The Billionaire’s Beauty by Ava Ryan

This Beauty and the Beast adaptation presents us with perhaps the best reaction of our female lead being presented with the most exquisite library in existence. Pushing that surly hunk of a hero up against the library wall for some sexy fun times.

What’s it About?

They call him The Beast for good reason. Now this billionaire boss wants his beautiful–and off-limits–assistant…

Griffin: They call me The Beast. Some people think I’m a bully. I’m not here to make friends. I ruthlessly clawed my way to the top of the real estate market in NYC. No friends needed.

She’s my feisty executive assistant. My right hand… woman. We have an unspoken arrangement: she pretends I’m smarter than she is while I pretend not to notice how sexy she is.

That was before she gave me her notice while wearing that dress.

I can do a lot. Run my family empire. Ignore the loneliness the top brings. Punch anyone who looks twice at her. But letting her go without a fight? Over my dead body…

Quick Review

This second novel in the Fairy Tale Billionaires series is very loosely inspired by that most classic of fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast. While there were certain elements we could all clearly recognize from the original, from a surly male lead with a soft side to the intelligent woman who isn’t afraid to stand up to him. There’s the traditional presentation of an expansive library, a west wing with a troubled past, the beloved father of our heroine, and last but not least a mention of a rose garden. That being said, this reiteration still manages to stand on it’s own two feet without relying too heavily on the progression of events from the original source material, which was quite refreshing. Some of these secondary elements get just the briefest of mentions, whereas others take upon a life of their own with a twist or two on what we might expect. There might not be an enchantress who put a spell on our hero to make him a Beast in appearance, but instead we focus on a difficult man who has been significantly influenced by the trauma of his past, the beauty who frustrates him in one moment while calming him in another, and finally the ever present reminder that their time together has an end date.

There was an interesting contradiction at play to constantly see Griffin argue with himself that he’s not prepared to be the partner Bellamy would need in a relationship, yet also seeing his alpha side break to loose by insisting he’ll be the one to protect and care for her in every way possible. As for Bellamy, she has all the spunk and toughness you could possibly want in a female lead. When Griffin was at his beastiest, or insistent on treating her like his possession, she would turn from sultry romantic interest to a vocal and determined adversary who wasn’t afraid to point out how he was being a total ass. That being said, as they proceed to take their relationship from one level to the next, she was also insightful enough to notice when his shitty behavior was being influenced by the fear and vulnerability borne of his troubled past. Bellamy knew how to navigate the fine line of pushing Griffin to explore the emotional turmoil of his childhood, while also giving him the space needed to come to certain realizations on his own rather than at her constant prodding. We ultimately see that the deep-rooted fear of Griffin being abandoned leads him to try and push away the only woman he’s ever truly cared for so that he can be the one to end things rather than being left behind once again. I wasn’t quite expecting for something that initially started as a light-hearted, sexy office romp to slowly evolve into a heartbreaking examination of loss and the healing power of love.

Series: Fairy Tale Billionaires, book 2. I didn’t read book one in this series before giving this one a go, but I must say I’m now intrigued to finish the rest of the series in its entirety. The love stories for these brothers are clearly taking place at the same time, so the small glimpse I’ve had of Griffin’s brothers and their respective love interests has tickled me pink.

Final Impressions: This was a fun and sexy read that successfully managed to avoid using the classic Beauty and the Beast tale as a crutch to lean upon. Griffin’s traumatic past played a key role in shaping him into the bastard he’s become today, and I appreciated the focus on this troubled history while simultaneously exploring how the progression of his relationship with Bellamy might be the force needed to break through the walls he’s built around him all these years. Bellamy was certainly a force to be reckoned with in her own right, and never allowed Griffin to have the upper-hand in intimidating her into submission. If anything, he was like putty in her hands, even when their bickering was somewhat over-the-top. I will say I wish we had seen Bellamy’s father incorporated a more fully into the story, and not just because the father figure was such a key character of the original fairy tale. He clearly plays a crucial role in Bellamy’s life, but his presence is solely limited to phone calls, which was rather disappointing. A perfectly pleasant read overall though.

Smut Level: This book adds significantly more steam and raunchiness to the classic fairy tale romance we’re all familiar with, which was just positively wonderful. I will say though, the several references to Bellamy’s…nether region as smelling/tasting of fresh oysters was…unexpected.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. I got this book for free on Amazon not too long ago, and it looks as though the other books in the series alternate between being available for free. 208 Pages.

Dax by Sawyer Bennett

This fourth installment in the Arizona Vengeance hockey romance series teaches us a universal truth of romance novels. A bit of alcohol mixed with a seemingly innocent tickle fight will inevitably lead to sexy fun times.

What’s it About?

My name is Dax Monahan and hockey is my passion. And if you want to succeed in this sport you have to bust your ass 24/7. I’ve never had a hard time focusing on my career, but when my past comes knocking, no amount of training can prepare me for what lies on the other side of the door.

Regan Miles was always like a sister to me. When a shared tragedy brings us face to face after several years, I’m shocked to see just how much she’s changed. Gone is the shy, awkward little girl that always used to chase me and her brother around. Instead, I’m faced with a gorgeous woman who makes it damn hard to concentrate on anything but her.

Turns out, she’s in trouble, and the only way out is to get married. I surprise myself when I tell her to marry me. Order her, actually. And most shocking of all, she doesn’t even hesitate before saying yes. So it’s settled. We’re getting hitched and she’s moving to Arizona with me. All platonic, of course. The catch? I never knew I’d fall so hard for my best friend’s little sister.

First Impressions

When it came to this book I broke my cardinal rule of romance novel series reading, which is that after finishing the third novel I immediately jumped right into this one. The fact that the timeline of Dax and Regan’s romance overlaps with a decent portion of the events from the previous novel meant that certain major plot points were repeated. In hindsight, it probably would have been beneficial to read something else in between books three and four to sort of break up the series, but I will admit it was still entertaining to see those important story lines told from the point of view of different characters. As with every new addition to the Arizona Vengeance, we are once again presented with a slew of delightfully tried and true romance novel tropes, including friends-to-lovers, falling in love with a best friend’s sister, and a marriage of convenience. While I absolutely loved Dax and Regan as characters, and the progression of their connection from family friends to passionate lovers to soulmates was a joy of a ride, I can’t say this was my favorite addition to the series, or that it was entirely necessary to have as a full-length book. Let’s dive deep to take a closer look!

