Thursday, July 11, 2019

Under Currents Review

Title:  Under Currents
Author:  Nora Roberts
Genre:  Romance/Suspense
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  July 9, 2019
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  4 Intricate Hearts


*With many thanks to St. Martin's Press for an arc of this book.

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author, a novel about the power of family to harm—and to heal.
Synopsis:

Within the walls of a tasteful, perfectly kept house in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, young Zane Bigelow feels like a prisoner of war. Strangers—and even Zane’s own aunt across the lake—see his parents as a successful surgeon and his stylish wife, making appearances at their children’s ballet recitals and baseball games. Zane and his sister know the truth: There is something terribly wrong.
As his father’s violent, controlling rages—and his mother’s complicity—become more and more oppressive, Zane counts the years, months, days until he can escape. He looks out for little Britt, warning her Be smart. Be careful. In fear for his very life, he plays along with the insidious lie that everything is fine, while scribbling his real thoughts in a secret journal he must carefully hide away.

When one brutal, shattering night finally reveals cracks in the fa├žade, Zane begins to understand that some people are willing to face the truth, even when it hurts. As he grows into manhood and builds a new kind of family, he will find that while the darkness of his past may always shadow him, it will also show him what is necessary for good to triumph—and give him strength to draw on when he once again must stand up and defend himself and the ones he loves…

Review:
Nora Roberts has a gift for writing stories that portray all the intricate dynamics of family - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Her stories often demonstrate the power of family to either destroy or save lives and frequently deliver a theme of nature vs. nurture that I find fascinating.  I love knowing when I open one of Roberts books that the human spirit of a character may be sorely tested, but the will to survive and persevere over evil will triumph in the end.  And I appreciate that she often tackles sensitive subjects such as child and spousal abuse with grace, respect, and empathy as she does in Under Currents.

I'll briefly touch on the storyline, leaving readers an opportunity to experience this book firsthand as it should be.  Under Currents is divided into three parts with the first part taking place in the past and the second and third parts picking up the storyline in present time.  In part one, readers meet Zane & Britt Bigelow - a brother and younger sister who appear to have it all -  a picture-perfect family living in a picture-perfect mansion in a picture-perfect part of town.  But looks are deceiving, and readers quickly learn all is not as it appears as these two children are silently suffering the ultimate betrayal at the hands of those charged with loving and protecting them . . . their parents.  Until one explosive night when everything changes.

Fast forward about twenty years and readers are introduced to Darby McCray - a feisty, spirited newcomer who's opening a landscaping business in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mtns. of North Carolina.  After the recent tragic hit & run death of her mother, she's looking for a new start far away from an abusive ex-husband.  (This is the first time one of Roberts' romance/suspense heroines has reminded me (in mannerisms & actions) of Eve Dallas, the heroine of her In Death series written as J.D. Robb.)  When Zane returns to his hometown to open a law office, the two meet and a slow-burn romance begins to flourish.  And now everything is picture-perfect in their lives until ghosts from the past rise to stalk and threaten them.  Someone is on a mission of revenge, but who's the target?

As always, Roberts flawlessly weaves family and community and the routine of daily life into a story with emotion, laughter, tears, love, and a strong sense of belonging.  The characters are relatable and well-developed, each playing their role extremely well.  I will say I would have liked a little more reader insight into the inner thoughts of the villain, but I guess the vagueness of him/her adds to the suspense for some.  The setting is authentic (I live in N.C. and know the area well) and rich in details that tease the senses.  I like the way the title is reiterated in the story as under currents are always present in one form or another, running beneath the surface as evident in this story. There are several twists and turns to keep readers on their toes and guessing until the very end.  While you may or may not be shocked by the final reveal, I think you'll enjoy the journey as this book is an addictive Must Read!

My Rating . . . 4 Intricate Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Sandra




Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Other Brother Review

Title:  The Other Brother
Series:  Beta Brothers #4
Author:  Hazel Kelly
Release Date:  July 7, 2019
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  3 HEA Hearts

*A special thank you to the author for an arc of this book!

Synopsis:
College dropout Piper has been down on her luck for years, and she’s beginning to doubt whether she'll ever achieve her dream of becoming a professional chef. 

