Undeceived: Pride & Prejudice in the Spy Game by Karen M. Cox

When you’re reading Price and Prejudice and think to yourself, “this book is good and all, but you know what would make it even better? Some Cold War-era espionage”. Well then, this retelling of the classic British romance just might be right up your alley!

What’s it About? 

“…if I endeavor to undeceive people as to the rest of his conduct, who will believe me?” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 40)

Elizabeth Bennet, a rookie counterintelligence officer, lands an intriguing first assignment – investigating the CIA’s legendary William Darcy, who is suspected of being a double agent. Darcy’s charmed existence seems at an end as he fights for his career and struggles against his love for the young woman he doesn’t know is watching his every move. Elizabeth’s confidence dissolves as nothing is like she planned – and the more she discovers about Darcy, the more she finds herself in an ever-tightening web of danger.

Unexpected twists abound in this suspenseful Cold War-era romance inspired by Jane Austen’s classic tale.

Quick Review

Similar to a modern version of a classic fairy tale, I’ll dive right into a Pride and Prejudice retelling as soon as I can get my hands on it! That being said, I would probably categorize this version as “loosely inspired” by the story we all know and love, rather than a retelling of it per se. There were certain inspirations from the original that were unmistakable, from the cantankerous dolts of Wickham and Collins, to the unrequited initial declaration of love by our prideful Darcy, and finally the animosity turned affection of our leading lady Elizabeth. In certain scenes we even see how sticking so close to the original source material in this updated tale of espionage essentially resulted in some unfortunate spoilers of the spy game at play.

After all, when you have the lecherous character of Wickham insisting that Darcy must be a double agent, it’s not too difficult to gauge that his insistence and motives would be less than honorable. On the whole though, there were some hallmark traits of the 1800s classic which were noticeably absent, to the point where you almost question why there needed to be a link to Pride and Prejudice at all. Gone were the familial dynamics involving Elizabeth’s many sisters and hilariously embarrassing mother, while other crucial supporting characters were oftentimes relegated to secondary side plots that barely received mention. I almost think this story would have benefited more if it didn’t try to put a Pride and Prejudice label on it, but rather stood on its own two feet as an enemies-to-lovers romance set in the confusing world of Cold-War spy craft.    

Series: Stand-Alone. 

Final Impressions: It took some time before the plot really pulled me in to the point where I had a vested interest in seeing how everything would play out. A large part of this had to do with the fact that while we see Elizabeth and Darcy engage in a few different spy missions, we’re never really privy to the details or end-goal of each mission. We just know that Darcy is the leading spy of the day, and Elizabeth serves as his translator. We never really learn what they’re after, or hoping to achieve, with each mission. Linking this spy novel to Pride and Prejudice meant that we were constantly dealing with this odd juxtaposition of not being surprised when certain plot points were revealed, but then also being surprised to see some character development twists that were a shocking departure from the original. Again, this read may have had more of an impact if it were a stand-alone book that didn’t try to affiliate itself with P&P. 

Smut Level: This was one departure from the original that I was all on board for! While Elizabeth and Darcy initially tip-toe around their attraction for each other, once their mutual adoration becomes known they have no reservations about physically exploring their desires. And on a hot and sweaty Caribbean island no less!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Adalia Street Press. 334 Pages. 

Beg for Me by Natalie Anderson

This contemporary romance presents us with the biggest fear for anyone out there who manages multiple social media accounts: what happens when you publish the wrong content to the wrong account? The repercussions for Min involve a confrontation with a brooding billionaire who could benefit from a fake fiancée for a few weeks. Sooo…winner, winner?!

What’s it About? 

One mistake means she’s his to marry?

No one needs an image overhaul more than Logan Hughes. His notoriety has reached epic proportions thanks to a sex clip circulating on the Internet. But when his newly contracted social media manager inadvertently tweets his happiness at his engagement, he—along with the rest of the world—is astounded.

With one wrong click of a button Min Jones just committed career suicide. Mixing up her client’s account wouldn’t have been so bad if he had only a few followers… unfortunately he has almost a million. Summoned to meet with him face-to-face, she’s more tongue-tied than ever when he announces that his engagement is to stand and that she’s to be his supposed fiancée.

With her career on the line Min agrees but she isn’t going to hide away meek and mild. If Logan Hughes wants a fiancée, he’s going to have to play by her rules and that means he’ll have to learn to handle some restraint…

First Impressions

While this sequel didn’t necessarily compare to book one in the Be for Me series as far as enjoyment level, it did certainly present us with several high points. From a delightful premise completely distinct from the first book, to a slew of new and intriguing characters, I’ll take any fake engagement romance I can get my hands on. The sexual chemistry between Min and Logan was positively riveting, and you can’t help but enjoy the ride of their relationship evolving from one of animosity to convenience, friendship to love. The majority of the scenes between these two also involved them spending time together in fairly close quarters, whether it was in Logan’s luxurious New York City apartment, or confined to a room in his parent’s mountain resort, which successfully added to the passionate electricity between them. That being said, there were a few different power dynamics at play which oftentimes posed a few problems that probably could have been dealt with or expanded upon differently. 

Who has the Power? 

First and foremost, if this kind of meet-cute had occurred outside of Romancelandia we’d definitely be dealing with a blackmail/sexual harassment lawsuit on our hands. Min is, for all intents and purposes, Logan’s employee through her management of his social media presence. Although the two have never met before, Min’s unfortunate error of publishing an engagement announcement meant for another client to Logan’s Twitter account guarantees a swift and tension-filled confrontation. However, it’s during this first meeting that Logan realizes Min, not to mention a fake engagement, could prove to be of benefit during an upcoming awkward meeting he has to spend with estranged family. To convince her to play along, Logan says that if she doesn’t participate in the charade he’ll basically destroy her business by announcing her Twitter-error to all of his closest contacts. It’s not long after this initial meeting that Logan’s desire for Min takes over. He insists it won’t be long before she’s begging him to give her the ultimate pleasure, and he’s willing to tease and tempt her in any way possible so that she’ll eventually beg for him. 

As you can see, even though we recognize that Min is immediately smitten with this hunk of a man, and her initial reservations to this scheme act as a shield to her admitting her own desire for him, there’s still an awkward employer/employee power dynamic at play here. This continues throughout the novel when it comes to their sexploitations as well. As they set the terms for their fake engagement, Min is initially insistent that there not be any sexual intercourse between them, which Logan immediately sets as a challenge that he will pleasure her in so many other ways she’ll soon be begging him for more. He’s always consistent with bringing her to release, but it’s never quite to a point where she can reach the full potential of pleasure, which does in fact keep her coming back to him.

