Review: Act Like You Love Me by Cindi Madsen

 

Title:  Act Like You Love Me

Author: Cindi Madsen

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

What would you do for a second chance with your first crush?
Brynn McAdams isn’t the awkward drama geek she was in high school—she’s grown up and confident, or at least she likes to think so. But when her old crush, the impossibly handsome and impossibly unattainable Sawyer Raines, comes back to town to direct her community play, Brynn finds herself determined to be someone other than the girl he doesn’t even recognize. Good thing she’s an excellent actress.  
After his bad breakup in NYC, the last thing Sawyer wants is to get involved with another actress. But the glamorous and beautiful Brynn draws him in, even though as her director, he knows she’s off-limits. There’s just something about the woman that feels…familiar. Like home.  
As Brynn’s lies start to snowball, she struggles to stop acting and come clean. But what if Sawyer is already falling for the fake Brynn, not the Brynn she truly is?


Review:

Once again, my favorite trope called to me and prompted me to read Act Like You Love Me.  This is actually a tough book for me to rate, because there is a lot about it to like.  I enjoyed the characters, the setting, and, yes, as I already mentioned, the second chance at love trope.  What knocked it down a few pegs?  Not enough physical contact, and that’s the bottom line.  This is a sweet, gentle story about finally embracing who you are, and accepting all of the oddities that make you unique.  After reading so many Brazen titles in the last few weeks, this one fell flat in the chemistry department, and the sexual tension earned only a low rating on the thermometer.  While it’s nice to have the protagonists engage in conversation before ripping their clothes off, the lack of pay-off was disappointing.  Sawyer is the most restrained male I’ve met in romance in a long time, and while I appreciate that he’s a gentleman, I like a little more rough and tumble (or at least a good wrestle on the couch) type of guy.

Brynn is a character I was immediately drawn to.  She was a nerd in school, uncomfortable with herself and awkward, and the target of jokes from her peers.  She has fought long and hard to move beyond her dork persona, and is finally happy with her life and herself.  She works at the family fishing and bait shop, acts in local stage productions, and finally feels comfortable in her own skin.  Sure, she’s still a bit of an oddball, and her unrestrained passion for plays and literature has chased off every guy she’s dated, but big whoop!  She’ll eventually meet the man of her dreams.  She hopes.

Into town strolls Sawyer, the guy she had a crush on in high school.  He is helping out his aunt by agreeing to direct the play that Brynn is acting in.  It’s a nightmare come true for her.  He first sees her while she’s struggling to change her shirt in her car, giving him a flash of skin and bra.  How embarrassing!  It’s like high school all over again.  She’s still trying to get over the most embarrassing moment of her life, when she had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction in front of the entire school!  More grating, though, is that Sawyer doesn’t even recognize her.  She had a crush on him forever, and he doesn’t even remember her! Talk about a major blow to her ego.  He doesn’t even remember her asking him to the prom!  Jerk!

Sawyer is dealing with two major issues.  First, he is still reeling from his father’s illness and eventual death when he was in high school.  Second, he is still trying to recover from a bad breakup with an actress in NY, and when he sees Brynn, all he can think is that she’s a carbon copy of his ex; self-absorbed, only interested in herself.  He makes so many false assumptions about her that I really wanted to slap him.  He is so self-righteous, he knows that he has to be right.  I guess he is carrying around so much emotional baggage that he can’t see around all of those weighty issues.

When Brynn follows some questionable dating advice from her brother, things get even more out of hand.  Instead of just being herself, she puts her acting skills to work and pretends to be someone else.  Someone less..overwhelming, I guess the word would be.  Then, before she realizes what’s happening, she is spinning so many half truths and outright falsehoods that she doesn’t know how to come clean with Sawyer.  She knows that she’s misjudged him and that she’s falling for him, but she doesn’t know how to explain the misperceptions that she’s allowed to continue and hasn’t bothered to correct because at first she just wanted him gone.  Oops!  There is this sense of dread through most of the book, because you know that Sawyer isn’t going to take it well when he learns that he’s been deceived, whether intentionally or not.

This is a quick read with both angst and humor, and the only thing holding it back for me was the lack of spice.  The heat level is non-existent, even for a Bliss book.  As stated previously, I just prefer a jalapeño or a habanero  to a mild green chili pepper, both in my cooking and in my reading.   Your mileage will vary.

