#BookReview: The Sound Of The Sea by Jessie Newton

Old. Not Dead. This is one of those nice women’s fiction/ romance blends where instead of one or the other or both friends going on similar journeys, we get one friend going on one journey and the other going on the other – which is a nice divergence from the norm. That Newton manages to pack so much into so few pages is a mark of a strong storyteller, and that she manages to break the norms means she is a storyteller I’ll be coming back to – as this was the first book I’d actually read from her (despite owning books under all of her names, in some cases for *years*). On the theming, this is more large luxury yacht maybe a *very* small cruise ship (such as the real-world WindStar cruise line) than a traditional cruise ship, but it works for the tale told here – and gives the author the timing she needed within story, as larger ships/ lines are not often at sea for this length of time (15 days at sea, iirc). The romance works well here, the women’s fiction side – dealing with a more recent widow and how she has coped – works so well it almost jumps off the page in its realism. Overall simply a great – and short – tale, one perfect as a quick getaway whether you’re at sea yourself or not. Very much recommended.

This review of The Sound Of The Sea by Jessie Newton was originally written on January 30, 2023.

#BookReview: The Winning Tickets by Judith Keim

Solid Romance – On A Cruise. For those unfamiliar with Keim’s various romance series, this is a great – and short, at roughly 150 pages – introduction to her style of beach/ coastal romance. A solid entry in this genre, you have some mild drama both with the titular contest/ winning tickets and later with one character in particular, but the focus really is on the friends (both old and new) and the pair of romances (one primary, one secondary in that it gets slightly less attention). As with every book in this series I’ve read so far, Keim manages to pack quite a bit into the short length here, including a full cruise and a decent amount of story before and after the cruise. Overall truly a solid tale, and one that makes me glad I’ll be able to see the forts at Old San Juan myself in just a few days (as I am getting on my own cruise tomorrow as I write this!). Very much recommended.

This review of The Winning Tickets by Judith Keim was originally written on January 14, 2023.

#BookReview: Small Town Girl by Sarah Banks

Small Town Shenanigans. This is a great example of one of those small town tales where everyone has secrets, and, to quote Tony Stark in The Avengers: their “secrets have secrets”. So when a murder happens as our hero here is trying to rebuild her life and save her career… of *course* she has to investigate it herself. Because, you know, secrets. But along the way we really do see the inner workings of very small towns quite well, and Banks also manages to keep enough of the romance there to balance out just how dark and creepy this town can feel at times. A definite break from this author’s norm (she is working under a new pseudonym here), but a solid effort in this particular type of space and one that manages to up the creepy factor while adding in quite a bit of tension and apprehension not generally found in her other works. Very much recommended.

This review of Small Town Girl by Sarah Banks was originally written on January 4, 2023.

#BookReview: Uncharted Waters by Tammy L. Grace

Alaskan Gold. This is a tale of a teacher dealing with the first few months of retirement after a 30+ yr career who goes on the cruise she was gifted by her former colleagues and who meets a man dealing with his own issues as well. Other than the age issue specifically, I’ve actually witnessed similar “relation-*ships*” develop over my 15 years of cruising. Even in this novella, Grace manages to pack in a great deal of both drama and Alaskan Cruise details – even including the seemingly ubiquitous photographers. And yes, because this *is* a tale from Grace… there are dogs. 🙂

On a series structure side, know that each of these Sail Away novellas are a “series” only in that they all share a general common theme – in this case, that they mostly take place on cruises. Thus, any book in this “series” can be read in any order, and in fact I’ve now already read a couple of them “out of order” with no harm.

Ultimately yet again a tale with more drama than I’ve ever personally experienced on a cruise, but which has elements that I *have* observed with friends on cruises. Very much recommended.

This review of Uncharted Waters by Tammy L. Grace was originally written on January 2, 2023.

#BookReview: The Echo Of Old Books by Barbara Davis

Innovative Use Of Both Duology And Story-Within-A-Story. There is so much to like about this book, but I suspect that later reviews will hit all you need to know about just how strong at least one of the two romances here is – one is clearly one of those life-altering once-in-a-lifetime loves which we mostly see play out via two books, the other romance is a more contemporary (40 years ago anyway, which is still more recent than the 80 yrs ago for the first romance) tale of two people coming together via unusual circumstance. But it is truly the duology/ story-within-a-story structure that I want to highlight here, as this is what truly propels this book and makes it everything that it eventually becomes. I’d never seen this particular approach done – yes, there are other books with stories-within-stories, but this was truly the first time I’d ever encountered a duology done this way, and Davis manages to make all *three* books – the duology plus this actual book we’re actually reading “in real life” – truly compelling due to the nature of how she has crafted this. Simply superb, and truly, truly well executed. And yes, the actual romance aspects of this are well done, as are the heart-wrenching dramatics. You want a book for “Most Anticipated of 2023”? This very book had better be on that list. Very much recommended.

This review of The Echo Of Old Books by Barbara Davis was originally written on December 23, 2022.

#BookReview: The Seaside Library by Brenda Novak

More Mystery Than Romance. This is apparently Novak’s 75 book, and while I’ve only read a handful of those prior books – mostly a few of her most recent ones – this seems to be a bit of a departure from her usual style. At least in my own experience with her, she tends to write more women’s fiction/ romance blends… and this is pretty far from that. This is more of a Catherine McKenzie / Kimberly Belle / Leah Mercer style mystery that also includes a romance than the more usual Novak style, though still set in an idyllic small town island. It is specifically because the title and cover don’t really match the overall tone and substance of the tale told here that it lost a star for me, and admittedly this is something that can easily be corrected in the nearly five months between when I write this review and the book’s actual publication date.

