A Lord to Love by Sara Dobie Bauer

This is one of those novellas that will be over before you know it, and leave you craving for more!

What’s it About? 51-6F+eseoL

During negotiations for a truce between the feuding Price and Morgan families, Lord John Morgan makes a shocking offer: he will give the Price family their land, in exchange for Harrison Price’s hand in marriage. John has long been enamored with Harrison, the beautiful son of his late rival. Harrison is nineteen, inexperienced, and known for being cold and bitingly brilliant. The union seems impossible, but John is determined to win the affections of his young obsession. Will the frigid Harrison concede, or will the object of John’s adoration leave him alone at the altar?

First Impressions

I didn’t realize before starting this book just how quick of a read it was going to be! One night before bed I figured I’d start on it, maybe finish a few chapters before catching some zzz’s. Next thing I know thirty minutes have passed and I’ve reached “The End”! This would be a great quick read to take to the beach, although truth be told you’ll probably be finished with it by the time your first coat of sunscreen actually sinks in. Technically this reads as a historical regency romance, though we can tell it’s not necessarily set in a true historical time period seeing as John and Harrison can be fully open about their love with everyone around them. It’s simultaneously delightful to feel like you’re set in the time of Pride and Prejudice, yet also rather sad to acknowledge that such an open romance between two men could never take place in society at that time.

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Romantic Blackmail? 

Does John blackmail Harrison into agreeing to marry him? Eehhhh not reaaaaally…but kind of. The long and short of it is that Harrison always had the option to say “no” when John offered to return Harrison’s family land in exchange for his hand in marriage. It’s never called into question that if Harrison had said no, John most likely would have still proceeded with the negotiation to return it sooner or later. After suggesting the exchange, John lets Harrison think on his proposal, and doesn’t even provide a quick timeline or ultimatum which would make it seem like Harrison had no choice in the matter.

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That being said, we can’t deny that John is sort of using Harrison’s recent familial loss as a way to win the man he’s always wanted. For the past several years, John has been in a land dispute with Harrison’s father over the fact that a zoning technicality actually places their family’s cemetery plot within John’s property line. Harrison hasn’t been able to lay flowers on his mother’s grave for three years, and now he must bury his recently deceased father. When John has it written into the negotiated paperwork that he’ll give back the land for free on the condition of receiving Harrison’s hand in marriage? Well, we won’t say he forced him into marriage, or took advantage of his grief, but he may have given him a slight poke in the ribs.

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Learning to Live Again

Harrison has always been known in society as a rather closed-off individual. He’s been surrounded by melancholy for the last three years since his mother’s death, and now his father has passed on as well. He’s been overcome with grief due to so much death that he’s forgotten what it’s like to live. John is the one to remind how. One of the most emotional scenes in the book involves Harrison seeming completely crestfallen at the prospect of spending the rest of his life alone without the two people he’s loved most in this world. John encourages him to realize that while it might be difficult to imagine, things will inevitably get better with time. He just has to remember to live. The fact that Harrison has to ask John, “What is living” is such a heartbreaking reminder that he has forgotten what it feels like to be alive.

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Through John’s loving attention, kisses and embraces, he remembers. He remembers those moments years ago where John would stare transfixed at him from across a ballroom; remembers what it was like to have a far away crush on this man; remembers what it’s like to feel. Towards the end of the novel Harrison declares that “he remembers” in reference to John’s undivided attention all those years before. I like to think it not only signifies he remembers the longing looks that another man bestowed upon him, but that he also remembers back to a time before the death of his parents, before he was overcome by grief, and that he remembers what “living” used to feel like. The fact that John is the one to reawaken this passion for life demonstrates the depth of their connection.

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“You will never again forget to live–and you will never, ever forget you are loved.”

The Beauty of Music

John’s seductive stares might have been powerful all those years ago, but they weren’t what drew this couple together. In a way, music was actually the driving force behind their relationship. John first noticed Harrison’s hands as he played the violin at a dinner party years before, and his clear devotion to music was what made John start paying attention to this young man. Harrison was always too shy to willingly perform his music in public without the urging of his family, so it’s a sight that John hasn’t seen again in all that time.

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Once John grants Harrison access to his family’s cemetery once again we see Harrison play the violin at his parent’s graves before breaking down into sobs, admitting that he only used to willingly play for his mother before she died. It was a gift he only chose to share with her. We know this is probably the most sacred part of himself, and after John and Harrison spend more time together he chooses to share this special gift with John. It’s a beautiful moment between these two lovers, and it’s proof of how much Harrison has come to trust and love this man in such a short amount of time. As a musician myself, I must say that John’s fascination with Harrison’s ability to play, and Harrison expressing his love for John through music was probably my favorite feature of their story.

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“I love music. The way it makes me feel. And I love you. You make me feel like music. If I were a romantic, then I’d say you’ve made my life like a song.” 

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I wanted this to be a full-length novel. I wanted more of those descriptions from back when John and Harrison first met, the feud between John and Harrison’s father, and those weeks following John’s rather peculiar proposal which detailed the time they spent getting to know and learning to trust each other. Can you understand and still appreciate the story that’s being told without all of that description? Of course, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a greedy reader who wants to see as much from this couple as she can!

Smut Level: John is Harrison’s first kiss, first love, and first lover. He might be new to intimacy, but the man is a student at Cambridge. Let’s just say he’s a quick study of this whole “pleasure” concept.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Carnation Books. 35 Pages.

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Crash Into Me by K.M. Scott

This novel teaches us a very important lesson. If you’re about to sign a 6 month contract to work for a mysterious billionaire, make sure you read the thing in full!

What’s it About? 51+VRHCWTvL

What would you give up for everything? Tristan Stone was powerful, commanding, sex incarnate. And he wore it all so well. From the moment his mesmerizing gaze met mine, I had no choice but surrender to everything he was. His power. His decadence. His passion. He was all I never knew I needed. He wanted to possess me, and I wanted to be his everything. All I had to do was accept what he offered. But everything has a price. The world he gave me fulfilled my wildest dreams, but would that be enough when the past crashed into the present?

