December Book Recommendations by Jonetta from The Book Nympho

BookNympho

I’m often asked if I’m a character or plot-driven reader and have come to the conclusion they’re both important, but my ability to connect to the character(s) has the edge. It doesn’t even matter if I like them, I just have to be able to GET them and become immersed in their story.

The following titles are some of my most favorite stories I have read this year. The characters AND stories completely captivated me, giving me both connections I crave. They all have either difficult heroines or storylines that I normally avoid. It’s a tribute to the writers that I not only stuck with the stories but include them on my list of top reads for the year.

Paradise Hops by Liz Crowe (October 15, 2012)

ParadiseHopsLori Brockton suffered a brutal attack two years ago and finally emerged from being a virtual recluse to return to work in the family’s brewing company business, determined to learn every aspect of its operations. A year later, their newly-hired business manager, Garrett Hunter, sees her and is immediately seduced at first sight by the vulnerable and still rocky Lori. They become seriously involved and after a year, Eli Buchanan, the new brewmaster they recruited, sets off a puzzling attraction as his bad boy reputation and behavior is everything Lori wants to avoid. She has her perfect man so why is she drawn to someone else for any reason?

I normally avoid stories involving love triangles because someone inevitably ends up hurt and I end up feeling bad about it at the end of the book. While I certainly experienced some emotional turmoil, this was one ride I’m glad to have taken.

Lori’s inner conflict about Garrett and Eli at first seems a bit selfish. Garrett really seems to be the perfect and ideal lover and I was confused as to why Eli was even a consideration.  But then, there are things Garrett does that make you question whether he’s devoted to the point of being “stalker-ish” and Eli starts exhibiting his Nordic god-like qualities. Later, you start seeing more depth in both of them and you’re emotionally torn all over again. The messiness of their situation was so very real with no one “bad guy” that crystallizes to make the solutions easier.

That’s the point with this story. I was emotionally ragged throughout as I sifted through the complicated layers of each of the characters. Lori begins as a somewhat tragic figure who evolves into someone I thought was being incredibly insensitive and unfair, then back to being someone I empathized with completely.

I could not put the book down and, yes, I had some sadness at the outcome but was completely taken care of by an ideal epilogue. I loved, loved, loved this book and still haven’t let the characters go. And, by the end, I got the significance of the title and the wordplay…it makes me feel really good every time I see it.  I highly recommend it for the quality of the story, writing, depth of characterization and, ultimately, the romance.

Summer at the Shore Leave Cafe by Abbie Williams (December 17, 2012)

SummerShoreLeaveCafeIt’s bad enough to find out your husband is cheating but to catch him in the act is pretty painful. Joelle Gordon stuck it out for a few months after this happened and then packed up her three daughters and returned to Landon, Minnesota, the town where both she and her husband, Jackie, grew up. Joelle comes from tough stock as the women of her family have learned to fend for themselves for various reasons. They welcomed her back with open arms, somehow sensing her wounded heart and providing her safe haven while she tries to heal and figure out what to do with her life. Unfortunately, it got much more complicated as soon as she stepped inside of her mother’s café and looked into the eyes of Blythe Tilson, a tall, dreamy, hot and YOUNG temptation.

From the moment I started this story I knew it was going to draw me in and keep me in Landon until the story ended. Joelle is telling her own story but this isn’t a woman who is completely leveled, even though she feels that way. She keeps going for her daughters and going home gave her just the right energy to revive herself. As she’s contemplating the end of her marriage, Joelle wraps herself in the strength emanating from her Gran, Aunt Ellen, Mom and Jilly (her younger sister). Her daughters, though sensing something is wrong between their parents, believe they’re just going to be there for the summer and thrive as they benefit from being with this incredible family. They are not perfect but somehow their flaws seem to make them even less imperfect because at the very least, they are authentic.

Joelle’s attraction to Blythe (Bly) wasn’t just on her end. From the moment they saw each other, it was pretty clear that he shared that connection. He’s in his 20s and she’s 35; this is a small town and his step-grandfather is the long-time cook at the Café and Joelle brings enough baggage to consider a relationship impossible. The issues they had to deal with were complex, considering the age difference, her marital status and her daughters’ feelings (they ranged from ages 12 – 17). Nothing was sugar coated and each stolen moment that Bly and Joelle were able to manage was incredible…not just steamy (and they are steamy) but highly romantic.

I cannot say enough about the quality of the writing as I felt as if I was catapulted into Landon, feeling, smelling and languishing at the surrounding Flickertail Lake, the café and the front porch where so many of the conversations occurred between the women of this family. The writing is flawless and I could vividly picture every character with a role of significance either to Joelle or Bly.

I love this story. If you enjoy contemporary fiction along with your romance, you’ll love this book.

