Run Away, Lizzy by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Sometimes when you’re not sure how to deal with your feelings for someone, the only option left is to run away. 

What’s it About? 

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With knife-like precision, Reilly asked, “Lizzy, what are you going to do when I’m no longer around for you to run away from? Have you thought about that?”
Her mouth puckered in a catch of surprise. He realized that the little girl in her had assumed the game would go on until she said it was over.

1968: During one of her father’s raucous Hollywood parties, ten-year-old Elizabeth Jane (E.J.) Hatton meets twenty-two-year old Texan heartthrob, Reilly Donner while swinging from a fourteen-foot ladder and hoping for a soft landing. She falls hard…for him.

1982: E.J is drowning in sadness after the death of her adored father. Reilly swaggers back into her life (“arrogant, patronizing and in love with the sound of his voice”) as the director of her Uncle Wade’s latest project: a prime time soap opera. As the associate producer, she’s not about to swoon over her childhood crush who riles her up by renaming her “Lizzy”, and who teases and bullies her as if she’s a child in need of a firm hand. She does her damn best to avoid him while trying to ignore those little fluttering sensations in her stomach whenever he gets too close.

Reilly is mystified, frustrated and eventually, smitten with E.J’s elusive and at times, downright perplexing behavior. He pursues her with the stealthy determination of a bobcat stalking its next meal.

Conflict arises when the soap’s leading lady, an old flame of Reilly’s, sees his budding infatuation as a threat to her plans for a rekindled affair. She’s harboring a secret about Lizzy’s father – waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it.

First Impressions

This is a fun, quick read that will have you giggling along to the shenanigans of our female lead in one scene, yet also tugging at your emotional heart strings in the next. It’s set in the 1980’s, and in hindsight I can’t really say I understand why? I mean, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the 80’s. Far from it. I am an 80’s baby after all. It just seemed like a somewhat peculiar time setting considering the era never really had a big impact on the story. They do make one reference which compares the budding TV drama they’re working on to Dallas, but other than that there aren’t many aspects of the 80’s which are highlighted front and center. In a way, our story could have been set in any decade, as long as it was one with television. Further incorporation of the time period probably could have added a fun nostalgic twist for many of us readers!

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The Passing of Time

It’s been many years since Reilly and Lizzy last set sights on each other. Back then she was just a precociously curious young girl with a crush, and he was a young stud cowboy making his way in Hollywood. Fast-forward 14 years and quite a lot has changed for these two. Lizzy just recently lost her father to a fast-acting illness, and she’s now trying to make a name for herself as a producer. Reilly still remains quite the stud, but he’s already made a name for himself as the next big thing in directing, and has been hired to take on the new TV soap opera that Lizzy is also working on. What will Lizzy do when she’s finally reunited with her childhood crush?

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As it turns out, she runs from him every chance she gets. She’s definitely still attracted to him, but she never thought her previously unrequited infatuation would suddenly be…requited. Reilly is stunned to discover that the girl he once knew is all grown up, and she intrigues him in a way he never expected. Why does she run and hide from his approach? It’s a predicament he’s determined to get to the bottom of. I must say we do get some pretty funny moments of Lizzy hiding behind doors and in secret cubby-holes to try and get away from this man. Especially considering other people on set have no problem leading him right to her secret hiding places in the hopes of getting them together. You can’t help but chuckle a time or two at her silly antics, but underneath it all there’s actually a deep grief impacting this young woman.

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“What are you so scared of?”

Running From Grief

As it turns out, Lizzy isn’t just running away from Reilly, or from finally confronting her feelings for him. She’s also trying to outrun the grief of her father’s death which chases her throughout the day, as well as every night when she closes her eyes to sleep. After his untimely passing, she’s even taken to wearing her father’s clothes as a way to feel closer to him. It’s a regressive reaction to his death, as she attempts to avoid growing up and moving on in life without her father. “Her behavior seesaws between young woman and little girl.” This overwhelming grief which impacts Lizzy’s life definitely packs a strong emotional punch to the reader, and we wonder if she’ll ever be able to escape from this dark cloud of sadness following her everywhere she goes.

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Thankfully, a saving grace has entered Lizzy’s life, and that would be Reilly. Up until this point, the majority of Lizzy’s friends and family have walked on egg shells around her, treating her as though she were a fragile object on the verge of breaking. But when Reilly arrives on set? He’s determined to finagle his way into her life any chance he gets. She might run, but he’ll make sure she doesn’t succeed in hiding. He sort of has a “tear off the band-aid approach” in how he deals with Lizzy, as he forces her to confront the feelings she has for him which she doesn’t really know how to deal with. However, I can’t say as much attention was focused on Lizzy confronting the grief over her dad’s death. Reilly is meant to act as a guiding light for her to finally move on, but we don’t get a full exploration into the heart of the issue so that Lizzy can ultimately begin the healing process in a healthy way.

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“Your body’s wanting one thing. Your head’s telling you to run away. But your heart knows what it needs and wants…me.”