Full-Length versus Novella

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. It’s a lovely romance and it’s not like you should skip it when reading this series as a whole, which I definitely recommend picking up considering it’s been an absolute treat so far. However, I almost wonder if Dax and Regan’s story would have benefitted more as a novella or half-book rather than as a full-length addition to the series. First and foremost, as already stated a decent portion of the book overlaps with the events of the previous novel. Although it was interesting to see some of these elements played out from a different viewpoint, it didn’t really add much to the progression of the series as a whole. The overall story arch is kind of stuck at this particular point in time, and it probably won’t break through into another level until book 5, when a key secondary character who as been the focus of much drama up until this point will finally be getting his own book.

And this brings us to the other secondary characters. I am loving the bromance portrayed amongst all of the members of this hockey team, and while the previous novels have provided us with introductions or hints at the drama or romance to come for other characters, this was really the first novel in the series where I felt that other story lines were competing for attention with the one playing out between our lead characters. The emotional turmoil around the team captain, Tacker, continues to be a primary focus in each novel as he keeps spiraling further down into depression following the tragic death of his fiancée months earlier. Every member of the Arizona Vengeance wants to support him, so it makes sense that he’d be an important feature of each book in the series. In addition to Tacker’s drama, we also see the start of what will undoubtedly be an eventual romance featuring Dax’s sister, Willow, and the billionaire owner of the Arizona Vengeance, Dominik. I can’t wait to see this story play out further in a future book, but combining this with the details of Tacker’s story along with Dax and Regan’s romance, there were almost a few too many competing stories going on at once. None of them overshadowed Dax’s story per se, but if they’d been limited more in their description we probably could have seen this book transition from installment #4 to #3.5.

The Leading Romance

And this finally brings us to Dax and Regan. Although they had a few minor bumps in the road to finally admitting how much they loved each other, on the whole their journey was fairly free of angst. Considering that some of the previous books in the series would present us with rather contrived disagreements between our leading characters, it was kind of refreshing to see that the strength of Dax and Regan’s original friendship ultimately led them to having a strong physical and loving relationship too. While the development of their love was essentially drama-free, there were two other aspects to their story which introduced the fundamental conflict of the novel. The first was that Regan’s brother, Lance, who was also Dax’s best friend, was killed during a mugging gone bad at the end of the third novel. The second is when Regan admits to Dax she has a life-threatening illness, and he basically insists they get married ASAP so she can benefit from his health insurance to pay the exorbitant fees required for her life-saving medication.

Both of these plot points were crucial to pushing Dax and Regan’s relationship to the next level, but in hindsight I’m not sure the Lance story line was incorporated enough for it be a necessary feature of their tale. The unfortunate reality of Regan’s illness quickly supersedes any shared despair they felt over Lance’s death, and it was promptly pushed to the background. I think we would have seen the same emotional and romantic progression for our primary characters, marriage of convenience and all, if Regan had simply been an only child and long-time family friend of Dax’s. In addition, as the novel progressed we saw how the drama around whether or not Dax’s health insurance would successfully cover her treatment was also extinguished to seemingly minimize any large amount of conflict. I remember listening to this as an audiobook and thinking the insurance conundrum would inevitably come back into play for some kind of climactic hospital scene confrontation, but when I looked at my phone at one point to discover there was only 4% left in the book I realized we wouldn’t be privy to more conflict for our leading characters. To be fair, they’ve certainly been through enough!

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 4. I’m going to try and read something else before immediately diving into the next novel, but my goodness am I beyond eager to get my hands on books 5 and 6. I have a feeling Tacker’s book is going to destroy me emotionally, but I’m ready for it!

Final Impressions: Overall this was a fine addition to the series, but a few tweaks probably would have put it above and beyond. Either certain elements needed to be incorporated more fully, such as Regan and Dax relying on each other to find happiness again following the murder of her brother/his best friend, or they should have been removed entirely to focus the story more on our lovebirds in a shorter span of pages. This is the first time while reading the Arizona Vengeance where I felt like we didn’t see much forward momentum in the series as a whole, which was especially highlighted by the fact that so many of the major events from books three and four overlapped with each other. That being said, I adored the evolution of Dax and Regan’s friendship to romance, and we are once again provided with two leading characters you love to love.

Smut Level: Regan isn’t a virgin, but she also isn’t too experienced when it comes to sex. While this causes an initial hesitancy for Dax to take things further after their first night together, it also doesn’t take long before these two simply can’t deny the chemistry simmering between them while living in such close quarters.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Big Dog Books, LLC. 342 Pages.

If You Stay by Barbara Meyers

After so many years away, Joy Laurence is finally returning home to face the parents who turned their back on her. The journey to forgiveness is long and arduous, but there might just be love waiting at the end of the road.

What’s it About? 

A runaway daughter. An unforgiving father. A reluctant artist.

At 18, Joy Laurence took off with the local bad boy who left her widowed, broke and pregnant. Back then her formidable minister father hung up on her when she called home. Now that she’s back, he slams the door in her face. But for her adult daughter’s sake, she is determined to make peace with her family.

Although romance isn’t even on her radar, Joy can’t resist troubled and talented Granger Sullivan’s rough edges and skilled hands. And in his rebellious teenage daughter she sees her own reflection.

Joy’s excitement dies when reconnecting with her past results not only in broken hearts, but broken lives. Including hers.
She could admit defeat and walk away a second time.

But if she stays, can she find a way to reconcile with her loved ones and build the life she wants?

First Impressions

This is the third installment in the Red Bud, Iowa series and surprisingly the entire novel takes place outside of the small Iowa town we’ve come to know so well. Joy Laurence, who is the mother of Devonny from the first book in the series, is returning home to face the past she ran away from years ago. One parent welcomes her back with open arms, but the other continues to hold a grudge for what he deemed an unforgivable mistake made by Joy when she left home. What started off as a battle of wills between daughter and parents has now evolved into one of wife versus husband, as Joy’s mother struggles to forgive her husband for all of the years lost of getting to know their daughter and granddaughter. Joy never could have guessed that by mending ties with her mother it would result in frayed ties between husband and wife. Would it have been better if she’d stayed away?

