We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

A small college town still reeling from unexpected tragedy. It might seem like the unlikeliest of places for romance to blossom, but you can’t always control where love will find you.

What’s it About?

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Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.

When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.

Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.

First Impressions

This is an emotionally heavy read! It’s not just that we’re dealing with a community that is still trying to heal after a school shooting, or a teacher going through the motions of PTSD following his confrontation with the shooter. Nor is it just because of a forbidden love between two male teachers whose jobs are at risk should their amorous activities be discovered. And it’s not only the fact that one of those teachers isn’t openly out as gay, and is attempting to avoid a rather stalkerish ex following the fallout of his 10 year marriage to a woman. It’s the fact that we’re dealing will all of these dramatic story lines at the same time that truly packs an emotional punch.

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I’ll admit, every time I picked up my Kindle to have a go at this read I had to have a light-hearted Christmas movie on in the background so that I didn’t dissolve into a mess of tears with every page. I realize it might seem at the surface like that’s too much drama to be dealing with in one book, but I was surprised to find that it never felt as though any one story line was unnecessary. Everything fit together so perfectly, and while it was indeed a difficult read to approach at times, every element fit succinctly into how these two men found love together amidst every obstacle which was thrown in their path.

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Just Try and Fight It

The romance which developed between Isaac and John was beautiful. It’s the only word I can think of to describe it, yet it also fails to highlight just how special their relationship came to be throughout the story. Upon first meeting, neither of them had romance on the brain. They were both just trying to live from one day to the next following the shit storms which had enveloped their lives over the past year. Isaac even internally admits to himself that John is far from his type. However, their acquaintance quickly turns to friendship, and from friendship it eventually escalates into something more. The strict no-fraternization policy at their university was initially a deterrent to them pursuing anything intimate, but one day they both have to admit to themselves that they can’t fight their connection any more.

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After the trauma of the past year, it’s as though they both acknowledge that it’s better to risk their jobs than to deny themselves a moment of happiness. A moment to truly live. True, their physical chemistry is incredibly strong, and it’s by far one of the steamiest and more realistically passionate reads I’ve come across from this author to date. However, I appreciated that what brings and keeps these two men together isn’t just sex. Rather, they manage to bring out the best in each other, and help to hold each other up when the events surrounding them seem determined to pull them down. When the world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket, they both recognize that the other man is reason enough to still live.

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

Series: Stand-alone. I would give anything to see even a short novella of what these two men are up to a few years down the line.

Final Impressions: Consider yourself warned that you’ll want a happy Disney movie on hand for whenever you read this one. It succeeded in bringing me to tears a time or two, as you become emotionally invested in the lives of our characters. It’s a compelling and oftentimes difficult discussion of what it means to be a hero, how you can continue on when giving up seems so much easier, and how at the end of the day love can be so much stronger than pain. I will say I was surprised with the ending of this read, as it almost felt like we reached a conclusion mid-chapter. While it’s a happy ending, it’s not necessarily a perfect one that is tied up with a big red bow. At first I was almost disappointed, but then I realized that it was a truer reflection of the reality of life. We have good days and bad, and while the love between these two men helps them heal, it’s not as though it’s a magic wand that can make all the trauma of the past disappear entirely. They might not be able to completely forget the pain, but by holding on to each other it makes it easier to keep on living.

Smut Level: Kitchen island, boxer briefs, and a decent amount of honey. Enough said 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. NineStar Press. 233 Pages.

The Enforcer by Abigail Owen

Sparks are certainly flying in this dragon shifter paranormal romance!

What’s it About? 

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Death comes for everyone. Even Drake Chandali. The aging process that twists all unmated dragon shifters’ bodies into something useless has taken hold of his body centuries early. A mate could have reversed the process, but now it’s too late. To protect his team of enforcers, he leaves, and comes face to face with the woman he’d thought was human when he saved her from a fire months before.

Except she’s not human. She’s a mate.

Camilla Carrillo almost lost her family to wildfire. To discover she’s fated to mate a creature made of flame and rage, and become one herself, should be terrifying. But somehow a rightness settles inside her, especially when she’s around the glowering red dragon shifter who wants nothing to do with her.