First Impressions

This novel definitely has an intriguing start. Nina is a young artist, putting in some grunt work at a small art gallery in the big city. She’s paying her dues in the hopes that sooner or later she’ll make the connections necessary to open her own gallery or become a professional curator. One night a handsome billionaire approaches her after a gallery showing, and it appears he’s willing to offer her everything she’s ever hoped for. There’s a hint of secrecy around his intentions, and we know that he’s not telling the whole story when it comes to his pursuit of her skills. When Tristan offers her a 6 month contract to select art for his high-end hotels, as well as an impressive salary on top of it, Nina can’t refuse this supposedly amazing opportunity. Only after putting pen to paper does she discover there were some aspects of that contract she glossed over a bit too quickly, such as the fact that she must spend the entire six months living with Tristan in his country home. It makes us wonder what else Tristan might have sneaked into that massive contract of his.

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An Interesting Start 

While we are definitely presented with an intriguing premise of how these two characters came together, I must say things do fall flat rather quickly after that contract is signed. It doesn’t take long for Tristan and Nina to begin a sexual relationship, declare their love for each other, and vow to spend the rest of their lives together. I was surprised that Nina was so quick to push aside the mystery surrounding why Tristan singled her out in the beginning. Instead she focuses more attention on trying to hold his interest as a lover, constantly worried that eventually he’ll come to realize she’s not quite at the same level as he is in terms of sophistication or financial security.

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Throughout the whole thing I kept thinking, ummm there’s probably something else you need to be worried about here. Nina was never really one to go back and question what Tristan’s motives were in pursuing her to begin with. In my opinion, the basic reason for his pursuit was rather evident, as it’s hinted at multiple times throughout the book before being pushed aside to instead focus on their developing relationship. Eventually this feature does come back into play at the very end of the novel, and it does reintroduce that element of intrigue and surprise from the beginning, but it took a bit too long for the story to get back on track and come around full circle. The fact that the signs were rather clear to us as the readers, but Nina chose to ignore or push aside those signs to instead put all of her attention on keeping Tristan in her life was rather frustrating.

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The Deadline Looms

There are two rather fascinating aspects of Tristan and Nina’s relationship which remain prevalent from start to finish. The first revolves around time. The contract that Nina signed is for six months. Practically from the moment she writes her name on the dotted line she immediately starts to question what will happen when those six months are up. It’s a looming deadline, and we really have no idea what it might portend. They both want their relationship to succeed, but they’re both fearful to be too open in admitting that to each other. For Nina, she’s drawn in by Tristan’s charismatic and protective nature. She wants their relationship to succeed, but fears that if she appears too eager, or pries too much into why he sought her out in the first place, it will break whatever it is they’re building together. Perhaps there’s a limit of six months because Tristan intends to toss her out at the end of it. Eventually we see that the opposite is true.

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If anything, Tristan fears the end of those 6 months even more than Nina. He wants her forever, but doesn’t want to scare her away with his devotion, which is why he suggested six months to begin with. He didn’t want her to feel too overwhelmed. So far everyone he’s ever loved throughout his life has left him, and his greatest fear is that Nina will leave him as well. This six month timeline also adds another interesting element to their relationship in that they are both trying to cram in as much of a relationship as they can within those six months. Everything is sped up, and it’s not long before they’re both stating how much they love each other. However, with this escalation to their relationship, we simultaneously realize that it doesn’t allow them to develop a level of trust which is truly necessary for success. They have a mutual jealousy whenever someone of the opposite sex seems to get too close to the other, even if it’s a completely innocent situation in which resentment really wasn’t necessary. In my opinion their intense jealousy didn’t really signify the depth of their admiration for each other, but instead highlighted the infancy and rush of their relationship.

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He’s Got Money Honey

In addition to time, money was also a very important aspect of Tristan and Nina’s relationship. While Nina wasn’t necessarily broke at the start of the novel, Tristan’s offer of a position with a generous salary was definitely something she couldn’t pass up. In a way, we see that money was sort of the underlying linchpin which signaled the start to their relationship. It’s also an aspect which causes Nina to look upon Tristan more favorably in certain situations. If Nina or one of her friends is ever in a bind, Tristan’s instinct is to resolve the matter in some way that requires money. While it would have been easy for Nina to assume that Tristan could only throw money at a problem to make it go away, instead she viewed it as his attempt to take care of her and her loved ones.

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As Nina does more work for Tristan in his hotels, she also starts to realize that more money is being put in her bank account than what they initially agreed upon. When considered in combination with the quickly approaching end to her six month contract, she assumes that he must be trying to placate her financially so that when the six months are up she has no reason to complain. As it turns out, Tristan’s motives were much more heartfelt. He was actually trying to demonstrate that he thinks she’s worth more than the amount which had been set out in her initial contract. Money is all that Tristan has ever had to give anyone that’s meant anything to him, and it’s what he constantly falls back on as a solution. His vulnerability, and almost adolescent response to the prospect of Nina leaving him behind was incredibly captivating. It made me want to learn even more about him. In the epilogue of the novel we finally switch to Tristan’s point of view, and honestly it was probably the strongest point of the book!

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Series: Heart of Stone, book 1. The epilogue of the novel definitely provides a set up for the continuation of Tristan and Nina’s story in the next book. While this first novel had some hits and misses, the ending was intriguing enough that my interest is peaked to continue on with the series. I hope going forward we’ll get to see some of the second book told from Tristan’s point of view, as it was such a strong feature of the epilogue of this novel.

Final Impressions: We definitely see a strong start and finish to the story, but it fell sort of flat after the signing of the contract. Nina was so concerned that Tristan would tire of her and throw her by the wayside that it resulted in her keeping quiet about why Tristan specifically sought her out in the beginning to work for him. It was a frustrating oversight, and when it is reintroduced at the end of the novel, by that point you sort of want to say, well…duh! All in all I think the story could have been pushed one step further.

Smut Level: Tristan and Nina’s sexual relationship sort of straddled the line between over-the-top, and your pretty standard romance novel sexual scenario. We get a bit of dirty talk, some bubble bath time, going down on each other. You know, the usual. But at one point near the start of the novel Tristan brings another couple back to his country home to have sex as he and Nina watch on from behind a one-way glass viewing room so she can paint what their coupling makes them feel. It just felt sort of out of place when we look at their other sexual scenes, and again provided the sense that things either should have been pushed one step further, or the scene should have been eliminated entirely.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Copper Key Media, LLC. 326 Pages

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Confess by Colleen Hoover

I don’t know how I feel about books that start off with a rather depressing opening scene. Maybe it’s because I tend to start new books either right before bed, or I begin new audio books during my walk to work. They simply don’t bode well for a good night’s sleep or a pleasant start to my day!

What’s it About? 

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At age twenty-one, Auburn Reed has already lost everything important to her. In her fight to rebuild her shattered life, she has her goals in sight and there is no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a chance and puts her heart in control, only to discover that Owen is keeping a major secret from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it. To save their relationship, all Owen needs to do is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin.

First Impressions

There’s nothing to pull your attention into a novel quite like two teens in love being separated as the one is lying on his death bed, and the other is being forced to return to her home because everyone views their love as a passing teen obsession that will quickly disappear. A tear-filled scene as Auburn and Adam hope to spend just a few more moments in each other’s arms before they say their final goodbye. Forever. My god does anybody have a freakin’ box of tissues around?! Flash toward 5 years and we see one half of our former teenage couple, Auburn, still living a life filled with sadness and the unfortunate influence of Adam’s mother and brother. There’s an aspect of the story I don’t want to give away, but let’s just say she’s constantly desperate to stay in their good graces, and will give up certain freedoms in her life in order to please them.

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Auburn has been mourning Adam since his death, but one day as she walks through Dallas everything changes. She comes across a one-of-a-kind art gallery in need of an assistant for the next show taking place that same evening, and the artist, Owen, just happens to be a dashing and charismatic young man who makes Auburn feel something for the first time since Adam’s death. Their connection is immediate, and as the evening progresses neither really wants their time together to end. One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the unique nature of Owen’s artwork. The inspiration for his pieces are people’s confessions which he receives anonymously through a slot by his front door. He manages to bring beauty to some rather dark and personal confessions, and while we don’t see any images on the page we can picture them clearly in our minds. Even though Owen makes a living by painting other people’s confessions, he simultaneously acknowledges that some things are worth keeping secret. Including the fact that he somehow already knows who Auburn is.

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A Lack of Confessing

The irony of the title can’t be lost on us. Here is a guy who makes his living based on others providing him with the most intimate of private and anonymous confessions. Yet when it comes to the interactions between Auburn and Owen, both are pretty adamant about keeping the important details of their life a secret from the other. Owen is perhaps keeping a few more whoppers than Auburn is, such as why he missed his first official date with Auburn after the night of the art gallery show. Oh…and the fact that he somehow already knows her from something which happened in their past. At first it seems kind of silly that they are both so close-lipped about such critical details of their lives, and the few times where they seem poised to confess the secrets they’ve been keeping, they are of course interrupted in some way from letting the truth come out.

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However, when you actually think about the fact that they’ve only known each other for a period of two days, it makes a bit more sense why they wouldn’t have been so forthcoming with the most intimate and emotion-packed details of their lives. Sure, their connection is immediate, and they feel a sense of intimacy for each other that they’ve never felt with another person before. That doesn’t mean they’re willing to let down all their walls in such a short period of time. As for us as the reader, I must admit that some of the secrets they were keeping were pretty evident, including some of the repercussions of Auburn’s former relationship with Adam, as well as why Owen missed his first date with Auburn. The one secret that remains a big question mark throughout the majority of the story is how exactly Owen recognizes Auburn, yet as far as she knows this is the first time they ever met.

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Not to be Taken Seriously

Everyone has always belittled Auburn’s relationships with the men in her life. When it came to Adam, others saw their teenage love as something which would be fleeting, and in the long run a small blip in her life. How could two sixteen-year-olds possibly know what true love is? The fact that Adam’s time on this Earth was limited also implied to those witnessing their love story that they were feeling more for each other than they would have had it just been a typical tale of romance between two teens. Nobody could understand how strong their connection was, and they chose to dismiss it for what it was. It sort of makes you question how old someone must be in order for their feelings of love to be taking seriously.

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When it comes to her feelings for Owen, everyone just looks at who they think he is on the outside. A problematic young man who they think is bad news. They don’t try to get to know who he really is, or understand the troubling details of his relationship with his father, as well as the tragic details surrounding his past. In a way, by keeping the details of his past, not to mention the more complicated details of his present, a secret from Auburn she is able to get to know the real him. At one point Owen is on the brink of confessing everything to Auburn, but she asks that he keep everything to himself so that her view of him isn’t tainted by the outside factors of his life that he might not be able to control.

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Unfortunately, some of the secrets which Owen’s been keeping do eventually come to light. Even though those secrets don’t change how Auburn feels about Owen, they both realize that those details can still prevent them from finding happiness with each other because for the people in Auburn’s life those secrets are unforgivable acts. They present a black mark on Owen’s character. Auburn’s ability to look past them are not seen as a positive, but rather is viewed as a slight when it comes to her choices in life. In turn, these secrets of Owen’s result in even more secrets, as Auburn must keep her true feelings for Owen hidden from those who hold such power over her life. If they were ever to discover that Auburn still holds a flame for Owen, and has been seeing him without their knowledge, the repercussions could be disastrous for Auburn to ever find a glimmer of independence.

