Home Forums Let’s Talk Romance The AAR 19 in 2019 Reading Challenge

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    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      Each challenge consists of 19 books. Or if you prefer read 10 books per challenge.

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      And The Award Goes To….
      Taking themes, settings, characters, and/or other suggestions from award winning movies from the past 18 years, as well as a movie you enjoyed this year (or this coming year’s best picture winner which will be announced in February 2019) choose books from your TBR pile that fit the following requirements:

      • Gladiator (2000) – Read a romance in which a lead character is returning from war; a romance in which the lead characters are involved in sports in any way; or read a romance set in Italy for all or a portion of the story.
      • A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Read a romance with lead characters who are involved in academia in some way and/or set at a college or university; a romance in which a main character is battling a mental handicap or condition. Or, read a new adult romance.
      • Chicago (2002) – Since Chicago is a musical, read a romance set in the music industry and/or characters who are musicians; a romance set in the U.S. mid-west; a romance set in the 1920’s; or, a romance in which one or both of the lead characters are involved in or come from a “shady” background, whether grifters, skirting the law, crime families, or confidence men/women.
      • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – Read a romance in which at least one of the main characters is a member of the nobility; read a fantasy romance; or read a romance which is part of a series of any romantic sub-genre.
      • Million Dollar Baby (2004) – Read a romance in which the heroine is an athlete; a romance in which one of the lead characters is a successful self-made man or woman; or read a young adult romance.
      • Crash (2005) – Read a romance in which one or both main characters are police officers or detectives; a romance where a main character is a victim of a crime or a potential victim; a romance set on the west coast of the U.S.; and/or a romance with characters from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds as the leads.
      • The Departed (2006) – Read a romance in which a main character has gone undercover or has taken on an identity not their own; a romance involving characters who are FBI agents; a romance set in New England; Or, inspired by the title of the movie, read a romance involving a loved one dying or in which one of the main characters leaves their home to live elsewhere.
      • No Country for Old Men (2007) – Read a romance in which one or both of the lead characters is older than 40 (I know that’s not old); Read a romance set in the American west, whether an historical or contemporary.
      • Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Read a romance in which a lead character is a millionaire or billionaire, whether inherited or self-made; a romance set in Bollywood or in South Asia generally; Or, read a romance in which a lead character enters a competition and/or wins a contest.
      • The Hurt Locker (2009) – Read a romance in which one or both lead characters are in the military or are veterans; or, read a romance set during a war.
      • The King’s Speech (2010) – Read a romance in which a main character leads a country, a government, or a company; a romance involving a long term friendship between the leads; a romance featuring a lead character with a disability; and/or read a romance set during the WWII era, anywhere in the world.
      • The Artist (2011) – Read a romance in which one or both of the main characters is in the film industry; a romance in which one or both is involved in the art world in some way; or, since one of the movie’s characters is French, a romance set in France or with one or more French lead characters.
      • Argo (2012) – Read a science fiction romance; read a romance involving one or more main characters who are spies; or a romance in which one or more lead characters work for any government.
      • 12 Years a Slave (2013) – Read a romance set during any Civil War or war of rebellion; a romance in which one of the lead characters was or is in servitude; Or, inspired by the lead character in the movie, read a romance in which at least one of the main characters is a musician or who writes a book.
      • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) – Read a romance set in New York City; a romance in which one or more of the main characters are involved with the theater and/or films; a romance in which one of the lead characters is trying to make a come back after time away from a career; Or, read a romance with fantasy elements mixed with realism.
      • Spotlight (2015) – Read a romance in which one or both of the lead characters are writers or journalists; a romance set at a newspaper or magazine; a romance in which one or both leads are involved in an investigation; a romance in which either of the leads is a member of the clergy; Or, simply, read a epistolary romance.
      • Moonlight (2016) – Read a romance set in the southern United States; a romance in which the lead characters are gay; a romance in which one or both of the lead characters are African American; read a romance in which a lead character is dealing with addiction.
      • The Shape of Water (2017) – Read a romance that’s set either on the water, like on a ship, or near the water, like in a beach town; a romance set in the 1950’s; or a romance featuring a relationship between main characters of different species
      • 2018 – Read a romance inspired in some way by a film you enjoyed in 2018 *or* inspired by the movie which wins the Oscar this coming February 2019.
      • BONUS To get to your nineteen books if some of the categories listed above don’t work for you, read one or more romances inspired by a film that won best picture before the year 2000. Feel free to confer with the following list: https://m.imdb.com/chart/bestpicture/

      ~~~

      The Alphabet Challenge
      S is the 19th letter of the alphabet. Read 10 or 19 books where the title or author’s name begins with the letter S.

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      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      Variation read 19 books where the title/author name begins with the letter A, then B, C, etc. through S.

      ~~~

      Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler)
      Read any 10 or 19 books from your TBR pile

      ~~~

      The 21st Century Challenge
      Read 19 books, one per year published in 2001, 2002 through 2019

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      The 20th Century Challenge
      Read 19 books, one per year published in 2000, 1999 through 1982

      ~~~

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      Read 10 or 19 books which fit the following categories:

      • N for nutrition — Read a romance in which the heroine and/or hero is a chef, baker, caterer, etc, or owns a restaurant, diner, bakery, etc.
      • I for ignite — Read a “hot” or erotic romance. Or read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is a fireman.
      • N for Noël — Read a romance set during Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, or any other holiday.
      • E for encore — Read a romance that is part of a series which features the same main characters in each book.
      • T for transfigure — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero has the ability to shift into an animal.
      • E for education — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is involved with education, e.g. teacher, principal, school counselor, etc.
      • E for eager — Read a romance published in 2019 which you have been eagerly anticipating.
      • N for name — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero’s first or last name begins with the letter S (the 19th letter of the alphabet).
      • I for identity — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero has amnesia. Or where the heroine and/or hero is hiding their true identity, been a victim of mistaken identity, etc.
      • N for new — Read a romance by a debut author or a romance by any author you haven’t read before. Or read a New Adult romance.
      • N for narrator — Read a romance told from first person point of view.
      • I for interconnected — Read a romance that is part of a series.
      • N for navigate — Read a romance where the heroine and hero take a road trip or travel together.
      • E for entertainment — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero works in the entertainment industry, e.g. actor, musician, director, make-up artist, producer, etc.
      • T for time — Read a futuristic or time-travel romance.
      • E for enigma — Read a mystery romance or romantic suspense.
      • E for epic — Read a fantasy romance.
      • N for news — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is involved with the news industry, e.g. reporter, anchor, newspaper editor, etc.
      • C for critter — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero have a pet.
      • H for health — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is involved with the health services industry, e.g. doctor, nurse, paramedic, physical therapist, etc.
      • A for athletics — Read a romance in which the heroine and/or hero is involved with sports, e.g. athlete, coach, referee, team owner, etc.
      • L for laughter — Read a humorous romance.
      • L for law — Read a romance in which the heroine and/or hero is involved with the law, e.g. lawyer, judge, police, politician, etc.
      • E for enduring — Read a romance which features a couple who have been together for a long time and/or already married.
      • N for nudge — Read a romance that has been in your TBR for over a year.
      • G for guardian — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is on active duty with a military, naval, police, or fire-fighting organization. Or read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is a parent.
      • E for extrasensory — Read a paranormal romance.
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 20th Century Challenge
      1982 = Midsummer Dreams by Amalia James (published May 1982):
      The heroine had given up on her acting career and recently returned to Massachusetts to run her grandparents’ inn. The hero was a Broadway director with a reputation as a user. He was in town for the summer to stage a series of outdoor plays. The hero seemed to resent the attraction he felt for the heroine and spent most of the book alternately insulting, ignoring, or kissing her. The heroine was attracted to the hero despite her determination to not like him. Cue forced proximity, multiple misunderstandings, and angst. One of the subplots involving two of the supporting characters had a totally out of the blue resolution and the subplot with her grandparents was tedious. The book felt dated at times, both the h/h’s attitudes could be irksome, and the hero definitely needed to grovel more, but I liked parts.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 1 down, 18 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      A = Storm Warning by Toni Anderson:
      I read this author’s Sea of Suspicion back in 2010. I didn’t realize this book was connected since they were both marketed/labeled as stand-alones back when I purchased them. I was also expecting another romantic suspense so was surprised by the paranormal elements. The heroine was working on her PhD. The hero suspected her of being part of a drug ring. He knew it was unethical to become romantically involved and the hero had legitimate reasons to suspect her, but he also jumped to conclusions and looked for ulterior motives, so my sympathy was more with the heroine. Despite the shaky bed of lies their relationship was built on, their HEA was believable. There were too many scenes from the villain’s POV and their identity obvious from early on. I enjoyed the Scottish setting and characters more than the suspense plot.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 1 down, 18 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      E for epic — Read a fantasy romance.
      Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy:
      The final book in this trilogy opened with the heroine recovering from the events in book two. The romance finally took center stage, though this book was still very much her story. I loved seeing the heroine truly come into her own, grapple with her past, and find her balance. It was also gratifying to spend more time with the hero’s family. Plus more elephants! No spoilers, but I am now even more anxiously awaiting the final book in the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. An endearing romance with a nice blend of personal exploration, family dynamics, courtship, and humor.

      E for enigma — Read a mystery romance or romantic suspense
      Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz:
      The lucid dreaming subplot and the power of positive thinking reminded me of several of the author’s past books. After so much buildup, the resolution of the trilogy’s main mystery was somewhat lackluster. Thankfully were a few twists in the latter half of the book as well as plenty of humor. I enjoyed the h/h and their romance, but not quite an instant favorite.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      Thought I had posted this yesterday,,,

      The 20th Century Challenge
      1983 = Matching Wits by Carla Neggers (published May 1983):
      The heroine was a lawyer with her family’s firm who moonlighted for the historical society trying to save an old hotel from demolition. The hero was the developer with plans to tear down it down. He continually threatened to have her fired, but since his demand was obviously a plot device it was easy to overlook. He also told her he liked the fact she stood up to him. I loved that there was never a question she’d have to give up her career or change. Dated, but overall a fun enemy-to-lovers story.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas
      The Queen’s Gambit by Jessie Mihalik:
      The heroine was queen of a ragtag group of refugees and rogues who had fled the decades-long war between two rival galactic empires. The hero was the newly crowned emperor of one of the empires. He’d been captured, so her plan was to rescue him and then ransom him back to his world to help her starving people. But of course things did not go according to plan. The political machinations of the hero’s advisors were alluded to, but that subplot went unresolved. The romance was barely hinted at, but since this was the first of a series I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out. Parts of the resolution took place off-page, but that was obviously due to the limitations of the story’s first person POV. An entertaining read.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      B = Bad Keys by JB Curry:
      The heroine was working on her PhD and a soon-to-be-ex-swimsuit model who was helping the US Fish and Wildlife Department apprehend an ivory smuggler. The hero was a piano tuner from Minnesota on the trail of a former associate who had stolen something he needed back. Due to a case of mistaken identity and assumptions each suspected the other so they definitely got off on the wrong foot. But soon they were working together to find the bad guys while various hijinks ensued. The humor didn’t always for me. An uneven but overall fun romance with likeable main characters.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      N for nutrition — Read a romance in which the heroine and/or hero is a chef, baker, caterer, etc, or owns a restaurant, diner, bakery, etc.
      Dancing Season by Carla Neggers – heroine is a chef:
      The heroine’s boyfriend was a ballet star in town for the summer season. She wanted to make their relationship permanent but was ambivalent about moving to NYC since she’d just opened her own café and bakery. Things became complicated when her older brother’s bff suddenly took an interest in her as well. The heroine’s brothers, sister-in-law, bff, and mother all treated her shabbily at varying points. I loathed the so-called hero. Published in 1983, there was an old-school vibe to the story, but there was never any kind of forced seduction and it was refreshing that the heroine and her bff both had sex lives beyond the “heroes” they ended up with and no one batted an eye. But the hero’s attitude and behavior was irksome, even more so since we were meant to see him as one of the good guys (can’t say more without major spoilers). A very disappointing read.

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      A Beautiful Mind (2001) — Read a romance with lead characters who are involved in academia in some way and/or set at a college or university; a romance in which a main character is battling a mental handicap or condition. Or, read a new adult romance.
      Finding Abigail by Carrie Ann Ryan — heroine is a teacher:
      This was obviously part of a series, but I didn’t read any of the earlier books. The hero was a small-town sheriff. He didn’t believe in love which proved an issue when he turned into one of Cupid’s helpers. The heroine planned to leave town as she felt she had no future there. Neither knew a curse was preventing him from seeing her as his one true love. The premise was interesting, but the book fell apart early on. The villain was cartoonish. Something happened to the heroine, but the repercussions weren’t actually explored. There were multiple mentions from the h/h about how she was not like other girls. Another disappointing read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 1 down, 18 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Starting with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge (and hopefully I’ll get through the entire thing this year):

      Letter S

      For letter “S,” I read Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, which was published in 2018 and was chosen to read by my book group.

      This story is part of Shupe’s Four Hundred Series which references the 400 families on the social register during the Gilded Age in the United States, or more specifically New York. It also was, allegedly, the number of people able to fit into Mrs. Astor’s ballroom. So, based upon that background, A Notorious Vow is set in New York City in the year 1890, but it does not involve people who are a part of the 400 families.

      Our hero, Oliver Hawkes, although incredibly wealthy, suffered from an illness at 13 years old and lost his hearing. As such, he has become a bit of a recluse, keeping to his grand house and grounds in New York, while working on inventing a small hearing aid that the deaf and hard of hearing can wear. Our heroine, Lady Christina Barclay, is from a family which is ostensibly a part of the British aristocracy, but her parents have squandered their money and reputation in England. So, they’ve absconded to New York in order for Christina to capture a rich husband who would also be thrilled to be connected to a titled Brit and/or have a young wife. Problem is, Christina has been emotionally and mentally beaten down by her mother, is basically a pawn, and has become quite withdrawn, nervous, and terrified of interacting in society. Nonetheless, Christina’s parents have pushed her to accept the marriage offer of a much, much older wealthy New Yorker who has out-lived a few wives and is interested in siring more children and basically sees Christina as a brood mare.

      To escape her parents, Christina has taken to breaking into the garden of the next door neighbor, who just happens to be the wealthy recluse, Oliver Hawkes. When Oliver discovers Christina, he is eager to get her out of his gardens and his life, while Christina begs for sanctuary. Before long, Christina’s parents discover where she’s been spending time and demands they marry — especially since they hope to attain some of the wealth of the deaf recluse. They’re not the only ones after Oliver’s money. A cousin has also been demanding a part of Oliver’s fortune and will stop at nothing — even getting Oliver declared mentally deficient — to assert his claims.

      After learning what Christina has been facing, Oliver reluctantly agrees to help her, but on his own terms which will make their marriage one in name only, but will that bargain last? Can Christina’s parents be bought off? Will Oliver’s cousin give up his quest? And will Christina and Oliver help each other to face the world as a couple.

      I am a huge fan of Gilded Age historicals and this is a very interesting premise, not only including someone with a disability, but highlighting how deaf people were treated and what inventions were being developed during that period. So, I was really much more interested in Oliver’s part of the story. Christina’s, on the other hand, was more old school romance — a titled young lady “being sold” by her family. Plus, Christina’s deeply introverted personality made me a bit impatient. I kept hoping she would gain more of a backbone, but — although she has to step up to help Oliver in the end — she still seems to be so reticent and leaves much of the work to Oliver’s attorney and friend, Frank. She frustrated me because she never seemed to really take full control of her life. For that reason, I’d give this a B or B-.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 1 down, 18 (or maybe 9) to go (S …)


    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The Hurt Locker (2009) — Read a romance in which one or both lead characters are in the military or are veterans; or, read a romance set during a war.
      Edge of Survival by Toni Anderson — hero is former SAS:
      The helicopter pilot hero was cruel to the biologist heroine on multiple occasions to drive her away. However, she was aware of his motivation and determined that they would become friends. The murder mystery was bland as the main villain was obvious. The minor villain had far too many POV scenes and then never got a comeuppance which was extremely vexing. I wish the subplot about the lead RCMP detective had been more deeply explored. Despite issues with the way the romance’s black moment and the resolution of the suspense plot played out, I liked the h/h as a couple. I just wish I could’ve liked the book as a whole more than I did.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      N for name — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero’s first or last name begins with the letter S (the 19th letter of the alphabet).
      Playing for Keeps by Jill Shalvis – heroine’s name is Sadie:
      The h/h each had baggage from their pasts. They both tended to overreact and jump to conclusions, but also knew this was something they needed to work on. I loved the hero’s sisters and the way he interacted with his family. The heroine’s family also played a significant role. The conflicts were all internal, so their repeated misunderstandings seemed forced after a while. But overall a nice blend of humor and angst with very likeable leads and a fun dog. Another solid entry in this series.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter M

      For letter “M,” I read Courtney Milan’s Trade Me, published in 2015.

