At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Full disclosure: I have not read Water for Elephants or any other book by Sara Gruen. I haven’t seen the movie. A friend highly recommends Water for Elephants, and it’s on my “to read” list. So I thought when I had the chance to read the author’s new book, At the Water’s Edge, I would request it. I’m glad I did; I enjoyed it very much.

At the Water's Edge Front Cover (Random House)

At the Water’s Edge Front Cover (Random House)

THE PLOT: Maddie Hyde grew up with a crazy mother and detached father, so she made a “society” marriage to escape. Her husband’s parents don’t approve of the marriage, and fear that Maddie will end up mentally ill like her mother. They ought to be more concerned about their son, though, whose obvious addiction is only the tip of the iceberg of his secrets. Ellis has avoided service in WWII by being conveniently colorblind. His and Maddie’s best friend, Hank, is also conveniently flat-footed, so the three of them spend their time partying while other people their age are at war. After a final, devastating falling-out with Ellis’s father on New Year’s Day 1945, the three friends leave Philadelphia for Scotland to search for the Loch Ness monster. This isn’t a random event; Ellis’s father was obsessed with hunting for the monster and was disgraced after being accused of fabricating his evidence. Ellis figures if they can get proof, his wealthy father will welcome him back into the fold.

Of course, traveling across the Atlantic during wartime is no picnic, and “accommodations” in Scotland are sketchy at best. The trio stay in a tavern run by Angus, a man who was previously believed killed in action. He has little use for Ellis and Hank’s shenanigans, but Maddie starts to grow up as she makes startling discoveries about her husband and marriage. She enjoys making her first female friends ever in the tavern workers and gradually begins to understand that despite her partying lifestyle, she hasn’t really been living at all. As Ellis becomes more and more sinister, Maddie begins to fear he’ll have her declared insane and locked up for good to take control of her money.

MY TWO CENTS: I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, and I had a little trouble getting into the first two chapters. After that, I became really involved and didn’t want to stop reading. I found Maddie a sympathetic character who grew throughout the book. I felt her situation becoming more desperate, and hoped she would eventually have the courage to get away from Ellis. I did feel that the storyline with Angus was predictable. Wondering how everything would be resolved kept my interest, though. I hoped Maddie would get a happy ending and Ellis would get what he deserved, and I wasn’t disappointed.

BOTTOM LINE: A really good read that I didn’t want to put down once I was into it. A little predictable toward the middle, but satisfying in the end.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available March 31, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once and Always by Elizabeth Hoyt (writing as Julia Harper)

I apologize to my readers for the lack of posts lately; I had a huge work project going through and taking all my time. But now I’m back to reading and reviewing!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I tend to pass on contemporary romances, but took a chance on a couple being released by my favorite historical romance authors. Once and Always, by Elizabeth Hoyt (writing as Julia Harper), is one of those books.

Once and Always Front Cover

Once and Always Front Cover (Forever/Hachette)

THE PLOT: Maisa Burnsey’s uncle was a member of the Russian Mafiya, but he gave evidence against a boss and has been in hiding in small-town Coot Lake, Minnesota, for years. May comes occasionally to visit him and has been stopped for speeding multiple times by Coot Lake cop Sam West. She also had a one-night stand with Sam some months ago. Now he wants an actual relationship, but May doesn’t want the police getting any closer to her and her uncle. As the town becomes snowed in, an old cohort of her uncle’s shows up with a suitcase full of diamonds. Suitcases are switched, the Mafiya shows up, and May, Sam, and most of the town are dragged into the mess. No outside help can reach them through the snowstorm, so it’s up to Sam to defend his town while trying to convince May they can make a romance work.

MY TWO CENTS: One of the main reasons I usually don’t care for contemporary romance is that I feel they often use sex to get couples together. After all, many of the circumstances that work in historical romances can’t work in contemporary. Not that I’d enjoy being forced into an arranged marriage that MIGHT work out, or caught in compromising circumstances that were actually very innocent and forced to marry a man who MIGHT become my true love. But these old-fashioned rules often work well in historical romances.

Here, I felt that the couple already had one strike against them for the one-night stand that took place prior to the book. Immediately, sex is what brings them together. Then we get a very intriguing story about diamonds and mobsters and shootouts and snowmobiles, but in between the action, we have Sam dragging May to his conveniently secluded cabin for sex. Really? Okay, I know most action movies have some sort of romantic element thrown in, but in this case, the love scenes seem to completely stop the main story and divorce those scenes from the rest of the plot. It seems like an awkward fit, like puzzle pieces that don’t really fit together.

Having said that, I did really enjoy the action part. I just think the romance would have worked better if May and Sam were just meeting and getting to know each other.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting story, but I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t feel that the “required” steamy sex scenes had been shoehorned in. I’ll probably stick with Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances, which I absolutely love and highly recommend. If you usually like contemporary romances, though, this may be your cup of tea, so give it a try.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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