REVIEW & GIVEAWAY: Ready to Run by Lauren Layne

I Do, I Don’t Book One

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♦BLURB♦

The Bachelor meets The Runaway Bride in this addictive romance novel about a reality TV producer falling for her would-be star: a Montana heartthrob who wants nothing to do with the show.

Jordan Carpenter thinks she’s finally found the perfect candidate for Jilted, a new dating show about runaway grooms: Luke Elliott, a playboy firefighter who’s left not one but three brides at the altar. The only problem? Luke refuses to answer Jordan’s emails or return her calls. Which is how she ends up on a flight to Montana to recruit him in person. It’s not Manhattan but at least the locals in Lucky Hollow seem friendly . . . except for Luke, who’s more intense—and way hotter—than the slick womanizer Jordan expected.

Eager to put the past behind him, Luke has zero intention of following this gorgeous, fast-talking city girl back to New York. But before he can send her packing, Jordan’s everywhere: at his favorite bar, the county fair, even his exes’ book club. Annoyingly, everyone in Lucky Hollow seems to like her—and deep down, she’s starting to grow on him too. But the more he fights her constant pestering, the more Luke finds himself wishing that Jordan would kick off her high heels and make herself comfortable in his arms.

 

♦4.5-STAR REVIEW♦

Kicking off what’s expected to be another hit of a series, Ready to Run showcased a tension-filled romance between two unlikely characters that started off on opposing sides, drawn into battle from the get-go. Set in a small town with a whole host of welcoming characters, what started as a simple task for Jordan turned into anything but when she crossed paths with the closed-off Luke.

Ambitious and headstrong, Jordan held the balance of tenacity and a whole lot of heart with ease. Tasked with reeling in the talent for a reality show, her drive to succeed along with her career-minded, big-city life created this persona of a very successful woman, but it’s her history and her path to it that made her heart underneath all of that her true character. The battles between them, banter-filled and witty, were lobbed back and forth with fervor, the crowd adding a bit of fuel for her side until the ball became too much for him to handle. Layne excels at the female underdog, the kind of woman to come to the top seemingly out of nowhere, and Jordan epitomized every part of it. I adored her grace, heart, drive, and sensitivity. And Luke, for all his gruff, don’t-bother-me persona, had a wealth of personality just ripe for the finding.

Filled with wonderful character growth, the warmth of a small town, and a beautiful romance that built from lust-y anger, Ready to Run was a fantastically fun romance. Layne can pull unexpected laughter from me in one moment and have me swooning in the next, two things that always feel organic and natural, both present in this story in spades. I’m sad to leave this town and the people in it, but I have to say that I’m also equally excited to see what the next in the series will bring. If you’re looking for an equally sexy, but fun novel, you can never go wrong with LL.

 

♦EXCERPT♦

Luke started to load up the gear and, realizing he was doing it alone, glanced over his shoulder to see where the hell his partner was.

Unsurprisingly, his friend was chatting up City Girl. Neither Charlie nor Ryan seemed to mind in the least that these two fancy pants had swooped into their town to capitalize on Luke’s past.

What was more surprising was that Jordan Carpenter was chatting right back, her smile seemingly genuine, her laugh real.

Luke ground his teeth.

He couldn’t say he’d put much thought into the woman behind the name as he’d been unceremoniously deleting her emails and voice messages, but if forced to assume, he’d have guessed aggressive shrew.

He suspected he was wrong there. Because while there was no mistaking the ambition in the woman, it wasn’t the cutthroat, ball-busting kind.

Her lean body might be all angles and long lines, but there was a softness to her as well. The way her hair did its own thing. The easiness of her smile, the quick laugh. The small but pert breasts.

Damn. He was staring.

He slammed the door shut. “Bander,” he shouted at Charlie across the lawn. “Let’s clear out.”

Charlie leaned into Jordan, whispering something in her ear that made her laugh, before walking away with a last wink.

Luke rolled his eyes. Really? This was happening?

“Hey, Elliott,” Ryan called. “You want to come over for a barbecue tonight?”

Luke crossed his arms and studied his friend suspiciously, waiting for the catch. “Who’s on the guest list?”

He saw Jordan and her purple-shirt friend exchange a look. Well, that answered that question.

Damn. Ryan never had been able to resist the urge to stir up trouble.

“It’s no problem if you don’t want to join us,” Jordan called out, lifting her hand to shield the afternoon sun from her eyes. “I’m sure your friends here can fill me in on everything there is to know about Luke Elliott.”

All about Luke Elliott’s romantic history was more like it. City Girl wasn’t even pretending to be coy about the reason she was here.

All former positive thoughts about her evaporated. Only the worst sort of human would use another’s failed relationships to advance her own career—for entertainment.

Luke turned away without another word, hauling himself into the driver’s seat of the truck as he waited impatiently for Charlie to get done shouting goodbye to every single person within earshot.

He drummed his thumbs against the steering wheel, refusing to even think about going to the BBQ tonight. If his friends wanted to stir up trouble, they could do so without his cooperation.

