Love From Amanda to Zoey by Ian Mark

An emotionally heavy read which examines life, loss, love, and how interconnected those topics can truly be.

What’s it About?

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Everything comes easy for Zach Johnston. Only 24 years old, he’s got it all– the girl, the high paying tech job, and the rent-controlled apartment in the Village. But when his best friend overdoses and his girlfriend leaves him, his inability to connect with other people overwhelms him.

Desperate to hide his pain from Amanda, the ex who met “11 out of 13 criteria” on his friend’s most important checklist, Zach plasters on a smile as he rejoins his single friends chasing girls at seedy bars and grungy apartments, hoping the emptiness inside him will disappear if he pretends it doesn’t exist. As he descends into a haze of weed, booze, and hallucinogens, Zach recognizes his remaining friendships for what they are— partnerships of convenience, forged long ago simply on the shared desire to get high and get laid, continuing to this day because the effort required to replace them is too great. He also turns his judgmental lens inwards and begins to understand the consequences of his one night stands and shameless flirting, and the perils of assuming everyone he meets is dumber than he is.

At the peak of this crisis of confidence, Zach meets Zoey Mclemore, the beautiful, intelligent woman he has always told himself he could love and marry. Eating caramels sober with her is better than being drunk or high with anyone else. But when Zoey finds Zach drunk and alone with Amanda, he knows he must show Zoey he is ready to be an adult, or face never watching Spongebob with her again.

First Impressions

Zach is at a dark point in his life. After proposing to his girlfriend, Amanda, he’s surprised to find that her rejection of his offer has now resulted in the end of the longest romantic relationship he’s ever been in. He’s now trying everything he can to “come out on top” in their breakup, and demonstrate that he’s not heartbroken over her refusal. He’ll be just fine without her in his life. At least, this is Zach’s initial explanation to himself of why he’s losing himself every night in women, booze, and drugs. We soon come to find that his pain runs much deeper than a surface-level breakup with a long-time girlfriend. As it turns out, Zach is not just losing himself in these activities, but rather numbing himself. His downward spiral into drugs and alcohol is a desperate attempt to forget the tragic death of his best friend, and the confusion and turmoil which has plagued him ever since. His recent breakup with Amanda was just the icing on the cake of his pain.

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The Anti-Hero

Zach isn’t always the most likable of characters. We see that he’s prone to say and do some rather stupid things, and he’s certainly not without his flaws. However, this is also what makes him a realistic character. He’s stumbling through life, just like we all are. Throughout the novel we constantly question whether or not he’ll ever have an epiphany where he’ll wake up to see what truly matters in life. It’s a slow realization which comes as he spends more time with Zoey, a woman his mother was determined to set him up with. Eventually Zach discovers that he’s at risk of losing Zoey completely if he doesn’t clean up his act. I appreciated that he didn’t immediately push aside all the drugs and alcohol after his first meeting with her, or even after the first time they said they loved each other. That would have been too easy, and if Zach’s story teaches us anything it’s that life isn’t easy.

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It’s full of ups and downs, twists and turns, but ultimately it is possible to find someone who can help to lessen the pain. Zoey proves to be that salvation for Zach. It was interesting to see the progression of their relationship, from the first date where he was so nervous at the prospect of making a bad first impression, to an eventual fight that risks signalling the end of their love altogether. Zach reflects how his fear of losing Zoey is so much more terrifying than the fear he had over looking like a fool on that first date. Back then she was simply someone he might like to spend time with, but she eventually comes to represent the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with. She is his future. The question is, will he be able to show Zoey that she means more to him than all the drugs and alcohol that he’s filled his life with up until this point?

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A Second Death

At the start of the novel we see how Zach’s life was consumed with grief and guilt over the passing of his best friend, and as Zoey becomes a more permanent presence in his life we see an almost conflicting process of healing. Zach is slowly moving on from the debilitating grief that has plagued him since the death of Brian, and he’s surprised to notice that some days can eventually pass without him thinking at all about his best friend. His ability to cope is undoubtedly a healthy step in the healing process, yet it also fills him with sadness at the realization that he’s starting to think less of his friend. He’s even struggling to picture Brian’s smiling face clearly in his mind’s eye. Zach has vowed to never forget his friend, to never stop saying his name, as he feels to forget him would almost be like putting Brian through a second death. The death of his memory. It’s a rather poignant look at loss and the various stages of grief.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This book certainly left me teary-eyed a time or two when Zach’s grief over the death of his best friend became all consuming. A good portion of the story focuses on Zach lamenting over Brian’s death, getting lost in drugs and alcohol to numb his pain, as well as pursuing various women to get over his break-up with Amanda. While it’s a gripping progression of events, we also could have spent more time witnessing Zach and Zoey together as a couple. He can sense his feelings for Zoey are different than all those who came before, and they seem to have a similar sense of humor and ability to just be with each other, even in silence. But most of the time we merely see Zach reminiscing on their time together rather than us seeing scenes of them together and connecting emotionally. It could have provided a nice additional layer of depth to the story.