The Villain-ess

In the midst of Reilly constantly chasing after Lizzy in her attempts to run from him, not to mention Lizzy’s inability to move on from her father’s death, we also see a minor side-plot involving the leading lady of the TV soap. She also happens to be an old flame of Reilly’s, and is aware of some former escapades involving Lizzy’s father. All in all, I must say this bit of drama seemed rather unnecessary. We have a short novel here at just around 100 pages, and we needed to focus as much attention on Lizzy and Reilly’s blossoming relationship as possible. This side distraction of a demanding aging actress just came across as a mild nuisance rather than anything that had a major impact on our lovebirds. The fact that this drama sort of fizzled out by the end of the story made it seem like a road we didn’t necessarily need to go down in the grand scheme of things.

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

Series: Stand-alone.

Final Impressions: A quick read that will make you laugh, possibly cry, and definitely fan yourself from all the steam these two emit once they finally come together. If you happen to find yourself on a sunny beach you can probably finish it in one sitting! While Reilly definitely succeeds in getting Lizzy to stop running away from her feelings for him, I can’t say that we delved deep enough into Lizzy overcoming the grief of her father’s death. Reilly is starting to help her move past the pain, but I wish we had been able to focus more attention on her accepting her father’s passing rather than introducing the additional story of Reilly’s former bed-fellow. Keeping all of these components probably would have benefited from an additional 100 pages or so to fully flesh out and explore each story line.

Smut Level: This might be a romantic comedy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any steamy moments! You do sort of have to wait a bit until they’re featured, but you won’t be disappointed once they are!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. The Waxing Gibbous Press. 106 Pages

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Heaven’s Sinners by Bella Jewel

Ever wonder how our lead male character got the nickname of “Spike”? Easy. He has a line of barbell piercings on his willy wally ding dong, and at either end of each barbell he has attachable spikes. Am I the only one who wonders what kind of outline that would form in his pants? Or what a pain it would be going through airport security?

What’s it About? 

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Contains adult content, recommended for readers over 17. A modern day biker romance.

Spike knows tragedy, he knows that feelings are better left hidden. He refuses to put his heart out there again, it’s a pain he’s not willing to feel a second time around. He’s accepted he’s going to spend forever alone. That’s all he deserves.

But then there’s Ciara, the sister of his deceased wife. She’s beautiful and damned determined to throw herself into his life in hopes they can reform an old friendship, but Spike won’t hear of it, and Ciara refuses to give up.

Who will win the battle of wills?

First Impressions 

Spike is trying with all his might to push Ciara away. They have a troubled past, and he’s convinced the two of them are better off away from each other. There’s just one problem with that. The fact they have such a long history together means that Ciara knows all the tricks and ploys he might use to try and push her away. This allows her to not only stay one step ahead of his attempts to get rid of her, but she knows how to push his own buttons to get an emotional reaction from him. Now, I will say some of their attempts to “one-up” each other get somewhat petty. For example there are several instances where they try to use other people to make the other one jealous, which is a bit too high school drama for my liking.

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However, I must admit I did appreciate that Ciara especially didn’t always choose to wither away when Spike was up to something. It’s often the case in romance novel land that a female lead will run off in a huff of anger if she comes upon the male lead making out in the back of a bar’s storage area with another woman. For Ciara though? Well, after catching Spike’s eye during said make-out session she decides to rile him up a bit by erotically touching and stroking herself. Right when he’s on the edge of coming because of her antics, she leaves the room with a knowing smirk and wink. I simultaneously wanted to roll my eyes at how they resulted to some immature methods to provoke each other, yet also applaud Ciara’s ability to stare him right in the face without backing down. An unexpected dichotomy for sure.

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Past vs. Present; Ciara vs. Spike

The format of this novel was rather unique, in that it constantly switches back and forth from the past to the present. The past particularly focuses on the history of Ciara and Spike’s friendship, his pursuit of Ciara’s sister Cheyenne, and the aftermath of Cheyenne’s death. Their present is more focused on both of them learning how to forgive each other for the misunderstandings of their past, as well as pursuing a new romantic relationship with each other. While it was definitely an interesting format, something felt a bit disjointed in the execution of it. Firstly, the scenes in both the past and the present were constantly flip-flopping between both Ciara and Spike’s points of view. Secondly, the flashbacks to the past didn’t necessarily happen in chronological order, which made it rather difficult to keep track of what happened when. At the start of the novel, all we know is that in the present scenes Ciara and Spike have a definite animosity towards each other, and in the scenes from the past we see how close they used to be in their friendship.

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From that point on the entire novel felt like a build-up to understanding what exactly happened between Ciara and Spike all those years ago, as well as the animosity which developed between them because of his relationship with Cheyenne. While interesting in theory, I found it somewhat difficult to follow along with some of their arguments in the present when we don’t fully understand everything that happened in the past. Whatever happened to end the friendship between Spike and Ciara, and push him into the arms of her sister was obviously the foundation for their current animosity, but because we were left in the dark for soooo long you couldn’t help but feel frustrated at their continual bickering in the present. The true break in their relationship all those years ago never received the amount of attention it deserved, and therefore you just want them to forgive each other and get over it already.