When Drake learns Cami bears his mark—the same mark as the High King—he refuses to believe she’s meant to be his. It’s too late. How could he turn Cami only to take her with him to the grave? At the same time, he can’t walk away. Hiding her from the corrupt, rotting High King might be the last honorable thing Drake ever does with the little time he has left.

First Impressions

Whenever I begin one of these dragon shifter romances, I always find myself surprised how determined these men often are to ignore the signs that their mate is right in front of them. Of all the books in this series so far though, I would have to say that Drake had the most compelling and understandable reason. All of the signs point to say that Camilla is his destined mate, staring him right in the face. Her proximity, her touch, make him feel alive in a way he’s never felt before. He feels drawn to her from the very first moment he lays eyes on her. And yet, he does everything within his power to try and push her away. The reason? He’s dying.

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All unmated dragons eventually age die if they ultimately go too long without mating. This degenerative process usually impacts dragons centuries down the road, but for Drake it’s hitting him earlier than anyone would have expected. He’s too proud to admit to his shifter teammates the sad fate that he knows will overtake him soon, as he quickly starts losing the ability to move, so he decides to abandon them to die out in peace without the need for them to witness his decline. When he runs to an old friend to live out his last days, he’s confronted with Camilla, and the very real possibility that she’s his mate. Rather than feeling a sense of relief at finding the one person meant for him, he instead refuses to hope that she could be his salvation.

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Better to Have Loved and Lost…

Drake is convinced he’s too far gone to be pulled back from the brink, and worries that if they should proceed with the mating process when they are in fact too late, his eventual death would result in Camilla’s death too following their solidified link as mates. He vows he’ll never risk her life in an attempt to save his own. However, just as much as I admired Drake’s selfless determination to protect, you’ve gotta love Camilla’s stubbornness above all else!

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She might be new to this world of dragons, mates, councils and enforcers, but when she acknowledges wholeheartedly that Drake is her destined mate, her reaction to his attempts to push her away are fabulous. Essentially, tough shit buddy! Yes, mating might eventually link them together in a way that would simultaneously cause her death with his own, but Camilla realizes that she would rather spend those few precious moments with Drake linked in the most firm emotional and physical connection possible, than to live out the rest of her life never having experienced it. She refuses to turn her back on him, and it was quite entertaining to see this slight woman stand up to an imposing and surly dragon shifter. You get it girl!

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

Series: Fire’s Edge, book 3. This series by Abigail Owen is an absolute delight, as is the corresponding Inferno Rising series which focuses on the clan kings rather than this enforcer team of shifters. There’s action, romance, political intrigue, deception, and of course some fantastical elements mixed in as well. What’s not to like?

Final Impressions: This was a great addition to the series. The moments where we witness vulnerability from this seemingly brusque, tough dragon were by far the most compelling. He gives off this air as though nothing can infiltrate the protective barriers he’s set up around himself, but Camilla has taken hold of his heart and refuses to let go. A missing element to this book which was featured prominently in the previous novels was the brotherly connection of these dragon enforcers. It makes sense in a way in that Drake didn’t want his team to witness his decay, and he’s leaving them behind so as not to have to struggle through an emotional goodbye. This results in the story being much more focused on his relationship with Camilla. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that, and while we get a few scenes which highlight the brotherly affection of the Huracan Enforcer team, I think I would have enjoyed another scene or two involving these dragons coming together as brothers.

Smut Level: Some dragon shifters have the unique ability to shift only certain parts of their bodies without fully shifting into their dragon form. For Drake, he has the unique ability to shift his human tongue into a forked dragon tongue. Camilla discovers that’s quite a handy trick to have in the bedroom.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Amara. 325 Pages.

 

Taken From Love by D.M. Porters

Gabriella and Gil venture out onto the high seas in search of adventure. Little did they know that love would be the greatest adventure they’d encounter.

What’s it About? 

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You may take my body, but you will never take my soul. At twenty-two years of age, beautiful Gabriella Taylor felt as if life was passing her by. She feared, in the end, she would be forced to settle for a man she did not love. Would such a man understand her adventurous nature and allow her the freedom she so needed? Highly unlikely. An unexpected voyage to the French Coast would change everything.

