be at the end. It shows how Lucy and Sullivan (especially Sullivan) really worked to get their relationship back. It shows us the end of the book wasn’t as simple or cut and dried as it seemed. Lucy DID make him work for it. Good for her. She deserved it, and he needed to put his time in making it all up to her.

And warning: on her site there’s also a letter to Sully’s friend’s kids which will make you cry. Crying is kind of a recurring theme with this book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While this book is technically a “holiday” story, This one is going to end up in permanent rotation all year long. Whenever I want a great, emotional, sob-fest of a story, this is the one I’ll reach for.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Ms. Gail. According to her site, she’s writing another Bitterthorn book. Yay! And I’m hoping at some point we will get Coe’s story, too. He intrigued me.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Holiday Peppermint Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

Ahhhh Holiday Stories. Is there anything better to read in November and December? I didn’t think so.

I’ve read the first three books of Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, and have enjoyed them quite a bit. I love reading sports heroes. There’s just something so sexy about a hero so focused and athletic. *shiver*

And seriously, does ANYONE get men on their covers hunkier than the ones for these books? Because YOWZA. They’re the few covers I actually collect.

PlayByPlay

See what I mean? The first one, The Perfect Play, remains my favorite cover. Mmm.

With Holiday Games, Jaci Burton gives me what I consider to be an ideal holiday story. Lots of family, holiday festivities, a little angst, but not a lot, a look at favorite characters from past books, and a quick read. It’s the Christmas cookie of books. Sweet and tasty, and perfect this time of year.

I’ve always liked Liz. I know she was a total bitch in The Perfect Play, but her heart was in the right place, and she more than makes up for it in her book, Changing the Game, so I was excited when I saw she and Gavin would be the focus of Holiday Games.

Liz and Gavin are trying to have a baby, but they’ve been trying for a while and it hasn’t happened yet. Liz is getting a little discouraged, but she’s determined to keep her hopes up and tries to hide how she’s feeling from Gavin because she doesn’t want him to be upset because she’s upset.

What’s fantastic about this book is these two are totally honest with each other. I know. I just said she’s trying to hide her feelings, but she’s not successful. LOL And when he realizes she’s making herself crazy over their first time hosting Christmas at their house, he calls his mom for help. Yeah, he does it and doesn’t tell Liz, but she knows. They both act out of their great love for each other and they have each others’ backs at all times. When she isn’t sure if she wants to talk to the family about something, he covers for her without even thinking about it. These two are clearly A COUPLE and NOTHING will shake them.

I’ve found through the years that while I love books where the relationship is in jeopardy at various stages, my favorite books are usually the ones where the conflict comes from outside the relationship, and this one has the perfect amount of angst for me. It was a sweet, brief glimpse into the lives of the Riley family and a novella which will be added to my yearly rotation of holiday reads.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Can’t Stop Staring At Those Covers Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

This book was awesome. Go read it. Now.

What? That doesn’t cut it as a review? Damn. Okay, then here goes.

You know THAT BOOK? It’s the book in a series you’ve been waiting YEARS for. It’s the one with your favorite characters and you kept hoping it was the next one to be released and the next one and the next one, but your favorite author keeps tormenting you with little bits and hints of this character’s story in OTHER characters’ books and makes you wait FOREVER. And even though you’ve been DYING for this book and this character to FINALLY get their HEA, once you get the book in your hot little hands you’re terrified to read it? OMG WHAT IF IT DOESN’T LIVE UP TO EVERYTHING YOU’VE HAD IN YOUR HEAD FOR THE LAST 2 YEARS?!?!

Rocky Mountain Freedom and Travis was THAT BOOK for me.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Travis’ book since that scene in the barn in Rocky Mountain Heat when he told Blake why he though Jaxi was really dating Travis all those years ago. Right then my heart broke for Travis. And in Rocky Mountain Angel when Travis and Cassidy show up at Gabe’s cabin all beat up and needing a place to heal? How can you not want to just cuddle him and make all his hurts go away?! Through all 5 of these books I knew Travis was going to be the one I loved most. He was full of angst and drama and conflict and I couldn’t WAIT for his book.

