Playing for Keeps by Ashlie Knapp

A man with six-pack abs who loves watching the Food Network and cooking Bobby Flay recipes? Oh yeah, I can get behind that!

What’s it About?

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To her friends and family, Aria Cook is a sassy, foul-mouthed, not-a-care-in-the-world woman. She dances for the Oklahoma City Thunder and tends bar at her father’s trendy downtown bar, A Shot of Whiskey. What her friends and family don’t know, however, is Aria’s running from a past she can’t escape no matter how hard she tries.

Trevin Anderson is a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. He knows most women only want the fame associated with dating an NBA athlete. He doesn’t get attached. He has a job he loves, a sister and mother he adores and friends who have his back. He doesn’t need anything else.

After a failed first date, Trevin can’t walk away. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase; perhaps it’s something more. She calls him her stalker. He calls her his girlfriend. Which one will be right in the end?

First Impressions

Aria and Trevin both put on an air of something they’re not. Her more-so than him, but essentially they’re both hiding the sensitive side of their nature from the rest of the world. He has the reputation as the ultimate man whore of the Thunder basketball team, always with a different woman on his arm, and never making promises about forever. However, when it comes to his time with Aria he becomes 100% dedicated to her. He’s not afraid to be sweet and affectionate with her, whether it’s renting out an entire animal park to give her an amazing experience with the animals, or constantly asking if he can change his relationship status on Facebook so everyone knows they’re dating.

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Trevin is smitten like a kitten, and he doesn’t care who knows it. As for Aria, she puts on a front of being a sassy, carefree chica who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and doesn’t let anything phase her. In reality, she’s experienced an intense trauma in her past that she keeps hidden from those closest to her. She doesn’t want others to know her weakness, so she’s essentially overcompensating in an attempt to show strength. Most people accept her facade as truth, but Trevin is the only one who recognizes she’s putting on a mask, and he’s determined to dig deeper than anyone else in an attempt to uncover who the real Aria is. She’s terrified her past will cause him to leave, no matter how much he declares he’s in it for the long haul. You can’t help but fall in love with his determination in the face of her hesitancy.

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“She put on a brave, smartass and carefree facade, but the closer he’d gotten to her the more he’d seen her vulnerability.”

A Long Wait

The development of Trevin and Aria’s relationship is a comedic delight to watch, while also interspersed with moments of emotional connection between the two of them. Throughout it all, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop that will ultimately test the foundation of their relationship. It’s an inevitability we know is bound to happen! Most of the book involves Trevin convincing Aria to let down her guard, and to trust in them as a couple. Once she finally does, and admits how much she loves him, things are almost going too well for them. Especially after they meet each other’s parents and aren’t fully scared off. We constantly wonder what will cause their perfect bubble to pop.

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Will Aria get scared off by his intimate affections and desire to take their relationship to the next level? Will Trevin’s man-whore reputation come back to bite him in the bum? We’re waiting, and waiting….and waiting. It’s not until about the last 10% of the book that we finally witness the drama that threatens to break up their relationship, and I must say I did not see it coming! Definitely a surprise, although it took a bit too long for us to finally get to this climactic moment, and then it was resolved fairly quickly. It was an interesting twist for sure, but it probably could have been fleshed out more fully to take the conclusion to a whole other level.

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

Series: Playing, book 3. This was probably my favorite book in the series, if not a close tie with book one.

Final Impressions: This was a fantastic addition to the series. Overall it was a funny and cute read with some adorably likable characters. From Tristan’s mother who fully encourages him and Aria to have sex even if she’s staying just down the hall, to the whole cast of female characters from the previous two books. Aria and Tristan both had depth to their personalities that they didn’t always choose to share with others, yet as their love for each other grows they let their shields drop to reveal the softer side hiding just below the surface. The final drama at the end did seem a bit rushed, and could have been incorporated more fully into Aria and Tristan’s story, but nevertheless it was a fun read.

Smut Level: Some intimate make-out sessions, touches and caresses, but normally the sex scenes themselves were ones which faded to black before we witnessed anything too sensual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 280 Pages.

All of Me by Rose Grey

Charlotte and Jock never thought love was in the cards for them. But when they’re thrown together amidst life-changing surprises, they come to realize that love just might be right in front of them.

What’s it About?