Love Me Not by Reese Ryan (December 30, 2013)

LoveMeNotJamie Charles had it pretty rough until she met Melanie Gordon when she was 8-years old. The Gordon family knew life at home was pretty grim and looked out for her. By the time she was 12, they formally became her legal guardians. As loved as she was by her new family, the early damage done left Jamie pretty scarred. She was tough and adopted risky behaviors as she tried to escape her memories. Now, she’s got a steady job that she’s good at while she hones her skills as an artist. Though she’s become responsible, Jamie doesn’t believe that committed relationships are in the cards and works really hard to keep it that way.

Miles Copeland was in Cleveland on a business trip and happened to stop by the bar and grille where Jamie was bartending. Drawn immediately to this appealing and intriguing woman, he was determined to get beneath that veneer she used to keep everyone at arm’s length. Complicating matters was the bar’s “no customer fraternizing” policy and he was going to have to return to New York in a month. It also doesn’t help that Jamie’s biological mother shows up after a 15-year absence.

The story, told most from Jamie’s perspective, is emotionally draining. There are the highs from the blossoming romance between her and Miles. He’s pretty much a dream, though he makes a few decisions that almost derail their fragile relationship. Then there are those low moments when Jamie begins the unraveling of all those memories she’s successfully stifled over the last 15+ years. The harder she tries to pull away, the harder Miles holds on. I was riveted, almost terrified she’d do something to sabotage her relationship with Miles, drawn into her pain and her joy from finally finding someone who she couldn’t drive away.

I waited impatiently for this book since I learned it was going to be Jamie’s story and it far surpassed anything I was hoping for. I was worried I wouldn’t like Jamie but ended up just wanting to protect her. Miles was sexy, romantic, sensitive and an incredible lover (be prepared for some serious, serious steam) and had enough imperfections to keep him real. I loved how Jamie’s transformation unfolded and developed, as well as the realism regarding her romance with Miles. The really great news? This isn’t the end of the series and future books are planned for one of the more tragic characters in this story and another who got my attention and soon as she was introduced. Another series I’m now hopelessly hooked on.

(P.S. – I’m religious about reading books in order so this is hard to say….you can read this one without having read the first one as the timeline occurs ahead of that story. But, as I loved the first book, why deny yourself that pleasure.)

The Summer He Came Home by Juliana Stone (April 2, 2013)

SummerHeCameHomeI came ever so close to not downloading this book and am I ever grateful that I gave it a second shot. It isn’t another story about a wild-child-turned-rocker who comes home to prove to the hometown crowd he could be somebody (what I thought it would be). Instead, it was a tender, loving story about a guy, Cain Black, who had a bit of bad boy in him, was incredibly talented as a teen-ager and everyone knew it and returns home when one of his best friends from that time was killed in action in Afghanistan. The group that was affectionately called the Bad Boys of Crystal Lake get to reunite for the first time since high school but sadly with one missing.

Maggie O’Rourke is one of the first people Cain sees when he gets back for the funeral reception and it’s all sparks and sizzle from thereon out. She’s pretty reluctant to let him into her life, not only because he’s a rock star and all that implies, but she’s got a 7-year old son and a secret past that could threaten her safety and security. The red-haired Maggie is no push over and makes him work for her, not too much, just the right tempo. It’s a contemporary romance but with a slight bit of suspense and intrigue thrown in to make it just a little spicier.

What works about this story? The hometown embraces Cain and his friends and we learn a lot from their recollections. The friendship and closeness of the Bad Boys is fun and entertaining. Cain has all of the things we love about musicians…oozing charisma, a strong presence and the ability to touch you emotionally with melody and lyrics. Even though I couldn’t really hear them, he struck some really nice chords:) Cain’s relationship with Maggie and her son Michael is just well done. No shortcuts are taken here and they tackle substantive and realistic issues.

This isn’t a fluff piece with stereotyped angles. It’s a well-written story with characters you care about, like and lust over (Cain is simply delicious). Cain’s friends, Jake and Mac, give us a clue about their future stories and I know enough now to definitely commit to reading them as soon as they’re available. Put this on your shelf and read it.

Wild Child by Molly O’Keefe (October 29, 2013)

WildChildMolly O’Keefe is one of my favorite writers. You can count on her to create characters that will test you and take your emotions for a spin, one moment loving them the next wanting to give them a good shake. Well, she didn’t let me down with this story!

Monica Appleby returns to Bishop, Arkansas to write her next book. She was the unwilling reality TV star growing up and labeled the teen-aged “Wild Child.” Bishop is where her father was killed when she was five years old and she wants to reconcile her memories with those who witnessed the events. Meanwhile, Mayor Jackson Davies is preparing the town to show it’s best face in a contest to woo a major conglomerate to move their factory operations to Bishop. He’s not sure the Wild Child fits into the scenario.

