Together Forever Across Time by Bess McBride

Her life and family exist in the future, his in the past. When they find each other across time, how will they manage to hold onto each other forever?

What’s it About?

Stephen Sadler reluctantly attends the Seattle wedding of Robert Chamberlain to Ellie Standish, the woman who had captured his interest. There he says goodbye to the woman he thought he had fallen for. Only a few weeks later while traveling on a train, Stephen is confronted by the vision of a strange wild-haired woman in a pair of snug-fitting trousers called “jeans” who claims she doesn’t know where she is or how she came to be on his train – until she sees the date on the newspaper, that is.

Dani Douglas cannot travel through time! Her mother in Montana is ill, and she has to get back to her. But the crystal clear blue eyes of handsome Stephen Sadler hold her captive in 1901, and she doesn’t know how to leave him – perhaps forever.

Stephen realizes that Dani and Ellie have much in common, but where Ellie simply captured his interest, Dani has captured his imagination and his heart. Unlike Ellie though, Dani cannot stay. Her mother is ill. Stephen doesn’t know how he can let her leave him – haps forever. As the train hurtles back and forth across the rails, Stephen and Dani struggle to find a way to be together forever across time.

First Impressions

Last week I completed a round trip train ride from Washington, DC to New Haven, CT and back again for business, all in the same day. After 10+ hours of a physically uncomfortable journey, it only seemed appropriate that my next romance novel of choice should feature time travel via train. As the second novel in the Train Through Time series, it was understandably difficult to refrain from comparing this sequel to the premier novel, especially considering the lead couple from that book makes a reappearance or two in this installment. That being said, the thing I appreciated most about this book was that, on the whole, the story and romance between Dani and Stephen remained distinctively unique from that which we saw previously between Ellie and Robert. That’s not to say all characteristics presented here were a homerun, and we’ll explore a few of those issues in a bit, but it was nice to feel as though we weren’t just reading the same romance play out on repeat.

The Key to Time

While the time travel logistics were left somewhat inconclusive by the conclusion of the first book, they are cemented a bit more firmly in this installment as Dani makes not just one, but multiple trips back and forth from the present day to the turn-of-the-century. This was something we never even knew was possible based on Ellie’s journey through time in book one, so it was shocking to see it realized here. There are a few key elements which have now been confirmed: 1) time travel takes place on the train, 2) the location remains the same just outside of Wenatchee, WA, 3) our heroine must be sleeping and 4) traveling east to west takes you back while west to east sends you forward. Even more surprising after my recently tiresome train trip was the unfathomable consideration of how many extensive trips these characters were willing to undergo via train in a mere matter of days so we could come to these realizations. But alas, to each his/her own.

The second aspect of this novel which I adored was that Dani not only makes more than one trip through time, but she even succeeds in doing so with someone else in tow. At this point in the series we’re used to having a modern-day heroine traveling back in time, but it was an absolute delight to see our turn-of-the-century gentleman, Stephen, transported to the future alongside the woman who has come to mean the world to him in such a short period of time. Stephen and Dani both realize they want to spend the rest of their lives together at roughly the same time they realize the impossibility of such a thought. Even though they have succeeded in traveling through time together at one point, Stephen cannot remain in the future, just as Dani cannot live in the past. Her mother is about to undergo surgery for breast cancer, while Stephen’s beloved sister often falls ill from chronic bronchitis. Why must fate be so cruel in bringing them together only to succinctly tear them apart? How can they find their happily ever after when they are separated by not only distance, but time?

Lack of Character…Development

And now for a few of those pesky issues which made it a slightly less enjoyable read than book one. On the whole, it’s fine. It really does keep you guessing until the very end how these two will manage to overcome such unimaginable obstacles to find their way back to one another. Stephen and Dani are perfectly pleasant as leading characters, but unfortunately we don’t really get to know them as intimately as we did the couple from the first book. By the end of the novel I could barely remember what either one did for a living, and we almost know them more in their relationships with other people rather than as individual characters. They are both driven by a love for family, and it’s actually a love which could potentially threaten the growing love they feel for each other. Besides that, I couldn’t really tell you much about the personality or idiosyncrasies of either character. Likes, dislikes, what makes them tick, there just simply isn’t much there. I think the author was more focused on getting as many train trips as possible out of this read to nail down some of those time travel details.

One Day

And now for my biggest complaint with this book: our lead characters declare their love for each other after literally one day of knowing each other. Now, don’t get me wrong! While I’m not always a fan of love at first sight romances, I can still understand and appreciate them within the realm of Romancelandia. The issue here is that it didn’t even really make sense within that space. At first sight, Dani was understandably more concerned about the fact that she had somehow been transported to over 100 years in the past, though I’ll admit her reaction was less believable than the one we saw play out for Ellie in book one. Ellie was convinced she was dreaming for a large part her novel, whereas Dani comes to realize and essentially accept the fact fairly quickly and without as much concern as you’d expect. Stephen is a bit more intrigued upon first meeting Dani, especially considering she’s a woman traveling alone, wearing trousers, and babbling on about being from another time. You miiiiight be able to say he was smitten, but even that is kind of a stretch. We really weren’t given any clues or indications to expect that either character was on board for an “I love you” declaration.

Their primary concerns during that first day involved getting Dani some appropriate clothing, introducing her to the lovely Ellie who might know more about what’s going on, and figuring out how to get Dani back to her ill mother. Dani is seemingly grateful to Stephen for his help during this confusing time, but the leap from gratitude to love was quite extreme. Seeing Dani declare her love for him after less than 24 hours of being in his company, I couldn’t help but exclaim aloud, “Wait, what?!”, thinking that surely I must have skipped a few chapters of storyline. It was that jarring of a pronouncement. It’s a bit confusing why the author felt the need for these characters to vocalize their love so early on in the story. It seems to have been used as an impetus for explaining why Stephen would have been willing to travel forward in time with Dani, and why their eventual separation through time would have been so heartbreaking. However, Stephen had plenty of reason to jump on that train with Dani, which was the promise of advanced medicines in the future which could help his sickly sister. The story arch would have been more fluid if Dani and Stephen’s relationship blossomed into something romantic after spending more time together in the future, rather than trying to rush it forward in the past.

Series: Train Through Time, book 2. Technically I think you would be fine reading this second book in the series without having read the first, but considering the repeated appearances of several characters from the first book it probably wouldn’t hurt to read in order.

Final Impressions: If I had access to this book while on my lengthy business train ride, I would have had no problem finishing it in one sitting. It’s a quick read, but almost too quick if you ask me. We had plenty of time (possibly too much) to focus on Dani figuring out the dynamics of time travel to the past and back to the present, but that left us with almost zero time to get to know Dani and Stephen individually or even as a couple. I will admit the scenes of their farewells were heartbreaking, where you truly believed that these two had fallen head over heels in love with one another, but it was the journey towards that love where I felt pertinent details were unharmoniously left out. I did appreciate how we were left in a near constant state of wonder at how these two would manage to work things out in terms of when they would end up in time, but there was also a rush to bring things to a conclusion in the end. I would have happily stuck around for another 50-100 pages if it meant we could have ironed out some of the kinks in this read.

Smut Level: Similar to book one, there are just a few loving kisses sprinkled here and there.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 158 Pages.

How Snowball Stole Christmas by Kristen McKanagh

Grab yourself a cup of hot cocoa and snuggle up in front of the fireplace so you can be whisked away to this magical holiday wonderland.

What’s it About? 