      This story started off with a pretty unrealistic premise. In Trade Me, Tina Chen and Blake Reynolds are two 20-somethings attending college in northern California. Tina is a working class Chinese American, who is also pre-med. Blake Reynolds is the only child of an extremely wealthy CEO of a high tech company who is on hiatus from the company in order to finish his studies. Blake’s father, however, is not terribly interested in seeing his son complete his degree. He, himself, was a drop out and became a billionaire by founding a tech company and developing extremely popular tech products, and he’d like his son to return to the fold and — sooner rather than later — take over as CEO of Cyclone. Tina also has parental problems, but of a different sort. Tina’s parents struggle from paycheck to paycheck, but instead of being careful with money, Tina’s mother often uses her last dollar to help new immigrants and others with their legal problems. If not for Tina earning money between classes and pinching her own pennies, her family’s bills would pile up.

      With those enormously different backgrounds, Tina and Blake get into a debate in class over poverty programs and their effects on the poor which turns into a heated argument. Afterwards, they continue their discussion and Blake makes Tina a proposition. They will switch places for a few weeks. He’ll live in her apt., do her job, live on her income, while Tina and her roommate can move into Blake’s expensive home, use his car, and even have access to a new product being developed by Cyclone so that she can help to develop a launch presentation for the product.

      That’s the part which is a bit unbelievable and it stretches the imagination a bit that they could get away with it, except Tina and Blake pretend to be a couple in order for Blake’s father to accept Tina’s knowledge about their company’s new product and for Tina’s parents not to question her new found access to such things as a $60,000 Tesla. After this initial switch, things get interesting as Tina and Blake begin to understand each other’s problems more and get emotionally and physically closer. Towards the end of the story, the whole thing takes quite a serious and dramatic turn when Blake and Tina reveal their vulnerabilities and, subsequently, face a life threatening incident involving Blake’s father as well as a threat to Tina’s reputation and hopes for the future. For me, while the beginning of this story was a little out there, the ending made up for it. I give the story a “B”.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 2 down, 17 to go (M, S …)

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) — Read a romance in which at least one of the main characters is a member of the nobility; read a fantasy romance; or read a romance which is part of a series of any romantic sub-genre.
      Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy — fantasy, h/h both members of the nobility:
      The long-awaited penultimate book in this series had a slow start, but soon picked up. The h/h continued their journey along with her dragon familiar and his stalwart warhorse. Of course things did not go according to their plans. The heroine had to face her greatest fear. The normally optimistic hero briefly lost faith in himself. I appreciated that the h/h talked through their issues for the most part so there were no convenient misunderstandings simply to cause conflict. While the political machinations of others ultimately drove the plot, it was in the background for much of the story. The focus was more on the h/h each coming to terms with themselves. The hero’s mother was a welcomed addition to the ensemble. The latter half of the story had some interesting twists and the ending definitely left me wanting more. Looking forward to the final book.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      I for ignite — Read a “hot” or erotic romance. Or read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is a fireman.
      Flare Up by Shannon Stacey — hero is a fireman:
      We first met this h/h earlier in this series. Their initial romance and breakup was a subplot in books four and five, so it was nice they finally had their own story. The heroine’s reasons for leaving were understandable as was the hero’s initial reluctance to trust her again. Yet their feelings for one another were an undeniable force neither could ignore, so they were determined to give their relationship another try. Their road to learning to trust again and communicate more effectively was filled with angst, joy, and humor. The story also focused on their friendships, so catching up with the large cast of characters from earlier books was well-integrated. I appreciated the way the subplot about her ex was resolved (trying to avoid spoilers). Overall, a wonderful reunion romance and fitting conclusion to the Boston Fire series.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The Departed (2006) — Read a romance in which a main character has gone undercover or has taken on an identity not their own; a romance involving characters who are FBI agents; a romance set in New England; Or, inspired by the title of the movie, read a romance involving a loved one dying or in which one of the main characters leaves their home to live elsewhere.
      Dream Images by Amalia James — set in Vermont:
      The heroine was working on her master’s degree. She was in town to film a children’s documentary about maple sugaring. The hero owned an outdoors company and had had several photography books published. The hero started off as patronizing, but the heroine refused to put up with his condescending attitude. The info-dumping about maple sugaring was cleverly used as snarky dialogue between the h/h which they acknowledged was unnecessary research since they both already knew about it. The reformed workaholic hero’s overly-controlling behavior toward the end, even when his heart was in the right place, may have seemed normal when the book published in 1983, but in this day and age came off as a huge red flag. Despite this issue and a few other quibbles, overall I liked the book due to the heroine.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      L for law — Read a romance in which the heroine and/or hero is involved with the law, e.g. lawyer, judge, police, politician, etc.
      Do-or-Die Bridesmaid by Julie Miller – hero is a police detective:
      The hero’s ex-fiancée had started seeing his bff after she’d dumped him. Despite knowing it wasn’t true, he felt they’d both betrayed him so was reluctant to attend their wedding. The h/h left the wedding and discovered her bff’s body. There was some unnecessary confusion with the timeline which could’ve easily been cleared up with a line or two or dialogue. It was irksome that the heroine acted foolishly simply to forward the plot. Despite viable suspects her harasser was obvious from the start so the mystery fell flat. The heroine was the hero’s ex’s younger sister. She’d always had a crush on him. The romance felt super rushed. Mostly I was left with the feeling they all would have benefited from counseling. A very disappointing read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 6 down, 13 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “D”

      For letter “D,” I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, published in 1951, which is a bit of a cheat since this is not a romance, but a mystery. One of the best, in fact. However, nothing in this particular instruction says it must be a romance and this book has been in my TBR pile for quite some time….

      In any event, The Daughter of Time is a fairly short book of 185 pages, but it’s dense in information about British royal history, dating back to Richard II.
       
      I’m not familiar with Tey’s other work, so I was unaware that the protagonist of this mystery, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, is the lead in a series of detective novels written by this author. I came to the book strictly by virtue of its focus, i.e., an investigation into whether Richard III really did order the killing of his two princely nephews residing in the Tower of London, as well as the disposal of other family members.
       
      The conceit of this story is pretty clever. Inspector Grant, who is laid up in a rehabilitation hospital due to a serious fall that has left him with a broken leg, has nothing to occupy his active mind. His friends and co-workers visit him, leaving behind flowers, books, and puzzles, but he’s still restless. Finally, Grant’s actress friend Marta figures out what might engage him and brings along a stack of prints of various historical figures, most of whom were the center of mysteries or conspiracies in the past. She recalls Grant’s interest in reading people, discovering whether he can look at their faces and tell what their characters and personalities might be. Through this exercise, Grant comes across a portrait of the notorious King Richard III. Initially unaware of who he is, Grant surmises that this man might be an academic, a scholar, or a judge. He’s astounded to find out the fellow is Richard III, and he toys with the notion that maybe “historians” have gotten it wrong about him, intentionally or not.
       
      When Marta sees Grant’s interest in revisiting the history of Richard, she asks a young American man, who has been dating a fellow actress, to stop in and see Grant. Brent Carradine, when not hanging around the theater waiting on his lady love, has been doing historic research at the British Museum. Once Brent visits Grant, he is delighted to help him, and soon enough, they work together to ferret out letters, diaries, and documents, contemporary to Richard’s time, to try and discover the real man, rather than relying on historical accounts written decades later by third parties with axes to grind or personages to protect.
       
      Through this fascinating exercise, Tey paints a compelling account of the relationships between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. And, most importantly, focuses on familial relationships,  revealing the true nature of Richard III and his usurper Henry VII. Frankly, afterwards, you will never look at historical accounts the same way again. This was an entertaining “A+” read for me. The only downside was the fact that there were so many “Henrys,” “Edwards,” and “Richards” in the family, that there were times one needed to re-read paragraphs and review the royal family tree over and over. (Fortunately, one was included in the book.) But in the end, you might find yourself doing some independent research of your own, as you find yourself questioning all of your assumptions about the infamous Richard.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 3 down, 16 to go (D, M, S …)

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      E for enduring — Read a romance which features a couple who have been together for a long time and/or already married.
      Connections in Death by JD Robb – h/h are married:
      The latest in this long-running series had a different structure and pacing than usual. The book started with a party where we had the chance to catch up with most of the series’ regulars. We were also treated to a small glimpse of Roarke’s work day. After this meandering start, the story kicked into gear with the discovery of an apparent overdose. While the case overall was average and more of a procedural ‘how do they prove it’ rather than a mystery whodunit, I enjoyed the book for all of the personal interactions. I loved seeing more of particular favorites Nadine and Caro. It was also nice to get more of Crack and the introduction of his lady love. Another solid entry in the series.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      P = Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik:
      The heroine was an on-the-run princess. The hero was a fugitive with a large bounty on his head. They met when each were taken prisoner. Set in the far distant future, the story was a good balance of romance, action, political intrigue, and the bonds of family—both the kind you’re born into and the type you create for yourself. The fact the story was told solely from the heroine’s POV meant there were some events that happened off page which I would have liked to have known more about. The main romance was slow to develop due to trust issues. I loved that the h/h took turns rescuing each other. They each overreacted at times, but owned their mistakes and made the effort to share and communicate more effectively. The story also included a lovely secondary romance I wish had had more page time. We were introduced to the h/h of the next book, but the sequel-bait was well-integrated into the plot. Overall an absorbing and delightful read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 7 down, 12 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The Shape of Water (2017) — Read a romance that’s set either on the water, like on a ship, or near the water, like in a beach town; a romance set in the 1950’s; or a romance featuring a relationship between main characters of different species
      Soul of Smoke by Caitlyn McFarland — heroine is human, hero is a dragon shifter:
      We were immediately introduced to a large group of characters and it took me a few chapters to keep everyone straight. The heroine unintentionally met a group of dragon shifters and ended up saving the hero’s life. Since the dragons were at war, they took her with them into hiding to save her life. The hero believed human women were untrustworthy due to spoilerish reasons. Neither the h/h were happy to discover they were fated mates. There was some effort to explore this, but the characters tended to talk in circles. I appreciated that not all of the good guy characters started off as likeable. The author had several of the characters act foolishly simply to further the plot which was irksome. The death of one of the secondary characters was telegraphed very early on. Nonetheless it felt emotionally manipulative and, as evidenced by a conversation between characters late in the story, proved unnecessary for the plot so I was left more angry than sad. On the plus side, I did like the main h/h overall, the secondary h/h, and most of the other characters plus there was a lot of humor. This book basically served as set up for the overarching story and little was resolved. So an uneven read, but still an intriguing start to the trilogy.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      I for interconnected — Read a romance that is part of a series.
      Shadow of Flame by Caitlyn McFarland– book two in Dragonsworn trilogy:
      The characters never dealt with the repercussions of the manipulative death of the character from book one. Divided loyalties took center stage as the main h/h attempted to navigate the political machinations of many secondary characters and his enemies came out of the proverbial woodwork. It was extremely frustrating neither the main hero nor heroine made an effort to talk to the other simply because their lack of communication provided conflict. The main heroine continued to be too passive which added to the frustration. Thankfully she eventually decided to be proactive. A lot of page time was spent setting up a tertiary romance which I didn’t care about. There was also a lot of page time from various villains’ POVs. The secondary romance took an unsurprising twist that was hinted at in book one, but I had hoped to be wrong about. The spy was obvious and it was disconcerting that the main characters never suspected the correct individual. A subplot involving the hero’s sisters did have a few surprises. So despite the frustrating first half and issues with some of the subplots, overall I enjoyed this book for the stronger second half. Also, I was happy that I had book 3 to start right away since this book ended on a cliffhanger.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      M = Truth of Embers by Caitlyn McFarland:
      I appreciated that the main h/h were finally on the same page and worked as a team. The secondary couple was my favorite of the trilogy, so I was happy that events from the second book didn’t derail their romance. I wish they’d had more page time together in this book. There was another major character murder, but at least this time it could be considered integral to the plot. I liked the heroine in the angsty tertiary romance but remained meh on the hero. His ‘lying for your own good’ attitude and casual hurtfulness were annoying. Thankfully he eventually cleaned up his act. The issue of the heroine’s human family was finally addressed somewhat. One of the secondary characters from the first book remained too much in the background, but at least had a few good scenes to give some closure to her story arc. The author’s attempts to redeem one of the villains simply did not work for me in the slightest and it was wearisome to again spend so much time in his POV. Other villains weren’t redeemed at all but also didn’t face any actual consequences for their evil deeds (including the aforementioned murder) which was unsatisfactory. There were some interesting plot twists throughout. The overarching war plot was resolved, but several subplots were left open-ended. Despite these issues, this was my favorite of the trilogy.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 8 down, 11 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “G”

      For letter “G,” I read a book that was offered to me as an advance readers’ edition. Tracey Garvis Graves’ The Girl He Used to Know will be released in April 2019.

      Graves’ story alternates between two time lines and two different points of view within those time lines. In 1991, Annika Rose is attending the University of Illinois, studying library science. What makes Annika different is that she suffers from a developmental disability that challenges her social skills, her personal behavior, and sometimes has her retreating into herself. With the help of her parents and a sympathetic roommate, Annika has been managing her college life and trying to fit in. Additionally, she volunteers at a wildlife rehab center and participates in a chess club, although she plays with the same opponent every week and never socializes with any of the members. Entering Annika’s world is Jonathan Hoffman who is a transfer student, studying finance. He also plays chess. Annika’s usual partner asks her to play with Jonathan, despite the fact that she has no interest. However, Jonathan is attracted to the very pretty chess player and so begins their relationship. Before long, Jonathan invites Annika to join him in other social situations and they grow closer, eventually becoming intimate and planning a life together beyond college.

      In 2001, Annika is a librarian at a public library in Chicago. She surprisingly runs into Jonathan at a local grocery store. Jonathan has recently moved back to Illinois from New York City where he has been working in finance and has recently divorced. Apparently, their plans as a couple, during their college years, did not come to fruition and they tentatively reconnect. Jonathan is especially cautious as he feels burned from the past — both in terms of his first love, Annika, and his ex-wife, Liz. As Jonathan gets to know this newer Annika who has become more capable and Annika gets to explain herself and her decisions to Jonathan, they — again — get closer. Will it end differently for them a decade later?

      First off, I enjoyed this book and, in fact, what I wanted was more. I wanted more about Annika’s disability. The reader only learns later in the book what Annika’s diagnosis is and that her father also suffers from the same condition. She mentions that her disability could be hereditary. I didn’t know that was possible. So, I was ready to be educated. The second thing I wanted more of was … the ending, possibly an epilogue. If the reader focuses on the second time frame, the fact that Jonathan becomes a financier from New York City, you might guess what happens and what challenges the couple’s happiness. So, yeah, I wasn’t sure how that would work out and I could’ve used a little more story…. That being said, this is a good romance. I’d give it an A-.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 4 down, 15 to go (D, G, M, S …)

    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “H”

      For letter “H,” I read a novella that was chosen by my book group, Talia Hibbert’s Mating the Huntress, published in 2018.

