The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Heart wrenching

This couldn’t be more beautifully told. Although, at the beginning, I was extremely sceptical. I’m not really a volleyball fan, so whilst I appreciated the detail in the story of all the gameplay, it was a bit lost on me. Yet, as the story gathered momentum, the story behind everything grips and doesn’t let go.

Sage, the superstar volleyball player, considered aloof to any outsider. Yet we soon find out that Sage isn’t all she appears to be. When Sage passes out during a match, it’s discovered that she has a heart condition which disqualifies her from playing. For life.

Len, short for Lennon, named after, well, her father is a huge Beatles fan, so should be obvious. She was once an amazing student, set for great heights in photography, yet everyone at school, including her teachers, have noticed she’s changed. The students typically laugh at her for being the weirdo, the odd one out, which just isolates her even more.

Sage is surprisingly sympathetic of Len, even before her diagnosis, yet she doesn’t understand at all. Once Sage receives her diagnosis, Len is the first one to notice that Sage is carrying a heavy burden of sadness. Len is also the only one to not judge, to not push her to be happy. Somehow, through these encounters, each seeks the other out, and develop a tenuous friendship, that may indeed save both of their lives.

As the story develops, all the signs are there of Len’s OCD, yet Sage is the first to truly notice and take an interest in it. Len, of course, in all her confusion, believes it to be something entirely different. The quirks of the condition are handled so well, the panic attacks, the obsessive behaviour. If you understand any of this in any way at all, then you can appreciate fully what Len is going through and how sympathetically it is written.

It’s near the ending when everything breaks lose, when Sage is on the verge of collapse after pushing herself too far, and Len comes to save her. Then Sage helps Len to finally confront what happened that changed everything. My Gods, I truly blubbed when Len was reunited with her sister.

This is a story of friendship beyond the lines, how two seemingly different teenagers meet and form a friendship from the ashes of disaster and devastation. By the time I got to the end, I appreciated, loved, and had a respect for it all.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

My Way to You by Catherine Bybee

Glorious

This book is half based on reality, centred around the events of the Californian wildfires of 2016, which the author personally lived through. From an outsider’s point of view, it is impossible to imagine, even when viewing the photos of the event, as it doesn’t give you even a small idea of the heat and ash, or the crazy mudslides afterwards. I haven’t even a clue of what the Californian countryside is like, either. But the author gives such vivid descriptions, that it pulls you in and puts you there at the scene.

Amongst all this craziness and disaster is a young woman, just 25, forced to grow up early after tragically losing her parents and as a result becoming responsible for her younger siblings, and a chance encounter with a Public Works supervisor, who is determined to save her home from impending floods and mudslides. Yes there is a little bit of insta-attraction here, but it takes time for a relationship to slowly develop as Parker slowly eases up on her control and gives in to Colin.

Parker has gotten so used to doing everything on her own, Colin nicknames her “Annie Oakley” as a homage to her gun-wielding independence and steadfastness. Parker quite happily shows herself all woman by nicknaming him in turn “TDH” (aka, “Tall, Dark, and Handsome”). But just because she finds him attractive, doesn’t mean that she’s giving him a single inch of her hard-won control.

Two very independent characters, set amongst a deluge of disasters.

Alongside them all are Parker’s siblings, who are surprisingly well behaved considering their respective ages. Although that is a lot down to Parker, giving up her sibling responsibility in exchange for a parenting one. Then there’s Erin, a frightened young woman who starts to settle and shine as the story moves on. Plus Colin’s ever-loving family, who play a strong side roll.

But despite all the good, there were a couple of disappoints for me. Firstly, it took a while before we learnt about what happened to Parker’s parents, and even that wasn’t a true answer. Then there was Erin, always looking over her shoulder, but nothing ever came of that thread. I was also expecting something more to happen with the strange man who suddenly appeared in their yard.

A story filled with grit and determination that, despite my minor niggles, I really enjoyed.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

The Gamble by Tara Crescent

Plenty of hotness in a second-chance romance with a twist

This is a new reworking of the book Gambling with Gabriella. I hadn’t read this book, so everything inside is completely new to me. I actually read it in pieces, as part of a newsletter release. Not something I’ve actually done before, so I got to submit a couple of corrections, and enjoy the book as each part came out.

Moving onto the story itself, wow does that contain some huge hotness! As my title says, it’s a second-chance romance with a twist – Gabriella had a one-night stand with two hot guys, which was wonderful, but at the time she wasn’t up for anything else. Yet, there they are, still in her mind. And it appears that they can’t stop thinking about her, either.

