Bold Living: V. Lets Her Freak Flag Fly by Sheryl Dee

If a famous, sexy actor suddenly started to show an interest in dating me, and his response to what it was about me that intrigued him was “Talent will out”, I think I’d say, “Umm…ok?”

What’s it About?

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Virginia is ready to rock the world, but will love, lust and dangerous desire kill the boldness she’s fought hard to embrace?

Environmental engineer Virginia “V.” Will, the youngest in a protective family, has played it safe for years. The death of her adventurous mother is a wake-up call. At age 39, V. leaves her job and joins the D.C. band Love Bunny as a drummer, but she wants more than just a drum throne and a voyeur’s view of the wild parties of her twenty-something bandmates. Just when she thinks her family was wrong about the dangers of the nightlife, she starts feeling very out of sorts at a band party. And did she just hallucinate her favorite actor Jack Leeds? Not good.

Jack Leeds knows how to blend into the background to enjoy a beautiful talent. He sees V. at a show. He must have her. He plans to approach V. at a listening party, where her odd behavior interrupts his kinky preoccupations. Can he keep her safe and protect his TV career and his heart? Hot sex, soulful art, empowerment, obsession and violent secrets give the lust and love story of Jack and V. its own seductive, bold rhythm.

Fans of BWWM romance, leading ladies with a sense of humor, power exchange, erotica and nerds getting love will have a blast dancing to the beat of Jack and V.

First Impressions

I must admit I had some trouble following along with this story at times. There wasn’t always a seamless transition between scenes, or between Virginia and Jack’s points of view, which made it tricky to distinguish who was even telling the story. I also couldn’t always understand which people or events our characters were referencing. In a way, it almost felt like I was coming into the third or fourth book in a series rather than starting one fresh. I will say there were certainly some moments that seemed rather poetic in their description. For example a line that really stood out to me was “I lack the words to do her justice. I wonder how many painters scoured cities and countrysides for the stuffs to mix into pale imitations of the shades of the objects of their obsession.” Such a thought-provoking sentiment!

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The only issue though was that sometimes there were almost too many poetic streams of thought packed together one after the other after the other. You sort of lose the impact these poetic moments could have had if they’d been spread out more evenly, or even used more sparingly. Another writing method that was used quite frequently that I can’t necessarily say is my cup of tea was an abundance of short sentences. When you combine this with the quick switches between scenes, you sort of experience moments of literary whiplash. One such example was after Virginia finished a call with her brother and she muses to herself “Was that the third time Corey called me outside of my birthday? I bask in the love. I try to ignore the messy motivation behind it. I walk and drop three young adult novels into a community library box in the park. In the afternoon, I masturbate three times.” Woah, what?

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A Medley of Plots

There are so many different story lines going on at once in this book that it contributed to a lack of focus to the overall plot. Each story in its own right held some merit, but none was really fleshed out to it’s full potential. We have:

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  • Virginia exploring a new musical career somewhat later in life
  • Virginia’s relationship with Jack the TV star
  • Jack’s tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife
  • A few appearances by Jack’s son
  • A creepy DJ who seems intent on drugging and raping Virginia if he can ever get her alone
  • Virginia auditioning for a reality TV show
  • Jack writing a play or book or some kind of project
  • Flashbacks of Virginia’s past assault by a guy who may have been a boyfriend
  • A mention here and there of Virginia’s sister who may have been murdered at the hands of said possible boyfriend
  • A slew of family members and friends of Virginia’s that I could never really tell who was friend or family member
  • The briefest of mentions that Virginia’s siblings were trying to locate other potential relatives from their father’s extra-marital affairs years before?

No one story line received the necessary attention for me to say with absolute certainty what the dynamic really was between any of the characters. We also get a rather abrupt end to the book, and it was a conclusion without resolution to some key plot points, such as whether or not the creepy rapey DJ met justice, or merely set his sights on another victim. In the end I felt like I came into a story at the halfway point, and left it before it fully concluded.

Who is in Control? 

And on top of it all! We have this somewhat BDSM relationship developing between Virginia and Jack, where you could never really tell who was in control, how they got into bdsm, whether Jack was only newly discovering it because of Virginia’s interest in it, or whether they were both exploring it at the same time for the first time. After their first serendipitous meeting, Jack apparently starts to do research on dominance and submission, as though this were his first foray into the subject. He seems so intent on dominating Virginia, putting her on all fours, spanking her, etc. etc. However!