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From Start to Finish

The true beauty of this book is how everything comes full circle. It takes a while for us to get there, but eventually we get a flashback to the moment which explains how Owen knows Auburn. It’s a moment we almost didn’t get, as Owen muses how he would never confess to Auburn the truth of how he knows her, since it was actually Adam’s confession to tell. I almost thought the book was going to end on that note, and I was on the verge of a “oh HELL no” expletive. However, our book ends with a flashback for us as the audience to witness, even if Auburn will never know the truth. Which I can’t say I fully agree with, but what do I know?

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As we could all probably guess at this point, Owen’s memory of Auburn has to do with the time she was visiting Adam in the hospital when they were all teens. What I wasn’t expecting though was the symmetry of seeing the book open and close with the same scene, with Auburn saying goodbye for the last time to Adam in the hospital before he dies as their families insist she return back home. At the start we saw the scene play out from Auburn’s point of view, but shockingly at the end we see it from Owen’s. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful scene, and all the more poignant seeing everything that Owen and Auburn have suffered through separately and together since this first moment. To see how it was the impetus for Owen’s artwork, as well as the inspiration for the confessions tied to his pieces, well it freakin’ brought me to tears. Ugly tears. I’m talking quivering chin-lip action with gasping breaths here.

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Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: Owen and Auburn’s relationship is a struggle, and when you think about the book as a whole it’s surprising to realize they’ve only spent a grand total of 7 days together in each other’s company. The rest is spent separated from each other by the drama of their lives, but they’re still constantly thinking about each other during that time apart. Our story comes to a climactic and strong finish as we see Auburn finally stand up for herself, and the flashback scene of Owen and Auburn from 5 years prior provided an emotionally charged ending. I do think the story dragged a bit too long in the beginning, as it attempted to build suspense and mystery surrounding Auburn and Owen’s respective secrets. Unfortunately, because these secrets were fairly predictable it seemed like an unnecessary way to draw out the tale. I think I would have preferred a few more scenes of Auburn and Owen together rather than seeing them lament over the time they were separated.

Smut Level: Nothing too steamy all things considered. Love scenes are filled more with an emotional connection than passionate desire

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $9.99 Kindle Price. Atria Books. 321 Pages

The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler

From the city streets of Chicago to the cold wintry landscape of the Rockies, prepare yourself to be entranced by this story of friendship, hardship, and love.

What’s it About? 

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Two crooked hearts have never fit together so perfectly. Orphaned and forsaken, Ivy Porter and Shane McLaughlin band together at the tender ages of eight and ten in order to survive the brutal streets of nineteenth-century Chicago. Years later, displaced by the historic fire that razes the city, the loyal duo migrates to Colorado. The next decade is spent gambling, picking pockets, and scamming rich silver barons, but their hubris pits them against one very determined small-town marshal intent on bringing them to justice.

Throughout, Ivy believes it’s only a matter of time before Shane regards her as someone more than his childhood confidante or partner in crime, but any greater intimacies between them are quelled by Shane’s traumatic past. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the life they’ve cobbled together, Ivy posits an ultimatum, but Shane reacts by revealing a betrayal so deep as to tear them apart.

Benchmarked by two of the greatest natural calamities to take place in nineteenth-century America—the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the catastrophic winter of 1886-87—a final act of faith high in the Rocky Mountains seals the interwoven fates of two childhood friends, a marvelous surprise christened Jack, and the unexpectedly sympathetic lawman who brings them all together again.

First Impressions

To put it as simply and succinctly as possible, this is a beautiful story. We are immediately captivated by the connection of these two characters, and we want to follow along with them for as long as we can. The true beauty of their story is that it’s about trust, which ultimately develops into love. It’s a love that isn’t necessarily romantic at first. They’re literally all the other person has in the world, thereby becoming their whole world, in a sense. In the beginning their trust is one of survival. They meet as children in the rough streets of Chicago, and while timid at first they learn how to come together to survive.

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At times it’s difficult for Ivy and Shane to let anybody else into the tight-knit cohort they’ve formed, again even though it really has nothing to do with romance. They almost have a familial bond. When they eventually do reach the point where they start to feel a level of intimacy that signals a romantic relationship, they must learn to trust each other all over again, this time as a couple. They’ve both seen some terrible things in losing their respective families, living on the streets for most of their lives, and making their way from petty crime to petty con. Even though they’ve both relied on each other for years, they are now attempting to go all in and trust the other with their heart.

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A Journey Across the Country

Ivy and Shane’s relationship is truly a journey, and it’s one which crosses the entire country. The author presents us with a fascinating world that starts off in the mean and busy streets of Chicago, which they must ultimately abandon following the tumultuous and suspenseful Great Fire. We can feel their terror leap off the page, and almost feel the heat of the flames in their mad dash across the city. After this amazing historical travesty we see them enter the next stage of their lives as young adults in the Colorado frontier.

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The author paints us the portrait of yet another world, and portrays a seemingly effortless transition from the busy city streets of Chicago to the quiet yet ruthless mountain towns of Colorado. Even though we start off our tale with Ivy and Shane as children, and we proceed into their teens, early and late twenties, and beyond, not to mention a stark change in scenery, somehow it all flows together beautifully. At no point did it feel disjointed or broken. It lent a feeling of excitement to the progression of the tale, as we never really knew what our characters would encounter next, where they’d be, or at what point in their lives it would be happening.

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From Friends to Lovers

Once our characters end up in Colorado we see they’ve upped their survival game slightly to involve small cons, swindling, pick pocketing and the like. This is also when they both admit an underlying desire for the other, but Shane is especially hesitant to act on it. We all knew they couldn’t hold out forever, and throughout the rest of the book we see different momentous occasions at a few different points in their lives which sometimes bring them together, and other times push them apart. I think what truly helps us connect with these characters is the fact that their lives aren’t just rainbows and butterflies.

