A Woman's WorthA Woman’s Worth by Chicki Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As soon as I began reading A Woman’s Worth, the main characters endeared themselves to me. Marc’s anxiety about facing an exacting father and Gianne’s relief about her clean scan after a bout with uterine cancer immediately had me rooting for both characters. The idea that they both needed something that I suspected they would find in each other made me keep reading, wanting and waiting for them to make their connection.

And when they did meet, I thoroughly enjoyed the immediate resolve that Marc had that Gianne was a woman he wanted to get to know, and to whom he knew he would have a strong connection. Somehow,Chicki Brown managed to make that moment completely believable and not trite. And the slow progression of Marc’s feelings for Gianne from a “sense of connection” to protectiveness and then finally to love were also very believable. A refreshing difference between this novel and many other romances was that Marc was not at all conflicted about his feelings for Gianne and once he chose her, his choice was unambiguous, and not at all ambivalent. Nothing sexier than a man who knows his own mind, in my opinion. He found his woman, he claimed her and he even conspired to make sure she wouldn’t get away.

But I also related to Gianne’s reluctance, after facing difficult circumstances, to trust that someone as good as Marc could happen to her, and her caution about becoming involved with him made absolute sense to me. I felt like one of her girlfriends, cheering from the sidelines, urging her to take a chance because she, more than anyone else, should know that tomorrow is promised to no one so you should seize today. And when finally, she took that leap, I was elated, and enjoyed watching her become acclimated to the idea of being in a relationship with a good man who was committed to her, in sickness and in health. The entire journey of this relationship was compelling, and so emotional, that for many pages, I planned how I would get back at Chicki Brown if she dared make Marc and Gianne have anything other than a happy ending.

One challenge I had was somewhere near the 30% mark where the author wanted to give us, the readers, more information about Marc’s raw vegan lifestyle. I felt at times like I was being preached to, both by the author and by Mark himself, and it made me for a short time like him less. I think by then I was so invested in Gianne that I was feeling defensive on her behalf, considering what I know personally about raw veganism, and the evangelistic approach that some raw vegans have. I also felt that the author may have belabored that aspect of Marc’s personality and life a tad too long in places, when I would have preferred to read more about the growing connection between the characters. My second challenge was the ending. I was thrilled that it ended the way it did BUT wanted just a little more detail about the aftermath of the climactic moment. Once the outcome was settled, it felt a little summarized there at the end, and that was what made this a four- rather than a five-star read for me.

Still, all in all, when an author is new to you, they either convince you or they don’t. I was thoroughly convinced and am now looking forward to reading all of Chicki Brown‘s other work.

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The Blind DateThe Blind Date by Delaney Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Delaney Diamond. Have I said this before? Certain writers have a way of expressing themselves that just speaks to something in you that you can’t identify, and for me, she is one of them. Her stories always have just that perfect balance of sweet and sour — love and loss, pain and euphoria, that I love in romance. Not cloyingly sweet or overly sentimental, but also not in-your-face gritty realism either. Just right.

In The Blind Date, she gives us characters that are somewhat unlike her usual fare. They are younger than her usual H and h, and are building something rather than at the pinnacle of a hard-fought career or the beneficiaries of family wealth, and when we first meet them Ryan and Shawna are meeting again after a six-year separation. To help us understand Shawna’s rather explosive reaction when Shawna and Ryan meet on a blind date, the writer goes back in time so we can get the history. The old flashback routine can be tedious sometimes, but not here. In fact, the love story of their past is as engaging as the one in the present, which might explain why you feel like you get twice as much story in one fairly short read.

Ryan is a bad-ass who wants to claim his woman right away, and Shawna is the perfect reticent heroine who wants to keep her head about her while her heart has other ideas. The conflicts–Ryan’s past deception and Shawna’s current would-be suitor–are just enough to keep you turning the page. Well, that and the super-sexy love scenes, of course.

I’ve read some reviews where readers wish there was more of this, that or the other, but y’know, I didn’t experience that and never do with this writer. Her work is like a perfect amuse-bouche. Just enough to make you want more, never so much that you wish you hadn’t eaten the meal. This book left me entirely satisfied.

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loving gianni ( the Rossellini Family)loving gianni by Nikki Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say, loving gianni is my absolute favorite from Nikki Walker so far. I’ve always liked that she writes romance that doesn’t resort to the very popular device of graphic sex that permeates romance and women’s fiction these days (yes, yes, I know — guilty as charged) but still manages to convince her readers of the growth of both physical attraction and genuine love and affection between her characters.

London Quarles is a woman whose business is putting things in order, but this profession masks the fact that she comes from a background that was marked by disorder, and a mother with mental health challenges. Gianni Rossellini is the handsome, rakish, self-styled “black sheep of the family” with pain and disorder of his own, having been harshly and unfairly prejudged by the very family that means the world to him. Their worlds collide when London is called upon to bring order to the home of an elderly aunt of Gianni’s (and her best friend Winnie’s) who has passed away, leaving her home and estate in a state of shocking disarray.

The attraction between London and Gianni is instantaneous and though he is more than willing to give in to it, London is a woman cut of a different cloth who has no intention of giving in to a man, just because it might feel good, and he might look good.

What sets this book apart for me is the depth in her prose. She doesn’t generally write very long books, so it’s essential to make the words count, and in this one she definitely does. At the beginning of Loving Gianni as we’re getting to know him, she sprinkles little nuggets of information that are both informative and nuanced. Like this one: He knew wine and he knew women. He knew many things, but of those two things, he was a master. How could that not make you smile?

But she goes on, as Gianni is thinking about the source of London’s resistance to his charm: He’d been with religious women . . . He loved to hear them say what they weren’t going to do, so he could watch them do that very thing. Hah! In very few words, tells us just about everything we need to know about Gianni, and makes him sexy beyond belief.

And I also liked her portrayal of London as a woman who is at war with her primal instincts, attracted to Gianni but fighting the sheer strength of it, to hold to a higher ideal. She notices his physical beauty: What had been a mere outline by the stove’s light was much more provocative in the brightness of the full kitchen light.

The dialogue also had a strong authenticity to it, like when Gianni begins to share some of the details of his estrangement from his family: “Things aren’t always as they seem. I have made some mistakes in the past, but none of the things my family suspects. There comes a time in a person’s life when one tires of defending oneself. At least I did. But . . . it is all too painful to rehash at this time.” And when London tells him off for assuming too much: ” . . if you knew women as well as you claimed to last night, you’d know I’m not that type of woman. Proximity isn’t everything.” Loved that last line.

Generally, even beyond the dialogue, there is an attention to detail, time, place and environment that I liked in this book. The author’s descriptions of things like London first entering the dilapidated home of the deceased elderly woman whose estate she is working on, and of her driving in a storm show Nikki Walker’s skill as a writer.

And finally, I think the things that made me most like this story were the originality of the storyline, the way the H and h met, and the way the author very gradually reveals more and more details about their respective pasts to keep the reader interested enough to turn the page. I could go on, but the best recommendation for this book and this writer are not the words I might use, but her own. So I suggest you read it!
Nia Forrester

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