I think everyone has that book (or a few) that we stowed away at first glance, skipped over because of some reason, or plain just wasn’t interested in but we gave it another look, read it, and berated ourselves thinking ‘why didn’t I read this earlier??’ Believe me, I’m guilty of this and in fact, my latest TOP recommendation Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn would fall under this category. I’ve had this book for a few months now and only recently did I decide to read it, discovering a hidden gem with this one. It got me thinking….what other books did I read this year would fall under this same category? I came up with 8 of the most memorable reads and made a list here. They weren’t all 5 star reads, but they all made a significant impact on me and I think about them from time to time.

(Listed in the order I read them in)
1. Then There Was You by Melanie Dawn. Okay. Being honest here….I never, ever expected or wanted to read this book because I wasn’t a fan of the first one (both are interconnected standalones). But I gave it another glance and holy hell, that is one heck of a blurb! So yeah, I read it. I pulled an all-nighter for it. And I wanted to re-read all over again. I emailed the author at 6 AM a blubbering mess. So moral of this little story for me is to always, ALWAYS give authors a second chance. I’m glad I did. By the way, here’s my review for Then There Was You.
2. The Deep End of The Sea by Heather Lyons. At the time of reading, this author was a newbie to me so I didn’t know what to expect from her. Also this premise is mythology and the retellings I’ve read I was all pretty disappointed in…so what if she butchered it? I gave it a shot anyways and this right here is a 5 star hidden gem. I literally smacked my forehead for waiting this long to read it and messaged one of my reading buddies telling her to tell me ‘I told you so.’ By the way, here’s my review of The Deep End of The Sea.
3. Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson ($.99). Okay, another confession: I can’t do novella-length books. I mean, I’m a big book lover mmkay? So the short length of this one made me skip over it but alas, a big number of friends urged me to read this one and I caved (thank god I did!!!). Another 5 star winner and this story packed an emotional punch in so little pages. Here’s my review of Puddle Jumping.
4. After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Okay, this one I first avoided for a while because of the not-so-attention-grabbing cover and the price tag!! I mean, $10 (if you include tax) for an ebook is way beyond expensive for me. It better be some Pulitzer Prize material there. And OMG it really was!!! This was a 6 star read and one of my favorites from the summer. Literally everyone who read this (married or not) can take away something meaningful from this mindblowing
5. Thin Love by Eden Butler. Another confession (sheesh I feel like we’re in church haha): I cannot stand angst. And this book has extreme angst (push/pull couple dynamic, obstacles that prevent them from being together or they’re having problems, whatever). I’ll be honest, I was never more terrified of a book than this one but one of my closest reading buddies adored it and I trust her implicitly…so I went for it. And I am so thankful I did!! This is one of the most unforgettable, unputdownable books I’ve ever read, and I couldn’t pick up another book for days after this one! Here’s my review of Thin Love.
6. With The Father by Jenni Moen. Another case of a newbie author to me, and I remember at the time of reading this book, there were so many books with great blurbs that didn’t live up to its promise for me and I was so afraid that this book would fall under that category. But I guess I was feeling bold or whatever and I went in completely blind. This is a 5 star book that made me question everything I thought I knew and it was like a story hidden within a story. Easily one of my top favorites of the year! Here’s my review of With The Father.
7. Love Like Crazy by Megan Squires. This book has one of the cutest covers I’ve ever seen, but it’s YA and I’m really picky with my YA reads. Nevertheless, I just had that ‘feeling’ that it’d be a goodie from the blurb and I read it. It had a slow, simmering start, but wow! By the end I was really feeling the emotional impact. This book was such a breath of fresh air – quirky, individualistic characters and a heartfelt romance! Though it wasn’t a complete 5 star read, the writing was amazing and I highlighted like crazy!
8. And last but definitely not least, Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn. This is my latest TOP recommendation, a 5 star read that rocked my world, and a book that I simply cannot stop thinking about. I’ve had this one for a few months as well but never thought to read it, I forgot about it and every time I saw it in my library, the, um, not so great cover made me look the other way. I am so ashamed of falling for the old judging books by the cover thing because what a gem this book was!! You might think this an exaggeration but I meant what I said with ‘if there is only one book you can get this year, it HAS to be this one.’