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They encounter multiple trials and tribulations throughout their time together which can truly test their trust in each other, as well as their hope in the possibility of making it out together to ultimately find their happily ever after. At times, even we question how they might get out of a situation unscathed, and sometimes they don’t necessarily succeed. Ivy and Shane live a hard life, one that most of us would probably tremble at the thought of living through, and yet through it all we see them consistently lean on each other to help with the weight they carry on their shoulders. We see the good with the bad. Again, theirs is a difficult story, but a beautiful one at the same time.

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Happily Ever After?

Another spectacular feature of this novel is that it certainly keeps you on your toes. I’ve read a plethora of romance novels in my time, and plenty of historical romances to boot. It’s not often that I’m surprised by how a story progresses, but I must say this one definitely threw me for a curve ball or two. At roughly the halfway point, things appear to be going rather swimmingly for our main couple. They’ve both gotten over the awkward hurdle of going from friends to lovers, and they’re ready to start out on a new course in life together. We all know it’s inevitable that they’re about to face some sort of impeccable obstacle. Things have never run completely smoothly for Ivy and Shane, and unfortunately that’s not about to change now. However, the subsequent progression of events caught me completely by surprise. My mouth dropped open in shock a time or two, and you can’t help but wonder how, or if, Ivy and Shane will make it through this difficulty together.

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

Series: Stand-Alone. I’d looooove to see a continuation of this story with some characters we are introduced to at the very end. Maybe see what else history might have in store for this lot.

Final Impressions: This was a story I didn’t want to end. In a way, I almost felt honored to be offered a glimpse into their world, and witness their connection. To see their trust in each other transform from the necessity for survival, to a need to be with each other forever. Theirs isn’t a perfect story. It’s filled with trying moments that put their trust to the test, but through it all you see how nothing can keep them apart.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaamn. This historical romance has some heat to it! These two are each other’s firsts and only’s. It takes several years between their first time together to the point when they really try to make it count. Shane is especially determined to get it right, and talks to a friend of his to take notes on how to bring Ivy to the ultimate pleasure. Gotta love a studious lad who comes prepared 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 315 Pages.

Full Girlfriend Experience by Dana Ross

This book takes place right in my backyard! Welcome to the seedy world of DC politics and scandal.

What’s it About?

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When DC Madam Faith Crawley receives a call from former client, Senator William Drummond, it’s the answer to her prayers. The money the dirty politician offers her to smear his rival Finn Billings will save Faith’s business, her lifestyle, and her girls. Raised in the shadow of a political magnate, Finn Billings has the credentials to get the job done, but he lacks confidence and wonders if politics is truly the life he desires. Using the façade of her front business, a PR firm, Faith turns Finn into a political powerhouse while obtaining the evidence Drummond needs to destroy Finn’s political chances. But Faith didn’t plan on falling in love with her mark. Now she has the toughest decision ever—give the sleazy senator incriminating photos of Finn to save her business or give up everything for the sake of love.

First Impressions

A novel set in Washington, DC? Don’t mind if I do! There’s something about reading a book set in your own environment which makes it that much more fun and interesting to read. DC is practically a supplemental character in this little tale, and the descriptions of how each neighborhood has it’s own personality, from Georgetown to Chinatown, made me absolutely giddy. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at the accurateness of Chinatown specifically, because it really is the saddest little Chinatown I’ve ever come across. Nothing like being able to visit Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or Hooters, with Chinese characters across the facade. It comes across as such a crazy place, with a plethora of unique local characters on every street corner. Possibly overwhelming, or intimidating to an outsider, but believe me when I say it’s not too bad 🙂 The author did a fantastic job of capturing both the beauty of this city, as well as its conniving underbelly. It’s a land of politics, and as we see from this novel sometimes the most well-intentioned people can get caught up in the cross-hairs of their ambitious rivals.

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Full Girlfriend Experience

So you’re all probably asking yourselves at this point, what exactly is “the full girlfriend experience” which this title evokes? Well, when it comes to the world of Madams, it entails a client paying for a level of intimacy that is oftentimes lacking with the typical exchange of money for services you’d expect in prostitution. In a way, it’s almost like paying for companionship rather than sex. Dates, talking, and getting to know each other are the hallmark of the full girlfriend experience, and that’s exactly what our lead character, Faith, is providing for Finn. The only problem is he has no idea that’s what he’s getting, and from an experienced professional no less.

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As far as Finn is aware, Faith is merely an old acquaintance of his father’s who has come on board to help him appeal to a wider audience of voters during his upcoming political campaign. In reality, Faith has been hired by Finn’s opponent with the goal of gaining his trust to eventually attain compromising photographic evidence that would force Finn to concede the election. Nothing like being caught tied up and naked with a Madam to ruin your political career. Faith actually does run a well-known PR firm, but it’s used as a cover to hide the true nature of her underlying business, which is prostitution. Normally this isn’t the kind of job Faith would take on. She’s used to either consulting with politicians and rock stars, or identifying prospective clients for her group of girls or herself to take to bed. Political espionage usually isn’t in the cards. At this point in her life though, Faith is desperate to get a large amount of cash as quickly as possible to save her fledgling business which is on the verge of collapse.

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Our Villainous Heroine

Honestly, I didn’t exactly know how I was supposed to feel emotionally about Faith. She is our heroine after all, which implies that we are supposed to sympathize with her plight. However, at times she comes across as somewhat materialistic and almost shallow. After some time we learn about the unfortunate details of her impoverished past, and it allows us to better understand her appreciation and covetousness of beautiful things. That being said, we also have to question why she would continue to run this prostitution business if she also has a legitimate business operation which was actually running smoothly up until recently. The fact that she continued to run both simultaneously, and possibly risk everything she’s built to get out of the poor life she used to lead made me wonder if she was simply greedy.