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Jock Durrell hopes the surprise baby his ex-girlfriend left behind at his office isn’t his. Still, someone has to care for it. So while he waits for DNA test results, he advertises for temporary help. Preferably Mary Poppins. By the time Charlotte Aubin arrives to interview, Jock’s too tired to be choosy. True, Charlotte dresses like a Goth and throws things when she loses her temper. On the other hand, as far as he knows, she’s not an ax murderer. So he gives her a chance. Because at this point he would sell his soul for just one night of unbroken sleep. But Jock isn’t the only one with a complicated life. Charlotte’s past is closing in fast. When danger looms, Jock will have to choose between protecting the safe life he has crafted or risking it all for a woman who has stolen his heart.

First Impressions

When our novel opens I wasn’t even sure if Charlotte and Jock were meant to be the romantic focus of the book. The authors does a great job of presenting us with two people who aren’t looking for love. They’re both so focused on treading their way through life that upon first meeting they seem more determined to be annoyed with each other than to see the possibility of romance. However, it would seem fate had more in store for these two after their initial meet cute, and no matter how much they tried to steer clear of each other, they both eventually acknowledged that they could help one another by sticking together.

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The set up of this story was everything. Charlotte and Jock are both dealing with their own problems in life, and yet somehow these distinct issues they’re both confronting prove to be the impetus in bringing them together. Jock is struggling with the fact his ex-girlfriend just dropped off a baby on his doorstep, claiming he’s the father. Charlotte has her own problems in life, from unloving parents to a somewhat sadistic step brother who seems determined to see her fall apart. They were both such independent, selfless characters who never really had the opportunity to enjoy life for themselves. They were always living one day to the next, and yet after fate throws them together both Charlotte and Jock are finally able to live in the moment, and learn how to laugh with each other.

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From Baby Jane to Brother Dearest

Jock has always pushed aside his own wants and desires in order to care for his brothers following the death of their parents. No woman has ever really tempted him to put his own wishes first, until he meets Charlotte of course. While his younger brother, Ronan, proves to be a source of humor at certain moments throughout the novel, I would have liked to see his brothers play a larger role in the overall story. We really don’t see much from them in terms of helping him cope with the emotional impact of suddenly having a daughter, and his brother from book one is almost absent entirely.

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“He had spent ten years creating a stable environment for his brothers. Ignoring his own desires had been a crucial part of that and a measure of his self discipline. But he couldn’t seem to summon the same vigor now.”

The drama that Charlotte experienced throughout the book in terms of her unloving parents and creepy step-brother was definitely the most compelling aspect of the story. Her troubled relationship with her family meant she never had a reason to trust others, especially considering those who were meant to love her most in this world continually brushed her aside. Charlotte has never deigned to try loving someone. Jock is the first one to cause her to hope for something better. While her relationship with her step-brother was a fascinating element that held your interest, and overall was carried out very well, I felt it could have been pushed one step further. The ending was fantastic in that it allowed for Charlotte to finally stand up for herself, but I wanted us to see more about the motives and thoughts behind her family in order to more fully understand their actions. This would have provided one more additional push to the book that would have been near perfect in execution.

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“She hadn’t ever fought for what she wanted…What if the reason she didn’t fight for what she loved was because she was afraid of what losing might do to her? She didn’t like thinking of herself as a coward, but it seemed the inescapable conclusion.”

Afraid of Love

Our love story ultimately culminates with some rather big misunderstandings that result in Charlotte running away from her feelings. Both she and Jock were hesitant to voice how they truly felt about each other throughout the entirety of the novel. We see that it wasn’t just their employer/employee relationship that caused them to pause, but also their inability to believe they could devote themselves to someone wholeheartedly. I’ll admit it was kind of frustrating to see them both internalize their anger towards the other for closing themselves off from love, while simultaneously acknowledging their own inability to dive deep into the relationship.

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I was pretty worried this inability to confess their feelings would negatively impact my appreciation for the book up until that point. However, I’m happy to say we do eventually see redemption with how they both are willing to fight and stand up for what they want in life, and their refusal to have others walk all over them. It’s almost as though they both reach a breaking point where they’re fed up with being alone, and even though they’re terrified of being rejected, they’d rather face the music than risk not knowing how the other person feels.

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“…one way or the other, she was done running.”

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

Series: Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Book 2. I may have liked this second book even more than the first book in the series!

Final Impressions: It was interesting to see two such independent characters learn how to finally allow someone else into their lives. It’s a difficult journey full of ups and downs, but they eventually realize that the mere presence of the other person brings joy to their day. Charlotte and Jock have a relationship that isn’t built upon lust or sex, but instead almost a mutual respect for how hardworking and selfless the other is. Incorporating more depth to Jock’s relationship with his brothers, as well as Charlotte’s background with her parents and step-brother could have elevated the emotional side of the plot, but overall it was a compelling read.

Smut Level: We never see anything too sensual in description, but you’ve gotta love the circumstance of being trapped together in a house during a snow storm. I can certainly think of a few ways for them to keep warm.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Simply Romance Press. 272 Pages.

Out Too Far by Andrea K. Stein & Sawyer Stone

An exciting and humorous conclusion to the Love Overboard series!

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Rania Elsaeid is the brilliant engineer aboard the 115-foot yacht, the Bonnie Blue. She’s also a deadly, well-trained security guard. She keeps her cool when everything around her heats up. Morris “Moj” Johnston, internationally famous music producer, is on a much-needed vacation cruise through the islands of the Indian Ocean. He’s not looking for love but trying to heal a broken heart. When Moj meets Rania, everything changes. Suddenly, they find themselves on the run from pirates, lost on a deserted island, and dangerously close to going…OUT TOO FAR!

First Impressions

It’s always sad to see the end of a series, but this final installment in the Love Overboard trilogy manages to keep you giggling as Rania and Moj navigate their love in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Both characters are dealing with the stresses of life. She’s lying low, trying to keep off the radar so her crazy ex doesn’t find her. As for Moj, he’s keeping busy as a famous music producer, trying to keep his mind off the recent and untimely death of his wife. Neither is looking for love, but once their eyes lock during a crowded music festival, there’s no going back. The connection between them is immediate. While they’re initially hesitant to explore anything physical between them seeing as she’s working on the yacht he’s chartered, it’s not long before fate pushes them to take things to the next level.

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Funnily enough, the moment when they decide to finally give into the desire which has enveloped them since they first met is not the moment I would have guessed would be the most opportune for sexy fun times. Moj and Rania find themselves stranded on a seemingly deserted island with kidnappers, albeit hilariously incompetent ones, hot on their tail. This is the moment where I’d be freaking out, convinced that starvation and dehydration would soon portend the end of it all. However, Moj and Rania take an entirely different approach, seeing this deserted island as an opportunity to finally get some privacy from all of Moj’s fame. Sure, they need to explore the island for water, food, discover whether or not it actually is deserted, but they first choose to look at the silver lining of the situation. Beautiful beach, just survived an adrenaline inducing escape from kidnappers…seems like the perfect time to get naked, no? Priorities people!

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“There is maybe one chance in hell we’re going to survive this ordeal. I say we make the most of the time we have left…”

The Need to Stand Aside

Something I really loved about this read, and the series as a whole for that matter, was that we were presented with a strong female lead character. Oftentimes throughout the books we find it is the ladies who are stepping up to protect the gents, or help them out of a sticky situation. This holds true in the character of Rania, a strong woman who can take care of herself, and has been trained by the very best to do so. Moj on the other hand, is a man who was determined to take care of his first wife who died from cancer. Caring wholeheartedly for others is part of his very nature, and the concept of stepping aside to let Rania take care of herself is one he’s struggling with. Where his first wife needed him, Rania doesn’t really need him at all. Even though their time together has been brief, it’s not long before Moj can’t imagine what life would be like to have Rania pulled away from him so suddenly.

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By the end of the novel, Moj finally accepts that when it comes to attempted kidnappers and matters of international espionage, his interference would probably cause more harm than good. He succeeds in stepping aside to allow Rania to shine in all her bad-assery. The final scene is quite funny even though it’s the climax of everything coming together, and it’s described in such perfect detail I could practically see it playing out in my head like a movie. Moj still worries for Rania’s safety, that’s something that will never go away completely, but he can learn to let her take care of herself when necessary. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t need him at all. She needs his presence in her life, she needs his love and support, but she doesn’t need him to treat her as a damsel in distress. If anything, Moj is the one who needs her protection and strength in certain moments. There are many times where they learn to place their full trust in the other person in order to make it out of a sticky situation, and acknowledge that there are some things they can’t do all by themselves. Sometimes they need a shoulder to lean on.

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

Series: Love Overboard, book 3. It’s always fun to see the earlier characters from the series come back in the end, although it was kind of disappointing that the couple from book 2 never made a surprise guest appearance.