Smut Level: Zach and Zoey definitely connect physically, and can go all night long. Nothing to overly graphic or detailed though.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Omnific Publishing. 188 Pages.

He Belongs to Her by Sunny Chambers

A story of love vs. lust. Nellie thinks her affair with a married man is the real deal, but will her flirtations with a young pool-boy develop into something more consuming?

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What happens when lies are exposed? Nellie is in love, or so she thinks, but is it real? Brent loves her back, doesn’t he? She wonders can he ever be hers. Will Nellie ever find true love and will Paolo be able to declare his true feelings for her? The secrets and twists throughout this story threaten to destroy the path to happiness and the lives of those involved.

First Impressions

Honestly, our first introduction to Nellie isn’t all that positive. We’re presented with a seemingly spoiled little rich girl, still living in her father’s mansion, working in his business, and having an affair with a married man. Nellie muses to feeling no remorse or guilt for her sexual escapades with this man, hoping that Brent will leave his harsh and unloving wife behind so they can be together. As an aside, Nellie also admits to feeling a longtime simmering attraction for Paolo, the pool-boy at her father’s home. And yet, she feels she could never act on these feelings, as she wants to avoid becoming the cliche of a wealthy woman “…becoming involved with a member of their staff.” The fact that her mother left her father for someone below their station also doesn’t help matters. Again, certainly not the best of first impressions.

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An Early Climax

That being said, our opinion of Nellie changes rather quickly when her affair with Brent comes out in the open to none other than his wife, Meg. Surprisingly, the story arch of this novel almost seemed to happen in reverse, or perhaps like we were coming into things at the midway point when Nellie and Brent’s affair was already well underway. We started off with the introduction of our cast of characters, each of them getting their own chapter intro. Nellie, her lover Brent, Brent’s wife Meg, Nellie’s father, Paolo the pool-boy, and even Nellie’s mother (a somewhat unnecessary chapter in my opinion). After this it seems like we get our climactic scene of discovery when Meg catches her husband and Nellie in an intimate embrace.

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While we hold our breath in anticipation wondering what havoc might be in store for our characters, we start to see things vastly improve for most of them. Nellie and Meg take their lives into their own hands by pushing Brent out of it. Even Nellie’s father, Chad, pushes Brent out of his company after discovering his mistreatment of Paolo’s family in an attempt to get them to sell their business to benefit a real estate development venture. Things are on the up-and-up for everyone, with our villainous Brent seeming to get the comeuppance he deserves. I kept waiting around for some kind of secondary climactic moment, but we never really get one which was as crucial to the plot as when the affair was discovered at about the 1/3 mark. Everything else was kind of smooth sailing afterwards!

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We do see Nellie mature as she eventually realizes the extent of Brent’s manipulation, and that her feelings for him were purely lust rather than love. She feels stupid for her naivety, yet also acknowledges it as a learning experience. Nellie also starts to interact with Paolo again more fervently than before. He’s recently become a wealthy man after an inheritance from his grandmother, which has allowed him to invest fully in his uncle’s restaurant. Now that she’s out from under Brent’s manipulation, Nellie finally allows herself to entertain the idea of exploring her feelings for Paolo.

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Now, even though Nellie has undoubtedly matured, I do wish she would have allowed herself to become involved with Paolo back when he was merely a pool boy. The progression of the novel makes it seem like if Paolo hadn’t come into money, he and Nellie may never have crossed paths which would lead them down a road to romance. We can’t help but wonder if Nellie ever would have noticed Paolo following her breakup with Brent if money hadn’t been an influencing factor in bringing them back together.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I almost wish this novel had started off with us witnessing how Brent and Nellie began their affair in the first place. It could have provided us with a clearer window into Nellie’s emotional state of why she felt this man “belongs to her”, a sentiment which seemingly influenced the title of the work itself. As it stands, it seems as though we’re coming into a story at the halfway point. Following the discovery of the affair by Brent’s wife, we don’t really see any further struggle or climax of the plot. Overall there were some areas that could have used some additional fine-tuning and editing to bring everything full circle. Perhaps even one additional scene involving a heart-to heart between Nellie and her mother, who ran off to have her own affair, could have provided an additional emotional insight to our characters. Instead we would often just see a brief mention of an event/conversation taking place between two characters rather than witnessing a full description of the scene playing out.

