Review: Half Empty by Catherine Bybee

**3.5**

Why hasn’t Catherine Bybee written a high octane Hollywood movie script yet? I think this would make a great summer blockbuster. Half Empty started out as a sweet, slow-burn novel and ended with way more action and adventure than I was expecting. The heroine, Trina, was coming back from an open ended Italian vacation after her husband killed himself a year earlier. While meandering home to Texas, Trina hits up a hotel bar in Miami and meets handsome country superstar Wade Thomas. To Wade’s chagrin, Trina doesn’t have any idea who he is.

Trina and Wade’s romantic connection was very sweet but I wish I could understand why Wade was so drawn to Trina. She did nothing to encourage his pursuit and seemed really sad and lost for much of the book. She was even avoiding her girlfriends back home.

Trina’s conflicted feelings and grief over her late husband was very understandable and well explored. Her cast of supportive friends was beautiful and made her seem much more relatable and human. As much as I enjoyed Trina, she really didn’t have much direction in her personal or professional life. That was a main character point which wasn’t truly resolved by the end of the book. I would have liked more concrete answers but maybe we will get them in subsequent books.

Besides the overarching murder mystery plot, there was very little conflict between Wade and Trina. Wade was (unrealistically) all in right from the beginning and Trina didn’t put up much of a fight when it came to her feelings. I think one of the reasons is because Ms. Bybee spent a lot of time developing the supporting cast and a rather complicated cast of characters. I enjoyed learning about all of them but I felt that Wade and Trina were pushed to the side occasionally.

Part rock star romance, part romantic thriller, I really enjoyed this book. There were a few holes that prevented a full four stars but I absolutely enjoyed this book overall. I would recommend it as an easy, fun read with a kick.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Fight for You by Nina Crespo

When I think second chance romance, I go in expecting wrenching emotions and young love torn asunder. From the summary we are told that Aiden betrayed his first love, Delanie and they meet by chance through a work negotiation. I was excited to see how these workaholic enemies would overcome their tumultuous past.

Unfortunately, the chemistry in this book was off. The only time I really felt the main characters connected was when they were physically intimate (those scenes were great). I think the main problem was that Delaine and Aiden were building off a connection they had five years before. As a reader, we didn’t hear much about their previous time as a couple besides the betrayal so they didn’t seem to be building off of anything substantial.

The majority of this book, the only one who is fighting for anything is Aiden. Yes, he was “the betrayer” all those years before but even once he apologized, proved with his actions that he was sorry, AND they talked it out, Delaine still pushed him away. Her reasoning was weak for such a smart and successful business woman; it made her seem petty and kind of mean.

There was also very little meaningful discussion between the characters for the last 20% of the book. When a tragedy strikes, Delaine goes to everyone else besides Aiden for comfort and advice. Again this led me to think that their connection wasn’t really there. Even Delaine seemed to question it often.

On the positive side, Aiden was a great character. A little bit of a beta hero and a genuinely nice guy. He is the mediator of the family and has never forgotten his first love. They way he cares for Delaine is very sweet, it just was very one sided.

This book wasn’t terrible by any means and I would consider reading more by Nina Crespo in the future. Fighting for You just missed the mark for me.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: I Think I Love You by Lauren Layne

You can’t see my goofy grin through the screen, but trust me it’s there. Reading a Lauren Layne novel is like eating a truly rich dessert with a whipped cream topping. Her books are decedent with a touch of whimsy.

I Think I Love You is Ms. Layne’s finale to the Oxford series and really the Stiletto series too. It was the best friends to lovers romance I’ve read in years! I was delighted by the end and in tears after the epilogue.

Brit and Hunter have been friends as well as boss/subordinate for more than six years. Brit is the classic, friendly blonde next door. She’s every man’s best friend but never their girlfriend or wife and she’s sick of it. Hunter is her very best friend. She’s met his family, they know everything about each other… so who better to teach her how to appeal to the opposite sex?

I honestly can’t say enough about this book. Hunter and Brit lived the friends to lovers trope which I have seen done a million times, the difference? I believed them. They were weird and quirky with muffin tops and insecurities but they both saw the very best in each other. At the end of the day, they were each other’s very best friend. I felt their natural progression to a romantic relationship and any roadblocks in their relationship felt valid and honest.

This book was low on angst and high on sweet and sexy romance. I absolutely adored this novel. I need to go back and reread both the Stiletto and Oxford series because I am not ready to say goodbye! Brava Lauren Layne!