Even though she’s gone back home with the primary goal of reconciling with her parents, Joy unexpectedly finds a connection, both emotionally and physically, with gruff artist Granger, who just so happened to have a longstanding crush on her when they were young. As they start to dance around their feelings for each other, Joy is also struck by the tenacity of Granger’s daughter who reminds her so much of herself when she was also a rebellious teen. Witnessing the disagreements and verbal sparring between Granger and his daughter makes Joy conjure up memories of similar spats with her own father, and worries if Granger might be on the same road to an irreparable rift with his child. While it was certainly fun getting to know the characters of this new small town, full of their own personalities and complex histories, I can’t help but admit I did miss the friends we’d made back in Red Bud. I tried to think if there was any way the small Iowa town could have been further incorporated into this third story, but upon reflection it made sense that the only way Joy could have confronted her past was by going home.

A Tale of Romance

As Joy tries to navigate the complex relationship with her parents, she also starts to fall for her somewhat surly landlord, Granger. He may appear standoffish on the surface, but beneath this impassive exterior lies a talented artist who is insightfully observant of the world around him. The evolving relationship between Granger and Joy was certainly enjoyable, especially seeing as Granger’s childhood crush has finally come to fruition as an adult, but their romance sort of played second fiddle to the bulk of the other drama going on. Their scenes together were oftentimes a reprieve from the intensity of the book as a whole, providing a seamless chemistry and lightness of fluttering butterflies in the stomach at the start of any new love affair. Whereas we really couldn’t tell how or if other relationships might be resolved, the attraction between Granger and Joy was something we could rely on.

Resolving the Past and the Present

Every book in this series has provided us with an emotional exploration of various relationships, and this third novel continues that theme as we dive deep into the complexities of family dynamics, marriages, teenage hormones, and the intricacies which can surround father/daughter relationships. The irony was not lost on the fact that Joy’s father, Art, who is the minister of this small town, could often guide the members of his flock through their own familial issues, but when it came to those within his own household he struggles to move forward on the path towards forgiveness. Not only to forgive the daughter who he feels brought shame upon their family, but also to forgive himself for the grave mistake of turning his back on her when she tried to reconnect.

We ultimately come to learn that the animosity he’d always felt towards Joy stemmed from the fear of almost losing his wife, Marcy, through her difficult pregnancy with Joy. She’s always represented the thing that threatened to take the love of his life away from him. When she finally makes a reappearance in their lives, Art’s inability to move on from the past threatens the loss of his wife anyway as she struggles with the knowledge that he prevented years of connection with their daughter and granddaughter. Considering that Joy’s pregnancy with Devonny was such a large component of the rift she faced with her parents, I admittedly would have liked to see Devonny incorporated more into the story of this novel. While we do get a few phone call conversations here and there, as well as a final appearance at the conclusion of the book, I think she could have had a more prominent role here overall. That being said, it’s also understandable that Joy would have had to face her past primarily on her own, rather than relying on Devonny to have a hand in resolving any issues for her.

Similar to the complexities around Joy resolving the tenuous connection with her own parents, it was interesting to see some of the same themes reflected in how Granger and his own daughter, Cassie, needed to confront and mend their own relationship. In both instances, it wasn’t as though the presence of a third character could come in and easily resolve everything with a simple conversation. Joy needed to speak with her parents on her own terms without relying on Devonny to help smooth things over, just like Joy’s parents needed to face each other head on, same as Granger and Cassie needed to do. Particular events and conversations which wove in between all of these characters certainly influenced how they chose to re-evaluate their own situation, but at the end of the day each set of relationships had to traverse their own unique path to ultimate forgiveness.

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Red Bud, Iowa book 3. 

Final Impressions: This book is an exploration of faith, love and forgiveness. Of all the books in the series so far this felt like the most emotionally “heavy” one of the bunch, as there were a multitude of shaky relationships at play with deep-rooted issues at the heart of them. I often found myself questioning if Joy would ever find absolution with her father, if her parent’s relationship could ever be saved considering so many years of heartbreak, and whether Granger would be able to find a way to reconnect with his daughter. Throughout it all we see love start to blossom between Granger and Joy, and I do wish we could have seen their connection featured a bit more prominently. There were so many different complex relationships to keep track of, and it seemed theirs was sometimes pushed to the side to introduce the others. There was even an unexpected traumatic twist towards the end of the book involving Granger and Joy’s union that I really didn’t see coming, but it felt relatively glossed over in order to ensure the other loose ends of the novel were tied up.

Smut Level: Granger finally has the source of his longstanding crush in his arms, and after so many years of waiting he’s more than ready to show Joy how much he’s always wanted her.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 289 Pages

Legend by Sawyer Bennett

When a small, life-changing bundle is left on Legend’s doorstep, he immediately runs to the one woman who’s been causing him nothing but grief for months, his next-door neighbor Pepper. You won’t want to miss out on this swoon-worthy, enemies-to-lovers, neighbors romance. 

What’s it About? 

Everything is clicking for the Vengeance. We may be new, but we’re well on our way to winning the championship, and I’m having the time of my life headlining the sports media as the hottest goalie—hell, player—ever. I for one am going to live up to my name . . . because I am Legend Bay.

Dragging my ass home from the gym, I’m blinded by some gaudy, glowing holiday lights. As usual, my hot-as-hell neighbor Pepper Nantais has gone way over the top. But just as I’m about to tell her off, something else catches my eye . . . Seems like Santa left me a present, and not one I was expecting.

As life takes an unexpected turn, I realize that there’s much more to Pepper than meets the eye. Sure, she’s gorgeous. And exasperating. And her taste in decorating may be a bit . . . unique.

But beneath her carefree demeanor is a fierce determination and a heart of gold. And before I know it I’ve fallen for her. Hard . . .

Pepper is exactly the woman I never knew I needed.