Alongside Logan’s insistence that she will be the one begging him for sex, he simultaneously vows that he won’t find his own release, whether it be by her hand or his own, until she begs for him to take her. The rather heartbreaking aspect of this entire dynamic is we eventually see how much Min struggles with the fact Logan is continually giving her pleasure, but he’s not allowing her to express her own sexual desires by returning the favor. During one tearful scene Min admits that while he’s been so insistent on her begging for him, the thing that could bring her the most pleasure would be if he were to beg for her. It is during that moment that we recognize how painful all of this constant back-and-forth power play teasing between the two of them has probably been, and it sort of lent on overarching air of unpleasantness to something that initially seemed like it was all in good fun. 

Series: Be for Me, book 2. Even though I enjoyed book one significantly more than book one, I am in no way done with this series. I can’t wait to see how book three plays out involving Logan’s sister and best friend falling for each other. We were also introduced to a slew of other characters that I can’t wait to hear more from in future novels. 

Final Impressions: The initial premise which brought these two characters together was spot on, as was the eventual focus on both Min and Logan needing to overcome their own personal insecurities before they can truly find happiness with each other. While there were certain elements of their relationship which I enjoyed throughout the rest of the book, we do have a few problematic features. This was especially true when it came to power play, which appeared to be a distinctive feature of their sexual relationship. I think the issue here was that power play can be such a personal thing between a couple, that it can make it difficult for us as outsiders to fully understand. I couldn’t help but feel that there were several times during this power exchange that Min was left feeling emotionally exposed and frustrated in a way that wasn’t pleasurable. In addition, when we consider this book clocks in at 397 pages, it seemed the attention spent on certain facets of the plot could have been divvied up differently. For example, after the initial Twitter-error confrontation that led to their fake engagement, there were several scenes that dragged on for too long as they would continually rehash the details of what happened and how their engagement would proceed. The flow of the novel probably would have benefited from several of these scenes being shortened, and instead using that page length later on in the story when it came to Min and Logan interacting with and confronting their troubled relationships with their respective parents. These were interesting elements that didn’t receive the full attention, or even resolution, that they deserved.  

Smut Level: Logan might not indulge Min in his sexual intercourse prowess until she’s begging for it, but that doesn’t mean he won’t introduce her to a multitude of other pleasurable (and fully descriptive) delights. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 397 Pages

Secretly Inn Love by Amelia Foster

While I was secretly hoping we’d never see an end to this contemporary romance series, Secretly Inn Love provides us with a satisfyingly sweet conclusion to the Inn Love trilogy we’ve all come to love. You just might be inspired to start the whole thing over from the beginning again!

What’s it About? 

A songwriter in a slump and a heartbroken chef cook up a harmonious happily ever after.

Ryann Alden’s not looking for a relationship. She’s focused on making a success of the small town inn she and her sisters inherited. As the business takes off, however, tensions grow and she struggles to be seen as an adult instead of a helpless child by the older two. When she finds herself falling for the attractive guest that appears on their doorstep, the budding romance becomes the driving force to make Ryann demand more for herself and her new love.

Elijah Hansen’s reputation as Nashville’s songwriting superstar is at risk when the cutthroat industry has his creativity abandoning him. The impulse that has him hitting the road for a place where he can rekindle his love for song leads him to Willow Falls Inn and Ryann. A snowstorm strands him, but the emerald-eyed beauty that greets him may just be the muse he’s been missing.

Ryann and Elijah continue their whirlwind romance in a long-distance relationship that must survive the tests of his fame, the revelation of a family secret, and the miles between them.

First Impressions

A noble, red-headed Viking in the midst of an epic journey must seek shelter during a treacherous snowstorm, and soon finds everything he didn’t know he was looking for in the gorgeous inn-owner who provides him a room for the night. No need to adjust your screens ladies and gentlemen. We haven’t fallen through time to the days of Valhalla. Our enchanting romance takes place in the present day, and the Viking moniker is bestowed upon our exceedingly tall and handsome songwriter, Elijah, by the youngest of the Alden sisters during a meet cute that has them falling in smitten at first sight. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of this series, but I must say the author outdid herself with this final read, presenting us with two lead characters who are so adorably sweet you’ll practically have a toothache by the end of it.

Hands down, Elijah and Ryann were my favorite couple of the trilogy, and in addition to his tall stature and gingery mop of locks which earns him his Viking title, Elijah also takes the cake when it comes to the most romantic leading man, a title which Ryann awards him constantly throughout their relationship. These two are clearly beguiled with each other at first meeting, and although their initial time together in the same location is brief, we see things naturally evolve from initial intrigue to texting, lengthy phone calls and video dates for a long-distance relationship interspersed with short trips to see each other. This is one of the few romance novels I’ve encountered where the scenes of our lovebirds apart are just as swoon-worthy as the ones of them together. Elijah’s thoughtfulness to plan the perfect dates for them, even when they are hours apart, will have you tilting your head to the side with a smile and an “awwwww” as we cheer on this couple in their search for a happily ever after. 

Sisterly Love

I lost track of the number of times throughout this read that I was expecting an explosion of drama or tension between Elijah and Ryann. Would their long-distance dating prove to be too difficult to maintain? Perhaps their first in-person meeting after so much time apart would be filled with uncomfortable awkwardness. Could Elijah’s fame get in the way of their happiness? Or maybe Ryann would assume that Elijah only wanted to continue spending time with her because she was inspiring him to write some of his best music. Again, so many times that I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop on the adorable couple I’d come to love. And yet, by some kind of refreshing miracle, this never happens! Elijah and Ryann’s love story is essentially drama free, and I can’t reiterate how invigorating this was! To see two adults act as adults, with an ability to communicate clearly and with no propensity for jumping to conclusions or misunderstandings? I’d swear I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven! It allows us to more fully enjoy the sweet romance playing out on the page when we’re not constantly waiting for something unexpected to be lurking behind every corner. 

That’s not to say this book wasn’t without it’s emotionally charged scenes. However, rather than existing between Elijah and Ryann, it instead occurs between Ryann and her two older sisters. We came to know and love Gavynn, Blake and their respective beaus in the first two books of the series. Their dedication towards revitalizing their aunt and uncle’s beloved inn to it’s former glory was only surpassed by their love and friendship with each other. That familial loyalty took a crushing blow at the conclusion of the second novel though when Ryann overhears how her sisters have been hiding the truth from her about their parent’s disinterest and negligence since their death years before. It’s a betrayal that makes her take a step back to look at her life from a distance, and come to the realization that Gavynn and Blake have always treated her as a child rather than the accomplished young woman she’s become. When Elijah comes on the scene, he’s yet another reason Ryann finds the need to assert herself and declare a bit of independence when it comes to her relationship with her sisters. She’ll re-examine what she wants out of life, and how Elijah might fit into it.  

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

Series: Inn Love, book 3. I know the saying that all good things must come to an end, but I’m not gonna lie I would absolutely love if we could see some kind of holiday novella down the road to take a peek at what the Alden sisters are up to after the conclusion of the series. 