As for the two New Yorkers, they’d flame out all on their own. Weren’t East Coasters known for being impatient and fast moving?

Surely they’d be off to find some other glory-seeking asshole if he ignored them. One of the other guys could play the role for all he cared.

As Charlie hauled his ass up, Luke started the truck, his eye catching on Jordan Carpenter, who was watching him with a stubborn, determined look on her pretty face.

Damn it. She’d stir up all sorts of trouble unless he ran interference.

Luke pulled out his phone to text Ryan.

I’ll be there. Have beer.

Charlie leaned over, unabashedly reading Luke’s iPhone screen. “Ha. Knew it.”

“What?” Luke glared at his friend.

Charlie grinned wider, gesturing over his shoulder. “You’ve got a boner for the hot blonde.”

“Are you kidding me with this? She wants me to be the next bachelor.”

How were Ryan and Charlie not getting the absurdity of this?

Charlie shrugged. “So? Maybe it’d be good for you.”

Luke stared at his friend for a moment longer before putting the truck in drive. “The only thing that would be good for me is to push you out of this truck.”

Charlie was waving goodbye to Jordan and Simon. “See you tonight!”

Luke ground his teeth harder. He was already dreading the BBQ, but not going would only make matters worse. Clearly he needed to have a very blunt conversation with Jordan Carpenter.

 

♦SERIES♦

I Do, I Don’t Book Two

Release Date: January 30, 2018

PreOrder: Kindle | More

I Do, I Don’t Book Three

Release Date: March 20, 2018

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♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

LaurenLayne-Headshot-Official

Lauren Layne is the USA Today Bestselling author of more than a dozen contemporary romance novels.

Prior to becoming an author, Lauren worked in e-commerce and web-marketing. A year after moving from Seattle to Manhattan to pursue a writing career, she had a fabulous agent and multiple New York publishing deals.

Lauren currently lives in Chicago with her husband and plus-sized Pomeranian. When not writing, you’ll likely find her running (rarely), reading (sometimes), or at happy hour (often).

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♦GIVEAWAY♦

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NEW RELEASE & REVIEW: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Girl Meets Duke Book One

Purchase: Kindle | Mass Market | HardcoverAudio

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♦BLURB♦

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:

– They will be husband and wife by night only.

– No lights, no kissing. 

– No questions about his battle scars.

– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:

– They will have dinner together every evening.

– With conversation.

– And unlimited teasing.

– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

 

♦5-STAR REVIEW♦

Both hilariously enchanting and romantic, The Duchess Deal will appeal to all readers, even those who don’t normally veer into this genre. Tessa Dare excels at bridging the gap between Contemporary and Historical with her signature humor and authentically fresh characters. A marriage of convenience grew to have such unexpected depth and twists and turns, and a love story that was captivating from the very beginning.

Dare manages to always perfectly capture the strong, defiant heroines that don’t fit into their expected place in both society and relationships, and with Emma she brought a great sort of bold shyness to her which made her even more endearing. It greatly contrasted with the Duke of Ashbury’s brittle outer shell as it hilariously pushed his buttons and pulled at his heart, both of which took him out of his comfort zone. The dynamic between the two (made even more fun by the meddling of others) was hysterical and completely charming; watching them step about and cross boundaries, sometimes on purpose or not, was the most fun of it all. The heat between them was beguiling and became this powerful thing to unite two people merely in it for what it brought on paper. For all of Ashbury’s protestations, watching her slowly become the balm to soothe his soul was absolutely the best part of the story.

The Duchess Deal was a fantastic love story with compelling characters that effortlessly elevated this tale to the grand story it became. Dare’s writing flowed seamlessly from start to finish and easily brought to life a long ago time period. A top-notch start to a series and one that I cannot wait to continue on.

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of more than a dozen historical romances. A librarian by training and a book-lover at heart, Tessa lives in Southern California with her husband, their two children, and a big brown dog.

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REVIEW: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

The Last Magician Book One; Young Adult

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♦BLURB♦

Stop the Magician. Steal the book. Save the future.

In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

 

♦4-STAR REVIEW♦

A time-traveling historical with romance and the paranormal, The Last Magician is an intricately woven tale of adventure and danger. Set mostly in the early 1900s, Maxwell really set the scene of Old New York, a time of gangs and power seekers, but with the added flare of magic. One could almost see the costumes, feel the cigarette smoke clogging the air, and ache with the impossible struggle for survival in a divided city (a bit reminiscent of Gangs of New York).

With the twist of magic, Maxwell’s story takes readers deep into the struggle of the magic-having and the magic-less; the Mageus versus The Order, those without magic but feeling owed it or in eradicating it (or them) completely. Being tasked with travelling back in time to stop the Magician from stealing the book that could be the answer to saving magic and those with it for the future, her own time, Esta is wholly unprepared for the time she arrives in and all of its landmines. She’s alone, thrust in a time where nothing is remotely the same, and with characters that she has no idea how to read; her fear and lack of knowing how to complete her task without changing anything else in the future was palpable. And even with her affinity, Maxwell allowed her to feel unsure of herself and to struggle with finding who she was among a whole cast of characters (that were equally as diverse and palpable), qualities that likened her to the reader and made her visceral.

