The Wrong/Right Man by Aurora Rose Reynolds

What starts out as a blind date for the record books turns into something a bit more awkward the morning after when Dakota discovers the man lying in bed next to her isn’t the man she was supposed to meet.

What’s it About?

Waking up to a text asking why you stood up your blind date is not the best way to start the day, especially when the man in question is standing half dressed in your kitchen.

Maybe Dakota Newton shouldn’t have assumed the gorgeous man with a devastating smile standing outside the coffee shop was her date. She probably— Okay, she definitely shouldn’t have slept with him, regardless of how hot the chemistry between them was. But how could she know Mr. Right was actually Mr. Wrong?

Braxton Adams has been called a few things in his life, but a liar was never one of them. That all changes when he’s approached by a beautiful woman who thinks he’s there to meet her for a date.

As a businessman, Brax knows to trust his gut and never let an opportunity pass him by, so he pretends to be someone he’s not.

Maybe he shouldn’t have lied. Maybe he should have come clean. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because now he has to prove he’s not the wrong man but the right one.

So what if he’s not the man she’s expecting? She’s the one he’s been waiting for.

First Impressions

So the synopsis of this book gives away what might be the biggest spoiler alert of the entire read, which is that Braxton wasn’t the intended date match for Dakota to begin with. This lent an almost bizarre air to the start of this read, as we see how Brax cleverly hides details, or even outright lies about his identity in order to continue his date with Dakota. The romance reader in me chuckled along to some of his deceptions, whereas the real woman that I am was screaming that if this happened in real life it would be beyond creepy. As the two proceed with their relationship and Brax’s overly protective/stalkerish tendencies come to the forefront, you’re kind of simultaneously hoping Dakota will file a restraining order, but also maybe throw him up against a wall for a passionate make-out scene following a heated argument. Such a strange juxtaposition!

Danger, Danger?

As discussed, Braxton engages in some super sketchy tracking of Dakota’s movements, texts, and even has her followed at one point by one of his minions. We’re initially led to believe that this is just part of his alpha-male intense infatuation with Dakota. She understandably gets angry and argumentative with him over his invasion of her privacy, not to mention a lack of boundaries. The aspect of this novel that I didn’t really care for was how this inappropriate behavior was shrugged off and ultimately explained away. Firstly, the “point” is made that the fact Dakota is willing to argue so vehemently with Brax over his invasion of her privacy demonstrates how much she must trust him. Her anger is reflected as her feeling comfortable enough with him to let her true emotions out. But like…he was still tracking her whereabouts and communications without her permission!! Not exactly healthy.

And this brings us to how Brax’s behavior is explained away as a knight in shining armor plot point. At the end of the novel it is revealed that Dakota has an actual stalker who is constantly calling her work and sending inappropriate things to her office. Details which Brax chooses not to share with Dakota directly. When her stalker ups his game by breaking into and trashing her apartment when she’s out one evening, Brax must finally admit that he’s been hiding the fact another man is watching her every move. It’s after this confession when Dakota has a moment of realization that the reason Brax was following her so closely all this time was because he wanted to ensure she was safe, and that her stalker didn’t get to her first. But like…then why didn’t you just tell her this from the get go?!

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This was a quick read with a strong beginning that kind of fizzled out at the end. While I could appreciate the blind date fiasco would have been a much bigger issue in real life, it was kind of fun to see the scene play out in romance land. After that though, Brax’s need to control and monitor almost every aspect of Dakota’s life was truly worrisome. The stalker element definitely felt rushed at the end, and also lacking enough background for it to truly feel part of the plot.

Smut Level: Sooooo many sexy times!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Dreamscape Media, LLC. 170 Pages.

Island Charm by Audrey Wick

Consider yourself warned that upon reading this book you’ll probably become overwhelmed with the desire to walk barefoot along the beach while eating a slice of key lime pie.

What’s it About?

 When Anna Worthington’s twin sister gets jilted by her fiancé, Anna steps in with a plan for a girls’ Key West getaway instead of a honeymoon trip. Yet when her twin has her own crisis of commitment and doesn’t board the plane, Anna finds herself on a romantic getaway that she’s forced to navigate alone.

Gunnar Lockhart, whose specialty is island tourism, is the perfect match for helping Anna complete her vacation bucket list, but time together forges a connection more personal than either anticipate. As they make island memories, Anna has to untangle her mixed emotions. Are her feelings toward Gunnar real? Or like her sister’s wedding day, has this connection been doomed from the start?

First Impressions

This is a notice to all authors out there that if you want a 100% guarantee that I’ll read your book, be sure it includes a recipe for a delectable dessert or tasty treat at the end of it. To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll read it anyway, but this is essentially a foolproof assurance. And while I haven’t had the chance to prepare the key lime pie dessert presented at the conclusion of this read at the time of writing this review, you better believe that pie will be in my future very soon.

Hand-in-hand with key lime pie is the island of Key West, Florida which features prominently in this read almost as a character in its own right. It’s no surprise that our male lead, Gunnar, works for the island’s Chamber of Commerce, as the book makes you want to book a trip there immediately. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Key West in December 2019 as a stop on a family cruise vacation before all things pandemic ravaged the world. While the island didn’t have quite the same spiritual impact for me as it did for our two leads, this book succeeded in reminding me of the hidden charm you can find once you remove yourself from its more boisterously touristy streets. And again…pie!