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At the beginning of their very first date Virginia seems to be the one who is in control, and she gives orders to him by dictating how the date was going to proceed. She even limits Jack to what he could and could not touch. Throughout the rest of the book we see a constant switch back and forth over who is in control, which could have been a really interesting twist to the entire d/s motif we normally see in romance novels. I can certainly say I’ve never read one that features a dominant and submissive switching roles mid-scene, and it definitely could have been an interesting discussion here. Unfortunately I can’t say for sure if this was the true nature of their relationship because it was never focused on to its fullest potential. The groundwork was definitely there, but it just needed one additional push.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: All in all I felt like this book was kind of difficult to follow. I would say there were about 4 primary story lines happening at the same time, each of which contained their own side stories, twists and turns. Virginia’s music career, her family dynamic, her new relationship with Jack, and the impact of Jack’s ex wife on their newfound relationship. Unfortunately they didn’t all come together in a cohesive way for me, which resulted in the overall story feeling pretty disjointed and lacking in focus.

Smut Level: We’ve got sex swings, sex clubs, spanking, phone sex, rubbing, thrusting, fruit, and chocolate sauce.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 166 Pages

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Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Jumping out of a plane in general doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Doing it with a raging fire burning below? No thank youuuuu!

What’s it About? 

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Little else in life is as dangerous as fire jumping. But there’s also little else as thrilling—at least to Rowan Tripp. Being a Missoula smoke jumper is in Rowan’s blood: her father is a legend in the field. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home—even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering in the air.

One of the best of this year’s rookie crop, Gulliver Curry is a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids’ arcade. And though Rowan, as a rule, doesn’t hook up with other smoke jumpers, Gull is convinced he can change her mind…

But everything is thrown off balance when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year’s tragedy. Rowan knows she can’t complicate things with Gull—any distractions in the air or on the ground could be lethal. But if she doesn’t find someone she can lean on when the heat gets intense, her life may go down in flames.

First Impressions

This book has three main areas of focus. 1) The developing romance between Rowan and Gull, 2) the mystery person who seems intent on blaming Rowan for the death of her jump partner the year before, and 3) the logistics and intricacies of jumping fire. While points one and two were entertaining, I must say I felt there was almost too much focus on the details of jumping fire, as well as the process involved to put out a forest fire. Now, I know what you’re thinking. The book is called Chasing Fire, what the hell did you expect the book to be about?!

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I know, I know, I should have expected some background information as to what that involved, but after awhile it just got to be too much. One too many metaphors comparing the fire to a dragon, cutting off the head and tail, flanking it, jumping it, drowning it, cutting down trees with saws, etc, etc. Let’s just say if you wanna know the ins and outs of putting out a forest fire, this is definitely the book for you. I could definitely appreciate the hard work and research which undoubtedly went into making these details as accurate as possible, but it almost overtook the book at times.

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Coming Together Through Fire

It might be against Rowan’s personal code to get intimately involved with a fellow fire jumper, but we all knew it was just a matter of time before she and Gull went for a tumble in the sheets. All that heat and adrenaline was all the kindling that was needed to set their loins a burnin’. Ok, ok, enough with the fire+sex puns. While Rowan was insistent in the beginning that nothing could happen between them, as the summer progresses and the dangers of fire and their mystery assailant continue to grow, Rowan and Gull developed a kind of connection and closeness which was deeper than that between mere teammates.

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Gull is determined to protect Rowan from whoever is taunting and blaming her for the death of her former teammate the year before. As the threats against her grow in intensity, I must say I appreciated that they didn’t just sit back and wait for the cops to give them information about the case. Although hell, considering how quickly gossip and info spreads in this small Montana town they really didn’t need the cops at all to start contemplating possible suspects and motives! While they didn’t necessarily do their own sleuthing (which would have seemed unrealistic given their strenuous day job), they did plenty of their own hypothesizing. They were very logical with their thought processes, but almost too methodical at times. Whenever they would come together to discuss possible culprits, they almost lacked emotion in their exchanges, as though they were reading from a list of clues from top to bottom. It was a bit too robotic at times.

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From opening bell I identified three main suspects as to who I thought might be behind Rowan’s torment. One is murdered fairly early on, so that narrowed it down a bit. The cops in the novel were so focused on one particular character, and you couldn’t help but feel that the answer can’t be that cut and dry. Once we do finally uncover the identity of the killer, and said killer is subdued (let’s face it we’re dealing with happy endings here), I can’t say it was incredibly satisfying. It was actually kind of a tragic conclusion. We see what can happen when someone is overcome with pain and the loss of a loved one. It can drive them to do crazy things, and commit heinous acts, all in the name of love or justice. Gull manages to show a bit of sympathy towards this villain, which was really quite endearing. As for Rowan though, she always has been and always will be a tough-as-nails woman. The way she sees it, this person put her team in danger, and threatened the lives of her comrades. She’s one to constantly look forward rather than back, so in her mind it’s not something to cry about. I can appreciate her strength in the face of all this danger, but her response was also a tad heartless when all was said and done.

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Tales of Romance

This book was kind of loooong. There was a side story of romance involving Rowan’s father and his new lady love that felt somewhat unnecessary in my opinion. I mean, good on ya buddy for finding a woman to make you happy, both in and outside of the bedroom, but what does this have to do with the overall story? We see how there’s an attempt to link it back to Rowan, and her inability to cope with another woman in her father’s life. I won’t necessarily try to bring Freud into the discussion here…but Gull certainly did! I did find it funny that the romance between Rowan and Gull was, in a way, less romantic than the other one we see playing out with her father. For Gull and Rowan, their relationship definitely starts off as a horny itch that needs scratching. They do respect each other, and there’s a definite admiration for the other’s strength and ability to jump fire. However, at the end of the day there was something lacking in their exchanges that just didn’t make me feel all warm and tingly.

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Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: In a word I’d say it was an ok read. It starts and ends on a suspenseful and fiery note, but some of the central story elements started to feel repetitive after a while. The identity of our mystery villain wasn’t too big of a surprise, although I will say I was surprised at how emotional this read became at the end. If this book were 100 pages shorter I think it could have been a big improvement.

Smut Level: You’d think these two would be too exhausted to get down and dirty after jumping fire, but it seems they can always find a bit of extra strength. They also have the delightful tendency for shower sex. Nothing like washing off the dirt and grime of one blaze merely to start another blaze between them.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 481 pages.

Craving-Heart Christmas by Mariah J. Roberts

An untimely homecoming brings back painful memories for Mariah, but a chance meeting with her high school hero changes everything.

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James rescued Mariah from the worst moment of her life, but that night still affects her life ten years later. After what happened to Mariah that night she’ll never be whole again, and she has to keep moving. Then the hero who saved her walks back into her life and she agrees to couch surf at his place during the holidays. Sparks ignite, winter heats up, lust roars and cravings bloom but both her career and her past demons drive her to keep moving; if she’s never still, she’ll never get hurt… so how can she stay?

First Impressions

Mariah has returned to Indiana to care for her sick father, and shortly after arriving back into town she runs into a man who she hasn’t seen in years. A man who changed her life. A man she’s never had the chance to thank…until now. Years before, James rescued Mariah from a traumatic rape at the end of their high school careers. After that fateful night she fled this small town for the wide open roads of the country where nobody knew the troubles of her past. She’s avoided coming home for years. There’s simply too many painful memories of that night, not to mention an unloving father who doesn’t seem to give a damn about her.

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She’s always remembered James as the man who rescued her, and he’s always thought of her in the back of his mind as well. Seeing each other again after so many years, James has some initial difficulty placing this young woman who seems so familiar to him for some reason, and then the event comes flooding back into his memory. His instinct to protect and care for Mariah comes back full force, especially when he discovers she’s only in town for a short time, and living out of the van she travels around the country in. Will he be able to convince her to spend the rest of her visit in the safety of his home, and will he have enough time to show her that she really belongs in his bed?

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A Slow Burn

The connection between Mariah and James is strong and immediate, but they are surprisingly slow to cross the line into a physical relationship. You’d think that James’ invitation for Mariah to stay with him in his apartment for the rest of her visit would have quickly resulted in a tumble under the sheets. James can’t deny that he’s drawn to her, but he’s insistent that they not take things too far too quickly to a point where she’s no longer comfortable with him. After all, Mariah has never been intimate with another man before, and the only physical experience she’s encountered in her past was an extremely traumatic one. That last thing he wants to do is scare her off. That being said, the prospect of taking that next step with Mariah fills James with excitement, and he desires to teach her all there is to know about pleasure. He’s also determined to show her how he likes to be touched, stroked…and even sucked.

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From the Hospital to the Bedroom

Surprisingly, the thing that sort of kick-starts their physical relationship into high gear was the continuously failing health of Mariah’s father. The two have never had a strong or loving relationship, and it’s in those moments when he is so near death that Mariah wants to find a way to celebrate life. In her mind, the best way to do that is to develop a physical bond with James. I will admit it was kind of shocking to see a sad hospital scene followed so closely by a sex scene filled with some rather explicit dirty talk. It’s sort of an emotional whiplash to go from crazy sad to crazy sexy so quickly, but in a bizarre way you can kind of understand it in the same vein.

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While neither necessarily admits to themselves that this is just a passing fancy or one-week fling, in the beginning they both sort of agree to just live in the moment. To be with each other and have fun. Yet again, we see that Mariah’s father has an unexpected influence on changing the outlook of their relationship. It’s in the moment when James is first introduced to this gruff and unloving father of hers that he realizes how important Mariah is to him, and that he wants to be her protector from now on. He’s falling for her, and he wants to keep her in his life from here on out. There’s just one major problem with his plan of a happily ever after. Mariah is a traveling musician. Her life is one on the road, and her time in Indiana is limited, which means that her time in his life has a fast-approaching expiration date.

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On the Road

I do wish we had learned more about Mariah’s pursuit of a musical career. Apparently back in high school she was more artistically driven in terms of drawing. She always carried around a sketchbook that she’d constantly pull in and out of her backpack. The night when James rescued her she left her backpack and drawings behind after fleeing the pain of that night. When James sees her again all these years later she’s suddenly a musician, and has apparently given up drawing. That’s pretty much the end of the discussion, and I just wish we could have brought things back around to that switch from drawing to singing. Especially considering that James had found and kept her backpack of sketches from that sad night. If we could have seen him reunite her with that sketchbook again? My goodness I would have died!! This area, and a few others as well, could have used an added layer of depth and exploration to bring the story fully to life.

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When James ultimately discovers that Mariah intends to leave town right after the New Year he is desperate to try and change her mind into staying with him. In his mind the best way to do that is to give her as many orgasms as possible. He assumes that by keeping her pleasantly satiated she won’t want to leave him. As his best friend so intelligently tells him though, women don’t think like that. James doesn’t want her to leave, but the last thing he wants is to prevent her from following her dreams to be a musician. How can he support her career aspirations, yet also convince her to stay with him at the same time? A puzzling conundrum to be sure, and you can’t help but admire that he simultaneously wants to keep Mariah in his life, but still encourage her to follow her dreams.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This is a quick holiday romance between two lovers who come together years after a traumatic event. I appreciated how James never pressured Mariah to move their physical intimacy at a speed she was uncomfortable with. Normally I love when a book alternates between the male and female points of view, but surprisingly enough I think I almost would have preferred if we’d only had James as our storyteller. His scenes often provided more of a struggle between his inner desires and how he wanted to act in front of Mariah. He was a captivating narrator, and at times I even wondered if his physical urges would override his common sense. I do wish we could have brought certain elements from their high school interaction back full circle into their time together as adults. Perhaps we could have seen an added exploration into the immediate aftermath of how they dealt with such a jarring and frightening experience. It could have helped to add one more layer of depth to their relationship.

Smut Level: They may have taken their sweet time before finally deciding to engage in a physical relationship, but once they do? Holy crap, let’s just say Mariah is a fast learner, and James is an avid teacher. He also has a dirty little mouth on him 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price or $6.95 Audible Price. Eminent Press. 140 Pages or 2hr 20mins Audiobook.

Hooking Up by Elsie Young

A female lead who is a fan of Five Guys burgers? Finally, someone I can relate to!! Although…she also seems to have a rather unhealthy obsession with blue cheese. Just when I thought we could be friends, girl!

What’s it About? 