Lord Gilbert Ramsay rarely paid attention to the many women who would look his way. Eager to follow in his father’s political footsteps, Gil’s focus was on understanding the plight of the common man hoping to one day represent them. He would trade his London fineries and join the crew of a merchant ship, his identity hidden from the others, of course. Never did he expect to meet the likes of Gabriella Taylor.

Knowing it was wrong, Gabriella was drawn to the handsome but irritating crewman. He was like no man she had ever met. Gil, although initially annoyed with the spirited girl, could not help but be intrigued. What began as an exciting journey of emotional awakenings for Gabriella, would turn into a harrowing ordeal. Taken by ruthless pirates, she would face the challenge of her life, wondering if she would ever see her family or Gil again. It would seem her wish for adventure had become painfully true. Oceans from home, she would need all her courage and that of a gorgeous sailor to help her make it back to the life she so wants.

First Impressions

Gabriella has grown up surrounded by love. Her parents are the guiding force to demonstrate that true love is not only possible, but also long-lasting. Her brother William has also found his own romance with his wife, Alexa, showing that love can be full of passion and excitement. Being in the presence of such loving couples is an inspiration to Gabriella, yet ironically also fills her with melancholy as she wonders why she hasn’t fallen in love yet herself. Surely if she hasn’t found romance yet, it couldn’t possibly be meant for her, right? Her wise mother knows that Gabriella is simply longing for more from life, and thinks a trip across the sea is just what she needs. Little did she know that she’d be sending Gabriella into the arms of the future love of her life, not to mention the arms of some cutthroat pirates. Even though it takes some time before Gabriella and Gil cross paths on this ill-fated journey across the English Channel, once they do it becomes nearly impossible to put this book down.

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You can’t help but wonder how everything will proceed following Gabriella’s abduction. Will she be violated by the wealthy foreigner who has purchased her? Will Gil succeed in rescuing her from the Moroccan harem she’s found herself in? And most importantly, will these two young lovers ever admit how much they truly care about each other? It’s an enchanting read, but one thing I wish we could have seen more of was the journey of Gabriella and Gil falling in love. After meeting on the ship, they have an initial animosity towards each other which isn’t fully explained, but is delightful nonetheless. They try to convince themselves they can’t stand to be around each other, but we all know that’s far from the truth. After spending one evening staring at the starry night sky together it seems as though they suddenly fall head over heels. As the story progresses we don’t doubt their devotion to each other, but it feels like we missed a bit of their romantic tale.

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Another Side of the Story

When we look beyond the romance between Gabriella and Gil, we notice some other interesting aspects of the story which bring an emotional depth to the plot. Perhaps most fascinating was when Gabriella found herself trapped in the harem of the man who purchased her from her pirate captors. She’s desperate to escape, and hopes that the many wives of her new captor will assist her in finding her way back to Gil. Surprisingly though, she discovers that these women are actually happy to be where they are, and try to convince her how lucky she is to have been brought into this world.

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For Gabriella, and even for us as the reader, it seems like a barbaric land she’s found herself in, yet for these women they live like queens, and are pleased nightly by their handsome and sexually talented master. They don’t seek rescue like she does, and instead view the outside world as a cruel place with no one to protect them. It was an eye-opening juxtaposition that presented us with a situation we didn’t necessarily have to agree with, but rather could appreciate that some people are happy in the different lives they lead.

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

Series: Taylor series, book 3. It’s sad to see this series end!

Final Impressions: This novel proves to be a sweet, final conclusion to a series which has taken us on a journey across time. I love how this third book incorporates the couples from the first two books, and at the very end we manage to come full circle back to how the series first started all the way back in book one. We might see the most exciting plot in this final story, what with pirates and exotic foreign lands for our characters to encounter, but when all is said and done I think the romance from book one still remains my favorite. The author succeeds to combine heartfelt sentiment with painful loss in each novel, and I can’t help but let the tears flow every time. Again, I wish we could have seen a bit more focus on Gabriella and Gil falling in love, but at the end of the day it was a fun and sweet read that has you on the edge of your seat, yet also sighing in delight.

Smut Level: There may not be many love scenes in this historical romance, but the ones we do get are delightfully steamy. Let’s just say Gabriella picks up a few pointers from the ladies of the Moroccan harem, and Gil is eventually quite thankful that Gabriella was such a dedicated student. .