A Touch of Romance in the Air

While Anna has a rather rocky start to this unplanned vacation following her twin sister, Brie, being left at the altar, things start to look brighter upon meeting hunky and courteous “local”, Gunnar. He offers to show her around about town and help her cross a few items off her sister’s vacation bucket list. It was quite refreshing how realistically their connection was formed, as it wasn’t steeped in lust or purely from a sexual attraction. You really get the sense that these two people have laid the foundation for a healthy and potentially long-lasting relationship. However, always lurking in the shadows of their burgeoning romance was the fast-approaching end date to Anna’s time on this island. Not to mention, her entire reason for being there was the result of a man being a total douche rocket to her sister, so her trust in men isn’t exactly at a high point.

From Self-Discovery to a Selfless Connection

There is definitely a romantic component to this read, but in my opinion it sort of took a back seat to two other important plot points which permeated the story. First and foremost was the journey of self-discovery which Anna finds herself on. She uses this time in Key West to look inward, and reflect on what she wants her life and business to look like going forward. While Gunnar certainly comes to play a role in this vision, he wasn’t necessarily the primary driving force behind her future considerations, which was refreshing. As for Gunnar, he was unexpectedly faced with a life-changing decision in his connection with an elderly local who comes to rely on him in the most important of ways. Gunnar’s care and devotion to this man demonstrates the unconditional selflessness to his nature and personality. He might slip up at one point in his week with Anna, but overall this man is an absolute winner.

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

Series: Stand-alone, though I would be interested in a sequel involving Anna’s twin sister, Brie.

Final Impressions: This was a pleasant read that will leave you craving a beach vacation, a slice of pie, and a stroll along the sand with a dreamy man at your side. The romance presented didn’t necessarily have a lot of heat behind it, but it was based in reality and respect.

Smut Level: A few kisses here and there, but nothing explicit or overly sexual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. White Rose Publishing. 288 Pages. 

This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

“I‘ve wanted to taste your words for years—and see if they taste as sweet as you make them look.” Not gonna say no to that request!

What’s it About?

Emory Jones loves two things: horror movies and Connor Nichols. For the past four years, Emory, Connor, and their families have vacationed side by side on Longboat Key, Florida. Eighteen-year-old Emory has pined for his neighbor from behind the covers of Stephen King books, but college boy Connor has never noticed him. Probably because Emory looks like Jack Skellington with good hair.

Emory anticipates another predictable summer of sunburn and disappointment. Instead, he ends up with a mystery on his hands when a beloved beach bum goes missing, and Connor volunteers to help with the search. Turns out it’s not just scary movie cops who are worthless, so the boys start an investigation of their own—leading them straight to an abandoned beach resort.

Despite the danger, Emory and Connor grow closer, but as Emory’s gay dreams start coming true, so do the horror movie tropes he so loves. Even though he knows that sex equals death in slasher flicks, Emory can’t keep his hands off the guy of his teenage dreams.

First Impressions

I’ll admit, I initially approached this read with a smidge of hesitancy. While the title might insist this is not a horror movie, the dramatic cover art and synopsis would suggest otherwise. And I…don’t…do…HORROR! What can I say, I blame Freddy Krueger. That bastard gets ya in your dreams, and when my sleep is compromised we’re gonna have problems. However, while there were definitely some scenes in this novel which involved horrific actions and even deaths, I somehow found myself giggling with glee throughout the majority of this read! If I had to sum up the experience in just a few words? Pure delight!!

Perrysburg, Ohio

So what made this such an enjoyable read considering my aversion to all things horror? Simply put: Emory Jones. At first I questioned how much I’d have in common with our main character. After all, he’s an 18-year-old gay male who loves all things horror, and I’m, well…not. I might love a good beach read, but the concept of reading a horror book on the beach is a nightmarish concept to me!! However, I found myself quickly developing an amazing kinship with this fictional character the author has presented to us. Not only are Emory and I from the same small Ohio town, but we also went to the same high school, vacationed a mere 8 miles apart from each other some summers, and while neither of us are into sports we both knew who the primary rival high school was across the river. We both grew up in an environment feeling like there must be something bigger and better out there beyond the borders of this small Ohio town where high school bullies reigned supreme.

Beyond these mere coincidences of geography though, Emory’s close connection with his sister Liz involved some of my favorite banter and hilarity of the entire novel, and also felt reminiscent of the close relationship I have with my own sister. And then there’s Connor. The hunky neighbor boy that Emory has pined after for countless summers, yet can only admire from a distance. Surely Emory is not at the same level as this beautiful man? He is constantly left feeling inferior, something I’m sure many of us can sympathize with. Honestly I think most readers will find something within these down-to-Earth and realistic characters that they can also identify in themselves. The narrative format itself was even something I could relate to, as we constantly have to navigate the rather filter-less and quick-moving inner musings of Emory’s mind. Sure, it took some time to get used to and follow along with his line of thinking, but nevertheless it seemed similar to how my own mind is known to wander whenever I think to myself. The author does such a fantastic job of pulling us into Emory’s world where we can associate with all of his insecurities, fears, joys, embarrassments and even moments of love.

