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  • Sandlynn
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    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…
    • The Alphabet Challenge Variation Reprise: 11 down, 8 to go…
    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…
    • The Nonchalant Nineteen Challenge (The Whittler): 1 down, 18 to go…
    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…
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