Grade:  B-/C+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: A Risk Worth Taking by Victoria James

 

Title:  A Risk Worth Taking

Author: Victoria James

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Interior designer Holly Carrington worked hard for her success. Then tragedy struck, leaving Holly the sole guardian of her infant niece. Now she’s swapped her designer purse for a diaper bag, and is going ahead with plans to renovate—and sell—her childhood home in Red River. But facing her past also means coming face-to-face with Quinn Manning all over again…Quinn was the object of her girlhood crush—and heartbreak— and is more gorgeous than ever. He’s also the only person qualified to oversee the renovation. Now they’re butting heads every step of the way… and their attraction is more electrifying than ever! But once the house is sold, Holly needs to return to her real life. And falling for Quinn all over again is one risk she can’t take…


Review:

This book had me invested in Holly’s life by the end of the first chapter.  It was heart-breaking.  It’s her big day at work, and she has worked the last ten years for this moment.  Her wardrobe was carefully picked out, and she is glowing with happiness. She is finally going to be made a partner at the prestigious design firm where she’s employed when she gets the call that makes her realize how pointless her achievement really is.  Her sister and brother-in-law have been killed in an accident, and now she’s left reeling, the guardian of her infant niece.  How can she raise a child alone?  How will she recover from yet another loss?  Everyone she has loved has died – her parents,  the grandparents who raised her and her sister, and now her sister’s gone, too.  It’s just too much, and Holly is devastated.

Returning to her rural hometown to renovate and then flip her grandparents’ house, she is confronted with painful memories of her past.  She has loved Quinn for a lifetime, but he rejected her when she was eighteen.  Now she has to put on a brave front and face him, and all of her childhood memories.  All she wants to do is get the house finished and get out of town, and back to her life in the city where she’s so busy she doesn’t have time to dwell on the emptiness of her life.

I enjoyed A Risk Worth Taking very much.  I loved the interactions between Holly and Quinn, and even enjoyed Ella, Holly’s little niece.  I usually am not a big fan of babies in romances, but Ella wasn’t just window-dressing here.  She was central to the storyline, and she helped both Holly and Quinn’s hearts to heal.  Despite her best efforts to not get caught up in her feelings for Quinn, which still burned bright, Holly’s resolve crumbled as he became an important addition to her new family.  And Quinn, though he didn’t feel worthy of Ella’s love or trust, was able to put his painful past behind him with the baby and Holly’s help. 

A Risk Worth Taking is a feel good read.  You’ll get caught up in Quinn and Holly’s romance, and cheer along as they both learn to trust again.   As Holly puts aside her sadness, she begins to remember all of the happiness she has turned her back on. As she remembers what is really important in life, she is willing to face the risks, and the rewards, of loving Quinn. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Edited to correct Ella’s name – oops!

Review: Lucky Break by Kelley Vitollo

 

Title:  Lucky Break

Author:  Kelley Vitollo

Publisher: Entangled – Bliss

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

One lucky break is all struggling actress Sidney Williams needs. But when living the LA life becomes too much, she heads back to the small town of Shamrock Falls for the vacation she needs to get her life on track—and immediately runs into Kade Mitchell, her former best friend and the boy next door she’s always regretted leaving behind.

Kade, the new owner of Lucky’s—once the most popular bar in Shamrock Falls—is determined to bring the place back to its former glory, and seeing Sidney again is a distraction he doesn’t need. Sure, the chemistry between them is explosive, but Kade can’t let himself fall into a fling with his best friend—not when he knows she’s soon heading back to the glitter of Tinseltown.

Now, with the possibility of her first major acting role looming, Sidney must decide if her lucky break is in Hollywood or right where she left it—in Shamrock Falls.


Review:

I am always geeked for new category romance imprints, and when I saw that Entangled was launching their Bliss line, I was eagerly awaiting my introduction to the first three books.  Lucky Break is the second book from the Bliss line that I’ve read.  It is a very fast read, featuring my favorite tropes – second chances and friends to lovers.  This title was a mixed bag for me, though, for a couple of reasons.

First, I had a hard time feeling a connection with Sydney.  She’s carrying a lot of baggage around, all stemming from her mother’s abandonment of her.  After dumping her off at her Aunt Mae’s when she was a young girl so she would be free to pursue her acting career, Sydney was left with a heart full of justified bitterness and anger.  If her own mother considered her too much of a burden and didn’t want her, how could anyone else?  Sydney decided that the only way to prove her worth to her mother was to make it big as an actress herself, so she abruptly leaves for LA after graduation, leaving her best friends, Rowan and Kade, without even a word of goodbye. 