It’s Christmas time at the Weber Haus mountainside inn, where the official greeter, watcher, and matchmaker of the hotel’s resident humans is an adorably mischievous bundle of feline fluff named Snowball. Snowball takes her job very seriously –even if it means being a little more naughty than nice –and she’s ready to celebrate her third holiday season by making the purrrrfect match.

Most cats have nine lives, but Snowball is one of the very few with two jobs. Officially, she’s the Weber Haus inn’s greeter. Unofficially, she’s the town matchmaker. Her track record is the cat’s pajamas—until she meets her owner’s grinchy brother, Peter Diemer. Peter hopes to move the family bookstore to a busy location downtown—but someone else has outbid him for the last storefront.

Christmas is the ideal season for Lara Wolfe to fulfill her dream of expanding her home business into a real shop. Too bad someone is posting negative comments on the town forum. What kind of Grinch objects to a toy store?

Snowball is sure these two are a perfect match. They already have so much in common—books are a kind of toy, right? Now all they need to add to the mix is love, and Snowball has just the shenanigans up her furry sleeve to deliver a sweet romance in time to make the season merry and bright . . .

First Impressions

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, as soon as you pick up a book in this beloved Snowball series, you will immediately be transported to all of the holiday comforts that Weber Haus has to offer. Not only will you become enamored with the characters this author artistically brings to life on the page, but you’ll also fall in love with the warmth that these reads evoke and envelop around you. Of all the books in this series so far, it’s fair to say this was my favorite couple of the bunch. Quite a few familiar faces (both human and of the furry variety) from the previous novels will make an appearance throughout, but Lara and Peter bring their own special personalities into the fray.

This novel opens with our two leading characters at odds with one another, but they don’t even realize it yet. Unaware enemies-to-lovers? Yes please! Peter has taken to crafting some rather negative comments on the town forum against the new owner of one of the most coveted shop locations in the area. Lara visited the town of Braunfels a few years before during a particularly melancholy Christmas, and she just knew it would be the idyllic place to open her toy store. Little did she know she would outbid a local man who was hoping to move his family’s bookshop to the prime location of little shops on the outskirts of Weber Haus. When Peter first meets this bubbly woman who “stole” the spot from him, he has every intention of staying as far away from her as possible. But a growing sense of guilt over his hurtful writing towards this caring and hardworking woman, not to mention a precocious matchmaking feline, will soon turn his entire world upside down.

The Lovable Grinch

It takes a few chapters for this book to find its feet, or paws for that matter, but once it does you’ll want to stay in this picturesque town bursting with lovable characters for as long as possible. Similar to the previous installments of this series, this book is fairly low drama from start to almost finish, but Peter and Lara have found each other after experiencing some rather life-changing moments which ultimately impact their unexpected newfound relationship. Upon first meeting, Peter is simply the surly Grinch living next door. It’s not that he’s your typical bah-humbug character who hates all things Christmas, but rather his sour mood is a result of a horrific accident months before which left him in a coma with massive brain trauma. He might be physically recovered on the outside, but his brain is still healing in a way where Peter’s personality isn’t quite what it used to be. He’s more prone to short-tempered outbursts and frustrations which have left even his closest family members wanting to keep their distance.

And yet, delightfully, none of this seems to phase Lara in the slightest. I kept expecting there to be a moment where Peter’s gruffness would prove too much for the outgoing toymaker, but she takes all of his minor moments of sourpuss attitude in stride. The fact Lara doesn’t know any of the details of his accident for the bulk of the book, and that she always tries her hardest to bring a smile and laugh to this Grinch of a man, demonstrates just how special a character she is in trying to find the good in everyone. Peter realizes that his accident changed him, but he also realizes that this at-times frustrating yet intriguing woman is bringing out more of the man he used to be. She heals him, she makes him better, and he can’t help but fall for her. Unfortunately, he knows it’s just a matter of time before the secret of his hurtful writing is revealed.

The Toymaker

Lara might be new to town, but she’s determined to make her toy shop a success. She’s overcome numerous obstacles to make this dream a reality, including a backstabbing boyfriend who maxed out her credit cards, an opinionated brother who seems convinced she’ll fail, and the death of her beloved grandmother who always had faith in her. As if moving to a new town and opening her store weren’t stressful enough, an anonymous local is also wishing for her downfall by spewing doubts on the town forum. When Lara’s brother insists that she look after his son over the holidays to deal with a family emergency, she’s almost convinced that the universe has it out for her. However, she refuses to let any of these hurdles stand in her way. She’ll do whatever it takes to make her shop a success, even if it takes up all her energy, and even if it means asking her Grinchy neighbor for a favor or two. Throughout the read the author does a phenomenal job of showing the constant tug-of-war happening between Lara and Peter. When Peter realizes his beautiful neighbor is the shop owner who outbid him, he tries his best to stay away, but soon decides to make it up to her by helping out with one favor during a busy moment in her toy shop. Let’s just say it involved a Santa costume.

Thinking that he was acting out of selfless kindness, Lara insists on repaying the favor, and what follows is an endless back-and-forth of both characters trying to help the other. These benevolent acts bring them closer together in a way neither expected, and those feelings of neighborly kindness naturally evolve into something deeper. Peter’s sense of protectiveness towards Lara also grows, especially when he sees how the hard work she puts into her business and loving care for her nephew is leaving her exhausted at the end of every day. He tries to help even more, and starts to voice his concerns that she’s doing too much, which of course results in her questioning his actions. Why won’t he let her fight her own battles? Is Peter just like her brother in thinking she’s bound to fail? Will he hurt her like her ex did? It was evident pretty much from the get-go that no matter how much holiday magic or meddling from a fuzzy fur ball might bring these two together, the reveal that Peter was the one behind the online vitriol would ultimately be the thing to push them apart. We were all hoping it wouldn’t happen, but it was surprisingly the most logical progression that upon discovering Peter was initially behind those hurtful comments about her business, Lara would need to take a step back to consider if she’s willing to give her heart over fully to this man. Luckily for us, not to mention Peter and Lara, one very determined and darling little fluffy wuffy kitty will do anything necessary to bring them back together again for a holiday happily ever after.

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

Series: Snowball, book 3. This is one of those series I will be happy to return to again and again. It’s also fun to see Snowball grow up from season to season, and I’m loving the implication that one day she might even find a little romance of her own.

Final Impressions: This read is a delightful bundle of heartwarming comfort. From the characters to the setting, you’re quickly enveloped in all of the warmth this small town has to offer. When the story was forming its initial foundation there were some descriptive scenes which felt a bit repetitive in nature, but it didn’t take long to become fully invested in finding out whether Peter and Lara would find their HEA. One aspect of Peter’s character which I wish had been explored more fully was the nature of his accident, and the hardships involved with adopting a new personality that he knows isn’t completely his own. Instead we see the moments of connection between Peter and Lara were grounded in discussion of how their jobs did or didn’t bring them happiness, which was definitely entertaining in its own right. I also appreciated how the author highlighted the growing pains involved with any new relationship. The constant balancing act between Peter wanting to protect Lara from exhaustion or pain, while also giving her the freedom and space to stand up for herself when fighting her own battles. It was interesting to see them find the path that worked for them.

Smut Level: A few passion-filled kisses here and there, but no hanky panky.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $9.99 Kindle Price. Kensington Publisher. 272 Pages. 

Untamed Delights by Suzanne Wright

Dominic has a cheeky pick-up line for every scenario. When he first sets his sights upon Mila, he’s struck with speechlessness one minute, and inspired to produce some of his best material the next. 

What’s it About? 

Return to the sensual and feral stirrings of the Phoenix Pack as a woman who’s already bound to one man is tempted by a wolf who’s bound only to his nightly desires.

Cat shifter Mila Devereaux can’t help but see it as a betrayal. That her one true mate imprinted himself on another female was hard enough to accept. Struggling to be at peace with her loveless fate, she doesn’t fight the suggestion of entering an arranged mating. Then she meets Dominic, a pack enforcer with a notorious reputation. It’s in his very scent. This irresistible playboy—and delicious badass wolf—is making Mila’s fantasies come alive again.

Alarming, compelling, and heady with sensual energy, Dominic is an expert at making women shed their inhibitions. Now everything about him—his killer smile, his perfectly sculpted body, and his smooth-as-honey voice—is drawing in a captivating new catch. But for the first time in his life, Dominic is feeling more than a fling. He finds himself tantalized by a female who makes him think of forever. He wants all of Mila and won’t be satisfied until he has it.

As the passion grows wild, so does the risk. They’re falling in love in the shadows and secrets of their pasts. And it’s threatening to destroy everything Mila and Dominic are fighting for. And are destined for.

First Impressions

Alas, the time has come for the sun to set on our beloved Phoenix Pack shifter series. We’ve been through a lot with these surly wolves and their lady loves, and Suzanne Wright doesn’t disappoint by saving one of the most entertaining characters for last. Dominic is a ladies man through and through, and has regaled us with ridiculously cringe-worthy yet comical pick-up lines since the beginning. It’s to be expected that there would be a bit of humor built into his eventual tale of romance, and while that is certainly true for a good portion of the novel, it was delightfully surprising to see the hidden serious side of this heretofore jovial character. This is an aspect I’ve appreciated for so many of the heroes and heroines we’ve been presented with throughout this series. There’s always another angle to their personality which prevents them from simply being one dimensional.

We discover a layer of emotional turmoil to Dominic’s past, borne from abandonment by his parents who always treated him as a stand-in for his deceased brother. He’s presented an easy-going façade to the world as a way to shield anyone from getting to close to him for fear that they will eventually leave him, just as his parents did all those years ago. Mila is the first woman who has ever tempted Dominic to get close and share the side of him he’s kept hidden away even from his pack mates. What begins as mere physical attraction between two commitment-avoidant characters slowly evolves into something more as Mila’s life is repeatedly threatened throughout the course of the novel. With every new near-death experience they become cognizant of how irreparably damaged their lives would be without the other one in it anymore.

Fated Mates?

Everyone familiar with this series will undoubtedly have seen reference to “the formula” at some point. Seemingly in every book we are presented with two badass characters, one a surly alpha wolf who falls for the strong female lead. They usually encounter drama on two fronts, one from the shifter side of things, and the other dealing with more of a personal aspect tied to some event from their past. Throw in some steamy sex, and a belated realization that they’re actually true mates, and you’ve got yourself “the formula”. Personally, I love the formula. I know what I’m getting into it, it’s usually an entertaining ride, each character still manages to have a distinctive personality, and every dramatic story line has its own twists and turns which successfully set it apart from the previous installments. Case in point, while almost every book in the series has highlighted the important connection between fated mates, this final book presents us with lead characters who aren’t actually true mates.

Mila knows who her true mate is, but he has already chosen to imprint with another woman, and is therefore blinded to the true nature of his connection with Mila. Dominic has never been eager to locate his true mate, and upon meeting Mila she is determined to leave the country to avoid hers. So, why not spend some time getting to know each other in the bedroom? However, when an unknown enemy takes out a hit on Mila’s life, the repeated attempts to kills her throw Mila and Dominic together in a way where they realize how much they mean to each other. They might not be true mates in the sense that destiny has fated them to spend eternity together, but rather they ultimately choose to make that visceral connection by imprinting. In a way, their choice in the matter makes it all the more special. 

Series: The Phoenix Pack, book 8. While I’m sad to see this series end, I do think it was a good time to bring a close to our pack of Phoenix shifters, and it was ultimately a strong conclusion. 

Final Impressions: I really enjoyed Mila and Dominic’s story. He was a seductive playboy, and she was never afraid to call him on his BS. The fact they weren’t fated mates, and that Mila’s true mate was someone she still interacted with on a regular basis made her and Dominic’s romance all the more compelling. Upon first finishing the book I was a tad disappointed with the several attacks throughout the story by random hit men who were trying to collect a bounty placed on Mila’s head. It seemed unnecessarily repetitive, and the fact a healer was always nearby meant that we could never be truly immersed in the feeling that her life were truly at stake. That being said, after letting it ruminate for a day or two I recognized that her constant brushes with death acted as the necessary trigger for Dominic’s realization of her importance in his life.

Smut Level: Dominic’s cheesy one-liners don’t stop upon finally getting Mila on her back in his bed…they just get even more sultry. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Montlake Romance. 385 Pages. 

Wylde by Sawyer Bennett

Will the playboy of the Arizona Vengeance succeed in setting aside his wild ways in order to woo the one woman who managed to stop him dead in his tracks?

What’s it About? 

There’s a reason they call me Wylde and it’s not just because it’s my last name.

I might be one of the newest players on the Arizona Vengeance team, but I’m no stranger to the celebrity that goes along with being a professional hockey player. Whether it’s a fan seeking an autograph or a puck bunny looking for more, I’ve grown used to the attention. I not only thrive on it; I use it to my advantage. Let’s just say my bed is rarely empty.

When a quirky redhead at the local bookstore stops me dead in my tracks, I decide to pop in and turn on the trusty Wylde magic. As smart and strong-willed as she is beautiful, Clarke Webber isn’t swayed by my witty banter or charming good looks. And when she realizes who I am and the fame that comes along with it, she likes me even less. Thankfully, I’m always up for a challenge. The more I get to know about her, the more I know my playboy days are behind me.

If I’m going to capture Clarke’s heart, it’s time to be a lot less Wylde, and a lot more Aaron.

Quick Review

I have been a huge fan of this series so far, and unfortunately I would say this is the first book that has sort of missed the mark for me. That’s not say it was a bad read, but rather it was just kind of…meh. I listened to this as an audiobook on a recent business trip, and after listening to it during a fairly long drive one day I remember thinking, “Goodness gracious when will this book finally get going?” Imagine my surprise when I realized during a pit stop that I was already 50% of the way through the read! This seventh book follows one of the newest players of the Arizona Vengeance hockey team, Aaron Wylde. His last name isn’t seen as a misnomer, as apparently he is one of the biggest playboys of the team. Here’s the problem though. Considering his new status, we’ve never really had the chance to get to know him at any point in the series before now. While we often see numerous characters reappear throughout the series, Wylde has never been a major player up until this point, so we really have nothing to go on in terms of his supposedly infamous playboy status. This made his eventual aha moment at wanting to become a one woman man upon meeting Clarke all the more…well…uneventful. His willingness to commit to Clarke didn’t seem all that transformational of a moment, because while we’ve been introduced to his flirtatious prowess upon meeting her, we’ve never had a reason to doubt his ability to be solely devoted to one woman. 

As for Clarke, I was thrilled with her initial introduction as a book smart, fairly normal woman who was more shocked by the attention that Wylde lavished upon her rather than flattered. Who was this drop-dead gorgeous man who could lay on the one-liner quips like it was an art-form, quoted the classics like Pride and Prejudice just as well she could, and wouldn’t leave her alone? Once we were introduced to her backstory though, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at her previous disastrous appearance on a celebrity dating show that made her wary of fame forevermore. The series has done a wonderful job so far of grounding us to the romance developing between these hockey players and their lady loves, but this point of conflict between Aaron and Clarke seemed over-the-top silly and unnecessary. I even remember at one point towards the end of the novel when Clarke confessed to Aaron that she overreacted to a social media moment which made her turn her back on their relationship I exclaimed aloud in my rental car, “Yeah, you really did!” I won’t spoil the reveal, but let’s just say it wasn’t a very well-developed plot point, and instead felt like a desperate attempt to think of something that would throw a bump in the road for our lovebirds on a journey that had been nothing but pretty smooth-sailing since the beginning. I probably would have even preferred a completely drama-free ending compared to what we were presented with. 

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 7. This may not have been my favorite addition to the series, but it hasn’t put me off completely from continuing on to see what might happen next!

Final Impressions: In a way, I almost feel like the author had an ulterior motive in telling this story, and it wasn’t to relay the romance between Wylde and Clarke. Instead, the primary goal was seemingly to present us with a wedding smorgasbord of previous characters. Wylde uses the weddings of his teammates as the basis for a bet to get Clarke to go out with him on more than one occasion. Rather than try to build Wylde and Clarke as the common thread linking together all these various wedding celebrations, I think I would have just preferred a stand-alone novella, where each chapter presented us with the behind-the-scenes fun and wedding romance for one of the couples from a previous installment of the series. I felt so much more of a connection to those couples than I did to our two new leading characters, and it made me reminisce on the stories of those characters who have come to feel like old friends. 

Smut Level: Clarke is initially intimated by how much more sexual experience Wylde has compared to her, but it doesn’t take long before she acknowledges the numerous benefits (and orgasms) which can result from his expertise. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. Big Dog Books, LLC. 328 Pages. 

Until December by Aurora Rose Reynolds

Gareth Black is the package deal. He’s caring, has a smokin’ body, two sons, and an ex with a nasty temper. December has to decide if she’s going to run from it all, or jump in with her whole heart. 

What’s it About? 

Gareth Black is drawn to December Mayson the moment he spots her across the room at her cousin’s wedding. When he approaches the beautiful woman, she captivates him with her shyness and wit, making him crave her.

With a pull so strong it’s impossible to ignore, December knows there’s something between her and Gareth. She just hopes they’re capable of jumping the hurdles ahead of them.

Two boys, an ex, a surprise that will change everything, and a disgruntled co-worker, guarantee these two will have their work cut out for them if they are going to find their happily ever after.

Quick Review

Of all the books in this series so far, this might be the most angst-less of the bunch. If you’re looking for a break from all the drama and kidnappings the Mayson family has presented us with throughout the years, then this just might be the lighter read you’ve been waiting for. Gareth and December catch eyes at each other across the room at a wedding, and while we’re all familiar with the BOOM that draws any member of the Mayson clan to the love of their life, I would say we’re privy to more of a sizzle than the resounding shockwave we’re used to by now. And that’s how I would probably categorize this read as a whole, it’s more of a low simmer from start to finish rather than having any huge bouts of conflict that threaten to tear our lovebirds apart. There is one minor miscommunication that throws a bump to them getting out of the gate at the start when December believes her sister April saw Gareth first, and her “dibs” means he’s off limits. Once that matter is cleared up though, it doesn’t take long at all before this soft-spoken first-grade teacher is going home with her sexy tattoo artist/mechanic, and they don’t encounter any other major foibles along the way.

While every book in this series (and the corresponding Until series) have focused on a lead couple, the developing romance between December and Gareth plays second fiddle to the frontrunning storyline in this read, which highlights the evolving dynamics of a single parent and his children bringing a potential new partner into their bubble. This was the true heart of the story. December slowly starts to mesh into their world, and considering his boys have only known their birth-mother Beth to come and go at every turn, December represents a loving and supportive constant that they need. This is one area of the read where we see some natural complications arise, as Gareth’s mother must also acclimate to another woman coming onto the scene to share the love and attention of her grandsons, while the interactions with Beth are far more hostile in nature. Again, none of this threatens to scare December off, and we not only see her stand up to Beth to claim a place in the boys’ lives, but they too confront their mother about how important December is to them and their father. It’s a beautiful story of building a family, and I would say it rightfully overshadows the romance between our two lead characters. 

Series: Until Him/Her, book 8. Bring on the next one please!

Final Impressions: This book has a lot of emotional heart to it, but rather than being affiliated with the love story of December and Gareth, it instead is linked with the love story evolving as a family. We see what can only be described as a natural progression of this single parent family accepting an outsider into their midst, and while they start out on shaky legs of quiet acceptance, they all start to demonstrate through their actions and words how important they’ve all come to be in each other’s lives. Even the presence of Beth provided us with a window into the complexities of an absentee parent household, and the sad transition which comes upon the children realizing that while a part of them will always love their mother, she doesn’t represent the emotional foothold they need in their lives. The development of this family-building storyline was dang near perfect. The only element that I didn’t feel was necessary was the drama surrounding a disgruntled co-worker at December’s school. It certainly deals with an important issue in society, but it was a potentially triggering plot point that didn’t really evolve the story of December and Gareth’s family in any meaningful way that wasn’t already touched upon by other events. 

Smut Level: From working two jobs as a tattoo artist and mechanic, to dealing with rambunctious first-graders all day long, Gareth and December certainly have their work cut out for them. But rest assured, as soon as they get some alone time from his boys, they have all the energy in the world to rock it all night long. Multiple times. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 247 Pages. 

Wild Hunger by Suzanne Wright

They haven’t seen each other since they were children, but one look as adults is all it takes for Trick to realize that Frankie is his destined mate.

What’s it About? 

When half–wolf shifter Frankie Newman receives an e-mail from a family member she didn’t know existed, a secret is revealed: as a child, Frankie witnessed her father killing her mother…and then himself. Frankie was torn from her pack by her mother’s human relatives, and the trauma was erased from her memory. Realizing that she’s been lied to her entire life, she’s never felt more alone. Until she catches the scent of an old friend—warmly familiar and intoxicating.

Trick Hardy, enforcer of the Phoenix Pack, can sense the rush of mutual attraction when he sees Frankie again. He knows immediately that she’s his true mate. But he also knows that, given her fragile state, he needs to tread with care—no matter how fierce his surging desires.

As aroused as Frankie is by Trick’s darkly dominant air and simmering desire, her priority right now is her past—not her future, no matter how tempting. But as more secrets emerge and Frankie’s life is threatened, Trick must do everything he can to keep her close and safe. After all, it’s their destiny.

First Impressions

We’ve been introduced to a slew of different couples throughout this series so far, and while each has traversed their own unique path to discovering that they are destined mates, one shared component is that it usually takes a decent portion of the book before our lead characters uncover the mating link drawing them together. Whether it be because they’re too busy fighting off a common enemy, one of them insists true mates aren’t real, or perhaps one mistakenly thought they’d already found and lost their mate years before, there’s something which has caused our characters to put up a mental block against recognizing the person they’ve come to desire is meant to be theirs for the rest of time. A refreshing element which sets this seventh book apart from any of the installments which have come before is the fact that Trick identifies Frankie as his true mate almost immediately upon first setting his sights on her after many years apart. As for Frankie, her realization of their fantastical connection is just a few short weeks behind Trick’s.

Neither of them tries to deny the truth from themselves or each other. The only thing preventing them from taking that final step to cement the link is that Trick acknowledges Frankie is already dealing with enough in her personal life, from finding out her grandparents lied about how her parents perished when she was just a young girl, to the fact they also hid the fact she has loving wolf family members out there who would want nothing more than to bring her into the fold of their pack. Trick has been hoping for years that he would find his destined mate, yet when she’s finally standing right in front of him he realizes she needs time to heal and reconnect with family first. Finalizing their connection can wait, and he thinks it will be a good idea for them to spend time getting to know each other first before taking that big step. Considering all we know about how strong that mating pull can be, it’s probably one of the more beautiful expressions of caring we’ve seen so far in this series. 

Sexuality

Another interesting aspect of our couple’s relationship was the history of Trick’s sexuality. We’ve seen in previous novels that Trick has been sexually involved with men, at one point even with one of his fellow packmates. It’s something that Trick reveals to Frankie fairly early on after they start having a physical relationship, primarily so that she won’t be blindsided should any troublesome characters try to use it as a way to push a wedge between these two destined mates. Frankie isn’t bothered by his admission, but she does experience a brief moment of hesitation wondering if there will ever come a time when he might desire something physically that she won’t be able to give him. He squashes any of her concerns by insisting that she’s the one he’s been waiting for all this time, and there wasn’t a romantic component to any of his previous partners, whether they were men or women.

I do wish we could have gone a bit deeper into discussing Trick’s sexuality beyond just describing his previous interactions with men as “scratching an itch”. It seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity to finally highlight a non-heterosexual male lead in more detail within this series. In terms of his exes, you also can’t help but wonder if the mere presence of Trick causes others to lose their minds with obsessive infatuation. Whether it was a woman from his past who repeatedly insisted that he was her destined mate, to a former male sexual partner who asserts that Trick is actually gay and therefore it’s impossible Frankie could be his true mate as a female. Frankie never doubts that Trick will be true to her, and it was nice to see there wasn’t a single moment where she questioned if he might leave her for someone else, but if I were Frankie I might be concerned over how many other unstable exes might be making their way out of the woodwork!

Drama on Two Fronts

As with most books in this series, our couple is faced with dramatic elements emanating from two separate fronts. One impacts the pack as a whole, where a rival wolf and his ragtag pack insist on claiming Phoenix pack territory. They approach the Phoenixes under the guise of wanting to form an alliance, but they can all recognize a scheming enemy when they see one. The villainous Morelli lurks in the background through most of the novel, but will pop up every now and again before instigating a final climactic battle at the most inopportune of moments. The fight with this rival pack is just a smaller piece of the larger war that Morelli is trying to start between wolves and humans, as extremists on both sides are shockingly coming together in the hopes of bringing down all of their enemies so they can finally rule over whoever is left standing. As we progress through the series we’ve seen these extremists become more daring in their efforts, and we can’t help but wonder if the final installment will finally bring about this aforementioned war, or crush it down once and for all. 

The more emotional dramatic plot point of this novel involves Frankie’s parents who died when she was just three years old, and the story that all have come to believe of their deaths is that Frankie’s father brutally murdered her mother before dying by suicide. Frankie’s grandparents kept these gruesome details from her, and upon learning the truth from some of her other long lost family members, we see her embark on a tragically compelling journey of confronting the details of this unfortunate tragedy. While this emotional exploration was certainly fascinating, especially as we see how uber alpha Trick can soften his surly demeanor to comfort Frankie when it matters most, this story was rather disappointing in the plot twist it tries to surprise upon us towards the end of the book. Not only is it crystal clear to us as readers that something else must have happened the night these untimely deaths occurred, but it’s kind of shocking that it wasn’t obvious to the rest of the pack back when it first happened. They can all acknowledge that it was unbelievably out of character for Frankie’s father to cause harm to his wife, but it’s also essentially unheard of for a wolf to harm their true mate. So…why would they have readily accepted this inexplicable explanation? The fact they never questioned that someone else could have been involved is quite ridiculous. Also, these are wolf shifters we’re dealing with here! How did none of them smell the remnants of another person in the house that night?! Simply preposterous!!

Series: The Phoenix Pack, book 7. We only have just one more packmate to explore next in what will be the final book of this series. And Dominic just so happens to be the most flirtatious wolf of the pack. Can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Final Impressions: This was an exciting addition to the series. In glancing through some of the other reviews of this novel, it appears a common criticism amongst some readers is that the author continues to follow a clear formula for each installment where you always know what to expect. Honestly, fair assessment! Alpha male meets sassy female, physical desire and multiple horizontal mambo sessions ensue, drama threatens, they ultimately discover and cement the mating bond, final climactic battle, sexy fun times. And you know what, I love it! There might be a formula, but I’ve never felt as though we see the same couple, or even story, on repeat each time. We see so many unique personalities, and everyone has their own history which sets them apart from those who may have come before. If anything, I find that formula comforting rather than boring. I know what I’m getting into, that it’s going to be an entertaining and sexually-filled ride, and each character will bring something new to the table.

Smut Level: How these two didn’t pass out from exhaustion considering all the delicious deeds they got up to in a hot tub is mind-blowing. Also, as with almost every other book in this series so far, we do get some description of anal sex. Something to keep in mind for those of you who are or aren’t fans of that act!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Montlake Romance. 322 Pages.

Irresistible by R.L. Mathewson

After a one-night stand results in pregnancy, Melanie learns that carrying a Bradford child not only leaves her craving allllll the food, but also craving the man who is reluctant to be the father. 

What’s it About? 

Aidan Bradford never wanted a family, but after having a one-night stand with the woman that he hadn’t been able to resist, he’s going to find himself getting exactly what he needed in this romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author R.L. Mathewson.

There weren’t many things that Aidan regretted, but that night he’d spent with the woman that he couldn’t stop thinking about was definitely one of them. He’d always been careful, always did the right thing, and now…

Now, he had to figure out a way to fix this before it was too late.

Melanie still couldn’t figure out how one night could change the rest of her life. She should have done a lot of things differently that night. She should have turned him down, should have spent the rest of the night wallowing in self-pity like she’d planned, but that’s not what happened and now, she needed to figure out how she was going to survive this pregnancy with a Bradford doing everything in his power to make her fall in love with him.

First Impressions

Any good Neighbor From Hell book will contain a particular set of hallmark features which are emblematic of this classic laugh-out-loud series. From fraught neighbors turned lovers, to food consumption that borders on the obscene, and hilarious prank-filled family dynamics that leave you wanting more. This eleventh installment contained all of the above, albeit some were displayed a bit more prominently than others, whereas others you kind of had to dig a bit deeper to find the connection. It certainly felt like the entire Bradford family was present in this novel, including siblings, cousins, parents, spouses and children, that your head can’t help but spin at all the previous characters who make a reappearance, not to mention a few new ones who will clearly be the focus of a future novel.

While I appreciated the attempt at including a family tree at the start of the novel, the presentation of it in a simple list form rather than as an actual tree which showed how all the different branches inter-connected felt like a missed opportunity for clarity. Aidan, Melanie, and their little one were lovable and welcome characters to add to the tree, but with so many faces popping up throughout this novel it was hard to keep track of who was a relation versus a potential love interest. While I typically love seeing previous couples making a reappearance, it became a bit overwhelming in this eleventh book. I think we’ve reached a point in the series where some characters are clearly more memorable than others, and maybe highlighting just a select few rather than every single couple that came before would result in a bigger nostalgic impact. This was definitely a fun read where I enjoyed getting to know Aidan and Melanie, but I have a feeling going forward they probably won’t be standout memorable characters to add to the tree. 

Rejecting to Embracing Fatherhood

The concept of the novel was intriguing as we are thrust into the midst of an unplanned pregnancy, with Melanie finally finding the courage to admit to her one-night stand from months ago, Aidan, about the little bundle he left cooking in her oven. Why has it taken her this long to confront him? It’s explained away as a combination of long-lasting debilitating morning sickness with the fact that Aidan made it strikingly clear the morning after their drunken night together, upon realization that their condom broke, that the last thing he wanted was to become a father. I was hoping we would have the chance to more fully explore Aidan’s hesitancies and fears regarding fatherhood, but ultimately we are really only presented with a surface level explanation that he worries he’ll either 1) never live up to the wonderfulness his parents represented or 2) somehow become like his uncle who abandoned his cousin when he was a child…? You can’t help but feel that neither excuse was legitimately warranted, as backed up by the fact that upon hearing these comments Melanie openly admits he’s being pretty stupid. The honesty and witty sarcasm these two lovebirds hurled back and forth at each other was entertaining, but you never get the sense that there was any real development to who they were as characters. We knew from the beginning that Aidan was a good guy, who in no way hated or begrudged children in any way, so it was no surprise to see him jump fully on board with fatherhood almost immediately upon Melanie walking back into his life. 

Sugary Sweet Neighbors

The two other fundamental elements to any installment in this series involves: food and living arrangements. Let’s start with the first. Goodness gracious golly me, the food obsession involved with women who are pregnant with a Bradford spawn is no joke. Seriously, it was repeatedly featured in almost every single chapter of this book to the point where you are basically left worrying for the physical health of Melanie and her unborn child. The fact that the sight of any vegetable has her running to worship the porcelain throne was pretty funny at the beginning, but to see how the crux of her diet involves the consumption of sugar mixed with sugar, piled high with sugar and then rolled in sugar became…kind of nauseating after a while. Your stomach will practically churn from the constant description of Melanie’s obsession with junk food during her pregnancy, and I kind of feel like I need to eat an apple to counteract the sugar high I got from reading this one. 

And now for the feature that really let me down. Neighbors. It’s right there in the title of the series. You expect to see two neighbors, oftentimes with a tension-filled background, slowly turn from enemies-to-lovers. Two tropes for the price of one! Alas, to say these two spent any time as neighbors was definitely a stretch of the imagination, and I’d say they liked to teasingly push each other’s buttons rather than classify them as “enemies”. At the start of the novel we see Melanie worrying over the fact her best-friend roommate has now moved out, and she can no longer afford the two bedroom apartment on her own with a baby on the way. When Aidan finally discovers the truth of her condition, he insists she move into the apartment building he owns so he can keep an eye on her, especially seeing as her doctor has ordered strict bed rest throughout the next stage of her pregnancy. What could be more convenient than moving in across the hall from him? Well, it feels as though they live “next door” to each other for about a minute. It doesn’t take long before Aidan is sharing her bed, initially for the purpose of providing her snuggle comfort during her pregnancy, but things quickly evolve into cohabitation. I felt like I missed out on the fun and craziness of the somewhat toxic neighborly relationship this series is known for. 

Series: Neighbor From Hell, book 11. While the last two books in this series have been mild letdowns, it’s still a fun-filled series as a whole. I’m definitely excited to dive deep into the next installment, as it involves a Bradford who is a single father, and has sworn off love until his children are fully grown. Yeah…like that’ll work!

Final Impressions: This is a fun addition to the Neighbor From Hell series, though I did feel like we missed out on the “neighbor” aspect which I love so much from this author. The book leans heavily into the comedic side of things rather than the dramatic, even when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. While I appreciated this light-hearted tone, it was kind of confusing how potential elements for drama would keep being introduced, but then never fully developed. From Melanie’s potential financial woes, to Aidan’s initial rejection of fatherhood, a deceitfully trouble-making sister to an ex who might not want to be an ex after all. Some of these dramatic plot points went nowhere, and others didn’t seem of much concern to our two leads. Instead the focus is on Aidan and Melanie sharing funny details about their pasts and getting to know each other so they could be on a solid foundation of friendship before their child arrived. Friendship quickly turned to love, and the rest is history. 

Smut Level: This was possibly the most compelling aspect of the entire book, as every steamy scene between Melanie and Aidan occurred when she was quite far along in her pregnancy. Following months of bed rest Melanie is finally given permission by her doctor to engage in more rigorous activity, and sex just so happens to be at the top of the recommendation list. To see how Aidan still desires Melanie more than anything with her rounded belly, swollen ankles and frightening food demands was both refreshing and adorable. These two get all kinds of steamy and creative in their positions. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Rerum Carta Industries, Inc. 275 Pages. 

Mai Tai’d Up by Alice Clayton

After breaking up with her fiancé on their wedding day, Chloe soon crosses paths with a blue-eyed, ginger-haired beauty who sets her heart aflutter. How does she know if he’ll prove to be the love of her life, or her rebound of the moment? 

What’s it About? 

The gossip mill in the seaside community of Monterey is churning about Chloe Patterson, the newcomer who is starting a sanctuary for rescued pit bulls. It’s rumored that she’s a former beauty queen (true) who ditched her fiancé the morning of their wedding (also true). And that while she’s not looking for a new man, the good-looking local veterinarian has his eye on her. Absolutely, positively true.

When Lucas Campbell isn’t at the family veterinary clinic, he’s paddle boarding in Monterey Bay. Recently single, he’s definitely not in the market for a new relationship, but he still can’t resist taking a second, third, and fourth look at the recent arrival of Miss Golden State.

Neither Lucas nor Chloe has any interest in being tied down. Being tied up, however—now there’s a thought. But are a few Mai Tais, a moonlit night, and the music of Frank Sinatra enough to allow them both to forget their past? Let’s hope Ol’ Blue Eyes knows what he’s doing.

Mix one part tiki, one part kinky, and a splash of old black magic matchmaking, and it’s time to be . . . Mai Tai’d Up.

Quick Review

Looking back on this series as a whole, it’s difficult to fully recreate the incandescent magic captured within the first novel, Wallbanger, but this fourth book perhaps gets closer than any other installment so far. The chemistry between Chloe and Lucas is strikingly electric from the first moment they catch eyes with each other across the mirror behind a bar, and the sizzling intensity simply continues to grow from there. They are both moving on from the aftermaths of broken relationships, both of which ended on their respective wedding days. While they can openly acknowledge the attraction which exists between them, neither wants to fall into a quick rebound fling with the other, but they also don’t want that to impact their ability to spend as much time with each other as possible before Lucas leaves town for 12 weeks as part of Vets Without Borders. The teasing banter and flirtatious quips exchanged between our two leads were some of the highlight features of the novel, and definitely hearkened back to some of that original magic we saw presented in book one. 

Sly smirks, brushes of the hand against one’s back, and even a hip check or two, it doesn’t take long before you’re practically salivating for these two to get together. Our anticipation builds with every turn of the page. And yet, the fact it takes almost the entire length of the novel for our solitary steamy scene to emerge was another mark of cleverness at how the plot ultimately evolved. The author could have easily had these two try and enter into a no-strings-attached fling from the very beginning. However, by allowing them both the time to process the end of their previous relationships, and spend time getting to know each other beyond their  physical chemistry, we’re more convinced than ever by the time Chloe and Lucas fall into those sexy fun times that they are finally doing so for the right reasons. 

