Review of ‘Hungry hearts’ by Saxon Bennett and Layce Gardner.

Claudia Montgomery, a best selling author of mystery novels, is suffering from writer’s block. Her agent sends her to ‘Hungry Hearts’ a Bed & Breakfast in a small seaside town to find inspiration for her next novel. Kate Ferguson was a successful archaeologist who had to quit her career to care for her twin nieces in her mother’s B&B. When Claudia and Kate meet, their attraction is undeniable but could they find love in each other?

This is a very slow-burn romance between main characters in their mid forties. The story is set in a small seaside town with the typical meddling of its inhabitants. Most of the time, the tone of the story is whimsical and humorous, similar to Robin Alexander’s style, so I’m not sure if it’ll appeal to all romance fans. For me, this read would have been better if the chemistry between the main characters was stronger.

The novel is generally well written though sometimes the balance between showing and telling is off. In my opinion, the most enjoyable parts of the story is when the authors give an insight into the writing process through Claudia’s creative struggles.

There are a good number of secondary characters, mostly town residents, but the ones that steal the show are Kate’s nieces. The 10 year-old twins are as much main characters as the leading couple. They are very precocious for their age and their use of language and social skills are similar to an adult’s. I personally didn’t find them completely believable but they were definitely likeable.

Overall, a good slow-burn romance with a cast of unconventional characters. 3.5 stars.

ARC provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Full English’ by Rachel Spangler.

Emma Volant is an American best-selling author that, after a nasty divorce, decides to leave the US for a small town in North Eastern England. Full of insecurities and low self esteem, she slowly starts to interact with people in the village, specially Brogan McKay, the pub’s bartender and job multitasker. As Emma and Brogan’s friendship grows so does their mutual attraction, but, Emma needs time to heal and Brogan thinks Emma is out of her league. Will they have a happily ever after?

According to the author, this book was conceived after Ms. Spangler and her family spent 9 months living in the north east of England. In her notes, the author described the challenges of writing a book set in England with American and English main characters. As a reader based in Northern Ireland, I appreciate her efforts to explain her spelling choices and pronunciation guidelines for the otherwise perplexing Irish names. I’ve heard so many times people butchering my sons’ Irish names that her endeavour is appreciated.

This book is as much a romance as a crash course in British culture. The author goes beyond highlighting the obvious differences in spellings and regional words and opens up a world of different types of food, habits and social conventions. I found that Ms. Spangler researched the issue well and I found her descriptions of the landscape, the weather and social classes’ issues very realistic. As a foreigner in the UK, I concur with Emma’s problems while driving on the left side and her newfound love for scones and clotted cream!

Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, I found the book slow in developing the romance mainly because there are a good number of secondary characters and a whole set of cultural differences that needed to be introduced. Some readers who aren’t interested in the clash of cultures or life in small towns might find the pace of the romance too slow. However, once the romance part of the story starts developing, their personal issues and their conflict is realistic and credible.

Having said that, while in most of the book both characters voiced their feelings so well, the later stages of their conflict felt a bit forced. The secondary characters are well rounded, even considering that there were lots of them. While I recognise the ubiquitous gossip of small towns, I’m not convinced that the meddling in the mains’ love life is characteristic of British or Irish families. The McKays might be an exception but, in my experience, I find that both British and Irish people, while they love their gossip, they tend not to voice or meddle with other people’s affairs. That’s my only criticism in the depiction of British and Irish cultures as I found that the rest was spot-on.

Overall, a very good story about American and British culture clash with a moving romance at the side. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Hearts of Emerald Bay’ by D.G. Barnes.

Romance author Dana Lawson goes for a relaxing summer holiday to a small seaside town in Nova Scotia, where she meets local bar owner Mac Mackenzie. Their attraction is undeniable but what started as a summer fling soon develops into something more meaningful as both women face different challenges. Will they have their happily ever after?

‘Hearts of Emerald Bay’ is an entertaining romance by debut author D.G. Barnes. Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, the story is sometimes light and funny and others take a more serious and angsty tone. I think the author managed this balance well. Mr. Barnes builds Dana and Mac’s chemistry skillfully and their intimate scenes are hot and realistic. The secondary characters are well rounded, specially Mac’s niece Ellie and Dana’s best friend Jennie. The different subplots keep the story moving forward while dealing with difficult issues such as homophobia and bereavement.

This is the first lesfic book I read by a male author (I’ve never read anything by Erik Schubach). I have to say that Mr. Barnes’s depiction of a lesbian relationship is well-written and realistic, including the intimate scenes. There’s even a reference to Melissa Brayden’s ‘Soho loft’ series. Even though there are a few typos and the main conflict seemed a bit forced by out of character miscommunication, I found the work of this author very promising and will definitely read his next book.

Overall, an entertaining romance with a good balance of chemistry, angst and playfulness. 4 stars.

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘When the stars sang’ by Caren J. Werlinger.