The story starts with Sydney blowing another audition, soon after having her car stolen.  She’s running late for her big break, so naturally she is further inconvenienced by a horrible ride on a city bus, followed by a shoe malfunction during her walk to the audition.  She bombs her chance, returns home in a huff, only to discover that her live-in boyfriend, Steve is dumping her for his big break in New York City.  Ugh! The day couldn’t get any worse!  Sydney takes the opportunity to leave her miserable life as a wanna-be starlet and takes a breather back in her childhood home in Shamrock Falls.  She needs desperately to de-stress, and quiet of Shamrock Falls beckons.  Only when she arrives at her aunt’s house, she discovers that Mae has rented the small cottage on the property to none other than Kade, the boy she dropped like a hot potato without even a word.  Her best friend in the world.  Now she has to man up to her guilt and reconcile both her feelings and her relationship with Kade.

Sydney was hard for me to like, and I failed to find her compelling.  I think it’s because to me, she seemed too young.  She reminded me of a teenager, and her reconciliation and courtship with Kade just didn’t push any buttons for me.  They did young things, like go to movies and hang out at the swimming pond.  Kade even taught her how to drive her aunt’s beat up old truck, which had a manual transmission.  I did not find these activities interesting.  I also didn’t warm up to their romance.  It lacked sizzle, and was too predictable.

I did enjoy Kade and his inner struggle to overcome his guilt at not being able to protect his mother from his abusive father.  Watching his mother suffer ate at him, and made him a fixer.  He wanted to fix everything and everyone.  He naturally felt an impulse to protect, as well, and no matter how heartbroken Sydney’s abrupt departure left him, he can’t deny his impulses to protect her when she’s suddenly back in his life.  Because he was always hyper aware of how others were feeling, he was ready to forgive Sydney for the selfish way she left him.

I am really disappointed that this story didn’t gel for me.  The characters read too young for me to relate to.  While this book didn’t work for me, it will appeal to new category romance readers, and young adults looking for a break from a high school set romance.  The sensuality level is on the sweet side, with kisses and sex behind closed doors, so there isn’t much objectionable for younger readers who are ready to start exploring adult romances.

Grade:   C

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Playing with Fire by Tamara Morgan

 

 

Title: Playing with Fire

Author: Tamara Morgan

Publisher:  Entangled Publishing

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Fiona Nelson has always been one hot ticket—even before she took the conversion serum that gave her superhuman abilities. Fiona’s powers come at a price: lack of human contact, or she won’t be the only thing burning. When she loses control of her emotions, her fire powers run rampant…and she’s hurt enough people already.

Including herself.

But when the man behind her conversion returns to blackmail her into helping him gain power, the only person she can turn to is Ian Jones, the man who broke her teenage heart. The man determined to expose the criminal known as Fireball, whose explosive escapades are just a little too close to Fiona’s M.O.

Ian is convinced Fiona’s dangerous, convinced she’s Fireball, and convinced he’ll damn himself if he doesn’t resist a heat that’s always drawn him to Fiona like a moth to a flame—but Ian has his own secrets.

And he’ll learn far too soon what happens when you play with fire.


Review:

I am a huge fan of superheroes, and when I saw that Entangled was publishing a series of novellas about super heroes, I had to read them. It was a little scary at first, because I was afraid I’d be disappointed, but Playing with Fire by Tamara Morgan is a fun, action-packed introduction to the Holding out for a Hero anthology series. I loved this story, and it even featured one of my favorite tropes – the second chance.  This read kept me entertained from the first page to the last, and I can hardly wait to read more of the anthology.

Fiona is a character I could immediately sympathize with.  She has the ability to hurl fire balls, but it comes at a steep price.  When her emotions get out of control, her powers do too.  She’s afraid of getting close to anyone because she is terrified of hurting them, and her last, failed attempt at intimacy ended disastrously, with her lover being badly burned.  To make this situation even worse, she didn’t even want the superhuman abilities to begin with.  Her manipulative boyfriend coerced her into it, and now she’s resigned herself to a sad and solitary life.

Into her life steps Ian, her childhood friend and the boy who broke her heart.  He was also responsible for her being bullied at school, so I did have a few issues warming up to him.  To be fair, Ian tried to rectify his past mistakes, but there were times when I felt that he didn’t do enough.  When it was his friend taunting Fiona, he quickly tried to put an end to the hurtful name calling, but when all Fiona wanted was for Ian to trust and believe her, he fell a little short.  In the end, he does gallantly redeem himself, but of the two of them, Fiona is obviously the more heroic. 