All in all this fourth book was shaping up to be a stellar read, but unfortunately throughout the entire novel we were waiting for one obvious point of conflict to emerge, which was the fact that upon learning Lucas’s ex-fiancée left him standing at the altar on the day of their wedding, Chloe couldn’t bring herself to admit that she had left her own ex on their wedding day. I secretly kept hoping there would be another point of contention to arise between them, such as the concern about maintaining a long-distance relationship while Lucas was abroad for several months, or maybe even the fact that Chloe put herself in potential harm’s way by rescuing a battered pit bull at the center of an illegal fighting ring. But alas, it was in fact the super duper uber predictable secret that caused the drama to implode. The fact that this slight detail of omission held such strength for Lucas to threaten this beautiful relationship really put a damper on things, especially after Chloe clearly articulated her reasons and sincerely apologizes for keeping it from him. We do eventually get a happily ever after, but it was so disappointing to see the impressive arch of this novel interrupted with such a disappointingly predictable and unnecessarily over-exaggerated plot point.  

Series: The Cocktail Series, book 4. The first book is clearly the best, with this fourth book coming in second. Each book is light-hearted, and you’ll probably find yourself chuckling aloud a time or two with the silly antics our lead characters find themselves in. 

Final Impressions: Looking back at the synopsis of this book it’s kind of surprisingly deceptive. This small community doesn’t really seem absorbed at Chloe’s arrival into town. If the gossip mill were truly at work then the truth of how Chloe ditched her fiancé would have made it’s way to Lucas’s ears, thereby preventing the eventual blow-up argument between them about how she kept it a secret. There’s also an insinuation in the synopsis that there might be some possible kink to their relationship, especially considering the thought of “being tied up”. Alas, there is no tying up of lovers to be seen. The majority of the sensuality between Lucas and Chloe lies within their delicious flirtatious banter rather than physically coming together, which is reserved to just one scene towards the end of the book. You’ll find yourself smirking in delight every time they come together for a cocktail and some witty repartee. If the final point of drama between our two leads didn’t feel so contrived at the end of the novel, or perhaps could have stemmed from a less predictable area of contention, then this book would have been near perfect. 

Smut Level: You have to wait for it, but it’s worth the wait. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $8.99 Kindle Price. Gallery Books. 273 Pages. 

The Liar’s Crown by Abigail Owen

Meren has lived her entire life in the shadow of her twin sister, waiting for the moment when she might need to step in front of danger to sacrifice herself. Now the shadows have come for her, and she must sacrifice everything she thought she understood about the world around her. Buckle up folks, you’re in for quite the ride. 

What’s it About? 

Everything about my life is a lie. As a hidden twin princess, born second, I have only one purpose—to sacrifice my life for my sister if death comes for her. I’ve been living under the guise of a poor, obscure girl of no standing, slipping into the palace and into the role of the true princess when danger is present.

Now the queen is dead and the ageless King Eidolon has sent my sister a gift—an eerily familiar gift—and a proposal to wed. I don’t trust him, so I do what I was born to do and secretly take her place on the eve of the coronation. Which is why, when a figure made of shadow kidnaps the new queen, he gets me by mistake.

As I try to escape, all the lies start to unravel. And not just my lies. The Shadowraith who took me has secrets of his own. He struggles to contain the shadows he wields—other faces, identities that threaten my very life.

Winter is at the walls. Darkness is looming. And the only way to save my sister and our dominion is to kill Eidolon…and the Shadowraith who has stolen my heart.

First Impressions

In a word, this teen fantasy romance is simply mind-blowing. I have been a long-time fan of Abigail Owen’s adult dragon romance series, so I was excited to step into another world with her. I’ll admit I had a few hesitations in the beginning, wondering if this young adult novel would skew too young for me, or if the evocative cover art would potentially hold too much promise of what would lie within. I’m happy to say I was proven wrong on both accounts. Readers of all ages can appreciate this story, and the dramatic juxtaposition of flowers against skull on the cover simply hints at the wondrous magic in which you’re about to find yourself entranced. Ms. Owen is a master world-builder, and it’s hard to articulate just how refreshing it was to be immersed in a fantastical land unlike any I’ve ever come across before. 

From the powers of our characters, to the monsters of the various landscapes they traverse, everything was a constant surprise from one page to the next. As the novel progressed I couldn’t help but feel as though I had entered somebody’s dream world where fantasy and nightmare blend together to create something entirely unique. The rules of this world aren’t terribly difficult to understand, but in hindsight I wish I had paid a bit more attention at the beginning when the details were first being discussed. We’re provided with something of an info dump early on in the book, so something I’d recommend is maybe jotting down a few notes for reference later so you fully understand the differences between things like Vexillium, Imperium, hyloraes, enfernaes, etc. Some fantastical elements were explained more fully than others, and I get the sense we’ve been teased with the mention of some things we might not see until later on. 

Shadow and Glass

Meren is the standout lead character of our novel. A second-born twin princess whose identity has been hidden from the world, save for a chosen few who can be trusted, she’s expected to stand in for her sister whenever the possibility of danger arises. It’s on the eve of her sister Tabra’s coronation as Queen when a man composed of shadows mistakenly kidnaps Meren, thinking she’s the highborn princess whose powers can change the fate of their world. The dynamic between Meren and this Shadowraith was electric, with an obvious animosity towards each other slowly developing to respect, and ultimately something even more powerful. While she might be totally out of her element by being kidnapped across lands unknown to her, Meren isn’t afraid to stand up against him. She refuses to go down quietly, and the frustrations evoked by both her and the Shadowraith when they repeatedly throw verbal barbs at each other was positively delicious. It was the perfect blend of comedy, fearlessness, foreplay and even emotional vulnerability. Their combined presence on the page quickly became the foundation of the story going forward, and you never wanted to see the two of them apart. 

Perhaps the most enigmatic feature of the book was witnessing Meren come into her own by stepping out of the shadows she was forced to hide behind. She’s always been something of a rebel. When she was told to never use her powers, Meren would often sneak away to practice transforming sand into glass. Ordered to live hidden away in a small house, she found ways to escape into the wide-open vastness of the desert. And yet, these few instances of rebellion were hidden from her keepers, and she’d always walked the line set before her. It was never out of subservience, but rather out of true love and protection for her sister that she continued to do what was expected. When the Shadowraith takes her away from all she’s known, Meren is rightfully pissed, but in a way it also allows her to finally explore what it means to be her own person. As the Shadowraith shows her how a fight against evil is forming in the distance, Meren once again steps up to protect those she loves. Whereas before she played the role of delicate princess to save her sister, she now realizes she’ll need to up her game by becoming a badass in her own right. Wielding her power over sand to create pretty glass flowers has now evolved into forming waves of glass spears in battle. She no longer blindly listens to the orders others bestow upon her, but rather she becomes part of the conversation to try and find a solution in saving their world against a power-hungry evil King. As her distance from the palace grows, Meren more fully transforms from a girl into a woman, and it’s quite the captivating journey.  

Butterflies at First Sight

In perusing a few other reviews of this work online, an unexpectedly common theme is a few readers mentioning they felt that Meren and the Shadowraith fell for each other too quickly, and that it was a love at first sight scenario. I suppose I can’t 100% agree with this assessment. Meren is clearly confused about how she feels towards this stranger. On the one hand, there is a clear presence of animosity following his kidnapping of her, and he has several instances of eye-roll happening at her consistent back-talk. And yet, Meren can clearly see something good within him that slowly causes her to lower her defenses the more time they spend together. If anything, I would say it was a slow burn rather than a situation of love at first sight. Meren certainly feels an attraction at first sight of the Shadowraith’s distinctively dashing profile in the darkened streets of her hometown, and she’s not sure how to act in front of someone who makes the butterflies take flight within her. However, there also appears to be some other kind of connection simmering between them that I think has only just been teased to us in this first novel. There’s something drawing these two together, and it extends beyond simple attraction or even love, but perhaps there is a fantastical element at play here too. I certainly can’t wait to find out more about what it might be. 