Monica has her own agenda and gets prickly when Jackson balks at what she plans to do. He can’t afford to have anything (or anyone!) foil his plan to save this town because he plans to leave as soon as the town recovers. Jackson hasn’t had a chance to explore the world since being forced to return to take care of his much younger sister following his parents’ deaths. His sister is rebelling and pulling further away from him every minute. He also doesn’t want to give in to the obvious attraction he and Monica have for each other.

Having both Monica’s and Jackson’s individual points of view kept me in the romance because these two did a dance with each other that kept me off balance. They were so true to their emotionally battered selves when dealing with each other I thought it might take forever for them to come together. There was no instant love here but the lusting didn’t hold them back. The dialogue is clever, the sexual tension high and the secondary characters/story lines pitched perfectly to add even more conflict. The writing is some of the finest I’ve seen in this genre.

But what I REALLY loved was the complexity of these two characters. Monica is really damaged and I liked how she didn’t seek sympathy nor made any excuses for her past behavior. She owned her identity, flaws and all, and disarmed her detractors. It pained me sometimes to see her be so exposed while at the same time be incredibly private about the real depth of her pain and loneliness. Her prickliness with Jackson could be maddening at times. He, on the other hand, masked his pain and disillusion behind a pleasing facade…”I’ve got it handled” so no one ever saw the real Jackson. And yet, these two saw straight through each other and their relationship was as complicated as they were individually.

This is not chic-lit or some light and breezy romance. This is a serious story, meaning the writing is spectacular and substantive, the story has depth and the characters EXTREMELY interesting and true to their designed nature. I make no bones about O’Keefe being one of my favorite writers and, even though I was prepared for a good  book, I was blown away by this one. It’s not a light read and it should be one you make a point to include on your shelf. Just make certain that you take the time to savor this story when you do read it.

French Roast by Ava Miles (August 9, 2013)

FrenchRoastJill Hale and Brian McConnell have been best friends since they were eight years old. At some point, Jill realized that her feelings went beyond friendship and imagined they’d spend the rest of their lives together. But when he decided to go to culinary school in New York without telling her until moments after graduation, he broke her heart and crushed her trust, separating them for the next eight years. Now he’s returned to Dare Valley wanting to make amends and Jill’s not having any of it.

There was more than Brian’s breach of trust that destroyed his friendship with Jill but it was the icing on the cake after having rejected the notion of their relationship becoming more than best buddies. He misses what they had and wants desperately to get it back. He’s also not being forthright about his reasons for leaving New York and when a “friend” shows up unexpectedly, Jill’s not sure she can trust him enough to commit her heart and career to Brian.

Jill seemed a little on the immature side in the first book so I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy her story as much as her sister’s. However, she had more moxie and toughness than I gave her credit for and I became a fan quickly. Jill’s business savvy set her apart from her peers, having started her own coffee shop when she was barely out of school and managed it exceptionally. She’s a loyal friend and rather fearless in dealing with everybody. She was just as passionate in her relationship with Brian, even as he repeatedly tested her trust in him.

Brian was deliciously flawed, so well meaning but boneheaded in the choices he made over and over again. His feelings for Jill were never really in question but his fear of losing her created obstacles time and again. As much as I wanted to scream at him for some of the decisions he made, I also couldn’t help falling for the guy. And he had some serious skills in the kitchen! Do NOT read this book if you’re hungry as he’s pretty detailed about some of his French concoctions. He’s one of the sexiest chefs I can recall and was incredibly romantic.

This was the hottest, steamiest romance made even more delectable because of their friendship (and Brian’s culinary talents). Brian and Jill liked and knew each other so well that you just wanted it to work. Their business and personal issues were adeptly woven into the story, providing a level of realism I found extraordinary. There are some really tough moments that will try you emotionally, but I love a good cry. There’s also a secondary storyline that sets up the next book so very well and I’m dying to start it. I love this series and am glad I’ve got the next two books in the pipeline.

About Jonetta (Ejaygirl) from The Book Nympho

EjaygirlAvatarJonetta loves reading and is just crazy about romance and mystery writers. She became an associate reviewer for The Book Nympho blog in June 2012 and is open to exploring new authors and genres. She has an appreciation for authors who not only write well but can deliciously craft a character and a tale.

Jonetta is also a moderator for the J. D. Robb and Nora Roberts groups on both Goodreads and Shelfari. She’s currently in the process of launching her own consulting business when she’s not reading or talking about books.

The Book Nympho: http://thebooknympho.com
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4876540-jonetta
Shelfari: http://www.shelfari.com/ejaygirl
Twitter: @ejaygirl77
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jonettaejaygirl.allen?ref=tn_tnmn


Comments

December Book Recommendations by Jonetta from The Book Nympho — 3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *