The Cryptic Prophecy by Rebecca Hefner

As soon as you find a man willing to write you the most beautiful love letters, and also twirl you around in the outdoors, well you better hold on tight to that perfect specimen! Or, in the case of this novel, you better sink your little fangs into him as soon as you can.

What’s it About?

Calinda, daughter of Darkrip and Arderin, has never quite fit in the immortal world. Raised alongside humans, she returned to the realm as the subject of a cryptic prophecy. Feared by some and shunned by others, Callie struggles to understand her place in the kingdom. When a handsome suitor begins to court her, she is taken by his ardent gestures, even if she has doubts.

Stoic Vampyre soldier Brecken grew up far from royal castles and wealthy aristocrats and understands he and Callie are worlds apart. Silently, he guards her and her suitor, falling for her more each time he hears her silken laugh and observes her kindness toward his little sister. He might not deserve her, but he vows to keep her safe.

When Callie’s suitor betrays her by aligning with their enemy, Brecken is there to pick up the pieces. As the final battle with Bakari draws near, Brecken continues to protect Callie, knowing a future between them is uncertain. But Callie is determined to defy the prophecy and prove to her heroic soldier that destinies are never set in stone…and one can determine their own fate if they have the strength to prevail.

First Impressions

There is little that I love more in a romance series than when we ultimately get to focus on the love stories involving the children of our main characters from the earlier novels, and The Cryptic Prophecy presents us with the first iteration of this new generation. Not only do we get introduced to a slew of new and delightful characters, but we also get to see how they interact with some of our other favorites from throughout the series. There’s nothing more fun than seeing our former alpha-male heroes as overly protective fathers and, well…they’re still entirely alpha with their wives to be honest. What’s even more exciting, the battles fought by the parents will now be fought by the children, whether or not they’ve been granted permission to do so. The fact Callie is at the very heart of a cryptic prophecy that might bring down Etherya’s Earth as we know it means that they all have a vested interest in the ultimate fight against evil.

Complexities From Start to Finish

Something I’ve come to appreciate throughout this entire series is the complexity of not only the characters, but also the plot of each and every novel. Our villains are not merely villains. They often have an underlying motive steeped in tragedy or heartbreak that makes you sympathize with their struggle. While we still root for their defeat at the hands of our heroes, we also hope they’ll find a moment of inner peace in their ultimate downfall. And this brings us to the heroes of this sixth novel: Callie and Brecken. Both have so much more going on beneath the surface that we come to unravel as the novel progresses.

Brecken seems like the strong, silent type at the outset. Former soldier turned private bodyguard. But then we discover that the motivation behind every one of his actions is out of a sense of love and duty to his family. He’s their protector, and he’ll do whatever is necessary to take care of them. We also learn that this hard-headed soldier has a softer side to his personality, revealed through the eloquent love letters he pens to Callie. Who would have thought this man of action could also be a man of passionate words? Then there’s Callie, who acts as the shining star throughout the entire book.

At first she almost comes across as the meek and mild princess, always looking in on the actions of others from her spot on the sidelines seeing as the immortals of Etherya’s realm fear this woman who is at the heart of a prophecy which portends their doom. However, Callie also has a feisty, independent side to her character, and a loving nature for all those around her, even those who have shunned her for years. It is this zest for life and warm heart that pulls Brecken to her. When the two finally come together in the heat of passion, they recognize in each other the possibility for a future together. They’ll just need to make it through an epic battle and doomsday prophecy before that future in each other’s arms can be realized.

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

Series: Etherya’s Earth, book 6. As always, I can’t wait to see what comes next with this series.

Final Impressions: After five novels I questioned what else this series could bring to the table that we haven’t seen yet. Well lo and behold, author Rebecca Hefner has the ability for shock and awe once again as everything I thought I knew about this world has been thrown out the window. And yet, we now see that an entirely different door has opened which can only lead us down a slew of different and exciting pathways going forward. I for one can’t wait to see what, or who, is in store for the journey!!

Smut Level: What I loved most about Brecken and Callie was that their physical relationship wasn’t solely about heat, even though there was plenty of it to go around. There was also a sense of beauty and companionship to their coupling which was truly a joy to witness.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Reading Goddess Press, LLC. 291 Pages.

The Wrong/Right Man by Aurora Rose Reynolds

What starts out as a blind date for the record books turns into something a bit more awkward the morning after when Dakota discovers the man lying in bed next to her isn’t the man she was supposed to meet.

What’s it About?

Waking up to a text asking why you stood up your blind date is not the best way to start the day, especially when the man in question is standing half dressed in your kitchen.

Maybe Dakota Newton shouldn’t have assumed the gorgeous man with a devastating smile standing outside the coffee shop was her date. She probably— Okay, she definitely shouldn’t have slept with him, regardless of how hot the chemistry between them was. But how could she know Mr. Right was actually Mr. Wrong?

Braxton Adams has been called a few things in his life, but a liar was never one of them. That all changes when he’s approached by a beautiful woman who thinks he’s there to meet her for a date.

As a businessman, Brax knows to trust his gut and never let an opportunity pass him by, so he pretends to be someone he’s not.

Maybe he shouldn’t have lied. Maybe he should have come clean. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because now he has to prove he’s not the wrong man but the right one.

So what if he’s not the man she’s expecting? She’s the one he’s been waiting for.

First Impressions

So the synopsis of this book gives away what might be the biggest spoiler alert of the entire read, which is that Braxton wasn’t the intended date match for Dakota to begin with. This lent an almost bizarre air to the start of this read, as we see how Brax cleverly hides details, or even outright lies about his identity in order to continue his date with Dakota. The romance reader in me chuckled along to some of his deceptions, whereas the real woman that I am was screaming that if this happened in real life it would be beyond creepy. As the two proceed with their relationship and Brax’s overly protective/stalkerish tendencies come to the forefront, you’re kind of simultaneously hoping Dakota will file a restraining order, but also maybe throw him up against a wall for a passionate make-out scene following a heated argument. Such a strange juxtaposition!

Danger, Danger?

As discussed, Braxton engages in some super sketchy tracking of Dakota’s movements, texts, and even has her followed at one point by one of his minions. We’re initially led to believe that this is just part of his alpha-male intense infatuation with Dakota. She understandably gets angry and argumentative with him over his invasion of her privacy, not to mention a lack of boundaries. The aspect of this novel that I didn’t really care for was how this inappropriate behavior was shrugged off and ultimately explained away. Firstly, the “point” is made that the fact Dakota is willing to argue so vehemently with Brax over his invasion of her privacy demonstrates how much she must trust him. Her anger is reflected as her feeling comfortable enough with him to let her true emotions out. But like…he was still tracking her whereabouts and communications without her permission!! Not exactly healthy.

And this brings us to how Brax’s behavior is explained away as a knight in shining armor plot point. At the end of the novel it is revealed that Dakota has an actual stalker who is constantly calling her work and sending inappropriate things to her office. Details which Brax chooses not to share with Dakota directly. When her stalker ups his game by breaking into and trashing her apartment when she’s out one evening, Brax must finally admit that he’s been hiding the fact another man is watching her every move. It’s after this confession when Dakota has a moment of realization that the reason Brax was following her so closely all this time was because he wanted to ensure she was safe, and that her stalker didn’t get to her first. But like…then why didn’t you just tell her this from the get go?!

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This was a quick read with a strong beginning that kind of fizzled out at the end. While I could appreciate the blind date fiasco would have been a much bigger issue in real life, it was kind of fun to see the scene play out in romance land. After that though, Brax’s need to control and monitor almost every aspect of Dakota’s life was truly worrisome. The stalker element definitely felt rushed at the end, and also lacking enough background for it to truly feel part of the plot.

Smut Level: Sooooo many sexy times!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Dreamscape Media, LLC. 170 Pages.

Betting on Cinderella by Petie McCarty

A modern twist on a classic fairy-tale. From a devastatingly handsome Prince Charming to an enchanting, down-on-her-luck heroine. The only missing detail was a delicate glass slipper!

What’s it About?

Garrett Tucker inherits his grandfather’s casino empire and steps into the reclusive billionaire’s shoes as the “Prince of Vegas.” His first act is to buy a bankrupt casino in Biloxi. When he discovers embezzling in his new operation, Garrett goes undercover. His prime suspect is the new finance supervisor–the spitfire brunette who stole his heart at first sight.

Andi Ryan moves to Biloxi to care for her godmother and takes a job as finance supervisor for the renovated Bayou Princess casino. She discovers someone is skimming from the till and starts her own investigation, worried she will be blamed for the theft when the new owner discovers her godmother has a gambling addiction.

A rival Vegas competitor has sent a spy in to ruin the Bayou Princess, and Garrett and Andi are forced to work together to prove her innocence and discover the identity of their casino spy.

First Impressions

This sequel in the Cinderella Romances series had all of the classic fairy-tale details which were only hinted at in book one. From evil step-mother and step-sisters, to a cheery godmother, and everything culminating in a fancy gala with our female lead draped in a gorgeous sparkly blue gown. However, this isn’t simply a rehash of the story we all know and love, but rather those details are sprinkled into the bigger story being told of embezzlement and corporate espionage. I did appreciate that all of the Cinderella elements weren’t solely reserved to our heroine, Andi, but also shared equally with her Prince Charming, Garrett. While she may have been the one cursed with the villainous step-relations, Garrett was the one who was hiding the nature of his true identity from the woman with whom he was quickly falling in love. I always felt like the Prince was a secondary character at best in this particular fairy-tale, and it was refreshing to see Garrett as a primary character in his own right.

Screeching Villainesses

Once we immerse ourselves into the plot of this sequel, there were aspects that weren’t quite as successful as book one. First and foremost, it was a bit overly-complicated at times, especially in terms of some secretive behind-the-scenes plotting, and probably could have been about 100 pages shorter. In addition, while I appreciated seeing more of the classic Cinderella details, some of them were almost too over-the-top for reality. This was especially true for Andi’s step-mother and one of her step-sisters who took the roles of wicked villainess to the extreme. They acted as Andi’s boss and supervisor at the casino where they all worked, and while many of us have dealt with overbearing and demanding bosses, these two acted in ways that were clearly an HR nightmare. Their propensity to literally shriek at the top of their lungs in front of everyone about their disappointment in Andi’s work performance and personal life was especially cartoonish. Having villains who could have been more sly and cunning in their deceptions would have been scarier in my opinion than the surface-level crazy these two characters constantly emitted.

Another rather frustrating detail of this read was that almost every chapter would end on a cliffhanger scene or comment, and then the subsequent chapter would change gears to focus on another issue entirely. It was literary whiplash! It seems this technique was employed in an attempt to build a sense of tension to the read which all culminated in what was probably supposed to be an unexpected climactic twist. Unfortunately, the surprise we were presented with was fairly obvious early on in the book, so all of that build-up eventually led to a final reveal that wasn’t as rewarding as I was hoping for.

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

Series: The Cinderella Romances, book 2.

Final Impressions: While this sequel certainly had more Cinderella elements than book one, not all of the wider plot points necessarily came together in a cohesive way. The ending focused more on resolving the romantic story-line between Garrett and Andi rather than tying up all the loose ends of some of the more dramatic embezzlement plot points. We may have gotten our happily ever after, but not everything felt entirely finished.

Smut Level: These two shared some passionate kisses that left Garrett desperate for more and Andi’s eyes rolling into the back of her head. They never take things into the bedroom though.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Soul Mate Publishing LLC. 434 Pages.

Mine by Angela Christina Archer

This historical romance will have you turn to any friends, family or loved ones nearby to gather up into your arms, and hold them tightly for as long as you can.

What’s it About? 

War continues to rage in Europe, with no end in sight, people in the occupied countries are suffering and starving. One of those places is one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France. A part of the United Kingdom, the residents of Guernsey are the only British citizens facing occupation by the Deutsches Heer.

The promise of love.

Deep in the middle of the German occupation, life for Evelyn and Henry is nothing but a perilous journey, as though walking a tightrope, between survival and starvation. Through the trials of every day, they also find joy, marriage, and the notion of starting a family. But having children during war and while under German rule can be complicated, and Evelyn must face a few hard choices when it comes to keeping those she loves safe and alive.

The promise of beginning again.

Newly wed, and still working on Halifax Farms as a land girl, Amelia comes face to face with a loss of her own. With her husband off to war and the discovery she’s carrying a child, she follows the tugging feeling to continue her education and dreams of becoming a journalist. When tragedy strikes, not once, but twice, however, Amelia must head down a path she never thought she’d take, and one she doesn’t know if she’s ready for or truly desires.
Two sisters. Two promises. One bloody war that changes their lives forever.

First Impressions

This was another emotional addition to The Promises Between Us series. In my review of book one I mentioned how nobody was off limits when it came to the travesties of war. This second novel certainly underscores the truth of that reality, but we just have to wait around a bit longer for the tragedies to hit. For so much of the book I was just waiting around in agonized anticipation for the other shoe to drop, and sure enough! We see a domino effect of people being impacted and torn apart by war, and one scene in particular left me a bubbling mess of tears. Here’s to hoping the other folks lounging around my apartment’s pool simply thought I had sunscreen in my eyes.

From Guernsey to Halifax Farms

Once again, the principle pathway of this book presents us with alternating scenes of life for the Ashton sisters as they try to find love in the midst of war. An interesting break with book one is that where Amelia once provided a sense of movement and changing scenery compared to her sister trapped on Guernsey, Amelia instead spends most of this second book in one location. Her travel from Guernsey across the English Channel, and multiple train rides to different places in England has now landed her working as a land girl at a country farm. Most of this read involves long stints regaling us with Amelia’s daily chores on the farm compared to Evelyn’s daily life in occupied Guernsey. The fact both sisters are essentially stuck in one place with such limited opportunities for movement left this sequel feeling somewhat linear in terms of plot.

That is of course until we reach the latter half of the book when developments once again start impacting our characters. These sisters are finally successful in sending word to each other about how their lives have changed so much since they last said farewell years before at the Guernsey port, and how love has brought a small glimmer of happiness to their existence. It’s also the first definitive confirmation for Henry to realize that Amelia moved on with someone else after leaving him, and Amelia discovers that her sister and former beau have fallen in love. I don’t want to spoil what comes of these discoveries, but let’s just say their reactions couldn’t have been more different. We can’t help but question if these two sisters and their husbands will survive this terrible war, and if they do what kind of greeting will they have upon seeing each other again?

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

Series: The Promises Between Us, book 2. I’m eager to see how everything will come together for the third and final book.

Final Impressions: While this series certainly highlights the fragility of life, it also does a fantastic job of demonstrating why it’s important to take chances to live every day to the fullest. What struck me most was seeing how true this was for our characters, as they had no idea how much longer this war would last. We as the readers certainly have the end date constantly in the forefront of our minds, but our characters don’t know if the war will end in a month, or if German occupation will be their new reality forever. Some choose to give up amidst such uncertainty, but others live by the mantra to seize the day.

Smut Level: These young ladies have become married women, and enjoy moments of passion with their respective husbands. However, we only see a few kisses before the scenes fade to black, and never witness their bedroom antics in full detail.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 269 Pages. 

Yours by Angela Christina Archer

War might tear some friends and families apart, but this read highlights how it can also pull others together.

What’s it About? 

After France surrenders to the Nazis, all eyes turn to the Channel Islands off the coast. Knowing the Germans could invade their quiet home the resident children of Guernsey are evacuated. Among them are Amelia Ashton, and her older sister Evelyn.

The promise to stay safe.

Forced onto the boat by her older sister, seventeen-year-old Amelia Ashton arrives in Weymouth with hundreds of other children. Although she is placed with a kind and loving foster family in Derbyshire, her world is torn apart. With all her communication cut off from her family, and the boys at school joining to fight in the war, Amelia struggles with her own desire to help. On a whim, she lies about her age and boards a train headed to volunteer with the Women’s Land Army. Finding solace in the work of farm life, she reconnects with William, a young man from Derbyshire, and who doesn’t waste any time asking for her hand in marriage. Can Amelia start a new life without looking over her shoulder at what she left behind in Guernsey or will the war change everything?

The promise to survive.

Fearing for her parents’ lives, nineteen-year-old, Evelyn Ashton stays behind, living through the German occupation plaguing her once beautiful home—the island of Guernsey. Living under German rule, the residents find a new meaning of desperation and despair, trying to survive on rations and evade the threats of being sent off to a death camp. After her parents die in a bombing, Evelyn is left alone to fend for herself against her enemy, and when German soldiers take over her house, she seeks refuge in the only family she believes she has left—Henry—the man once interested in her sister. Can they find comfort in each other or will the occupation claim not only their love but also their lives?

Two sisters. Two promises. One bloody war that changes their lives forever.

First Impressions

After completing the first few chapters of this book I was surprised to admit how much it reminded me of Game of Thrones. Bare with me for a second. Sure, there might not be any fire-breathing dragons, paranormal elements or gratuitous sex scenes. And while we can probably take a far reach to compare the impending arrival of Nazi forces on this small island to the terrifying Night Walkers traversing a wall, that wasn’t exactly the similarity I had in mind. Rather, outside of our two primary sister main characters, you really shouldn’t try to become emotionally attached to anyone else in this book, as they are all fair game to become a victim of the horrors of war. This read might have romance weaved into the plot, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’ll be given a romanticized view of war. We aren’t presented with any scenes of battle on the frontlines between soldiers, but we do see the devastating effects for those back “at home”. Consider yourself warned you might want to have a box of Kleenex nearby when you pick this one up.

It’s a captivating, albeit oftentimes emotionally devastating read, but alas that is merely the reality of war. We must commend the author for successfully capturing the loss, uncertainties and hopes of those left behind. I’ll admit, I sometimes had to take a few breaks in between my stints of reading this one, as it was so reminiscent of the stories my Oma used to share with my sister and I about what it was like growing up in Nazi Germany with her own sister. From bombs landing in their family attic, to a Jewish classmate who stopped showing up to school one day. She even regaled us with the story of how an American soldier crash landed in a plane outside her village, and she was the only one who could speak a few sentences to him in English before German soldiers came and took him away. I’m sure there was plenty my Oma didn’t tell us about what it took to survive the war with her sister, but reading this tale about another pair of sisters trying to survive each day became quite emotional for me, especially as I tried to envision my sister and I in their shoes.

My Oma, Renate, with her sister, Elfriede.

Sisterhood

This might be a tale of romance, war and survival, but it’s also a tale of sisters. Amelia is sent off to England on her own, while Evelyn remains behind on the island of Guernsey as the Nazis invade. While we’re immediately swept up in the emotional roller coaster this read has to portray, one thing I would have liked to see a bit more of was a connection, yet also a distinction, between these two heroines as sisters. Aside from their goals for the future, these two ladies are rather similar in personality and demeanor that it almost felt like either one could have been present in either part of the story. This is where more distinction would have been welcome. As far as connection, the novel opens with Evelyn pushing Amelia onto a boat for the safety of England, and we sort of missed out on any experience of them together as sisters. It seemed like we didn’t get a full glimpse of their sibling dynamic, and maybe a flashback or two could have helped set the scene of what it was like for them to suddenly be separated by the distance of war.

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

Series: The Promises Between Us, book 1. I’m officially fully invested in seeing what happens to these sisters, and am committed to seeing it through to the end.

Final Impressions: This first novel is definitely setting the scene of our primary characters, including our sisters and their respective beaus whom they unexpectedly found in the midst of unimaginable tragedy. While I was initially hesitant to see Evelyn start to fall for her sister’s former flame, the situation is presented and explained in a way where you can only root for them to survive this war linked arm in arm. Amelia also finds a burgeoning romance where she wasn’t looking for one, and we must simply hold our breath in anticipation to see how the next few years of this war will unfold for the Ashton sisters.

Smut Level: A few breathtaking kisses, but nothing overtly explicit.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 323 Pages. 

Island Charm by Audrey Wick

Consider yourself warned that upon reading this book you’ll probably become overwhelmed with the desire to walk barefoot along the beach while eating a slice of key lime pie.

What’s it About?

 When Anna Worthington’s twin sister gets jilted by her fiancé, Anna steps in with a plan for a girls’ Key West getaway instead of a honeymoon trip. Yet when her twin has her own crisis of commitment and doesn’t board the plane, Anna finds herself on a romantic getaway that she’s forced to navigate alone.

Gunnar Lockhart, whose specialty is island tourism, is the perfect match for helping Anna complete her vacation bucket list, but time together forges a connection more personal than either anticipate. As they make island memories, Anna has to untangle her mixed emotions. Are her feelings toward Gunnar real? Or like her sister’s wedding day, has this connection been doomed from the start?

First Impressions

This is a notice to all authors out there that if you want a 100% guarantee that I’ll read your book, be sure it includes a recipe for a delectable dessert or tasty treat at the end of it. To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll read it anyway, but this is essentially a foolproof assurance. And while I haven’t had the chance to prepare the key lime pie dessert presented at the conclusion of this read at the time of writing this review, you better believe that pie will be in my future very soon.

Hand-in-hand with key lime pie is the island of Key West, Florida which features prominently in this read almost as a character in its own right. It’s no surprise that our male lead, Gunnar, works for the island’s Chamber of Commerce, as the book makes you want to book a trip there immediately. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Key West in December 2019 as a stop on a family cruise vacation before all things pandemic ravaged the world. While the island didn’t have quite the same spiritual impact for me as it did for our two leads, this book succeeded in reminding me of the hidden charm you can find once you remove yourself from its more boisterously touristy streets. And again…pie!

A Touch of Romance in the Air

While Anna has a rather rocky start to this unplanned vacation following her twin sister, Brie, being left at the altar, things start to look brighter upon meeting hunky and courteous “local”, Gunnar. He offers to show her around about town and help her cross a few items off her sister’s vacation bucket list. It was quite refreshing how realistically their connection was formed, as it wasn’t steeped in lust or purely from a sexual attraction. You really get the sense that these two people have laid the foundation for a healthy and potentially long-lasting relationship. However, always lurking in the shadows of their burgeoning romance was the fast-approaching end date to Anna’s time on this island. Not to mention, her entire reason for being there was the result of a man being a total douche rocket to her sister, so her trust in men isn’t exactly at a high point.

From Self-Discovery to a Selfless Connection

There is definitely a romantic component to this read, but in my opinion it sort of took a back seat to two other important plot points which permeated the story. First and foremost was the journey of self-discovery which Anna finds herself on. She uses this time in Key West to look inward, and reflect on what she wants her life and business to look like going forward. While Gunnar certainly comes to play a role in this vision, he wasn’t necessarily the primary driving force behind her future considerations, which was refreshing. As for Gunnar, he was unexpectedly faced with a life-changing decision in his connection with an elderly local who comes to rely on him in the most important of ways. Gunnar’s care and devotion to this man demonstrates the unconditional selflessness to his nature and personality. He might slip up at one point in his week with Anna, but overall this man is an absolute winner.

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

Series: Stand-alone, though I would be interested in a sequel involving Anna’s twin sister, Brie.

Final Impressions: This was a pleasant read that will leave you craving a beach vacation, a slice of pie, and a stroll along the sand with a dreamy man at your side. The romance presented didn’t necessarily have a lot of heat behind it, but it was based in reality and respect.

Smut Level: A few kisses here and there, but nothing explicit or overly sexual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. White Rose Publishing. 288 Pages. 

This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

“I‘ve wanted to taste your words for years—and see if they taste as sweet as you make them look.” Not gonna say no to that request!

What’s it About?

Emory Jones loves two things: horror movies and Connor Nichols. For the past four years, Emory, Connor, and their families have vacationed side by side on Longboat Key, Florida. Eighteen-year-old Emory has pined for his neighbor from behind the covers of Stephen King books, but college boy Connor has never noticed him. Probably because Emory looks like Jack Skellington with good hair.

Emory anticipates another predictable summer of sunburn and disappointment. Instead, he ends up with a mystery on his hands when a beloved beach bum goes missing, and Connor volunteers to help with the search. Turns out it’s not just scary movie cops who are worthless, so the boys start an investigation of their own—leading them straight to an abandoned beach resort.

Despite the danger, Emory and Connor grow closer, but as Emory’s gay dreams start coming true, so do the horror movie tropes he so loves. Even though he knows that sex equals death in slasher flicks, Emory can’t keep his hands off the guy of his teenage dreams.

First Impressions

I’ll admit, I initially approached this read with a smidge of hesitancy. While the title might insist this is not a horror movie, the dramatic cover art and synopsis would suggest otherwise. And I…don’t…do…HORROR! What can I say, I blame Freddy Krueger. That bastard gets ya in your dreams, and when my sleep is compromised we’re gonna have problems. However, while there were definitely some scenes in this novel which involved horrific actions and even deaths, I somehow found myself giggling with glee throughout the majority of this read! If I had to sum up the experience in just a few words? Pure delight!!

Perrysburg, Ohio

So what made this such an enjoyable read considering my aversion to all things horror? Simply put: Emory Jones. At first I questioned how much I’d have in common with our main character. After all, he’s an 18-year-old gay male who loves all things horror, and I’m, well…not. I might love a good beach read, but the concept of reading a horror book on the beach is a nightmarish concept to me!! However, I found myself quickly developing an amazing kinship with this fictional character the author has presented to us. Not only are Emory and I from the same small Ohio town, but we also went to the same high school, vacationed a mere 8 miles apart from each other some summers, and while neither of us are into sports we both knew who the primary rival high school was across the river. We both grew up in an environment feeling like there must be something bigger and better out there beyond the borders of this small Ohio town where high school bullies reigned supreme.