Quick Review

We were first introduced to the seductive tension simmering between Legend and his quirky neighbor, Pepper, in previous novels in the Arizona Vengeance hockey romance series. Although he might be a ladies man, Legend is also a rule-follower who likes to have his personal space in pristine order. The fact Pepper likes to flood her yard with cheesy lawn ornaments and bright colors has had him complaining to the homeowner’s association more than once, but that won’t stop her from continuing to torment the gorgeous hockey player she’s had a crush on ever since moving in next door. I will say I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Pepper’s prankster shenanigans that have been known to grind Legend’s gears to boiling levels of frustration, but it’s such a minimal complaint for what was overall a rather faultless story. The true focus of the novel is instead centered on Legend’s unexpected thrust into fatherhood, and it’s in this moment of utter shock, and even fear, that he finds himself immediately turning to one person without pause. 

Sure, he could have called one of his many teammates, the men he considers brothers, but instead he stumbles next door to seek help from the one woman he has struggled to push from his every waking thought for months. Pepper not only assists him with caring for his daughter, but she also offers him a distraction in what initially starts as a casual fling, but quickly evolves into something much stronger. The natural progression of their connection from physical chemistry to emotional trust, and finally true love, was perhaps the strongest display in the series so far. However, that wasn’t the only reason this third novel has stood out as my favorite in the Arizona Vengeance. We finally, FINALLY, get to see a level of drama incorporated into the story that steadily progressed to a climactic point of combustion, and it refreshingly had nothing to do with a misunderstanding or petty argument between our two lovebirds. The connection between Legend and Pepper felt so real, that it would have seemed like a disservice to have their relationship threatened by some of the trivial disagreements of the previous two novels. We are instead presented with a legitimate point of conflict from a secondary character, and rather than push Legend and Pepper apart, it succeeds in strengthening their link even further. 

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 3. Every book in this series manages to build the emotional torment of some of our other hockey players on the team, and I am chomping at the bit to ultimately see each of them featured in their very own novel. 

Final Impressions: This series is proving to get better and better with each new addition. The chemistry between Pepper and Legend practically leaps off the page, and while it was a pleasure to witness them falling in love, it was just as delightful to watch Legend fall in love with the daughter who was unexpectedly dropped on his front door step. While I did miss some of the teasing fun I thought we’d see carry over from the previous novels, on the whole you have to appreciate the seamless progression of this romance between neighbors, as well as the growing desperation of our secondary character who encroaches upon the happiness of our loving leads. This was probably the most serious of the Arizona Vengeance novels so far, especially considering some of the dramatic developments with a few other players on the team, but it’s a wild ride for which I was fully on board. 

Smut Level: Let’s just say this daddy is a dirty talker, and Pepper is more than happy to bring out the filthy side of him. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 218 Pages. 

The Best Friend’s Guide to Taking Risks by Kadie Scott & Nicole Flockton

This is a must read for anyone who enjoys an all consuming friend-to-lovers romance. It will leave you smiling, giggling, and blushing from the chemistry between these two entertaining and lovable characters.

What’s it About? 

Everyone knows that the biggest risk you can take with your best friend is to cross a certain line.

When it comes to relationships, Hunter Lancing is not a risk taker. Between his parents’ terrible divorce and his own bad decisions, he’s been burned. Computers make more sense to him. Everything has a rule. Everything is defined. Like his computers, his best friend is defined, constant, and comes with rules he won’t break.

Part-time children’s party princess Natalie Morgan dances to the beat of a drum no one else can hear. The only person who truly gets her and is never scared off by her sometimes zany ideas is Hunter. But she has a big problem. Natalie keeps having all these…feelings…for her bestie.

But on a weekend getaway, a game of risky dares and one-upmanship that was supposed to just be for laughs may just end up with both of them crossing the friend zone line.

First Impressions

Natalie and Hunter have always been close friends, nothing more, but after a few interesting turn of events they can’t help but start to see each other in a different light. From Natalie running to her bestie for comfort following a tough day at work, to the possibility of Hunter leaving town…and maybe an unexpected glimpse or two of what’s lying in wait underneath their clothes, all of these moments combine to push their friendship into another category entirely. So much more than a simple friends-to-lovers romance, The Best Friend’s Guide to Taking Risks also presents us with a delightful case of opposites attract. The fact Natalie and Hunter’s personalities are so different from each other helps explain why it took so long for these two characters with such an obvious connection to take things to the next stage in their relationship.

Hunter is a rule follower, constantly looking to his computers and code for the answer. A straight-laced nerd, if you will. Natalie couldn’t be more distinct. She’s the fun-loving, energetic, children’s party princess. In spite of their differences, these two have no trouble turning to one another when it matters most. She helps him remember to play and let his hair down every once in a while. To look behind the code on the computer screen in front of him. Hunter might think Natalie does things that are off-the-wall, but he never judges her for it, or demand she tone things down. When others judge and look down upon her quirky ways, he manages to pull her back up again. He lets Natalie be…Natalie. And she loves him for it, just as much as he loves her for this whimsicality. They compliment each other even though they seem mismatched on the surface, and it’s during a short trip to Austin, Texas, as Hunter contemplates a possible future move there, that his relationship with Natalie is finally knocked into fifth gear.

The Perfect Blend of Comedy and Warmth

The true accomplishment of this book came from the idyllic blend of silliness with grounded emotional moments. There were some exceptional examples of our characters responding to perceived crises or dramatic moments in relatable, “believable” ways. When Natalie discovers that her best friend (who she is just now starting to feel the stirrings of something more for) mentions how he might be moving several states away, her response isn’t to throw a temper tantrum, declare that the move could break their connection, or highlight all the reasons why he should stay. Instead, she travels with him to show her support, and demonstrate how she only has his best interests at heart. She brings along her sparkling personality in an attempt to highlight all the great things Austin could potentially offer, even though the idea of him moving away is a difficult reality for her to face. If it’s ultimately what he wants, she’ll stand by his side as he makes the decision. Mixed in with her words of encouragement was an over-the-top card game which forced both Natalie and Hunter to engage in a slew of hilarious, and oftentimes embarrassing “risks”. The continuation of these playful hijinks throughout their time together in Austin, as well as upon their return to Sacramento, was undoubtedly a highlight of the novel. We can’t help but blush in embarrassment right alongside Hunter, yet also admire Natalie’s ability to role with the punches throughout the game. 

