by Kathy Altman)
Loving Logan by Katie Bryan
What it's about (back cover copy courtesy of Katie Bryan):
What Bailey O'Donlan wants this Christmas is for Logan Mitchell, the only man she's ever loved, to disappear before he learns her secret. She's not asking much. After all, Logan has disappeared before. Bailey's seen neither hide nor hair of him in eight long years, ever since the Christmas Eve she climbed through his bedroom window with stars in her eyes. Instead, what she gets is one stray golden retriever, one conga-dancing basset hound with nervous gas, four kittens, and two brothers who can't wait to meddle in her life.
Rich and successful, Logan has come home to stay, and to escape from being Society magazine's Most Eligible Bachelor. Ever since the magazine hit the newsstands, he's been getting letters. And not just your typical fan mail kinds of letters, either. He's getting marriage proposals by the truckload, and strange women are asking him to father their children. He's got pictures of women in all manner of dress and some not dressed at all.
When Bailey embarrasses him in front of their friends, he foolishly accepts a bet offered by Bailey's brother—that Logan can make Bailey fall in love with him again before Christmas day. But Logan's plans to win Bailey over get completely derailed when he learns that she's already in love—with the man who left her with a broken heart and a young daughter.
The O'Donlan clan has another agenda, however, and it's not long before Bailey and Logan square off with super-soakers, bologna and brussels sprout casseroles, beer-drenched shirts, a freakish late night pizza delivery, secret decoder rings, a mob of big-haired women, and some wild entertainment called Foreplay. So what's going to happen when Logan finds out that Bailey's daughter is his?
Why you should read it: Loving Logan has a sweet, snappy, impish energy that makes for a fun, fast read and a solidly enticing start to what I hope will be the first of many stories featuring the O'Donlan family. Bryan's characters are pleasantly unpredictable — Logan is successful and smart-alecky, but he's also thoughtful, insecure and refreshingly ready to settle down and begin a family — not realizing he got a jumpstart on that eight years ago. Bailey is struggling with her own insecurities, which contrast nicely against her poise as an entertainer at her uncle's bar and her confidence as a single mother. Logan and Bailey are not the most respectful toward each other, but that seems to be their shtick — their love language, if you will.
Logan jerked back, teeth clenched. How could he have ever thought it might be possible to have an adult truce with a woman holding an eight-year grudge, and who still thought it was appropriate behavior to dump beer on someone? "Let me know if I can buy you another drink. Maybe get you a Midol."
Ouch. But don't worry — in this snippet where Bailey's giving herself a talking-to, you can see she doesn't fight fair, either:
No lies, Bailey. If he asks, dodge the question, change the subject, show him your boobs.
The reader knows right away how Logan wronged Bailey, but the author keeps Bailey's transgression an intriguing secret for a good half of the story. The truth is heartbreaking, in more ways than one. At times Logan and Bailey both tend toward childishness, and there's more stubborn in this story than there is Guinness in a pub, but you'll never stop rooting for them. And there's so much lovely smolder.
I especially enjoyed the Irish family feel — the overprotectiveness of Bailey's brothers, the caring and camaraderie and even the occasional skirmish. And Bryan's cast of critters will thoroughly charm you. Meet Bailey's adopted basset hound:
Bailey's gaze locked on Chumley, lying flat out, his extra skin pooled around him like a black and tan puddle, both paws draped melodramatically around an empty dog food bowl, with a look of injured reproach on his face.
See what I mean? Love, lust, laughter and the luck of the Irish — this heart-catching contemporary has it all. If Katie Bryan isn't planning to make Loving Logan part of a series, I just might have to start a petition.
What Katie Bryan has to say:
Loving Logan is about second chances. Second chances at love. And at life. I wrote this book when my husband was diagnosed with cancer (he is now in remission, yay!) and I wanted something light to work on. If you've read this story, you'll also note a pet theme throughout. All of the pets I've had over the last two decades have been rescues, including my German shepherd, Harley. He's big, he's furry, he's loud and bossy. Next to my husband, he is my very best friend. He gives me unconditional love and he's taught me a lot about humility and loyalty.