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I’m Eiley Murphy and my life is spiraling out of control. I’ve renamed the male lead in my ballet company “Bitcherina,” yes, I’m the principal female dancer, but right now, that’s not going so pretty good. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’ll have a job next week. And, the gorgeous distraction to end all distractions has finally noticed me after a year of drooling over him from afar. You’d think that would be a good thing, but Trey, William Cuthbert Layton III – for real – gets around a bit too much, if you know what I mean, and I see nothing but heartbreak in my future. So I obsess, and confess all to my sisters and my BFs, Brett and Valerie. Frankly, everyone’s pretty sick of me right now, so Trey better get himself together since I’m about ten minutes away from doing something even more stupid than usual.

First Impressions

You know, upon first reading the synopsis for this little romance, I mistakenly assumed that we’d be seeing a romance play out between Eiley and her “bitcherina” dance partner in the ballet. As it turns out, this male dancer simply remains a thorn in her side for the majority of the novel as she attempts to find a way to melt his tough exterior. The romantic part of the story involves a guitarist that Eiley has a mildly stalker-like obsession with. While Eiley has obsessed over this musician for the past year, their first one-on-one interaction involves him apologizing before kissing her in front of his band mates. Eiley is rather shocked that all of her dreams are apparently coming true at such an unexpected moment, and is even more surprised after the fact when this guitarist, Trey, asks if she would pretend to be his girlfriend to get an unwanted admirer off his back. As we contemplate whether or not this “fake” romance between Trey and Eiley will develop into something more, I must say I found myself even more entranced by the relationship between Eiley and her “bitcherina”, whose actual name is Basil.

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It was such a compelling story to see Basil’s initial animosity towards Eiley eventually transform into a kind of friendship. If we compare the two relationships which were developing side-by-side, we see that in Eiley’s romantic relationship with Trey she does some pretty crazy things at times to try and win his affection. However, when it comes to the friendship which is forming between her and Basil, she discovers that to win his respect she needs to push herself to become a better dancer, and demonstrate her dedication to their art-form. As they slowly become friends, Eiley seems to draw out the softer side of Basil to the point where he’s able to loosen up a bit and enjoy life more. In a way, they both bring out the best in each other. In my opinion, this was where the heart of the story lay, and I found myself perking up a bit in excitement every time we’d encounter a scene involving Eiley and Basil together. If anything, I wanted more of this story line, and the romance involving Trey almost seemed like an interruption! Definitely not what I was expecting at all!

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Reading Through Your Fingers

I feel like there are a few different situations we encounter when reading that will make us want to peek through our fingers as the words flow across the page. Sometimes a scene might be particularly scary, sexy, or maybe we just really want to make sure we don’t skim ahead to reveal a major plot twist before we get to it. And then there are the situations that this novel presents us with in abundance…embarrassing ones. Poor Eiley! There are so many scenarios where everything that possibly could go wrong does go wrong for our ballerina, and you can’t help but feel embarrassment on her behalf. Sometimes you sympathize with her blunders and awkward social moments when she apparently can’t get anything right, even though she’s trying her darnedest. And there are those other times when the absurdity of the situation is so unrealistic you can’t help but roll your eyes at her over-the-top antics. I think the problem here was that overall Eiley felt like an extremely relatable character, but during some of these crazy scenes our ability to relate to her on a personal level is almost broken.

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One such example involves Eiley crashing a restaurant where she thinks Trey is having dinner with another woman. She gets into an argument with this woman who seems insistent on having Trey all for herself, so Eiley understandably boasts about all the orgasms Trey has given her. Unfortunately she sort of forgot about her surroundings and caught the attention of the other diners. And Trey. And his grandmother. A humorously awkward moment to be sure. But then when Eiley gets so embarrassed she grabs a live lobster from the arms of a passing waiter, holds it out in front of her to make some kind of point with this woman, and then makes an embarrassing exit with said lobster and takes it to a bar before heading home with it still clutched in her hands? You can’t help but wonder when the hell this would ever happen in real life. It was an attempt at humor that sort of takes you out of the scene because it’s so over-the-top.