      Mating the Huntress is a 136 page paranormal that has hints of the The Little Red Riding Hood/Big Bad Wolf story line. Chastity, aka Chas, works in her family’s diner, but that’s not all her family does. They are also a family of huntresses. Although it’s unclear whether her father and brothers are involved in this extracurricular activity – ergo huntresses — Chas’ mother and sisters are all fearless hunters of beings that turn into werewolves during the phase of the full moon, slaughtering innocents. At her birth, Chas’ family was warned by an Oracle that her heart would be torn out by her first kill. As such, to Chas’ dismay and frustration, her family has forbidden her from pursuing her own calling as a huntress. One day, a handsome, strangely quiet, and brooding man enters the diner. He comes back time and time again, watching Chas closely. Despite herself, Chas finds herself anticipating the man’s visits, attracted by his presence, but there’s something about him that seems unnatural and she begins to suspect he’s a werewolf.

      Luke has been living a solitary life in a cottage in the woods, not far from Chas’ family’s diner. During a full moon, he finds himself being pursued by one of Chas’ sisters. Oddly, he is drawn to her, and although he manages to catch her, he is confused by his feelings. This is not the right person, but she’s wearing a garment on which his senses have picked up the scent of someone special … his fated mate. Tearing a piece off and letting the woman go, he tracks down the rightful owner of the garment at a diner in a town nearby. Somehow, he’s going to have to convince this human woman – who comes from a family of huntresses – that they are mates for life.

      I don’t often read paranormal romances, nor am I too fond of novellas. I usually feel that the length of a novella is not adequate for a good story. But, in this case, Hibbert does a very good job of offering a satisfying story in a shorter amount of pages. I also enjoyed how humorous the book was, not taking itself too seriously nor being overly gruesome. It had a fairytale quality about it that kept it light, despite the horror elements. That all being said, I really wish Hibbert had done a full length novel or maybe a series. I would’ve enjoyed having Luke and Chas’ families react to their relationship and I would’ve enjoyed learning more about this world. How did Luke come to be able to tame his beastly side in comparison to other werewolves? Is *his* family special in that way? How did Chastity’s family come to be huntresses? What other types of beings inhabit this world? So many questions. Clearly, I liked this enough to have craved a bit more. I’ll give this story a “B”.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 5 down, 14 to go (D, G, H, M, S …)

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      N = Archangel’s Prophecy by Nalini Singh:
      I read this entire series for the first time over the past two weeks (Though full disclosure I had previously read book 8 when it released in 2015 as well as some of the author’s newsletter short stories.) The main h/h’s romance was already well established in the first two books and remained steadfast here. The mystery of who attempted to kill the heroine’s brother-in-law was more interesting for the “why” than for the “who.” The main plot centered on the heroine’s health regression from immortal back to mortal. We were left with plenty of questions, but I don’t think the ending actually qualified as a cliffhanger (nevertheless I am anxiously awaiting the next book). More angsty than usual, but overall an absorbing read.

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      From Here to Eternity (1953) — Read a romance that’s set in Hawaii
      Fierce Justice by Piper J Drake:
      The hero had a lackadaisical attitude about his job, but had quit the security firm he’d worked for when we met him in the previous book due to their decision to turn a blind eye to the human trafficking perpetrated by one of their top clients. The heroine was a sniper who worked at a different security firm which normally specialized in search and rescue. Though they agreed to have a one-night stand, they each then wanted to take the time to get to know one another. Their romance was complicated by the fact neither was good at communicating when it came to their personal lives. I liked the hero, but it was the heroine who made the book for me. She was brilliant at her job, prickly, smart, and caring, yet saw herself as too violent and brusque. Her dog was one of my favorites from this series. The fact a conversation toward the end very quickly snowballed into a break-up as they each shut down and pushed each other away could have seemed contrived, but it was so in keeping with both of their characters that it worked. Though the HEA was solid, the ending felt rushed. Part of me wishes there’d been an epilogue, so I am hopeful we’ll see the h/h again in the next book of the series. The suspense plot was basically a continuation of the previous book. But despite my quibbles with that fact and the rushed ending, overall a very enjoyable read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 8 down, 11 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 6 down, 13 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      H for health — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is involved with the health services industry, e.g. doctor, nurse, paramedic, physical therapist, etc.
      Heart on a String by Carla Neggers – hero is a heart surgeon:
      The heroine’s father and sister had asked the hero to look in on her when he went to Boston to give a keynote speech. She had dropped out of medical school to become a puppeteer so was considered kooky by her über-successful family. The h/h were immediately attracted, but she felt he would eventually see her as inappropriate and/or all of his time would be dedicated to his career as her father’s had been. The hero did not have any POV scenes and his behavior was kept deliberately opaque so most of the issues were the heroine’s. Since he rarely reacted the way she assumed he would, most of the issues then seemed to be only in her head. I enjoyed the heroine’s relationships with her parents and siblings and her growing understanding that they were truly proud of her and didn’t begrudge her change of career the way she’d believed. The romance was engaging with plenty of humor, but the lack of communication solely to cause conflict made this a middle-of-the-road read overall.

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      Grand Hotel (1932) — Read a romance that’s set at a hotel or a romance where the characters are strangers who meet in a group
      In the Dark by Judith Arnold — set at a fictional hotel:
      I purchased the multi-author Hotel Marchand series for the 12-in-2012 Midnight Challenge but it’s remained buried in my TBR pile. In this first book, the hero had been hired to protect the heroine, unbeknownst to her. A lot of page time was taken up introducing future lead characters as well as setting up the on-going mystery. The heroine thought the emails she was receiving were a joke and refused to tell anyone or ask for help. The hero often lectured himself about how unethical it was to become involved with her, but did anyway and so needed to grovel more. I liked the h/h when they weren’t acting daft just to move the plot along, but overall I wanted to like the book more than I did. A disappointing read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 9 down, 10 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 7 down, 12 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      It Happened One Night (1934) — Read a romance featuring an heiress
      The Setup by Marie Ferrarella – heroine is an heiress:
      This book took place concurrently with the first book. The hero’s sixteen-year-old daughter fixed him up on a blind date using a dating service. She knew her father didn’t present well “on paper” so fudged his details a bit. The heroine’s sisters signed her up for the dating service. She was a free-spirited artist currently managing her family hotel’s art gallery. She had a three-year-old daughter. The heroine referring to an odious actor as her “ideal” kept throwing me out of the story. We were given confirmation the suspect from the first book was a bad guy. Sadly, he was a whiny brat who knew he was in the wrong but wanted revenge for his loser father. I had zero sympathy for him since some of his so-called pranks could have seriously injured people. That subplot was left dangling and there was entirely too much page time from his POV. The romance was super rushed, but this was addressed on page so the HEA was believable. It helped that the h/h were both older (he was 47, she was 35). The mystery was underdeveloped and the resolution was beyond anti-climactic and totally ridiculous. A last minute subplot was introduced then resolved too quickly resulting in some unnecessary, over the top drama. I rolled my eyes a lot. But the romance had such a sense of fun it made for an enjoyable read despite the plot issues.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      L = The Unknown Woman by Laurie Paige:
      This book also took place concurrently with the first two books in the series. The hero found a dead body in his hotel room during a blackout. The heroine had met the dead woman earlier that day and felt a connection to her. So when no one claimed the body, they arranged for her cremation and to scatter her ashes. Some of the research was well-integrated into the story, but most of the voodoo facts and “what to see and do while in New Orleans” came off as pure info dumping. The heroine was a dental hygienist, the hero a wine critic. They each wanted more than a vacation fling but didn’t want to be presumptuous. I liked the heroine. The hero wasn’t a bad guy but he too often made decisions and did things to “spare” the heroine only telling her after the fact. The deceased woman was the most intriguing character and I wanted more for her. An uneven read overall.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 6 down, 12 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 9 down, 10 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 8 down, 11 to go…
      • library addict
        Participant
        Post count: 221

        Oops, the count for the Alphabet Challenge Variation should be 6 down, 13 to go… (not 12).

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The Artist (2011) — Read a romance in which one or both of the main characters is in the film industry; a romance in which one or both is involved in the art world in some way; or, since one of the movie’s characters is French, a romance set in France or with one or more French lead characters.
      Damage Control by Kristi Gold — hero is a director:
      Prior to the start of the book, the hero dumped the heroine and quit the movie they’d been developing. Even though he’d been in breach of contract this had no negative repercussions on him professionally, whereas it destroyed her career as a producer. Of course, he hadn’t bothered to wonder what happened when his lawyers used her as a scapegoat or attempted to contact her for three years. She deserved more than a cursory verbal apology. His reasons for not being honest about why he’d left were flimsy. He needed to grovel and actually talk to the heroine about his regrets rather than simply lamenting his actions in his internal monologues. He eventually did somewhat but not nearly enough. He told himself he’d do whatever was necessary to make things up to her, then turned around and unfairly blamed her more than once. The reader knew he regretted his actions both then and now, but it wasn’t made as clear to the heroine so it felt she forgave him too easily. The whiny bad guy continued to have too many POV scenes. The hero’s nephew conveniently went on play dates or sleepovers whenever the hero needed to spend time alone with the heroine. The subplot with his sister wasn’t as developed as it could have been, but at least there was on-page resolution. I liked the heroine and rooted for her HEA with the hero. I just wish the author hadn’t had the hero run hot and cold solely to provide conflict. Another uneven read I wanted to like more.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 6 down, 13 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 9 down, 10 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 9 down, 10 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “A”

      For the letter “A,” I decided to read my first Jennifer Armentrout novel. The book is called “Wait for You,” published in 2013, and she’s writing under the name J. Lynn.

      19 year old Avery Morgansten, who is from a wealthy Texas family, decides to travel to West Virginia to attend college. Her decision to go so far out of state is driven by an incident that happened when she was 14. Sexually assaulted by the son of her parents’ friends, Avery is pressured to not press charges, to take a pay-off, and sign a non-disclosure agreement. But the incident was known in the community and Avery suffers censure and derision. At the college in West Virginia, Avery keeps to herself. However, in her Astronomy class she literally runs into a young man who looks like just the kind of guy Avery has vowed to sidestep. Cameron Hamilton is popular, handsome, and looks like a jock. Cameron is attracted to Avery, wants to get to know her, and tries his best to draw her out. But doing so is a long, difficult process and Cameron has his own past demons to overcome, which might frighten Avery away.

      What I liked about this story is that this is a romance that was well-earned. This couple really struggled to be and remain together (on Cameron’s part) and to trust (on Avery’s part). There were a number of set backs and, at times, I became impatient with Avery. She obviously had a lot to overcome and was still being tortured by her past, sometimes literally, but through her distrust and fear, she pushed people beyond what one might think they could endure and put up with her. For that reason I gave this story a “B+”. However, I believed in their romance and could see them making it together.

      ******



      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 6 down, 13 to go (A, D, G, H, M, S …)

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      Chicago (2002) — Since Chicago is a musical, read a romance set in the music industry and/or characters who are musicians; a romance set in the U.S. mid-west; a romance set in the 1920’s; or, a romance in which one or both of the lead characters are involved in or come from a “shady” background, whether grifters, skirting the law, crime families, or confidence men/women.
      Bourbon Street Blues by Maureen Child — heroine is a singer:
      The h/h originally met when she sang at his wedding ten years prior to the start of the story. She’d never told him about walking in on his bride-to-be having sex with someone not-the-groom before the ceremony. They met again when he saw her singing in a hotel bar. His soon-to-be-ex-wife was a one-dimensional caricature. They’d married as a business arrangement, but the clichéd “my ex is evil so all women are bad” subplot did not reflect well on the hero. I wish we’d met the hero’s sister on page as she was the most intriguing character in the book. I had many issues with the plot, including the hero’s awful behavior at multiple points and the heroine’s decision toward the end (probably too spoilery, but oh well!). So dissatisfying. I wanted my time back.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      E for extrasensory — Read a paranormal romance.
      Toxic Game by Christine Feehan:
      The hero was infected with a virus during a rescue mission. He stayed behind in an effort to kill as many of the small-time villains who were holding another village hostage as possible. During one excursion he was shot and rescued by the heroine, who was then exposed to the virus. The story started strong, but then went from point A to point B to point C with no surprises. The very late introduction of a new set of wanna-be big bad guys felt shoe-horned in and lacked any sense of danger. Of course the original villain from book one was also still in play, but his subplot will obviously never end. There were a lot of repetitive phrases and internal monologues. The ending dragged. So despite some positives, overall another disappointing read in this long-running series.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 6 down, 13 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “E”

      My book group decided to read Rachel Spangler’s Edge of Glory, published in 2017. So, I decided that I would use it for my letter “E” in this challenge.

      Edge of Glory is very much a sports romance. The two lead characters, as well as most of their friends and associates are either Olympic athletes, trainers, or managers. Twenty-five year old Elise Brandeis is a world class skier who is expected to medal, if not win the gold, at the Sochi Olympics. However, due to a terrible accident that injures her leg, she misses the podium and ends up in the hospital, possibly out of competitive skiing forever. Other than her trainer, Paolo, everyone abandons Elise. But, considering she’s been a loner, who has held herself apart and worked alone diligently, she’s not fazed by the abandonment, as much as by the thought that no one expects her to return, nor win a race again. Even her wealthy parents, who were there for her financially, if not emotionally, have basically given up on her. However, through hard work and with the approval of medical authorities, Elise and Paolo are given the go ahead to begin training again at an Olympic facility in New York state. There Elise meets a fellow athlete and team very unlike her own. Corey LaCroix is a Olympic medalist and world champion snowboard cross racer. Corey’s event had been fairly new to the Olympics, so the beginning of her career was spent at events like the X-games. Like her sport, Corey is wild, uninhibited, and edgy. She’s been known to party hard as much as she is known for winning. However, at the age of thirty, Corey is beginning to feel the youngsters in her sport breathing down her neck, and she’s also been feeling the need to party less and be more selective with whom she spends her time. Still, Corey, her manager/sister, Holly and her trainer, Nate, engage much more with their fellow athletes. And, in fact, when Elise arrives at the training facility, Corey senses an immediate attraction and vows to get to know “the ice queen”. As they each try to prepare for races that will decide whether they make the next U.S. Olympic team, they tentatively get to know one another, their training techniques, and most importantly begin to build a friendship which promises more. But, can Elise trust herself to a “wild child” who has been known to love and leave them? Can Corey convince Elise that she’s changed her ways and to give her a chance? How will their individual competitive drives and goals affect their relationship, especially as they reach separate milestones in their lives?

      The author of this book must have done a tremendous amount of research in training and competing in these two winter sports. A huge part of the story is how these two athletes train, prepare themselves, and compete. Even though Elise and Corey’s romance is a important part of the plot, it often takes a back seat to the separate issues facing them as athletes, as well as their relationships with their trainers, family, and friends. An interesting subplot involves a young 17 year old snowboarder who is challenging Corey’s reign, but who also hero worships her. Corey eventually takes Nikki under her wing and she, too, becomes a part of their posse, and a friend to Corey and Elise. The romance, itself, is rather low key through two-thirds of the book but heats up towards the end, when events begin to snowball – pardon the pun. To be honest, I had mix feelings about this story. I so appreciated all the research and time that went into the building of this world, but it is slow going in the beginning. When the relationships are highlighted – both the competitive ones, the friendships, and the romance – the story does take off, literally! (I especially enjoyed the Nikki character.) And, I also appreciated seeing how both characters work through the next steps in their careers, the conflicts that causes between them, and the romantic resolution. I’d give this story a B.