I enjoyed the world building, and am interested to see how other authors tackle a new world where superheroes , and super villains, could live next door. 

If you are looking for a fast-paced read with gobs of action, romance, and danger, look no further.  Playing with Fire was quickly gobbled up, followed by a “Please, sir, may I have some more?” plea from me.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Amanda Usen, Author of Luscious and Giveaway!

 

Amanda Usen is the author of Luscious, a sexy romp through Italy, featuring yummy food and star-crossed lovers.  Amanda dropped by the virtual offices for a chat about her book.  After the interview, enter for your chance to win a copy of Luscious!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Amanda Usen] Pastry chef, word geek, romance writer, mom of three, caffeine addict, hot chef lover – all at the same time, not necessarily in that order!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Luscious?

[Amanda Usen] Chef heroine Olivia Marconi is balanced on the knife-edge of a major meltdown. Her marriage is over. She hates her job. Her two best friends have fallen in love with each other. She wants to start over, but first she has to go to Italy and tell her parents she doesn’t want to run the family restaurant anymore. Sean Kindred rejected Olivia’s indecent proposal while she was still married, but now that she’s free, he’s determined to take her up on her offer. Wherever. Whenever. Italy would be perfect. Luscious is the story of star-crossed lovers searching for a new beginning while eating amazing food, drinking fantastic wine and making incredible love.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Amanda Usen] I was sitting in a doctor’s office editing the first draft of Scrumptious. When the doctor came in and learned I was a chef, he started telling me about his fabulous vacations at a cooking school in Italy. Villa Farfalla was born! A cooking school/spa/vineyard in Verona, Italy seemed like the perfect place for the next book. I knew Olivia, the restaurant owner from Scrumptious, would be the main character. Since she made a pass at her divorce lawyer and got shot down in the first book, it made sense that he would become her love interest in the second book. The storyline fell into place in my subconscious and was born, page by page, on the computer screen. There was a LOT of coffee involved in the writing of Luscious and more wine than I will ever admit.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Olivia?

[Amanda Usen] Hungry for love!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three ingredients Olivia would never, ever use?

[Amanda Usen] Strawberries, inferior quality olive oil, box wine

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things that Sean would never have in his bedroom?

[Amanda Usen] Best question ever! It’s going to take me ages to answer because I keep mentally trying on items and giggling. Okay…deep breath… a television. No hero I write will ever spend his time in the bedroom watching TV. Mementos from other women; it’s always been Olivia for Sean. Pajamas. No explanation needed. ;-)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Amanda Usen] I belong to the Western New York Romance Writers and the Romance Writers of America. I’m constantly inspired by the hard work of my colleagues, and I’m grateful to the authors who write books that make me reach deeper and work harder to write my own stories. Food plays a big part in my books. I met my husband in culinary school, and he’s my own, personal, hot chef hero. He cooks, cleans and loves to play with our kids – now that is inspiring! I love to read the cookbooks of Maida Heatter, Nancy Silverton and Tish Boyle. I love to listen to the music of Adele, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift. Growing up, I read all of Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books, Crystal Singer books and contemporary romances. I constantly seek inspiration from life; it’s the way I stay creative.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Amanda Usen] My three Cs: Coffee, Computer, Chair!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Amanda Usen] Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren, but her BDSM erotica isn’t for the faint of heart or the conservative of religious or sexual morals! Reisz is just such a great writer that it was impossible not to be pulled into her world of complicated and unforgettable characters.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Amanda Usen] One book? One book? When I was a child, I devoured books, one after the other. I was voracious. Insatiable. One book? Okay…Timothy and Two Witches by Margaret Storey. In the book, the good witch grows a petit four tree out of a stump after lunch, and the diminutive desserts have the characters’ names on them. In the forest, elves make hot chocolate that is the perfect temperature to warm your belly. Who would not be captivated by a book like that? I still have it, and my girls have both read it.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Amanda Usen] I love to read. I was a romance reader long before I started writing, so I’m always in the middle of a book. I get to yoga as often as possible to help correct laptop-hunch. Since it’s summer, we take the kids swimming and to lots of parks. We love to cook with vegetables from the garden and make summer cocktails with the mint and lemon balm that run rampant in the flower beds. WNY summers are precious, so we spent quite a bit of time sitting in the front yard, watching the neighborhood kids and dogs chase each other around in circles, and waiting for the Mr. Softy truck to come down the street!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Amanda Usen] I love to talk about romance, writing and recipes on my blog Writer. Chef. Romantic. http://www.amandausen.com/

I can also be found on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/amandausen and Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/AmandaUsen

Thanks for having me here at Manga Maniac Cafe today! I love that you have “geek” in your tagline. I’ve always described myself that way, although I’m more of a barefoot, bookworm, sits-in-the-front-row, studies-for-every-test, hates-curling-my-hair kind of geek. I always have a book in my purse for emergencies. Speaking of books, what’s your current favorite? For the chance to win a copy of Luscious, comment below and tell me what you are reading!