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The Blame Game

Misplaced blame seems to be the name of the game in this novel. Everyone places blame where it doesn’t belong in every argument they have. They’ll blame each other, themselves, Ciara’s deceased sister Cheyenne, etc. The funny thing is that at some point, each of those people were in fact responsible for some kind of misunderstanding or error in the past, but they always blamed them for some other misdeed at the wrong time. This was especially true regarding both Ciara and Spike’s relationships with Cheyenne, including how Spike and Cheyenne ended up marrying each other, as well as the details surrounding her death. We know that Spike only turned towards Cheyenne all those years before out of frustration that Ciara never seemed to notice his attempts to woo her.

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All these years later he’s insistent that he did actually love Cheyenne with all his heart, but it’s kind of difficult for us to understand seeing as we never saw any affectionate moments between them. The only Cheyenne-focused scenes we did see involved Cheyenne being pretty manipulative in her pursuit of Spike, even though she knew her sister was infatuated with him. Spike blames himself for Cheyenne’s death, and Ciara initially blamed Spike as well, but both also admitted that Cheyenne wanted to be there with Spike during some kind of dangerous biker mission. It seemed like the only person they didn’t always involve in the blame game was the man who actually pulled the trigger to kill Cheyenne in the first place! It wasn’t until the very last moment of the book that we got a quick and rather intense focus from Spike on revenge towards Cheyenne’s killer.

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Series: The MC Sinners, book 2.

Final Impressions: This read definitely started strong, as you can’t help but wonder how Spike and Ciara’s strong friendship from so many years ago devolved into pure hatred in the present day. Will they be able to move on from their misunderstandings of the past? The main issue with this book though is in the execution of the story. This constant back and forth from past to present, and the lengthy delay in finding out how their friendship broke down when they were younger goes on for far too long. There was too much focus on their bickering, which resulted in the highly dramatic and suspenseful conclusion to feel rushed.

Smut Level: Spike definitely takes Ciara out of her sexual comfort zone, including going to a sex club where they watch others engage in sexual acts from behind a one-way mirror. Ciara can’t help but feel an initial sense of shame for liking something which seems so perverted. However, he teaches her how to embrace her desires. Hell, I guess when you think about it it’s basically just like watching live-action porn!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 260 Pages

Locke by Harper Sloan

Alas, it’s time to say goodbye to the members of Corps Security. This series has been brimming with alpha male tendencies from start to finish!

What’s it About? 

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Darkness is the only thing I see. Ever since the day my life changed. The day that everything and everyone I held close to me ceased to exist. The day I lost it all and the demons of my past consumed my every waking moment.

I tried to keep others at arm’s length. Tried not to let my darkness taint them. Ruin them. Harm them. And whether I want to admit it or not, as much as I wish I could keep them locked out, they refuse to leave. Refuse to let me suffer alone.

If I hadn’t been so focused on keeping those demons from flying free, I wouldn’t have missed how one perfect angel was able to sneak her way under my skin—refusing to let go. Making me want things I don’t deserve.

She consumes me. Her beauty knows no end. The love she promises tempts me every time she’s near. But that pure heart that makes her MY Emmy is the one thing I’m convinced I’ll destroy if I ever let her close.

I’m a broken man. A broken man with too much darkness in his soul to ever let her light shine upon me. But even that doesn’t stop me from craving her with every single breath in my body.

First Impressions

Emmy and Locke’s relationship has been playing out over the last two novels, so with the opening moments of this final book it sort of feels like we’re coming smack dab into the middle of their tale. In a way we’ve missed the meet cute, the initial attractions, and the fundamental draw of what connected them in the first place. That “thing” that sets each of them apart from any other love interest who has come before. With the start of this book we dive right into the complexities and intricacies of their relationship which has previously been established. You’re almost expected to remember all of the details, with very little recap or summary provided. Because we’ve only seen minor glimpses and insinuations of their attraction in the background scenes of the previous books, it seems we’ve missed out on some of the important first moments of their relationship.

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A Life in Sin

Even if we don’t necessarily know what drew Emmy and Locke together in the first place, an important aspect of their pasts that they both share are some unbelievably heartless family members. Specifically in regards to their mothers. These are women who laugh in the face of a daughter having been raped, or a son who suffered through the losses of war and an adulterous fiancée. While Emmy and Locke have both been heavily influenced by the tragic events of their pasts which are directly tied to the actions of their family, the novel focuses much more attention and depth into Locke’s recovery from his past tragedies. Those which Emmy encountered at the hands of her parents and one of their employees was barely touched upon in comparison. Emmy grew up being groomed by both of her parents to be the head act of their strip club, Sin, and didn’t see any problem or intervention necessary when she was continuously raped by one of their employees.

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Her goal in life was always to escape from this hell she had to live through every day, and ultimately it was Coope who provided the assistance necessary years beforehand to leave that life behind. And yet, after Coope’s death in a previous book, we see that she willingly goes back to that life. She voluntarily goes right back to Sin, into the scheming hands of her parents, and back to the abuse of her rapist. She could have gone anywhere in the world, but Emmy chose to go back there. Unfortunately we never really explore the psychology of this monumental decision, but rather get a brief mention that for some reason she thinks she deserves to be where she is. Eventually Emmy reflects on how much Coope risked to get her out of there all those years ago, and laments the fact she’s right back where she started. However, in the end it is Locke who succeeds in removing her from this abusive environment a second time. She never really takes it upon herself to confront her past directly. Things happen to her or around her, but she never really has the choice to heal from the pains of her past.

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Confronting the Past

As for Locke, we see a full exploration of the hurt caused by his family, his ex-fiancée who left him for his brother, and the aftermath of losing his leg in war. Emmy also makes the astute observation that due to his past with a scheming, backstabbing fiancée he doesn’t believe in love…for himself. He’s actually fully supportive of all his friends who have found love in their lives, and has always been the one to push them into the arms of their forever person. Emmy helps him confront his past slowly, piece by piece, and even helps him find professional help to resolve the areas too deep for her to assist with. The novel concludes with Locke finally facing the demons of his past head on, and letting them know how much better his life is now without them. And yet, we see no final moment of resolution for Emmy. She has no heart-to-heart discussion with her parents, no ultimate face-off to finally stand up on her own two feet. Instead Locke is always the one to solve her problems for her, with Emmy remaining in the background.

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Series: Corps Security, book 6. The final book in the series. 

Final Impressions: Overall a satisfying conclusion to the series, as we see a final overview of each of our couples from the previous books. More time is spent observing the tragedies that both Emmy and Locke suffered through in their respective pasts rather than recapping the details of how their relationship got off the ground in the first place. Ultimately it seems that Locke is provided with more opportunities to directly confront his issues head-on, whereas Emmy never really as the chance to stand-up to her parents who cause her so much pain. We do get a very suspenseful confrontation between Emmy and her rapist, but this wasn’t so much her confronting her past as it was her past coming back to confront her.

Smut Level: Locke is the king of delayed gratification, multiple orgasms, and dirty talk.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 271 Pages.

Under the Skin by Zara West

Well folks, the time has come to bid a fond farewell to the The Skin Quartet series, as we’ve arrived at the fourth and final installment of the bunch. This time it’s Hanger’s turn to find romance in the tough city streets of New York. It’s been ten years since we last saw this spunky street kid graffiti artist, and he’s now grown into a wealthy and sophisticated architect. Or has he?

What’s it About? 

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Born poor and raised on the streets, celebrated bridge builder and billionaire, Mic Vargas is knee-deep in the construction of a trouble-plagued bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey. He really can’t afford to take in a stray thief and fall in love with her. But when a beautiful, snappy-tongued, illegal immigrant literally drops at his feet, he becomes consumed with saving her and her family from poverty.

Cat burglar, Lena Correr stopped trusting anyone long ago. Not even a rich, handsome billionaire with good intentions can break through her defenses. At least, not until an East Coast crime boss threatens her family and forces her to steal for him. Mic vows to help her and her family escape the hell they are in. But will the man Lena is coming to love succeed, or will he end up dead at the hands of an old enemy?

First Impressions

Of all the books contained within this series, this final novel proves to have the most poignant, thought-provoking, and perhaps relatable observation of them all. Up until this point, we have seen a focus on characters who were wealthy billionaires, tattoo artists, and some who lived on the streets. In this final novel we see a focus on Mic, a man who just ten years before was a kid living on the streets, putting up graffiti tags all over the city with his protective sister. He’s now a successful architect, richest beyond his wildest imagination. He lives in an expensive townhouse with fancy clothes, a soft bed, warmth, and plenty of food. And yet, who is he really when you peel away all the outer layers of perceived wealth? Who is he under the skin?

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We’ve all heard the phrase “money can’t buy happiness”, and in this novel we see an examination of how true that statement can be. For even though Mic now seemingly has everything he ever dreamed of and more, underneath it all he misses his former life living on the streets. It may not have been glamorous or safe. He may have gone to bed cold and hungry, but he lived his life the way he wanted, unbound by rules and people dictating where he could and couldn’t go. This observation that Mic carries out throughout the novel in regards to how his life has turned out grounds us as the reader. It encourages self-reflection, and for each of us to consider who we might be when we remove the facade of what others might expect of us.

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Two Peas in a Pod

This deep introspection of who a person truly is on the inside carries over into Mic’s interactions and eventual relationship with Lena. Upon first meeting, Mic has a basic surface-level impression of this young woman. She’s a thief. A child of the streets, just like he used to be. But by having come from that world, Mic understands that there is often more beneath the surface that can drive a person to sometimes do terrible things. Mic becomes transfixed to discover how this beautiful young woman resulted to thievery in order to solve her problems in life.

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As we learn who Lena is under her own skin, we discover that Mic’s initial inkling that there was more to her than meets the eye was entirely accurate. Lena steals, not for herself, but for her family. As undocumented immigrants in a big city, her mother and little brothers have few options, and she’s taken it upon herself to ensure they make it through each day in one piece. Her fall into thievery was not done because of greed, but rather survival and caring for her family. Lena was initially on the path to becoming a nurse, but when her father was deported, and the scumbag lawyer who defended him demands an exorbitant fee, Lena has no choice but to result to a life of crime. We soon see that her life is much like Alice’s, in that once she makes that first fall through the rabbit hole, things start spiraling out of control very quickly.