Smut Level: Some steamy moments, but nothing overtly descriptive that would make you blush.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.95 Kindle Price. Austin Macauley Publishers LLC. 145 Pages.

Meant to be Different by Amelia Foster

Another home run! Amelia Foster once again succeeds in hitting it out of the park in her sequel of the “Meant to Be” series, Meant to be Different. 

What’s it About?

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Young Wyatt Carlisle fell in love with the rodeo and it became his dream career. It was also the decision that would one day cost him his high school sweetheart. But when thirty rolls around he decides to give his battered body a break, he retires with two goals in mind: open a training facility in his hometown and win back his Gigi.

Teenage Georgia Marsh is not only faced with watching her mother fade from terminal cancer, but also a relocation to North Carolina. It’s only made worse when the one person not scared by her goth girl persona is a rhinestone cowboy with more swagger than brain cells. In a turn of events she never thought possible, Wyatt becomes her first love and a rock through the heartbreak of losing her mother. Only to shatter her months later when he chooses his career and disappears from her world.

After a twelve year separation, Wyatt saunters back into Georgia’s life. Forced to work together on a project for her boss, and one of Wyatt’s sponsors, their sexual chemistry quickly ignites, but Georgia is determined not to fall for Wyatt’s charm a second time around. Especially when she suspects that watching the cowboy ride off into the sunset for a second time might be more than she can handle.

First Impressions

What can I say about this series other than that you should read it? Amelia Foster is a master storyteller who allows us a glimpse into teen love, second chances, and even emotional heartbreak. This sequel in the “Meant to Be” series holds up just as strongly to the premier novel, which is really saying something considering that was also a beautiful roller-coaster of a read that gave me all the feels. Something I’ve appreciated with this series so far is that while we see a continuation of certain themes, such as the brilliant use of flashbacks and alternating points of view between the lead characters, each novel really is distinct.

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It never felt as though this second book was merely a repeat of the one which came before it. Wyatt and Gigi’s story is unique to them in a way that sets them apart from the couple of the first novel, even though that one featured Wyatt’s older brother. It feels as though we are once again witnessing a true romance play out between two very real people that we’ve come to know intimately through the author’s words. Wyatt and Gigi demonstrate that their teenage love which ended 12 years ago may not be entirely over, but simply paused. This rhinestone cowboy may have just found a second chance at love with his dark angel.

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A Journey to the Past

While the consistent use of flashbacks might not have been as mind-blowingly spectacular as their use in book one, they still served a very important and alluring purpose of highlighting the foundation of Wyatt and Gigi’s relationship all those years ago. They seemed like polar opposites when they first met in high school. She was the new goth girl in town, and he was the popular wannabe rodeo stud that all the girls drooled over. Somehow this rhinestone cowboy is able to draw this dark angel out of her shell, and they find love together. But this story is more than just a simple teenage romance. We discover that Gigi’s surly attitude at moving to this small North Carolina town is born of the fact that her mother is in the last stages of cancer, and it’s just a matter of time before she’s gone from this world.

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Heavy stuff, I know. The beauty though of her relationship with Wyatt is that he manages to pull her out of the constant limbo she’s experiencing at home, bouncing constantly between life and the imminent arrival of her mother’s death, to find an escape where she can simply be herself. To find a few days a week where she doesn’t have to be constantly worrying about her mother’s illness, or how her dad is struggling with losing the love of his life. What started as a simple dalliance to take her mind off the harsh realities of life soon turns into an example of true love. Wyatt stands by Gigi in everything, and she too supports him through some of his own life’s struggles. They might experience a few bumps in the road, just like with any new relationship, but they soon discover the key to their love is always being open with each other when life tries to get in the way. Wyatt especially acknowledges that the depth of their love isn’t like every other typical teenage romance. It’s real. They’ll make it through anything life throws at them, and they’ll be together past their teenage years, because their love is meant to be different. Or is it?

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The Hope for Second Chances

We know pretty much from the opening page, actually from the synopsis itself, that Wyatt left Gigi behind all those years ago to pursue his dreams of becoming a rodeo star bull rider. It seems that in spite of all their vows that their love was “meant to be different”, it seems to have succumbed to defeat just like any other teenage romance. Throughout the novel we see a constant switch back and forth of Wyatt trying to win Gigi back in the present, while simultaneously seeing how their love played out in the past. As we see how deep of a connection these two had when they were young, we see that their teenage romance in fact wasn’t merely just a passing fancy. They meant everything to each other. So where did it all go wrong, and more importantly, will Wyatt be able to convince Gigi that he’s worth a second chance? When they first met he had to fight for her to see how good they could be together, and all these years later he’s going through that same fight of trying to win her trust.

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Something that really did surprise me as we saw the love between Wyatt and Gigi play out in both the past and the present, was that we never witnessed that one key moment where Wyatt decided to leave. We hear his explanation to Gigi when they reconnect, but we never actually get a flashback scene where we see him drive off into the sunset. I was kind of confused at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the purpose of these flashbacks was not to build up to the point where he left. Instead, it was to show the development of their love up until that point. To demonstrate how Wyatt was there for Gigi through every hardship, including standing as a pillar when her mother eventually died. He also succeeded in showing her that life was still worth living amidst such pain. His decision to leave was not out of selfishness. As we uncover his reasoning behind the decision we realize it may have been the most selfless decision of his life. What mattered most was not that we saw how or when he left, but rather that he came back. The author manages to convince us through these flashbacks that Wyatt is in fact worthy of a second chance in the present, and we can only hold our breath in anticipation that Gigi remembers why their love is worth fighting for.

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

Series: Meant to Be, book 2. I love, love, love this series, and you can bet your Stetson I’ll be continuing on to see what might be in store for the other Carlisle brothers going forward.

Final Impressions: I pretty much finished this book in two sittings. It made me laugh, sigh, and definitely brought tears to my eyes a time or two. It’s an emotional read for sure, and seeing Gigi and Wyatt’s love play out as teenagers was particularly heartbreaking because you knew going into it that eventually it would end. But then to see them pick things up again in the present, you’re hopeful that all these years later they’ll manage to find the happiness which escaped them back then. As their story played out, I was drawn so much into their world that it started to feel like I was reading about two people I actually knew. When it was over I even wanted to pick up my phone to call Gigi and dish about how Wyatt is such a dreamboat. A girl can dream!

Smut Level: When it comes to the bedroom, Gigi demands one simple thing of her cowboy lover. Clothes off…cowboy hat on. 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 227 Pages.

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When I Fall by J. Daniels

Reed has a very firm “no kissing” rule when it comes to the women he “dates”. Actually, make that “has one-night stands with”.

What’s it About?

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For the past nine years, I’ve kept my heart as far away from my d*ck as possible. Those two can’t be anywhere near each other. They don’t play nice, and one of them undoubtedly winds up getting hurt. Not my d*ck. My d*ck is good.

The women I take home know exactly what they’re getting from me—a good time. Nothing more. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The sweet brunette from Kentucky I set my sights on tonight shouldn’t have been any different. I had her right where I wanted her. Where I needed her. But when my past comes walking into McGill’s pub, the woman in my arms decides to take things to a whole new level, putting me into a situation I never saw coming.

My heart is about to get f**ked. My d*ck can sit this one out.

First Impressions 

Of all the novels in this series so far, this one might just be my favorite, and for one very important reason. I liked the characters! After finishing the second book in this series I almost didn’t continue on with it, but I decided to give it one last try. I’m definitely glad I did! Reed and Beth have a chemistry which is undeniably palpable. At first glance in a local pub, Reed has his usual sights set on Beth, thinking that she’ll be his quick and easy source of entertainment for the evening. After all, she’s reading romance smut on her Kindle in a bar. Surely she’s up for a good time? However, it’s not long into his flirtations that a painful memory from his past comes waltzing through the door, and bragging about her upcoming engagement party no less. He’s like a deer caught in headlights when confronted with his ex, and Beth can sense that this flirtatious playboy is hurting. So, she does the only thing she can think of. She grabs his face and kisses him. So much for Reed’s no kissing rule!

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The Playboy and his Fake Girlfriend

Reed is a quintessential playboy, so what is it about this young woman that sets her apart from all the others who have come before? And believe me, there was a hefty plethora which came before. Well, there are a few things which set this lady apart from all of Reed’s former bedfellows. Firstly, she initiated their first kiss, even if it was all pretend as she simultaneously concocted a ruse of her and Reed dating in order to help him confront his cheating former ex. Beth and Reed were strangers, and yet even upon first meeting she was essentially trying to protect him. Her selflessness, not to mention their steamy kiss, practically knocked him on his ass.