Final Impressions: This is such a sweet read. Elijah and Ryann are so clearly smitten and the fact that they continue to make each other laugh, surprise one another, and seemingly still get butterflies of excitement when in each other’s company will leave a permanent smile etched upon your face from start to finish. Putting the romantic element aside (although…who would ever want to do that?!) this novel is also an interesting exploration of sisterhood, and acknowledging that you can’t always treat a younger sibling like the baby of the family, even if they will always appear that way in your eyes. It’s a rather bumpy road for the Alden sisters to ultimately find mutual respect for each other once again, and once they do they remember how much stronger they are as a team. Albeit one where they all understand the need to break off and do their own thing every once in a while, and most likely with their respective hunks on hand to keep them fully entertained. 

Smut Level: Just because this is a sweet read doesn’t mean it’s lacking in heat! Considering how much time Elijah and Ryann have spent apart during the start of their long distance relationship, it’s no surprise that when the opportunity presents itself for some in-person one-on-one time together, they’re ready to take full advantage of being in the same place…and the same bed for that matter. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Sweet Heat Books. 160 Pages. 

Celestial Desire by Abbie Zanders

This is the kind of contemporary romance novel that makes me ponder if I should start a bucket list, just so a hunky and caring man can come along to help me cross each item off my list. 

What’s it About? 

Dance with reckless abandon.

Pet a snake.

Get a tattoo.

Have wild, hot sex with a gorgeous stranger.

Recently divorced from her abusive ex, Celeste Harrison is creating a new life for herself, and hot ex-Marine Zane Fagan is perfect for crossing at least one item off her bucket list.

Celeste isn’t Zane’s usual type, but there’s something about her that keeps him coming back for more. In addition to being sweet and incredibly sexy, she’s smart, funny, and when he’s with her, the demons that haunt him are quiet.

It’s all fun and games until her ex tracks her down, and Zane is forced to make a decision that will change both of their lives forever.

First Impressions

As readers of my blog here will undoubtedly know by now, I read a ton of romance novels. And yet, I must say I think this particular short read presented me with something I’ve never come across before in Romancelandia, which would be that Chapter 1 begins mid meet-cute. In fact, it’s almost the tail-end of the meet cute, with the first few sentences involving our male lead, Zane, asking out the intriguing female lead, Celeste, pool-side. I was so thrown by being dropped right into the thick of one of the most crucial features of any romance novel, that by the end of the first chapter I actually flipped back to the very beginning of this e-book in my Kindle to ensure I didn’t miss a crucial prologue. Alas, that was not to be the case, and this isn’t the last time that the author chooses to skim or skip over other important moments. The next prominent occurrence was during Zane and Celeste’s first sexual foray. Their flirtations and foreplay are described in vivid detail, but when they finally come together in the literal sense we get a “fade-to-the-next-morning” approach. 

Normally I wouldn’t have much issue with glossing over the good stuff, but what made this so confusing was the fact that practically every other sex scene in the book is elaborately described from start to finish. As a result, it made the lack of full detail in their first interaction that much more noticeable and disappointing considering the potential emotion such a scene could have contained to further connect the characters, and link us to them too. Finally, there’s another instance towards the end of the book following an action-packed scene that takes place at a hospital, and apparently there is an intense conversation between Zane and Celeste about the future of their relationship, but we aren’t witness to it firsthand at all. We don’t know what exactly was discussed, or even that the exchange occurred until several chapters later. Looking back at these critical romance novel moments (the meet-cute, the first sex scene, the confession), the fact we lost out on any emotional depth which could have been gleamed from those conversations and physical connections was quite unfortunate. 

The Past Comes Back with a Vengeance

While I can’t agree with all of the literary mechanics employed throughout this read, something it did do very well was shine a light on the horrors of domestic abuse, and the constant fear with which its survivors face. Celeste has been trying to distance herself from her ex-husband ever since he was locked away in prison for beating her. Even though she has a restraining order against him, she knows that he’ll come after her as soon as he’s released, and it’s something that Zane starts to fear more with every day he spends with this enchanting woman. While several of the details surrounding her ex’s release were hard to believe, we too are overcome by fear with what this man represents, and we can only keep our fingers crossed that Zane can protect her when this blast from her past comes knocking. Everything builds to an exciting confrontation scene that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Just when you think this is the ultimate endeavor which would solidify Zane and Celeste’s connection, it just might prove to be the breaking point of their relationship. 

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: Overall this contemporary romance felt rather disjointed. From the glossing over of critical emotional scenes, to alternating between almost rom-com level bucket list resolutions to intense descriptions of Zane and Celeste’s tragic pasts, we were missing cohesion to the read as a whole. Clocking in at just 184 pages this book definitely could have benefited from those scenes being more fleshed out, and there was plenty of room to make it a reality. This was unfortunate as I really did enjoy the personalities of our lead characters, and the foundation was here for something truly special. 

Smut Level: Even though their first sexual encounter was a fade-to-black moment, there’s plenty of other descriptive scenes to keep you (and our lead characters 😉 ) coming back for more. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. 184 Pages

Dance: Cinderella Retold by Demelza Carlton

This mashup of classic fairytales will have our Mulan-like female lead throwing on Cinderella’s shoes to dance with her Prince. Except “dance” in this regard is more of a euphemism for fighting, and she isn’t afraid to knock the Prince on his a**!

What’s it About? 

A dutiful daughter. A prince forced to find a bride. If the shoe fits…

Once upon a time…

When the Emperor’s army comes recruiting, Mai signs up, seeing it as the perfect escape from her stepmother and a lifetime of drudgery. Armed with her mother’s armour and a pair of magic shoes, Mai marches off to war…only to find herself sharing a tent with the General’s arrogant nephew, Prince Yi.

The best swordsman in the Empire, Prince Yi wants to make war, not love, but the Emperor insists this will be Yi’s last campaign before he must marry. Prince Yi has never met his match…until now.

Can one woman win the war and the prince’s heart?

First Impressions

I wouldn’t so much as categorize this romance as “Cinderella Retold”, but rather as a mashup between two classic fairytales: Mulan and Cinderella. As a matter of fact, when this novel first started I couldn’t help but wonder why the title focused more on labeling this as a Cinderella tale, when the vast majority of the premise revolves around our female lead, Mai, going off to war under the guise of being her father’s son rather than his daughter. Other than the fact she had a mean stepmother and two half-sisters (who are absent from the majority of the book), it sort of felt like a scene-for-scene remake of Mulan instead. It isn’t until the conclusion of the tale that we truly see the Cinderella story come to fruition, complete with a ball, fairy godmother, and a handsome Prince carrying around a lost shoe in the hopes of finding it’s rightful owner. I typically love any kind of romance which features a retelling of a fairytale, but I’ll admit this one got off to a bit of a slow start, as it was almost too much alike when compared to Mulan that I wondered how this novel would set itself apart from the original we all know and love. 

It’s when Mai finally sneaks off to war that this novel comes into its own, distinguishing itself from the tales that came before in a way that will keep you turning the page. For example, I loved the twist that Mai’s evil stepmother is a witch who actually helps conceal Mai’s identity when she goes off to war by enacting an illusion spell to make her appear and sound as a man to everyone else. Then the fact that Mai showed up to training already a complete and total badass who could take down even the legendary Prince of Swords, made me cheer along with every soldier she bested, as well as with every cunning military strategy she employed to lead her troops to victory. It’s when the battle is over that we see the Cinderella storyline come to the forefront, as Mai needs the help of her fairy godmother-like character to remove the cloaking spell concealing her true identity in the hopes of winning the Prince’s heart in her natural womanly form. We are constantly wondering if Mai will ever be able to break the spell which her stepmother cast upon her, or if she’s doomed to spend the rest of her life as a soldier, unable to tell the man she loves how she wants to spend the rest of her life by his side. 

The Elephant in the Room aka the Man in the Tent

One aspect of this novel which is merely brushed upon rather than explored with any full depth was the fact that Prince Yi does start to feel an emotional connection, and possibly even desire for his comrade, Yeong Mao (aka our heroine in disguise, Mai). This was a key element that I really wish had been highlighted more prominently, as we see Prince Yi’s feelings for Mao (Mai), evolve from subordinate to friend, and even to something more. Their friendship is undeniable, but as they spend more time fighting and living together within the same tent, Prince Yi begins to have passionate dreams where he’s getting physical with an unknown woman, only to awake in shock upon seeing the visage of his best friend Mao take the place of the woman. While he admits he might be starting to feel something for this man, it’s sort of glossed over until after Mai turns back into a woman, and Prince Yi wonders if this fighting temptress he’s just met was the true person hiding within his best friend all along. He latches onto this concept as a way of thinking that would be the perfect outcome, almost by saying that then he wouldn’t have to confront the fact he was developing feelings of desire for another man. The end of the novel feels fairly rushed to get to the happily ever after between this man and woman, rather than spending any time discussing how the quintessential bond developed between them when they were both men. 

Series: Romance a Medieval Fairytale, book 2. These books are quick reads, so I might give a few more a try, but they haven’t knocked my socks off quite yet. If anything I think the cover art has been more enchanting than the books themselves. 

Final Impressions: The high point of this book was in the middle section, as it distinguished itself from the fairytales it was trying to emulate by bringing in unique twists and turns to the classic story lines we’re all familiar with. Unfortunately, things kind of started and ended on a low note, as there were too many similarities with the original tales to hold interest. The ending especially felt particularly rushed, and even confusing, as Prince Yi essentially threatens Mai to engage with him in a fight to prove she was the secret identity of his best friend all along. The supplemental characters were also pushed too much into the background in this retelling, as the fairy godmother is present for barely one scene before disappearing entirely, and Mai’s father comes across as rather heartless to his daughter and new family. Mai’s wicked witchy stepmother was definitely an intriguing character, but even her presence could have been highlighted more to really have a villainous counterpoint to our leading lovebirds. Overall, just ok. 

Smut Level: We start to see the stirrings of desire through Prince Yi’s dreams when Mai is still disguised as the manly soldier Mao. However, there aren’t any physical sexual acts until the very final scene of the book. If you’re looking for steam, stick it out until the very end, but if you’re looking to keep this read as a fade-to-black scenario then you can easily stop before the last hoorah. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Lost Plot Press. 234 Pages.

The Assist by Rebecca Jenshak

This sports romance takes the stereotype of the dumb jock, and flips it completely upside down. Our male lead is the one doing the tutoring, and when he throws on some sexy black-rimmed glasses, all bets are off. 

What’s it About? 

You know those stories where the smart girl tutors the dumb jock? This isn’t it.

Blair 

What’s the probability of insulting the one guy on campus I need to help me pass statistics? If I knew, I wouldn’t be standing in front of Wes Reynolds begging him to tutor me. Basketball player, sexy, arrogant, always sleeping through class… these are the things I knew about him. What I didn’t know is that he is a seriously smart jock.

Wes 

What’s the best way to get rid of the peppy and unrelenting girl that keeps asking me to tutor her? If I knew, I wouldn’t be staring at her tan legs and attempting to teach her statistics. Sorority girl, fine as f**k, determined, ball buster… these are the things I knew about her. What I didn’t know is that she is all the things I didn’t realize I wanted or needed. Or that one semester with her would change everything.

First Impressions

Wes is a sexy senior basketball player, and as soon as he recovers from a foot injury he’s determined to make this final year his best. He’s laser focused on the Final Four, and nothing is going to stand in his way of reaching victory. Nothing that is, until a determined sorority girl who is failing statistics seeks out his help in a rather embarrassing way. Wes has brawn and brains, making him an unstoppable force both on and off the court, but when Blair first encounters him he appears to be another dumb jock sleeping his way through class. When Blair receives a failing grade on her first stats assignment and glances the A-grade on the supposed slacker’s test, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out who’s tutored him. Lo and behold her surprise to discover this hunky athlete is more than good looks. She needs an A in this class, and this smart jock is going to help her get it. 

The meet cute of these two characters is quite adorable, especially when we take into account the awkward faux pas committed by Blair when she assumes that just because Wes plays basketball he must not have the book smarts needed to succeed in college. You can’t help but love the determination of these two, from Blair wanting to succeed academically and live up to the dreams of her best friend stuck back in their small hometown, to Wes focusing all of his time and energy on ensuring his team and best friends are victorious in his final year. It’s just a matter of time before their tutoring sessions turn to something significantly more steamy than statistical, and not long at all before they both start to wonder how the other will fit into their future plans, or even lack thereof for one of our characters. Will they be able to find time for each other amidst everything else they have going on in their busy lives, and if so what will happen next after the school year ends? 

From Start to Finish

This college romance literally starts with a bang, as we see a flashback prologue where Blair’s best friend throughout all of childhood gets in a terrible car accident and loses her memory in their final year of high school. These young women had their sights set on changing the world, and when we see Blair three years later struggling to keep up in school amidst a blackmailing ex-boyfriend who has naked pictures of her, your attention is certainly grabbed from opening bell. Throw in her fumbling false assumptions with one of the school’s favorite athletes, and we can’t wait to see where this story will take us. While this book certainly has a strong finish, things sort of fizzle out as our romantic tale progresses. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes our attention to wander, and it’s not as though anything “wrong” happens with the plot as a whole, but it almost felt as though once our lovebirds finally acted on their infatuation for each other things kind of plateaued. 

I’ve read through some other reviews to see if others could identify what it was that stopped this good read from becoming great, and a few have mentioned that the time jumps towards the latter of the novel caused the issue. I’ll admit these didn’t really bother me too much, though they did add to the ending feeling more rushed and less cohesive than our introductory chapters. In thinking and ruminating on what other elements could have combined with these time jumps to possibly result in my waning interest as the novel progressed, the fact that there’s a portion of the second half of the book where Blair and Wes spend most of the time apart from each other could have also had an influence. Even though this separation was important for them to realize how important the other person was, as well as resolve a few personal conundrums on their own, I think it played a role in having less investment in their story because it seemed like less of “their” story. They spent so much of the first half of the novel interacting with each other, exchanging witty banter and flirtatious quips, that to see it eliminated from the second half was kind of a let down in comparison. 