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 361 Pages

The Darkness Within by Rebecca Hefner

If you’re looking for a romance novel featuring a conflicted hero and a tough-as-nails heroine, then look no further. This paranormal read has everything you could possibly want and more!

What’s it About? 

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Arderin, princess of the illustrious Vampyre kingdom, has always marched to the beat of her own drum. Motivated by a calling to heal others, frustration consumes her since her brother, King Sathan, doesn’t understand her desire to study medicine in the human world. Moreover, the son of the Dark Lord Crimeous has moved onto their compound and he seems obsessed with driving her absolutely insane. Hating him for his sharp tongue and dark nature, she tries to squelch her unwelcome attraction to him.

Darkrip has been enthralled by Arderin since the night he knocked her unconscious and sent her down the river, prompting the end of the War of the Species. Never has he met a woman more beautiful and passionate. Frustrated by her dramatics and consumed by his desire for her, he vows to stay away. For the son of Crimeous, with his malevolent blood, could never have children or a normal life.

When Crimeous threatens both their lives, forcing them into a shared captivity, they do everything they can to escape and survive. As their connection grows, so does their attraction. Knowing they have no future together, and the consequences of furthering their relationship would be disastrous, they forge ahead in the conflict against the Dark Lord. But the Universe is fickle and can muddle with even the best laid intentions…

First Impressions

I have been impatiently waiting for the book which would highlight this stubborn couple since the first novel in the series! At last, said book has been delivered and does not disappoint. Arderin and Darkrip are delightfully strong-willed, and at first glance appear to have an intense animosity towards each other which impacts their ability to even be in the same room. But when they’re forced to spend time together through either mission or complication, we finally see them having to confront the deep emotion and attraction which is constantly pulling them together no matter how hard they try to push each other away. I mean, what’s not to love with that set-up!

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Beyond the Romance

If we push the intense and sometimes controversial romance between Darkrip and Arderin aside, there are a few other key features presented in this novel that I really appreciated. First and foremost, the importance of family is highlighted through a variety of different relationship pairings. From Arderin and her over-protective brothers, to Darkrip’s complicated interactions with his sister and half-sister, to the couple from the first novel finally welcoming a child into their lives. Each pairing has it’s own complexities, yet throughout it all we see this group of slayers, vampyres and deamons come together to form the most unlikely of families.

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The other theme that this series has continuously grappled with is the concept of time for our Immortals. In the last book, we saw how time was explored in a way where our characters felt they had all the time in the world to eventually admit their feelings for each other, yet simultaneously discovered how fraught and limited time can be in this violent world. In this third book, time is once again featured as a focal point which can impact the relationships of our characters. When you live forever, you can’t help but question what is your true purpose in life? For Darkrip, he looks at his life as being divided into two parts: a time before and after Arderin. Before her, he simply floated along. He lived in an endless, mindless world of killing and raping. After her, he finally feels as though he has a purpose, even if it’s something as simple as making her laugh. It is because of her that he remembers the small pleasures that life has to offer, and this troubled deamon finally starts to live again. It was such a complex and beautiful point to examine that never felt too “in your face” with its scrutiny.

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The Cave of Wonders

There is a point in this novel where Arderin and Darkrip find themselves trapped in a cave by his evil father, Crimeous. This Deamon King is intent on forcing our two leads to mate, resulting in a child with both deamon and vampyre blood running through its veins that he can then manipulate and train to become his ultimate weapon. Hands down, these scenes involving Arderin and Darkrip’s imprisonment were the most revealing and poignant moments of the entire book. For it is during this time that they have nowhere to run or hide from confronting how much they actually care about the other. All their cards are laid out, face up on the table, whether they want to or not. And it’s during this time where we discover how vulnerable these two characters truly are. They may put on a facade of toughness to those around them, yet underneath all the stubbornness and sass are two sensitive souls who can no longer deny their feelings.