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Then there’s the whole matter of the ruse itself. When Beth pretends to be Reed’s girlfriend, and also offers to keep up the charade by accompanying him to his ex’s engagement party, their first key moments together are essentially shrouded in pretend. Reed’s goal is no longer to immediately get Beth into bed, but rather to survive this awkward confrontation with his ex. In order to distract him from the unusual circumstances of their pretend relationship, Beth opens up about herself, and in turn gets Reed to open up about himself as well. It’s the first time in years that he’s simply been able to be himself with another woman, and develop a connection that is beyond sex. Reed and Beth both become smitten with each other throughout the course of the evening, and it’s during this engagement party that they decide to stop pretending.

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Everything in Moderation

While Beth does her best to take Reed’s mind off the awkwardness of the evening, he chooses to find additional solace in alcohol. It doesn’t stop him though from ultimately opening up to Beth, and admitting that he wants to take her home. What follows is a passionate night of multiple orgasms…that we don’t actually get to read about firsthand. You see, there’s one little problem with this entire situation. Come morning, Reed doesn’t remember any of the details of their sexual escapades.

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Imagine for a moment being new to town, offering to be a fake girlfriend for a complete stranger, spending an amazing night together getting up to all kinds of dirty deeds, and then when you wake up hoping to have a continuation of said dirty deeds you realize that your fake boyfriend for the night doesn’t remember any of the sex from the previous evening. Needless to say, Beth bolts out of there in sheer embarrassment. You gotta hand it to Reed though, the man must be one high-functioning black-out drunk. As the days pass, and his calls to Beth go unanswered, he starts to remember snippets of their night together, and hot damn! They made use of every surface of his house, not to mention got creative in the kitchen with various condiment options. Let this be a lesson to you ladies and gents, alcohol in moderation. You don’t want to forget these steamy details!

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Off-Balance

The first half of this novel was an absolute hoot. The entire set-up of their fake relationship which quickly developed into something more was extremely entertaining. You also can’t help but feel slightly bad for Reed in his hungover state. It’s not like he tried to kick Beth out of his bed in the morning or anything. He actually tried his damnedest to convince her to stay and talk things out. He may not have remembered their sexual exploits from the previous night, but he remembered how he felt about her. That he knew she was special, and that he enjoyed the moments they could simply laugh together.

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What follows are some humorous scenes where Reed tries to win her back, but everything takes a more serious turn with the introduction of some drama surrounding the couple from the first novel in this series. It’s in this moment that both Reed and Beth realize how important they are to each other, and Beth decides to stop running. They decide to make a go of an official relationship, and Reed is especially determined to make up for all the lost bedroom time. This results in the second-half of the novel being pretty sex-heavy, to the point where you almost forget how they came together in the first place. Either the events from the first half needed to be spread out more evenly over the course of the novel, or maybe we could have trimmed a sex scene or two from the second half. I know, trimming sexing scenes seems so unlike me, right?!

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Series: Alabama Summer, book 3. My favorite book of the series so far. Still not without its faults, but we seem to be moving in an upward trajectory. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: I definitely enjoyed this one. Beth especially was a unique and intriguing character considering her background of familial loss, homelessness, and even emotional abuse at the hands of another man. As for Reed, it was refreshing to see this playboy learn to find happiness with another woman outside of the bedroom. He even admits that it’s the moments in between their time in the sheets that become his favorite where they can simply have fun laughing together. We do see some additional drama come into play towards the end involving Beth’s dad (which in my opinion was slightly unnecessary), as well as the return of a jerk from Beth’s past, which also wasn’t my favorite as it demonstrated Beth’s vulnerability and lack of confidence in her relationship with Reed. Overall though, the story manages to come full circle, and Reed is able to demonstrate his full devotion to this woman.

Smut Level: Yowza! When you read about using honey in a sexual scenario…well that just seems like a sticky mess with very little appeal.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. JD Publishing, LLC. 372 Pages.

Under the Skin by Zara West

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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Two Peas in a Pod

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

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

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The Spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dirty English by Ilsa Madden-Mills

A man who can analyze the themes and characters of Pride and Prejudice? Hell yeah!

What’s it About?

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A scarred fighter.
A girl with rules.
One night of unbridled passion.
There are three things you need to know about Elizabeth Bennett: she’s smart as a whip, always in control, and lives by a set of carefully crafted rules. She’s learned the hard way that people you love the most always hurt you in the end. But then she meets Declan Blay, the new neighbor at her apartment complex.