BUT OMG WHAT IF IT DOESN’T LIVE UP TO EVERYTHING I’VE HAD IN MY HEAD FOR THE LAST 5 BOOKS?!?!?!

I sat down and read the book in one sitting. And it didn’t live up to my expectations.

It blew my expectations out of the freakin’ water.

I thought I loved Travis. I thought I knew what he was about. I thought I knew what his story was going to be like.

I was so, soooooo wrong.

I normally don’t enjoy rehashing previous scenes in new books, but because Travis’ story had significant moments throughout the rest of the series, I really liked how Vivian Arend brought those scenes back and gave us a different point of view. It also helped to put these scenes into context in relation to Travis (and Cassidy and Ashley). I didn’t have to rely on my faulty memory to figure out when and where something took place. YAY! Thank god for authors who are good to lazy readers.

One of my biggest complaints with a lot of ménage stories is the lack of “boy touching,” as I call it. Yeah, it’s great the woman is the center, blah blah blah, every woman’s fantasy, yadda yadda yadda, but that always seems unbalanced to me. The first time I found a ménage story where it felt like it really was a relationship between THREE people and not just boys vs. girl was Lauren Dane’s Laid Bare. This book feels very much the same. This relationship between Travis and Ashley and Cassidy really felt like it was between ALL of them equally, and not just Travis and Cassidy focusing on Ashley. They DO, of course, but Travis and Cassidy have their private moments, just as Ashley has private moments with Travis and Cassidy separately.

And the boy touching is HOT. Just sayin’. Also: No shortage of dirty talk. Always a plus with me.

I loved that all three of them each had their own issues to work out, and they were given the space and time and support they each needed to do so. They all loved and trusted each other and for the most part all three acted in the best interests of the other two. Not always, of course, or where would the tension and drama come from?

Travis…Oh, Travis. Poor, angsty, troubled Travis. I loved him so much. So SOOOO much. He’s damaged and knows it, and he wants Cassidy and Ashley more than anything, but he’s having a difficult time reconciling his needs with accepting their love.

Cassidy broke my heart. His issues with his father and his worry about…well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Ashley was exactly the catalyst the two guys needed to break through their emotional barriers and realize what they could have as a triad. She has some worries of her own, but works through them.

I think one of my favorite moments is when Travis finally tells Ashley how he feels about her. Her and Cassidy’s reaction was priceless, and exactly what Travis needed. Viv Arend did such a wonderful job showing how much the three of them trust and love each other, and how they all feel emotionally safe within the relationship. They know they can break down in tears or talk about bad childhoods and they won’t be judged. Instead they will be loved beyond measure. Really, isn’t that what all of us look for in our own Happily Ever Afters?

I don’t know what else to tell you, other than this book was sexy, hot, emotional, full of angst, and a wonderful read. Also, I feel absolutely confident in judging this book by its cover. Yowza!

I read between 200-300 books a year and I give 5 stars to about 10 of those each year. I’d give this book 6 stars if I could.

In fact, I think I’ll go read it again right now.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Travis4Ever
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

This review was original posted
at www.wickedlilpixie.com

One thing you need to know about me. I am an absolute SUCKER for holiday stories. Holiday novellas, especially. They’re usually short enough to be quick reads between family holiday…excitement…and yet long enough to be satisfying romances. They’re sentimental and sappy and I love them like you would not believe.

Back in 2010 when I was just beginning to figure out this whole Twitter thing, I was following Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and she was raving about a short story titled Holiday Sparks by an author I’d never heard of: Shannon Stacey. I took a chance, (and, hey, Holiday story!) and bought the novella. I remember I sat at my dining room table while my mom was getting ready for us to go to a New Year’s Eve party at my aunt’s house and read the entire thing. I. Loved. It. The next day I went to Amazon and bought her entire backlist.