So when a handsome stranger who's frostier than frozen food offers her a job that seems too good to be true, she's in no position to ask questions. Yet the longer she works for him, the more she has.

Unfortunately, her billionaire boss is determined to keep Piper in the dark, especially about his past. But little does she know, her warm presence is making him think about his future for the first time in years, a future he increasingly hopes she'll be a part of.

Can New York's beastliest bachelor open his heart to the beautiful young woman he saved on a hunch? Or will his demons drive her away before he finds the courage to admit his feelings?

Review:
A heartwarming, modern Cinderella & Prince Charming story!  Ash and Piper meet in the grocery store produce department when she advises him on the art of picking out the perfect zucchini squash (cue the sexual innuendos) and then promptly disappears.  They meet for a second time at a charity event when he criticizes one of her appetizers as being too salty and then offers her a job as his personal full-time chef.  Piper is literally "Cinderella" - down on her luck, hungry & thin, and living and working in a bad situation.  She figures the rich, handsome stranger is the lesser of two evils so she accepts his offer, burns her bridges, and moves in with him.  Ash is a billionaire, but no one would mistake him as Prince Charming.  He's cold, bitter, and short-tempered, but not abusive.  Both of these characters harbor secrets from their painful pasts and refuse to open up and share them even as they grow closer.  The trust issues are evident, especially on Ash's part.  It's not hard to see the disaster waiting to happen.  

Readers are privy to both character's thoughts and feelings as the story unfolds.  I enjoyed seeing their emotional connection grow along with the sexual sparks.  The author's snarky humor serves to lighten the mood and tone of this book with several laugh-out-loud scenes.  I will say I was looking for just a little more depth in the plot line as it was a bit predictable.  I also wanted to feel more raw chemistry - more push and pull from and between these characters.   I've felt that energy to a greater extent with Kelly's previous books and hero/heroines.  Having said that, The Other Brother is a good slow burn romance with a beautiful fairytale happy ever after that will leave readers smiling.  A Must Read!

My Rating:  3 HEA Hearts . . .And that's the truth!
Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Sandra

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Escape Room Review


Title:  The Escape Room
Author:  Megan Goldin
Genre:  Suspense/Thriller
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  July 30, 2019
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating: 4.5 Compulsive Hearts


*With many thanks to St. Martin's Press for an arc of this book via Netgalley

In Megan Goldin's unforgettable debut, The Escape Room, four young Wall Street rising stars discover the price of ambition when an escape room challenge turns into a lethal game of revenge.

Synopsis:
Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.

In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style—but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.

Invited to participate in an escape room as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.



Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?

Review:
A highly addictive, compelling must read! I was held spellbound by this mesmerizing story - only managing to escape its hold by finishing the book.  Readers, you'll want to set aside enough time to read this in one sitting as I did.  Once you enter, there's no going back!  

The Escape Room is a gripping story of greed, corruption, and revenge - just another day in the cut throat, ruthless Wall Street corporate world.  Three shallow, high finance team members and their team leader receive a non-negotiable invitation to attend an Escape Room team building exercise late on Friday afternoon.  There isn't an option to decline if they want to keep their jobs.  The location is a high-rise building under construction which stands empty on the weekend except for a security guard.  The team enters the elevator unseen to ascend to the destined escape room - only to find themselves locked in the elevator around the 70th floor.  Lights go out and the temperature rises as they work to solve a few cryptic clues to get released.  As time passes, the heat becomes suffocating, tempers flare, dark secrets and resentments surface, chaos and panic set in, and the situation becomes volatile, escalating out of control.  It quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary escape room challenge . . . they're in a battle for their lives. 

I'm not going to say more about the story.  It's truly an enthralling experience to read and discover the role each person plays in this deadly game and how they ended up there.  Goldin delivers the unique story through chapters that alternate between the present escape room elevator scene and the past leading up to that point in time narrated by a former employee.  Jumping back and forth between scenes, my heart rate escalated as I flew through the pages and soon found myself trapped in the escape room right along beside them.  You can literally smell the sweat and fear and count the heartbeats!  The author slowly weaves each individual's personal story until they all come together in a climax that may not be shocking, but is well delivered and deserved.  The Escape Room is one of the most compulsive reads I've experienced in a long time.  Not the most twisted, not the most shocking, but the most can't-put-it-down, I'm-fully-immersed Must Read!  Highly recommended!