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It’s also during this time in the cave that we see how strong and inspiring they are. For her part, Arderin refuses to give up hope that they’ll make it out of this seemingly hopeless situation alive. For Darkrip, we see his desperation to do whatever is necessary to keep Arderin alive. Even if it means she’ll see a window into his entire past, and every dark deed he’s ever committed. The only way to save his vampyre is to give her his blood, which will thereby link her to him by viewing snapshots of his entire life. To ensure the survival of the love of his life, he must allow her to see how much evil has coursed through him, and risk her never wanting anything to do with him. Again, such a beautifully revealing moment to see this cocky, strong deamon crumble under the fear of being alone, and of possibly losing Arderin forever. Either he’ll lose her through death, or through his attempt to save with his blood. He sees it as a lose-lose decision, but one he can’t ran away from.

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The Troubled Hero

Darkrip is a troubled soul in every sense of the word. He refuses to see the good in himself, and also refuses to hope for a future with Arderin. He’s spent so long living in the shadow of his evil and cruel father, that it’s difficult for him to envision a future of peace. Growing up, whenever Darkrip allowed himself to feel or love it would always result in pain. His father would repeatedly rape and abuse his mother and sister as Darkrip was forced to watch on. He’s scared that if he allows himself to acknowledge his love for Arderin, she’ll become a target for his father to focus his wrath upon. He’s not willing to risk that.

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Darkrip was so convinced that by providing Arderin with his blood in the cave that it would result in her pulling away from him. However, we see the opposite come true in that it actually causes her to pull him closer. Yes, there was evil in Darkrip which controlled his every action for the first 200 years of his life. But through the love and influence of his mother he successfully changed his ways to fight against that inner darkness, and refused to let it overtake him again over the last 800 years. That strength, that willpower, is what draws Arderin to him even more. He might be convinced she deserves better, and try to push her away with all his might, but she’s just as stubborn and strong-willed to keep him in her life.

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

Series: Etherya’s Earth, book 3. Three books down, just one final installment to go. I can’t wait to see how everything will come together in what is bound to be a climactic and exciting conclusion!

Final Impressions: Looking back at the entire series up until this point I would say this is probably the one which featured the least amount of direct confrontation with our primary villain, Crimeous. This is kind of interesting when you consider the fact he’s Darkrip’s father, and the two definitely have a long and troubled history. That being said, the emotional and psychological impact of this toxic father/son relationship is still featured prominently in this third book. In a way this is really Darkrip’s tale of learning how to see the good in himself, and acknowledging that he is worthy of Arderin’s love. These two have a commanding presence that will captivate you right from the get-go, whether they’re in a scene together or solo.

Smut Level: This is by far the steamiest book of the series so far. As a deamon, Darkrip experiences pleasure from pain, and while we don’t get any scenes that are overly kinky, that sort of speaks to the fact that this deamon isn’t a slow and gentle lover. There’s plenty of dirty talk and alpha male direction in the bedroom to keep you blushing and satisfied!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Reading Goddess Press, LLC. 232 Pages.

 

Seismic Crimes by Chrys Fey

It’s hard to tell at times if Mother Nature is throwing everything she has at our main characters in an attempt to crush them, or to bring them closer together.

What’s it About?

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An Internal Affairs Investigator was murdered and his brother, Donovan Goldwyn, was framed. Now Donovan is desperate to prove his innocence. And the one person who can do that is the woman who saved him from a deadly hurricane–Beth Kennedy. From the moment their fates intertwined, passion consumed him. He wants her in his arms. More, he wants her by his side in his darkest moments.

Beth Kennedy may not know everything about Donovan, but she can’t deny what she feels for him. It’s her love for him that pushes her to do whatever she has to do to help him get justice, including putting herself in a criminal’s crosshairs.

When a tip reveals the killer’s location, they travel to California, but then an earthquake of catastrophic proportions separates them. As aftershocks roll the land, Beth and Donovan have to endure dangerous conditions while trying to find their way back to one another. Will they reunite and find the killer, or will they lose everything?

First Impressions

This sequel literally picks up right where book one left off, in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane which initially brought our two main characters into each other’s lives. Similar to the first book, we see mystery, intrigue and suspense woven into the plot as Donovan and Beth struggle to bring the corrupt cops who killed Donovan’s brother to justice. While Hurricane Crimes was a quick, action-packed novella at just under 50 pages, this longer sequel provides our characters the opportunity to truly get to know one another in a somewhat slower-paced setting. As the disaster of the hurricane starts to recede, Donovan and Beth are able to connect on a deeper, emotional level as she comforts him in his grief.