They say in every guy’s life there’s a girl he’ll never forget and a summer where it all began. Well, for me, 1999 is that summer, and Brooke Sommerfield is that girl. But that was nearly nine years ago. And what they don’t tell ya is that you’ll blink, and both the summer and the girl will be gone.
I have no idea where Brooke ended up. She disappeared that same summer I met her. And kind of like when you move something on a wall after it’s been there for a long time and everything around it is faded, that’s how I feel about Brooke. She wasn’t there very long, but when she left, everything around her memory sort of dimmed. That is until a letter postmarked the year she left mysteriously resurfaces. And call me crazy—everyone else has—but I have to find her. I have to know what became of the green-and-gray-eyed girl who stole my last perfect summer. I have to know if she believes in second chances—because I do—even if they do come with good-byes.

Upon reading the blurb for this book, I knew it was one I had to read as soon as I got the opportunity. Some of my favorite books are second chance romance stories that take my emotions for a spin and through the ups and downs of these characters’ lives, somehow finding their way back to each other again gets me every. single. time. So as much as I was expecting to love this one, I just couldn’t because the author employed a clichéd and unrealistic plotline that lead me to wonder just where the romantic connection was, and on top of that inserted multiple time gaps (not a fan of those) to substitute for the story. Perhaps those looking for an overly sweet and cheesy romance will enjoy this book, but as a reader who loves romances where both the ‘sweet & sour’ sides of love are portrayed in order to make the story believable, this book was a letdown.

First love, first crush, first anything usually leaves a powerful and lasting impression and that’s the case for the hero River Asher. At 13 years old, he’s sure he just met the girl of his dreams and the one who he’ll eventually marry. The same is true for the heroine Brooke Sommerfield, and in that one unforgettable summer, they spend those months together baling hay and hanging out at the creek. But when summer ends and Brooke’s family is moving, she and River tearfully say goodbye, promising to write each other and eventually meet up one day. Unfortunately, life gets in the way, letters are lost, and both move on.
The story is told entirely from River’s POV and so as the years pass, he seems to live like any normal teenager but all along, he’s carried memories of Brooke with him.
I think I would’ve been more invested in the story if not for two things: the age at which both characters professed their ‘love’ and the time gaps that gave me whiplash. I’m more of a cynical romantic and so when you have two thirteen year olds professing their love for each other after a day, talking about marriage, etc…it really makes me grimace. They didn’t talk or act like thirteen year olds, and if the author hadn’t told me their ages from the beginning, I would’ve guessed that they were both in their mid-twenties. Still, the writing was exquisite and while I wasn’t buying the love, I could still overlook the cheese and let myself be carried away by the torrent of emotions evoked from her writing.
Which brings me to #2 – time gaps.
I’m really not a fan of them. One or two is fine but when almost every chapter is ‘___ months/years later’ I want to hurl myself off a cliff. Where was the story?? The book spans 9 years but to me it honestly felt like 1. Just because a time gap is smacked at the beginning of a chapter doesn’t convince me that time has passed. The story does that. You know, events going on in these characters’ lives besides their longing for each other.
From beginning to end, this book was a big block of cheese but I admit, very well-written cheese and because the last 10% was 5 star worthy I rounded up to a 3 star rating.
This is definitely a book for hopeless romantics, dreamers, and any one just wanting a nice, sweet read with no real story. I like my stories to have an edge so unfortunately this wasn’t a winner in my book.
A copy of the book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
 
Rating: 3 stars!

Her past is a secret—even to her.Discovering it will be the most dangerous move of her life.
TV reporter Laura Nilsson, known as the “Baghdad Babe,” spent eighteen months in an Al Qaeda compound after being kidnapped live on the air. Two years later, she’s still wondering why.
No rescue mission in Javier Corbray’s fourteen years as a Navy SEAL affected him the way Laura’s rescue did. No woman has stirred his protective instincts the way she has. And he wants her more than he’s ever wanted anyone.
As Laura and Javier’s passion ignites, so does Laura’s need to discover the mystery of her past. Especially when she learns that her abduction was not random—and that she’s still a target for a killer with an impenetrable motive. Now Javier will have to rely on his skills to keep the woman he loves from being struck down before she dares uncover the truth.