A tattooed British street fighter, he’s the campus bad boy she’s supposed to avoid, but when he saves her from a frat party gone bad, all her rules about sex and love fly out the window. She gives him one night of unbridled passion, but he longs for more. With only a cardboard-thin wall separating their bedrooms, he dreams of possessing the vulnerable girl next door forever. One night. Two damaged hearts. The passion of a lifetime.

First Impressions 

Our opening scene presents us with waking up the morning after a night of sex. Unfortunately it’s not the post orgasmic bliss we’d hope to see at the start of a romance novel. Instead we see Elizabeth wake up the night after prom to the realization she’s been assaulted and raped by her boyfriend, Colby. She blames herself for the events of that night, for being drunk and not saying no to whatever drugs and alcohol Colby pushed on her. Fast-forward two years, and we find Elizabeth in college. She admits to herself that the events of that night didn’t ruin her sexuality, but rather impacted her trust of men. She’s established rules since then involving how she interacts with men. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to hook up with men for a one-night stand, but she vows to never hook up with popular, rich, or hot guys. She has to make the first move, and she has to be on top. Essentially we see that she’s built walls around her heart to keep it from breaking again, and has established rules to keep most men at a distance. But rules, as they say, are meant to be broken. Will a bad boy Brit convince her to throw her rule book out the window?

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The Sentimental Fighter

At first glance, Declan is entirely wrong for Elizabeth. He’s smolderingly sexy, he’s a fighter, and he’s well-known on campus. The two are neighbors, and also happen to be in a Pride and Prejudice class together, which means try as she might Elizabeth can’t ignore him for long. There’s a link drawing them together, and as she gets to know him more than the fighter he is on the outside, Elizabeth discovers there’s a sentimental and kind-hearted man lying beneath the surface. Declan might be a fighter, but he can’t fight the pull that’s continually putting him and Elizabeth in the same path. He knows she has her rules, and he slowly starts to put the pieces of her past together to realize someone hurt her emotionally and physically to be so distrustful of others. Maybe he can convince her that he’s worth taking a chance on.

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I definitely enjoyed the initial back and forth between Elizabeth and Declan as they warred with their mutual desire for each other. In the beginning they both try to fight their attraction, and this is more so on Elizabeth’s side since she worries about how much Declan could hurt her if she opens her hear to him. As a fighter Declan insists he doesn’t need a distraction to his focus like Elizabeth. Eventually they can resist no longer, and after having sex (on the mats of his gym no less!) there’s further debate between them over whether or not their relationship will continue beyond that one night. Personally, I think this is when their back and forth started to feel too repetitive, and the story dragged on for a bit too long.

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Needless Repetition

Declan is seemingly dead set on making things work between them, whereas Elizabeth insists on keeping to her rules of one and done. This is compounded by the fact that Declan’s ex keeps sniffing around trying to insert herself back into his life. It raises all of Elizabeth’s insecurities, and she tries to convince Declan that she doesn’t feel anything for him other than lust. This understandably makes him a bit…moody. But then the back and forth begins where Elizabeth tries to make amends, Declan tries to show that he’s moved on, and then when he realizes she was making an effort he tries to get her back. But then she remembers how he said no so she turns away from him, which makes him get all snippy again. I mean my God people just rip off your clothes and have sex with each other already. Play time is over, you both like each other, let’s move on from all this petty high school drama.

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You can definitely understand each person’s hesitancies. Elizabeth is overcoming a lot of shit in her life, from a crappy mom with a slew of endless boyfriends, to the tragic events in high school at the hands of someone she thought she loved and trusted. We can’t fault her for putting up walls around her heart. As for Declan, he’s putting himself out there as much as he can, but in the constant face of rejection from Elizabeth he wonders if she’ll ever be able to overcome her past, or if she truly feels nothing on an emotional level for him. Look, I get it! But having this constant back and forth where neither was on the same page at the same time turned it into a repetitive circle of misunderstandings and snippy comments like, “well what do you care anyway?”Again, too high school for me.

Coming Forward

“Why had I let a mere boy destroy me?” One of our main goals with this read, other than to see Declan and Elizabeth find a happily ever after together, is for Elizabeth to bring her ex, Colby, to justice for what he did to her all those years ago after prom. This little douche monkey can’t possibly get away with what he did to her. At several points in the story it seems like the decision to open up about Colby’s past transgressions might be taken out of Elizabeth’s hands entirely. Her deadbeat mother and her mother’s boyfriend of the month are desperate for money, so they come up with a plot to blackmail Colby’s senator father.