In addition, it would seem the book struggled at identifying how high it was willing to raise the stakes with various plot points. This is actually perfectly encapsulated in the daring and emotional prologue where we initially assume Blair’s BFF, Gabby, has died in a car crash. We then find out she’s survived, but the intensity is heightened once again when we discover she has lost her memory, and has no recollection of who Blair is following this accident. It’s the last sentence of the prologue, and we immediately want to turn the page to find out how this tragedy will influence Blair, and how their friendship could be forever altered. But then in chapter one it’s revealed that Gabby soon regained her memory, she and Blair are besties once again, and Gabby is then absent for a big portion of the book. This is how I would essentially categorize the rest of the book, we start with a high as the smart jock tutors the sorority girl who is being blackmailed by her ex with revenge porn, but then as the novel progresses things start to taper off and the stakes are lowered as the book struggles to not be too serious, yet also isn’t purely comedic. Overall, it waffles somewhere in the middle.

Series: Smart Jocks, book 1. Wes’s teammates prove to be an entertaining bunch, and I’m definitely excited to see them each get their own story in future books. 

Final Impressions: Enjoyable, not earth-shattering, good not great. It’s a fine read, but I don’t think it will necessarily blow your mind. I did enjoy having a college romance that actually focused on schoolwork for once, and having a “smart jock” as our male lead is a unique twist to the whole “tutor” trope. That being said, if we really wanted to turn things around, having Blair be a “nerd” struggling in one course would have been a great juxtaposition to Wes’s smart jock persona. Instead she’s a beautiful sorority girl, so it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch that these two would have crossed paths eventually considering all the college parties they go to. If anything it was kind of strange it took them this long to meet!  We do get to see an epic confrontation or two with Blair’s douchebag ex-boyfriend, and both of our lead characters reach a critical point when the future path they thought was laid out for them gets a few twists and turns they weren’t expecting. Again though, the excitement of the beginning sort of fizzles out by the end, making it an ok read. 

Smut Level: When Wes finds out that the glasses he wore during their tutoring sessions made Blair all hot and bothered, he’s more than happy to put them on when the rest of their clothes come off. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 316 Pages. 

Hit by the Cupid Stick by Abigail Owen

“A siren who lures men to their deaths and a cupid who helps humans fall in love.” I can’t think of a more perfect match for this sexy Valentine’s Day paranormal romance. 

What’s it About? 

All’s fair in love and…whatever this is. This Valentine’s Day, when a cupid accidentally shoots himself with his own arrow, he falls for a siren whose only job is to lure men to their deaths.

Charismatic and irresistibly fun, Chance Eroson is a cupid who gets a kick from pairing odd couples and being right about them. Used to getting his way, the only person who shuts him down is the siren who has ruined more than one of his pairings before they started. But his bigger problem is he wants her. He’s always wanted her.

Elodie Sirenian uses her power for good, only hunting evil men. But after so long, and so many horrible people, her cynicism has settled deep inside. She can turn on the charm when she doesn’t mean it, and they fall for it. Every single one. Every single time.

Except Chance. He’s the only person—man or god—who has ever challenged her.

But a cupid’s magic is temporary. There’s no way a true love match is possible. Not this time.

First Impressions

This is one paranormal novella you’ll want to be sure and add to your Valentine’s Day TBR list. You know when you have those cravings for a romance where the lead characters just go for it? No dilly dallying, let’s get to the good stuff ASAP? Well then this read will scratch your itch. We are not only presented with two delightfully entertaining main characters full of moxie and teasing, but there’s a bit of suspense enveloped throughout the story as their feelings for each other quickly transition from instantaneous lust to trust to love. Chance plays our debonair cupid whose six-pack abs will put the standard cartoonish Valentine cherub image to shame. He and gorgeous siren Elodie have always exchanged a witty rapport throughout the years, though the call of her siren monster to hunt a few of Chance’s targets has sometimes caused them to quarrel on top of their banter. 

All of that changes one night when Chance takes aim with his bow, only to have a misfire when his arrow goes through both he and Elodie, resulting in an immediate, all-consuming need to finally give into their desire for each other. On the one hand they could stay apart in an attempt to ignore their burning passion, or they could dive in head first. It’s no big mystery as to which option these two fall for. On his couch…against the living room window…in his bed…the shower…I think the kitchen may have been involved at one point, etc. etc. But what happens when the power of his arrow ultimately fades? Will Elodie and Chance want to explore a lifetime together, or will they revert back to their solitary ways before the arrow brought all of their secret wants to the forefront? Well, this is a proper romance after all, I’m sure you can guess which way the story goes!

Oh gods and goddesses!

Fans of Greek mythology will definitely have a blast with this read. The fact that Chance’s last name is Eroson, and he’s a cupid…the connection there just filled me with absolute delight! Towards the end of this short read there is sort of a quick mention of multiple mythological characters and stories that I could see being slightly overwhelming for those who aren’t as familiar with those particular tales. Overall though, the way these myths and creatures are interwoven into Chance and Elodie’s story was the perfect mixture of action and romance. While our lovebirds spend the first part of the story steeped in their sensual bubble of sexual delights, we’re also aware that in the not too distant background there exists the plot point of a vengeful minotaur seeking Elodie’s downfall due to her killing of his brother. We do get a few minor confrontations between these characters before one exciting, action-packed final battle scene. 
Another element which went hand-in-hand with this tale of revenge that ultimately provided a well-rounded story arch for our characters was Elodie’s fear at revealing her true siren monster to Chance.

She’s been abandoned by former lovers in the past who couldn’t handle the transformation of this beautiful vixen into a frightening siren who must feed off the aura of her enemies to survive. If the power of cupid’s arrow should wear off, and Chance catches a glimpse of her true monster, will he also be tempted to run? And then there’s Chance’s true nature, which he is quite upfront with Elodie about even though it stands in contradiction to what many would consider the conventions of “masculinity”. He is a cupid after all, doing his best to bring couples together to find love, and his Netflix is jam packed full of romance movies that he consistently fast forwards to get to the good parts, aka all the smooching. He just might be my ideal man! The true test of their love isn’t how well they connect in the bedroom (or taxi cab, or secluded cabin, or shower again, etc. etc.), but rather how they will react to these mythological influences on their personalities: her siren propensity for violence and death, and his cupid devotion to love and a happily ever after. 

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

Series: Brimstone, Inc. book 5. It’s not 100% necessary you read the previous books before you get to this one, but just note that there are a few characters who reappear here from previous installments. 