A complete chance meeting happens as she is given a PR assignment in Atlantic City, and just happens to be staying in the very hotel that these two hot guys, Dominic and Carter, own. With a little bit of awkwardness at first, it’s only a matter of time before these three hook up again. Yet, is it a match for life, or just another night of fun…?

And of course, there are plenty of twists and turns. Carter is at risk of losing the nephew he’s looked after for so long for good. And Gabriella has a nasty secret of her own – she’s gotten herself addicted to underground gambling as a way of earning enough to start her own business, threw all caution to the wind in one night of madness, and ended up seriously in debt.

As each storyline twists and brings our three MCs together, they end up saving each other in more ways than one.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via the author and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

If I Love You by Tmonique Stephens

From bitter to sweet

A story that starts off with resentment, which we do learn the reasons for as the story moves along, yet resolves in a good way.

Kensley and Noah were once friends, having grown up together, along with her brother. Yet her brother didn’t come back from Afghanistan. Noah did. So when Noah returns to their hometown barely months after her brother’s funeral, he’s the last one that she wants to interact with. Yet, somehow, he’s there at every turn.

Will the truth set Kensley free? Can she forgive Noah?

There is plenty of heat here. Even though the two main characters are most definitely attracted to one another, it takes time for both of them to come to terms with what they have.

Love, loss, intrigue – this book has it all!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Back to September by Melissa Brayden

Romance not necessarily at its best

There were many brilliant moments inside this, but just as many terrible ones. To start with, a book about books should be exciting, especially with people who absolutely love books and reading, and share that as much as possible. All the geeky stuff, the shared knowledge to help people find their “perfect book match”. That was wonderful. It was the romance aspect that let this all down.

One thing I found difficult to handle was that there was more than one “high” point. We have everything going brilliantly, switching to things fading out, switching to things going fantastically brilliantly again (eked out so far that it became boring), up to things going dramatically badly, but ending with an HEA. I’m sure huge chunks of this could have been cut out, as it’s not the idea that the reader gets bored in the middle. So the dramatic part (which didn’t feel so dramatic), which is supposed to hit at two thirds, actually felt like it came late.

The HEA, once it finally did come (after we had a fake HEA before that) was a great ending. It’s just the journey to there that was far too messy for my tastes.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Hammers, Strings, and Beautiful Things by Morgan Lee Miller

Hard hitting

I was drawn to this book first by a GR friend’s review, then by the beautiful cover and finally the description. I expected much from it, yet it has to come with some warnings – the alcohol and drug abuse is written so well, that you can feel the pain coming from all sides.

I guess, even with knowing that, I hadn’t expected it to be so hard hitting. Blair might seem to come off as quite selfish, as she sinks into despair, but the truth is she’s been trying to handle anxiety and depression in an extreme way. None of her friends have any real understanding of what she’s going through, placing the blame firmly on her side, which in the beginning just makes things worse. It takes her hitting rock bottom to truly be able to find a way out, whilst completely leaving her on her own once more.

This book shows the price of fame, whilst also showing humanity at its best and worst. Whilst I can be disappointed at the reaction of the side characters to Blair’s condition, it wasn’t at all surprising considering general opinions of addiction. The only way out is with support and help, which she was forced to find herself.

Running along behind all this is the romance element. Blair opens herself up to someone new, but neither is truly able to handle all of it until she’s clean. Luckily there is a HEA to be found behind all the drama and destruction, as things pull good in the end. But considering how hard won it is, I am surprised that Blair doesn’t have any bitterness towards those that let her down whilst she was letting herself down.

For me, I did find it well written, as well as enjoyable and relatable. The only thing I personally didn’t like was the awkwardness of some of the sex scenes. They didn’t always flow as well as the rest of the book did.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Big City Billionaires Box Set by Michele de Winton

Even billionaires need love

I’m a little bit behind in my reviewing, due to having been sick. So luckily I had lots of books, light reads, to keep me company, including this one. Each story is reviewed individually below.

Valentine’s Vengeance

This first story I recognised as I’d already read it as part of the  Happily Ever Alpha box set. It was the story that first introduced me to Michele de Winton’s writing and drew me in to read more of her works, eventually landing me right back at the beginning.