Final Impressions: This was a sexy, funny read, and a great conclusion to the series. Some scenes were a bit over the top, and other areas could have been explained more fully, such as Rania’s past with her ex. However, it’s still a fun and silly read that’ll have you giggling along. Aside from the delight of having a strong female lead character, my other favorite part would have to be our would-be kidnappers. At the start you worry about how they might cause trouble for Moj and Rania, but as the story progresses you see they are hilariously inept at being criminals, and I was shocked to find myself liking them more and more with each new scene.

Smut Level: The first time Moj and Rania do the deed it’s on the beach of a deserted island they’ve been stranded on. I can’t imagine how much sand must have gotten into some extremely uncomfortable places.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Muirgen Publishing, LLC. 211 Pages.

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Delectable by R.L. Mathewson

When Kasey first sets her sights on Reese Bradford, one perfect nickname comes to mind. Yummy. Sooooo yummy.

What’s it About? 

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Reese Bradford is a typical Bradford, he enjoys his food, is easy on the eyes, and has a killer smile, but there’s one thing about him that he doesn’t want anyone to know about, which of course is the first thing that his ex-fiance makes sure that everyone finds out about after she leaves him for his best friend. Out of options, he reluctantly heads out of town to spend the summer in the cottage that he’d rented for his honeymoon only to find himself tormented by a woman that never should have crossed his mind twice.

More intrigued than he’d ever thought possible, he can’t help but wonder about the woman that made him smile.

First Impressions

This is another classic addition to the Neighbor From Hell series. It’ll put a smile on your face, make you giggle in delight, and even blush a time or two with the sexual escapades of our lead couple. There usually isn’t a ton of drama to a book in this series, but there are some lovable themes which connect them all. First and foremost is the infamous Bradford stomach. An endless gut that doesn’t seem to get full no matter how much food is consumed. The fact that this novel features a Bradford male falling for a woman who runs a cooking website? Stand back ladies and gentlemen, you’re about to see something reaaaaally special.

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Another feature that each novel in this series shares is also something which sets them all apart. Distinct lead characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. R.L. Mathewson isn’t afraid to provide us with delightful characters who break the mold when it comes to typical romance novel leads. Throughout this series we’ve seen full-figured female leads, adorable nerds, and even virgins. The leads of this ninth novel pull our hearts in once again, and include a single mother who had her daughter when she was just a teenager, as well as a sexy male virgin police officer. That’s right folks, we have a 29-year-old male virgin here. That’s the ultimate white whale, the sparkliest of unicorns, the needle in the haystack of Romancelandia.

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Bedding the Virgin

Kasey and Reese are both hesitant to take their physical relationship to the next level, and for good reason. She hasn’t been with anyone since the death of her husband over seven years ago. The few times she’s dated since his untimely death from cancer have left her feeling guilty, as though she’s betraying his memory. She simply feels she’s not ready to take that next step yet, but Reese is the first man to make her consider the notion. As for Reese, he’s a 29 year old virgin. He’s never wanted to take that next step with a woman unless he was convinced he could take care of her in every way possible. The fact that Reese is still trying to navigate his own life, and figure out what he truly wants to do, means he’s never felt like he was in the right place to take care of someone else wholeheartedly. I must say, while I completely understand why they were both hesitant to become physically intimate with each other, I was quite disappointed at Kasey’s initial reaction to his admission of virginity.

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Simply put, she doesn’t believe him. Now, I get it’s a concept which seems completely foreign in today’s day and age. Here we have a gorgeously sexy and caring police officer who’s also handy with a tool belt. How could a man so flirtatious and good looking possibly be a virgin?! However, he’s also never given her a reason to think that he’d make something like that up. She’s convinced he’s lying in order to show her his sensitive side, and trick her into going to bed with him. Perhaps if he had been pushing her repeatedly to jump into bed with him before this moment, I may have understood her point of view. The thing is, he’s always taken things slow with her. When he discovered her hesitancy to go out on a date with him due to the grief she still feels over the death of her husband, he didn’t goad or pressure her into moving on. He chose to keep things friendly between them. So why would he be going to such lengths now to get her into bed by creating a false back story of virginity? It just seemed like an insensitive assumption, not to mention it would have been a complete break with the caring personality which Reese had shown her up until this point.

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Series: A Neighbor From Hell, book 9. One of my favorite romance series of all time.