Beyond these mere coincidences of geography though, Emory’s close connection with his sister Liz involved some of my favorite banter and hilarity of the entire novel, and also felt reminiscent of the close relationship I have with my own sister. And then there’s Connor. The hunky neighbor boy that Emory has pined after for countless summers, yet can only admire from a distance. Surely Emory is not at the same level as this beautiful man? He is constantly left feeling inferior, something I’m sure many of us can sympathize with. Honestly I think most readers will find something within these down-to-Earth and realistic characters that they can also identify in themselves. The narrative format itself was even something I could relate to, as we constantly have to navigate the rather filter-less and quick-moving inner musings of Emory’s mind. Sure, it took some time to get used to and follow along with his line of thinking, but nevertheless it seemed similar to how my own mind is known to wander whenever I think to myself. The author does such a fantastic job of pulling us into Emory’s world where we can associate with all of his insecurities, fears, joys, embarrassments and even moments of love.

A Romantic Paranormal Horror Comedy?

Considering the number of times I giggled aloud to myself while reading this book, it definitely falls within the categorization of a comedy, but it also touches upon the romance and horror categories. Let’s tackle the more prominent of themes, which would be the lovey-doveyness between Connor and Emory. Yet again, all I can say is it was a pure delight! They’ve been summer buds for years, with Emory always dreaming of more with this hot jock. However, it’s only this summer before college when Connor finally discovers that Emory is gay, and Emory simultaneously discovers that Connor is bisexual. After this jaw-dropping realization Connor lays all his cards out on the table, and the two finally decide to give into the desires they’ve kept hidden from each other for so long. And I must say, the sheer joy and playfulness that these two men share with each other left me with a dopey grin on my face, and more head-tilt “awwwww” exclamations than I care to admit.

Now for the horror. Again, typically this is something I loathe, but in this instance the author somehow managed to present it in a way that was still comedic in its approach. What can I say, this woman is a master!! Several moments reminded me of the movie Scream where our characters, who are essentially experts when it comes to horror tropes, would oftentimes relate the situations happening around them to how a horror film or book would typically play out. Emory would often lament the fact he was no longer a virgin seeing as the virgin is usually the last one standing at the end of a horror movie. People never tell the adults what’s happening? Well let’s be upfront with them from the beginning! Should we involve the cops? Eeesh, that never goes over well in the movies. It helped add a sense of levity to the “horror”. Now, I will say the drama of the story took a rather unexpected turn towards the end that had me going, “huh, mkay so I guess we’re really doing this!!” At times I was left wanting a bit more depth and back-story for some of the more villainous characters, but at the same time I could appreciate that staying on the surface in some respects allowed for more of the comedic underpinnings of the plot to shine through.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: I don’t quite know what I was expecting with this one, but I thought it was so much fun! It’s a great summer read to bring along to the beach. Just consider yourself warned you’ll probably laugh aloud a few times and be smiling to yourself. I could see how some aspects might not be everyone’s cup of tea, including Emory’s penchant for a wandering and fast-paced inner dialogue, as well as the fact that the horror aspect became a bit outlandish towards the end. However, I personally appreciated both of these features, as it helped me relate to Emory on a personal level, and the somewhat ridiculous nature of the horror story was kind of needed for me to feel less scared as I was reading it! Ultimately, it helped the novel lean more towards the comedy category rather than the horror.

Smut Level: The make out scenes in this novel were scorching hot! However, the one sex scene was more of a “fade to black” moment.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 280 Pages.

In the Shadow of the Hawthorn by D.M. Porters

A tale of childhood crushes, friendship, romance, greed and murder. In the Shadow of the Hawthorn takes us on a journey of discovery, and the realization that love can be one of the most powerful things of all.

What’s it About? 

“I am only a man, Emma.”

“Then be a man with me.”

Beautiful Emma Mason was an illegitimate child who should have landed on the streets of London. A twist of fate would spare the girl from having to sell her body or beg for her next meal. Instead, Emma grew up in Lord and Lady Drake’s lavish home, working happily in their kitchen with her ever-grateful mother, Julia.

Through the years, Emma would never want for anything – that is until she met Theo Barnett, the son of a wealthy landowner. Friends of the Drakes, Lord Elliott Barnett, and his wife Sylvia had high expectations for their only child. A good match was vital, but they knew their handsome son would have no problems attracting the right woman one day. A chance encounter between Theo and Emma would change everything.

Though wrong, Theo could not stop his attraction to the young baker. Desires burned, and their love was pure, but Emma knew it could not be. They would never be allowed to be together. Refusing to have Theo lose everything for her, Emma would push away the man she loves. Their lives apart would be filled with tragedy, deception, and pain, all fueled by insatiable greed. Can Emma and Theo look beyond the misery and find their way back to each other? Could they go on after losing so much?

First Impressions

When I first started reading this novel, it almost felt like I was coming in at the end of a story. A young woman left alone and pregnant, Julia is a talented baker of delicious confections in an upscale London eatery. She’s about to be forced out because of her delicate condition when she’s discovered and brought into the home of a loving older woman and her devoted husband. They treat her like the daughter they never had, and dote upon her and her newborn child as though finally realizing the happily ever after this woman has been waiting for her entire life. However, we soon discover that this isn’t Julia’s story. Instead it will revolve around her daughter, Emma, who follows in her mother’s culinary talents. But what will society permit when this lowly kitchen servant and a wealthy gentleman fall in love? And more importantly, how will one man’s greed come to shatter the perfect world this happy family has created for themselves?