My Rating:  4.5 Compulsive Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx
Sandra














Wednesday, July 3, 2019

IWSG: Personal Traits in Characters . . .

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a website media business with affiliates to enhance our service to visitors. We are a home for writers in all stages; from unpublished to bestsellers. Our goal is to offer assistance and guidance. We want to help writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement we are creating a community of support. Visit IWSG to learn more about this great writing community!
  

IWSG posts the first Wednesday of every month. It's a great writer's resource that I'm sure you'll find well worth your time. Be sure to stop by and visit with other IWSG Members.


Join me in thanking this month's awesome Co-Hosts:  Erika Beebe,  Natalie Aguirre,  Jennifer Lane,  MJ Fifield,  Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

IWSG Question of the Month:  What personal traits have you written into your characters?

I can honestly say I've never set out intentionally writing any of my own personal traits into my characters.  Or they would be very boring indeed! haha  However, I think it's probably impossible not to have some of your own personality traits leak over into characters whether that was your original intent or not.

For me, part of the allure and excitement of creating new characters is in being able to let my imagination run wild - thinking outside the box while breathing life into a new hero or heroine or better yet . . . a particularly nasty villain!  While there's little doubt that a few of my own characteristics show up in new characters, they're more likely to be polar opposites of me.  Actually, truth be known, some of my characters display traits I WISH I had.  For example, I wish I could be more of an extrovert - more outgoing, bolder, brighter, looser.  I'm not, but you know what?  I have the power to make some of my characters that way, and that's so cool!  I try to remember that one size does not fit all!  It's all about looking at each character and figuring out what "fits" them, and their place in my story.

How about you?  What personal traits do you share with your characters?







Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A Stranger On The Beach Review

Title:  A Stranger On The Beach
Author:  Michele Campbell
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Genre:  Suspense Thriller
Release Date:  July 23, 2019
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  4 Obsessive Hearts

*With many thanks to the publisher for an arc of the book via Netgalley

From the bestselling author of It's Always the Husband comes a novel about a love triangle that begins on a fateful night... 

Synopsis:

There is a stranger outside Caroline's house.

Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she'd have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aidan, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.

As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she's built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aidan for comfort...and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aidan's obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline's husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband's murder.
Review:
A Stranger On The Beach is a heart-racing, menacing tale of obsession, betrayal, and deceit.  Told through dual conflicting points of view, readers are charged with deciding who, if anyone, is telling the truth in this twisted he said/she said fatal attraction suspense story.  A story of what happens after forty-three year old Carolyn Stark makes a potentially fatal decision to indulge in a torrid one night stand with a twenty-seven year old stranger after learning her twenty year marriage and luxurious lifestyle are crashing down around her.  In a regrettable, split-second decision, she seeks revenge against her husband by sleeping with Aidan even though she's seen him stalking her beach house a few times.  A fiery night of passion quickly turns into her worse nightmare by dawn's early light.  In her point of view, Carolyn's ready to be rid of Aidan and move on as though the previous night never happened.  No one but Aidan knows about her infidelity, and he won't tell . . . will he?  She'll send him back where he came from and attempt to salvage her marriage.  In Aidan's point of view, he's found the woman of his dreams and the love of his life.  This is his chance for the life he's only dreamed of, and he has no intention of giving it up.  He vows to do anything to keep Carolyn.  Anything.  Two unreliable narrators - two opposing stories of every scene - who's the crazy one?

An intense, chilling, fast-paced thriller, A Stranger On The Beach kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.  I burned through the pages, reading the dual points of view while trying to figure out whose version of the truth was fact and whose was a convoluted, insane web of lies.  I knew there was a piece of the puzzle missing - something just out of my grasp - as I read and reread some scenes trying to catch one of them in a lie.  The author does a great job of setting a dark, treacherous tone throughout with the tension escalating until things take a deadly turn.  The whole ominous fatal attraction/stalker vibe plays out realistically through several twists and turns, leading readers to the shocking finale.  There did come a point before the reveal when the light came on for me, and my suspicions proved to be true.  And yet the author still managed to surprise me with a well executed turn of events on the final page.  A well-written, cunning psychological thriller, A Stranger On The Beach is A Must Read!