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Beth becomes a shoulder to cry on, and a voice of encouragement to Donovan. She had to cope with the death of her parents all by herself years before, and as Donovan struggles with feelings of remorse and guilt following the loss of his brother, Beth is able to offer him comfort in a way she never had. There are moments where Donovan’s strength seeps out of him completely, and it’s through these heart-breakingly tender scenes that we see how Beth draws him back up on his feet. You couldn’t help but wonder at the end of book one whether these two would last beyond the initial drama which brought them together, but as this second story progresses it’s clear that they’re meant to last. It’s not as though one character is always the damsel in distress coming to rescue the other, but rather they manage to find strength in each other in a way which proves their love is the real deal.

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Hurricane vs. Earthquake

Throughout the first book I was shocked at how the author managed to make the hurricane which blasted against Donovan and Beth feel like a primary character. When I found out this second book would present our lovers with another natural disaster in the form of an earthquake, I couldn’t help but think, “well…that’ll certainly be easier to deal with than a hurricane.” What can I say?! An earthquake seemed like a rather quick disaster compared to the lengthy and thunderous rampage of a hurricane. Boy oh boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong! We once again see Mother Nature referenced as a formidable force that simultaneously seems to have it out for our main characters, yet also manages to save them in their hour of need.

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At one point Beth compares the calamities which have befallen her and Donovan, and relates how the hurricane was preferable compared to the earthquake in that you can prepare for the former, whereas the latter can unexpectedly hit at any time. Although the earthquake is over in a matter of minutes, the brilliance in the description of this second disaster comes more in the aftermath rather than the event itself. On the one hand, we see the heartlessness of some who take advantage of the hectic nature of the fallout through selfishness and stealing. And yet, in the next scene we’re presented with the juxtaposition of that greed through selfless acts of heroism by some characters. I’ll admit it damn near brought tears to my eyes to see how, in times where all hope appeared lost, there were those who banded together to help complete strangers all in the name of good. No demand for reward or payback, but rather proof that sometimes the beauty of the human spirit can surprise you.

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

Series: Disaster Crimes, book 2. Technically you don’t have to read book 1 to understand the events of this novel, but I think you still might as well read it. It is only 43 pages after all! This sequel ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but it isn’t one that will leave you feeling annoyed. Rather, you can’t wait to see what might happen next!

Final Impressions: This was a great follow-up to the Disaster Crimes series. While there was certainly suspense and intrigue as Donovan and Beth chase after his brother’s killer, the first part of the novel slows things down a bit so that our characters have the chance to simply “be” with each other. True, they’re struggling with immense grief and heartache, but it allows them (and us) the opportunity to get to know who the other person truly is. Towards the half-way point we switch gears once again to get back to the suspenseful side of the story, but it was this first part that was the most revealing and poignant in my opinion. Their struggle to combat Donovan’s grief was an intense fight, but it demonstrated that these two are stronger together than they could ever be apart.

Smut Level: In the first novella Donovan and Beth initially explored their desire while hiding out in a bathtub. In this second novel they’re excited to have the chance to take their time getting to know every inch of each other’s bodies, and in a comfy bed no less!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 284 Pages.

Playing for Keeps by Ashlie Knapp

A man with six-pack abs who loves watching the Food Network and cooking Bobby Flay recipes? Oh yeah, I can get behind that!

What’s it About?

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To her friends and family, Aria Cook is a sassy, foul-mouthed, not-a-care-in-the-world woman. She dances for the Oklahoma City Thunder and tends bar at her father’s trendy downtown bar, A Shot of Whiskey. What her friends and family don’t know, however, is Aria’s running from a past she can’t escape no matter how hard she tries.

Trevin Anderson is a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. He knows most women only want the fame associated with dating an NBA athlete. He doesn’t get attached. He has a job he loves, a sister and mother he adores and friends who have his back. He doesn’t need anything else.

After a failed first date, Trevin can’t walk away. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase; perhaps it’s something more. She calls him her stalker. He calls her his girlfriend. Which one will be right in the end?