GIVEAWAY TIME!!!

Leave a comment sharing your current read for a chance to win a copy of Luscious!!  Earn extra entries by Tweeting!

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Review: Second Chances by Rita Oberlies

 

 

Title:  Second Chances

Author: Rita Oberlies

Publisher: Entangled Publishing

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Will the past keep them apart…

High-powered attorney Luke Braden knows that perfection only comes once in a lifetime, and for him it came and went in the form of his college girlfriend, Brenna Morgan. Circumstances beyond his control separated them before, but now that she’s back in Boston, Luke won’t let her slip away again.

…or give them a second chance at love?

For Brenna Morgan, returning home is the very last thing she wants, especially when it means facing the man who once became her salvation—and then dumped her at the first sign of trouble. But Luke is determined to make up for his past mistakes, and Brenna finds herself weakening against him. A decade of deceit lies between them, and he’ll have to fight if he wants to keep his second chance at love.

Review:

This is actually a story that needed more pages for me to be won over by the tragically flawed heroine.  The jumps in time and attitude near the end left me confused or wishing for more details as Brenna, coming to grips with all of the baggage she has lugged around since she was thirteen, attempts to cope with the guilt that overwhelms her.  The guilt has shaped her adult life, destroyed her relationship with her estranged father, and twisted her responsibilities for her younger brother.  I found Brenna an interesting character because she was such a mess, but I didn’t feel that her struggle to finally accept that she needed help and that she needed to learn to trust again, was adequately explored.  Instead, it was glossed over, which made her attempts to repair all of the damaged relationships in her life seem unconvincing.

Brenna fled from Boston six years ago, after her father’s mug shot was splashed on the front of every newspaper in town, chronicling his latest indiscretion.  When Luke, her wealthy boyfriend, was caught on the arm of another girl, Brenna had had enough.  No longer able to trust Luke, she packed her meager belongings and moved to Florida without giving him the opportunity to explain.  It’s only when her grandmother, who is suffering from dementia, requires more care than Brenna can provide, that she finds herself back in Boston, temporarily living with her great-aunt Tess.  Now with a dwindling bank account, she needs to find a job so she can provide for herself and her grandmother.

I loved the set up.  Luke has never gotten over Brenna, and he sees her reappearance in Boston as a second chance to win her back.  Hurt that she thought so poorly of him six years ago, he has come to realize that he wasn’t blameless in their breakup.  He didn’t make a great enough effort to explain, and when he finally did get over his anger and hurt, she shut him down when he did try to tell his side of the story.  While Luke was a bit too stalkerish for my liking, he was a really nice guy, and that’s what Brenna needed, even if she didn’t recognize it.  She needed nice.  She needed supportive.  She needed the patience of a saint to help her work though some of her hang-ups over relationships and trust and love.  Being Mr Fix It, that’s all Luke wanted to do. He wanted to shelter and protect her, but every instinct told Brenna to run before she was let down again.

Brenna is hard to warm up to, and she tries to be so independent that it is grating at times.  She isn’t interested in a lasting relationship, especially not with Luke, but a moment of weakness finds her back in his arms.  When  she denies that being with him is anything other than a booty call, Luke is, once again, hurt by her disregard of his feelings.   I felt so bad for him, and started thinking that perhaps Brenna wasn’t the perfect match for him.  He deserved so much better than her casual dismissal, but he can’t move on.  Their relationship, at times, is so painfully awkward that I couldn’t understand the constant pull they felt for each other. 

Brenna has some deep emotional issues to work out, and the final resolution to her problems seemed too easily won.  Shifts in time left me reeling, wondering how Brenna arrived from Point A to Point B in her relationship with her family and in her relationship with Luke.  The ending was too rushed for me to be satisfied, and for the first time in a long while, I wanted more; more pages, more detail, more depth.  This story is just too big to fit into allotted pages.

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publisher

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