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Off the Grid by Monica McCarty

I wanted to love this book. One of my favorite summer subgenres is romantic suspense and this book seemed like it would hit all my favorite buttons: best friend’s sister, sexy SEALs, suspenseful plot line. Unfortunately, the relationships fell a little flat for me.

I didn’t hate this book. It had some real potential. Ms. McCarty is an excellent writer she just tried to do a little too much. The SEAL slang and military talk wasn’t overdone and seemed believable. I liked the international culture aspect and McCarty handled the many locations and shifting plot lines with ease.

Going into this book, I was expecting a part second chance love story, part best friend’s sister story. What I didn’t expect was two parallel relationships with almost equal page time. While I usually enjoy a good romance between sub characters, Kate and Colt, a divorced couple who have to work together to try to solve the over arching mystery, almost stole the show from Brittany and John.

Brittany is an investigative reporter investigating her SEAL brother’s mysterious disappearance. John is Brittany’s brother’s best friend on a secret SEAL team. He is tasked with trying to stop Brittany from reporting while still living in deep cover.

Just putting this out there, both Colt and John did and said some unforgivable things. I really disliked them. John’s immature, scared of commitment, continually hot and cold attitude made Brittany look weak for loving him. Kate was the only character I really connected with. She was strong and professional even in the face of Colt’s open hatred.

I don’t feel like this book moved the over arching plot forward at all. If anything, it seemed like a prequel for Colt and Kate’s book. John and Brittany’s relationship was almost completely secondary.

While this book is a page turner, I was left with conflicted feelings at the end. I am intrigued enough to read on in this series, especially because I am completely invested in Kate getting an HEA. Let me just say, if Colt is going to be her “hero” he had better grovel A LOT.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Devoted to Pleasure by Shayla Black

I didn’t know I was waiting on the perfect sweet, yet sexy bodyguard romance but then I picked up Devoted to Pleasure and it was everything I needed. I’ve only read a few Shayla Black novels and they were all deeply erotic. Devoted to Pleasure is a turn to the more tradition contemporary but in true Shayla style, this book is seriously sensuous. It’s gripping from page one and sets up exciting characters for a great new series.

Shealyn is a successful actress being blackmailed by an unknown threat. Cutter is brought on to protect her. Their chemistry is immediate but both Shealyn and Cutter have many challenges to work through before they can really be together.

I loved this book. I have no idea how Shayla made her main characters so deeply relateable but she pulled it off. Shealyn was sweet if a little naive but I was rooting for her the whole time. Cutter… where do I start with that hunk of alpha/beta hotness? Cutter was protective, possessive, sweet, consent might have been his middle name. I could feel their connection together both sexually and emotionally.

Cutter’s problems back home kept this read from being five stars. I was distracted way too often by the problems of the supporting characters. This book was trying to do too much at times, a common problem while trying to set up a series.

Overall, I highly recommend this book! Suspense, drama, sexy times, I cannot wait for the next book in the series.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Tempting the Laird by Julia London

This was my first Julia London book and I can’t say it will be my last, but I was disappointed by the execution of this romance. Immediately I was intrigued by a heroine in her 30s and a hero in his 40s. I enjoy reading about mature main characters especially historical romance.

Our hero, Hamlin, a mysterious or “dark” duke as he was described many times is rumored to have killed his first wife. Catriona or Cat is an independent and strong minded woman with a passion for helping prostitutes and displaced single mothers. Hamlin is a beta hero to the extreme. He is often steamrolled by the people in his life and comes across as weak and indecisive. Cat is a better character but her strong will and constant laughter (I swear the woman laughed more than she talked) were buried in this story.

There were too many subplots and erroneous characters detracting from the Cat and Hamlin’s relationship. At the beginning of the book we meet Cat’s large and extended family who we never discuss again besides her mother and her aunt. She spends the majority of the book at the worst house party ever. With the sole exception in her jovial uncle, the cast of supporting characters lends almost nothing to the plot and seemed like page fillers. Along with that, the supporting characters were awful people. I had no interest in reading about them.

Off the top of my head, there were 4-5 subplots throughout the novel. Many of them were relatively unexplored or too simplistically solved for the amount of attention that was paid to them. My head was spinning trying to keep track of the people and problems Cat and Hamlin were dealing with.

Overall, I think the writing was good and as I mentioned I liked the mature ages. Hamlin and Cat were low-drama characters emotionally and their love story made sense to me. Hopefully the next book in this series is a little more focused.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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