A Romantic Paranormal Horror Comedy?

Considering the number of times I giggled aloud to myself while reading this book, it definitely falls within the categorization of a comedy, but it also touches upon the romance and horror categories. Let’s tackle the more prominent of themes, which would be the lovey-doveyness between Connor and Emory. Yet again, all I can say is it was a pure delight! They’ve been summer buds for years, with Emory always dreaming of more with this hot jock. However, it’s only this summer before college when Connor finally discovers that Emory is gay, and Emory simultaneously discovers that Connor is bisexual. After this jaw-dropping realization Connor lays all his cards out on the table, and the two finally decide to give into the desires they’ve kept hidden from each other for so long. And I must say, the sheer joy and playfulness that these two men share with each other left me with a dopey grin on my face, and more head-tilt “awwwww” exclamations than I care to admit.

Now for the horror. Again, typically this is something I loathe, but in this instance the author somehow managed to present it in a way that was still comedic in its approach. What can I say, this woman is a master!! Several moments reminded me of the movie Scream where our characters, who are essentially experts when it comes to horror tropes, would oftentimes relate the situations happening around them to how a horror film or book would typically play out. Emory would often lament the fact he was no longer a virgin seeing as the virgin is usually the last one standing at the end of a horror movie. People never tell the adults what’s happening? Well let’s be upfront with them from the beginning! Should we involve the cops? Eeesh, that never goes over well in the movies. It helped add a sense of levity to the “horror”. Now, I will say the drama of the story took a rather unexpected turn towards the end that had me going, “huh, mkay so I guess we’re really doing this!!” At times I was left wanting a bit more depth and back-story for some of the more villainous characters, but at the same time I could appreciate that staying on the surface in some respects allowed for more of the comedic underpinnings of the plot to shine through.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: I don’t quite know what I was expecting with this one, but I thought it was so much fun! It’s a great summer read to bring along to the beach. Just consider yourself warned you’ll probably laugh aloud a few times and be smiling to yourself. I could see how some aspects might not be everyone’s cup of tea, including Emory’s penchant for a wandering and fast-paced inner dialogue, as well as the fact that the horror aspect became a bit outlandish towards the end. However, I personally appreciated both of these features, as it helped me relate to Emory on a personal level, and the somewhat ridiculous nature of the horror story was kind of needed for me to feel less scared as I was reading it! Ultimately, it helped the novel lean more towards the comedy category rather than the horror.

Smut Level: The make out scenes in this novel were scorching hot! However, the one sex scene was more of a “fade to black” moment.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 280 Pages.

In the Shadow of the Hawthorn by D.M. Porters

A tale of childhood crushes, friendship, romance, greed and murder. In the Shadow of the Hawthorn takes us on a journey of discovery, and the realization that love can be one of the most powerful things of all.

What’s it About? 

“I am only a man, Emma.”

“Then be a man with me.”

Beautiful Emma Mason was an illegitimate child who should have landed on the streets of London. A twist of fate would spare the girl from having to sell her body or beg for her next meal. Instead, Emma grew up in Lord and Lady Drake’s lavish home, working happily in their kitchen with her ever-grateful mother, Julia.

Through the years, Emma would never want for anything – that is until she met Theo Barnett, the son of a wealthy landowner. Friends of the Drakes, Lord Elliott Barnett, and his wife Sylvia had high expectations for their only child. A good match was vital, but they knew their handsome son would have no problems attracting the right woman one day. A chance encounter between Theo and Emma would change everything.

Though wrong, Theo could not stop his attraction to the young baker. Desires burned, and their love was pure, but Emma knew it could not be. They would never be allowed to be together. Refusing to have Theo lose everything for her, Emma would push away the man she loves. Their lives apart would be filled with tragedy, deception, and pain, all fueled by insatiable greed. Can Emma and Theo look beyond the misery and find their way back to each other? Could they go on after losing so much?

First Impressions

When I first started reading this novel, it almost felt like I was coming in at the end of a story. A young woman left alone and pregnant, Julia is a talented baker of delicious confections in an upscale London eatery. She’s about to be forced out because of her delicate condition when she’s discovered and brought into the home of a loving older woman and her devoted husband. They treat her like the daughter they never had, and dote upon her and her newborn child as though finally realizing the happily ever after this woman has been waiting for her entire life. However, we soon discover that this isn’t Julia’s story. Instead it will revolve around her daughter, Emma, who follows in her mother’s culinary talents. But what will society permit when this lowly kitchen servant and a wealthy gentleman fall in love? And more importantly, how will one man’s greed come to shatter the perfect world this happy family has created for themselves?

Wait For It…

Not only does this novel seemingly commence with a happily ever after montage, but it takes some time for us to work our way through Emma’s youth into adulthood before we ultimately get to the crux of the story. I constantly felt as though I was waiting around for the other shoe to drop! Although we have to wait a bit before we come across the real turning point of the novel with a tragic crime, something I really appreciated as we proceeded along this journey was that the author manages to avoid some of the more common trappings and tropes you might initially expect to encounter with this kind of read.