First Impressions

Aria and Trevin both put on an air of something they’re not. Her more-so than him, but essentially they’re both hiding the sensitive side of their nature from the rest of the world. He has the reputation as the ultimate man whore of the Thunder basketball team, always with a different woman on his arm, and never making promises about forever. However, when it comes to his time with Aria he becomes 100% dedicated to her. He’s not afraid to be sweet and affectionate with her, whether it’s renting out an entire animal park to give her an amazing experience with the animals, or constantly asking if he can change his relationship status on Facebook so everyone knows they’re dating.

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Trevin is smitten like a kitten, and he doesn’t care who knows it. As for Aria, she puts on a front of being a sassy, carefree chica who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and doesn’t let anything phase her. In reality, she’s experienced an intense trauma in her past that she keeps hidden from those closest to her. She doesn’t want others to know her weakness, so she’s essentially overcompensating in an attempt to show strength. Most people accept her facade as truth, but Trevin is the only one who recognizes she’s putting on a mask, and he’s determined to dig deeper than anyone else in an attempt to uncover who the real Aria is. She’s terrified her past will cause him to leave, no matter how much he declares he’s in it for the long haul. You can’t help but fall in love with his determination in the face of her hesitancy.

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“She put on a brave, smartass and carefree facade, but the closer he’d gotten to her the more he’d seen her vulnerability.”

A Long Wait

The development of Trevin and Aria’s relationship is a comedic delight to watch, while also interspersed with moments of emotional connection between the two of them. Throughout it all, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop that will ultimately test the foundation of their relationship. It’s an inevitability we know is bound to happen! Most of the book involves Trevin convincing Aria to let down her guard, and to trust in them as a couple. Once she finally does, and admits how much she loves him, things are almost going too well for them. Especially after they meet each other’s parents and aren’t fully scared off. We constantly wonder what will cause their perfect bubble to pop.

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Will Aria get scared off by his intimate affections and desire to take their relationship to the next level? Will Trevin’s man-whore reputation come back to bite him in the bum? We’re waiting, and waiting….and waiting. It’s not until about the last 10% of the book that we finally witness the drama that threatens to break up their relationship, and I must say I did not see it coming! Definitely a surprise, although it took a bit too long for us to finally get to this climactic moment, and then it was resolved fairly quickly. It was an interesting twist for sure, but it probably could have been fleshed out more fully to take the conclusion to a whole other level.

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

Series: Playing, book 3. This was probably my favorite book in the series, if not a close tie with book one.

Final Impressions: This was a fantastic addition to the series. Overall it was a funny and cute read with some adorably likable characters. From Tristan’s mother who fully encourages him and Aria to have sex even if she’s staying just down the hall, to the whole cast of female characters from the previous two books. Aria and Tristan both had depth to their personalities that they didn’t always choose to share with others, yet as their love for each other grows they let their shields drop to reveal the softer side hiding just below the surface. The final drama at the end did seem a bit rushed, and could have been incorporated more fully into Aria and Tristan’s story, but nevertheless it was a fun read.

Smut Level: Some intimate make-out sessions, touches and caresses, but normally the sex scenes themselves were ones which faded to black before we witnessed anything too sensual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 280 Pages.

All of Me by Rose Grey

Charlotte and Jock never thought love was in the cards for them. But when they’re thrown together amidst life-changing surprises, they come to realize that love just might be right in front of them.

What’s it About?

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Jock Durrell hopes the surprise baby his ex-girlfriend left behind at his office isn’t his. Still, someone has to care for it. So while he waits for DNA test results, he advertises for temporary help. Preferably Mary Poppins. By the time Charlotte Aubin arrives to interview, Jock’s too tired to be choosy. True, Charlotte dresses like a Goth and throws things when she loses her temper. On the other hand, as far as he knows, she’s not an ax murderer. So he gives her a chance. Because at this point he would sell his soul for just one night of unbroken sleep. But Jock isn’t the only one with a complicated life. Charlotte’s past is closing in fast. When danger looms, Jock will have to choose between protecting the safe life he has crafted or risking it all for a woman who has stolen his heart.