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They’re convinced that he’ll be willing to pay big bucks to prevent them from revealing to the press what his son did all those years ago. In this moment we are presented with such an interesting dichotomy because while he want Colby to pay for his crimes, we don’t want it to happen in this way. It has to be on Elizabeth’s terms. It has to be her story to tell. Not theirs. However, Elizabeth seems so determined to keep the events from that night buried deep in her past. Surely the sick weasel won’t get off scot-free? Eventually Elizabeth can’t ignore that night anymore, especially when she realizes Colby is transferring to her school.

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Series: British Bad Boys, book 1. Declan’s brother Max was probably my favorite character in the whole book. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for him next!

Final Impressions: A sad initial start, but this story definitely had a strong overall beginning. The connection between Declan and Elizabeth is undeniable, and you’re rooting for Elizabeth to overcome her past trauma to let love back into her life. Towards the halfway point though the book started to fizzle and drag for a bit as our couple constantly danced around their feelings for each other.

Smut Level: Dirty English indeed. He’s quite adamant about…licking her up clean.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Little Dove Publishing. 272 Pages.

All I Want by J. Daniels

This is a slightly bizarre romance in that you’re almost rooting for our lead couple to not end up together.

What’s it About?

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Luke Evans is a heartbreaker.
I didn’t want to give mine to him. Not when he kept me out.
He gave me enough, just enough to make me fall in love with him. I say this to convince myself. But I know the truth.
I would’ve fallen in love with him at a distance.
Handing my heart over to Luke was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I was naive when I wished for more, when I hoped he wanted the same things I did.
I try to hate him. I try to forget him.
But it’s not that easy.
Love is a ruthless bitch, and I’m her latest victim.
~*~
Tessa Kelly is a man-eater.
When she sets her sights on you, she doesn’t just consume your heart, she goes for your soul.
What we had was perfect, real, and all I would ever want.
But she destroyed it.
She destroyed us.
I try to hate her. I try to forget her.
But it’s not that easy.
Love is for people who have hope, and I have none.

First Impressions

Tessa and Luke have a bit of a topsy-turvy relationship. They dated for a brief period of three months before Tessa broke it off for two primary reasons that unfortunately she never really bothered to tell Luke about directly. 1) Luke never opened up with her about anything personal. During all of the time they spent together he would always change the subject whenever she asked him anything personal about his own life, especially when asked about his parents. The most personal thing she ever learned about him in three months was probably the fact that he had a slight obsession with raw cookie dough. And that’s not even because he told her outright. It was just an easy observation. 2) Tessa had a false pregnancy scare, and when she tried to feel out whether or not Luke ever wanted a wife and family he answered with a firm and resounding “no”. Who would have thought that the one time he admitted something personal about himself it would signal the end of their relationship? Now, I’ll admit it was pretty shitty of her to end their relationship so abruptly, with no explanation to Luke as to why she was ending things. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they had a rather toxic relationship in many other respects.

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An Attempt to Move On

In the opening scene of this book we learn it’s been almost a year since Tessa broke off her relationship with Luke, and since then they’ve been awkwardly trying to avoid each other. Whenever they do happen to find themselves in close proximity, they snap at each other before eventually blowing things out of proportion into a massive argument. Tessa has finally decided she’s had enough wallowing over her failed relationship with Luke, and that it’s time to move on. Watch out online dating, here comes Tessa! Poor girl. Little does she how many weirdos and creeps are waiting out there to connect with her. Now, while it seems like Tessa isn’t fully over her break up with Luke, she realizes that the best way to move on is to start interacting with other men. Not to mention they might be able to help her scratch the horny itch that has been plaguing her since things ended with Luke.

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Granted, having an adult conversation with Luke about why their relationship wasn’t working for her, and that it was time to move on probably would have helped her in getting over him more fully. However, online dating seemed like an easier option. As for Luke, he has been cursing Tessa’s name ever since she ended things between them. Sure, he still desires her body, but he’ll admit to anyone willing to listen that she’s a man-eater, and that he hates her. So the fact that Tessa’s decision to start dating again sparked a jealous rage within Luke that made him want to get her back underneath him in bed didn’t really scream romance to me, but rather it sort of screamed immaturity. Especially because, again, he doesn’t choose to have a conversation with her about how seeing her flirt with other men makes him realize he still desires her. Instead he gets all territorial on her whenever she brings another man into their friend group. He might as well have just lifted his leg and peed all around her.