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The Spiral

Another successful point of this story is that it manages to keep you on your toes from start to finish. Every time you think there might be a lull in the suspense, another dramatic element will be introduced just at the right time to ensure you’re still paying attention. On the one hand, we see some shady and questionable issues surrounding Mic’s latest bridge project. On the other, things start to spiral out of control as Lena’s success as a thief draws the attention of one very seedy character who becomes intent on drawing her into his world of crime. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her over to his side, even if he has to threaten the safety of her mother and brothers to do so.

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Mic is intent on helping Lena and her family escape whatever trouble it is they’ve found themselves in, to the point where he’s willing to brush aside the turmoil of his own life in order to focus all his attention on saving this woman who has quickly come to mean so much to him. Lena constantly struggles with the question of  whether or not she should put her trust in Mic, or if she should instead do whatever she can to push him out of her life to spare him any hurt. These inner debates were successful in building up the intensity and unpredictability of a scene, yet also incredibly frustrating at times. We see her logic in the fact that she barely knows this man, and that by asking him for help she might be placing him in extreme danger that he might not be able to get them out of. At the same time though, you just want to scream at her to take the helping hand that’s being offered, to hold on with all her might and never let go.

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

Series: The Skin Quartet, book 4. It was an absolute delight to reconnect with old friends from throughout the entire series, as well as thrilling to see a few familiar foes come back into the mix as well.

Final Impressions: Even though Lena and Mic have a dramatic initial meeting, you can’t help but notice that for a good portion of the first third or so of the novel, they don’t really spend any time in each other’s immediate presence. However, that first impression was all it took for them to spend practically ever waking moment contemplating the other. It adds to the intense need of their relationship, yet also helps contribute to those moments where they can’t seem to fully trust each other seeing as they barely know each other. While there was a constant roller coaster of suspenseful moments throughout the novel, the final conclusion did seem a bit rushed over, and possibly with some loose ends still left unfinished. When all was said and done there was a lot of havoc wreaked upon our primary characters, seemingly without end for a decent amount of time, and it was rather jarring to discover that the reason behind a good portion of this pain was quite trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Smut Level: Glow-in-the-dark condom…with black light. Need I say more?

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 217 Pages.

Slow Burn by J.H. Croix

Slow burn? More like a fast moving five-alarm fire of lust!

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I put out fires for a living. I can take some heat. But Maisie drives me crazy. She’s smart-mouthed, sarcastic and argumentative. This town’s too small for both of us. But she works for me. Unfortunately. It’s a big no-no for me to want her. She’s brash and beautiful and tempts me beyond distraction. There are different kinds of fire, and this one will make her melt. There’s only one problem: this fire might be too hot for both of us.

First Impressions

This romance has a strong start. Maisie still considers herself a newcomer to this small Alaska town, having moved here permanently after the death of her grandmother. It’s a place where everybody knows everybody’s business, yet she prefers to stay reserved to the background without making any waves. Too bad she’s drawn the attention of local playboy firefighter, Beck Steele. If that’s not the perfect name for a hot shot flirtatious male lead, I don’t know what is! Ever since she started working as the emergency call operator in their fire station, Beck has been smitten with this city girl who seems immune to his charms. Little does she know that simply makes him want to tease and flirt with her all the more.

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When Beck unexpectedly discovers Maisie showering in the fire house due to a lack of hot water at her own place, his first glance at her naked body covered in soapy suds has him done for. They’re both consenting adults who clearly have a steamy attraction to each other, and he proposes they finally give into the passion which has been simmering just under the surface since they first met. Will their fiery connection fizzle out after a few rolls between the sheets, or will they also see the ignition of an emotional connection? Alright, that’s about all the subtle fire puns I can fit into one introduction.

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Willow Brook

The other townsfolk of Willow Brook are just as much a part of this story as Maisie and Beck. In spite of Maisie sometimes wanting to close herself off from feeling too much for the people in this small town, we see that they’re even more stubborn in their attempts to draw her into their fold. Once Maisie and Beck start exploring a more intimate relationship with each other, we see them try to keep this a secret, especially from the other men in the fire station who might develop a negative impression of Maisie. However, their connection is so strong it quickly becomes clear to those around them that they care for each other. They’re especially excited to see Beck, one of their own who has always limited himself from spending too much time with any one woman, falling so hard for Maisie. It doesn’t take long before they start to see her as own of their own, and will do anything to protect her and see that she and Beck find the happily ever after they both deserve.

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Beyond the Flames

Whenever we have a romance featuring a firefighter, we all expect a certain level of intensity and suspense surrounding such a dangerous profession. It’s not surprising that this can often prove a point of contention between couples in a romance novel. However, this is a feature which surprisingly never rises to prominence in Slow Burn. As a matter of fact, when you go beyond the developing relationship between Maisie and Beck, there’s a definite lack in any real struggle or drama to the plot. What we have here is essentially a focus on how two people explore a sexual relationship with each other, and how their physical connection eventually evolves into one of love. Towards the end of the novel there’s a brief introduction of Maisie’s troubled father who often seeks her out to provide him with money. While this is used as an opportunity to highlight how Beck and the townspeople of Willow Brook will always have Maisie’s interests at heart, it never develops into a dramatic side plot that one would expect.

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Series: Into the Fire, book 2. I haven’t read the first novel in this series, and while the couple from book one makes a reappearance in this sequel, I had no trouble delving right into this second book.