Kathleen Halloran spent every summer of her childhood in her grandmother’s house in Little Sister, an isolated island in Maine, until her younger brother died in an accident there. Twenty five years later, after her grandmother died, she decides to move back permanently. But the islanders are a tight community and her arrival stirs old memories and distrust. Among them is Molly Cooper, the attractive part-time sheriff that is less than enthusiastic about the newcomer. But as they get to know each other, their attraction grows and Molly wonders if Kathleen’s past will make her bond with the island or take her away forever.

This is a very good novel by Ms. Werlinger with many different ingredients like drama, angst, humour and romance in a delicate balance. Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters Kathleen and Molly, the story unveils slowly ideal for taking all in.

Ms. Werlinger builds an interesting world in this small island. She takes her time describing how the islanders blend their Irish and native (First Ones) heritage, their mix of Paganism and Catholicism, a culture not attached to consumerism or property laws and very close to nature.

There are lots of secondary characters but Ms. Werlinger introduces them slowly and each with their own distinct personalities so it’s not a burden on the reader to recognise them. There are different types such as extroverts, introverts, mystic, caring, loyal, and even quirky, like in Robin Alexander’s books. There is also space for a very cute dog.

My only issue with this book is that I couldn’t feel the sexual intimacy between the main characters, they feel more like life companions, lacking passion. It doesn’t help that all sex scenes are fade to black. It’s a minor issue because this story isn’t solely a romance. Additionally, the villain characters, especially Kathleen’s parents, seem a bit stereotyped and the story could have gained from getting to know them better in their suffering. Having said that, this is a very enjoyable book for those who are looking to read a life story rather than a romance.

Overall, a very good book about life in a small and tight community. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Cameron’s rules’ by Baxter Brown.

After an accidental meeting in which writer Julie Carter spills coffee on corporate lawyer Cameron Kassen’s clothes, Julie gets hooked and invites her on a date. But Cameron lives in Toronto and Julie in San Diego and the distance between them isn’t just physical…

One of the issues I have with this book is that, in my opinion, it is marketed completely wrong. I have three reasons to support my argument: first, it is under the romance category while it should have been categorised as general fiction. Second, the cover suggests a light read which is completely the opposite. Third, the book blurb is misleading, again suggesting a playfulness that this novel lacks. It’s not wise to mislead the readers as it can backfire when the expectations don’t meet reality. The proof is in the reviews, don’t take my word, see what other readers say.

‘Cameron’s rules’ is written in first person from the point of view of Cameron which gives the reader a prime access to her headspace. To say that Cameron isn’t a lovable character is the lesfic understatement of the year. In 90% of the book she comes across as a self-centered, manipulative and irredeemable person. She would be a great evil character. Unfortunately, she’s not very good romance novel material. Being in her headspace for long feels a bit claustrophobic but luckily there is a story inside the story that it’s written in third person from Julie’s point of view. Not enough to balance things out but at least to give the reader a break.

The book is not badly written, as a matter of fact, it’s a very good standard for a debut novel. The balance between showing and telling is fine, the dialogues sound natural and the characters are well rounded. However, in my opinion, if the author was trying for a romance, the plotting and the characters’ development should have taken another direction. Unfortunately, 90% of the book is spent on why the characters couldn’t be together. So much so that the author successfully convinced me that they shouldn’t. Not the best of ideas for a romance. I’d downright call it anti-romance.

As much as I appreciate the effort that the author put in her work, I found this read unrewarding and, unfortunately, I cannot recommend it if you are looking for a romance. However, I’d read another book by this author in the future as I see talent and potential in her writing.

Overall, 2.5 stars rounded up to 3.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Media darling’ by Fiona Riley.

Emerson Sterling is a famous actress with a bad-girl reputation. Hayley Carpenter is a celebrity gossip journalist whose dream is to be a screen writer. When their paths cross in an awkward situation, they start to form a bond which evolves into something deeper. But Hayley soon learns the high price to pay behind the apparent glamour of celebrity life.

I have to admit that I don’t care much about celebrity lifestyle but this book got me hooked from the start because it’s so much more than a relationship between a celebrity and an ordinary person. This is a sweet romance with the addition of a critique of the media role in their portrayal of celebrities. Both main characters, Emerson and Hayley, are multi-layered with their personalities well defined. Their chemistry is absolutely off the charts, Ms. Riley has done a great job at building their attraction slowly but surely. Some of the scenes of them together are cute and others are very sensual, that variety makes the romance even more enjoyable.

The secondary characters are well rounded, specially both mains’ best friends, Alison and Tremont. The setting of the story is very well written, the descriptions of the places in both LA and Maine are beautifully portrayed. The dialogues are very well written, sometimes funny and witty, others seriously deep and moving.

The plot is tightly woven, Ms. Riley has got the ebb and flow of the tension perfectly. Even though there is a good deal of drama, the conflict doesn’t feel contrived or artificially created, on the contrary, it makes sense and seems the logical consequence of the chain of events. Many readers are going to like the fact that the author takes her time to finish the book after the conflict is solved. The story has a perfect length, neither is rushed nor stretched.

Overall, an entertaining, poignant and romantic story with a side of social critique to celebrity culture and the media. 5 stars.

ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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