Final Impressions: While this definitely wasn’t the strongest addition to the Neighbor From Hell series, it’s still a fun, cute read. You can’t help but fall in love with all of the characters, and feel as though we’ve been granted permission to enter their world. There were certain aspects of the story which didn’t come full circle for me, and could have been fleshed out in more detail. While the reasons for Reese’s virginity are discussed quite clearly between him and Kasey, as well as the breakdown of his most recent relationship, something I felt we didn’t receive as much information about was Kasey’s background with her former husband and his family. Overall though, it’s still a great beach read that you won’t want to put down.

Smut Level: Our male lead is an officer of the law. You just know handcuffs are mandatory at some point.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Rerum Industries, Inc. 315 Pages.

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Off the Market by Audrey Wick

Opposites attract in this sweet Texas romance that will leave you smiling, and craving BBQ too! Good thing we get some delightful comfort food recipes to try out at the end of the novel.

What’s it About? 

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Quinn LaFayette is in her inaugural year as library special programs director of Last Stand, but when the kickoff performance for the children’s summer program goes terribly wrong, she has to save face as well as her job. She has a surprise advocate in Cole, whom she did her best to ignore in school. Seven years has only made Cole more appealing, but Quinn is determined to resist the sparks that fly between them because they are too different.

Restaurant owner Cole Hutchinson is no bookworm, but thanks to his fast-thinking antics, he ends up saving the day at the library and earning Quinn’s praise in the process. He’s tempted to seek more, but he’s juggling plenty of female attention from gracing the June edition of Modern Texas magazine featuring barbeque. Cole’s not interested in revisiting a woman from his past, but there’s something about Quinn that he can’t quite ignore.

Can Cole prove that opposites really do attract?

First Impressions

“The jock. The bookworm. Opposite interests. Opposite personalities. Opposite means of interacting.” Quinn’s memories of Cole from high school aren’t necessarily negative, but rather of a man who simply ran in different circles. While she could certainly appreciate his charm and good looks, she acknowledged the two would never have anything in common. When their paths cross again years later, Quinn is shocked to see the former jock run to her rescue in her moment of need. As the summer progresses these two former acquaintances grow closer than either ever thought possible, and Quinn discovers that Cole Hutchinson has matured into a caring man who no longer craves the spotlight of fleeting attention.

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Cole too realizes that this woman is making him want things he’s never desired before, and as she starts to share herself and her love of books with him, he admits to himself that Quinn is a woman he can’t let get away. It was enchanting to see these two nurture their feelings for each other, and especially to see how Quinn’s initial surface-level opinions of this man from high school could change so vastly. Something we don’t really explore though is what Cole thought of Quinn back in the day. He’s certainly smitten with this somewhat shy librarian now, but what about back then? Did he see her as a quiet bookworm? Someone cute, but perhaps beyond his league intellectually? Did he even notice her at all? Even though I loved their tale of romance from start to finish, a further exploration of their history could have been an interesting addition!

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Taking a Stand

The first book in this series really highlighted the tense, yet lovable relationship between the Hutchinson brothers, both of whom are fighting to make their family BBQ joint a success. While this sequel certainly continues on with that theme, we also see the town of Last Stand come to the forefront as a character in its own right. The delightful townsfolk gather together to support and protect their own, yet in this second book we also see the flip side of that small town atmosphere in the shape of city council members who are rooting for Quinn to fail. They see the local library as a non-revenue generating entity that isn’t worth sinking money into. As Quinn encounters a few hurdles at the start of the summer with her reading program aimed at the children of Last Stand, we see Cole come to her aid in more ways than one as their feelings for each other start to deepen.

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When Quinn has to make her case in front of city council for their support of her position, you can’t help but feel a hint of Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, standing up for what’s right in her small town. This of course means we must also encounter a villain in the shape of a city planner whose advances Quinn once rebuked, and therefore he’s out for revenge against her. As the story progresses we see Quinn start to become increasingly concerned about all the obstacles and malice being thrown her way by the city council, and wonders if there will be a place for her much longer in this small Texas town. While our concern for Quinn continues to grow, and we hold our breath in anticipation wondering if she’ll end the summer on a high note, this intriguing story line does sort of fizzle out a bit by the end. There are some questions which aren’t fully answered, and the character who has grown into our villain exits the story rather abruptly. A more fleshed out culmination of these events would have resulted in a smashing success of a read!