Wait For It…

Not only does this novel seemingly commence with a happily ever after montage, but it takes some time for us to work our way through Emma’s youth into adulthood before we ultimately get to the crux of the story. I constantly felt as though I was waiting around for the other shoe to drop! Although we have to wait a bit before we come across the real turning point of the novel with a tragic crime, something I really appreciated as we proceeded along this journey was that the author manages to avoid some of the more common trappings and tropes you might initially expect to encounter with this kind of read.

For example, Emma and Theo are initially hesitant to give into their obvious feelings for each other. Especially Emma! While they engage in one steamy moment of indulgence, she tries to shut it down almost immediately following their afternoon tryst. After this seemingly final declaration, there was still quite a bit of novel remaining, so I assumed we’d encounter some kind of continual back and forth of we should…no wait we shouldn’t. Rinse and repeat. Or perhaps a misunderstanding where one of them might be tempted to give up on the other as they wait for the perfect timing of when they can finally be together. Instead we are granted with some interesting twists and turns to the plot that result in tragedy, surprise decisions and unexpected discoveries, but thankfully we never really encounter sheer frustration at the choices or actions of our protagonists. It was utterly refreshing!

Beyond the Romance

While this might be a tale of romance, there are two additional complementary themes which play major roles in how the events of this tale evolve: greed and class status. Our primary villain, as well as a few other minor supporting characters, carry out some shockingly dastardly deeds as a result of these motivations. Initially I found it hard to believe what depths some people would go to simply because of money. From denying a son true happiness, to a case of murder and abuse, all due to greed. At one point I thought, well this seems a tad outlandish and over-the-top in terms of a response. As the conclusion of the novel approached however, I had this moment of epiphany where I simply had to remind myself, “well of course this is plausible!!” Countless moments throughout history have been impacted because of these exact trivial impulses, and we still see cases of it to this very day. Honestly, it was a rather sobering realization. And yet, when you see the love and devotion this family and this couple feels for each other it seemingly allows for a ray of sunshine to break through the shadows.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: This was sort of a deceptive read at the beginning in that it presents itself as a seemingly happy familial tale that manages to hide away from the rules and cruelties of the outside world. However, eventually we see the shadows of tragedy encroach upon these selfless and caring people. While initially hesitant to pursue a relationship, it was refreshing and inspiring to see Emma and Theo stand by each other through it all, never giving up hope that one day they’d be able to come together in a loving embrace. There are a slew of entertaining characters presented in this read, and honestly I’d love if we had the chance to explore their individual stories further in subsequent novels. At times this fabulous supporting cast did detract too much attention away from our lead couple, but overall we have a unique historical romance which proves family is what you make it.

Smut Level: This was surprisingly steamy for a historical read!! Not only do we get a romantic hotel getaway, but we also have a mouth-watering scene in a rustic shed on Theo’s property.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Denise Portugaise. 220 Pages. 

The Warrior King by Abigail Owen

Meira doesn’t believe in fated mates, but even she reaches a point where the intense pull she feels towards Samael can no longer be denied. Trouble is, Meira is already promised to mate another…

What’s it About?

Meira Amon is the most reserved of the phoenixes, finding computers easier to deal with than people and their messy emotions. But she wants revenge against the Rotting King Pytheios for the murder of her parents just as much as her sisters. Offering herself as a queen for their ally, dragon shifter King Gorgon of the Black Clan, only makes sense.

Just one problem…

Samael Veles worked his lowborn ass off to become the fiercest warrior of the Black Clan. He has pledged his life to protect his king at all costs. Yet somehow, in the middle of war, he took one look at a woman in a reflection and gave up his heart. When that woman turns out to be the phoenix promised to mate his king and help bring peace to their kind, he has no choice but to accept it.

Until her fire unexpectedly destroys the king after they’ve wed. Now Samael must choose between his loyalty to his clan and protecting the queen who might be his mate from his people’s wrath, one of which will unlock a destiny no one could have ever imagined…

First Impressions

If there is one thing you can always count on when it comes to an Abigail Owen read, it’s that no two of her books are the same. I’m always surprised by her ability to throw my assumptions about how the story will progress completely off track. We manage to go in directions we never even considered, and meet a whole slew of new characters with whom we can immediately fall in love. One thing I will say is that after three novels in this Inferno Rising series and 4.5 books in the companion Fire’s Edge series, it is getting more challenging with each read to keep the many personalities of dragon kings, phoenixes and shifters in order. Sure, I love each and every one of them, but if I could get a kind of family tree break-down at the start of each book from here on out that would be amazing.

A Connection Which Keeps Them Apart

A poignant feature of Meira and Samael’s relationship is that while they are thrown together just the two of them essentially from page one, they also spend the bulk of the book fighting their feelings for each other. The mere fact that Meira doesn’t believe in fated mates means that she is continuously trying to fight the attraction she feels towards Samael as much as possible. Meira is also promised to mate the king of Samael’s dragon clan, a man who has acted as a pseudo-father figure to Samael over the years. Samael’s inner dragon yearns for Meira whenever they’re in close proximity, a desire which Samael tries to suppress for fear of inciting the anger of his leader and fellow members of this clan. Therefore, even though these two remain spatially close for the majority of the novel, there remains an emotional distance between them which makes it somewhat difficult to connect with them as a unified couple. Seeing as one of Meira’s phoenix powers is to act as an empath, I was hoping that we’d see more scenes of her connecting with Samael on a supernatural plane, but instead we consistently see Meira bemoaning how Samael has shut off his emotions from her. This left me wanting more when compared to some of the previous couples we’ve encountered throughout this gripping series.