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If I had to rethink the structure of the plot to possibly lend an additional sentiment of compassion for Faith, I think I almost would have preferred if she had to fall back on prostitution as a last resort to get her out of her current bind. Perhaps it could have been formatted as though she inherited this business from her former Madam, and she used it to transition to a legitimately legal and reputable PR firm, giving up the prostitution side-gig in the process. However, due to a combination of money troubles, bad investments, and someone from the inside setting her up to fail, she found herself having to go back to her old ways of turning tricks as her only recourse to avoid failing. I think it would have been easier to root for her to succeed in this scenario. Instead, when we get to know how innocent her mark truly is, we almost find ourselves rooting for her to fail in her quest to incriminate the unsuspecting Finn.

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Stealing Innocence

“…his shy expression reminded me of the differences between us, specifically, how he was innocent and I stole innocence.”

When I look back on the interactions between Faith and Finn, I can’t help but compare our female lead to a spider, weaving her web to capture our innocent Finn. It seems like such a rarity these days to encounter someone in the political scene who is inherently good, and completely selfless, yet this is exactly what Finn represents. Sure, he’s a little geeky, a poor dresser, and he’s more passionate about rocks and birds than he is about politics, but I loved him all the same. To put it simply, he’s a good guy who hasn’t been tainted yet by the underhanded dealings of DC politics. Enter Faith.

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As Faith gets to know Finn better it becomes clear a life of politics isn’t really something he wants, but he’s doing it anyway to please his parents and hopefully serve others. At first he is simply another job for Faith. One that will help her save her crippling business and the women under her employ. As she spends more time with Finn she can’t deny the unexpected attraction and closeness she feels for him. She doesn’t want to hurt him, but can’t think of any other way to get out from the financial strains of her business. As the deadline approaches for her to bring him down, Faith basically starts to justify her actions by saying that Finn doesn’t really want a life of politics, so by setting him up she’s actually doing him a favor. Unfortunately I can’t say I really agree with that excuse.

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We see through their time together that Faith does have a modicum of influence over Finn. She gets him to update his wardrobe, change his hair, stop his nervous habits, etc. If she had put a bit more of her energy into convincing him to step away from this life of politics I think she just might have been successful. In the end we have to ask what she’s hoping to gain by going through with this plot. If she captures him in a compromising position and ruins his career for money, will she actually feel right taking that money? And if she doesn’t take that money…then what would it all have been for? She tries to convince herself that she’s not a horrible person for plotting Finn’s downfall, and that there are others who were counting on her to succeed. It was meant to be “for some greater good”. However, as she looks around at the lonely life she’s come to lead, and considers the possibility of crushing Finn in order to protect that solitary life, we also see her question, “What was so great about all this?”

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This book went in a few directions I wasn’t expecting, so it definitely keeps you guessing how Finn and Faith will make it out in one piece. While Faith is our lead character, in a way she’s almost our villain at the same time, which makes it rather hard to like her. Finn was adorable and you can’t help but be drawn in by his innocence. I was hoping to see more street-smarts or conspiring from Faith to overcome the dubious plotting of Finn’s rival, but instead we sort of see her run out of steam towards the end. It’s almost like Faith has run out of faith in herself. When you combine that with Finn as our unsuspecting prey, it’s kind of a melancholy read. It’s not often we find ourselves rooting for a lead character to fail, but you kind of hope she does so that Finn can come away unscathed.

Smut Level: It’s somewhat surprising there wasn’t more smut involved here considering our lead character is a Madam! When you take Finn’s innocence and virginity into consideration though, it makes sense.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 422 Pages

Finding Marnie by MV Ellis

Just when I thought I had Marnie all figured out, this book comes along and turns my opinion completely on its head.

What’s it About? 

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He is everything I want but know I can never have. Every fiber of my being has ached for Luke from the very first moment we met. However, with my parents’ legacy of toxic obsession woven into my DNA, I know love is pain and should be avoided at all costs. I’m unloved and unlovable. Still, in moments of weakness, I allow myself to imagine what it would be like if I was the kind of woman who deserved the love of a man like him.

She is hiding in plain sight, waiting for me to find her. Marnie has had my heart from day one, and always will. It’s just a shame I couldn’t muster the words to tell her so when we first locked eyes. It’s a failing I will live to regret for years to come. However, I’m determined to make things right, even if it takes me a lifetime. I need her to know she is enough. In fact, she is more than that. She is everything.

First Impressions

There are two surefire ways to win me over to a story. First, it must evoke some kind of emotion, whether it be sympathy, happiness, or even anger as it relates to our main characters. Second, if it can manage to change my opinion, or presuppositions surrounding a certain character, then we’ve really got something to talk about. This book manages to succeed in both endeavors. After reading the first three novels in this series, I was under the assumption that I knew everything there was to know about Marnie. A woman who I thought was in love with our rock star Arlo, yet was willing to settle for a f*ck buddy relationship with him.

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When he called off this physical connection with her in favor of pursuing a meaningful relationship with London, it seemed like Marnie spiraled into a drunken depression. And then there’s Arlo’s twin, Luke, who is obviously in love with his brother’s long time lover, but whose sentiments have never been, and possibly never will be reciprocated. Imagine my surprise to discover within the first chapter of this fourth book that the only assumption I had correct in this drama was that Luke was desperately in love with Marnie. You know what they say happens when you assume! As we go along throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be highlighting the assumptions I had about both Marnie and Luke which were presented throughout the series, and then discuss how this fourth installment successfully manages to twist those assumptions on their head.

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A Different Point of View

When it comes to any novel, we must always ask ourselves one important question. Who is telling the story? Up until this point in the Heartless Few series, we’ve seen events play out through two key characters: Arlo and London. Their viewpoints and opinions have influenced how we’ve seen the events of the story carry out, and have also had a profound impact on our assumptions when it comes to certain characters. This has especially been true for how we’ve viewed Marnie, which has primarily been negative. We’ve taken what Arlo and London have thought about her as pure fact, for the simple reason that we’ve never had any reason to doubt their version of things. London has always seen Marnie as competition vying for the attention of Arlo. She’s always been portrayed as a jilted lover who’s constantly wanted more from her relationship with Arlo, and goes into a jealous rage when Arlo’s dedication to London becomes public knowledge. Little did we know that Arlo and London’s interpretation of Marnie’s actions and affections have been completely wrong.