Pamela Clare is an author to behold in the romantic suspense genre. Utilizing her background as an investigative reporter and adding her experiences in her stories brings a gritty realism in each and every one of her books in this series. Her swoon worthy alpha male heroes and smart, sassy heroines combined with intricate, intense plotlines are what makes her books winners for me again and again. So only being able to give Striking Distance 3.5 stars cuts me because I love her characters, I love her writing, but several clichéd moments along with a weak romantic connection and mediocre suspense crippled this book for me.

Branded as the ‘Baghdad Babe,’ renown reporter Laura Nilsson was captured on air by terrorist forces and spent the next 18 months as a captive, repeatedly raped and brutalized. After being rescued by Navy SEALs and spending time recuperating and healing, she still doesn’t know why she was targeted.

Javier Corbray has seen and done things in his 14 years of being a Navy SEAL, but no operation or event has gutted him more than Laura’s capture and later, her rescue. Having spent a wild ‘no-strings-attached’ weekend together with Laura right before her capture, Javier’s harbored immense guilt for not being able to be there for her when she was taken, and unknown to Laura, was the masked SEAL who rescued her 18 months later.
Over two years has passed since the day she’s rescued and Javier’s on a brief leave from the SEALs visiting his old friend while Laura is a reporter on the top-notch I-team for the paper and their paths collide once again. As events fast-forward with a monumental trial and social media all dying to get a piece on the Baghdad Babe’s ordeal, unknown and belligerent forces are threatening Laura’s life and the only thing standing between her and death is Javier.
This book really did have all the ingredients for a 5 star read but somehow the combination fell flat. The most prominent of my complaints is the weak romantic connection between the two main characters: I just didn’t feel it. This may sound harsh or uncaring but one no-strings-attached weekend doesn’t constitute as relationship development and enough of a thread to connect these two characters. They had sex, both had terrible ordeals for the years in between, and with one chance encounter their connection is just rekindled? Not buying it.
The first half of the book I was a little bored and while there was some suspense it was nowhere at the level of the previous books and didn’t get my heart pounding. There were also a few out-of-character descriptions about Laura that really bothered me. Near the end there was an unexpected but welcomed heart-in-throat moment that really hit me in the feels but then that part was ruined by the unrealistic and rushed epilogue ending.
This book was definitely not a bad read by any means, and I’d say it’s actually much better than most romantic suspense books I have read; however, when compared to the other outstanding books in this series, it certainly falls flat, at least for me it did. I did enjoy catching up with the rest of the gang and revisiting my favorite couples and heroes though (shoutout to Marc Hunter and Gabe Rossiter).
Striking Distance is the 6th book in the I-team series. All of the books are interconnected standalones but I highly recommend reading them in order to get the full reading experience.
Rating: 3.5 stars!

 

I think it’s a true testament to the author’s writing when we can read a book over and over again and never get tired of the story or characters, almost as if re-reading the book for the 10th time is like the first. I know I have those special books that I can go back to and read and just know for sure that it’ll take me out of my book funk, inspire and invigorate me to read new books again, and provide me with 100% total escapism. If you’ve been following me on Facebook you’ve probably never heard me mention some of these books…most of these I read years ago and isn’t anything recent (so not many reviews I’m afraid since I hadn’t started blogging then), but special enough that reading them once just isn’t enough.

Listed in no particular order of importance
1. On The Island by Tracey Garvis Graves. This book is one of my all-time favorites with such a unique, exciting premise: two people so different from each other with different goals in life get stranded out on an island after their plane crashes. This book is an exotic adventure tale with an unexpected romance! Here’s my review of On the Island.
“I don’t fit in your world.”
“Neither do I,” he said, his expression tender yet resolute. “So let’s make our own. We’ve done it before.”

2. Where I End and You Begin by Andra Brynn. I think of this book and my stomach gets flutters. The story is actually a chip off the author’s real life story (SO much admiration for Andra) and is equally heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. It’s a romance alright, but more importantly, a book about 2 people finding just what it is they want out of life and finding the courage to face their past fears to get it. It’s a very heavy read though (see quote below). Just be ready to feel.