First Impressions

When our novel opens I wasn’t even sure if Charlotte and Jock were meant to be the romantic focus of the book. The authors does a great job of presenting us with two people who aren’t looking for love. They’re both so focused on treading their way through life that upon first meeting they seem more determined to be annoyed with each other than to see the possibility of romance. However, it would seem fate had more in store for these two after their initial meet cute, and no matter how much they tried to steer clear of each other, they both eventually acknowledged that they could help one another by sticking together.

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The set up of this story was everything. Charlotte and Jock are both dealing with their own problems in life, and yet somehow these distinct issues they’re both confronting prove to be the impetus in bringing them together. Jock is struggling with the fact his ex-girlfriend just dropped off a baby on his doorstep, claiming he’s the father. Charlotte has her own problems in life, from unloving parents to a somewhat sadistic step brother who seems determined to see her fall apart. They were both such independent, selfless characters who never really had the opportunity to enjoy life for themselves. They were always living one day to the next, and yet after fate throws them together both Charlotte and Jock are finally able to live in the moment, and learn how to laugh with each other.

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From Baby Jane to Brother Dearest

Jock has always pushed aside his own wants and desires in order to care for his brothers following the death of their parents. No woman has ever really tempted him to put his own wishes first, until he meets Charlotte of course. While his younger brother, Ronan, proves to be a source of humor at certain moments throughout the novel, I would have liked to see his brothers play a larger role in the overall story. We really don’t see much from them in terms of helping him cope with the emotional impact of suddenly having a daughter, and his brother from book one is almost absent entirely.

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“He had spent ten years creating a stable environment for his brothers. Ignoring his own desires had been a crucial part of that and a measure of his self discipline. But he couldn’t seem to summon the same vigor now.”

The drama that Charlotte experienced throughout the book in terms of her unloving parents and creepy step-brother was definitely the most compelling aspect of the story. Her troubled relationship with her family meant she never had a reason to trust others, especially considering those who were meant to love her most in this world continually brushed her aside. Charlotte has never deigned to try loving someone. Jock is the first one to cause her to hope for something better. While her relationship with her step-brother was a fascinating element that held your interest, and overall was carried out very well, I felt it could have been pushed one step further. The ending was fantastic in that it allowed for Charlotte to finally stand up for herself, but I wanted us to see more about the motives and thoughts behind her family in order to more fully understand their actions. This would have provided one more additional push to the book that would have been near perfect in execution.

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“She hadn’t ever fought for what she wanted…What if the reason she didn’t fight for what she loved was because she was afraid of what losing might do to her? She didn’t like thinking of herself as a coward, but it seemed the inescapable conclusion.”

Afraid of Love

Our love story ultimately culminates with some rather big misunderstandings that result in Charlotte running away from her feelings. Both she and Jock were hesitant to voice how they truly felt about each other throughout the entirety of the novel. We see that it wasn’t just their employer/employee relationship that caused them to pause, but also their inability to believe they could devote themselves to someone wholeheartedly. I’ll admit it was kind of frustrating to see them both internalize their anger towards the other for closing themselves off from love, while simultaneously acknowledging their own inability to dive deep into the relationship.

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I was pretty worried this inability to confess their feelings would negatively impact my appreciation for the book up until that point. However, I’m happy to say we do eventually see redemption with how they both are willing to fight and stand up for what they want in life, and their refusal to have others walk all over them. It’s almost as though they both reach a breaking point where they’re fed up with being alone, and even though they’re terrified of being rejected, they’d rather face the music than risk not knowing how the other person feels.

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“…one way or the other, she was done running.”

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

Series: Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Book 2. I may have liked this second book even more than the first book in the series!

Final Impressions: It was interesting to see two such independent characters learn how to finally allow someone else into their lives. It’s a difficult journey full of ups and downs, but they eventually realize that the mere presence of the other person brings joy to their day. Charlotte and Jock have a relationship that isn’t built upon lust or sex, but instead almost a mutual respect for how hardworking and selfless the other is. Incorporating more depth to Jock’s relationship with his brothers, as well as Charlotte’s background with her parents and step-brother could have elevated the emotional side of the plot, but overall it was a compelling read.

Smut Level: We never see anything too sensual in description, but you’ve gotta love the circumstance of being trapped together in a house during a snow storm. I can certainly think of a few ways for them to keep warm.

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