My Rating:  4 Obsessive Hearts ... And that's the truth!
Cross My Heart . . . xxx


Sandra

Monday, June 17, 2019

Raze Review

Title:  Raze
Series:  Riven #3
Author:  Roan Parrish
Genre:  M/M Romance
Publisher:  Loveswept
Release Date:  July 2, 2019
Purchase Link:Amazon

My Rating:  4 Intimate Hearts

*With many thanks to the publisher for an arc of this book via Netgalley

Synopsis:
Sometimes the walls we build to save ourselves have to come tumbling down.

For the last ten years, Huey has built his life around his sobriety. If that means he doesn't give a damn about finding love or companionship for himself, well, it's probably better that way. After all, the last thing he wants is to hurt anyone else. Until Felix Rainey walks into his bar, fresh-faced, unbearably sweet--and, for some reason Huey can't fathom, interested in him.

As the eldest of five kids, Felix Rainey spent his childhood cooking dinner, checking homework, and working after-school jobs. Now in his twenties, he's still scrambling to make ends meet and wondering what the hell he's doing with his life. When he meets Huey, he's intimidated . . . and enamored. Huey's strong and confident, he owns his own business--hell, he's friends with rock stars. What could he ever see in Felix?


As Huey and Felix get closer, the spark catches and soon they can't get enough of each other. But Huey's worked hard to avoid intimacy, and Felix threatens his carefully constructed defenses. Huey realizes he needs to change if he wants to truly put his past behind him--and build a future with Felix. 

Review:
Readers can always count on Roan Parrish to deliver authentic characters toting excessive baggage while battling personal demons - be it addiction, ghosts, and/or their own insecurities.  They're usually their own worse enemy, heavily laden with firm beliefs about their own fate in life along with the certainty they dare not deviate from their designated course.  Until something . . . or someone crashes into their world, sending it spinning out of control.  As in previous books in the Riven series, Raze relies heavily on a character-driven plotline that seduces readers with different points of view while encouraging them to become intimate with each character.

Huey is big, strong, and always in control with a rigidly structured daily routine that serves as a defense mechanism keeping him on the straight and narrow path of sobriety.  His size and demeanor make him appear intimidating, uncaring, and quite stoic as he continually shores up the carefully constructed walls around his heart.  And then, on karaoke night at his bar, a very young, timid, long-haired man steps up to the mic and rocks Huey's world sending sensuous vibes sparking between them like shooting stars.  While he's tempted, there are so many reasons Huey knows he can't open that door.

Felix is a sweet, innocent twenty-five year old guy who's an outstanding singer, but an even better caregiver - of everyone but himself.  An endearing aura of purity and innocence surrounds him, making him appear even younger than he is.  And yet, Felix summons the courage to step out of his box and awkardly ask Huey out . . . on a date.  I'm not sure who was more stunned - Huey or Felix.  As the story unfolds, these two very different men in two different phases of their life come together as the proverbial "odd couple" - one an older, gentle giant fearful of letting his guard down and allowing another to invade his personal space, and the other a youthful man full of hope and wonder, needing to find his place and purpose in life before fully committing to another.

As always, Parrish's writing flows with a lyrical and fluent ease that lures readers in.  With simple gestures like hand holding, hugs, and kisses, she paints a beautiful picture of two men falling helplessly in love - one reluctantly, one eagerly. While the sexual energy is off the chart with several spicy 5-Alarm scenes, I appreciate that Parrish dials it back a wee bit in Raze by trusting the character and relationship development to carry the story without the overabundance of fully loaded sex scenes.  Likewise with the high angst as it's definitely lower than in previous books.  I suspect some readers may find the plotline a little too low-key as there aren't any over-the-top explosive scenes in Raze, but rather a series of smaller yet no less intimate moments and "firsts" in these characters' lives which I greatly enjoyed.  I know series' readers will be as delighted as I was to find Theo & Caleb, along with Rhys & Matt, appearing in support roles in this book.  All in all, while Riven remains my favorite of the series, Raze is an emotional, heart-touching Must Read!

My Rating:  4 Intimate Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx




Sandra