Final Impressions: Overall we’re presented with a slew of enjoyable characters, from our main couple to the other residents of this small Alaska town. Our romance starts strong, with Maisie and Beck having a teasing flirtation between them that quickly develops into something physical. While we are rooting for our characters to end up together, you also can’t help but notice a slight lack of substance to the plot.

Smut Level: Showers prove to be the sexual locale of choice for these two, whether it be in the firehouse, or back at Maisie’s place. I hope they can keep their balance!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 252 Pages.

Desert Rose by J. Arlene Culiner

A woman who lives for the moment. Who enjoys her own company. A woman who acknowledges that long-term relationships can eventually turn flat with a lack of excitement. Is…is this my doppleganger?!?

What’s it About? 

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A secret life is the best protection against love…Men love Rose Badger, and if the other inhabitants of dead-end Blake’s Folly, Nevada, don’t approve, she couldn’t care less. With a disastrous marriage far behind her, settling down is the last thing she intends to do. Isn’t life for fun? Doesn’t a stable relationship always mean predictability and boredom? Well… perhaps things might be different with Jonah Livingstone, but he is off limits for anything other than friendship. Even though he’s started a slow burning fire inside her, he’s still entangled in a complicated past relationship. And Rose has another secret life—one that she’ll never give up for any man.

The last person geologist Jonah Livingstone expected to meet in a semi-ghost town is Rose Badger. She’s easy-going, delightfully spontaneous, and Jonah is certain their attraction is mutual. But Rose is always surrounded by a crowd of admirers and doesn’t seem inclined to choose a favorite. Though Jonah has also suffered a failed marriage, he can’t help being drawn to Rose—and he dares to hope she may feel the same for him. But is Jonah too independent to settle into a permanent relationship again? He’s leading his own very private life, as well…and secrets are an excellent protection against love. Will he do what it takes to hold on to his DESERT ROSE?

First Impressions

Rose and Jonah come from very different backgrounds. He’s a university professor who’s benefited from education all his life. She’s a high school drop out who now owns a second-hand clothing store, and her family has a history of prostitution and alcoholism. In spite of their different backgrounds, they’re still able to connect over those shared interests which can bring a couple together. For the case of Rose and Jonah, it’s the love of music. Russian music to be exact. Different time periods, sure, but it’s still an interest that they can discuss, and even learn more about from each other. As they spend more time together we also see a rise in their own insecurities. For Jonah, he sees himself as one of many admirers who always seem to be following Rose around like a lost puppy. Everywhere she goes in Blake’s Folly, she’s surrounded by men hoping to spend time with her, and he worries that she just seems him as another one of the crowd. Perhaps he’s too plain and boring with his love of fossils to stand out among the other lads vying for her attention.

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As for Rose, I even feel like the big reveal of her past demonstrated that she put more weight and judgement behind it than Jonah, or even we as the audience did. Whenever she would talk about the sordid past of her brothel-working grandmother, or not knowing the identity of her father, and her mother being a lowly drunk I thought…so what? Rose is still an awesome person who seems like she’d be a hoot to be around. The somewhat troubled pasts of her family members, and even her own difficult past as a musician in the big city, may have molded her into the person she is today, but they by no means negatively impacted her personality. They made her strong, caring, and even proud of certain aspects of her background. She managed to find a positive light in some of the darkness of her family’s past. Her love of Russian folk music in particular turns out to be not only a big part of who she is today, but also binds her to the future love of her life.

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Standing Out From the Crowd

Even though Jonah feared that he would simply get lost in the wave of admirers surrounding Rose in her every day life, he actually manages to do something which sets him apart from all the rest. He asks Rose questions. He quickly recognizes that she always tries to turn the focus of a conversation away from herself, and he doesn’t fall for this standard ploy of hiding from others. Instead, Jonah succeeds in getting her to open up about herself, and in those moments is able to demonstrate his total selflessness, as well his definite interest in getting to know as much about Rose as possible. It also makes Rose feel vulnerable. Keeping secrets has always given Rose an air of mystery that has drawn men to her, and she now worries that because Jonah has seen every part of her he’ll either tire of her and move on, or not like what he sees lying behind the walls she’s erected around herself.

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Secret, Secrets Are No Fun

In the beginning, secrets are a dominant feature of Jonah and Rose’s relationship. Not only does Rose not want to share the details of her family history, but she’s also keeping secret something which she doesn’t even deign to share with her fellow citizens of Blake’s Folly. Now don’t worry, it’s nothing illegal or exceedingly shocking, it’s actually the details of her musical past and present, including the fact she sings every Saturday for a Russian cultural club in the city.

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As far as the secrecy of Jonah’s life, this has more to do with a misunderstanding, and possibly even a misleading situation. The whole impetus behind Rose and Jonah’s first meeting was that he stopped into her shop to buy a necklace for another woman. Jewelry…for another woman…who isn’t his mother? This doesn’t look too good, does it? While he openly admits it’s a gift for a woman he’s living with, he remains pretty tight-lipped about the identity of this woman, and Rose has no choice really but to assume it’s someone that Jonah is romantically involved with. This designates the beginning of their relationship as one bound to the “friend-zone”. While Rose might love to flirt with other men, she’s not one to pursue a man already in a relationship, so she tries to limit their interactions to ones that “friends” would do. By Rose acting more reserved around Jonah, he in turn assumes that she’s not into him as much as he is into her. Eventually they have a heart-to-heart about the true identity and background situation of the woman living with Jonah, and it’s a rather interesting turn of events.