      ******



      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 7 down, 12 to go (A, D, E, G, H, M, S …)

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      I haven’t completed The Alphabet Challenge Variation quite yet, but I have enough books I plan to read this year to do two rounds and I’ve already read my first “A” and “L” entries, so…

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      A = Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet:
      This book alternated POV, but I found it extremely odd that the heroine’s scenes were written in first person while the hero’s scenes were written in third. This made for some jarring transitions. The rebel heroine and her small crew were forced to wait on a planet for their ship to be repaired. The hero was the person she’d hired to do the repairs. Since the reader was aware of the hero’s secret from the start, it was obvious the heroine would discover it at an inopportune time to cause the most conflict. The author did a good job of making each of them sympathetic and yet still have valid reasons for their actions and lack of trust. The last few chapters seemed to be setting up events for book two so the plot felt like it lost focus somewhat. I was bummed that we won’t get to know one of the secondary characters better. The main villain was an evil mustache twirler, but the secondary villain was a more nuanced character. I’m curious how his story arc will play out. Also hoping the secondary romance hinted at will happen. A few plot quibbles, but overall an entertaining action-adventure story with an engaging romance. I’m looking forward to book two of the trilogy next year.

      L = Some Like it Hot by Lori Wilde: We were meant to find the opening scene funny, but their unprofessionalism made me question both the h/h’s competence. The series’ bad guy continued to sabotage things, but at least there were no POV scenes so we weren’t subjected to his whining. I had sympathy for the heroine in her belief she never quite fit in with her family, but she was overly judgmental and continually jumped to conclusions. The h/h were both exasperating for much of the book. The hero at least improved his attitude. Their romance felt routine. The book got better at the end, but overall a frustrating read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 6 down, 13 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      J = Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe Kennedy:
      The final book in the series picked up where we left off. Having reclaimed his throne, the hero made plans to finally marry his wife according to the customs of his kingdom (they’d already married according to her kingdom’s rituals in book two). Their respite didn’t last long as the threat of war still loomed over both kingdoms. The h/h continued to work as a team along with her dragon familiar. I wanted more of the hero’s stalwart warhorse, but at least he made an appearance. All of the major plot threads were addressed but a few small questions remained. On the one hand the final battle felt rushed, but on the other it was perfectly apropos. I loved seeing the heroine embrace her hard-won command over her abilities and the hero continue to demonstrate why he was a good leader. A delightful read filled with humor and the bonds of family.

      S = Kierce by Veronica Scott: The ex-military heroine had been kidnapped from a ship where she was an engineer and imprisoned in an alien lab. The hero had been subjected to more horrible experimentation and forced to shift forms. The main bad guy was the usual proverbial mustache-twirling evil scientist. The conflict changed once they’d been rescued from the lab, but the middle section of the book dragged. The hero’s woe-is-me attitude was somewhat understandable, but his rampant jealously quickly grew wearisome. I appreciated that the heroine refused to put up with it or his misguided attempt to ignore his shifting ability. It was nice to have some POV scenes from the hero of book one. It was also nice to see some of the other previous characters, either in supporting roles or quick cameos. There were parts I enjoyed, but overall an uneven read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 8 down, 11 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 1 down, 18 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “I”

      For this letter, I decided to read Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us, published in 2016, and I have to say, being a new author to me, where have you been all my life, Ms. Hoover?

      This story moves between two time lines. Twenty something Lily Bloom has just experienced a personal loss. Her father has died and she had to give the eulogy. The problem is, Lily both loved and hated her father. Although he treated her well, Lily’s father’s abuse towards her mother colored her young life affecting her adulthood. Another thing that affected her adulthood was a young man she came to know during her teen years in Maine. He was a few years older and had been kicked out of his home. Lily discovers that Atlas Corrigan has been camping out in the abandoned house behind her home and attempts to help him. As a result, their young love grows, but is cut short by the fact that Lily’s father catches Atlas in his daughter’s bedroom *and* Atlas is offered a home by an uncle in Boston. With plans to ultimately join the Marines, Atlas goes off to Boston, leaving Maine and Lily behind.

      In the present timeframe, Lily has moved to Boston. She is both mourning her father and despising him. In the midst of this, she meets a young doctor-to-be, Ryle Kincaid. Ryle is from a whole different world of familial support and money. But, he’s been chased by demons and warns Lily that he’s not interested in a relationship. However, in no time, Ryle is falling utterly in love with Lily and vice versa. Lily has also decided to leave her job and open a florist shop. By chance, she hires Ryle’s wealthy sister to help her which throws her further into Ryle’s life. Before long Lily and Ryle decide to make things permanent between them and all seems to be perfect … except, Ryle has demons — serious demons — and the revelation that Lily’s teenage crush, Atlas, has left the Marines and is in Boston, growing his own business, exacerbates the relationship between Lily and Ryle.

      This story really kept me turning the pages. I was on the edge of my seat wondering how this might end, and I do mean that. Most romances make it pretty clear what the ending will be, but not how the characters will get there. This story leaves both issues open to question. What will Lily do and how will she get there. Bad things happen and one thinks they know what Lily should do, but then you begin to feel the pull of the other character’s torments and are not too sure. As the book reminds us repeatedly, there are no bad people, only bad decisions. What decisions will Lily, Ryle, and Atlas make — especially when their pasts, presents and futures collide. I’d give his book an “A” gladly. This is an excellent, heart wrenching story, and the title quote really made me tear up.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 8 down, 11 to go (A, D, E, G, H, I, M, S …)

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      C for critter — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero have a pet.
      Stone Bridges by Carla Neggers – hero has a dog:
      Most of the characters from the previous books put in an appearance and the others were mentioned (complete with a mini-synopsis of how they met). At times this was well-incorporated into the story—the heroine was given a cheat sheet!—but other times it was straight info-dumping. The h/h were both characters introduced earlier in the series. She had traveled extensively never staying in any one place for long. The h/h both assumed she would eventually leave town so they were reluctant to become involved despite their attraction. As a result, the romance was refreshingly slow to develop. There weren’t any major external conflicts, only subtle, internal ones. The heroine was a wine blogger-turned-innkeeper and loved to make lists. The hero was a former Marine who loved his work as a stonemason. I liked that they were both able to poke fun at themselves. After such a meandering pace the ending felt quite rushed, but the reasons for this were addressed as part of the plot. Overall a very charming addition to this long-running series.

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas
      The Queen’s Advantage by Jessie Mihalik:
      This was a weekly serial on the author’s website and will be available to purchase in digital soon. I normally wouldn’t have read it until completely done, but caved and started it after reading the first novella in this series in January. So I anxiously awaited each week’s installment. The heroine journeyed to the hero’s home planet to discover who was behind the attempts on his life. His character took more of a backseat this time around. Of course things didn’t quite go according to their plan. The political machinations of his advisors were front and center and they all made valid suspects. I loved the hero’s mother. While the story had a conclusion, there were numerous subplots left hanging so I’m looking forward to the next novella in the series.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 8 down, 11 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Starting the 2019 Phonics Challenge:

      N for new — Read a romance by a debut author or a romance by any author you haven’t read before. Or read a New Adult romance.

      A Summer for Scandal by Lydia San Andres, published in 2015, is an e-read story chosen by my book group. It looked interesting to me, as well, because of its unusual setting and diverse characters.

      San Andres’ story is set in 1911 in a fictional Caribbean island country. Emilia Cruz and her older sister Susana are trying to keep a roof over their heads in light of their poet father’s submersion into alcoholism after their mother died. Both women have jobs outside the home, but Emilia is not only a typist at a local company, she also secretly writes “salacious” stories about a courtesan that has been serialized in a local literary magazine. Although scandalous, the stories are extremely popular. Emilia, however, has been writing them under a pseudonym and quietly bristles at some of the criticism, especially by noted writer Ruben Torres. What Emilia does not know is that Ruben not only publicly questions the value of these stories, but, under his own pseudonym, he edits a competing journal and has published blistering reviews of Emilia’s work.

      As the story opens, Ruben has recently moved to Emilia’s town of Arroyo Blanco. He has left his home in the city behind in a dispute with his father and decides to take up residence in the small town of a school friend, Luis. However, Ruben is struggling financially and is having difficulty with his new book. So, he decides — in order to boost his fortunes — that he needs to land a coup for his magazine and find out who the mystery writer is. The problem is, he’s beginning to suspect Emilia, but he’s also beginning to fall in love with a woman he has vowed to expose.

      This is a gem of a story that has some unfortunate problems. First, I so appreciated the Caribbean setting and the focus on the local townspeople. In fact, I kind of liked the ensemble feel of the story as we get to know family, various friends, and foes. I felt the author did a good job of fleshing out some of these characters without diminishing the central story. We even spend a little time in the city from which Reuben hailed, with his family, exploring the issues that drove him away. However, some of the characters suffered from the relatively huge cast. It would’ve been nice to know more about both Emilia’s and Reuben’s fathers who are the driving forces for their children’s actions. Also, Reuben’s sister and his partner Manuel could’ve used a little more substance. So, on the one hand, I felt some characters were well drawn but others were sketchy. But, the biggest problem with the story were the numerous typographical errors that had to be the result of poor proofreading. At one point Reuben is even referred to as Roberto, so I’m guessing the author changed his name along the way. A couple of errors are okay, but when I began to lose count … that irritates me. I’d give this a “C”.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 8 down, 11 to go (A, D, E, G, H, I, M, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 1 down, 18 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      No Country for Old Men (2007) — Read a romance in which one or both of the lead characters is older than 40 (I know that’s not old); Read a romance set in the American west, whether an historical or contemporary.
      Love is Lovelier by Jean Brasher — heroine is 62, hero is 65:
      The heroine was the widowed mother of three of the previous books’ heroines. She and the hero had both rebelled against their mothers’ wish for them to marry decades before, each eventually marrying other people. Despite her daughters’ wishes, the heroine was ready to resume work after suffering a mild heart attack. The bad guy continued his campaign of sabotage while moping and complaining in his POV scenes. There were also POV scenes from two additional villains who came across as cartoonish. The hero was determined to help the heroine with her financial woes, but stupidly tried to keep it a secret from her. He contemplated how much he admired her business acumen one moment and wanted to wrap her in cotton wool the next. Rinse and repeat, which was extremely frustrating. Since one honest conversation would have cleared up most of the conflict he didn’t grovel nearly enough once the truth came out. Then the heroine ended up apologizing to him which was ridiculous. There were issues in the overarching suspense plot, but they can’t really be blamed on this particular book as it was more a result of the series’ structure. The heroine was supposedly a great businesswoman but we’re only told this not shown. I wish we’d seen more of her interacting with her four daughters on page, particularly her eldest. I also wish the hero’s daughter had been a more developed character. It’s a shame she wasn’t one of the later books’ heroines as I would have liked to read her story. An uneven read, but I enjoyed parts.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      I = Unmasked by Ingrid Weaver:
      The heroine was the eldest daughter of the heroine in the previous book. The ridiculous overarching suspense plot finally came to a conclusion. It had too many plot holes to take seriously and they got bigger in each of the previous books, particularly the financial aspects. While not all the fault of this particular author it nonetheless detracted from the story. We again had too many POV scenes from several of the villains, but at least most of them got their just desserts. The h/h had been high-school sweethearts, but differing life goals had driven them apart. I’ve liked the heroine since her appearance in the first book so was happy to finally read her story. The hero was extremely pushy. His behavior was obviously only for plot purposes, but it was still annoying. The resolution to the subplot about his injured hand was dubious. An uneven read, but the heroine made the book work. While I’m happy the overarching suspense plot concluded, with four books remaining in this series I’m wondering how they will connect. Overall I wanted to like this book more than I did,

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 9 down, 10 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Back to the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “L”

      For the letter L, I decided to read Tempting the Billionaire by Jessica Lemmon, published in 2013. I got this at the 2014 RT book conference, so I thought it was about time I read it.

      Crickett Day’s 10 year marriage has gone on the skids, her husband telling her he doesn’t love her anymore. As a result Crickett decides to make a complete break and leave her marriage as well as her direct marketing job, even though she had been moving up in the company. The combination of ending her marriage and her job leaves Crickett devastated. So, her friend, Sadie, who is also suffering from a break-up, convinces Crickett to go out to a club and meet new people. And, that’s exactly what happens. At the club, Crickett and Sadie meet Shane August and his cousin Aiden. Shane is the CEO of a company that advises and nurtures other businesses. Although extremely successful professionally, he is not so successful in his personal life, due to issues from his childhood which have stunted his ability to commit to a relationship. Shane finds himself attracted to this emotionally fragile woman. He zones in on her need for a new job and offers a position as his personal assistant. Crickett also finds Shane attractive, but she’s not sure she’s ready for a new job. Still, she decides to interview just for the practice and ends up getting hired. In no time whatsoever, Crickett proves herself valuable to Shane, but she also tempts him in ways that are not only inappropriate as her employer, but impossible considering his inability to commit. As for Crickett, she’s growing more and more personally interested in her “all business” boss as they exchange longing looks and, eventually, a lot more. Will Crickett be able to unearth Shane’s demons and convince him to commit?

      Tempting the Billionaire is a pretty standard boss/assistant romance. I’ve read a number of these over the years. But, I must admit that I was more sensitive than ever to how inappropriate Shane and Crickett’s growing relationship would be in the real world. I tried to push that away and focus on the characters’ motivations. While I could understand why Shane was reluctant to form a permanent relationship, I actually didn’t find it as compelling as I did Crickett’s issues. She was raw from a recent devastating break-up. But, Shane? I just couldn’t buy that he had been so scarred by his father’s effects on him to the point that he could *never* move beyond it. I think I would give this book a B-.

      ******
      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 9 down, 10 to go (A, D, E, G, H, I, L, M, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 1 down, 18 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      E = Engaging the Enemy by Reese Ryan:
      The h/h had been bffs in grade school until he’d betrayed her to fit in with the popular crowd. He didn’t see what he’d done as a problem at the start of the story. He finally acknowledged to himself how much he’d hurt her, but took a long time to actually apologize. I wished they’d discussed that particular situation together on page as the heroine deserved so much better. The hero wanted to prove to his father he should be appointed the next CEO of the family company so was determined to buy her building as it was needed to complete a secret project. The heroine made attending a destination wedding as her fake fiancé part of the deal. While angsty at times, the story was imbued with a sense of joy. Despite my issues with the hero overall I enjoyed their romance. But it was the heroine who made the book truly shine.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 2 down, 17 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Back to the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “K”

      For the letter “K”, I turned to a book that is not a typical romance and was not written by a romance writer – in fact, Kay’s other works are poetry. Liz Kay’s Monsters: A Love Story, published in 2016, is a romantically inclined novel with a bit of an edge.

      Like the author, our lead character, Stacey Lane, is a poet. She’s also thirty-something, newly widowed, and a mother of two young boys. Living in Nebraska, where her deceased husband was raised, Stacey has always felt a bit out of place. She grew up on the west coast and went to graduate school in the east, but having her sister and brother-in-law close by has been a help. Stacey has been more of a stay-at-home mom during her married life than a writer. She’s only published two books of poetry, but the latter one, Monsters in the Afterlife, a feminist take on the Frankenstein story, has gotten some traction. In fact, a Hollywood star has optioned it for adaptation, wants to produce, and invites Stacey to come out to his Caribbean vacation home to discuss the project. This invitation propels Stacey into Tommy DeMarco’s incredibly crazy life. DeMarco, in his latter 30’s, one assumes, is a charming, handsome womanizer. But he’s also smart, talented, and determined to make this book into a movie with the involvement of Stacey. Through the course of two years, not only do they work together off and on, but they carry on an affair at the same pace, falling in and out of each other’s lives, debating artistic visions, whether to have a relationship, how to deal with their children — Tommy has a young, troubled teenage daughter from a previous relationship – as well as trust and honesty. In a sense, the poetry Stacey has written almost becomes a metaphor for the type of woman Stacey tailors herself to be, i.e., either one that fits her traditional, steady, Midwest world with one man or one that fits into Tommy’s glamorous, bohemian, ego-driven, alcohol and Xanax-fueled existence.