For what it actually is, this story is pretty solid and well told – if you like your mysteries to also include a romance, you’re going to love this book. If you enjoy a tale that meets all known RWA criteria for being a “romance book” but the story is more about the mystery than the romance, you’re going to enjoy this book. But if you’re looking for more of a “classic Novak” women’s fiction/ drama on an island… eh, read this book and see what you think. I personally think it is a bit darker than her usual and thus is a fairly significant departure, but again, I’ve only read her last few books. For all I know this is where she built her fan base and is *returning* to this rather than this being an entirely new thing for her. Again, what she does do here, she does in fact do quite well indeed, so there is that at least.

Overall this was an excellent tale that was told well – it just doesn’t match its title (which has only the most tangential of connections to the tale) or cover imagery. Very much recommended.

This review of The Seaside Library by Brenda Novak was originally written on December 18, 2022.

#BookReview: Snap Out Of It by Maddie Dawson

Perfect Example Of A ‘Maddie Dawson Book’. This book really is a perfect exemplar of Maddie Dawson’s tales and style of storytelling. You’ve got a perfectly imperfect character, this time pushing Senior Discount age. You’ve got the dose of magic. You’ve got the hilarious and zany “wtf” moments. You’ve got the various family and friend and business dynamics that are all wholesome yet with their own dramas. In a real world so full of so much death and strife and destruction and turmoil, Dawson’s books are always a great escape and a solid respite from all of that, and this one is no exception to this rule. That it is timed to release at the New Year is perfect with its particular themes and actions. Overall truly an excellent departure from so much of both reality and even many books, and very much recommended.

This review of Snap Out Of It by Maddie Dawson was originally written on December 17, 2022.

#BookReview: Marlowe Banks, Redesigned by Jacqueline Firkins

Fish Out Of Water Romance That Shows That Not Everything Is As It Seems. This is a fish out of water romance between a barely-has-a-job clothing designer assistant for a TV show… and one of said show’s stars. It is very much a slow burn, enemies to lovers type and yet still meets every RWA requirement. This noted, it does get a touch preachy about the differences between the characters actors portray and the actor themselves, though it *does* manage to keep much of this preachiness within the context of the story being told here – so that is good at least. 🙂 Yet another romance where honest communication from the get-go could probably have saved about 80%+ of the overall friction/ drama between the couple, this one is still fairly light and funny despite its at-times heavy handedness noted above. Overall a fun look at a side of Hollywood not often seen, and written by someone with seemingly at least some knowledge of that particular setting. Very much recommended.

This review of Marlowe Banks, Redesigned by Jacqueline Firkins was originally written on October 23, 2022.

#BookReview: Built To Last by Erin Hahn

Hallmarkie Romcom Within HGTV model. This is a Hallmark type romantic comedy where 90 min+ of movie (or, in this case, 300+ pages) could probably be condensed to about 15 (min or pages) if the characters would just *be honest with each other*. So if that kind of thing irritates the Hades out of you… know up front that this is the kind of story you’re getting into here.

For everyone else, this is actually a smart and fun (and yes, steamy – again, if you don’t like being in the room with characters having sex… not the book for you either) tale that name drops quite a bit from real-world Hollywood, including National Geographic, Chip and JoAnna Gaines, and several other HGTV home reno type couples. If you enjoy those types of shows and wish you could see more “behind the scenes”, particularly as the couple first got together… this is going to be pretty much your ideal romance tale.

Overall this really was quite an enjoyable read, and seemed to read faster than its 300+ page count would generally indicate. Very much recommended.

This review of Built To Last by Erin Hahn was originally written on October 15, 2022.

#BookReview: Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

Dang Near Erotica Level MILF Lesbian* RomCom. Seriously: Read the title of this review. If that type of book isn’t for you for any reason at all… save yourself the time and the author the 1* review and just find something else to read. The sex scenes start in Chapter 1 and are fairly frequent throughout the book – and *far* from closed door. XXX “on screen”, in fact. And all the sex is between a 40 something woman whose daughter is in college and a 21yo female college senior. Again, if that isn’t your thing… just move on. Finally, there are f-bombs and other curse words quite heavily as well (not sailor/ programmer level, but also not Independent Baptist Church level either). So yet again, not your thing… just move on. Please.

For anyone else that is still here… this is a somewhat slow ish angsty romcom, but the resolution comes perhaps a bit too quickly once it finally gets to that point. Still, there actually is a decent amount of drama here, and a seemingly realistic (enough) portrayal of people actually in these types of situations. The comedy part of the “romcom” label is mostly in the initial few scenes between the leading couple, but there are laughs to be had throughout the book and the romance itself picks up when the comedy wanes, so it works. Really the only quibble for those still here is the flash-forward epilogue, which is one of those things your mileage may vary on but which does add a bit of humor to the tail end of the tale.

Overall this was a solid tale well told, and the characters themselves are rare enough that anyone seeking “something different” will find this quite refreshing indeed. Very much recommended.

*Note: While the characterization of the leading couple is *actually* bisexual, according to the text here, and one has even been married and had a kid (and the other had a boyfriend before the events of the book), the only romantic/ sexual relationships actually in the book are all of the sapphic nature, and thus for actual purposes of review would be considered lesbian in at least some circles.

This review of Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner was originally written on October 8, 2022.