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Southern Comfort

If you were to seek out any of my friends and ask them what two things I’m addicted to most in this world they would most likely tell you the following: romance novels and cookbooks. My Kindle has over 1000 romance novel titles, and my bookshelf is literally buckling under the strain of cookbooks featuring practically every cuisine imaginable. Therefore, the fact that this series combines adorable tales of romance with a sampling of comfort food BBQ recipes at the end of each novel means I’m in a swirl of romance-culinary heaven. Check out some of the scrumptious delights this series has provided below!

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Bubba Hutchinson’s Country Biscuits

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The LaFayette Family BBQ Muffins (best thing ever!!)

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Cole Hutchinson’s Corn Casserole

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Wanda Hutchinson’s Peach Cobbler

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

Series: The Texas BBQ Brothers, book 2. There are only two Hutchinson brothers at this barbecue joint, and we’ve seen both of their tales of romance. Can they discover an illegitimate or long-lost brother of some kind so this series doesn’t have to end?!

Final Impressions: This is a cute, fun, quick read that will have you rooting for our main characters on multiple fronts. From Quinn’s struggles making the summer reading program a success, to Cole and his brother seeking to keep their family’s BBQ restaurant a local success story. Interspersed throughout is the natural development of their relationship which is also reminiscent of the romance from book one. These characters feel like your friends, and their affection comes across as completely real. There was the introduction of some contrived drama between Quinn and Cole towards the very end which seemed somewhat unnecessary, and while I was slightly disappointed that the development of our local villain didn’t entirely come full circle, overall it’s a delightful sequel that’s perfect for the beach.

Smut Level: This story is much more focused on Cole and Quinn developing their attraction into affection rather than lust. It’s a sweet read devoid of sex, with a few intimate kisses here and there.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing.

Nailed Down by Chelle Bliss

Kane is a rather intimidating hunk of a man who likes to refer to himself as the “Storm”. Sometimes he even has to threaten to give people a weather lesson should they annoy him too much. Oooooookay then.

What’s it About? 

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He’s the hottest handyman on TV, but he only has eyes for his best friend.

Kit Carlyle isn’t just some woman. Beautiful? Yep. Seductive? Damn straight. She’s also my best friend and my co-worker. But, hell, I’m a guy with a pulse. Every once in a while, I look at her and think filthy things.

But when her cousin dies and leaves her with a long as hell and sexy bucket list, Kit turns to me for a helping hand. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a woman in need. Besides, I’m not about to let another man steal away my girl, occupy her bed, or fill my shoes.

But as the stakes get higher and the items become hotter, I’ll have to face the toughest challenge of all: admitting I want more than Kit’s friendship. I want to make her mine.

First Impressions

A sexy bucket list? Yes please. A friends to lovers romance? Sign me up! The synopsis of this book has everything, and definitely seemed like it’d be right up my alley. It’s definitely a cute read, with some highlight moments, but I must say they summary of what we’d be in store for did ultimately leave me wanting. Particularly when we take a look at that bucket list which is described as being “long and sexy”, and increasing in heat as Kane and Kit start to cross things off that list. My mind definitely ran wild with erotic possibilities. Perhaps some elevator sex? Toys? Alas, in the end the list came across as rather tame in terms of sexiness. Adventurous, or adrenaline inducing may have been a more apt descriptor. Below is a slightly abbreviated version of the 10 items Kit’s cousin designated for the list.

  1. Go zip-lining
  2. Buy something frivolous
  3. Go whale watching
  4. Find someone to give you a mind-numbing, toe-curling, can’t breathe, moan-worthy kiss that ruins you for all other men
  5. Run a half marathon
  6. Shake hands with the president
  7. Camp out in the mountains
  8. Sing in front of a crowd of more than twenty people
  9. Have sex with someone other than yourself
  10. Fall in love

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See what I mean? Not quite the sauciest of lists. While Kane agrees to assist Kit in crossing as many items off the list as possible, only three of them would directly have an impact on their friendship crossing over into something more intimate. We soon discover that while these two have been friends for years, there’s also been an underlying yearning that neither has wanted to act upon. Until now of course. Both are hesitant to act on their desires for the fear that it might interfere with their friendship. However, with the first touch of their lips, the sizzling electricity which ignites between them ensures there’s no going back to mere friendship.