This novel also presents us with the formation of a mini unrequited love triangle. The relationship between Meren and her Shadowraith takes front and center, but we also see instances of Meren’s only childhood friend, Cain, wanting to express intimacy with this unknown princess. I will say this was the only feature of the book which reminded me of another series, as it felt very reminiscent of the love triangle present in the Hunger Games series. Similar to how the heroine of that series always viewed her longtime male friend as something of a brother, Meren too has looked to Cain with brotherly affection that is a special kind of love all it’s own. There may have once been a time when the concept of a future with Cain seemed like a great prospect, but it’s only upon meeting the Shadowraith that she realizes how much more there is to feel towards a potential partner. I’m typically not a fan of love triangles, and thankfully this feature wasn’t a primary focus of the novel. However, we definitely see the hostility level growing between Cain and the man of shadows, and I have a feeling this conflict could possibly become a more prominent discussion point for the next book. That being said, these characters certainly have a few more life-and-death priorities to deal with, including a power hungry king with his focus on the crown, so hopefully they choose to focus their energy on resolving those matters first!

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

Series: Dominions, book 1. This is book one in a three part series. I hope for book two the author will either provide us with a thorough recap of the fantastical dynamics we were presented with in this novel, or maybe even a glossary of important terms we can reference to re-acclimate ourselves to this world. 

Final Impressions: Sometimes the first book in a series is so good you can’t wait to get started on book two. Then there are the premier books that are so fantastically amazing you’re almost angry you don’t have the next book in front of you right now! The Liar’s Crown definitely falls within the latter category. This novel sort of ends on a smidge of a cliffhanger, but the epilogue gives enough of a solid stopping point where you don’t literally feel like you’re dangling off a cliff. Instead you’re just eager to see what our characters will get up to next. It’s very important to know going into this read that this is the start of a series, a fact I didn’t remember when I started. Meren and the Shadowraith take up the majority of the plot focus, so I was initially disappointed that we didn’t see more scenes involving her sister or the evil king. Abigail Owen has always succeeded in creating a dubious villain you hate to hate, and I sort of felt like I was missing out in this one. Now that I know there’s two more books to come, and considering how this first one ended I realize the author was simply laying the groundwork for us to dive deeper into this world of characters going forward.

Smut Level: This is a slow burn of tempting glances, slight brushes against each other, a stolen kiss here and there, and a few instances of intense panting. All of these delicious moments of will-they-won’t-they ultimately intensify into one steamy scene that isn’t too explicit in detail, but it provides enough satisfying description for this first kind of intimate moment between our characters. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Teen Publishing. 448 Pages. 

Immortal Beginnings by Rebecca Hefner

What’s better than a paranormal romance featuring a virginal male hero who finds his happily ever after with the love of his immortal life? 

What’s it About?

Can a Deamon who has never felt a lover’s touch win the affection of a beautiful but wary Vampyre widow?

Strong and stoic Dragos yearns to build an honest life after the War of the Species ends. Due to his servitude to the Dark Lord Crimeous, he never had the opportunity to experience love or true emotion.

Vampyre widow Raina promised she’d never love another. Yet, she’s taken with her handsome, enigmatic new neighbor and his kindness to her two sons.

When Raina realizes Dragos has never had a lover, she gives in to their mutual passion, never realizing she might also lose her heart to the man who somehow invaded every crevice of her soul…

First Impressions

When I found out one of my absolute favorite authors had written a novella for the Etherya’s Earth series I simply had three words to say: sign…me…up! That, and a lot of incessant squealing and hand flapping in excitement. For those of you who are also a fan of the Etherya’s Earth paranormal series, you won’t want to miss this beautiful short story, Immortal Beginnings. While it doesn’t feature any of the primary characters from the series we’ve come to know and love, you’ll quickly become enamored with the romance between deamon Dragos and vampyre Raina. You’ll have no problem finishing this novella in one sitting, and yet there is so much story to unpack between these two characters. Fangs down, of all the short stories featured in the Etherya’ Earth series so far, this was undoubtedly my favorite. I can only hope we’ll get a glimpse of this couple again in a future full-length novel.

Letting Go of the Past

Yes, this novella does feature a virginal male hero which I was fully on board for, but beyond this amazing trope of a more experienced female lead guiding her man in the ways of pleasure, we were also presented with two complex characters who are trying to find their way in a new world unlike anything they’ve known before. Etherya’s Earth has been plagued by war for centuries, but its inhabitants are finally living in a time of peace, when vampyres, deamons and slayers can coexist rather than fight against each other. This is the setting upon which our novella opens, as deamon Dragos is trying to live a “normal” life away from the world of deamon caves and constant fighting which he’s only known up until this point. As for Raina, she is now a single mother trying to adapt to life following the death of her “bonded” in the final battle against the evil deamon Crimeous. These two unlikely neighbors are able to push aside their troubled pasts to find happiness and pleasure with each other in the present, and the promising hope of something even more permanent going forward.

Upon first reading this novella, I was so worried we’d ultimately discover that Dragos was responsible for killing Raina’s husband in battle, but thankfully we focus instead on what it means for these two to explore a relationship together at this particular point in their lives. For Dragos, he has only known the horrors of war. At one point in the story, Raina offers to bring him salve for a burn on his arm, and he reveals that it is the first time he’s been voluntarily touched by another in all of his centuries on this Earth. The glimpses of vulnerability we witness for this weathered soldier are almost enough to bring a tear to your eye, as you realize that beneath the tough exterior lies a man who simply craves the soft touch of another. He has craved Raina since she first moved in next door, and when she finally offers herself to him, he can’t help but fall hard and fast for this loving woman and caring mother.

For Raina, she initially worries that Dragos will feel more for her than she could ever reciprocate, especially considering she’s the one to touch and physically please him for the first time ever. Even though a letter from her belated husband clearly states he hopes she can move on to find happiness with another during her immortal life, she can’t help but keep a part of herself back from Dragos in a foolhardy attempt to prevent herself from falling for this deamon. Dragos is willing to accept any part of her she’s willing to give, but can Raina acknowledge that there’s room in her heart for both Dragos and her former bonded? Giving her heart to this man doesn’t mean she’s replacing the memory of her husband. She’s allowing herself the opportunity to move on and make new memories that can co-exist with, rather than take over, those of the man she loved before. Again, there’s definitely a lot of emotional baggage to unpack in such a short novella!

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

Series: Etherya’s Earth, book 4.5. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it here for posterity: I will read anything and everything this author ever releases.

Final Impressions: Loved it, adored it, consider myself officially smitten. It’s not simply the tale of a male losing his v-card, but also an observation of how two people can put aside their traumatic pasts, and convince themselves they are worthy of love. How it’s possible to open up one’s heart again after having found and lost true love before. We not only fall in love with Dragos and Raina, but also Raina’s two adorable sons, Galen and Ekon. There is so much to love about this novella, and I’m excited to see what else this anthology has in store!

Smut Level: The first time this series presented us with a deamon falling for a vampyre we were privy to the most alpha of males who was well-versed in the ways of pleasure. This time around, Dragos might not have the experience, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a quick study in the ways of pleasure, or dirty talk for that matter. As a former soldier, he is more than capable of following all the sultry orders that Raina has to give in the bedroom.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Reading Goddess Press, LLC. 154 Pages.