In 2011, Shannon Stacey published Mistletoe & Margaritas. Another holiday story! Yay! I continued the tradition and read it on New Year’s Eve. Loved it even MORE than the last one.

So imagine my disappointment when I found out there would be no holiday story from Ms. Stacey in 2012! But…but…but…WHY?!?! Turns out she wrote a summer short story. Well, okay, at least I got a story, but it just wasn’t the same. Rumors of pouting, whining, and throwing myself on the ground kicking and sobbing are absolutely true greatly exaggerated.

This year Ms. Stacey is OBVIOUSLY making it up to me, because I get not one, but TWO stories this holiday season. YAY! I haven’t read Snow Day (yet), so I’m not sure if its actually a holiday story or not (I don’t really care. Snow. Novella. Shannon Stacey. I’m in), but Snowbound with the CEO most definitely IS and it’s a fantastic way to kick off what I like to call “Holiday Novella Season.” It may be too early for Christmas lights (Staring at you, neighbor down the street) or Holiday displays in stores, but as soon as Halloween is over, I start hoarding ALL THE HOLIDAY STORIES. I store them like a squirrel stores nuts, keeping them to help me through the bleary winter days with too much food and WAAAAY too much family togetherness. LOL.

In Snowbound with the CEO, Adrian Blackstone is a handsome and successful owner and CEO of Blackstone Historical Renovations, and he wants his executive assistant “more than he’d ever wanted a woman in his life.” Rachel Carter wears sensible heels, professional clothes, has been working for Mr. Blackstone for 16 months, and is trying to remember seducing her boss will end with being unemployed.

They’re at one of Adrian’s former renovations to meet with and impress a potential client. As the title suggests, they get snowed in and hijinks ensue. They’re snowed in at a luxury hotel with guests and a full staff, so its not like they’re roughing it. The nice bit about this (versus the usual “stranded by ourselves, whatever will we DO until help arrives?!” plot) is it gives Ms. Stacey the ability to focus solely on Adrian and Rachel and their interactions with each other, rather than having to spend precious novella pages rescuing themselves in some way. That kind of thinking and paring a story down to focus on its most important elements are things Ms. Stacey excels at and is part of what keeps me coming back book after book.

After discovering they’re snowed in, Adrian heads to the bar and sees a woman at the bar whom he is instantly attracted to. She laughs and he’s entranced. When he sits down next to her he discovers…its Rachel.

Number thirty-two, or thereabouts, on Rachel’s list of one hundred and one ways to seduce her boss was to pretend to be a stranger in a bar. Being mistaken for a stranger in a bar was close enough to send a little sizzle down her spine.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh like that before,” he said, and it wasn’t in his Mr. Blackstone voice. It was definitely a picking-up-a-woman-in-a-bar voice.

“You’ve never told me a joke about two elves, a reindeer and a candy cane.”

He swiveled his stool a little toward her, so their knees almost touched. “Let me buy you another drink and I’ll think of a joke.”

They share their first kiss after a dance, and I melted. A good sexy dance scene is nearly as romantic and sexy to me as anything that happens in the bedroom.

…since I’ve only heard you call me Adrian in my mind— sometimes when I’m dreaming and sometimes when I’m in the shower— I want to hear it from you more often.

Although a conversation like this while dancing ups the Sexy Quotient drastically. fans self*

This was a fun and (not to be to redundant) a sexy read. They spend the better part of a weekend in bed in a lodge only to come home and have a misunderstanding or two which keeps them apart for a little while. There is some angst, and there are some supportive family, a Stacey trademark, and a Merry Christmas and Happily Ever After, of course. It IS a Holiday Novella.

I’m thrilled to add Snowbound with the CEO to my Shannon Stacey Holiday Novella Collection. I’ll be reading it every year just like I do Mistletoe & Margaritas and Holiday Sparks. Reading these stories has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Lynda the Guppy
aka No Grinch With Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

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