For example, Emma and Theo are initially hesitant to give into their obvious feelings for each other. Especially Emma! While they engage in one steamy moment of indulgence, she tries to shut it down almost immediately following their afternoon tryst. After this seemingly final declaration, there was still quite a bit of novel remaining, so I assumed we’d encounter some kind of continual back and forth of we should…no wait we shouldn’t. Rinse and repeat. Or perhaps a misunderstanding where one of them might be tempted to give up on the other as they wait for the perfect timing of when they can finally be together. Instead we are granted with some interesting twists and turns to the plot that result in tragedy, surprise decisions and unexpected discoveries, but thankfully we never really encounter sheer frustration at the choices or actions of our protagonists. It was utterly refreshing!

Beyond the Romance

While this might be a tale of romance, there are two additional complementary themes which play major roles in how the events of this tale evolve: greed and class status. Our primary villain, as well as a few other minor supporting characters, carry out some shockingly dastardly deeds as a result of these motivations. Initially I found it hard to believe what depths some people would go to simply because of money. From denying a son true happiness, to a case of murder and abuse, all due to greed. At one point I thought, well this seems a tad outlandish and over-the-top in terms of a response. As the conclusion of the novel approached however, I had this moment of epiphany where I simply had to remind myself, “well of course this is plausible!!” Countless moments throughout history have been impacted because of these exact trivial impulses, and we still see cases of it to this very day. Honestly, it was a rather sobering realization. And yet, when you see the love and devotion this family and this couple feels for each other it seemingly allows for a ray of sunshine to break through the shadows.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: This was sort of a deceptive read at the beginning in that it presents itself as a seemingly happy familial tale that manages to hide away from the rules and cruelties of the outside world. However, eventually we see the shadows of tragedy encroach upon these selfless and caring people. While initially hesitant to pursue a relationship, it was refreshing and inspiring to see Emma and Theo stand by each other through it all, never giving up hope that one day they’d be able to come together in a loving embrace. There are a slew of entertaining characters presented in this read, and honestly I’d love if we had the chance to explore their individual stories further in subsequent novels. At times this fabulous supporting cast did detract too much attention away from our lead couple, but overall we have a unique historical romance which proves family is what you make it.

Smut Level: This was surprisingly steamy for a historical read!! Not only do we get a romantic hotel getaway, but we also have a mouth-watering scene in a rustic shed on Theo’s property.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Denise Portugaise. 220 Pages. 

Finder Keeper of My Heart by Vina Arno

Emma is convinced a message in a bottle holds the key to her future happiness. When she meets handsome Avery bathing nude under a waterfall in Hawaii she believes he’s the one she’s been waiting for all these years. Oh honey let’s be honest, his rock-hard abs and bare tushy helped with that decision too!

What’s it About?

Emma Munroe, a Juilliard senior, snags a plum role on Broadway a few weeks before her twenty-first birthday. She travels to Hawaii with her best friends to celebrate. When she gets lost in a jungle during an impromptu hike, she happens upon a waterfall—and a naked hunk bathing underneath it. When she finds out his name is Avery Bell, she’s dumbstruck. She believes she’s meant to love someone named Avery. It all goes back to a message in a bottle she found when she was nine, a letter written by a soldier called Avery to his sweetheart named Emma. He’d written it in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II. Since then, Emma has been searching (and saving her virginity) for her own Avery. But Avery Bell is as mysterious as he is irresistible. Emma learns about his family secrets and bitterness. In the course of this vacation, an accident and a tragic death will shake both of them to the core. Her singular faith in him—her unwavering belief in love and destiny—proves to be his saving grace.

First Impressions

Emma is a carefree, spunky actress with a whimsical tendency to create word mashups to find the perfect way to describe any situation. Avery is a tech nerd who prefers the quiet solitude of nature to the company of others. These two couldn’t be more mismatched, but when their paths cross in the middle of the Hawaiian rainforest, they’re inexplicably drawn to each other. They challenge each other to look at the world around them in new ways, and open their eyes to the possibility of something different in life. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason for Emma to start falling for Avery, his very name has her convinced they’re meant to be.

Years before, Emma discovered a washed-up message in a bottle from WWII where a man named Avery professed his undying love for a woman named Emma. Since that day, Emma has always believed the love of her life would be named Avery. Seems like a somewhat silly reason to love someone, and in a way I think it resulted in Emma overlooking a rather important red-flag detail when it came to Avery. Namely, that he already has a girlfriend waiting for him back in civilization.

The Other Woman

Upon first meeting, Avery is initially annoyed with this carefree spirit who has interrupted his solitude in the jungle. It doesn’t take long though for her inquisitive nature to win him over, and it’s not until a passionate make out scene that he reveals he already has a girlfriend. Now, they’re on a bit of a break at the moment, but they haven’t officially broken up yet either. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the classic Ross and Rachel Friends debate of whether or not Avery’s kisses with Emma could be construed as cheating considering that he and his girlfriend were “ON A BREAK!!”

