This is only the second book this year I’ve rated as 5 Stars. And my review will be an entirely unprofessional fangirl missive spelling out how much I LOVED this book. If you’re looking for something more critical or objective, you’re in the wrong place. You’ve been warned.

To get a 5-star review from me, a book needs to really stay with me. It needs to be something that when I finish the last page, I just can’t let it go. I’ll find myself reading bits and pieces (and sometimes the entire thing) over the next few days. Count on Me by Lauren Dane was one of those books.

To start with, I love the Petal, Georgia books. Yes, even the freebies. I’m a huge fan of the Chase Brothers books, too, and reread all these books a lot. But above all, I’m absolutely head over heels in love with Edward Chase. Edward and his wife Polly are the parents of all the Chase brothers, and they are amazing. Polly is sweet and generous and has a heart as big as the ocean, but lord help you if you mess with someone she considers HERS. She will cut you and walk away before your body falls to the ground. And Edward….Oh, Edward. He’s an amazing father who raised his boys to be strong, decent, hard-working men. By loving Polly the way he does, he showed them all how a real man treats a woman. He’s also a loving, generous father in law. One who treasures his sons’ wives as if they were his own daughters, for in his heart, I believe they are. And all this goes for all their extended family, too. I’ve mentioned Polly’s big heart, right? She’s adopted quite a family, and Edward just smiles and adds more tables to the chaos in the backyard.

Okay, now onto the rest of the book.

Count on Me opens when Caroline Mendoza walks into the Law Offices of Chase and Chase. This is the law firm Edward owns with his brother. They’re interviewing Caroline to come on board as a Criminal Defense attorney. Of course she gets hired, and quickly meets Royal Watson while grocery shopping. Royal is a farmer who knew Caroline when they were in school before she moved away. He also used to date Anne Murphy, so we’ve seen him in the last few Petal books. His relationship with Anne ended a while back, so we know Royal and Caroline aren’t in danger of being a rebound relationship.

I love Royal. And I love Caroline. And I especially love Royal and Caroline together. They’re a classic Lauren Dane couple: Smart, successful, and sexy. They know what they want and aren’t afraid to go for it.

In this case, all the tension in this relationship comes from the outside. That’s my favorite kind of story. I love it when it’s an “us against the world” book. Caroline is trying to clear her father’s name. Her father died in prison for killing her mom, and she never believed it, and there was too much not investigated or proved for him to have been the killer. Of course she’s right, and the real killer is still out there and NOT HAPPY she’s stirring things up.

On Royal’s end, Anne turns into the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She doesn’t want Royal, but she doesn’t want Caroline to have him either. Anne does, actually, see the crazy in herself and sorts herself out, but it takes a while. She pulls a stunt about halfway through the book which Caroline handles with a lot more poise and grace and eloquence than I ever could. I’m afraid I’d become the hair pulling stereotype.

And then there’s Caroline’s grandparents and various other factions. Oy. There is no shortage of outside drama in this book. But it’s okay, because Caroline and Royal can face anything as long as they have each other.

This book had everything I love in one book. Caroline and Royal were an awesome couple who knew each other’s flaws and foibles and didn’t care. They loved each other and were there for each other totally and completely. We had more Edward than we’d seen in previous books, and since I’m a fool for Edward, I was one happy guppy. Finally, there was an amazing cat who had so many of my own cat’s traits I began to wonder if Ms. Dane had been spying on Rani.

It took me nearly a week after reading this book to move on to something else. It was amazing and wonderful and emotional and I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. Ms. Dane even listed her playlist in the front of the book, and I loved Count on Me so much I went and bought the few songs on that list I didn’t already have.

And now every time Luke Bryan’s Shut it Down comes on, I grin and think of Caroline and Royal.

So thank you, Lauren Dane. This book now has a permanent place on top of my “Favorites” pile.

I may need to go reread this book right now. In the meantime….*hits PLAY*

Shut it down
Lotta work left to do, the sun’s still out
Any hay to make can wait for now
Take it on in the house
Shut it down

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fishy Fangirl
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

 

Another winner from Vivian Arend. *yawn* What else is new, right?

This time it’s sexy, adventurous and great-with-power-tools Janey and her hero Len who has far less experience than everyone believes and a love for Janey that just won’t quit. Which is good, because she’s been in love with him forever.

He’d hate me saying this, but Len was adorable. He was so sweet and a little unsure and a little emotionally damaged. He lost his mom to cancer when he was 15 and he has some serious guilt which stems from that. Janey, on the other hand, was raised by emotionally distant parents and has siblings who disregard what she is doing with her life, but still she manages to grab as much happiness as she wants.

While I get that maybe Ms. Arend didn’t want to have too many issues come up for Janey and Len, and she probably felt they had quite enough going on, I wish Janey had been able to deal with her family. I kind of wish we had seen her tell them what was important to her.