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

Series: Inferno Rising, book 3. I am so unbelievably excited to see anything this author will give me, but especially when it comes to this amazing world of phoenixes and dragon shifters.

Final Impressions: This was another great addition to the Inferno Rising series, and I was shocked that after so many novels I can’t always predict where the plot will take me. It’s hard to discuss in detail the various pathways we travers in this particular read without giving too much away, but let’s just say things get off to a fiery start, and end with an epic battle in the sky that plays out like a move in your head.

Smut Level: We have a scene where Meira and Samael are hiding out in an abandoned cabin following a plunge into an icy lake, and they have to heat things up in front of a fireplace to stay warm. Naked. I think we can all guess where this is goinggggggg.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Amara. 305 Pages.

Her Patriotic Prince by Ayla Asher

I can’t remember the last time I was so sad to see the conclusion of a series!

What’s it About? 

It was only supposed to be one night…

Laura Cunningham is gorgeous, witty and tough as nails…and still single in her late thirties. After dating every man in Manhattan, she’s resigned herself to the fact that true love just might not exist for her. Certainly a bummer for the woman who observed her two best friends fall in love with sexy, strong men who are their soulmates. Adam Gardner is a soldier who’s been committed to the cause his entire life. Nearing forty, he realizes that once his next mission is complete, he wants to settle down and build a home and family.

Laura and Adam meet on a romantic summer evening, knowing their time is limited due to Adam’s impending deployment. Taken by their instant chemistry, they commit to spending one passionate and intimate night together.

Years later, Adam returns to find Laura with a daughter who shares his sky-blue eyes. Determined to be a father to the little girl, and still enamored by the woman he could never forget, he strives to discern the best path forward. Laura is shocked by the appearance of the man who stole her heart so many years ago…and who still possesses it. Can the star-crossed lovers build a life together or will their secrets and fears keep them from achieving happiness?

First Impressions

Alright, confession time. I’ve never been a huge fan of secret baby romances. I always find myself getting upset with the female lead for keeping such a massive, literally life-changing secret from either her one-night stand, or maybe an ex with whom she’s had a falling out. Needless to say I was a little hesitant to pick up this third and final read in the Manhattan Holiday Loves series. While I did think that Laura could have done more to locate some contact info for Adam to send him word about the fact that their one night together resulted in a baby, I have to give it to the author for putting up as many legitimate road blocks to make that as difficult an act as possible. From a phone number washed away by a coffee spill, to friends getting in a life-threatening car accident the morning after, to Adam having to report the next morning for a multi-year international secret ops mission where he wouldn’t have been able to go home or contact Laura on the reg even if he wanted to. So…yeah! A bit more challenging than your standard “she just didn’t want to tell him” secret baby romance.

From Steam to Intimacy

The other truly stand-out feature of this novella, other than the fact it got me to sympathize with a secret baby romance scenario, was the structure of it all. The novella opens with Laura and Adam meeting on a balcony under the starry night sky after having attended neighboring wedding receptions. They both decide rather quickly to fall into bed together. What I assumed would either be a quick sex scene, or perhaps a fade-to-black cut to the morning after, was anything but. Sure, they fall into each other’s arms pretty speedily upon arriving at the hotel room, but we surprisingly see their one night together play out over several chapters. This small detail was ultimately unbelievably critical in establishing a sense of intimacy between these characters, where we legitimately believe they would pine after each other for the next several years throughout Adam’s deployment.

Normally with one-night romances like this I always question “yeah but how could they fall in love so quickly”, or “how much could they really learn about the other person in such a short period of time?” With this novella, that was never once called into question because we essentially see every critical conversation and loving gesture play out during those first chapters. Upon reconnecting after years apart, Laura and Adam discover the chemistry and desire is still clearly evident between them. However, they choose to push this desire aside for a while so Adam can focus on getting to know his daughter, and Laura can focus on sharing her daughter with someone else for the first time ever. Once that’s resolved they do fall back into bed, or rather over the arm of the sofa, together again. This structure of having the moments of physical intimacy forming the book-ends to Laura and Adam forming a family unit together was just brilliant.

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

Series: Manhattan Holiday Loves, book 3. We may have seen the tales of romance play out for each member of this friend family, but I’m secretly hoping we’ll see some additional installments to cover all the other holidays in a calendar year. I mean, maybe they can all have some long-lost relatives show up that they never knew existed. Totally plausible, right?

Final Impressions: Each novella in this series is a pure delight. This final installment might jump into the steamy bedroom quicker than the previous two, but then we are thrown for a loop with a few dry spell chapters inserted in the middle. Towards the end we do get a bit of over-the-top drama concerning Laura’s prissy mother and a misunderstanding around some paperwork, but all in all it was important to show how miscommunication can lead to the most intense of arguments, but only by coming back together with an open mind can they potentially overcome anything together as a couple. This whole series presents us with some crucial takeaways for having a successful relationship, and this third novella is no different.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaang! Adam is the dirtiest talking of the bunch, and presents us with a sex position I can’t say I’ve ever seen in all my years of romance reading. Hats, gloves, shirts, pants and all possible clothing off to you my friend!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. 125 Pages. Get the whole series.