Another critical development in Hunter and Natalie’s relationship, beyond them finally taking things to the next level in Austin, was in the aftermath of their passionate night together. I loved how we saw both of them internally struggle over how this might forever alter their friendship, but they ultimately verbalized how much they meant to the other, and admitted that they want to see where this thing might lead. When various relationships from Hunter’s past, including that of his ex-wife and his divorced parents, threaten to intrude upon his newfound physical connection with Natalie, we once again see him question how this might affect his future with his best friend. In some moments, he can clearly distinguish how his past is different from his present with Natalie, and convince himself to push forward in their relationship. In others, the uncertainties and fears overwhelm his ability to act with his heart rather than with his head. Throughout it all, Natalie never fails in her ability to notice when he’s struggling, offer her support or comfort, and in many cases is successful in talking through every new concern that might face them together as a couple. In the end there is only one pressing matter from his past which threatens to tear them apart. However, similar to the beginning when we saw how the prospect of being without Hunter impacted Natalie’s perspective, Hunter too must see a glimpse of how things would be forever altered if she wasn’t present in his life anymore. Is he willing to take that risk?

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone (for the moment?). I need this to be a series featuring Natalie’s sisters. Please and thank you.

Final Impressions: On the whole this is a light-hearted and hilarious read that shows how two friends can unexpectedly start to view their relationship in a different light. In spite of all the silly moments, from embarrassing risk cards to a knight-in-shining-armor costume, this read did successfully manage to weave in some beautiful emotional displays of love, fear and friendship. I also appreciated how the authors threw several of my pre-conceived romance novel expectations out the window, such as avoiding misunderstandings or arguments over minor issues, while still throwing in some beloved tried and true tropes along the way. If you’re headed to the beach, you won’t want to leave this one behind!

Smut Level: This is the perfect example of a sweet read with a LOT of heat.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 272 Pages. 

Erik by Sawyer Bennett

As far as all the ways I’ve seen a romance hero try to demonstrate devotion to his love interest, undergoing a Brazilian wax just might take the cake.

What’s it About? 

I’m having the time of my life with my new brothers on the Arizona Vengeance. We may be an expansion team, but after notching some big wins, the entire league knows to watch out for Erik Dahlbeck. That’s me.

The only person who doesn’t seem to think I’m so great? Blue Gardner, the hot-as-f*** flight attendant on our team plane. I sure wouldn’t mind joining the mile-high club with her, but besides bringing me lukewarm coffee, she won’t give me the time of day. Whatever I did to rub Blue the wrong way, my teammates think it’s hilarious. After all, we’re used to women flocking to us. #puckbunnies

When I run into Blue back on land, I’m shocked to learn how she spends her time off: taking care of her handicapped brother. There are layers to this girl I never imagined, layers I can’t wait to peel away. And that’s a new feeling for me.

But first I’ve got to find a way to melt that ice-cold stare. Because as much as I try to pretend I don’t care what Blue thinks of me, how can you not care when you’re falling for someone?

Quick Review

If you’re someone like me, who isn’t a huge fan of sports, believe me when I say you should still give this hockey romance series a try. The author has done a fine job so far of distinguishing the story arcs and personality traits of our characters from one novel to the next. While each novel has been distinct, there are certain themes which seem to be developing as the hallmark of this series. Not only are we presented with an engaging romantic story between two leads that is ripe with heat and humor, but we are also witness to a close brotherly bond between the teammates of the Arizona Vengeance hockey team. They have each other’s backs both on and off the ice, and aren’t afraid to offer advice when our featured male lead inevitably starts to encounter hardship in the midst of wooing his love interest. While some readers seem to criticize this emotional bond between our male characters as “unrealistic”, I found it to be delightfully refreshing to see such “manly men” willing to open up about their feelings and insecurities with their closest friends.

As for Blue and Erik, their journey to a happily ever after was funny, yet also filled with emotionally vulnerable moments as they both consider their connected past and hoped for future. Discovering the reason for Blue’s intense animosity towards the devilishly handsome ladies man was quite the surprise, and seeing all the ways Erik was willing to prove he was serious about courting Blue provided some laugh-out-loud moments that still have me smirking when I think back on them. Blue’s brother, Billy, also played an important role in their relationship, and while I was initially concerned Erik would try and use her brother with cerebral palsy as a ploy to get into her life, we ultimately see that Erik’s intentions where Billy are concerned are honorable and true. While they encounter a few stumbling blocks along the way, there’s no question in our minds that Blue and Erik have found a long-lasting love with each other that will last beyond the final pages of the book.

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 2. Only two books into this series and already the author has employed some of my favorite romance novel tropes: fake engagement, second-chance romance, enemies-to-lovers. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: This is a fun read that will have you laughing, blushing, and possibly getting you all teary-eyed by the end. On the whole, I think I may have even liked it better than book one in the series, as every character had a part to play in Blue and Erik’s romance, and their chemistry was without reproach. The only areas of fault for books one and two would have to be with the endings. We reach a point in both novels where things are seemingly going so well for our main characters that we know something has to go wrong to inject a bit of drama that will threaten to tear apart the relationship they’ve spent so long building. I couldn’t help but feel that for both reads the drama was a bit too contrived, and the inevitable mini-break-up results in an eye-roll moment of unnecessary tension. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that as we dive deeper into this series we’ll be presented with strains to the relationship that don’t seem so far out of left-field.

Smut Level: It’s possible Erik spends more time in this book building up a sweat with Blue off the ice than he does when competing against his rivals on the ice.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 213 Pages. 

Undeceived: Pride & Prejudice in the Spy Game by Karen M. Cox

When you’re reading Price and Prejudice and think to yourself, “this book is good and all, but you know what would make it even better? Some Cold War-era espionage”. Well then, this retelling of the classic British romance just might be right up your alley!

What’s it About? 