Final Impressions: Loved it! If it weren’t for my bedtime I wouldn’t have had any problem knocking this baby out in one sitting. There was no messing around before our characters got to the sexy fun times, yet it wasn’t just about the physical component from start to finish either. We have a tale of revenge that will keep you on the edge of your seat, as well as the emotional conundrum of showing one’s true self to the one they’re falling for. It’s something that most of us can probably relate to, even though we’re not mythological sirens or cupids!

Smut Level: Phewwwwww!! There’s a lot of heat packed into these pages. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and it might be below freezing temperatures outside, but even I was tempted to crack open a window to cool down a bit. A cupid full of charm and an enchanting siren just might be the best mythological combination possible!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. 114 Pages. 

The Cryptographer by Alice Wallis-Eton

Love and espionage in the midst of war. Could there be any more perfect combination? How about if we throw in an adorable canine sidekick, along with some burly Scottish Dragoons?

What’s it About?

Everybody has a secret, but some are harder to decipher…

England, 1813. Aster Tanner is alone in the world and keeps a roof over her head by working the one asset she has – her mind. She needs her job; she does not need a Scotsman underfoot, making her heart flutter with heated glances and impertinent questions.

Iain McIntyre, Captain in the Second Dragoons, has a confidential assignment: find a list rumoured to name traitors working against England. He is looking for anything unusual — like a woman working as a secretary. He tells himself his fascination with the lass is because she holds a man’s position, and nothing to do with his rising desire to know the sharp mind hidden behind her darkened glasses.

When Aster is targeted by those intent on recovering the list, she must decide who to trust. She has seven encrypted names. But whose? Meanwhile, Iain is on the trail of a double agent. Time is running out, and secrets must be decoded before lives and hearts are sacrificed.

First Impressions

This was a surprisingly intriguing read that successfully held my interest with a slew of engaging characters, not to mention a few twist and turns that even I didn’t see coming. Unlike the cover art might have you believe, this regency romance isn’t just another classic tale of highbred lord and lady falling in love. Instead, we have two main characters who wouldn’t typically be featured in primary roles, which was one of the first aspects of this novel that drew me in. Aster is a lowly, yet deceptively intelligent, secretary who must work in order to survive. She’s without family, and the only companion she has in life is her beloved pooch, Dougal. In essence, Aster is our regency girl-next-door. She’s never been to a ball, doesn’t know how to ride a horse, and has never been able to afford an elegant item of excess such as a parasol. She lives and works day-to-day, never expecting much more out of life than what she currently has.

Then along comes a Scottish military captain who throws her world upside down. Iain is a second son who has been brushed to the sidelines for most of his life. Although he comes from a family of means, the fact he was born second in line means that he’s had to work his whole life, as there was no great inheritance coming his way. This also resulted in high class women virtually ignoring him considering they wouldn’t marry into the wealth and prestige of his family’s title. When a secret mission brings Iain face-to-face with this intriguing female secretary working alongside an infamous cryptographer, the Scotsman finds himself entranced by Aster’s very presence, and she quickly starts to become the primary focus of his attention rather than the mystery at hand.

Who Can You Trust?

The fact that these two were fully embroiled in the world of espionage, secret codes and puzzles lent a mystifying air to their entire relationship. Even though we as the audience knew they were both honest patriots, Aster and Iain spend the first half of the novel juxtaposing their obvious attraction to one another against the question of whether or not the other is a spy for the enemy. Neither of them is used to receiving much attention, she as a working woman and he as a second son, so when interest and consideration is unexpectedly thrust upon them they immediately start to think of potential ulterior motives. We only hope that these two can ultimately recognize the shared attraction simmering between them, and that if they push aside their suspicious musings they can form an unbreakable partnership which will prove tenacious in the face of a common enemy.

And this brings us to another unique feature of this novel that I wouldn’t have expected from a regency romance, which was the descriptive focus on loneliness which has pervaded so much of their lives up until this point, more so especially with Aster. She lives in a world without family, her work is rather solitary in nature, and she lives in a boarding house where she finds it difficult to connect with the other patrons. Sometimes the only conversation she has in a given day is with her dog. On the other hand, Iain is part of a group of soldiers who are like brothers to him, and yet the vast majority of his youth was spent being ignored in the shadow of his brother, the heir. When Iain and Aster meet they are immediately taken with each other’s company, but they also fear that a future together might be outside the realm of possibility. The thought of going back to the lonely lives they once led is a sad comparison to the bright light that each has brought into the other’s world. When they eventually spend one passion-filled night together in a remote seaside cabin, a happily ever after seems so close, but will all of their prior insecurities continue to push this chance at happiness just out of reach?

Off-Balance

On the whole I did thoroughly enjoy this read, as there was an air of mystery and suspense which held my interest, and a slew of twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting from start to finish. That being said, some of these same unexpected developments ultimately hindered the flow of the story in a way which could have been avoided. Firstly, there were some vast stretches of the story in between our moments of suspense that felt rather lethargic in comparison. Aster and Iain probably spend more of the story thinking about each other, and contemplating their feelings than they actually do interacting with each other. The bulk of the cryptography decoding story line, as well as Aster’s influential role in it, was reserved for the latter half of the novel in a way that we weren’t even fully privy to her intellectual capabilities until rather late in the game. I wish there had been more focus on that part of the plot rather than the constant wondering by Iain and Aster if the other was looking for a lifetime commitment, or if one night was all there would be between them.

Again, while I enjoyed the fact we see a woman of Aster’s background featured in such a crucial way, I wanted her acumen to be more fully integrated throughout the rest of the story. Another feature of this novel which threw things into a bit of disarray was that we were witness to some rather violent and gruesome acts of murder and even torture that I definitely wasn’t expecting. That’s not to say a regency romance can’t have those darker elements featured, but instead their use was so sporadic and off-tone compared to the rest of the story, that you couldn’t help but feel they came completely out of left field. There either needed to be a lighter touch to those moments of violence, or the rest of the book should have had a darker emphasis woven throughout so that those individual scenes didn’t seem so off-balance.

Series: Second Sons, book 1. Iain’s fellow Second Dragoon comrades were such engaging characters that they really helped build a sense of family amongst this group of second sons. I’m eager to continue on with this series to see what romance is in store for each of them.

Final Impressions: This is a read that held my interest, and kept me guessing how everything was going to come together in the end. Unfortunately we don’t really get to see how the big picture does come together, but rather just a few of the tiny pieces to the larger puzzle. Though not a cliffhanger ending by any sorts, it was a bit disappointing to discover that we’ll need to keep going with this series before any kind of final conclusion will occur. Thankfully the slew of characters presented in this first novel were thoroughly entertaining, and I do want to see how things progress in each of their future books. I really enjoyed Iain and Aster as lead characters, especially with Aster as a somewhat unconventional female protagonist, but at times their uncertainties over the other’s affections seemed misplaced and unwarranted. Finally, there were many clever plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat, and even prompted me to put hand to chest with a gasp of worry at one point. However, some of the twists were unnecessarily macabre in description, while others (though interesting as a twist) contradicted the back stories for some characters which the author had previously presented to us as truths. A bit of editing and restructuring would have benefitted the overall flow of the work.