I think that what most rubbed me the wrong way about this couple was that even after Avery admits he is already involved with another woman, this fact doesn’t really deter Emma. She continues to flirt and tease Avery, initiate kisses with him and shockingly almost seems upset when Avery refuses to sleep with her. As for Avery, he tries his best to say no, but can’t deny his time with Emma is making him re-think continuing his relationship with his girlfriend. What kind of bothered me though is that when his girlfriend comes to town for an unexpected visit and he admits that he and Emma have kissed several times, he gets agitated when his girlfriend greets Emma with coldness and an underlying sense of hostility. I mean…did he really expect these ladies to become best buddies and go shopping together or something? Of course they’d be wary spending any time together, and having to pretend to be cordial.

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

Series: Stand-alone.

Final Impressions: This is a romance where seemingly polar opposites are able to learn from and challenge each other. Avery teaches Emma how to appreciate the slowness and beauty of nature, somewhat taming this whirlwind of energy. Emma is able to get Avery to live in the moment, and be more carefree and indulgent in life. While I didn’t agree with some of the choices they made in their relationship, or Avery’s interactions with his girlfriend, the situation wasn’t really presented as though we are supposed to agree with every decision they make. Instead, we see that they’re humans who err and learn from their mistakes.

Smut Level: These two spend most of the book pining after each other, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their hot and heavy moments. Especially when it comes to stumbling upon the other bathing naked out in the open.

Dangerous Currents by Kathryn Knight

Imagine traveling halfway across the world to escape the stresses of a former life. You’re experiencing some intense jetlag, so you decide to go for a calming walk with your dog along the beach, only to quickly discover the body of a dead woman along the way. Not exactly my idea of a relaxing beach getaway!

What’s it About?

When a costly mistake ends Malorie Montgomery’s career, she returns to Cape Cod in search of a fresh start. But her plans for a new—and quiet—life are quickly derailed when she makes a grisly discovery in the woods, and her screams bring the one person from her past she’d hoped to avoid. Dean Slater, the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart in high school, now lives in the beachfront community that was supposed to be her haven…and he’s just as hot as he was six years ago.

With his rough background, Dean always knew he wasn’t good enough for the kind, intelligent beauty who claimed his heart, but somehow he’d believed their love was strong enough to survive anything—until the tragic night she turned her back on him when he needed her trust the most. Despite their painful history, Dean can’t resist the instinct to protect her, especially when it becomes apparent there’s a killer in their town.

Their former chemistry soon reignites, but Malorie has long accepted that her dark family secret has destined her to a life alone. And when she uncovers evidence that makes her the killer’s target, a deadly confrontation threatens to destroy any possibility of a second chance.

First Impressions

This novel presents us with a second chance romance opportunity between two people from opposite sides of the track, Malorie and Dean. They fell in love senior year of high school, but their relationship deteriorated on prom night due to unfortunate misunderstandings on both their parts. Malorie was promptly whisked away to another continent for school, and it’s only now, five years later, that she returns to Cape Cod and crosses paths once again with her former flame. As if reuniting with the love of your life after so many years apart wasn’t awkward enough, Malorie and Dean’s reunion takes place after she stumbles across a dead body, and Dean came running to investigate her screams. As the murder investigation proceeds, there is some initial angst and animosity between them, but it doesn’t take long before Malorie and Dean find themselves falling back in love with each other.

From Second Chances to Murder, and Everything in Between

There were a lot of different story-lines happening in this book, each one just as gripping and entertaining as the next. There’s the slow reveal of what Malorie and Dean got wrong all those years ago, each of them starting out on a new business opportunity, opening themselves up again to the possibility of love, Malorie admitting for the first time some of the frightening battles her family has experienced with mental illness, and on top of it all the discovery at the start of the book of a murdered rape victim. Again, there’s a lot happening here!

While I did find each component thoroughly entertaining, there may have been a bit too much happening all at once. If I had to choose one story-line which probably could have been left out, or maybe incorporated more fully into the story, I’d probably have to go with the murder plot. It was definitely an exciting start to the book, and provided us with an unbelievably dramatic ending, but there was a good portion of the novel where it felt like this plot point was pushed to the side to focus instead on Malorie and Dean’s reconnection. That’s not to say it wasn’t a well constructed piece of drama! There were so many curveballs thrown in to make you suspect multiple characters of being responsible for the string of murders plaguing this small New England town. Overall though, I found myself forgetting several times throughout the read that these murders had taken place.

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

Series: Stand-alone. Considering how much was going on with this read, I almost wonder if it would have presented well as a duet series!

Final Impressions: This was an intense read that will have you wondering from start to finish who dunnit, though it was somewhat busy with all of the different stories going on. The author did employ a great use of flashbacks to reveal what happened all those years ago between Malorie and Dean, as well as the complicated relationship between Malorie and her mother. We could seamlessly flow from present, to the past and back again in a way that felt natural, as though the characters were thinking back on everything all at that very moment. In my opinion the most unexpectedly moving story was Malorie revealing the complications of her mother’s paranoid schizophrenia, and how this struggle has impacted Malorie’s outlook on the choices she can make in her own life. It was a very emotionally revealing conversation between her and Dean that I wasn’t expecting!

Smut Level: They may have been separated for the last 5 years, but their love never went anywhere. Needless to say, they have a lot of lost time to make up for! We get to see some make out scenes up against a door, in the rain, and sex scenes filled with all the passionate intensity and urgency you could hope for.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Wicked Whale Publishing. 282 Pages.