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Jonah openly admits that he didn’t make things as clear as he should have about the identity of this woman, and that he is to blame for the misunderstanding. However, he also scolds Rose slightly for essentially thinking the worst of him. At this point in the book, they have developed a pretty strong friendship. While they won’t admit the deeper stirrings of affection which are bubbling between them, they can’t deny they’ve grown close and have certainly come to care for each other. This is why Jonah can’t help but be slightly hurt over the fact that Rose’s first assumption would be that he’s just a typical cheater. I certainly understand his view on this, but you also can’t help but understand Rose’s misunderstanding on the whole situation.

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If they had been friends for a while, and then Jonah were to admit his living with another woman, I could probably sympathize more with his frustration over Rose thinking he was cheating. However, seeing as this misunderstanding was bred from their very first meeting, and he made multiple mentions of this woman throughout their time together without clarifying who she was, I don’t think we can necessarily fault Rose for holding onto this initial misunderstanding. After all, she didn’t know anything about his nature at that point to be able to determine for sure if her assumption was true or false. If she had this idea during their first meeting, we can see how this misconception could balloon up bigger and bigger as they spent more time together, and Rose herself felt more remorseful as her feelings for Jonah continued to grow. I think it’s one part of their story that didn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer as to how it was handled.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: The relationship between Jonah and Rose felt “real”. Some of the misunderstandings and circumstances surrounding their time together may have been somewhat dramatized, but I enjoyed that the emotions they evoked felt natural. These were two people who had a friendship which developed into something more intimate. They were attentive in learning about the hobbies and interests of the other person, just as anyone would do in a real relationship outside of the romance novel world. I do wish this book had been slightly longer, as I think it would have been interesting to focus more attention on Rose’s various admirers, as well as her relationship with her mother. There probably could have been some features with more depth and exploration which went beyond Rose and Jonah constantly questioning whether or not the other person liked them as much as they did, but overall I’d say it was a good read.

Smut Level: Only one love scene, but it definitely has some heat to it! It certainly packs a punch in spite of how quick it was.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Fire Star Press. 152 Pages.

Their No-Strings Affair by Charlotte O’Shay

Just when you think life is throwing you nothing but curve balls, it might just throw a sexy Italian former SEAL turned security expert in your line of sight. Over and over and over again.

What’s it About? 

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Honey packs everything she owns and heads to NYC to jumpstart her art career. Her cheating boyfriend is history, and she finally acknowledges the truth of her mother’s mantra: Careers are forever and happily ever after isn’t in their DNA.

All she needs is a job and a place to live. What she doesn’t need is a taciturn, sexy, ballbuster but she’s woman enough to know the difference between need and want. Isn’t she?

Jake’s childhood was marred by tragedy and his future hijacked to a promise born of guilt. His failure drove him to a career as a SEAL and a security expert.

But it’s not enough. Now he’ll give up his freedom in reparation for the life he lost. Honey may be the last sweet stop on the road to a joyless future. If it’s what they both want, where’s the harm in a no-strings affair?

First Impressions

There are meet-cutes, and then there are meet-cuuuuuuuutes! There’s nothing better than a romantic meet-cute that puts a smirk on your face and makes your toes curl. The beauty of this novel is we essentially get three distinct meet-cute moments rolled into one relationship, and each scenario is just as smirk inducing as the next. Honey and Jake’s first meeting concludes rather quickly, but Jake can’t deny a moment of attraction to the little spitfire who wasn’t afraid to stand up and push back against his intimidating stature. As it would turn out, fate had more in store for these two. They’re drawn together rather serendipitously two more times, and it’s delightful how after each of these meetings they assume they’ll never see the other again. You can’t help but love the subsequent moments of shock, mixed with delight, when they reconnect again and again. Eventually they both determine enough is enough, and they decide to give into this attraction simmering between them. However, even though their affair might not have any strings attached, it does have a time limit.

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The Looming Deadline

We’ve all come across romances where the lead couple mutually decides to engage a no-strings-attached sexual relationship. No expectations, no heavy emotions, just sex. Aaaaand we all know that those never work out in romance novel land. An additional feature to this trope though that provides a bit of a twist to what we’re used to is the fact that Honey and Jake’s time together has an ending. They’re not just planning on jumping into bed with each other until things get boring between the sheets. Nope, they designate a time period together of one month. At the end of that month they’ll both go their separate ways. Honey will have an all important and time consuming internship beginning when that month is over, and Jake will be moving to Italy. This looming deadline results in both Honey and Jake wanting to take full advantage of all the time they have together.