“…if I endeavor to undeceive people as to the rest of his conduct, who will believe me?” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 40)

Elizabeth Bennet, a rookie counterintelligence officer, lands an intriguing first assignment – investigating the CIA’s legendary William Darcy, who is suspected of being a double agent. Darcy’s charmed existence seems at an end as he fights for his career and struggles against his love for the young woman he doesn’t know is watching his every move. Elizabeth’s confidence dissolves as nothing is like she planned – and the more she discovers about Darcy, the more she finds herself in an ever-tightening web of danger.

Unexpected twists abound in this suspenseful Cold War-era romance inspired by Jane Austen’s classic tale.

Quick Review

Similar to a modern version of a classic fairy tale, I’ll dive right into a Pride and Prejudice retelling as soon as I can get my hands on it! That being said, I would probably categorize this version as “loosely inspired” by the story we all know and love, rather than a retelling of it per se. There were certain inspirations from the original that were unmistakable, from the cantankerous dolts of Wickham and Collins, to the unrequited initial declaration of love by our prideful Darcy, and finally the animosity turned affection of our leading lady Elizabeth. In certain scenes we even see how sticking so close to the original source material in this updated tale of espionage essentially resulted in some unfortunate spoilers of the spy game at play.

After all, when you have the lecherous character of Wickham insisting that Darcy must be a double agent, it’s not too difficult to gauge that his insistence and motives would be less than honorable. On the whole though, there were some hallmark traits of the 1800s classic which were noticeably absent, to the point where you almost question why there needed to be a link to Pride and Prejudice at all. Gone were the familial dynamics involving Elizabeth’s many sisters and hilariously embarrassing mother, while other crucial supporting characters were oftentimes relegated to secondary side plots that barely received mention. I almost think this story would have benefited more if it didn’t try to put a Pride and Prejudice label on it, but rather stood on its own two feet as an enemies-to-lovers romance set in the confusing world of Cold-War spy craft.    

Series: Stand-Alone. 

Final Impressions: It took some time before the plot really pulled me in to the point where I had a vested interest in seeing how everything would play out. A large part of this had to do with the fact that while we see Elizabeth and Darcy engage in a few different spy missions, we’re never really privy to the details or end-goal of each mission. We just know that Darcy is the leading spy of the day, and Elizabeth serves as his translator. We never really learn what they’re after, or hoping to achieve, with each mission. Linking this spy novel to Pride and Prejudice meant that we were constantly dealing with this odd juxtaposition of not being surprised when certain plot points were revealed, but then also being surprised to see some character development twists that were a shocking departure from the original. Again, this read may have had more of an impact if it were a stand-alone book that didn’t try to affiliate itself with P&P. 

Smut Level: This was one departure from the original that I was all on board for! While Elizabeth and Darcy initially tip-toe around their attraction for each other, once their mutual adoration becomes known they have no reservations about physically exploring their desires. And on a hot and sweaty Caribbean island no less!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Adalia Street Press. 334 Pages. 

Beg for Me by Natalie Anderson

This contemporary romance presents us with the biggest fear for anyone out there who manages multiple social media accounts: what happens when you publish the wrong content to the wrong account? The repercussions for Min involve a confrontation with a brooding billionaire who could benefit from a fake fiancée for a few weeks. Sooo…winner, winner?!

What’s it About? 

One mistake means she’s his to marry?

No one needs an image overhaul more than Logan Hughes. His notoriety has reached epic proportions thanks to a sex clip circulating on the Internet. But when his newly contracted social media manager inadvertently tweets his happiness at his engagement, he—along with the rest of the world—is astounded.

With one wrong click of a button Min Jones just committed career suicide. Mixing up her client’s account wouldn’t have been so bad if he had only a few followers… unfortunately he has almost a million. Summoned to meet with him face-to-face, she’s more tongue-tied than ever when he announces that his engagement is to stand and that she’s to be his supposed fiancée.

With her career on the line Min agrees but she isn’t going to hide away meek and mild. If Logan Hughes wants a fiancée, he’s going to have to play by her rules and that means he’ll have to learn to handle some restraint…

First Impressions

While this sequel didn’t necessarily compare to book one in the Be for Me series as far as enjoyment level, it did certainly present us with several high points. From a delightful premise completely distinct from the first book, to a slew of new and intriguing characters, I’ll take any fake engagement romance I can get my hands on. The sexual chemistry between Min and Logan was positively riveting, and you can’t help but enjoy the ride of their relationship evolving from one of animosity to convenience, friendship to love. The majority of the scenes between these two also involved them spending time together in fairly close quarters, whether it was in Logan’s luxurious New York City apartment, or confined to a room in his parent’s mountain resort, which successfully added to the passionate electricity between them. That being said, there were a few different power dynamics at play which oftentimes posed a few problems that probably could have been dealt with or expanded upon differently. 

Who has the Power? 

First and foremost, if this kind of meet-cute had occurred outside of Romancelandia we’d definitely be dealing with a blackmail/sexual harassment lawsuit on our hands. Min is, for all intents and purposes, Logan’s employee through her management of his social media presence. Although the two have never met before, Min’s unfortunate error of publishing an engagement announcement meant for another client to Logan’s Twitter account guarantees a swift and tension-filled confrontation. However, it’s during this first meeting that Logan realizes Min, not to mention a fake engagement, could prove to be of benefit during an upcoming awkward meeting he has to spend with estranged family. To convince her to play along, Logan says that if she doesn’t participate in the charade he’ll basically destroy her business by announcing her Twitter-error to all of his closest contacts. It’s not long after this initial meeting that Logan’s desire for Min takes over. He insists it won’t be long before she’s begging him to give her the ultimate pleasure, and he’s willing to tease and tempt her in any way possible so that she’ll eventually beg for him. 

As you can see, even though we recognize that Min is immediately smitten with this hunk of a man, and her initial reservations to this scheme act as a shield to her admitting her own desire for him, there’s still an awkward employer/employee power dynamic at play here. This continues throughout the novel when it comes to their sexploitations as well. As they set the terms for their fake engagement, Min is initially insistent that there not be any sexual intercourse between them, which Logan immediately sets as a challenge that he will pleasure her in so many other ways she’ll soon be begging him for more. He’s always consistent with bringing her to release, but it’s never quite to a point where she can reach the full potential of pleasure, which does in fact keep her coming back to him.