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In this fourth installment, we finally get to see the story play out from the points of view of our supplementary characters: Marnie and Luke. For the first time, Arlo and London have been reduced to the role of background characters, and the entire novel is told from Marnie and Luke’s alternating viewpoints. This allows us to finally see the truth in regards to how Marnie saw her relationship with Arlo, and that there’s actually another Jones brother she’s desired since the beginning. Another unique feature of seeing things told from different characters is that we move away from Arlo being the center of all the drama. Even Marnie and Luke discover that for the longest time they have allowed Arlo to dictate certain aspects of their lives. This is especially true for Luke, who has been living and performing in Arlo’s shadow for years. You can’t help but appreciate the ironic symmetry of what can happen when our secondary characters, and even we as the reader, don’t see Arlo as the center of the story.

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Who is Marnie? 

Every character has a backstory that influences who they are on the page, and this novel finally allows us to discover how the events of Marnie’s past have influenced who she is today. The story opens with Marnie as a teenager, and the tragedy that brought her into Luke and Arlo’s lives. One sad day, Marnie discovered that her parents committed suicide by drug overdose. They were fed up with life, and their love for each other was stronger to go out at the same time than it was to stay alive and care for Marnie. After the death of her parents, Marnie went to live with her grandmother, who happened to live in the same neighborhood where Luke and Arlo grew up. We then see how Luke became her one an only true friend in this new environment.

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So how did Arlo come to be her f*ck buddy? Well, after witnessing the tragic downfall of her parents, and how their love was so over the top, Marnie vowed that she would never put herself in a position where she’d have such strong feelings for another person. When Arlo came on the scene, she recognized a similar soul, someone who didn’t want an emotional connection with someone else, but was more than happy to share a physical one. He was a “safe” choice. She knew that Arlo would never be someone who wanted to cuddle after sex, or who would ask what she was thinking/feeling at any given moment. London, Luke, and everyone else in their lives assumed that Arlo and Marnie had such a longstanding sexual relationship because one or both of them felt some kind of love for the other. They refused to believe Arlo and Marnie’s insistence that it was a matter of convenience rather than one of emotion. For Marnie, her parent’s downfall made her seek out a relationship that would forever protect her heart from being broken, and Arlo fulfilled that need. An even bigger surprise than discovering that Marnie never felt true love for Arlo was that she actually felt something stronger for Luke all along.

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Love Unattainable

For the first three novels in the series, we knew without a doubt that Luke was in love with Marnie. We just assumed that Marnie actually had her sights set on Arlo, and that perhaps we’d need some big event to help Marnie open her eyes to the Jones brother that has been in love with her from the start. Imagine my surprise to discover fairly early on in this fourth story that Marnie’s feelings for Luke were just as strong from the first moment they met all those years ago. I thought Luke would have a major struggle on his hands to win over Marnie’s affections, and while he does have his work cut out for him in convincing Marnie to give a chance to their relationship, there has always been an underlying desire and love which Marnie has felt for Luke. Which begs to question, if Marnie has always desired Luke, and for Luke it was love at first sight, what exactly was preventing them from getting together?

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Simple, Marnie’s past. As we’ve already discussed, Marnie wanted to protect her heart from ever feeling the same kind of hurt and tragedy which befell her parents. When she first meets Luke after moving in with her grandmother, she immediately recognizes that he’s someone she could fall head over heels in love with. Rather than having this draw them together, Marnie uses it as a reason to pull away. She refuses to end up like her parents, so in her mind she must distance herself from the one man who evokes any kind of feeling behind the walls she’s trying to erect. In addition, the suicide of her parents left some additional emotional and physical scars to Marnie which she believes are indicators that Luke deserves someone better. When Luke tries to convince her that they’re meant to be together, Marnie attempts to use the horrors of her past as a deterrent for Luke to continue pursuing her. Little does she realize that Luke sees these trials that she’s managed to overcome as strengths to her character. They’ve made her the strong person she is today. She might be trying to push him away, but it’s actually drawing him closer to her.

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

Series: Heartless Few, Book 4. I must say, there’s a few other members of this band that I’d love to get to know.

Final Impressions: I really enjoyed this read! While I initially questioned if this book would succeed in making me warm up to Marnie, I was shocked that from the opening chapter you’re rooting for her to find happiness. It was fascinating to see some of the same events from the first few books retold in a different light now that they’re shown from Marnie and Luke’s viewpoint. The love story between Arlo and London captured our hearts, but dare I say I might have fallen in love with Marnie and Luke even more. Arlo and London struggled for a few months to find their happily ever after, but these two have been secretly desiring each other for years. We finally understand the full depth of their feelings, and hope that Marnie will realize she’s worthy of a life filled with all the happiness and love that Luke wants to provide her with.

Smut Level: Even though we’re dealing with the other Jones twin, there is one common theme that gets their blood pumping, and that would be a heated argument. There’s something about a verbal argument with the love of their life that sparks within them a desire to copulate on the nearest available flat surface.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $1.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 342 Pages.

 

Pushing Arlo by MV Ellis

Well, we all knew Arlo and London’s time together in the sun couldn’t last forever. I just didn’t expect the inevitable fallout to come so soon!

What’s it About? 

pushing arloHe thought he had it all, until he met her. They say you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, but for notorious womanizer Arlo Jones, it’s a case of not knowing what you want ’til it’s standing in front of you. The moment he meets London, he realizes she’s the piece of the puzzle he never knew was missing, but can’t live without. He does everything he can to get her, but just as he thinks she’s finally ready to give in to her feelings, he’s reminded how empty his life was without her in it.