Smut Level: At one point Aster’s desire for Iain in his absence is so great that she decides to take matters into her own hands, if you catch my drift. We also get a few descriptive moments of one night Iain and Aster spent together, though nothing that will leave you too flushed. I was upset that we never saw one fantasy come to fruition that both of our characters envisioned, which was to spend time in a rather unique cliffside bathtub together.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $25.54 Paperback (I purchased the Kindle version of this years ago for much less, but it doesn’t seem available in e-format anymore). CreateSpace Independent Publishing. 256 Pages.

The Dawn of Peace by Rebecca Hefner

This Etherya’s Earth prequel takes us back to the beginning when Vampyres and Slayers were still at war with each other. When enemies Alrec and Kilani find themselves alone in a secluded cabin together, and with one tied to the bedframe no less, we know these two won’t be at war for much longer. 

What’s it About? 

Before the end of hatred, there was the dawn of peace…

Two immortals from warring species save each other’s lives as the conflict rages on. Alrec, the hulking Vampyre warrior, spares her first. Years later, Kilani, the fierce, uncompromising Slayer, returns the favor. Stuck in her remote cabin, their bond grows as Kilani warily nurses her injured Vampyre, determined to deny her growing desire for the man with deep, knowing eyes and mesmerizing fangs. And, of course, there’s only one bed…

The sizzling prequel to the Etherya’s Earth paranormal romance saga

First Impressions

Any journey we can take to Etherya’s Earth is bound to be an entertaining ride, and this proved true once again when the author takes us back to before the events of the first novel in the series, just a few years after the Awakening has pitted Vampyre against Slayer as immortal enemies. Kilani has never felt like she truly belonged to the high society world she was born into, and until the Slayer army will accept women into their ranks she knows her strength and prowess with a sword will be pushed to the sidelines. That all changes one night when a raid on her family’s compound results in a direct confrontation with a Vampyre soldier who makes her blood boil and her loins…do some boiling of their own. Alrec and Kilani are worthy combatants who like to taunt and tease, which makes their intense sparring quickly turn into the most delightful kind of foreplay. Alrec spares Kilani’s life during their first confrontation, and it isn’t until years later when they cross paths once again that Kilani has the opportunity to return the favor by nursing this wounded soldier back to health in her secluded cabin far away from the prying eyes of Slayer, Vampyre or Deamon. Not one to let her guard down however, Kilani sees the need to tie up this currently bedridden Vampyre so as not to risk his quick healing abilities coming back to literally bite her down the road. 

When Alrec awakens following his injury he’s delighted to see the woman who rescued him is the same one he hasn’t been able to stop daydreaming about for the last few years. The two immediately pick up where they left off, ergo an inordinate amount of flirtatious teasing, eyebrow wagging, and tented bed sheets. What follows is the most delicious evolution of enemies to lovers, as the confined space of the cabin creates a seductive bubble wherein these two can escape, if only for a brief moment, the complexities and battles of the world outside. They have been taught to despise each other, yet when left to their own devices their true nature can’t help but shine forth. They are dutiful soldiers who want to serve their people, but they also have a caring and tender side which comes to the forefront when trapped in each other’s company. He is one of the only men to ever admire and encourage her desire to fight, and Alrec also can’t help but love the courage of this little vixen to stand up and spar with him at any possible moment. As they continue to build up his strength we just know it’s only a matter of time before they test out his newfound strength in the bedroom, but also not long before Alrec must return to his duties as a soldier. How can our lovebirds possibly find their happily ever after when we know that peace between the species is still several centuries away? 

A Secluded Observation

Another hallmark of this series is the savage war being waged against the Deamon leader Crimeous and his scourge of minions. While we’re usually privy to some intense battle scenes in Etherya’s Earth, the fact that Alrec and Kilani spend the vast majority of the novel on the outskirts of civilization within their love cabin means that most of the drama of the story comes from the “will they or won’t they” romance between our lead characters. In a way, the only fight scene we really see come to fruition in exacting detail is the one which takes place at the start of the novel between Alrec and Kilani. There’s a few ensuing mentions here and there of fighting some Deamon clusters, but nothing quite at the level to put us on the edge of our seats. While I definitely appreciated the centralized focus on what was happening inside this secluded cabin, I really would have loved just one scene where we could have witnessed Alrec and Kilani fight together. So much of their time together is spent training and sparring, and to see them work in tandem as partners to defeat a common enemy would have been the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae.  

This is a delightfully quick read which can easily be devoured in one sitting. Considering this is a prequel to events which we know will eventually transpire, and that we know a happily ever after is guaranteed with any addition to this series, you can’t help but commend the author at her ability to heighten our anticipation as we wonder how Alrec and Kilani will ever be able to overcome the multiple obstacles surrounding them to ultimately find peace and happiness with each other. There were definitely a few times that I worried we might be witnessing a tragedy in the making, or maybe even two characters who were doomed to spend centuries apart before finally finding each other again once the events of the subsequent novels have a chance to play out. Alas, rest assured we have a much more satisfying conclusion to their romance than any scenario my mind was conjuring up throughout the read. 

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

Series: Etherya’s Earth, book 0.5. This is definitely one of my favorite paranormal romance series of all time. I’ll take any full-length, novella or prequel addition I can get my hands on. 

Final Impressions: Enemies-to-lovers, secluded cabin, sparring, and light restraints to prevent escape. What’s not to like here?! This is a fantastically quick read that can kick off your exploration into this amazing series. I’d recommend it to anyone going on their next beach vacation, and this is coming from someone who usually isn’t a fan of paranormal romances! The only nitpick I’d have is that I wish we would have had one scene where Alrec and Kilani joined forces to fight off a Deamon or two as a couple. It could have been the perfect culmination to all their training, demonstrate the strength of Kilani as a female fighter, and perhaps even highlight that they’re stronger together as a couple. Again though, this is a minor nitpick to an overall entertaining and steamy read. 

Smut Level: Mmm, sparring. 🙂 The perfect form of foreplay when it comes to this series. All that close contact, heavy breathing, sweating…mmm. And did I mention the bed frame restraints and tenting of sheets?! 

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

Screwdrivered by Alice Clayton

When Viv inherits a house on the other side of the country, she contemplates a romance with either a hunky cowboy or a smoldering librarian. Who knew tweed jackets and elbow patches could be so sexy?

What’s it About?

Readers back for a third round of the bestselling Cocktail series will enjoy a madcap romantic comedy about bodice ripping and chest heaving, fiery passion and love everlasting. Plus a dash of paperwork filing and horseshi—wait, what?