Alongside Logan’s insistence that she will be the one begging him for sex, he simultaneously vows that he won’t find his own release, whether it be by her hand or his own, until she begs for him to take her. The rather heartbreaking aspect of this entire dynamic is we eventually see how much Min struggles with the fact Logan is continually giving her pleasure, but he’s not allowing her to express her own sexual desires by returning the favor. During one tearful scene Min admits that while he’s been so insistent on her begging for him, the thing that could bring her the most pleasure would be if he were to beg for her. It is during that moment that we recognize how painful all of this constant back-and-forth power play teasing between the two of them has probably been, and it sort of lent on overarching air of unpleasantness to something that initially seemed like it was all in good fun. 

Series: Be for Me, book 2. Even though I enjoyed book one significantly more than book one, I am in no way done with this series. I can’t wait to see how book three plays out involving Logan’s sister and best friend falling for each other. We were also introduced to a slew of other characters that I can’t wait to hear more from in future novels. 

Final Impressions: The initial premise which brought these two characters together was spot on, as was the eventual focus on both Min and Logan needing to overcome their own personal insecurities before they can truly find happiness with each other. While there were certain elements of their relationship which I enjoyed throughout the rest of the book, we do have a few problematic features. This was especially true when it came to power play, which appeared to be a distinctive feature of their sexual relationship. I think the issue here was that power play can be such a personal thing between a couple, that it can make it difficult for us as outsiders to fully understand. I couldn’t help but feel that there were several times during this power exchange that Min was left feeling emotionally exposed and frustrated in a way that wasn’t pleasurable. In addition, when we consider this book clocks in at 397 pages, it seemed the attention spent on certain facets of the plot could have been divvied up differently. For example, after the initial Twitter-error confrontation that led to their fake engagement, there were several scenes that dragged on for too long as they would continually rehash the details of what happened and how their engagement would proceed. The flow of the novel probably would have benefited from several of these scenes being shortened, and instead using that page length later on in the story when it came to Min and Logan interacting with and confronting their troubled relationships with their respective parents. These were interesting elements that didn’t receive the full attention, or even resolution, that they deserved.  

Smut Level: Logan might not indulge Min in his sexual intercourse prowess until she’s begging for it, but that doesn’t mean he won’t introduce her to a multitude of other pleasurable (and fully descriptive) delights. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 397 Pages

Secretly Inn Love by Amelia Foster

While I was secretly hoping we’d never see an end to this contemporary romance series, Secretly Inn Love provides us with a satisfyingly sweet conclusion to the Inn Love trilogy we’ve all come to love. You just might be inspired to start the whole thing over from the beginning again!

What’s it About? 

A songwriter in a slump and a heartbroken chef cook up a harmonious happily ever after.

Ryann Alden’s not looking for a relationship. She’s focused on making a success of the small town inn she and her sisters inherited. As the business takes off, however, tensions grow and she struggles to be seen as an adult instead of a helpless child by the older two. When she finds herself falling for the attractive guest that appears on their doorstep, the budding romance becomes the driving force to make Ryann demand more for herself and her new love.

Elijah Hansen’s reputation as Nashville’s songwriting superstar is at risk when the cutthroat industry has his creativity abandoning him. The impulse that has him hitting the road for a place where he can rekindle his love for song leads him to Willow Falls Inn and Ryann. A snowstorm strands him, but the emerald-eyed beauty that greets him may just be the muse he’s been missing.

Ryann and Elijah continue their whirlwind romance in a long-distance relationship that must survive the tests of his fame, the revelation of a family secret, and the miles between them.

First Impressions

A noble, red-headed Viking in the midst of an epic journey must seek shelter during a treacherous snowstorm, and soon finds everything he didn’t know he was looking for in the gorgeous inn-owner who provides him a room for the night. No need to adjust your screens ladies and gentlemen. We haven’t fallen through time to the days of Valhalla. Our enchanting romance takes place in the present day, and the Viking moniker is bestowed upon our exceedingly tall and handsome songwriter, Elijah, by the youngest of the Alden sisters during a meet cute that has them falling in smitten at first sight. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of this series, but I must say the author outdid herself with this final read, presenting us with two lead characters who are so adorably sweet you’ll practically have a toothache by the end of it.

Hands down, Elijah and Ryann were my favorite couple of the trilogy, and in addition to his tall stature and gingery mop of locks which earns him his Viking title, Elijah also takes the cake when it comes to the most romantic leading man, a title which Ryann awards him constantly throughout their relationship. These two are clearly beguiled with each other at first meeting, and although their initial time together in the same location is brief, we see things naturally evolve from initial intrigue to texting, lengthy phone calls and video dates for a long-distance relationship interspersed with short trips to see each other. This is one of the few romance novels I’ve encountered where the scenes of our lovebirds apart are just as swoon-worthy as the ones of them together. Elijah’s thoughtfulness to plan the perfect dates for them, even when they are hours apart, will have you tilting your head to the side with a smile and an “awwwww” as we cheer on this couple in their search for a happily ever after. 

Sisterly Love

I lost track of the number of times throughout this read that I was expecting an explosion of drama or tension between Elijah and Ryann. Would their long-distance dating prove to be too difficult to maintain? Perhaps their first in-person meeting after so much time apart would be filled with uncomfortable awkwardness. Could Elijah’s fame get in the way of their happiness? Or maybe Ryann would assume that Elijah only wanted to continue spending time with her because she was inspiring him to write some of his best music. Again, so many times that I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop on the adorable couple I’d come to love. And yet, by some kind of refreshing miracle, this never happens! Elijah and Ryann’s love story is essentially drama free, and I can’t reiterate how invigorating this was! To see two adults act as adults, with an ability to communicate clearly and with no propensity for jumping to conclusions or misunderstandings? I’d swear I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven! It allows us to more fully enjoy the sweet romance playing out on the page when we’re not constantly waiting for something unexpected to be lurking behind every corner. 