“And just like that I’m falling and it all comes crashing back in like the bursting windows of a sinking ship and I’m drowning in the terror and the helplessness, the cold, and the despair, and I’m on my knees and I can’t breathe, and I’ll never get past it, it will always come back, I will never escape, never escape never escape, never never never never never never never fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK.”
3. After the Night by Linda Howard. This author’s writing is just magical. I could probably sit here all day spouting off different adjectives but I’m just going to go with magical. Though I love all of her books, I have to say that this particular one grabbed me. I love it when the main characters come from different backgrounds (in this case he’s rich, she’s poor) and they fall in love with each other years later. Mind you, the guy’s a big jerk and the girl’s a big sweetie but it’s romance! Forget the current stuff that’s climbing up the romance charts, go with this oldie author and get swept off your feet! You swoon, you sigh, you fall in love

“It was just a kiss – “
“Yeah, and King Kong was just a monkey.” 

4. Lethal by Sandra Brown. For me, this book is like the Bible of the romantic suspense genre. You are sorely missing out if you love your reads with tons of action, a thrilling plot with complex characters and a toe-curling romance. Her books are more on the suspense side than the romance, but when things do start to heat up, watch out! The emotional impact hits home.

 

“You don’t have to give me flowers, Coburn. You don’t even have to hold me. Let me hold you.”

5. Slammed by Colleen Hoover. Oh.My.God. The FEELS! I think this was one of the first New Adult romances I read and I totally fell in love. With a book. It’s a forbidden romance that’s so inspirational and a life story hidden within. It’s the first book in a trilogy but honestly, this can be read as a standalone.

“Don’t take life too seriously. Punch it in the face when it needs a good hit. Laugh at it.”

6. Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare. Another book that’s a must-read for romantic suspense fans! Actually this entire series is outstanding but this book? It’s the pinnacle. A man on the run from authorities grabs the reporter heroine as a hostage but wait! They actually know each other….long before they each got caught up on different paths, they spent one night together under the stars baring their souls. What are the chances?

“It’s not so much where I want you, Sophie, as it is how. Nothing tastes quite like a woman, and no woman tastes like you.”

7. Surrender by Pamela Clare. This one’s from the same author but it’s historical romance, one of my all-time favorite genres. This is the first book and a standalone within her MacKinnon Rangers series revolving around 3 Highland brothers forced to fight for the British on the American frontier and how one of these brothers falls for the woman he rescues. This story was so sensual and whether or not you’re a fan of historical romance, you’ll be captivated by the alluring setting and characters just the same.

“She reached up, held his face between her palms. “How can I help but fret? You live wi’ death on your heels.”
“For your sake, lass, I promise to stay one step ahead.” 

8. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare. This is the 6th book in her Mortal Instruments series and not a standalone so you’d have to read the first 5 but can I just say something? It is SOworth it. Very few authors can make me feel like I’ve been transported directly into the fictional worlds they’ve created but Cassandra Clare does it again and again, with this series and the Infernal Devices series (see #9). Mark my words: you will cry reading these books. You will cry, you will feel, and you will wish that you never, ever had to leave the Shadowhunter world and return to reality. Do yourself a favor and pick up this series. Or the Infernal Devices series (see #9). Or both.

“There are memories that time does not erase… Forever does not make loss forgettable, only bearable.”

9. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare. This is the 3rd book in the Infernal Devices trilogy and not a standalone so you need to read the first two but once again, it is SO worth it. If anything, this trilogy was even more well-written than the Mortal Instruments series (see #8) and made me feel every emotion possible while reading. This is the one and only series that has a love triangle that was 100% perfect and made me feel nothing but respect and love for these characters. Pick this one up too!! I actually have a series review for this trilogy if you’re interested!

“They say you cannot love two people equally at once,” she said. “And perhaps for others that is so. But you and Will—you are not like two ordinary people, two people who might have been jealous of each other, or who would have imagined my love for one of them diminished by my love of the other. You merged your souls when you were both children. I could not have loved Will so much if I had not loved you as well. And I could not love you as I do if I had not loved Will as I did.”