It doesn't matter where we live, whether I'm smart or pretty, fat or thin, strong or weak, rich or poor, happy or moody, Harley will always love me. He has made me a better person, the kind of person he believes me to be rather than the person I often think I am. When I am sad, he makes me smile. When I cry, he is my comfort. When I am lonely, he is at my side. When I am happy, he celebrates my joy — with the wag of his tail, a twinkle in his eye, a bounce in his step, and yes, even a smile on his face. I gave him my heart and he gave me his. Love is most definitely a four-legged word. I hope you enjoy the pet antics in Loving Logan.
"A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things—a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty." — John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog.
Where There Is Will by Monica Epstein
What it's about (back cover copy courtesy of The Wild Rose Press):
When she moves to London following her divorce, Michelle Loeser has no interest in looking for love. She needs to focus on surviving without her ex's six-figure income, coping with a severe fear of heights, and rebuilding her confidence. And if she keeps her promise to her best friend, she'll pursue her passion for writing too.
Will Sheridan found his passion early in life. At age eleven, he was cast in the starring role in a film series. Now, at the age of 25, he's a celebrity at a crossroads in his career. He has no time for women who don't understand his priorities.
When Will offers to help Michelle acclimate to the unfamiliar city in exchange for cooking lessons, she figures what's the harm? But jealous fans and coworkers, eager paparazzi, and a distrustful mother see it differently.
Why you should read it: I adore "starting over" stories, and Monica Epstein's Where There Is Will reminds me why. Her heroine's voice is self-deprecating and gently sardonic, yet still manages buoyancy, and for that reason Michelle immediately snagged my interest and sympathy. I couldn't wait to go along for the ride as she discovered her new life in London. From the very first few paragraphs, I found myself riveted by the frank and funny heroine and the often cringe-worthy situations she found herself in:
The booming voice of the woman behind the gate desk of Messenger Airlines at JFK summed up my life in just two words.
I hurried to her so she wouldn't repeat the call and embarrass me further. "That's pronounced Low-zure," I corrected. "It rhymes with closure." Something I need in my life right now.
Michelle is understandably insecure — she's freshly divorced and starting a new job in a new country, and can't quite bring herself to believe that a twentysomething superstar would be interested in her romantically. But interested Will is, and despite the 20-year difference between them, I totally bought it. The author did a fabulous job of convincing me that Will is mature enough and Michelle is open-minded enough — eventually, anyway — to make a future together not just possible, but probable.
But age isn't the only conflict here. There's the whole film star vs. officeworker income imbalance, and Epstein challenges her characters with religious differences as well — some tense and terrific scenes come out of this. This particular conflict isn't resolved at the end, and though that is realistic, I'd like to have seen Will and Michelle at least discuss how they planned to address it during their happy ever after.
I was ashamed that despite his age, he often acted more mature than I.
Occasionally Michelle can be petulant, and Will can be condescending, and after wincing my way through an achingly poignant pub scene that reminded me of the movie Notting Hill, I couldn't help but wonder — can they make this work? Luckily Michelle redeems herself with the help of a raw egg (bet you're curious about that) and Will with a charming show of earnestness, and the romance continues its gradual and gratifying build.
Where There Is Will is well-written and engaging, sexy and endearing, and sparkles with laugh-out-loud bits of naughtiness and wit. A high-five for Monica Epstein and her all-kinds-of-delightful debut.
What Monica Epstein has to say:
Where There Is Will is a book about a middle-aged, newly divorced woman who must learn to believe in herself. It's something I know firsthand.
Like the heroine, Michelle, I had to re-create myself in midlife — not because of divorce, but because I had let my professional credentials expire while I stayed home to raise my children. I was in my early 40s and trying to figure out what I wanted to make of my life. I questioned the skills I could offer an employer. I figured not many would be interested in hiring a woman with 20 years' experience wiping runny noses and drinking imaginary tea from a plastic teacup. And although coaxing teens to do their homework might be a skill that can be applied in the workforce, it wasn't something I was proud to put on my resume.
With career counseling, I managed to identify my strengths and pursue a new career. It wasn't easy, but the payoff was well worth it.
I want Where There Is Will to inspire any woman who finds herself in a period of transition — whether it is changing careers like me, adjusting to an empty nest, or learning to live on her own — to believe she can do it. Even if she doesn't have a twentysomething hunk cheering her on.