Snowball’s Christmas by Kristen McKanagh

Snowball’s Christmas by Kristen McKanagh

A delightful Christmas romance to get you in the holiday spirit! Believe me when I say, this year especially, it’s not too early to pick up this read.

What’s it About? 

Snowball—an aptly named bundle of feline fluff—is thankful to be spending her first Christmas in the comfort of Weber Haus, the Victorian B&B run by Miss Tilly. Emily Diemer, who cooks for the guests, dotes on Snowball, but she’s not thrilled about another new arrival at the B&B: Miss Tilly’s nephew, Lukas. Which is odd, because Snowball’s animal instincts tell her that Lukas and Emily should definitely be friends. Everything Emily needs is in this quaint community—including, she hopes, the chance to open her own bakery one day.

She doesn’t think much of Lukas for leaving his aging aunt to struggle while he jets around the world taking photographs. But now that he’s here, helping to spruce up the property and getting mixed up in Snowball’s antics, she begins to soften a little. Until she learns what he has planned . . . Lukas is going to sell Weber Haus so that Miss Tilly can retire. But Snowball is certain that this B&B, and these people, are supposed to be her forever home. Somehow she has to get these stubborn humans to see things through the wisdom of a cat’s eye and a kitten’s loyal, loving heart . . .

First Impressions

In this enchanting Christmas romance we see a small snippet of each chapter told from the point of view of an adorable kitten. I mean, just look at the fluffy wuffy cuteness that is the cover art, and tell me you’re not intrigued! As if that wasn’t enough, we have a snowy landscape at a picturesque Inn, two people who fall in love, and German Christmas traditions and food on top of everything. When I told my friends these fabulous details they all said the same thing: “This book was made for you”. While reading this book, believe me when I say it will leave you with a smile on your face pretty much from start to finish, and for a few days afterwards. You’ll probably chuckle aloud a time or two, and your toes will curl with glee. If it doesn’t? Well you just might be the Grinch of the holiday season.

A Personal Connection

This was exactly the kind of romance book I didn’t know I needed right now. Initially I thought it was way too early in the season for a snowy Christmas read, but it was simply the perfect amount of light-hearted fun and romance necessary to escape all the stresses of the world. And my goodness there’s seemingly too many stresses to count! I also felt a personal connection to this read, not just because I can’t say no to a book featuring a fluffball of fur as one of the characters. As someone who lost her own Oma earlier this year, it was special for me to read about the connection between the character of Emily and her own Oma who recently passed. To witness another woman who had such a loving relationship with her Oma, and one who also had a culinary influence on her life dang near brought tears to my eyes!

My sister and I basically grew up in my Oma’s kitchen. She taught me how to make spaetzle, kartoffelsalat und blaukraut.

A Pinch of Love, a Scoop of Fun

This novel presents us with the perfect recipe of a romance: the book has soul, and these characters have heart. Even during moments which cause friction, we can see that the decisions of Emily and Lukas come from a good place. For example, the synopsis introduces us to the fact that Lukas wants to sell his aunt’s Inn, and while I went into this read expecting to see him as a somewhat selfish character, I was surprised to find that his goal of selling the Inn was bred solely from the desire to ensure his aunt was being taken care of. Emily was also intent on hating Lukas for a good portion of the read, as she couldn’t help but see him as a neglectful nephew to the woman she’s come to love as family. Her oftentimes childish fixation to dislike Lukas became a bit easier to understand when we see it was due to her love of Aunt Tilly.

Even Snowball the kitten had the best of intentions during her moments of craziness! Sure, she could be such a little troublemaker at times, but she just wanted these silly humans to fall in love and kiss already! For those of you who aren’t cat people (firstly, how dare you?), don’t let that deter you from this read! Snowball was unbelievably adorable in all her fluffy cuteness, and at times even took on the characteristics of a dog. She would fetch things (even if not asked for), she was snuggly and affectionate, and could even follow direction…kind of.

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

Series: Stand-Alone.

Final Impressions: This is a must-read for the holiday season! For those of you who might not be in the mood for a Christmas read at this point of the year, at least be sure to add this to your holiday “to be read” pile. I didn’t want to put it down, whether I was in the bath, it was before bed, or I needed to hop on a zoom call for work!

Smut Level: This is a sweet read without any hanky panky.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $9.99 Kindle Price. Kensington Publishing. 240 Pages

Shot Through the Heart by Andrea Downing

This is definitely a meet-cute for the record books. After all, how often does a female lead meet the man of her dreams by having to pull glass shards out of his finely-toned bum?

What’s it About? 

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Gunslinger Shiloh Coltrane has returned home to work the family’s Wyoming ranch, only to find there’s still violence ahead. His sister and nephew have been murdered, and the killers are at large.

Dr. Sydney Cantrell has come west to start her medical practice, aiming to treat the people of a small town. As she tries to help and heal, she finds disapproval and cruelty the payment in kind.

When the two meet, it’s an attraction of opposites. As Shiloh seeks revenge, Sydney seeks to do what’s right. Each wants a new life, but will trouble or love find them first?