Len is just adorable (there’s that word again). He feels he’s so damaged that he can’t even take the chance on finally going to Janey until he thinks she’s leaving town. And Janey’s finally given up. She’s been throwing herself at Len for years and nothing. But once Len has to step in and spend the night to protect her, all bets are off. He may be inexperienced, but he makes up for lost time with Janey. And OOOOOH BOY does he catch up QUICK.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know two years ago my mom finally succumbed to the cancer which had ravaged her. In One Sexy Ride, Len is still dealing with the loss of his mom to cancer when he was 15. Thankfully, I was warned before I ever picked this book up, so I was prepared, though I’m usually okay with stories like this. I’m not sure who Ms. Arend has lost in her life to cancer or other long illness, and, frankly, it’s none of my damn business, but she GETS it. She gets it in a way I’m almost certain she’s been there. This part here was like she reached into my brain.

The strangest things could set him off. A combination of words, the scent of antiseptic like at the hospital.

One time someone’s phone had gone off, and their ring tone had been a series of beeps eerily reminiscent of a heart-rate monitor. He’d come within three seconds of snatching the phone right out of their hands and grinding the case to pieces under his heel.

That’s one thing that still surprises me. Those little moments of rage where you just want to rip people’s faces off for little things. I still can’t leave the house on Mother’s day weekend for fear of just screaming at people to SHUT. THE HELL. UP. And it’s totally me and not them, and I know I’m being crazy, but knowing it doesn’t do anything to stop those emotions. It’s something I don’t know if people understand unless they’ve gone through it themselves.

One of my favorite things about Ms. Arend’s books are that the conflicts in the book are never ridiculous. There’s never the moment of frustration where the reader thinks if everyone would just have a freakin’ conversation, this would be settled. That’s not to say her characters don’t have miscommunications or don’t speak to each other about important stuff. It still happens, but she doesn’t drag it out. And her characters are never stupid, so they KNOW what’s going on, and everyone gets treated like grown-ups fully capable of dealing with their own issues.

I also love her sense of family in all her books, whether it’s by blood or by choice. In this case, both. The Thompson family is one that is loving and supportive and will tease the hell out of you in an heartbeat. I laughed hard during their first date at the cafe. “No one could torture you like family.” Absolutely true.

This book was HOT. The build up of sexual tension here was slow and expertly done. By the time Len and Janey finally made it to bed, I was practically sweating. And then what they do IN the bed…and the truck…and the shower…*fans self* Whoo. Vivian Arend does write them hot and sexy, and she believes in truth in advertising because this book really is One Sexy Ride.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Addicted to Viv
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Robin Williams is gone.

I can’t believe it. I was looking at his IMDb listing, and I somehow forgot all the things he’s been in that I’ve loved. I remember watching Mork & Mindy with my parents. He made me laugh as Batty in Ferngully, a movie I watched endlessly because of my cousins one summer. He made me cry in Dead Poet’s Society with “Thank you, my boys.” I watched him be a loving “husband” to Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. He was creepy on Law & Order: SVU, and hysterical in Happy Feet as a singing penguin.

And then there’s Hook.

Because of connections, I was invited to the Hook set for a few days. I remember they were filming on the pirate ship and Robin and Dustin Hoffman and the kids were at one end, and my friend and I were at the other. Someone made some comment, I don’t even remember what it was. Some offhand remark while they were setting the next shot. And he was off to the races. While I sat there that summer afternoon on a hot set with one of my best friends, I got to watch him do a 15-minute monologue. Totally off the cuff. He had everyone in stitches. Steven Spielberg didn’t even bother trying to stop him or even slow him down. It was probably faster and more productive to just let him get it out. It was certainly more enjoyable for me!

At some point I was listening to the microphones through a headset, and I just couldn’t quite make out the line he was saying. It was too fast. Too garbled. So while they were on a break I asked Mike, who had invited me there, if he had a script handy so I could look it up. “Hey, Robin, can you come here for a second?” Yup. He called Robin FREAKIN’ Williams over so I could ask him what that line was.

I don’t think I fangirled. I don’t usually for actors. I’ve been around too long to buy into their mystique. But for one moment in time I was able to stand there and chat with Robin Williams. We talked for a couple of minutes and then he had to get back to work. What we talked about, I don’t remember anymore. It’s been too long. But what I do remember is this. Robin Williams took time out of his busy day to chat for a few minutes with a young college student. He was kind and gracious and very sweet.

He wasn’t ROBIN WILLIAMS FAMOUS COMEDIAN AND ACTOR.

He was Robin, one of the guys, and said he was happy to meet me.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. You brought so much joy and happiness into so many lives. You were a light in the darkness, and I only wish you were able to see it and reach out one more time. I hope you can feel how much you were loved by everyone whose lives you touched.

May your memory be a blessing to your loved ones.*

Bangarang.

Lynda the Guppy
aka A Heartbroken Fish

*While I am not Jewish, I’ve always thought the Jewish faith knew what it is doing when it comes to death and grieving. So my Catholic self completely appropriated their honorific here, because I think it’s lovely and heartfelt and something which can actually be a comfort to those grieving. 

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