She Can Hide by Melinda Leigh
What it's about (back cover copy courtesy of Montlake):
From the moment Officer Ethan Hale pulls Abby Foster from icy waters, he senses there's more to her than meets the eye. Abby has no memory of the accident that submerged her car in the frozen river. Three years ago, Abby was kidnapped and abandoned in a well for a week. The botched police investigation nearly killed her. Abby had moved to the mountains of Pennsylvania for a fresh start, but when it becomes clear that this car crash wasn't an accident, she knows the violence from her past has caught up with her.
But Abby's former assailant was convicted and imprisoned, so who else wants her dead?
Ethan uncovers a fresh string of murders tied to Abby's past. Someone is trying to kill her, and this time the stalker seems determined to finish the task. As the killer grows bolder, Abby begins to trust Ethan enough to share the truth, her heart, and her life. But to stop the murders, Ethan must make a decision that could jeopardize it all.
Why you should read it: Bestselling author Melinda Leigh is quickly becoming a staple for romantic suspense readers. She's known for taut, twist-ridden, briskly paced stories guaranteed to hike your heart rate. Her characters are passionate, intense and intelligent, their conflicts as thrilling as they are poignant. And with this fourth installment in the She Can series, Leigh proves — and how! — that her imagination is more diabolical than ever.
Water inched up the glass. The sense of confinement suffocated her. Her heart catapulted blood through her veins.
She pressed the lever. Nothing happened.
Oh no. It had to open!
Did electric windows work underwater? The car shifted again, the hood dropping thirty degrees. Sliding forward, Abby braced her upper body on the steering wheel.
Water advanced beyond her calves to her thighs. Two layers of winter running pants were designed to facilitate moisture evaporation, not keep water out. The cold bit into her skin like the teeth of a saw. Pain and numbness spread up her legs and reached for her body with a greedy splash.
That gets the ol' adrenaline going, doesn't it? And that's only page two! All throughout She Can Hide, Abby struggles to stop doing exactly that — she's done hiding. Longs to start living. She's tired of being afraid, tired of pretending to be someone she's not. More than that, she's tired of being a victim. But danger has discovered her all over again, and she's horrified to realize she's putting everyone she loves at risk. Meanwhile Ethan's not too happy about his own realization that just by being a cop, he's returning the favor. A tough thing for a sworn protector to swallow. Their situation is further complicated by Abby's lack of faith in Ethan — she's learned not to trust law enforcement. Throw in some hardcore sexual tension and there's no way you can set this book aside!
Leigh excels at misdirection, and her interweaving of secondary characters and subplots into the main storyline is smooth and effective, and always surprising. Speaking of secondary characters … my favorite is Derek, Abby's young neighbor. His mother is addicted to alcohol and deadbeat boyfriends, and Derek's greatest fear is that he'll end up back in a foster home. This kid's a heartbreaker.
Derek opened the refrigerator. The milk and juice were gone. Butter and eggs occupied the top shelf right above a twelve-pack, but frying an egg was too noisy. They'd wake Joe.
You won't be able to resist Abby's mastiff, either, or the cat who torments the colossal dog. But neither will keep you distracted for long from the tantalizing mystery of who wants Abby Foster dead. For a stellar romantic suspense reading experience, hunt down a copy of Melinda Leigh's She Can Hide.
What Melinda Leigh has to say:
I am a dog person. And a cat person. And a horse person. My life is full of kids and animals and the chaos that comes along with having a houseful of unpredictable living creatures. To me, a book wouldn't feel real without some of this craziness. Animals also allow me to introduce some needed lightness into very dark storylines.
But there's another reason I include animals in my novels. They give my characters a chance to reveal their true emotions without fear of judgment or repercussion. In She Can Hide, Abby has significant trust issues. She's been betrayed in the past. So how do I ensure she's ready for her happily-ever-after with the hot cop? Abby needs a vehicle to practice trust and love. Enter Zeus, her mastiff. Zeus allows Abby to convey emotions she isn't ready to entrust to other people.
I see this animal-human bond all the time in my home. When my teenagers are having a bad day, I find them with one of our pets. Their peers can be changeable, but they know they can always trust the dog or cat with their troubles.
Kathy Altman's latest contemporary romance novel is Staying at Joe's. Kathy prefers her chocolate with nuts, her Friday afternoons with wine and her love stories with happy ever afters. Her website is KathyAltman.com.