That’s not to say this book wasn’t without it’s emotionally charged scenes. However, rather than existing between Elijah and Ryann, it instead occurs between Ryann and her two older sisters. We came to know and love Gavynn, Blake and their respective beaus in the first two books of the series. Their dedication towards revitalizing their aunt and uncle’s beloved inn to it’s former glory was only surpassed by their love and friendship with each other. That familial loyalty took a crushing blow at the conclusion of the second novel though when Ryann overhears how her sisters have been hiding the truth from her about their parent’s disinterest and negligence since their death years before. It’s a betrayal that makes her take a step back to look at her life from a distance, and come to the realization that Gavynn and Blake have always treated her as a child rather than the accomplished young woman she’s become. When Elijah comes on the scene, he’s yet another reason Ryann finds the need to assert herself and declare a bit of independence when it comes to her relationship with her sisters. She’ll re-examine what she wants out of life, and how Elijah might fit into it.  

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Inn Love, book 3. I know the saying that all good things must come to an end, but I’m not gonna lie I would absolutely love if we could see some kind of holiday novella down the road to take a peek at what the Alden sisters are up to after the conclusion of the series. 

Final Impressions: This is such a sweet read. Elijah and Ryann are so clearly smitten and the fact that they continue to make each other laugh, surprise one another, and seemingly still get butterflies of excitement when in each other’s company will leave a permanent smile etched upon your face from start to finish. Putting the romantic element aside (although…who would ever want to do that?!) this novel is also an interesting exploration of sisterhood, and acknowledging that you can’t always treat a younger sibling like the baby of the family, even if they will always appear that way in your eyes. It’s a rather bumpy road for the Alden sisters to ultimately find mutual respect for each other once again, and once they do they remember how much stronger they are as a team. Albeit one where they all understand the need to break off and do their own thing every once in a while, and most likely with their respective hunks on hand to keep them fully entertained. 

Smut Level: Just because this is a sweet read doesn’t mean it’s lacking in heat! Considering how much time Elijah and Ryann have spent apart during the start of their long distance relationship, it’s no surprise that when the opportunity presents itself for some in-person one-on-one time together, they’re ready to take full advantage of being in the same place…and the same bed for that matter. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Sweet Heat Books. 160 Pages. 

Celestial Desire by Abbie Zanders

This is the kind of contemporary romance novel that makes me ponder if I should start a bucket list, just so a hunky and caring man can come along to help me cross each item off my list. 

What’s it About? 

Dance with reckless abandon.

Pet a snake.

Get a tattoo.

Have wild, hot sex with a gorgeous stranger.

Recently divorced from her abusive ex, Celeste Harrison is creating a new life for herself, and hot ex-Marine Zane Fagan is perfect for crossing at least one item off her bucket list.

Celeste isn’t Zane’s usual type, but there’s something about her that keeps him coming back for more. In addition to being sweet and incredibly sexy, she’s smart, funny, and when he’s with her, the demons that haunt him are quiet.

It’s all fun and games until her ex tracks her down, and Zane is forced to make a decision that will change both of their lives forever.

First Impressions

As readers of my blog here will undoubtedly know by now, I read a ton of romance novels. And yet, I must say I think this particular short read presented me with something I’ve never come across before in Romancelandia, which would be that Chapter 1 begins mid meet-cute. In fact, it’s almost the tail-end of the meet cute, with the first few sentences involving our male lead, Zane, asking out the intriguing female lead, Celeste, pool-side. I was so thrown by being dropped right into the thick of one of the most crucial features of any romance novel, that by the end of the first chapter I actually flipped back to the very beginning of this e-book in my Kindle to ensure I didn’t miss a crucial prologue. Alas, that was not to be the case, and this isn’t the last time that the author chooses to skim or skip over other important moments. The next prominent occurrence was during Zane and Celeste’s first sexual foray. Their flirtations and foreplay are described in vivid detail, but when they finally come together in the literal sense we get a “fade-to-the-next-morning” approach. 

Normally I wouldn’t have much issue with glossing over the good stuff, but what made this so confusing was the fact that practically every other sex scene in the book is elaborately described from start to finish. As a result, it made the lack of full detail in their first interaction that much more noticeable and disappointing considering the potential emotion such a scene could have contained to further connect the characters, and link us to them too. Finally, there’s another instance towards the end of the book following an action-packed scene that takes place at a hospital, and apparently there is an intense conversation between Zane and Celeste about the future of their relationship, but we aren’t witness to it firsthand at all. We don’t know what exactly was discussed, or even that the exchange occurred until several chapters later. Looking back at these critical romance novel moments (the meet-cute, the first sex scene, the confession), the fact we lost out on any emotional depth which could have been gleamed from those conversations and physical connections was quite unfortunate. 

The Past Comes Back with a Vengeance

While I can’t agree with all of the literary mechanics employed throughout this read, something it did do very well was shine a light on the horrors of domestic abuse, and the constant fear with which its survivors face. Celeste has been trying to distance herself from her ex-husband ever since he was locked away in prison for beating her. Even though she has a restraining order against him, she knows that he’ll come after her as soon as he’s released, and it’s something that Zane starts to fear more with every day he spends with this enchanting woman. While several of the details surrounding her ex’s release were hard to believe, we too are overcome by fear with what this man represents, and we can only keep our fingers crossed that Zane can protect her when this blast from her past comes knocking. Everything builds to an exciting confrontation scene that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Just when you think this is the ultimate endeavor which would solidify Zane and Celeste’s connection, it just might prove to be the breaking point of their relationship. 

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: Overall this contemporary romance felt rather disjointed. From the glossing over of critical emotional scenes, to alternating between almost rom-com level bucket list resolutions to intense descriptions of Zane and Celeste’s tragic pasts, we were missing cohesion to the read as a whole. Clocking in at just 184 pages this book definitely could have benefited from those scenes being more fleshed out, and there was plenty of room to make it a reality. This was unfortunate as I really did enjoy the personalities of our lead characters, and the foundation was here for something truly special. 

Smut Level: Even though their first sexual encounter was a fade-to-black moment, there’s plenty of other descriptive scenes to keep you (and our lead characters 😉 ) coming back for more. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. 184 Pages