The parallel between the dividing of the people in this story mirrors greatly the division of race in the real world. With the Mageus being immigrants to New York, possessing of a quality that frightens those without it, I couldn’t help but see the direct references to our world. I have no idea if this was something the author meant to tie it to, and even if not, there are many interpretations that a reader could make with it. There was such strength, though, in risking that connection or powering into it with full intent, most especially in the easy way she wrote it. The passion Maxwell put into her characters, the issues, and the worldbuilding was beautifully done from start to finish, and it was unlike anything I had read before.

With a big story such as this, both in length and in worldbuilding, I wasn’t surprised to find it slow for some of the first half as it set the scene. Maxwell really rolled up her sleeves and dug in when making this an accurate and well-thought-out book that featured heavily in alchemy and magic. And, to me, it felt like much more than a Young Adult story in that the characters felt well beyond their years, expectant of those down-trodden times, and that it was so very detailed. The twists and turns were vast and quite frequent once the story got going, and I flew through the last half of the book in no time at all. The Last Magician was a unique and grand adventure, one that is just getting started. And I am desperate for the second half of this story.

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell is the author of Sweet Unrest (2014), Gathering Deep (2015), and Unhooked (Simon Pulse, Feb. 2016). She’s worked as a bookseller, editor, and teacher. She has a PhD in English, and when she’s not writing books, she’s a professor at a local college. She lives near DC, where she spends her weekends taking all sorts of adventures with her family.

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REVIEW: Wild Card by Karina Halle

North Ridge Book One; Interconnected standalone

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♦BLURB♦

She swore she’d never go back home.
She swore she’d never see the man who broke her all those years ago.
But you don’t always get to choose your path.
And sometimes that path is as wild and rugged as the heart.

Rachel Waters thought she saw the last of the small mountain town of North Ridge, British Columbia, when she left six years ago. But while her advertising career blossomed beneath the skyscrapers of Toronto, her mother’s sudden illness has the 26-year old returning to North Ridge to care for her, putting her career on hold while dealing with family secrets, regrets and unresolved goodbyes.

Shane Nelson has always been a bit of a wild card. The youngest of his brothers, Shane’s spent most of his life being underestimated and misunderstood. With his quiet intensity, classic good looks and thoughtful demeanor, he’s an enigma on horseback, managing his father’s sprawling ranch on the slopes of North Ridge.
But while Shane remains the quintessential brooding cowboy, complete with an arsenal of inner demons, all of that changes when Rachel steps back into his life.

She was the girl he pushed away.
Now she’s the girl who wishes she could leave.

Despite the odds, Shane will do everything to convince Rachel he needs a second chance that he doesn’t deserve but when the two of them head off into the wilderness together in search of lost cattle, more than just their hearts are at stake.

Whether it’s love or lives on the line, one thing is for sure: always bet on the wild card.

 

♦3.5 STAR REVIEW♦

Set in a rugged small-town where the landscape felt like a secondary character, Wild Card‘s second-chance romance, one that ended on bad terms six years ago, pulled in light angst and heartbreak at every turn. Told in dual perspectives and in the past and present timelines, Halle brought the reader into the lives and hearts of both Shane and Rachel with ease, lightly sprinkling in tension and turmoil as it progressed, ultimately building upon a love story that was larger than life.

I adored getting to know the rugged, intensely quiet pull that was Shane, and how his devotion and hardworking demeanor made his character what it was. He was easy to connect with, to find attractive, to fall for. His allure wasn’t in your face, but a slow, steady beat that entranced with each pulse. And while Rachel was very much his opposite, at times difficult to connect to, one couldn’t help but see the pain and love and joy that hung heavy in Shane in his, and their, every scene thus making her character more real and likeable.

What I crave from all second-chance romances is that raw, pulled-apart beauty that forces my heart into my stomach as I’m ripped in two due to their pain and heartbreak. I want to feel that messy breakup or that horrible heartbreaking pain as they are either torn apart or upon re-connecting. That pain is needed in order to believe that their love can overshadow any struggle and to connect the reader with the couple. Because these scenes were absent, much of the angst between the characters felt only surface deep, and I never truly felt any of it in my gut.

But, I still think Wild Card is a beautiful romance that readers who love the lighter side of angst will rave about. It opened a breathtaking world for the series to be in and set a foundation for the rest to stand on. The Nelson family was wonderfully introduced and has me very excited to experience the beauty of what’s to come. Halle is always reinventing herself and I look forward to how she’ll present her inner self in the next story, either in this series or one outside of it.

 

♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦

Halle Headshot

Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Racing the Sun, Sins & Needles and over 25 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails and devours a lot of books.

Halle is represented by the Waxman Leavell Agency and is both self-published and published by Simon & Schuster and Hachette in North America and in the UK.

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