Almost Kiss (5)

The Games We Play

As Kit and Kane continue to check items off her bucket list, they soon come to the conclusion that there are deeper emotions developing between them. While they can both admit to themselves that they’re in love, they simply can’t voice it to each other. It’s even evident to their close friends and colleagues what’s going on. Towards the end even our lovebirds themselves can sense that something bordering on love is building in the other person, yet they both remain tight lipped about how they feel! Therefore, in order to try and nudge him into making a move, Kit tries to make Kane jealous by flirting with another man she knows is a sleazy playboy. Kit admits to feeling like a juvenile brat for playing games with Kane, but that still doesn’t prevent her from playing said games.

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Juvenile is correct. She’s so insistent on setting up this scenario to get him to declare how he feels, that you can’t help but question why she felt the need for him to act first. Seems to me like it would have saved them both a lot of time and energy, not to mention sped up their physical escapades, if she’d been the first to simply voice what she was feeling. At one point Kit even declares that Kane was “emotionally stunted” for not being able to admit how he felt and needed to “man up”. I’d have to counter and ask why she doesn’t “woman up”? Hell, I’m not even asking for her to say she’s fallen deeply in love with him. Merely admitting she’s starting to feel something more than friendship would have been enough to at least test the waters.

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Series: Nailed Down, book 1. I think I’ll continue on with book 2 which features Kane’s brother.

Final Impressions: There are definitely some sweet moments between Kane and Kit, but I felt like there were some important areas which only received a surface-level kind of introduction. It was as though there was a missing layer of depth which could have contributed to a fully fleshed out story. For example, we never learn how Kit’s cousin died. We were also never given the chance to see how Kit and Kane interacted as friends before the death of her cousin. Our book opens with Kit’s return from the funeral, and the introduction of the bucket list. We just sort of dove right into these feelings of lust simmering between them, without ever seeing their previous normal, everyday interactions as buddies. This contrast of a before and after could have helped us connect even more with our characters to see how things have truly changed between them.

Smut Level: Kane is described as a generous, but not a gentle lover. The first time Kit and Kane ever fool around beyond just a kiss is in his truck. Then the first time they actually do the deed is up against a wall. They certainly like to take things up a notch, even if their ultimate consummation doesn’t happen for quite some time.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE Kindle Price. Bliss Ink LLC. 250 Pages

Oceans Away by Skye McNeil

Goodness gracious do the men on this Iowa farm know how to handle their wood! For chopping that is!

What’s it About? 

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Adopted as an infant, Ireland Leighton grew up in the heart of the Midwest. After inheriting millions from her biological parents, she is determined to help others any way she can. The only string is a business engagement with another millionaire. Ireland returns to Iowa years later to plan her brother’s tropical wedding. The festivities would be easier if her sexy ex-boyfriend stayed out of reach and her future wasn’t already planned.

Time suppressed his feelings for the girl next door, but Gideon Taggart isn’t about to let Ireland escape again. Farmer by day, veterinarian by choice, his second chance with his first love is far from easy. He soon discovers that no matter how much he loves Ireland, she’ll always choose her family over a future with him.

First Impressions

What struck me most with this novel was Ireland’s constant struggle between who she is now, and who she was six years ago when she first set out from her small Iowa hometown. Adopted at a young age, she grew up in a rather humble home, but was surrounded by a family who loved her. The sexy farm boy next door, Gideon, also showed her all the love in the world. But when Ireland becomes an adult she discovers the wealthy lineage of her deceased birth-parents, as well as a grandmother who is still alive and ready to show her the ropes of the family business. Ireland is drawn to the allure of this new millionaire lifestyle, and ultimately decides to pursue it by leaving Gideon behind, in spite of his pleas for her to remain. Fast-forward six years, and she’s finally coming back home for the first time since she left at the news that her brother is about to get married. What will it be like for this multi-millionaire businesswoman to return to her humble roots, not to mention see her sexy farm boy again after six years apart?

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Resentment

Needless to say, Gideon is rather resentful that she abandoned him in the dust all those years ago in pursuit of wealth. Surprisingly though, her family also makes a few jabs about her new lifestyle, specifically in regards to the paparazzi who are in constant pursuit of her. Now, it’s true, when Ireland traveled off to faraway places six years ago, she did lose touch with those she left behind, but I couldn’t help but feel that some of their resentment was misplaced. After all, this is a girl who went for years without knowing anything about her birth parents. Can they really fault her for wanting to discover more of herself, and take advantage of opportunities that weren’t available to her before? Yes, she lost touch with them, but in a way they also lost touch with her. We never really hear mention of them trying to reach out to her during that time, or help her adjust to what must have been a very emotional and confusing time.