      For a first novel, I found this story to be a popcorn popping, fast read. I honestly didn’t know how it would end nor how I wanted it to end. Did I want Stacey and Tommy to eventually make things permanent – if Tommy could ever *be* with one woman? Did I want Stacey to remain in Nebraska in the stable but less exciting arms of a doctor she begins to date at her sister’s urging? Or would it be best if they were both alone, with Stacey facing her grief and her artistic stagnation and Tommy finally growing up and getting control of his daughter. The romantic in me wanted things to work out, but it seemed an unreachable goal, since they were both damaged and not always good for each other. Be that as it may, I *can* recommend this story to romance readers, as long as you are not expecting absolute fidelity through the couple’s struggles, are not offended by profanity, and can look past all the heavy drinking without developing cirrhosis by osmosis. (In fact, I thought it amusing that Stacey was such a health-nut in terms of the food she feeds her children and eats herself, but has no problem sucking back the wine and vodka!) Anyway, if you enjoy books about artists, the artistic process, imperfect people attracted to each other and yet maybe not good for each other, you’ve found your story here! Luckily, it was right up my alley. I’d give it an A/A-.

      ******
      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 10 down, 9 to go (A, D, E, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 1 down, 18 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) — Read a romance where the mother has left her child in care of their father when she left
      Her Summer Lover by Marisa Carroll — hero has custody of his children after divorce:
      This was the ninth book in the Hotel Marchand series. The setting moved from the hotel in New Orleans where all of the previous books had been set to a small town a few hours away. The h/h had originally fallen in love the summer after they’d graduated high school when she came to town for a visit. But the hero believed her to be out of his league, so he’d dumped her once he went into the Army. The hero was now the chief of police. The heroine came back to town for her godmother’s funeral and to settle her estate. Unbeknownst to the h/h, her godmother and several of her friends—including the hero’s mother, grandmother, and ex-mother-in-law—were illegally smuggling their prescription drugs from Canada. The drugs were hidden in the godmother’s antique store and they wanted to retrieve them without alerting the h/h. The often light-hearted tone of this subplot was at odds with the prologue which was from the POV of a racist ancestor of the hero’s and contributed nothing to the story. The hero was very judgmental about how his ex-MIL and ex-wife dressed which made him look like a foolish jerk. The heroine was a fund-raising consultant. She wasn’t sure she could live in the small town. Things were further complicated by the fact the h/h had nearly reunited seven years prior to the start of the story. We were given some of the details but things were never made totally clear. There was also a subplot about the hero’s ex-wife. The prescriptions subplot was boring and took up too much page time for very little payoff. I would have enjoyed this book more if the romance had been the focus, but the author attempted to cram in so many subplots that the romance came off as a distant afterthought. I liked the h/h and his kids, but overall a very frustrating read.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      B = A Secret Life by Barbara Dunlop:
      The hero was an arrogant jerk who thought he was all that and a bag of chips. He’d fired his personal assistant for coming on to him (no mention of going to HR or documenting the incidents of her behavior). The assistant then leaked the secret identity of one of his authors which ran as a featured article in the New York Times. Instead of concern the heroine’s identity had become public he set out to charm her into not being angry so he could keep her as a client. Rather than consider her feelings he wondered how they could best capitalize on the situation. The heroine was worried that her old-fashioned family would disown her after discovering she wrote mystery books especially since her most recent release included a *gasp* bondage scene. He didn’t grovel at all and barely apologized so it was vexing that she immediately forgave him, especially since her identity had been a secret for ten years. Her family’s attitude that popular fiction was beneath them was ridiculous. It didn’t help that the heroine herself thought her books had no redeeming value. Or that she’d based her latest book on a murder/suicide of one of the local’s parents without asking and he was convinced her fictional take on the situation would help prove his father’s innocence. There was a secondary romance between the heroine’s sister and the local which I wished had been given more page time. The heroine was often wishy-washy and the hero got on my last nerve repeatedly. I loathed that events were such the heroine ended up apologizing to the hero after his crappy behavior. But I enjoyed the sister’s character arc, the mystery, and the secondary romance so was glad I continued reading rather than DNFing.

      K = A Second Chance by Kara Lennox: The hero was the whiny bad guy in the earlier story arc. He was such a cowardly jerk and many of his so-called pranks could have severely injured or killed people. While his motivation could have been understandable, his constant blaming of others for his own actions was wearisome. One of the main problems was the fact we had his POV in so many of the books. The continuing plot required his character to persist in his selfish pursuit of revenge through the first two-thirds of the series when he could so easily have come forward. So his turnaround from bad guy to “hero” did not work for me on multiple levels despite his apologies. He now ran his grandmother’s B&B in the small town. The heroine owned a bakery and was a single mother. Her husband had been killed in prison and she didn’t want her daughter around anyone with as much as a speeding ticket. The hero chose to keep his past a secret despite multiple opportunities to be honest with the heroine. I could also have done without the slut-shaming from the heroine. The plot felt very paint-by-numbers. I didn’t like the rewrite of history so the hero was now somehow the wronged party. Overall a disappointing read,

      J = The Legacy by Shirley Jump : The heroine owned a funeral home and was head of the committee to save the town’s run-down opera house. The hero was a photographer from Canada and had recently inherited it. He started off as a rude and judgmental jerk. He had issues with his parents and refused to stay in one place for long. The heroine’s intellectually disabled younger brother was treated as a plot device rather than a well-developed character in his own right. The hero eventually admitted he’d been wrong, but he was still exasperating. The heroine was often judgmental as well. A few unexpected twists, but overall a boring read. Despite issues with many of the books, I’m glad to be done with the series,

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 10 down, 9 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      A for athletics — Read a romance in which the heroine and/or hero is involved with sports, e.g. athlete, coach, referee, team owner, etc.
      A Touch of Magic by Carla Neggers – hero is a professional football player:
      When the heroine showed up at the hero’s parent’s door drenched and minus a contact lens the hero assumed she’d concocted an elaborate ruse to meet him. Though his name seemed vaguely familiar to her, the heroine had no clue he was a famous football player. She was trying to have a vacation before her thirtieth birthday away from the stress of her job as president and CEO of her company and chairman of the board of her family’s foundation. The meet-disaster plot wouldn’t work in this day and age of the internet, but was fun despite the hero’s arrogant assumptions and refusal to believe she was so successful and not simply out to snare him. It helped to have his POV somewhat and that he eventually apologized, but his insistence on believing she was lying grew wearisome. There was a small mystery involving her older brother that was rather convoluted. Overall I enjoyed the book because of the heroine.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      D = Delinquent Desire by Carla Neggers:
      This was another book with a successful heroine who met the hero under less than auspicious circumstances. She was a senior management consultant who spoke multiple languages. A misunderstanding led him to believe she was becoming a nun, while she thought he was being standoffish since she was spending the month as a counselor at her aunts’ summer camp for delinquent girls. He was a bigwig Hollywood agent. Thankfully the misunderstanding didn’t last long. The hero was judgmental about the girls, but that seemed to be an excuse to add conflict and he quickly came to realize the error of his mistaken prejudices. Neither wanted a summer fling so they made an effort to get to know one another before becoming involved and then worked to make the logistics of their relationship work. Published in 1984, parts of the plot haven’t aged well. But the heroine was great. I loved that she read the O.E.D. for fun. I had a number of plot quibbles, but nonetheless a likeable read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 11 down, 8 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Back to the Phonics Challenge:

      N for name — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero’s first or last name begins with the letter S (the 19th letter of the alphabet).

      For this part of the challenge, I picked up Lauren Layne’s To Have and To Hold, published in 2016. This book is the first in a series of three, titled The Wedding Belles series, focusing on a group of women in New York City running a successful wedding planning business.

      This first book of the series centers on wedding planner, Brooke Baldwin. Brooke had been running her own growing wedding planning business in California. She also was orchestrating her own spectacular wedding to a man who turned out to be a huge con artist who was arrested at their bridal altar. After that incredibly heartbreaking and enormously embarrassment incident, Brooke takes off to New York City to work with the Wedding Belles and start a new life. Brooke’s first assignment is to plan the wedding of Maya Tyler, a young lady from an extremely wealthy hotel family — think the Hiltons. Standing in the way of all her plans is the man paying the bills, Maya’s overbearing big brother Seth Tyler, CEO of the Tyler hotel group. Seth and Maya’s beloved father had recently passed away from an illness he had kept from his son because he knew Seth would try and move heaven and earth to save his father’s life. Still feeling bitter over being kept in the dark, Seth’s need to make things right for the people he loves leads him to get involved in the details of Maya’s wedding plans — not because he wants the wedding to be perfect but because he suspects the groom is far more interested in Maya’s inheritance than in her. Subsequently, Seth confides in Brooke and asks her to keep an eye on the groom’s behavior. Of course, considering the reasons behind Brooke’s own aborted wedding, she has complicated emotions over Seth’s demands. Still broken hearted, she wants to believe in Maya’s happily ever after, but her immediate attraction to Seth, makes it difficult for her to ignore Seth’s concerns. As for Seth, since he’s well aware of the very public ending to Brooke’s wedding, it seems like she would be sympathetic to his concerns. However, he’s surprised that Brooke continues to believe in love and doesn’t agree with his interference. Additionally, Seth is starting to feel something for Brooke and soon wants to protect her as well.

      This story turned out to be kind of … average. I loved the NYC setting, but I didn’t feel the essence of the city in the story. I loved the hero because, in spite of his overbearing ways, it came from a good and understandable place. He had depth and was a more complicated, even tortured, character. Brooke, on the other hand, was a little more difficult to connect with. I wish we had an opportunity to see more of her backstory instead of being told about it because I had a hard time understanding her attitude towards love and marriage after being so burned. Everything was rather superficial with her. She was a bit of a Barbie doll, and the constant references to Sex in the City, which might have been okay three years ago, seemed a little dated. I’d give this a B-.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 10 down, 9 to go (A, D, E, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 2 down, 17 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      G = Renegade (originally published as Maverick) by Cindy Gerard:
      The heroine had inherited half a ranch. The hero’s father left half to his son and daughter and the other half to his former foreman’s daughter. The hero was often obnoxious and overbearing. Thankfully he eventually owned up to his unfair behavior, but I wished he had done so much earlier. The villains were obvious so the suspense subplot did not work for me. The book had clearly been updated for its digital release as one of the musicians referenced wasn’t around when it was originally published in 1991, yet no one had cell phones. I wish there’d been more page time for the hero’s house guest as she was my favorite character. There was some humor, but too many issues with the characters and plot made for a frustrating read.

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas
      Taken by Rebecca Zanetti:
      The h/h had bonded as foster kids and fallen in love, but had broken up five years earlier when they were each having trouble dealing with the death of another one of their bffs as well as various other issues. I liked that they had each received professional counseling in the interim. They were reunited during the search for the hero’s half-brother whom he’d never known about. Even with the unresolved feelings between them the h/h were still able to act as the long-time friends they were. The fact they now made an effort to communicate with one another made their reunion believable. As a bonus, this story offered insight into the hero of the next full-length book in the series. Overall a captivating romance with a good blend of humor, angst, and found family.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      Crash (2005) — Read a romance in which one or both main characters are police officers or detectives; a romance where a main character is a victim of a crime or a potential victim; a romance set on the west coast of the U.S.; and/or a romance with characters from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds as the leads.
      Cavanaugh Cowboy by Marie Ferrarella — hero is a detective:
      The hero was a burned-out detective who went to Texas for a change of pace. One of the supporting characters was supposed to be funny with her nosiness, but I found her overbearing. The hero came across as a sexist jerk upon discovering the ranch foreman was a woman but thankfully quickly and totally owned up to the folly of his assumption. The heroine was often anti-social. Some of their forced-togetherness scenes were stilted. The characters frequently acted oddly to further the plot. When one of the ranch workers went missing, the hero investigated despite being wildly out of his jurisdiction. And that was sadly only the tip of the iceberg vis-à-vis the lack of realistic police procedure. Overall a disjointed and very disappointing read.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      Q = Tightrope by Amanda Quick:
      The heroine was a former trapeze artist-turned-hotelier. The hero was an engineer investigating the whereabouts of a cipher machine. He was also a Jones, though the Arcane Society was never actually mentioned. I enjoyed their romance even though it took a back seat to the mystery. Most of the villains were obvious but there were plenty of twists and turns. The secondary couple from the previous book had more page time which I enjoyed. One of the subplots was left unresolved (the characters discuss that fact on page) so it will be interesting to see if it will remain a background subplot for multiple books. Despite the family connection and the hero’s ability, I wouldn’t categorize this book as a paranormal as with the books in her long-running Arcane Society series. Overall a charming read filled with fun characters and the author’s customary humor.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 2 down, 17 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 13 down, 6 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 13 down, 6 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      H = The Bride Test by Helen Hoang:
      Determined to find her youngest son a wife, the hero’s mother went to Vietnam to interview candidates. The heroine worked in housekeeping at the hotel and caught her attention. The heroine’s mother encouraged her to go in order to make a better life for herself and her young daughter plus possibly locate her father. The hero was not keen on the idea, but went along since his mother promised she would stop trying to fix him up if he allowed the heroine to stay for the summer. Their families each had significant page time which added to the story. I adored the heroine. Their romance was filled with humor and self-discovery. Without spoilers, there was one element that wasn’t addressed until the very end. Though the author added some detail in the epilogue I wished more of the immediate fallout had been on page. Nonetheless overall this was an enchanting read.

      The 20th Century Challenge
      1984 = The Venus Shoe by Carla Neggers (published July 1984):
      This book felt more old-skool than some of the author’s earlier books. The heroine was suspicious of the hero’s motives. The hero had no POV scenes which was typical for the period it was written. Sadly, so was the often dismissive and callous way the hero treated her. The heroine felt it made no sense that she so blindingly trusted the hero simply because she was attracted to him. He was keeping numerous secrets and became angry when she questioned him, yet he still refused to explain. I enjoyed the mystery and liked the heroine and her bff, But the hero’s attitude got on my last nerve and I hated something that he did (even if it was in self-defense).

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 13 down, 6 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) — Read a romance featuring a soldier re-adjusting to civilian life after coming home
      Wyoming Cowboy Marine by Nicole Helm — hero has recently been discharged from active duty:
      Raised off the grid, the heroine had been taught to never trust anyone. For not having been around any people other than her father for the past fifteen years, she was remarkably well-adjusted. The hero had left the Marines to start a security firm. The reasons why they needed to go undercover as a young married couple were implausible at best. The mystery plot had a few twists but was mostly lackluster and convoluted. This hero took the family feud more seriously than his siblings in the previous books. The romance felt underdeveloped. Overall I wanted to like the book more than I did.

      Spotlight (2015) — Read a romance in which one or both of the lead characters are writers or journalists; a romance set at a newspaper or magazine; a romance in which one or both leads are involved in an investigation; a romance in which either of the leads is a member of the clergy; Or, simply, read a epistolary romance.
      Killer Countdown by Amelia Autin — heroine is a reporter:
      While determined to not be in the headlines again herself, the heroine seemingly had no qualms about exposing the secrets of others. She quickly decided the hero’s medical diagnosis wasn’t news and agreed to keep his secret until he was ready to go public. When they foiled an attempt on his life as he was leaving the hospital, he decided he had no choice but to do so right away. The hero’s wife had been killed years before as had the heroine’s fiancé, so they were each determined not to become involved. Of course their resolutions were short-lived as they fell in love in spite of themselves. Even though politics wasn’t the focus of this story, the fact the hero was a US senator caused me to put off reading this book. It was far-fetched that he was an independent who always voted his conscience, but given the current reality I was relieved the politics were handled in such a Pollyannaish way. Even with a few plot quibbles and the hero’s martyr/hero-complex, I quite enjoyed the romance. They had great chemistry and for the most part acted like adults. I liked the hero, but it was the heroine who made the book.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      I for identity — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero has amnesia. Or where the heroine and/or hero is hiding their true identity, been a victim of mistaken identity, etc.
      The Bodyguard’s Bride-to-Be by Amelia Autin – heroine has amnesia:
      This h/h were introduced several books ago and anticipation of their story had been the main reason I’d stuck with this series. The heroine was an administrative assistant at the US Embassy. She suffered a severe concussion in a bombing and was placed in a medically-induced coma. When she awoke she had no memory of the previous eighteen months. In an effort to protect her, the hero pretended they were still engaged even though she’d returned his ring two weeks earlier despite the fact they were both very much in love. He was in charge of the security detail for the crown prince. The book took place in a fictional country in which women had only been recently allowed to serve in their military, etc. The hero knew he was a product of his chauvinistic upbringing but had been and continued to make the effort to reevaluate his thoughts and actions to truly treat women as equals. Since he was aware not doing so was wrong he actually did a much better job of not acting like a jerk than some of the previous heroes in this series, even those not raised in the pretend country. The domestic terrorism subplot would have been better served if the immigrants who were the purported targets of the attacks had been given more page time other than a few brief scenes for one small family. As it was they felt more like a plot device. Despite these issues, the romance made the book work. The heroine fell for the hero again even though she knew he was keeping something secret from her. The hero knew he’d screwed up before and was determined to do whatever he could to set their relationship to rights. They each had baggage to work through and it was easy sympathize with both of them. There were other plot quibbles, but overall a good balance of angst, humor, and self-discovery.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 13 down, 6 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      Argo (2012) — Read a science fiction romance; read a romance involving one or more main characters who are spies; or a romance in which one or more lead characters work for any government.
      End Transmission by Robyn Bachar – science fiction romance:
      I was excited to read this final entry in the Galactic Cold War trilogy since its publication had been delayed multiple times. The hero was a doctor who owned their ship along with his sister. The heroine was an engineer and expert hacker. Their working relationship since she’d joined the crew often put them odds since he felt she never followed orders and she thought he was dismissive of her abilities. Stranded together on a smaller ship after an attack, they had to work together to survive and finally set aside their preconceived notions to truly get to know one another. It also allowed them to acknowledge the underlying attraction that had always been there and that they’d each avoided. The h/h took turns rescuing one other. It was nice that they talked through their issues. There were some brief moments to catch up with the other characters, though I wished we could have spent more time with the ensemble cast. The main story arc was somewhat resolved, but there were enough loose ends that I’m hoping for further books. Overall an enjoyable read filled with banter and adventure.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      T for time — Read a futuristic or time-travel romance.
      Camron by Veronica Scott – futuristic:
      The hero had been recaptured by the main bad guys and sent to different secret lab. The heroine was a doctor. They were the sole survivors when the cargo ship they were on crashed on the way to yet another lab. After making a run for it, they were picked up and delivered to a new alien bad guy. Rather than a scientist, he was in charge of security on the planet and wanted to hunt the h/h as if they were big game. There were times the resolution to one of the jams the h/h found themselves in felt a bit deus ex machina. The hero was middle of the road, but I adored the heroine so enjoyed the romance. We had the first glimpse of one of the other groups since book one, so it will be interesting to see how that eventually plays out. Overall a solid read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 16 down, 3 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 5 down, 14 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Back to the Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter “F”

      For the Letter “F”, I decided to read Avery Flynn’s The Schemer, published in 2018. This book is the third in a series that includes The Negotiator and The Charmer. (All of these book titles refer to the hero in the novel.)

      In The Schemer, Tyler Jacobson is a highly successful business consultant. His background, however, was not very illustrious. His parents were working class and not very pleasant with each other or with him. As a result, as a young boy, he spent a great deal of time at the library immersing himself in books and at friends’ houses immersing himself in loving families. Ultimately, both of these outlets, helped Tyler to win a scholarship to prep school and on to a top university, and he never looked back. Tyler has spent most of his life denying his past. He’s ridden himself of his streetwise accent, mixes with only the “right people,” and has bought himself property and possessions that are top drawer. Tyler, long ago, moved out of his old neighborhood, but still sees his old friends every so often, even though there is some tension between them due to Tyler’s purposeful absence from their lives.

      Enter Everly Ribinski. Everly has just moved into one of the buildings Tyler owns (and lives in) as well as renting retail space for an art gallery. Everly has something in common with her new landlord. She, too, is from a rough part of town. But, unlike Tyler, Everly has retained ties to her past, particularly to an ailing grandmother who helped her single mother raise her. She’s also retained her accent and her street smarts, and for the first time in a long time, something from the rougher neighborhoods in his past attracts Tyler. Everly and Tyler don’t hit it off straight away. But, shortly thereafter, their somewhat prickly attraction to each other overcomes them and they begin a frenemies with benefits relationship. In addition, Tyler learns that Everly is friends with an older, suave Italian hotel magnate with whom he desperately wants to do business. This latter situation allows Tyler to come to the realization that maybe he can be honest about himself and his past and still be accepted by his upper class friends and colleagues.

      The Schemer is a pretty straightforward, sexy, enemies to lovers romance. It took me a bit of time to get through it due to attending Book Lovers’ Con, where it seems one doesn’t tend to read books … only acquire them. ;-) That being said, I managed to put The Schemer aside to do other things, so it wasn’t a hugely compelling read. What annoyed me a bit was the hero’s unrelenting denial of his past and his refusal to accept Everly and consider her good enough for a long term relationship, and therefore, consider himself good enough, period. That being said, Everly also had a chip on her shoulder concerning her deceased mother’s affair with her wealthy boss, who then denied both mother and child once she informed him she was pregnant. I have to say, I appreciated the book’s focus on these issues surrounding class and acceptance. These are themes of which I can relate, but I thought the barrier that they raised between the couple went on far too long. (I guess if I had read the first two books in the series, I might have gotten a better appreciation of the strength of the hold Tyler’s hang ups had on him.) On the upside, the book did have a nice older adults’ romance between the Italian hotel magnate and Everly and Tyler’s mutual friend – an older socialite who has walled herself off from romance ever since her husband died. That was a nice relationship and we need more stories which include relationships between older adults. I’d give this story a B.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 11 down, 8 to go (A, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 2 down, 17 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      H = Wyoming Cowboy Sniper by Nicole Helm:
      The h/h liked trading snarky insults. She was the town mechanic; he was the town banker. They had a drunken one-night stand when his sister married her brother. Fast forward four months and the heroine told him she was pregnant. He disagreed with her plan to pretend the baby wasn’t his and for him to stay out of her and the baby’s lives. He wanted to be angry she’d waited to tell him, but realized they needed to find common ground. Before they could finish their argument, the bank was robbed and they were taken hostage. The heroine received a head injury and did not remember the past thirteen years when she first regained consciousness. The h/h each did some questionable things solely to move the plot forward which was frustrating. One of the hero’s sisters was a cop and had a significant amount of POV scenes. It was refreshing that she finally had it out with their contentious father. The hero was keeping a far-fetched secret. Plot quibbles galore, but I enjoyed the h/h together. Easily my favorite of this series.

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation
      K = The Knotted Skein by Carla Neggers:
      The heroine had recently returned but had yet to tell her family. The hero had been presumed killed the week before and her ex-sister-in-law had supposedly committed suicide. The hero didn’t want her to mention that he was alive. He started as a condescending jerk. He apologized, but continued to give her orders without any explanations. As the only daughter with seven older brothers she’d been expected to study liberal arts. Her family didn’t take her pursuit of science seriously though she’d just been accepted to a doctoral program at MIT. I loved that the heroine wouldn’t allow the hero or her eldest brother to dictate her actions. The mystery was intriguing though I had quibbles with part of the resolution. We were meant to find the hero charming, but he was smug. So overall a vexing read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 16 down, 3 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 6 down, 13 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Returning to the Phonics Challenge:

      E for education — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is involved with education, e.g. teacher, principal, school counselor, etc.

       
      For this challenge prompt, I decided to read Julia Whelan’s My Oxford Year, published in 2018.

      What’s interesting about this book is that it’s based on a screenplay, which was inspired by Erich Segal’s Love Story which was also based on a screenplay. Furthermore, the author is an actress who had a role in the TV show, Once and Again, as a teen. Since then, she’s been both writing and acting, including deciding to adapt a screenplay into a novel that has some basis in her own life as an American who studied at Oxford as well as someone who had to deal with illness and loss.

      That being said, don’t necessarily judge this book by its inspiration.

      The first half of My Oxford Year was actually a fun and charming read about twenty-four year old American, Eleanor Durran, who wins a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Back in the States, she’s involved in politics and education policy. She had successfully managed a few local campaigns and is being courted to work with a female Senator who is running for president, allegedly for her education policy chops, but more so for her political advising skills. Eleanor or Ella decides to put that all on semi-hold to study 19th century poetry at Oxford. Upon arrival, she almost immediately, *literally* runs into a handsome, twenty-nine year old Brit named Jamie Davenport. Even though very attractive, his semi-sober state and careless attitude towards slamming into her in a fish and chips shop, causing all kinds of condiments to end up all over her, puts a sour taste in Ella’s mouth. However, later, she learns that Jamie Davenport will actually be the instructor for one of her classes, causing her to rethink her initial impression of him as a brainless, high class prat.

      As Ella begins to make friends with her colorful college mates, she learns that her academic work does not impress Jamie. Not used to such judgments about her work, Ella confronts Jamie and before long, this leads to different sparks and a discreet affair. Just as Ella starts to question the depths of her feelings and how hard it will be to say goodbye and return to her political work in the States, Jamie abruptly puts the breaks on their relationship. But why?! Ella and her bruised heart stews over this question, until she finally learns the answer. It seems Jamie has been hiding something about his health — one that will challenge their relationship and Ella’s plans for her future.

      As I mentioned above, My Oxford Year starts out as one thing — a charming, humorous, and literate — each chapter begins with a stanza of poetry — look at an unexpected love affair. But, in the second half, it takes a decidedly emotional and serious turn. Frankly, I didn’t know what hit me and I got a little mad, which I suppose is just how our heroine, Ella, felt. From that point on, the story is about family, about choices, and about love and loss. I must admit to shedding tears at a number of points after that and I honestly didn’t know up until the last pages how this would end. I won’t give it away but I will say I am glad I read the book. I also have to say that the author did a wonderful job of describing life at Oxford, and creating supporting characters with both depth and color. I found myself growing attached to many of them just as Ella does. I’d give this book an “A” for content and a “K” for Kleenex.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 11 down, 8 to go (A, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)
      
The Phonics Challenge – 3 down, 16 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      S = Southern Comfort by Carla Neggers:
      The heroine was a cook book author. The hero had moved to Nashville with plans to buy back the newspaper his ancestor had started. He was convinced the heroine was a con artist out to bilk his aunt. His aunt couldn’t afford the upkeep on the rundown house she’d inherited. She hadn’t lived there in decades but refused to sell it. The hero’s inane plan was to dress up as the ghost of his great-great-grandfather and frighten the heroine into leaving. He started as such a creep I wished the heroine had brained him with a frying pan. The book should have benefitted from his POV, but even after meeting the heroine and realizing he may have jumped to an unfair conclusion about her he continued to act like an arrogant jerk. How she was supposedly conning his aunt by renting her house was never explained. Thankfully the hero admitted he’d made a world-class blunder and apologized so the last two-thirds improved though the plot was rather a hodgepodge. Some fun moments, but overall an uneven read.

      The 20th Century Challenge
      1985 = Apple of My Eye by Carla Neggers (published February 1985):
      The heroine was a newbie literary agent who’d been given the ethically dubious task of tracking down a reluctant author. For this she needed to be hired at an orchard near the small town where the author’s royalty checks were sent (her boss knew his real name, but refused to tell her). When the man she assumed was the foreman was surly at her interview she jotted off a snarky letter to the orchard owner, not realizing he was the one who’d interviewed her. Of course, he also turned out to be the author. I absolutely adored the heroine. Despite the fact they started out trading good-natured insults, their romance was charming. The subterfuge on both their parts was tempered by the myriad of conflicting motivations they each had and that they each wanted their relationship to succeed. The entire story was infused with a sense of joy. Such a fun read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 3 down, 16 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 16 down, 3 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 7 down, 12 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      I = Interior Designs by Carla Neggers:
      The hero owned a literary agency in NYC. The heroine was from the small town in Kansas where he’d grown up. His mother arranged for it to appear that he’d hired her to redesign his offices. The heroine went by a fake name so he wouldn’t know as she wanted to keep the job based on her talent. She was unaware the hero had easily recognized her. The had-to-lie plot was frustrating as it dragged out for too long. The fact she continually told herself there was no way he could have recognized her made the heroine appear foolish. The hero could be overbearing, but he was never mean. The humor helped. He played along and actually stopped her from confessing a few times. So it was easy to give in and embrace the ridiculousness of the plot. It also helped that it was acknowledged on page by the characters. I enjoyed seeing the couple from the previous book. An entertaining read.

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas
      Badari Warrior’s Baby by Veronica Scott:
      This novella centered around the main couple from the second book in this series. The pregnant heroine was kidnapped by disgruntled members of the settlement who threatened to trade her baby to the horrible alien bad guys. The main kidnapper had been an annoyance in earlier books so his actions weren’t out of the blue, though the heroine and others were surprised he’d go so far. A subplot involved rooting out the others involved. The main focus was on the group effort to rescue the heroine. Despite the stressful situation, it was nice to have some of the earlier characters play an active part in the story. I enjoyed the secondary couple and hope we get to see more of their developing romance in future books. I appreciated that the heroine stayed true to her character and was never a damsel in distress. I wished the resolution to the suspense plot had been carried out by someone other than the hero. The last few chapters focused on the birth of the baby (not a spoiler, it’s the title!). Some uneven parts, but overall an enjoyable read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 14 down, 5 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 16 down, 3 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 8 down, 11 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Returning to the Alphabet Variations Challenge:

      Letter “B”

      For this letter, I decided to explore my new found appreciation for Sarina Bowen’s work by reading Brooklynaire, published in 2018.

      This book is part of Bowen’s Brooklyn Bruisers series about a professional hockey team based in … Brooklyn. However, even though it wasn’t the first book written for the series, you could certainly start with it without missing much. This story involves the billionaire tech genius Nathan “Nate” Kattenberger, who owns the team, and Rebecca “Becca” Rowley, his once faithful assistant who was transferred out of his corporate office in Manhattan to manage the office of his hockey team in Brooklyn. While Rebecca is puzzled and somewhat hurt by the transfer, she lives in Brooklyn, loves the hockey team, and enjoys her new responsibilities. What Becca doesn’t know is that part of the reason Nate has traded down-to-earth Becca to Brooklyn for Lauren, who is a sleek, polished blonde who had been working in the hockey offices, is that 1) Lauren had a relationship with the Bruisers’ goalie that went sour and 2) Nate has had a thing for Becca for many years and isn’t sure about her feelings, but is definitely sure she would be disinclined to date her boss. For the first quarter or so of the book, Nate and Becca dance around their feelings not admitting them to each other. But, after an accident on the ice that leaves Becca with a concussion and an ill-advised tipsy evening some time later, Nate and Becca have a night together that changes everything. Can Nate finally get Becca to date him, and can Becca put her insecurities about her education, looks, and lack of cash aside to accept the attentions of a handsome billionaire with a big brain.

      This story is told in alternate chapters from Nate and Becca’s points of view. It also moves back in time to give us a little history on the couple’s early work relationship, during Nate’s company’s rise, as well as on their individual lives that made them who they are. For that reason, this book has a bit more depth than I expected. It also has a wonderful sense of humor. The characters are written as funny, smart, ambitious people with understandable hang-ups as well as concerns. I did not find either of their reasons for not being together, initially, to be farfetched. I also appreciated all the supporting characters – some of whom have their own books or soon will. I especially enjoyed Heidi Jo, Becca’s bubbly intern, and the almost human Bingley, the computer generated guardian of Nate’s home. What pushed this book from a solid “A” to an “A-“ were some overly dramatic developments towards the end of the story that ultimately came to nothing and were unnecessary. Everything but the kitchen sink seemed to be thrown at the couple, I guess to prove their commitment. I also thought that Nate’s solution to Becca’s concerns about working for her significant other was farfetched too, but this is something of a fairytale romance, so I went with it. Still, this is definitely a good read and I look forward to reading others from the series.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 12 down, 7 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)
      The Phonics Challenge – 3 down, 16 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      Unforgiven (1992) — Read a romance set in Wyoming or Kansas
      Wyoming Cowboy Ranger by Nicole Helm – set in Wyoming:
      The h/h had been secret sweethearts in high school. He’d taken off to join the Army without telling her. They’d avoided one other after he came back to town, but that changed when he realized she was the target of someone out to get him. I’d liked this heroine since the start of the series and she was the best part of the book (even with her negative thoughts at the start regarding her siblings’ marriages since the feud stuff has been deconstructed in every book. Plus the hero thought the same things.) Too many scenes from the villain’s POV. The hero had been a jerk to break his promises to her when they were younger, but that was understandable to an extent. But he did something “for her own protection” which crossed way over the line and never apologized. The heroine did most of the emotional labor which was frustrating. The book improved in the latter half. Despite my issues with the hero I liked their romance due to the heroine. Still an uneven read overall.