I absolutely loved the story when I first read it. I must admit, I wasn’t as in to the “OMG” overreacting stuff this time around, but the story as a whole still really appealed to me and I eventually found that I enjoyed it as much as the first time around.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Love Stuck

Sass is pretty much awesome. Alternative, knows who she is and what she wants. Yet it appears to unsettle her first ever client as an independent stylist. Unsettle him in more ways than one.

Seriously good fun, back and forth, with a not-so-easily-won HEA. MdW definitely knows how to write drama!

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Lady Boss

This was my absolute favourite of the series, and that had nothing to do with the lady being the billionaire this time around. It’s a great twist, sure, as there should be more stories with a powerful woman leading them, instead of it always being the man who has all the money and power. Better still, it detailed obstacles that needed to be overcome for the woman to become the powerhouse.

But, what I loved most about this was the detailed descriptions, of places visited, of the flight. I was really into the story, much further than most easy-read stories take me. Truly a hidden gem.

Rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

Bonus Story: Fighting for Freya

I was quite happy to see a continuation to the Hot Tide series and all the characters I was familiar with from it, especially a story for Holokai, the apparent “more interested in surfing than girls” guy. With someone there who actually gets under his skin, he does relax more. But the big shame that came with this story is that, for me, it was too short. There were too few words to give depth to the story, so it ended up as an unfortunate disappointment rather than the huge Holo victory that it should have been.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Overall, a great, quick-read boxset that will leave you hanging for more.

Final rating (rounded to the nearest number): ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Reluctant Dragon Mate by Laura Greenwood

Stubborn Dragons!

Yep, you heard that right – this book contains one very stubborn dragon, who is so caught up in his own world and what he believes a so-called prophecy might actually mean for him, that he refuses to see what’s right under his nose.

His “distraction” he found by accident on a Paranormal dating app, a distraction in the form of a witch called Dakota. She works out quite quickly that there is more to this dragon than meets the eye, but this damned stubborn dragon just refuses to play ball.

A quite fun back and forth ensues, before both finally accept what their fate actually means.

My only disappointment is that the book description doesn’t completely match the content – we are led to believe that it’s Achilles business that’s the reason he’s holding back, but we barely hear anything about that at all! Anyway, despite this little niggle, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Not Today by Arizona Tape

Cutesy FF Romance

This is a great second book to the series. Although, it was a bit confusing at first, as there was a ten-year jump at the end of the first book, which meant that this book goes “back in time” to straight before the jumping epilogue (I am aware that this has now been corrected and that there is a new epilogue).

I seriously enjoyed this book and the dynamic between the characters here was wonderful! It takes both Harper and Nix so long to accept their feelings for each other, especially as both have scarring from past relationships. Harper’s anxiety is well written and played out, so recognisable and understandable.

Nix and her best friend have both sworn off relationships for the rest of their lives, neither wanting to live through crazy partners and terrible break-ups again. Yet that pact is tested when love interests come along. And, of course, it takes a whole book for these love interests to be realised!

The only thing I didn’t like about this book is that there wasn’t true conflict resolution. There was an incident in the book, which I was hoping would be explained away rather than just being walked past (like, was it because of the crazy ex that it happened)? I can’t say too much without revealing what it was (I can’t use spoiler tags on all platforms!) but, considering all the build-up, I was expecting there to be a reason for the incident.

But I still enjoyed the story a lot, so only minus one star for the lack of resolution.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

If the Shoe Fits by Laura Greenwood

The shoe fit quite well, thank you!

I’m actually quite surprised that this book has a mediocre average rating, but I actually only tend to trust those who write full reviews rather than just slapping a couple of stars on a book. So, therefore, if you go on the basis of actual reviews, this book appears to be a hit.

And, if you come onto me, it was a hit with me as well!!

Now we must mention that there are some cheesy moments. I mean, “Fairy Gay Mother” just had me cringing! lol! But, as a retelling, of course you had to have the similarities in there, in some way, and that’s just one of them.

Sadie’s life has been compared to that of Cinderella by her best friend and I guess she moderately agrees, but she just has a stepmother who hates and would rather ignore her than one who submits her to drudgery. But when she sees a man she must have on the TV, she decides that she just has to get to the ball to meet him, even if her stepmother had forbidden it.

And there are familiar characters who come along, in the shape of Queen Amara and her consorts; I didn’t quite recognise them at first, but when I remembered that I’d read their story, too, it was a nice squidgy moment.

All in all, a good fun read.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*