By day, Viv Franklin designs software programs. By night, Vivian’s a secret romance-novel junkie who longs for a knight in shining armor, or a cowboy on a wild stallion, or a strapping firefighter to sweep her off her feet. And she gets to wear the bodice—don’t forget the bodice. When a phone call brings news that she’s inherited a beautiful old home in Mendocino, California from a long-forgotten aunt, she moves her entire life across the country to embark on what she sees as a great, romance-novel-worthy adventure. But romance novels always have a twist, don’t they? There’s a cowboy, one that ignites her loins. Because Cowboy Hank is totally loin-ignition worthy. But there’s also a librarian, Clark Barrow. And he calls her Vivian. Can tweed jackets and elbow patches compete with chaps and spurs? You bet your sweet cow pie.

In Screwdrivered, Alice Clayton pits Superman against Clark in a hilarious and hot battle that delights a swooning Viv/Vivian. Also within this book, an answer to the question of the ages: Why ride a cowboy when you can ride a librarian?

First Impressions

While nothing has quite lived up to the near spectacular perfection that was the first book in this Cocktail series, Wallbanger, we still get a fun and entertaining addition in this third read. Viv is a spunky, vivacious heroine who definitely lives life according to the beat of her own drum. She’s romance novel obsessed, which means she automatically rises up a few notches in my perception. She’s a dreamer, often visualizing romance novel scenarios playing out in her daydreams, so when she receives a late night call in the middle of the night informing her that she’s inherited a cliff-side fixer-upper home along the coast of California, Vivian believes she might just be in the midst of her very own romance novel. As soon as Viv arrives out west to gaze upon the stunning home which is now hers, not to mention catches a glimpse of the surly cowboy who cares for the animals on the property, Vivian is convinced that she just needs to peel away the layers to connect with this hunk of burning love so they can delight in their own HEA. After all, that’s what all her previous romance novel reading would have her believe to be true. 

But if Romancelandia has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t force a romance where it does not exist. What happens when the seemingly gruff but beautiful cowboy is in fact…just a good looking cowboy with no emotional depth to him whatsoever? Well, fear not lovely heroine! All Vivian needs is to turn around and notice that the handsome librarian/head of the historical society who’s been giving her such a tough time about all of her proposed renovations to the historically registered property might be the knight in shining armor she’s been waiting for all along. Sure, she may have pictured herself with a muscular and complicated rogue, but the bespectacled, elbow-patch tweed jacket wearing librarian has everything she truly needs when it comes to love. Clark is caring, open, and all that arguing they’ve been doing has been the perfect build of foreplay to something more. Honestly, you’d think a veteran romance novel reader like Viv would have recognized this earlier on! Just goes to show that when you try too hard in looking for romance, you can oftentimes miss the real thing when it unexpectedly crosses your path. 

Slow Burn

There was so much to Vivian’s character that was easy to love. Although she’s fallen into the family expectations of computer programming, she’s always felt an artistic calling deep within her. When the opportunity arises to grab life by the horns, she really doesn’t hesitate to leave her old life behind and jump at the chance to set out for a life she’s been craving for years. Moving clear across the country does indeed seem like a romantic scheme, but even in the face of complications and obstacles Vivian refuses to give up. You have to admire her determination in many things, even though her intense focus on trying to get Hank the hunky cowboy to notice her was something we all probably wish she had given up on sooner. Sometimes there are no layers beneath a man, just a hunky beefcake with nothing else going on beyond a good face and a sexy six-pack abs body. Clark on the other hand might not seem like her type right away, but it’s very clear early on that Vivian recognizes some kind of pull to this sexy librarian. 

There’s daytime Clark, who is a pretty straight-laced rule follower, but then she starts to get to know nighttime Clark through some unexpected late night phone calls, and this is when Vivian notices his playful side. Not to mention the fact his voice drops about two octaves when his tone becomes especially suggestive. It would have made for a more enjoyable read if she had switched gears to focus her attention on Clark at an earlier point in the read, especially considering he still would have fit the vision she had in her mind of her world becoming a romance novel come to life. Instead, the author really drew out the development of their relationship, especially considering that 1) Clark and Vivian don’t even really interact directly with each other until a third of the way into the book and 2) their first kiss takes place in same scene as their first romp against a balustrade, with a declaration of love sprinkled on top at the 93% mark. That’s a long time to wait, and certainly takes “slow burn” to a whole new level. While the final result was certainly worth waiting for, it also left the conclusion of the novel feeling rather rushed as we go from questioning whether or not these two unlikely characters will ever get together, to seeing them rip each other’s clothes off all in the last few pages of the book. 

Try to Keep Up

Another feature of this novel which I started out loving, but after some time became rather irritated by was Vivian’s lengthy inner musings and romance novel snippet daydreams. At first I felt a connection to this character whose mind seemed to work at 100 mph, and would flip between various topics at random. I couldn’t help but think, “wow, this author has captured my mind on the page”. Buuuut then I remembered that my mind is a weird place, and I oftentimes have to apologize to my friends who wonder what the heck I’m talking about by saying, “oh yeah sorry, I forget sometimes that other people can’t see where my train of thought is choo choo-ing along to”. Seeing this play out over 256 pages of romance novel made it an almost exhausting read at times, and difficult to follow along to conversations. There were also multiple times throughout the read where Vivian would fantasize herself as the heroine of a romance novel scene, whether it be with a pirate, a cowboy, or some other rugged hero, before coming back to reality. While certainly entertaining at times, I would have preferred some of those scenes to be replaced with more interactions between her and Clark in the real world. As it stands, I felt like Vivian and Clark spent more of the novel apart than together, and their connection was so adorable I simply wanted more, more, MORE!

Series: Cocktail, book 3. I’m not sure if any read will be quite as good as the first, but this is still a fun series I want to continue on with. 

Final Impressions: Consider yourself warned this read will inspire wanderlust as you crave the purchase of a rundown house on a cliff beside the ocean somewhere. I definitely appreciated the fact we were presented with a tenacious female lead who happened to be obsessed with romance novels. The constant bickering between Viv and Clark was the most delicious kind of foreplay, but I was ultimately left craving more scenes involving the two of them together. I know there’s also been some debate in Romancelandia recently about the frustration of not seeing a sex scene until the 60% mark, and while I certainly don’t feel there are any hard rules to when or how much sex must be presented, I do feel with this particular read that having our lead characters go from angry with each other to a bump and grind to a HEA epilogue one scene immediately after the other left the end of the book feeling needlessly rushed. Overall though, this is still a fun contemporary romance to bring along on your next adventure to the beach!

Smut Level: Although we only get one scene, it’s quite a doozy! Their passionate evening starts in front of the fireplace, transitions out to the rain, then back inside up against the wall and the aforementioned balustrade. As if that wasn’t delicious enough, our sexy librarian just so happens to be a dirty talking wordsmith. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $8.99 Kindle Price. Gallery Books. 257 Pages.