      The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge
      T for transfigure — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero has the ability to shift into an animal.
      Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh – hero is a wolf changeling:
      We’re back to the familiar California setting in the latest Psy-Changeling Trinity book. I adored the heroine. She was an empath, but with a different skillset. I liked the hero who was one of the SnowDancer lieutenants, but he’s not a favorite when compared to the rest of the sprawling cast of characters. The focus was very much on them and their romance, but it was also fun to see so many of the favorite characters from the first story arc turn up. One of the newer characters had some POV scenes. I haven’t liked him since he was introduced. Don’t want to give spoilers but I am very much hoping the author is not setting him up to be a future hero. As with many of the previous book I enjoyed the h/h’s various friendships as much as the romance. Another solid entry in this series and now the long wait begins again for the next installment.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 17 down, 2 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 8 down, 11 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Moving back to the Phonics Challenge:

      I for interconnected — Read a romance that is part of a series.

      Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamer, published in 2019, is the beginning of her Dreamer series. Each story will feature one of a group of friends who grew up in New York City and are a part of the Afro-Caribbean community that has immigrated to the U.S.

      This first book focuses on Ernesto Vasquez, who owns a food truck that features the cuisine of the Dominican Republic, from which is family emigrated. Ernesto has world class training but he’s hungry to feature the food he grew up with, on his own terms. He’s been running a food truck in the Bronx, but in order to stand out even more, his mother encourages him to leave his friends and big city life behind and relocate to Ithaca, New York, where she has been living and knows his food would be unique. Nesto takes her up her proposal, and while just beginning to make a splash in Ithaca, he meets Jude Fuller. Jude works at the local public library. He’s a quiet, serious person who’s dedicated to getting books to underserved and rural communities. When he and his friend Carmen try out the new food truck in town, Jude feels an immediate spark with the truck’s proprietor and realizes he is the same man who had flirted with him during an earlier, brief encounter. Jude and Nesto’s friends notice their interest in each other and encourage them to become better acquainted. However, there are both people and personal obstacles that stand in the way of their relationship as well as each of their individual successes. First, a bigoted woman with influence in the town tries to interfere both in Jude’s quest to fund a program for a bookmobile and with Nesto’s food truck which is in competition with her own son’s business. But more significantly, each man carries his own demons and baggage that stands in the way of their happiness. For one, Nesto is all-consumed with making a success of his business which has led him to put every relationship he’s ever been in second to his career. As for Jude, he comes from a very narrow-minded, evangelical family that basically disowned him once he came out and, since then, he’s never felt like he belonged or would mean anything special to anyone. How can these two people connect, when their needs almost appear to be at cross-purposes?

      For the first 100 or so pages, I found this book to be a very nice, but not terribly remarkable, small town romance. Of course, with so many of the characters being people of color and with the protagonists being gay, that *was* different. However, the obstacles just seemed pretty routine, especially the rather uninspiring, small-town bigot, and even Nesto’s drive to succeed which made his focus so narrow. What I ultimately found compelling and emotionally riveting was Jude’s backstory and journey. Once we learn about his family’s abandonment and are swept up in the drama as he decides to reconnect, the book really took off for me. It’s not that Nesto’s journey wasn’t interesting, but having such loving family and friends made his obstacles – which mostly came from outside forces – more bearable and easier to imagine him overcoming. Jude’s boogeymen – so to speak – were both internal as well as devastatingly sad. I was happy to see that Nesto was ultimately able to support Jude but I think we could have used a little more groveling. That being said, if you’re a foodie, you will definitely enjoy the many descriptions of Dominican cuisine that will leave you looking for a close substitute. I’d give this story a B.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 12 down, 7 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)
      The Phonics Challenge – 4 down, 15 to go

    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with to the Phonics Challenge:

      E for encore — Read a romance that is part of a series which features the same main characters in each book.

      For part of the challenge, I decided to read Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, first published in 1988, surprisingly.

      This book is the first in a three book series featuring the same lead characters: two cousins — Cecelia and Kate — in regency England who correspond with each other, one from the English countryside and the other from London. The interesting added ingredient is sorcery and wizards. In this early 19th Century world, magic is normal. Cecelia in the countryside and Kate in London work together to try and thwart two powerful wizards who have teamed up to try and destroy a younger wizard who is slowly becoming Kate’s romantic interest. Thomas, who has magical powers, and his friend James, who is back in the countryside with Cecelia end up working with the cousins to defeat Thomas’ enemies. In the process, Cecilia learns that she has powers that she can learn to use and that her family has the gene for magic in their bloodlines.

      Sorcery & Cecilia was a delightful surprise, and I would love to read the two follow-up books but they are damned expensive, especially if you want them in hardcopy. Why is that?! In any event I just loved the interjection of magic into this period of time. It was done without compromising the time and setting. In fact, the story could’ve worked without magic, and that’s what made it so good. I never felt like I was thrown out of the story by fantasy elements. But, most importantly I loved the epistolary format as well. There were times when I got a bit confused over who had magical capabilities and who didn’t, and that may have been a result of two authors writing these letters, but ultimately it came together. Another minus was that they used the old trope of one of the bad guys succumbing to the need to explain his every move and motive, allowing the time for the good guys to thwart him. That was a weakness that brought down the plot a bit. Still, I would give this book an enthusiastic A-.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 12 down, 7 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)
      
The Phonics Challenge – 5 down, 14 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      And The Award Goes To… Challenge
      The King’s Speech (2010) — Read a romance in which a main character leads a country, a government, or a company; a romance involving a long term friendship between the leads; a romance featuring a lead character with a disability; and/or read a romance set during the WWII era, anywhere in the world.
      The Trouble with Cowboy Weddings by Nicole Helm — h/h have been friends since childhood:
      The heroine had been severely injured in a fire just over a year prior to the start of this story. Her grandmother wanted one of her granddaughters to marry before she’d turn over control of the family ranch or she planned to give it to her deadbeat son. The heroine reluctantly accepted the hero’s idea of a marriage of convenience though neither of them liked lying to their families. The external conflict was pure set up, but their internal conflicts made the story work. They each had self-worth issues and wanted to help the other. The hero had been in love with the heroine since they were fifteen, but once she’d chosen to date someone else he’d convinced himself he’d moved on and they were just friends. Though still attracted to her he didn’t want to lose their twenty-year plus friendship. After the frustrating, could-have-been-solved-with-one-simple-conversation shenanigans with the hero’s mother in his eldest brother’s book it was refreshing that the h/h each valued communication. Even when they misunderstood one another or came to a wrong conclusion they were at least trying to talk. I loved the h/h both individually and as a couple. A nice blend of complicated family dynamics, humor, and angst with an endearing couple. My favorite book in this series.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 18 down, 1 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 8 down, 11 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Returning to the Alphabet Variations Challenge:

      Letter “J”

       For letter “J”, I picked up my first Beverly Jenkins’ book. Rebel, published this year, was chosen by my book group to read, and I’m so glad it was.

      Although Rebel is supposed to be the first in a new series, I could clearly see that it was connected to other series by virtue of the supporting characters, many of whom are members of the LeVeq family and must have stories of their own. In this book, we focus on Valinda Lacy, an African American woman from New York, who journeys south to New Orleans to teach the newly freed men, women, and children after the Civil War. She only plans to be there for a short period, as she’s engaged to a fellow New Yorker who hopes to start a newspaper back home. However, since he’s abroad seeking financial support for the venture, Valinda makes a courageous choice to travel alone to New Orleans against her father’s wishes to fulfill a dream of her own to teach. Almost immediately upon arriving in New Orleans and beginning her job, Valinda faces challenges brought on by the deep resentments, antagonisms, and continued racism of the immediate post-Civil War period. In no time, former soldiers – white and black – who team up to terrorize the newly free, vandalize the barn Valinda uses for her school, destroy her materials, and attack her. The latter incident attracts the attentions of Captain Drake LeVeq, a former African American soldier who fought for the Union, is an architect, and a son of the well-to-do LeVeq family. He and his sister-in-law rescue Valinda and soon she is taken under the LeVeq family wing. With their help, Valinda sees the possibility of continuing her work in New Orleans, but can she talk her fiancé into starting his newspaper there, let alone convince her family to allow her the freedom to stay. But, most importantly, will she be able to control her growing feelings towards Drake or his for her — especially since the examples set for her concerning male-female relationships have been poor and leave her wondering if she wants to tie herself to any man.
       
      Rebel read to me like an old school romance, which is not a bad thing. I consider Beverly Jenkins one of the grand dames of romance, so I was not surprised by my impression. Although the romance was not especially unique in its portrayal, I did enjoy it. There were odd aspects to it, however. For instance Drake and Valinda did intimate things, but Drake would did not “go all the way” because he felt that was Valinda’s soon-to-be husband’s right. But, since Valinda was so willing to be intimate with Drake, one wonders why he never really questioned that willingness and her relationship with her intended sooner. It was a very odd little dance, with some weird justifications.

      In my opinion, the strongest aspect of the book was all the historical details Ms. Jenkins’ incorporated into her story. Although one can imagine that life was very tough for the newly free in Louisiana, the details of the mores of the community — both good and bad — were fascinating. I was also interested in the various groups and where they sat in the hierarchy of the city: the African Americans (both poor and not), the white populace (both poor and not), the Creoles, etc. This was almost a cosmopolitan city in terms of the population, if not in its activities. So interesting. I’d give this book a B+ and would be interested in more stories set in this time and place.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 13 down, 6 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, S …)
      The Phonics Challenge – 3 down, 16 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      R = Under Currents by Nora Roberts:
      The first quarter of the book took place when the hero was in high school and dealt with the abuse he and his younger sister suffered. I was glad they both went to therapy and this was treated as normal and positive. I really enjoyed the hint of a secondary romance with the hero’s aunt and wished we’d had more of it. I also wished there’d been more page time with the hero’s sister and her husband. The hero was a lawyer and while there were scenes of him at work the book had a huge amount about the heroine’s job and often read as all-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-landscape-design. There was some suspense though the main bad guy’s identity seemed obvious. A nice blend of romance and family: both extended and found.

      The 20th Century Challenge
      1986 = Captivated by Carla Neggers (published May 1986):
      The heroine had left her job as a private investigator in San Francisco to work as a financial analyst in Boston. She met the hero when he showed up at her office looking for her father. Their immediate attraction—and her decision to find her father to determine what exactly was going on—threw a wrench into her efforts to cultivate a more staid lifestyle. The mystery was often frustrating at the start; however, it thankfully improved in the second half. The fashion was definitely mid-eighties and the plot wouldn’t work with cell phones. But I adored the heroine and the fact the hero had no desire for her to change. They were a well-matched couple and their romance was infused with a sense of fun.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 18 down, 1 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 9 down, 10 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the Alphabet Variations Challenge:

      Letter “O”

      Despite her having a healthy catalogue and a movie made from one of her books, this is the first time I’ve picked up a book by Jojo Moyes. One Plus One, published in 2015, was a very enjoyable read, and for Moyes, I’m guessing a more “light-hearted” story.

      One Plus One is a title with kind of a double meaning. Our heroine, Jess Thomas, is a 20-something, down on her luck single mother. Her no good husband left her two years ago, also leaving behind their elementary school daughter, Tanze, and a teenage-aged stepson, Nicky, who was the product of his former relationship. That being said, Jess keeps her head up and gets by, employed by a cleaning service by day and a pub at night. She loves her children and pinches pennies to try and give them everything she can. There’s only one problem – or maybe two. First, her goth-styled, gamester stepson is being harassed by the town’s bully, and she was just informed that her precocious 10 year old is a maths genius and should probably attend a pricey private school. With her lack of funds, Jess clearly can’t move them out of their down-trodden neighborhood, let alone afford a private school. But Tanze’s teacher informs them of a Maths Olympiad which will award the winner enough to pay the tuition she needs. If only Jess can get them to the Olympiad, which is being held in Northern Scotland, while also finding the down payment to keep Tanze’s place open in the school.

      On the opposite end of the economic spectrum is our hero, Edward Nicholls. Ed is a genius software developer who has built a hugely successful business with his mate from university. He has homes and cars to spare, but his personal life went south when his wife left him, taking half of his worth. With his ego bruised, Ed falls into a ill-judged, brief relationship with a woman who he ends up “paying off” by rashly giving her inside info on a deal that his company is making. Of course, even though Ed has always been a model citizen and has made no illicit money himself, the authorities learn about his actions and charge him with insider trading, threatening the rest of his wealth, his business, as well as his freedom.

      Coincidentally, as Ed is awaiting his legal fate, he runs into one of his housecleaners, who also happens to work at the local pub where he’s been drinking away his sorrows. That night Jess stops Ed from driving while drunk, helps to get him home, and ends up rescuing some money that falls out of his pocket. Later, he returns the favor, when he finds Jess, her two children, and their bear-sized dog on the side of the road in a broken down car in which they were trying to reach the Maths competition. Before you know it, and against both of their better judgments, Ed volunteers to drive the whole lot up to Northern Scotland and the adventure begins.

      This book is a wonderful, character driven story. Even though I called it “light-hearted”, the characters face huge problems – potential jail time, enormous financial stress, bullying, abandonment, family illness. It’s the way the characters – especially Jess – handles each obstacle, powering through, never saying die that makes the reader cheer for them. And Jess’ ability to put one foot forward after each setback inspires Ed, making him fall for her and for the children who have such faith in her. Of course, you can guess that this mutual support system, such as it is, comes up against an obstacle that even Jess can’t overcome with her gumption or Ed can’t solve with money, leaving this new-found family to breakdown and fall apart. In any event, I honestly can’t say anything bad about this story. Although there were many moving parts and there might have been a glitch in the plot here or there, I was so immersed in the story, rooting for these people, that I didn’t care. I would give Moyes’ story a solid A.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 14 down, 5 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, S …)
      The Phonics Challenge – 3 down, 16 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      D = Dangerously Close by Dee J Adams:
      I read the first two books in this series near to when they first released. I’d started this book multiple times in the intervening years, but kept setting it aside. The hero was a rock star who used an assumed name to avoid the paparazzi and fans. The heroine had been injured in book one (set two years prior) and spent two months in a coma. She suffered a fall at the start of this book and lost her central vision (she maintained some periphery vision). Since this was only a temporary condition, her blindness always felt like a cheap plot device to allow the hero to “hide” out. He knew he was a complete jerk, but wanted to change. He had been a womanizer and continued to have a poor attitude about the women he’d slept with, whereas he thought the heroine was “not like other girls.” I liked the assistant the heroine and her bff hired, but she wasn’t in the story for long. The obsessed fan plot was lackluster. The h/h often behaved foolishly to further the story which was irksome. There was a lot of humor and I liked the h/h became friends first, but I had major issues with most of the plot. An extremely disappointing read.