First Impressions

These two definitely have chemistry that is off the charts! Even though neither was actively looking for love, once they find each other they discover it’s darn near impossible to stop thinking about the other. Something that I truly appreciated about this read was that while their attraction and connection was practically immediate, we’re really taken on a journey for Sydney and Shiloh to accept the other into their lives. Sydney especially has the most difficulty in acknowledging her feelings for this gunslinger.

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After all, she’s a doctor dedicated to saving lives, whereas he’s seemingly an expert at ending them. How can she align herself with such a man when their very morals are so out of sync? Shiloh also finds himself on a journey of acceptance when it comes to Sydney, ultimately coming to understand and appreciate the fact that she’s a female doctor. Considering the time period our novel is set in, men accepting women into the medical profession was less than standard, and Shiloh has his initial hesitancies upon first meeting this beautiful newcomer. However, he quickly comes to admire and commend her intelligence, as well as her dedication to saving others. He’s the first to admit that he wants this woman in his life forever, but he’ll have to exercise patience for her to realize the same.

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From One Part to the Next

The most compelling aspect of this read, other than the chemistry of our two lead characters, was the format. We’re presented with a story of love, revenge, and suspense, and what initially seems like the climax of the entire book is actually just the end of Part 1, falling at the halfway point of the overall story. There was so much more to come! The first part of the book really focused on Shiloh and Sydney coming together. Part 2 features Sydney figuring out her place in life and acknowledging that what is most important to her was vastly different than what she ever could have conceived. The third and final part features Shiloh’s ultimate revenge in seeking out his sister’s killer.

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Each section of the novel was just as intriguing and engaging as the one which came before it. The only disappointing feature of the format was the fact that for the two latter sections we see how Shiloh and Sydney spend most of the time separated from each other in a physical sense. Their connection was so strong in part 1, and while we get to see a few explosive instances of it in parts 2 and 3, the fact they were so far apart meant we noticed their lack of proximity even more fully. Throughout so much of the last half of the book I was craving their eventual reunion with every turn of the page.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: The characters in this historical western romance were an absolute treat, even though by the end you just wanted to push them both into a room and lock the door so they could resolve their differences once and for all. Beyond the characters you also have to appreciate the descriptive scenes of the wilds of Wyoming and Colorado. The land practically became another character, and it was easy to envision the scenes laid out before us any time we closed our eyes.

Smut Level: The flirtations between Shiloh and Sydney will keep you blushing, and this read is all about the build-up to their eventual physical connection.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 241. Pages

My Life in Shambles by Karina Halle

A fake New Year’s Eve engagement that turns into the love of a lifetime.

First Impressions

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They say bad things happen in threes. After my boyfriend broke off our engagement, I lost my apartment, and was laid off from my job, I can definitely attest to that.

They also say life is what happens when you say yes to new adventures. So when my two sisters invited me to ring in the new year in Ireland, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and go for it. I was going to let “saying yes” be my new resolution. Little did I know I’d spend New Year’s Eve having a hot and dirty one-night stand with Padraig McCarthy, one hell of a sexy Irishman. I also didn’t know that the brooding and intense sex god was one of Ireland’s top rugby players.

A rugby player with a proposition for me: Come with him to his tiny hometown of Shambles and pretend to be his fiancé for a few days, just so that his ailing father can have some peace of mind. It sounded simple enough. It was anything but. Not when a town gets up in your business, not when the media hunts you down, not when your past comes back in the picture, not when there are real hearts and feelings at stake. Not when there are secrets that could break you. They say life is what happens when you say yes to new adventures. This is my life in Shambles.

WARNING: this book will pull at your heartstrings. It is recommended to have a box of tissues ready, and maybe some wine. But don’t worry, you’re in good hands. Also contains sex and foul language, sensitive readers be advised.

First Impressions

Let me take a moment to say the warning at the end of this synopsis is entirely warranted! Having a box of tissues handy is more than necessary, and a glass/bottle/cauldron of wine will be more than welcome. I was pleasantly surprised at the emotional depth which this book had to offer. From the description of this read I initially assumed it would be like any other light-hearted fake engagement story. Instead we are presented with a tale of true love, but also see how this bright spot can be interspersed with moments of sadness, anguish, and heartache at discovering how a life one has always planned for can be thrown to the wayside in the most unexpected of ways. It demonstrates the importance of taking chances, living life to the fullest, and opening your heart to someone new.

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The Journey to Shambles

Based on the title of this read it was pretty easy to assume that after our lead characters met we’d quickly be transported to the town of Shambles, where their fake engagement ruse could be featured front and center. However, I couldn’t be more thrilled to discover that Valerie and Padraig managed to develop a true connection in the short amount of time they spent together on New Year’s Eve. We clearly see throughout this first night how they are able to build an emotional foundation to their relationship and really get to know each other before they find themselves in bed, and the prospect of a fake engagement is eventually proposed. If we had gone immediately from a sultry glance at a bar to a tumble between the sheets, the fake engagement trope would have seemed irresponsibly forced. Instead we can wholeheartedly believe the progression of their relationship, and understand why Valerie even considered such an outlandish scheme.