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There was another moment when Eiley and Trey were making out in a car during the middle of the day in a fairly busy parking lot, and some police officers interrupt them thinking that Trey is taking advantage of a teenager due to Eiley’s small stature. Sure, had me giggling for a bit and blushing on behalf of the embarrassment both characters were undoubtedly experiencing. But then to find out the whole situation was recorded by the On-Star setting in her car, and the technician then put it on YouTube, which resulted in it going viral and ending up on a radio show? Um…what? A bit of restraint would have been beneficial. Instead we see that the line from humor to absurdity is constantly being straddled.

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A Quirky Family for a Quirky Lady

Family is an important element of this story, and while there were definitely some good moments which highlighted this feature, I felt some aspects could have been tightened up just a bit to really make those familial scenes pop. The weekly dinners involving Eiley and her many sisters at a local diner were quite a hoot. They all have a mutual obsession with bacon, and they play a game each week called “I Hate My Life”, where they go around the table sharing their most embarrassing moment from the past week. The winner doesn’t have to pay for their dinner, and ever since Eiley and Trey started their fake romance she’s been treated to a fair number of free meals. It was a lot of fun to see the sisters go around the table to share their embarrassing tales of woe, and the only issue I had with these many rounds of “I Hate My Life” was that the dinner scenes became somewhat repetitive as the novel progressed. It was also tricky at times to differentiate between all the sisters and their respective lives considering our only interactions with them were during these round table confessionals. I think a few more scenes involving Eiley and her sisters outside of the grease-filled diner world would have helped us get to know them even more.

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There are some other familial elements which are introduced fairly late in the book. While some of these were very interesting, it seemed like we didn’t get enough time to explore them all fully, which made it seem as though there were just too many things going on at once. Similar to the shenanigans Eiley constantly finds herself in, some restraint upon introducing so many elements pretty late in the game could have benefited the overall flow of the story. For example, we hear mention throughout the story of Eiley’s crazy aunt Psyche, and while she definitely seems like a neurotically fun character, we don’t actually meet her “in person” until the tale is well under way.

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She also introduces some family mystery regarding a long dead Uncle Seamus who hid some kind of family treasure. Upon the urging of her aunt, Eiley sort of takes up the case of finally trying to find out what this treasure might be by referencing old family letters and photographs. Now, I’m not gonna lie, it was probably one of my most favorite side stories that we saw presented in the novel, and one of the most heartbreaking as we hear through one of Seamus’s letters how he lamented over the death of his one true love. However, at the same time I sort of had to question how it fit into the rest of the story involving our ballerina falling for her rock star. In the end Eiley and her sisters have an assumption as to what this hidden treasure might be, but we don’t even see them locate it. If this had been an element which was introduced to strengthen the relationship between Eiley and her sisters I might have understood its presence in the book, but they already had a strong bond. Again, while enjoyable, you can’t help but question what the purpose was.

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

Series: Stand-alone for the time being? I could see some future novels involving Eiley’s sisters being fun reads.

Final Impressions: Personally, I wish the setting of Washington, DC had played a somewhat larger role in the story, but…what can I say? As a DC resident I’m slightly biased. There were a lot of different events at play in this novel, and while many were definitely fun and enjoyable, I think some areas could have been fine-tuned to really pull the whole novel together into one cohesive story. The scenes involving Eiley and her temperamental dance partner were probably my favorite. It’s where we witnessed an emotionally honest progression of a relationship, and if anything I would have liked to see more between Eiley and the “bitcherina”. Her evolving relationship with Trey started strong, but it sort of fizzled at the end, which is ironic considering this is when their connection is supposed to be at its highest point. Eiley is quite the quirky character, and she’s definitely over-the-top from time to time, but she’s still a warm-hearted and well-intentioned chica.

Smut Level: Five orgasms in one night? Not too shabby. Unfortunately it also resulted in a few broken bathroom fixtures 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Boroughs Publishing Group. 271 Pages.

A Lord to Love by Sara Dobie Bauer

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

What’s it About? 51-6F+eseoL

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

First Impressions

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

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Romantic Blackmail? 

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

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

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Learning to Live Again

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

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

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

The Beauty of Music

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

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

Confess by Colleen Hoover

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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A Lack of Confessing

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

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

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Not to be Taken Seriously

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

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

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

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From Start to Finish

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

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

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Series: Stand-Alone

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

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

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

The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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A Journey Across the Country

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

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

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From Friends to Lovers

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

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

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Happily Ever After?

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

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

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

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

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

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