      G = Walk Away Joe (originally published as The Cowboy Takes a Lady) by Cindy Gerard: The heroine was an ER nurse suffering from burn out and a drinking problem. The hero was a horse trainer with a reputation as a womanizer. She wanted to use him to forget her troubles and was irked when he didn’t play along. The book had a slow start but I enjoyed it once she finally saw him as an actual person with demons of his own and he quit acting as if he had to protect her from himself. They each alternated fighting against their attraction and then for it. One plot “twist” was obvious, but worked despite playing out mostly predictably. The h/h were well-matched. A few uneven parts, but overall a good blend of angst and humor. Though originally published in 1995, this was the last new-to-me book by this author since she is no longer writing.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 18 down, 1 to go…
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    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Back to the 2019 Phonics Challenge:

      N for nudge — Read a romance that has been in your TBR for over a year.

      I believe I picked up Pamela Gibson’s A Kiss of Cabernet (2014) a few years ago at the Romantic Times Convention. It’s the first in a four book series set in Napa Valley’s wine country.
       
      The story focuses on Paige Reynoso whose family has a long history in the Napa Valley and have worked growing grapes for generations. They don’t own their own vineyard. Paige is the manager of an up and coming property that she christened Garnet Hill. The land was once owned by her ancestors, but it’s now in the hands of an absentee businessman, who owns a biotech company based in Philadelphia and New York.

      Unexpectedly, Jake Madison shows up in Napa seeking to learn more about his property, Garnet Hill. Although Jake seems pleasant and is definitely good looking, Paige is suspicious. She has roots here and wants to buy the property even though she doesn’t have enough money to afford it. She’s right, however, to be trepidatious. Jake is interested in selling the vineyard because he needs the money. One of his businesses on the east coast is in danger of being bought out from under him by a rival, putting at risk his employees and his dreams. He also has a second reason to want to keep his biotech company together. Jake’s father died of Huntington’s Disease and, it’s possible, Jake has it as well. In fact, he’s been suffering some symptoms that might be early signs of the disease, although the gene had not been detected as a baby. What makes things worst is that he finds Paige both compelling and beautiful. He’s torn over hurting her or hurting his employees at his biotech firm. But, he also knows he has no future with her if he has Huntington’s. He won’t burden any woman with taking care of a invalid nor can he risk passing along the gene to any children.

      At 224 pages, Kiss of Cabernet is not a long story. I think it suffers a bit from not including more details and background on some of the other interesting characters, like Paige’s father and grandmother or Jake’s business rival. However, it’s clear that some of the story is being saved for later books in the series, the second of which focuses on Paige’s sister — at least I think that’s the case. So, as a result, I wasn’t as engaged in the story as I thought I’d be. There were sections that dragged and then, at the end, things sped up and got interesting. It’s too bad some of that compelling plot couldn’t have been brought in sooner. Furthermore, some of the details, at the end, didn’t make sense — and this is a spoiler, so don’t read further if you don’t want to know — how in hell did Paige’s neighbor not know how fruitless it would be to try and develop his property and Garnet Hill when there is such local government and community rules against it? Jake’s rival and Paige’s neighbor are supposed to be smart business people, and yet there seemed to be no plan beyond just acquiring the property.

      The last thing that kind of bothered me was a writing tic of the author. I didn’t understand why she would periodically include italicized sentences signaling the thoughts of either Paige or Jake, when their other thoughts were not italicized like that. Was there something extra special about those thoughts? It didn’t make sense.

      Anyway, I liked the setting of the story. I liked Paige’s competency and no nonsense attitude, and I felt sorry for Jake and his problems, as well as the fact that the author didn’t make every one of their issues disappear at the end. I’d give this book a B-/C. 
       
      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 14 down, 5 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, S …)
      The Phonics Challenge – 6 down, 13 to go

    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise
      P = Personal Protection by Julie Miller:
      The heroine was an undercover cop tasked with posing as the girlfriend of the hero who was a visiting prince. The traitor in his ranks was obvious. Though I guessed where the author was going from a few subtle clues (that were also easily dismissed by the hero’s internal thoughts) I had hoped to be wrong. The author waited far too long to let the reader in on the big secret which felt like a cheap trick and betrayal of reader trust. I liked the h/h, but I hated the plot twist and *can’t say more because spoilers*. I am more mad thinking about it now than when I first read it. So despite the parts I enjoyed overall this was a very disappointing read.

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler)
      Cavanaugh’s Missing Person by Marie Ferrarella:
      The heroine was a detective with missing persons; the hero was a detective with the cold case division. I appreciated that they worked in different departments. The hero was friends with two of the heroine’s brothers. She’d avoided him since he had a reputation as a womanizer. They were brought together when two of their cases overlapped. The hero enjoyed needling the heroine which came off as juvenile. So much of their banter was condescending rather than amusing. I had issues with the hero’s annoying behavior. The heroine could be too judgmental but too often she would apologize when he was being a jerk to her which was frustrating. The mystery was intriguing even if the investigation was questionable. But the ending went off the rails and changed the story from “meh” to one I wanted to throw against a wall. Neither of the main characters should have kept their badge.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 4 down, 15 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 18 down, 1 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 12 down, 7 to go…
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    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas
      One Summer Weekend by Shannon Stacey:
      The hero had told his boss he had a serious girlfriend to avoid his and his fiancée’s matchmaking efforts, but it came back to haunt him when the boss expected the hero to bring said girlfriend to his destination wedding weekend on Cape Cod. Thankfully the hero had named his bff as the pretend girlfriend. Despite rolling her eyes at the stupidity of his dilemma she agreed to go along with his scheme. The situation had them both thinking “what if” for the first time. Despite promising one another nothing would change, once that line was crossed there was obviously no going back. They each wanted more but neither wanted to jeopardize their longtime friendship. This was a delightful friends-to-lovers story full of humor and heart with a terrific couple. I’m looking forward to more in this series.

      Bearadise Lodge by Lindsay Buroker: This was a short prequel story to the author’s Fractured Stars series. Caught up on their work, the heroine’s android business partner recommended she take a vacation. Things went awry when she arrived at her cabin to discover it had been previously occupied by a group of criminals. A fun introduction to the heroine, her partner, and her adorable 150 pound dog.

      Here Be Dragons by Lindsay Buroker: The heroine had an unplanned excursion from her spaceship when she agreed to accompany her sister to search for a lost colony on a terraformed penal colony planet. I enjoyed the sisters’ complicated relationship and their different perspectives on being autistic.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 7 down, 12 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 18 down, 1 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler): 1 down, 18 to go…
    • library addict
      Participant
      Post count: 221

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler)
      Fractured Stars by Lindsay Buroker:
      The heroine’s ship was commandeered by an evil sheriff to deliver prisoners to an ice planet penal colony. She struggled to keep her android business partner and her dog off his radar. The hero was a pilot and deputy with numerous secrets of his own. Conflicting motivations, intergalactic politics, and intriguing plot twists were interlaced with plenty of humor. While I would classify the plot more as a futuristic action/adventure the book also contained an endearing slow-burn romance. Though written as a stand-alone I hope the author will eventually write the possible sequel mentioned in the Afterword.

      The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas
      Junkyard by Lindsay Buroker:
      Used to tracking down people, the heroine was reluctant to take a job involving the mysterious theft of two-hundred tons of maple syrup. Published after the series only full-length book, this was a cute prequel novella detailing how the heroine met her faithful canine companion. A very fun read.

      • The 20th Century Challenge: 5 down, 14 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The 19 in 19 Phonics Challenge: 15 down, 4 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler) — novellas: 8 down, 11 to go…
      • And The Award Goes To… Challenge: 18 down, 1 to go…
      • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 12 down, 7 to go…
      • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler): 2 down, 17 to go…
    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Phonics Challenge:

      G for guardian — Read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is on active duty with a military, naval, police, or fire-fighting organization. Or read a romance where the heroine and/or hero is a parent.

      The book that fits this prompt is from a new-to-me author, Olivia Dade. Her Teach Me was published in 2019 and has been receiving a lot of good word of mouth.

      The story, no more than 238 pages, focuses on two high school teachers, Rose Owens who has been successfully teaching history at Marysburg High School for years and Martin Krause, a new arrival, who the local school administrator (who has been out to get Rose) has decided will be taking over some of Rose’s classes which will potentially affect her future ability to attract students, and therefore funding, for her upper level AP courses. This initial – somewhat one-sided conflict – creates a chilly atmosphere between Rose and Martin. That doesn’t stop Martin from admiring Rose, finding her both attractive as well as a gifted teacher. Despite Rose’s antagonism, it doesn’t take her long to see that Martin is also a great educator, and that he’s not at fault for what the loathsome administrator had done. She also finds out that Martin’s whole reason for transferring to her school was to be near his teenage daughter, who is a student there since his ex-wife remarried and moved to the area. This last year of high school, before college, is his last opportunity to be a part of his daughter Bea’s everyday life. As for Martin, he slowly and steadily begins to thaw Rose’s ice queen veneer. But, will she ever open up enough to him to let him in, especially after suffering through her own disastrous marriage?

      Despite the cartoony cover, Teach Me is a book about real people with real issues. Both lead characters are in their 40’s and have a boatload of insecurities and scars from damaged childhoods as well as relationship battles as adults. Rose has a problem letting people in. She has pride and has learned to depend on no one, even if they love her and want to help. Martin, on the other hand, is open to a relationship and to love. However, he was taught from an early age that he was found wanting as a man, too sensitive and caring. His former wife compounded this by seeming to suggest he wasn’t exciting enough for her. What I loved about this book is that most of us can identify with one or more of these hang-ups. Furthermore, the characters mostly deal with each other intelligently and not immaturely – such that you aren’t finding them to be “too stupid to live” or one dimensional. Another strength of the book is that it’s a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a good teacher who fights for “their kids” and cares. Sure there’s not a sense that the school is terribly diverse and therefore there’s little discussion of race or ethnic differences, but the emphasis on class issues is well drawn and there is a touch of gender diversity too. But, I felt the latter was kind of tacked on for no discernable reason. In any event, I enjoyed this read and would give it an A-.

      ******


      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 14 down, 5 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, S …)
      The Phonics Challenge – 7 down, 12 to go

    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Continuing with the 2019 Phonics Challenge:

      T for time — Read a futuristic or time-travel romance.

      For this reading prompt, I picked up an old-school romance from 1997, Linda Lael Miller’s My Outlaw.

      This story focuses on 30 year old Keighly Barrow, a sculptress and gallery owner living in L.A. in the late 1990’s who is engaged to a surgeon. Despite these ties, Keighly still feels drawn to her grandmother’s old, grand, dilapidated house in Redemption, Nevada. As a child, she would often stand in the ballroom of the house and from time to time see a young boy about her own age in the wall length mirror. The boy was dressed in western clothing from the late 1800’s and stood in an old saloon where cowboys drank and ladies in garish colors danced and entertained. Not only did she see the boy, but he saw her. Even though they couldn’t speak to each other, they managed basic communications through signs and she was able to learn that the boy’s name was Darby Elder. Over the years, as Keighly grew, she saw the boy less and less especially after she went off to boarding school. However, she never forgot Darby and felt a special connection that she couldn’t relinquish. Years later, Keighly inherits the house from her grandmother. Although her fiancé wants her to sell it, she finds she can’t, especially when she suddenly sees Darby in the mirror again – a full grown man. This puts the adult Keighly on a mission to find out who Darby was and what happened to him. With the help of the town librarian and a distant ancestor of Darby’s, Keighly learns more than she bargained for, 1) that somehow Keighly becomes Darby’s wife and 2) that Darby dies that very year, leaving a pregnant Keighly behind with his estranged family in the late 1880’s.

      Although I found the plot of My Outlaw incredibly busy and I wasn’t always on the same page as the heroine, I was interested enough in the story to see how the author would resolve everything. Instead of a “simple” time-travel plot, the two lead characters end up bouncing back and forth between the two centuries in ways that weren’t totally consistent. (Even though time travel is not a reality, if you have it in your story, it should follow some rules.) Furthermore, I found it hard to believe that the characters were able to avoid suspicion as to who they were and how they ended up in the wrong century! To be honest, besides the time travel, the 1880’s plot – in particular – just appeared to be a straight western and the fact that a strange woman just showed up one day barely registered.

      Another little thing that put me off is Keighly’s attitude towards her former fiancé, who she seemed to see as just someone to sire the children she badly wanted regardless of the fact that she didn’t really love him. And then, the moment she’s in the arms of her true lover in the 1800’s, she immediately decides that she’s pregnant. She just senses it without any verification. This is the one part of the story that felt very old-school to me since many romances in the day focused on children equaling happiness for a woman. The upside to this book is that the author didn’t make the heroine’s former significant other out to be a bad guy and, in fact, he’s allowed to be a hero as well and acquire his own heroine. In fact, other than the most obvious baddies, most of all the other important characters were fully formed human beings.

      Anyway, everyone had their happy ending, but I think the plot took a very convoluted route on the way to finish. I would give this book a B-/C.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 14 down, 5 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 8 down, 11 to go

    • Sandlynn
      Participant
      Post count: 92

      Switching back to the Alphabet Variation Challenge:

      Letter R

      For this reading prompt, I picked up a book that had been in my TBR pile for a decade: Marie Bostwick’s River’s Edge, published in 2006.

      This story stretches from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. It begins in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Elise Braun is 8 years old in 1933. Born to a upper middle class German couple, her father is a military officer from a long line of illustrious military men. Her mother runs their home but is beginning to suffer the symptoms of TB. Elise’s upbringing is loving but very orderly and strict, especially in terms of being a proper young lady. The activity she enjoys the most is playing classical piano for her mother, somehow hoping that it will help improve her mother’s health. Unfortunately, Elise’s mother is eventually sent to a sanitarium and dies and her father, called upon to take up his duties in the German military and fearful for what Hitler is embarking on, decides to ask his wife’s distant relatives in Connecticut to take Elise in until sanity returns to his homeland. Therefore, at 13 or 14, Elise is sent to live with the Muller family in Brightfield, Connecticut, a rural area that grows tobacco. The Muller’s are not farmers, however. Carl Muller is the beloved pastor at the local church. His warm and rambunctious family includes his wife, Sophia, and five children, including a daughter Elise’s age. The Mullers are very welcoming to Elise, but it doesn’t take long for her more quiet, proper mannerisms to put her in conflict with the older Muller children. She also faces some taunting at school and, before long, the growing war in Europe puts her at odds with people in town who are looking for a scapegoat. Still, over the years, Elise learns new ways, new skills, and eventually makes lifelong friends who guide her into womanhood.

      I think the reason it took me so long to pick up this book is that I thought it would be too heavily Christian in content. I don’t mind romantic inspirationals that aren’t too focused on religion, but if the religion is front and center, that puts me off. That being said, this book is an exception. The heroine is not a believer, but she moves in with a family whose father is a preacher. However, Carl and his wife’s beliefs are not shoved down the other characters’ or the reader’s throats. They demonstrate their beliefs by being good, loving people. Their care for Elise is not heavy-handed, and their children certainly spend most of their time doing fun, secular things and have very everyday concerns. In a sense, Elise’s life in Germany was much more restrictive and regimented than it is with the Mullers. The beauty of this book is in watching Elise grow into a capable, loving, open woman who learns hard lessons, withstands prejudice, and falls in love, while all the world is falling down around her. Since the story is set during WWII, there are definitely some tough developments, but the ending is uplifting. I think the only problem I had with the story initially was that Elise was open so early to calling the Muller couple Papa and Mama, but I figured that that title didn’t replace her feelings for her parents since she always called them Father and Mother. I also thought the ending was tied up a little too quickly and nicely. As the family began to suffer losses, most of their suffering was done off page or was wrapped up a bit fast. I expected there to be more issues involving the things that happened to Sophia, Junior, and Elise’s father. On the upside, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book in spite of it being heavier on exposition than dialogue. That being said, this entire story was told through Elise’s eyes and her experiences, so it made sense. All in all, I really enjoyed the story and was moved by it. I’d give it an A and would certainly read more by this author. I just wish I hadn’t taken so long to start.

      ******

      The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 15 down, 4 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, R, S …)

      The Phonics Challenge – 8 down, 11 to go

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