She thought she had a plan, until she met him. They say the best-laid plans often go awry, and for aspiring photographer London Llwellyn, that’s definitely the case when she falls for Arlo. That was never part of her plan. She tries her best to avoid being pulled into his vortex, but he manages to turn her head upside down and her heart inside out. Just as she thinks she’s ready to commit to forever, she’s reminded of the reasons she resisted him for so long. He’s pulling her closer. How long can she keep pushing him away?

First Impressions

This book pretty much picks up right where book one left off, with a gallery premier of the coffee table book which London photographed of Arlo and his band’s most recent world tour. Things are seemingly off to a good start, with a decent shag before the premier, an awkward introduction to Arlo’s family afterwards, and an agreement for London to move in with Arlo. Such big steps in their relationship which all immediately come down the morning after when there’s a bit of scandal in the tabloids surrounding Arlo. And what else could it be when it comes to a former man-whoring reckless rock star like Arlo, but a sex tape? And who knew that it would cause a complete and total halt to Arlo and London’s relationship, not to mention her fleeing to the other side of the world to get away from him? Well, there’s some method to her madness which actually requires a closer look. Come along and let’s observe!

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Why Sex Tapes are Never a Good Idea

Just when Arlo and London’s relationship appears to be at it’s peak, a crushing blow comes in the form of a sex tape that tears our two lovebirds apart. It also serves to sever the long-term friendship and f*ck-buddy status between Arlo and his childhood friend, Marnie. She appears to have filmed the two of them having sex almost six months prior, and allegedly leaked it to the press after Arlo publicly dismissed Marnie’s advances at the recent gallery showing. For Arlo, it’s a stab in the back from a supposed friend, but one that he’s initially not too concerned about. After all, he’s used to being in the public spotlight for his sexual exploits. What’s one more? Especially when he has London in his bed. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for London to push aside. When an unknown person sends the sex video directly to London’s phone, it’s an invasion of privacy that she’s simply not used to, and it sparks within her an intense desire to flee. Which is just what she does.

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Arlo is shocked that the leaking of this sexual encounter, an affair which occurred before he even met London, could signal an end to their relationship. He thought London trusted him, and yet she now seems to question when exactly this tape was recorded. How could a sexual act which held such little meaning to him have such a profound influence on his relationship with London? Eventually, after a lot of discussions with his fellow band-mates, he has a eureka moment which helps him understand what was going through London’s mind at the time. Arlo and his band have been in the spotlight of fame and paparazzi scandal for years. To quote Arlo’s insight, “This shit has been our ‘normal’ for so long that it can be easy to forget how overwhelming it can all be if you’re not used it.”

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Ironically, I think it has almost become a ‘normal’ for us romance readers as well. Following London’s desertion of Arlo after the release of the sex tape, I too questioned if she was overreacting just a bit. But let’s face it, any rock star romance is basically guaranteed to feature some kind of misunderstanding with a paparazzi scandal. We as readers, just like Arlo, become almost numb to it. But to see it through London’s eyes, to see the invasion of privacy by having a stranger send such a shocking video to her own phone, signals that the likelihood of she and Arlo ever having a peaceful relationship with no intrusion is unlikely to the extreme. When we consider it in this regard, London’s instinct to flee makes more sense.

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From New York to Australia

Following London’s flight to Australia, we see what I identify as both a major strength and weakness to the story. Let’s start with the strength. Firstly, the entire novel is told from Arlo’s point of view, which is an interesting departure from book one. The short sequel of this series was also told from Arlo’s point of view, but to have an entire full-length novel told through the eyes of the rock star was rather enlightening. Hands down my favorite aspect of this book was that it allowed us to see Arlo’s growing maturity during London’s absence. He realizes that if he has any chance of winning her back, he has to change his ways to the point where London will never have reason to question his actions.

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This means no more partying, drugs, copious amounts of alcohol, etc., and instead taking a more active role in his business ventures and music production. He’s determined to clean up his act to prove himself worthy of London’s love, and the band mates who have become like brothers to him are there every step of the way. The connection that Arlo has with these men was a primary feature of the book, and one that draws you in from the get-go. You also see how far one man is willing to go for love. Before London, music was always his escape, and something which saved him from the possibility of going down a violent road as a youngster. And now that he’s an adult, London is saving him yet again, but this time from himself and his rock star lifestyle of excessive partying. London has a profound impact on Arlo’s life, even when she’s on the other side of the world.

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But alas, this brings us to the noticeable downside of the story. Ummm…where the heck is London? She’s missing for over fifty percent of the story. While having the novel told from Arlo’s point of view was a benefit in seeing him grow as a person and develop an even stronger connection with his band, it was also a detriment in that during this entire time we never know what is going through London’s mind. It results in a one-sided story which could have benefited greatly from an additional scene or two where we see what’s happening with London on the other side of the world. We get the briefest of recaps upon London’s return to New York of conversations she had with her parents, but I wanted a closer look at what was going through her mind during that time away from Arlo.

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

Series: Heartless Few, book 3. I’m excited to proceed with book 4 in the series, which will revolve around Arlo’s brother, Luke, and his long-time infatuation with Marnie. Can’t wait to see what might happen between those two.

Final Impressions: Similar to the sequel, this novel really highlights the transformation of the infamous Arlo Jones from a partying rock star into a caring lover who recognizes when it’s time to grow up. I especially loved any scene which highlighted the strong camaraderie between Arlo and his fellow musicians. The main downside to the story was that London was absent for such a large portion of it. While you can’t deny the importance of seeing Arlo take the necessary steps to clean up his life, as well as see his devotion to London cemented in her absence, I would have liked to see how London’s feelings towards Arlo may have changed during their time apart.

Smut Level: Considering that London is in another country for over half of the novel, this read isn’t quite as steamy as the first book in the series. That being said, Arlo and London do still have their sexy moments together upon her return. She continues to question whether or not she wants to let Arlo fully back into her life, but she can’t deny their physical chemistry.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 280 Pages.