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With this first foray into travel, freedom, indulgences and massive wealth, it seems Ireland engaged in some questionable acts that got her plastered across the tabloids. When Ireland returns home, this spoiled party girl image is the one Gideon and her family call to mind. Never mind the fact that she has since adjusted into a responsible adult, taking the reigns of her family business and growing her wealth and success to incredible heights. She’s obviously matured into her role as a businesswoman, as well as philanthropist helping those less fortunate, and yet surprisingly her friends and family still seem to view her as a rather spoiled princess. It’s as though they judge her for those few initial mistakes she made upon the discovery of wealth rather than who she was her entire life up until that point, as well as the successful person she’s become since then.

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Iowa vs. the World

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. A romance novel set in a small mid-western Iowa farm town. How exactly is this a beach read? Well don’t worry, our story takes place about half the time down on the farm, and the other half down in Barbados. This change of scenery is a crucial feature, as it hearkens back to the moment when Ireland and Gideon first called it quits. Upon discovery of her birth-family’s wealth, the endless possibilities of the world called to Ireland in a way they never had before, probably because now they could become a reality rather than just a pipe-dream.

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For Gideon, the responsibilities of his family’s farm keep him grounded to the land. She pleads with him to go with her, he pleads with her to stay. Compromise never seemed to be part of the picture, and we see this struggle hold true even after Ireland returns home. The question of Iowa vs. the world was always a question of one over the other. You can’t help but be surprised that with Ireland’s immense wealth, not to mention access to a private plane, that the possibility of her splitting time between Iowa and Barbados never really entered the equation. Again, considering how much of this novel is split between her traveling back and forth from Iowa to Barbados, you’d think she’s demonstrating rather effectively how things could have been a compromise rather than a competition. Although…if you ask me there’s certainly no competition between the two!!

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Jealousy Rears It’s Ugly Head

When Ireland comes back home, Gideon can’t keep away from her, or prevent himself from teasing flirting with her any chance he gets. When her soon-to-be business partner, Mason, arrives on the farm to get to know and see Ireland in her home environment, Gideon’s jealousy kicks into overdrive. A few growls ensue, as well as some make out sessions thrown up against a barn stall door. He tries to show her that the chemistry between them is stronger than anything she might have for Mason, and that despite the last six years apart their feelings for each other are just as strong as ever. Just when Ireland starts to warm up to the idea of a future with Gideon, of working out the limitations of distance to their relationship, what does Gideon do? He pushes her away. Harrrrrd.

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Gideon is convinced that Ireland has her sights set on Mason, and that his immense wealth will draw her to him more than Gideon’s wholesome Iowa ways ever could. He believes Mason would provide Ireland with all the things she could ever want in life, whereas his lack of money would be a disservice to her. Interestingly, this not only highlights Gideon’s own self-deprecating view of himself, but once more a rather negative view of Ireland that money would mean more to her than love. As though his love and her own massive amounts of wealth would never be enough for her, but that she’d turn her back on love in favor of even more wealth than she’s already built for herself. True, she turned her back on him all those years ago, but when she comes back to him, declaring her love, demonstrating through both words and actions how she feels, he turns his back on her. It seemed rather unfair and hurtful to her emotions for him to initially reel her in towards him through his initial bouts of jealousy, then just when she’s ready to fall into his arms he pushes her away.

The Big Day

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

Series: The Atlas Series, book 2.

Final Impressions: I think one key aspect we were missing here was the goodbye scene of six years ago. What exactly was said at the moment when Gideon and Ireland were on the cusp of ending their relationship? Perhaps a prologue featuring their goodbye would have provided an added window into the hurt that Ireland’s actions had on Gideon. The fact of the matter is all we really see firsthand is Ireland’s devotion to those less fortunate, to her family, and to continuing a successful career as a businesswoman. This made it difficult to understand the “spoiled princess” title that others placed on her. I think we also needed to see some additional scenes of Ireland interacting with her grandmother who she didn’t even know existed for the majority of her life, and more of an explanation on why it took so long for her grandmother to reach out to her. It’s briefly covered at the end, but we never see a conversation play out between these two women. Maybe even a moment showing her grandmother interacting with her adoptive family would have been enlightening!

Smut Level: Hot daaaaang!! Ireland loves to get her hands on Gideon’s many tattoos, and he knows just how to make her moan aloud in ecstasy.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 300 Pages.