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Upon first meeting, Valerie and Padraig were both looking to escape the realities of their lives which seemed to be falling down around them. For Valerie, a short engagement with her former fiance unexpectedly ended, quickly followed by the loss of her job. For Padraig, he’s suffered a career-ending injury as a rugby player, and is also dealing with the fact that his father’s illness has progressed to a tragic level. At first, they both present a distraction to each other, a means to forget the problems they’d rather avoid. However, it doesn’t take long before they realize that they can lean on each other, and lose themselves in each other when they have no one else to turn to. What started out as a fake engagement turns into something more meaningful when Valerie admits she’s willing to stand by Padraig’s side as things continue to worsen during their time Shambles. It would have been so easy for her to turn away, and fly back across the ocean to live her life, but she realizes that love is worth sticking around for.

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Series: Stand-alone, though I would absolutely adore a sequel to this story, even if it’s just a short novella!

Final Impressions: Prepare yourself for an emotional read, but it’s one worth reading. It demonstrates a selfless act of love, and a tale of lust which quickly evolves into friendship and ultimately adoration. There were a few details towards the end which I wish had been tweaked a bit, from Valerie leaving Padraig behind after he tells her to go back home, and ultimately the fact that he was the one to come after her. Valerie stood by Padraig’s side for so much of the novel, so if she had fought just a bit harder to remain by him at the moment when it mattered most this would have been a darn near perfect read. As it stands though, still a unique and insightful romance that deserves your full attention!

Smut Level: For two people who developed a deep emotional connection after such a short amount of time together I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they’d also have an intense sexual connection. From dirty talk to a bit of spanking, this heartfelt read still has plenty of steam!

Get in Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Metal Blonde Books. 350 Books

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Enshrine by Chelle Bliss

As far as the premise for a romance novel goes, this one definitely presents us with a rather unexpected theme.

What’s it About? 

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Everyone knew Bruno.
Devilishly handsome.
Ruthless criminal.
Cut-throat businessman.

When a phone call changed my life, I refused to let anyone in. Helpless, my best friends went to the only man in town she knew would help…Bruno, the notorious mobster who’s feared by everyone, including me.

And he had no problem breaking down my door.
Scooping me into his strong, capable arms.
Whispering soothing words in my ear.
Chasing away the fear threatened to swallow me.

But then he did the one thing I never expected him to do…he stayed.

Can the man who’s only spoken about in whispers become my greatest savior and my deepest love?

First Impressions

Based on the rather brief synopsis we’re presented with for this romance, I gotta say this was not what I thought the book would be about. We’re provided with an intentionally vague mention of the female lead receiving an unexpected, yet crushing phone call. We then find out she has to rely on a dangerous man to help her; a man who obviously isn’t good for her. What can I say, based on the set up here I thought maybe we’d be dealing with Bruno having to save Callie from some kind of perilous situation. Perhaps an abusive ex-lover? Some kind of unfortunate run in with the law? Loan sharks coming to collect on a debt? Yeah nooooo. I never would have guessed this novel would revolve around Callie finding out she has cancer, and Bruno needing to save her by helping her realize that life is still worth fighting for. I realize some of you might see this as a spoiler alert, but personally I feel like it’s a necessity for people to know as this can really hit close to home for many folks out there.

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A Monumental Impact

I listened to this novel as an audiobook, which I always tend to reserve for listening as I get ready in the morning before work, or when I do some sewing on the weekends. Considering the heavy subject matter we’re dealing with here I must say those were some pretty depressing starts to the day, and rather somber sewing sessions. The impact of cancer upon Callie’s life was monumental and life-changing in so many ways. Firstly, she gets a crash course on finally realizing what’s truly important in life. Prior to that tragic phone call, she loved her shoes, designer clothes, picture-perfect hair, etc. Those are the things which brought happiness to Callie’s somewhat lonely life. After that phone call? It really makes her observe the world around her to acknowledge what actually matters, and what might be missing in her life.

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Cancer is also what finally brings Bruno into her life. Callie has noticed and salivated over him from afar for quite some time. However, she never acted upon her desire for him. He was known throughout the neighborhood as the dangerous man with a mysterious job, and she didn’t want to get mixed up in that. After her diagnosis she acknowledges that while he might be dangerous, she has something far more dangerous living within her. So why not indulge in the man who has always intrigued her, and cross something off her bucket list? Another unique impact of her cancer is that upon hearing the news, she has essentially killed herself off within her own mind. She has no hope for the future, and sees the diagnosis as a death sentence. Bruno is the one who helps her learn to fight, and get angry at cancer rather than see it as an inevitably tragic fate which has befallen her.

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Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: If you’re looking for a fun and light-hearted beach read…this might not be the best thing to pick up. There are certainly some very inspiring themes regarding fighting for life and love, but at the same time it’s definitely an emotionally loaded read. There were some other aspects of the novel that I wasn’t a huge fan of, such as the mystery surrounding Bruno’s job which turns out to be rather predictable, as well as the fact they spent a drunken night together which Callie has absolutely zero memory of. That being said, overall you’re really rooting for these two to succeed, and for Callie to win in her battle against cancer.

Smut Level: The cover alone should have you fanning yourself from the steam.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Bliss Ink Publishing. 354 Pages.