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Wait, Seriously? 

Another aspect of their relationship which didn’t sit right with me was that their bickering over their past, and Tessa’s new foray into the dating world, would oftentimes lead to angry sex. Sometimes angry sex can be sexy, but with this read it left a bad taste in my mouth. There is one scene in particular where Luke and Tessa are about to have sex again for the first time since they broke up the previous year. They both seem pissed off about their continued desire for each other, but Luke seems determined to stake his claim, while Tessa seems like she just wants to have some mind-blowing orgasms before they both go their separate ways again. Right before they do the deed, Tessa realizes that Luke isn’t wearing a condom.

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Seeing that she had a pregnancy scare last year, not to mention the fact that it’s a PERFECTLY REASONABLE REQUEST, she asks Luke to grab a condom before they go further. Luke throws a bit of a hissy fit, asking why he needs to wear one if they’ve done it before without one, and she knows how much he doesn’t like the feel of wearing a condom while having sex. Tessa stands firm and asks that he wear one, and his childish response is that if she wants him to wear one so bad she can go grab it herself and put it on for him. Ummm…what…the…fiddleberries?!?! I’m sorry, that’s just a ridiculous and demeaning demand. The fact that Tessa went and did his bidding sort of made it impossible for me to fully support either of these characters going forward. I mean, good for her for not giving into his bullying and proceeding without a condom, but you can’t help but feel that these two should probably just call a spade a spade, and move on.

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Overcoming the Past

Luke has certainly had a troubled upbringing. His father is an alcoholic who went off the deep-end following the death of Luke’s mother. At the age of 15 Luke not only lost his mother, but in a way he also lost his father to the bottle. When Tessa first came into his life last year, it was the first time in years that he felt a sense of hope for the future, and her mere presence calmed him in a way he’d never felt before. Here’s the problem. He NEVER shared that with Tessa. I understand that they weren’t dating for very long, simply a matter of three months, and that’s pretty early to look back on the darkness from his childhood. Here’s my problem though. Tessa may not have explained to him back then why she was ending things, but in the span of this book she clearly states on multiple occasions that his inability to share certain personal details of his life with her is the primary reason why a relationship didn’t work between them back then, and won’t work now. Luke seems determined to have Tessa back in his life, and yet he still seems completely unwilling to open up with her about anything. Honestly, this was one of the main reasons why I felt they simply didn’t belong with each other.

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Tessa made it clear what she needed from him in a relationship, and he refused to give that to her. At one point Luke actually does share with Tessa the details of how his mother died when he was young. Tessa is fully present to comfort him in any way possible, but when she starts to ask about his dad he completely closes up and decides to move out of town without telling her that he’s going, or where he’s going. Dude! A bit dramatic are we? He refuses to answer any of her phone calls, and tells all his friends not to tell her his whereabouts. Again, this isn’t how adults deal with drama! Sit down and have an honest conversation already!! When Luke finally does come back into town we see that Tessa is the one apologizing to him for “pushing him” too hard, and we never really see him say he’s sorry for leaving her with no explanation. She says she’s fine with going back to the perfect relationship they used to have the year before, and I couldn’t help but feel like she was giving up some of her convictions to be with him. We never really see Luke open up fully with Tessa, and he even declares that if his father should fall off the wagon again he’s going to keep her out of it. Tessa basically says oh hell no, and they move on, but it seems like Tessa is giving up an awful lot to keep Luke happy, when he hasn’t really made any significant compromises to be with her.

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Series: Alabama Summer, Book 2. While book one in this series wasn’t my favorite book ever, I have to say I liked the relationship of those characters much better than the one we see presented here between Luke and Tessa.

Final Impressions: I’m not gonna lie, this book did hold my attention pretty steadily from start to finish. However, it wasn’t so much because I was rooting for Luke and Tessa to succeed in getting back together, but rather because I was genuinely wondering if this book would end with them going their separate ways. Compromise seems like a standard feature to most relationships, but when it comes to these two it appears as though Tessa was willing to compromise her own beliefs to win over Luke’s affection, whereas he was much more closed off to the prospect of change. He’s determined to make Tessa his again, and knows what it will take to make that happen, yet he stubbornly refuses to open up to her. I feel like we as the audience end up knowing more about Luke and his past demons than he ever confesses to Tessa.

Smut Level: There’s quite a big of angry sex in this book. Tessa and Luke are determined to hate each other, but they also can’t deny the underlying frissons of lust which keep drawing them back to each other.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. JD Publishing, LLC. 318 Pages.