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Now, a very small and cynical part of me wondered if the time limit to their relationship may have resulted in their emotional connection being put into hyper-drive. I even questioned if things may have eventually fizzled out between them had they not had this looming one month deadline hanging over their heads. However, something that squandered these musings was the fact that Jake and Honey truly did seem to have a connection that went beyond the physical. It wasn’t just sex. For either of them. This was particularly evident during a scene when they cooked dinner together, as they realize they’re both opening up to each other in a way they’ve never done with another person before. It seems like such a simple activity, making dinner, and yet it highlighted a level of intimacy to their relationship where they were both happy to simply be in each other’s presence, chatting, cooking away, and with their clothes on no less.

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“The rest of his life would be divided into the time before he met her and the time since.”

The Mothers

An intense and burning attraction isn’t the only thing that Jake and Honey share. They both have a rather complicated history with their respective mothers that helped shape who they are today. For Honey, her mother was always a wanderer; a woman caught up in her career who traveled from place to place with her daughter in tow. When Honey was just a teenager her mother married another man, and had twin boys. Not one to be tied down, it wasn’t long before Honey’s mom was off chasing another story, and her presence in her children’s lives was few and far between. Honey could have gone on the road with her mom, but even at a young age she knew she wanted to settle in one place, and ultimately the bulk of the care for her half-brothers fell on Honey’s shoulders. The lack of her mother’s presence in her life meant Honey didn’t always have a nurturing woman’s perspective to lean on when it came to relationships or friendships. It might not have resulted in the most stable childhood home environment, but the love for her brothers made her the caring and quirky woman that Jake couldn’t help but fall in love with.

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Honey’s relationship with her mother was no picnic, but it was a damn feast aplenty compared to the relationship that Jake had with his own mother. For years Jake has been plagued with nightmares wherein he relives the death of his brother when they were both young teenagers. Jake blames himself for his brother’s death, something which he became increasingly convinced of when his mother openly blamed him for the death as well. Cesco was the golden child that his mother preferred, and she always viewed Jake as a “spare”. Following Cesco’s death, she not only laid an enormous amount of guilt upon Jake’s shoulders, but she pressured him throughout the years to pick up the life that Cesco would have led by marrying into a wealthy Italian family to carry on their impeccable lineage.

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To see how this strong former SEAL could crumble under the weight of so much misplaced guilt was heartbreaking. He’s obviously hesitant to share too much of his past with Honey, especially seeing as it has an immediate impact on their time together. He’ll be moving to Italy at the end of the month to marry whoever his mother has deemed worthy for him. The fact he’s willing to give up the rest of his life in the hopes that fulfilling this familial obligation will make the nightmares featuring his brother go away was a straight punch to my emotional hand-basket! I did appreciate that while Honey does offer him some solace and comfort, it is ultimately Jake who must find the strength within himself to stand up to his mother to live his own life, and not the one she hoped Cesco would lead one day.

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New York, New York

I am a city girl through and through, but I will be the first to admit that New York City is not my favorite town. There are big cities, and then there’s New York. It’s a whole other level of huge that simply isn’t for me. Something that Charlotte O’Shay managed to do with this novel was turn New York City into a primary character. Throughout the novel we see the city come alive to act as both friend and foe to our lead couple. It succeeds in drawing them together, yet also acts as a barrier which can separate them. I appreciated that at the start of the book we do see a darker side to the city, and how it can prove to be an imposing obstacle to a newcomer like Honey. It’s not as though things are all sunny and perfect like in a Friends apartment scene.

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And yet, we also see that in spite of it’s size, Honey and Jake succeed in surreptitiously finding each other numerous times in such a huge city throughout the span of the book. It would seem that fate doesn’t see the Big Apple as such an imposing force. One of my favorite scenes in particular was when Jake chose to share a special tradition from his childhood with Honey. They’re able to connect over a unique feature of the city, and it’s a special moment that makes it seem as though Jake and Honey have been able to find a small corner of intimacy just for themselves in the midst of the hustle and bustle of NYC. Now, is the representation of what can happen in New York 100% accurate? Probably not. Unless of course you know of another sexy security expert willing to rent out a floor of his fully-furnished and renovated townhouse for a reasonable price that I just didn’t know about 🙂

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

Series: City of Dreams, book 3. It was so much fun to see a few glimpses here and there of the characters from the first two novels.

Final Impressions: Based on how the story began with our characters coming together so many times in some rather comedic circumstances, I initially assumed this was going to be a rather light-hearted tale. I should have known that this series has a tendency to pack in some emotional punches, and this third novel proves no exception. Jake’s complicated relationship with his mother was especially intriguing, and you can’t help but hold your breath in anticipation at their eventual confrontation. I do wish Honey could have had a similar heart-to-heart moment with her own mother, but at the end of the day this story is about Honey and Jake. A key feature to the success of their relationship wasn’t just sexual compatibility, even though they have that in spades, but rather the natural ease with which they could simply be with each other. In these moments Jake didn’t have to worry about living up to his mother’s expectations, and Honey didn’t have the added burden of looking after her brothers or supporting herself in the city. They could simply forget all their worries and enjoy being themselves with each other. But yes, sexual compatibility was definitely a plus!

Smut Level: When you have a scene involving a man giving a tour of his newly renovated kitchen to a potential love interest, you can practically guarantee one thing with absolute certainty. At some point or another…we’re gonna have some kitchen counter sex!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 234 Pages.